beer, History

Illinois: Right Here. Right Now.

From its German immigrants bringing their desire for and ability to brew lager, and the origin of powerful prohibition era organized crime families, to what is and isn’t a craft beer, Illinois has a deep history with beer.

In 1818, Illinois became the 21st state, and just 19 years later, Chicago was incorporated. Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world at the time, and is now the third largest in the U.S. A major influence on its was the influx of Irish and German immigrants and it wasn’t long before these new residents clashed with the growing temperance movement that was sweeping the nation.

This first big clash started in the early 1850s. Disguised as prohibition, an anti-immigration platform was emerging, and Illinois had a staring role. As Maureen Ogle writes in Ambitious Brew:

Such was the case in Chicago after voters filled city hall with pro-temperance, anti-immigrant officials and the new mayor ordered a ban on Sunday drinking. The mostly native-born police force closed the city’s foreign-owned beer gardens, beerhalls, and taverns but turned a blind eye to “American” taverns that stayed open in violation of the law.

This ban inspired protests, which escalated into violence resulted in the Lager Beer Riot. In the end, the immigrants prevailed and it wasn’t long before the demand for beer quickly outpaced supply. And then, making things worse, the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed 19 breweries. But it wasn’t long before the brewers bounced back and Chicago quickly became a major player in the nation’s brewing scene.

Then came the Chicago Beer Wars of the roaring 20s, ushering in a violent era of organized crime that created mobsters such as Johnny Torrio and Al Capone.

From day one, Prohibition was not a widely supported cause. It was a war in its own right between rural Protestants and the nation’s urban (immigrant) citizens who were viewed as a threat. So, when prohibition came into effect, organized crime quickly stepped in to fill the void, resulting in powerful organizations that made a fortune bootlegging alcohol throughout the prohibition era. The organized crime speakeasy scene was so prolific during prohibition that at one point, Al Capone purchased more than 250,000 tapping heads from Anheuser-Busch.

With the repeal of prohibition, the state of brewing in Illinois remained status-quo for a few decades, with big nation breweries absorbing the smaller ones. Then came businessman John Hall in 1988 with a new brewpub, Goose Island. John Hall wanted to bring flavorful European beer to Chicago, and that desire has led to Chicago’s oldest brewing organization and eventually the next riot involving Chicago brewing.

When Goose Island first opened, they knew they had their work cut out for them. During the 1980s, the American public were not accustomed to the complex and flavorful beers typical of Europe. One of this blog’s collaborators was in Chicago when Goose Island opened:

I was working in Chicago when Goose Island opened, at the forefront of the great brewpub trend. It was a major event, beer people felt our day had come, although the brews at Goose Island and other brewpubs then were simple and straightforward compared to today’s
@jbnbpt

It didn’t take long for interest in Goose Island to establish a reputation of successful craft beer that allowed them to expand beyond the basics and continue their reach into brews with tradition and character. Their reputation of quality craft beer would continue for almost 25 years until March 28, 2011 when the company was sold to Anheuser-Busch, an event that quickly turned the wrath of the craft beer world onto one of its own.

One doesn’t have to look far to find articles about people up in arms over the Goose Island sale. While both good and bad opinions exist most trend to the bad, with the controversy boiling down to the definition of craft beer. According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewer is Small, independent and traditional. Because Goose Island is no longer independent, they no longer fit the definition, yet they still produce their own take on traditional beer, and their volume is up, but only to 2.1 million cases. Also, a review of the top 250 beers list shows Goose Island holding 2 of the top 15 spots, indicating that they are making coveted beer despite the controversy.

Eschewing all the controversy, this week, we are all in with Goose Island. From their stable, we will be sampling five different brews, 4 Vintage ales, and 1 Bourbon County.

Illinois Beer

Goose Island

Two of the most common brews available from Goose Island are their India Pale Ale, and the Honkers Ale. However with its purchase by InBev, these two lines are no longer brewed in Chicago, instead they are brewed by Anheuser-Busch in upstate New York. So we set our sights on some of their more interesting products that are actually brewed in Illinois.

