beer, Special Report

Aw Naw–a Blog Hijack

Apologies to the state of Colorado, and to blog readers, for this hijacking,  but “50StatesofBeer” misquoted me, his wife. It’s a tiny correction, but an omission that gets at the heart of what I love and hate about craft beer. When we first sipped Polestar Pilsner, taster number one said it was unremarkable. My response was fierce disagreement. It tasted just fine. Moreover, it did not demand that I sift through the fucking cabinets to find food that would render the beer more palatable. It’s a distinction I make for two reasons: 1) Beer that makes enormous demands on the palate undercuts, for me, what I used to love about the beverage; and 2) Craft beer gets us in a froth.

Let me begin with a forthright assessment of Polestar Pilsner. It was eminently drinkable. One could consume many bottles of Polestar Pilsner without seeking a block of dark chocolate to hold simultaneously on the tongue so the palate discovers some unanticipated, alchemical magic. (We did this with a coffee stout one week. If high-quality, European-imported dark chocolate need be consumed in tandem, there’s a problem with the beer).

Now, I like food, I like beer, I like food-beer pairings. But I prefer to like each element on its own. And we’ve had many a beverage during this adventure that required a chef’s attention to make one sip go down well.

Remember when a draw on a Camel paired well with an uncomplicated pale amber liquid in a red solo cup? I do.

Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for my first memorable food pairing–tobacco. Remember when a draw on an aromatic Camel paired well with an uncomplicated pale amber liquid in a red Solo cup?

Red Solo cup

Hell, yeah.

I do. This brings me to the Milk Stout we sampled from Left Hand Brewing: I loved the hint of smokiness in this beer. I liked that flavoring in the “In-Tents” from Base Camp of Oregon, which advertises itself for campfire consumption in the wilderness. I argued on the margins of the Oregon-beer tasting that the place and time of a beer’s consumption affected our like or dislike. Now I’m wondering if my enjoyment of the smoky flavor derived from roasted malts isn’t reminiscent of a place far removed from a campfire –the bar scene of my youth. Everyone smoked. The low-roofed joints hadn’t experienced fresh air since Eisenhower left office. After a night out, I remember stripping off clothes and leaving them outside my bedroom door because the  smell was too overwhelming.

Stripping off clothes–ah yes,–that brings me to another point about craft beer and its fussiness. There was a time when beer offered a logistical path for navigating a way out of a corset-tight, straight-laced, proper southern girlhood. Let me say to the craft beer world, some of your products have the opposite libidinal affect, particularly beers that can be described as “viscous.” These are beers with an effervescence that makes the mouth feel full. It’s reminiscent to me of how the body feels the instant before regurgitation. It’s such an off-putting sensation, I have often stepped away from the beer tasting all together, and gone to bed with a morally complex novel full of ambiguity.

Perhaps, dear reader, you will argue that my thoughts about exquisite craft beer would be better paired with a shot of Patron.

Perhaps, dear reader, you will argue that my thoughts about exquisite craft beer would be better paired with a shot of Patron. In the world of country music top 100 hits,  tequila now occupies the rabble-rousing, good-times that the consumption of beer once did. Am I just feeling middle-aged? It’s just hard to imagine someone ordering up one more round of “Sour in the Rye” to keep the party going.

Being on the front tasting line of America’s latest beverage craze has been as enraging as it has been congenial. Craft brewers often mistake the “fun” I associate with beer for “misogyny.” The number of labels depicting women bare-shouldered, bare-breasted, or straddling some engineering contraption while raising a glass of cascade-hopped, roasted-malt brew has been absurd. More often, these beers have made me furious.

So I’ll end by thanking Left Hand Brewing for avoiding this pitfall. I enjoyed everything except the Oktoberfest. We’ll talk off-line about that one…

beer, History

Colorado : Enter a Higher State

As the California gold rush died down, and the prospectors headed back east with their heads hanging low, rumors persisted of untold wealth of gold in the Rocky Mountains. A few of the traveling parties stopped on their way through, panning areas around the South Platte River, and Cherry Creek, but little was found.

However, persistence paid off for one man, William Greeneberry Russell. William had gold in his blood. When he was just a boy at 10 years of age, his father packed up the family and moved them from South Carolina to Georgia for the Georgia Gold Rush. Growing up in a mining town, William often heard the stories of wealth of gold on the west coast and eventually formed a team to try and capture some of that wealth.

Part of William’s team was a group of Cherokee, and while his success in California did not lead to untold wealth, he did become close to the Cherokee tribe which led him to the Territory of Colorado, chasing another story of wealth in the hills.