The first beer we will sample this week is a beer called Sofie, one of the brews in Goose Island’s vintage line. Right from the start, this beer reminded me of champagne. It had a sweet and fruity smell with a very light body and a higher carbonation than most beers. One of the party classified it as “Looks and smells better than it tastes,” and another stated that “It would be great with spicy food.”

Illinois Beer

Goose Island Sofie

This beer, like the rest of the beers in the vintage line, seems to be marketed like a wine. The labels are clean and basic, and all use fonts that implies sophistication. The label for each brew in this series has a name, style and year, prominently displayed. In an era where the mass market beers are focusing on drink-by dates, it is nice to see a different kind of date on the label.

The next beer from the Vintage line that we sampled was the Pere Jacques. This beer was more caramel in color than the Sofie, and also had a sweet caramel smell to it. Tasting wise, this was the least-liked beer of the day, triggering comments like “Not into this” and “Tastes like burnt varnish.” Overall not an enjoyable beer, and it was quickly disposed of for the next sample.

Moving down the line, we opened the Matilda. This beer is brewed with the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces, so right from the start we knew this was going to be different. This beer was quickly pronounced the best of the three so far sampled. It had really interesting character and the use of the Brett was perfectly executed. Just enough to make it unique and interesting.

Illinois Beer

Goose Island Pepe Nero

The final beer in the vintage line for us was the Pepe Nero. Listed on the brewers website as having an aroma of roasted chestnuts, I found no distinguishable smell for this beer, however the flavor was great. 2 out of 4 of the party really enjoyed this beer and were quickly reaching for a second sample.

Prior to the invention of the stainless steel keg, all beer was brewed and shipped in wooden barrels. At that time, the brewers took extensive measures to ensure the barrels were free of any influencing flavors that could leak into the beer. Lately, the craft beer world has been taking barrel brewing in new directions, and trying to leverage the potential residue from the previous contents of the barrel. It is not uncommon to see beer aged in wine barrels, or bourbon barrels, both from varying amounts of time, allowing unique character and flavor to develop.

When I was purchasing the beer for this week, I was talking to the owner of the liquor store about Goose Island. Just as I was about to leave, he asked if I ever had Bourbon County. This is a brew that as of this writing is sitting at number 13 on the Beer Advocate top 250 beers list. I said that I have not, as it is really hard to find. With a wave of his hand, he summoned one of his employees to the back room and out came a single bottle. After paying more than I ever have for 10 oz. of beer, I was heading home with a bottle of Bourbon County Stout, our final sample of the week.

One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer

Illinois Beer

Bourbon County

“Wow, look at the legs!”, was the first comment as this beer was getting poured. Black as tar, with a viscosity of 50 weight motor oil, this beer had all the signs of something unique. The aroma was sweet, dessert sweet. The mouth feel was thick. Not maple syrup thick, but thicker than any other beer of the day, and by far the most interesting beer of the day. Quickly we heard “This needs chocolate,” and a block of 60% dark was chopped up and placed on the table. With that simple addition, the character of this beer quickly changed, and I now understood why this beer is so coveted.

Before the chocolate, this was a top 20ish beer, after the chocolate, a top 5.

In the end, Goose Island did us no wrong. Say what you about about what is or is not a craft beer, this week we sampled 5 different brews that were something special.

Next week, we head south to Alabama.

 

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beer, History

Mississippi : Feels Like Coming Home

For most of the country, prohibition lasted for 13 years. From January 17, 1920 until April 7, 1933, the sale, production and transportation of alcohol was prohibited across the nation. However for some states, this period lasted much longer. Mississippi was one of a handful of states that enacted prohibition in 1907, a full 13 years prior to the national ban. And it didn’t end there. After the passing of the twenty-first Amendment, Mississippi still enforced prohibition laws until 1966. As the last state to repeal prohibition, Mississippians lived under prohibition laws for lengthy 59 years.

Even with the repealing of prohibition, it would take another 37 years for a brewery to operate within Mississippi. As Mississippi’s first brewery in almost 100 years, Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, started in 2003, is also Mississippi’s oldest brewery.

We however only had to get 20 weeks into this project to experience Lazy Magnolia as Mississippi joins the United States as the 20th state in December 1817.

As mentioned previous on this blog, the federal prohibition decimated the brewing industry in the U.S. While some brewers scratched by making near beer or producing malt extract, most could not sustain viable income to endure the 13 years. But when it ended, most states started to see a slow come back to their brewing industry. One by one, craft brewers started bringing back old favorites, and developing new products for a growing consumer base. And while the craft beer explosion was occurring, during the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, beer lovers in Mississippi did not have a brewery to call their own.

Thanks to Lazy Magnolia that has now changed. As they went about blazing this path through the brewing frontier, Lazy Magnolia has kept their southern roots in check with our first sample of the week: Southern Pecan.

Mississippi Craft Beer

Lazy Magnolia

There are items that elicit memories of the southern U.S., and the pecan is high on that list. A species of hickory native the south-central North American, pecan means a nut requiring a stone to crack in Algonquian. Typically known as the key ingredient in Pecan pie, Lazy Magnolia used this nut as the key ingredient for a beer. Listed as the first pecan nut brown ale in the world, this beer was a fun find.

Much like a good Pecan pie, this beer was sweet. Even the color exuded a sweetness, with its deep red hues. But the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming. The beer was enjoyable. And while it didn’t have the distinct pecan taste, there was definitely a nutty taste that made this an enjoyable beer. It would have been interesting to try it with some good cheese that would complement the sweetness.

One of the tasters loved the diner menu, vintage look to the label on this beer. It definitely had a nice clean look to it, unlike many of the labels we have encountered so far on this project.

When Mississippi lifted prohibition in 1966, that wasn’t the end of the story for slow to change alcohol related laws in the state. In fact it wasn’t until March of this year that Mississippi legalized home brewing. And while that law had a tangential effect on the states brewing industry, another recently changed law had a much larger impact. From the time prohibition was lifted in the 60’s, until July of 2012, brewers in the state were not allowed to produce a beer with more than 5% ABW. To put that into perspective, only 7 of the 89 beers sampled so far on this project were less that 5%.

Mississippi Craft Beer

Lazy Magnolia

Expecting this law to change, Lazy Magnolia had our next beer, Timber Beast queued up and ready to roll on June 30th. Coming in at 9% ABV, at the time of its brewing, the Timber Beast was an illegal beer. However with the change of an old law, this beer was allowed out into the world, and we were fortunate enough to get our hands on some.

This beer was very enjoyable. Using Zythos hops, an IPA style hops blend, Lazy Magnolia went with a recipe inspired by the complex and beautiful flavors of Mississippi. This hops led to an interesting taste that I had not experienced in other IPAs over the course of this project. This hops had a more bitter characteristic that was enjoyable. While the bitterness hung around long after the beer was gone, this wasn’t a bad thing. Everyone tasting this beer really loved it.

With Mississippi, we have seen the craziest alcohol laws to date for this project. However we have also seen how a company like Lazy Magnolia can overcome those obstacles to create an enjoyable product.

Tune in next week for Illinois

 

 

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beer, History

Indiana: Restart Your Engines

This week, we are commemorating the December 11, 1816 admittance of Indiana into the union as the 19th state.

Prohibition was hard on the brewing industry. After the repeal of prohibition, only about 300 out of 1100 breweries remained in operation. Then to make things worse, the years after prohibition saw mergers creating huge brew houses while shrinking the number of breweries even further to about 50 breweries operating by 1980. This era lead to a mass market beer that was void of quality and character. And it would take a grassroots initiated resurgence in the late 1970s to slowly turn things around.

This turn around has its roots in the homebrewing revolution. Fed up with the state of American brewing, and a longing for beer styles no longer available, homebrewers started to experiment on their own. By relearning the skills once prevalent in our towns and communities prior to prohibition, the homebrewing movement slowly reintroduced the American public to long lost styles of beer full of flavors and characteristics unlike anything the industry was producing at the time.

Another factor considered as a major influence to the craft beer revolution was the advent of affordable airfare. When air travel became accessible to more people in the late 70s and early 80s, Americans were bringing back knowledge, and more importantly, a desire for the great food and beer they discovered and enjoyed during their European travels.

As the homebrewing movement spread across the country, each state slowly lifted old prohibition laws that made homebrewing illegal.