Making their way to what is now Confluence Park, Denver, Russell’s team panned for almost a month without success. Most of the team gave up, but William and his brothers persisted, and just a few weeks later, they discovered gold. As news of the discovery got out, the Pikes Peak Gold rush started, and soon an estimated 100000 people, in search of their fortune were working the rivers and streams of this soon-to-be state.

But not everyone came to find their fortunes in gold. In November 1859, two German born immigrants,  Fred Z. Salomon and Charles Tascher, saw an opportunity, and with that vision the first brewery in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Brewery, was born. While the partnership of Salomon and Tascher  quickly fizzled, the Rocky Mountain Brewery endured until 1898, making it the longest running brewery in Gilpin County.

A combination of dwindling gold and the onset of prohibition put a damper on the brewing industry in Colorado for some time, but it wouldn’t stay down for long. After prohibition, the big brewers, including one in Colorado, gobbled up the smaller brewers across the country, where they all started to produce a bland, boring product. Feed up with the industry, a few intrepid individuals started experimenting with brewing on their own, looking to bring back the variety and flavor to beer. One of those individuals was Charlie Papazian. After honing his brewing skills while in college, Charlie started to teach the craft to others in Boulder and from this, the American Homebrewers Association was born.

The combination this association and the passing of homebrewing legislation by President Carter, quickly opened opportunities, and in 1979, the Boulder Beer Company  introduced commercially brewed craft beer to the state of Colorado.

Colorado Craft Beer

A Fine Selection from Left Hand Brewing

While the options for craft beer from Colorado are great, this week, for no particular reason, we stuck with a selection from Left Hand Brewing, and we enjoyed it.

 I don’t have nasty things to say about this state
Colorado Craft Beer

Polestar Pilsner from Left Hand Brewing

We started the evening out with a Pilsner called Polestar. This beer, light in both color and body, was very drinkable. This wasn’t a beer you were going to run to for crazy flavors, but if you wanted to enjoy 1, 2 or more, this is your beer.

It does not demand that I sift through the cabinets to find something to make it palatable

After the Pils, we opened a bottle of Oktoberfest. This beer was not like the Octoberfest brews I am used to having. This beer had the expected nice, red hue but the smell was different. This one was sweet, and there wasn’t much of a flavor. It was there, but not bold and strong like others. It was a good beer, but it really messed with our expectations of an Octoberfest.

Our next beer was a Milk Stout. This aroma of this beer was chocolate and malt, and it had a real smokey flavor. I really enjoyed this beer. It was, like the Octoberfest, different than what I expected from Milk Stout. In the end, 2 out of the 4 people liked this beer.

Colorado Craft Beer

Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout

Our final beer of the evening was another Milk Stout. This one was the exact same brew as the previous beer, but this one used Nitrogen and is called Milk Stout Nitro. I found this beer very drinkable. It reminded of a Guinness in its smoothness, but this one had more flavor.

Shocking Difference

Even though this was the same beer as the previous one, that  taste was completely different. Along with the smoother mouthfeel, from the nitrogen, this one didn’t give off as much as a smoke flavor. Overall it was a great beer.

This week, Left Hand did not disappoint. We really enjoyed our Colorado experience. Next week, we venture northward to the state of North Dakota.

Thanks for reading.

beer, History

Nebraska : Possibilities … Endless

Nebraska as a state was admitted to the Union  in 1867, almost three years after Nevada. Created as a territory at the same time as Kansas, Nebraska saw most of its settlers arrive as part of the Homestead act. By the time the thousands of new settlers arrived, Nebraska already had a few breweries up and running, ready for their business.

When you search on Nebraska Beer History, you will quickly encounter the term “Big 4”. This refers to four breweries: KrugStorzWillow Springs and Metz,  that were the start of brewing in Nebraska. Each of these breweries formed around the same time in the late 1850s, and were the biggest brewery operations in the state until Prohibition took hold and, as we expect, destroyed their businesses. Of the Big 4, Willow Springs was mostly a distillery, however they were able to hobble through prohibition by brewing near beer and soda. Storz also relied on the near beer, soda and ice during the prohibition era.

Finding information on the styles of beer brewed at these breweries has been hard going, but I would expect that in the early years, they brewed either ales or steam beer. I wouldn’t expect the plains region to be a good area for lagering.

Since there is little information online about Nebraska brewing, I will end the history with a quote I found on the Wikipedia page for Krug:

You wouldn’t believe there was such difference in beers until you use one Krug’s popular brands. They are uniform perfectly brewed and well-aged absolutely pure and leave no bad after effects. The kind of beer that acts as a tonic and a system builder. Order a trial case and begin to enjoy. – Text from a 1910 advertisement by Fred Krug Brewing Company.

Oh, and check out this great sign, also from the Krug Brewery. Everyone could use some liquid sunshine.

This week, we experienced Nebraska through two great brews from Nebraska Brewing Company. Located in Papillion, on the southern side of Omaha, the Nebraska Brewing Company is a brewpub that also makes one fine bottle of beer.

All of the beer available in New England from Nebraska Brewing comes from their Reserve Series. Barrel aged, and bottle conditioned, these beers took some time to brew.

nebraska craft beer

Nebraska Brewing Apricot Au Poivre Saison

We started the night off with an Apricot and pepper Saison called Apricot Au Poivre Saison. Aged for 6 months in Chardonnay barrels, this beer was delightful. I am not typically a fan of fruit beers, but this one was different. When poured, this beer had a distinct fruity, apricot smell. The mouthfeel was very sparkly and tingly, with a light body and wonderful taste. It reminded me of a champagne. This was definitely the best apricot beer I ever had. The other tasters agreed.

Nebraska Craft Beer

Nebraska Brewing Melange A Trois

After the experience of the Apricot, we decided we needed another brew from this brewery, so a quick trip to our local beer shop and we had a bottle of Melange A Trios. The beer had the smell of grapes, clearly something it picked up during the aging process. In the glass, the beer was light in color but the mouthfeel was completely different, with a more thick body which gave this beer a surprising twist.

Both of these brews from Nebraska were not cheap, but considering the time it took to make them, it should not be surprising. If you have not tried anything from this brewery, I recommend you check them out, they are more than worth the price.

That covers our 37th state. Next week, we dip southwest into the state of Colorado.

Thanks for reading.

beer, History

Nevada : Wide Open

On October 31, 1864, eight days before Abraham Lincoln was re-elected for a second term, Nevada became the 36th state, and this week we will be celebrating the 36th state with some beer from Tenaya Creek Brewery.

Nevada Craft Beer

Nevada Craft Beer — Tenaya Creek

The first known brewery in Nevada, the Carson City Brewing Company was established in 1860. Originally brewing steam beer, the brewery switched to brewing lager in 1913. But that wouldn’t last long, as the state of Nevada started prohibition in 1919, killing most of the breweries in the state. But Carson City Brewing was able to stay afloat during the prohibition years brewing near beer. At the end of Prohibition, Carson City Brewing was back up and running, and they would continue brewing their famous lager Tahoe Beer until 1948 when the brewery finally succumbed to the competition of the much larger national brewers that were taking over the industry.

Another brewery, the Reno Brewing Company would hold off the National brands for another nine years, producing its last batch of beer 1957. It would take 30 years for another brewery to open in Nevada, with the Union Brewery, opening in 1987 paving the way for a new era of beer and brewing in the state.

To experience what is going on in Nevada, we got our hands on two bottles of beer from Tenaya Creek Brewery. The first bottle came from The Beer Babe, the other was from an old high school friend who now lives in Arizona.

Nevada Craft Beer

Tenaya Creek Imperial Stout

The first beer we opened from Tenaya Creek was an Imperial Stout. This stout, originally brewed in London for export to the Russia and Baltic countries was the beer provided to the imperial court of Catherine the Great, where it gained its Imperial moniker.

Our stout, a limited special release, was bottled on 12/12/12. Aged! This bottle was protected with a thick wax seal that took some effort to get opened, but the end result was well worth it. With its chocolate smell, and taste, mixed with some great malty flavors, this was a great beer. There was a hint of bitterness on the tail end, a product of the large amount of hops typically used in this style of beer. Joel rated it as a top 10 for the year on his list, and I totally agree.

After the Imperial Stout, we opened the Old Jackalope, a limited release barley wine. In the glass, this beer had a very sweet smell. The taste was sweet too, maybe a little too sweet. Of course, anything following that Imperial Stout was in for trouble.

In the end, we really enjoyed Tenaya Creek, and if I ever get to Vegas, I will be sure to pick up a few more selections from this brewery.

Thanks again to Beer Babe and Matt for getting us some beer from Nevada. We appreciated it.

Thanks for reading. Next week we will be drinking some beer from Nebraska.

Since we opened with a link to Abraham Lincoln, we will end with a quote from him.