With the passing of the 21st amendment to the Constitution, prohibition was repealed in 1933. However that amendment did not repeal the prohibition of homebrewing that was written into the 18th amendment, where homebrewing was made illegal. It wasn’t until 1978, when President Carter signed new legislation allowing beer production for personal and family use that homebrewing was again legal at a federal level.

While now legal at a federal level, as part of the 21st amendment, each state held the final word on alcohol regulation. As a result, the ability to (legally) home brew beer has slowly progressed from state to state since 1978. In Indiana, beer enthusiasts would have to wait until 1985 for home brewing to become legal in their state. (While 7 years might seem like a long time, it wasn’t until last week that Alabama made homebrewing legal, bring all states into the homebrewing era.)

At the time of homebrewing legalization, Indiana had two breweries in operation, however since 1985, we would see that number grow to more than 38 operational breweries today. By allowing individuals the ability to practice and hone their craft without legal ramifications, an entire industry has sprung to life again, producing new and interesting beer for a welcoming audience.

Part of this homebrew enthusiast turned brewing entrepreneur is Three Floyds Brewing in Munster Indiana. Setting out … to be a departure from the fairly bleak craft brewing scene in the region, Three Floyds has developed a reputation for brewing high quality, highly sought out beer. If you look at the Beer Advocate Top 250 Beers list, Three Floyds has two entries in the top 10. Or if you prefer the RateBeer Top 50 list, they have three brews in the top 10. Very Impressive, and we were fortunate to get our hands on one of these brews for this week.

This week was a week were I couldn’t locate any beer locally. Getting beer from Indiana in Massachusetts is apparently not possible. So I went the trading route, and received a nice selection of beer from Upland Brewing, Oaken Barrel Brewing, New Albanian and Three Floyds to represent Indiana.

Indiana Craft Beer

Indiana Craft Beer

We started this week with a Helios Pale Ale from Upland Brewing. Located in Bloomington, Upland has been in the business of brewing beer since 1998. Named after the sun god Helios, this Pale Ale from Upland was well liked across the group. With “a slight bitterness to the taste, but nothing off-putting“, in the glass this beer was “more golden than expected” for one taster, but over all, it was a keeper. I could sit back and enjoy this beer at anytime.

From the Helios, we moved on to the Indiana Amber from Oaken Barrel Brewing. Listed as “Indiana’s premier, must-visit brewpub“, Oaken Barrel, located in Greenwood has been producing craft beer for 14 years now. The Indiana Amber is an American Amber that truly lives up to its name. With a deep amber color, this beer had a nice, sweet caramel smell in the glass. The caramel smell, from the malt, transferred straight into the taste of this beer, where there was a nice combination of hoppy bitterness with sweet caramel undertones.

Strange mix of caramel and bitter, but it works!

The next beer up in the queue was from Three Floyds. Typically, we do these tastings on a Friday evening, however due to a Little League game and a few missed text messages, this weeks tasting didn’t happen until Saturday afternoon. Because of that missed opportunity, I spent Friday night reading the lastest issue of Beer Advocate. In this issue, there is an article by Martin Cizmar about his attempt to try all of the top 250 beers on the Beer Advocate list. The article was an enjoyable read, and while I often frequent the Beer Advocate site for references while writing these posts, I somehow never managed to stumble on the top list. Until Friday night. What was somewhat surprising to me was that I had not had any of the beer in the top 100, though I have heard of many. The second big surprise came to me as I was scanning the list. Thanks to Redditor Zugunfall, I had in my possession, two bottles of Zombie Dust from Three Floyds brewing. This beer is currently sitting at number 7 on the top 250 list, and I didn’t even know what I had.

Indiana Craft Beer

Three Floyds Zombie Dust

With its comic book inspired label, a quick search of the beer trade forums will show you that this is a much sought after beer. Listed by the brewer as an “intensely hopped and gushing undead pale ale,” this beer would be the final beer of our afternoon. The others would have to wait until Sunday.

Right from the pour, I knew this was a special beer. It had a wonderful citrus and pine smell that immediately put me back at our mini-beer summit and the opening of the bottle of Treehouse IPA. This beer was Delicious. With its wonderful aroma, and excellent taste, this beer was an excellent end to a great tasting. There have been many great words already crafted about this beer, and I would have to agree with them all. This was one of the best beers of this project so far.

 

On the following day, over an inspired mothers day meal (including mussels steams in Abita Amber,) we had a Komodo Dragon Black IPA and a Double Dragon Fly Imperial IPA, both from Upland. Again two really enjoyable beers, showing that Indiana is here to play in the craft beer world.

Next week, we head south to Mississippi.

 

 

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beer, History

Louisiana: Come as you are. Leave Different

Acquired by the U.S. from France in 1803 as part of the largest territorial gain in U.S. history, Louisiana became the 18th state of the United States in 1812.

Louisiana has a long, remarkable history. Ruled by many yet tamed by none, Louisiana is well know for its Mardi Gras festivals, Second Lines, and famous streets. And when it comes to libations, Louisiana has more to offer than the Hurricane. Louisiana is also home to one famous craft brewer, and many more up and coming breweries to help you wash down that Po’boy, or my favorite a Muffuletta.

When it comes to Louisiana craft beer, Abita reins supreme. It is available in 46 states and is even served at a resort in Disney. Located just 30 miles north of New Orleans, Abita has been brewing craft beer since 1986. From those early days, Abita has developed a successful line of flagship beers complemented with a selection of seasonal, harvest and speciality brews that ensures there is something for everyone at this brewery.

Abita isn’t the only craft brewer in the state, there are new upstarts like Tin Roof Brewing and Parish Brewing Company. All of these brewers are newish, but growing, and from what I can tell, they can barely meet local demand. So at the moment, the only Louisiana beer available in my neck of the woods is Abita. As our only selection for this week, we sampled two different Abita brew styles: Turbodog and Amber.

Louisiana Craft Beer

Abita Brewing

My first experience with Abita was during an early episode of Essence of Emeril where the New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse often featured Turbodog in his cooking. After viewing an episode where Emeril divided a bottle between the food and himself while shouting “Whoo Doggie“, we had to seek out this beer.

Fast-forward to today and here we are, prying open another Turbodog.

For me, the classic craft beers (those started in the 80s) stand out from the rest of the craft beer industry. Not because of their extreme tastes and ingredients, but the exact opposite. These older craft beers were the foundation of what today has become a major industry. The first brewers, coming off the heals of the 1978 legalization of home brewing, were responsible for teaching the public that beer could be full of flavor, taste good and and not have to be translucent to be drinkable.

Louisiana Craft Beer

Abita Turbodog

The Turbodog fits that description nicely. With its nice malty, caramel flavor, the Turbodog was an enjoyable beer. The malt gave this beer a slight thickness in mouth feel, but nothing atypical of a great brown ale. The carbonation was lower than expected, but again, for a brown it felt about on par. Like the first time I had this beer years ago, I still enjoy it.

The next beer for this week is The Abita Amber, the first beer offered by the brewer. According to the Oxford Companion to Beer,

American amber ale is a phrase first used by startup American microbrewers in the 1980s as a simple beer description for consumers, but it soon found acceptance as a formal style name.

While this beer was a fine beer, and I wouldn’t turn one down, it wasn’t as fun as the Turbodog. It was more basic in flavor and composition, which was expected. The brewer lists this beer as an excellent company for smoked foods and sausage, which I will have to give a try. However while this beer quickly brought back memories of New Orleans, scenes from Treme and is probably a wonderful beverage after a day in the Louisiana heat, in the end I was ready to grab another Turbo Dog.

Louisiana Craft Beer

Abita Amber

Since that first experience of Turbodog, I have been lucky enough to try a few different brews from Abita. From the Purple Haze on Bourbon St., to the nice Pecan Harvest Ale, after a long day, Abita has never been a letdown. And with brews like the Restoration Pale Ale, where $1 from every six-pack is donated to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the S.O.S. big beer, a charitable pilsner dedicated to “Save Our Shore,” Abita continues to give back to the local community that helped it become an important figure in the craft beer world.

So, as the New Orleans musician Kermit Ruffins sings, I’ll Drink Ta Dat!

Next week, Indiana.

 

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