 I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.
— Abraham Lincoln

beer, History

West Virginia : Wild and Wonderful

In June of 1863, the United States added the state of West Virginia to its ranks, growing to 35 states since Delaware became the first state in 1787. West Virginia was part of the state of Virginia up until April 1861, when West Virginia became the only state in the Union to secede from a Confederate state. The capital of West Virginia is the city of Charleston, however this was not always the case. The first state capital was the city of Wheeling, a city that held the title of state capital twice in the span of 22 years.

Wheeling has a rich brewing history. During the late 1800’s, the city was home to over 20 breweries, with the oldest and largest, Reymann, starting prior to statehood, when the region was still part of Virginia. However as we have seen, week after week with these posts, the brewing industry in West Virginia feel to its demise with the passing of Yost’s Law in 1914.

Yost’s Law was named after Lenna Lowe Yost. As the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Yost “proposed the 1913 enforcement act of the state’s 1912 prohibition amendment.” With the passing of Yost’s law, all of West Virginia’s breweries were either shutdown, or transformed to produce other goods, leaving a brewing void in Wheeling until the 1990s.

While the prohibition of the manufacturing and sale of liquor was repealed in 1934, the wording in the state Constitution is strange at best, ending with:

…any law authorizing the sale of [intoxicating] liquors shall forbid and penalize the consumption and the sale thereof for consumption in a saloon or other public place.

As a result, while beer was allowed to be sold in privately owned retail stores, a creative workaround was required to allowed the sale of beer in bars and restaurants.  This workaround came about in 1937 when the definition of standard beer was changed to non-intoxicating beer. No longer considered an intoxicating liquor, beer sales in public places was again permitted. To this day, all beer sold in West Virginia is sold as non-intoxicating beer, with one minor change. In 2009, the definition of non-intoxicating beer was changed from having a cap on ABV of 6% to a new cap of 12% ABV, allowing many more craft beers into the state, including the one we have for this week.

Breweries are now back up and running in the state. And with the ABV raised from 6% to 12%, they have the potential to produce some interesting and creative brews. However, West Virginia does not export any beer out of the state (that I could find), so we had to look into alternative means for getting our beer this week. Last January, as I was setting the staging for this project, I called a few breweries in West Virginia as I was cruising along Interstate 81 in Virginia. I figured if I had any chance of getting beer it would be while I was skirting the border. It was through these conversations that I learned about the limited distribution in the state, and that most of the beer wasn’t even bottled, but was draft only. But I did not give up.

When I got back to New England, and was explaining this issue to a friend, he quickly mentioned that he had a client that split his time between West Virginia and our little New England town. He said that this client would be more than willing to help out with this crazy adventure. After a few email exchanges with James, things were not looking good.

I am not having much luck finding bottles or cans of beer from any  West Virginia Craft Brewery. I am finding that most offer their beer in Kegs only. The one Brewery that I found that offers bottles, Mountaineer Brewing Co, closed its doors last Wednesday and is for sale.   — email on February 14, 2013

I continued to call around and email breweries in West Virginia, maintaining hope. In April, I got a reply from Bridge Brew Works.

Try the grape and grain in Martinsburg WV – they may be temporarily out.

Lucky for me, James not only lived near Martinsburg, but happened to be heading to that town that afternoon. A few minutes later, I got another email from James:  

I called Grapes & Grains, they do have a limited amount of Bridge Brew Works Beer on hand.

The quest was over. Towards the end of April, James was in New England with a few bombers from Bridge Brew Works. There is more to the story about Grapes & Grains, and the visit by James, but we will leave that for our Idaho post.

So this week, we have an Belgian-Style Tripel from Bridge Brew Works located in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Fayetteville is home to an impressive steel arch bridge, the New River Gorge Bridge which is also prominently featured on the Bridge Brew Works bottle.

West Virginia Craft Beer

Bridge Brew Works Ale

According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, a Tripel should show dense and mousse-like foam, bright burnished golden color, and complex spicy, floral, orange, banana, and citrus notes. This beer was a slight bit darker, and had a sweet smell and taste to it. I was clearly in the minority for this beer, as all of the others around the table didn’t really enjoy it, with some claiming it had a strange after taste. A quick search of previous posts shows that the Tripel style (New Jersey and Pennsylvania) was never really a hit.

The conversation quickly turned to the Labor Day events, and the ushering in of fall. But we all agreed:

No Octoberfest beer until the middle of September!

Thanks again to Peter for getting me in touch with James, and to James for helping keep the project continuing without missing a week. And with that beer from West Virginia, we are now at 35 consecutive weeks. Come back next week for a taste of some beer from Nevada.