beer, History

Kansas : as big as you think

This week is 34 of this project, and with that, we are covering the 34th state of the Union, Kansas. Kansas joined the United States in 1861, having been a US territory since 1854.

When it comes to beer history and Kansas, there is a big hole. An almost 67 year hole to be exact. This hole exists because Kansas had one of the longest prohibition periods in the country. Starting in 1881, a full 38 years before the national Prohibition and lasting until 1948, Kansas was dry for a full 67 years. Even with the lifting of prohibition in 1948, it still took another 39 years for citizens of Kansas to have the opportunity to experience a brew-pub in their own state.

In 1987 Kansas law was relaxed to allow “brew-pubs,” and in 1989 Free State Brewing Company opened as Kansas’ first licensed brewery since state prohibition. source

Kansas was a critical player of the temperance movement and was also the state where Carrie Nation came to fame. Responding to a call from God, she started smashing up saloons, first with rocks and then with her trademark hatchet, with what became known as hatchetations.

Given the state of beer and brewing in Kansas, it is no surprise that acquiring beer from that state is still hard. However we were able to coming across a 4 pack of beer from Tallgrass brewing company. This beer, named the official beer of retro-gamers, is a pale ale called 8-Bit. With the label commemorating the 8-Bit graphics of our favorite classic video games, this is one colorful can. The can is so fun that there are even people selling (and buying?) empties on eBay.

One of the more interesting items I discovered while researching the history of beer in Kansas, was a story about brewers clogs. During the brewing process, malt is cooked in a large vat and then spread out on the floor to cool. As the workers spread the malt out on the floor, they wore wooden shoes that were cleaned daily. These shoes were called brewers clogs. As part of the Kansas Historical Society collection, they posses a pair of brewers clogs worn by brewer Theodore Weichselbaum in Ogden, Kansas, were he owned and operated a brewery from 1871 until 1881, when prohibition kicked in.

So, in a tribute to Theodore, this week we will model some shoes with our sampled beer.

kansas craft beer

8-bit Pale Ale, and some shoes.

This 8-Bit ale was a fun and enjoyable beer. It was light and refreshing and everyone quickly went back for more. An all around favorite. If you happen to get the chance, get yourself one.

As we have discovered, while Kansas brewers had to wait for their government to change ways, they quickly stepped up with some wonderful beer. Sure we only have one data point, but this one point was enjoyable.

Thanks for reading. Next week, West Virginia.

 

 

 

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Oregon : We Love Dreamers

The Pacific Northwest’s first European explorers (Spanish) arrived in 1543, followed by the British in 1778. Other explorers, including Lewis and Clark who spent the 1805-1806 winter near the mouth of the Columbia River were also part of the early non-native visitors to the region.

But it would take the establishment of the Oregon Trail to bring more than explorers and traders to the region with the Great Migration of 1843 depositing 700-1000 new emigrants in the region. With this new influx of settlers, it wasn’t long before the first brewery opened in the region. The introduction of beer and brewing into a region usually coincided with the arrival of Europeans. Or, more specifically, as we have seen over the course of this blog, the arrival of Germans. The region of the Pacific northwest that we now know as Oregon is no different, with the German Henry Saxer establishing the first brewery, Liberty Brewery in 1852, seven years before Oregon became the 33rd state. However it was a different Henry from Germany, Henry Weinhard that would take control of the brewing industry and grow production in the Pacific Northwest to 100,000 barrels by the year 1890.

But Henry’s production levels would only last for 24 years, with the state approving a ban on the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor in 1914, five years prior to the national prohibition. Like many other breweries of the time, Weinhard’s brewery made it through prohibition brewing near-bear, syrups and sodas. After prohibition the brewery was merged and sold multiple times, finally brewing its last beer in 1999, as part of the Miller Brewing Company.

While Oregon may have lost its early brewery to the mergers and acquisitions during the bad years in American brewing, it still retains a healthily number of local breweries. So many in fact, that Portland Oregon is considered to have more breweries within the city limits than any city in the world, and thats not all. Oregon has also become a critical component in the brewing process. With its Willamette Valley producing 4% of the worlds hops crop and the entire state producing almost 9% of the U.S. barley crop each year. With contributions like those, Oregon is definitely a beer healthy state.

Given the number of breweries in the state, it is not unexpected that finding Oregon beer in my part of New England requires little effort. Beer from breweries such as Rouge Widmer Brothers and Deschutes frequent the shelves. As a result, I wasn’t being too particular in my selection and quickly grabbed three bottles from two different brewers. One from Oakshire Brewing and two from Base Camp Brewing Company.

Oregon Craft Beer

This weeks selection from Oregon

Both of the bottles from Base Camp were actually metal cans, and play on the Oregon, outdoors feel. They both featured topographic map backgrounds and contained text relevant to the outdoors life style, such as references to streams, and packs and hiking. This led one of our tasters to refer to the bottles as having an Eddie Bauer feel. I didn’t mind them, and enjoyed their rustic feel.

We started the evening off with a Rye Pilsner called Ripstop (a type of fabric often used in outdoor gear.) I found this to be a fun beer, and would happily toss it in my pack. It had a nice, but not over powering, hoppy taste.

Oregon Craft Beer

Base Camp Ripstop

In the glass, this beer was light in color. I couldn’t get much of an aroma from the the beer, but that probably had to due with the just out of the fridge, cold nature of the beer.

After the Ripstop, we moved on to the next bottle can, this one, an  India Pale Lager called In-Tents. The brewer says this beer aged on an in-house toasted blend of white and red oaks, and that taste was hard for me to get over.

In the glass, this beer was darker than the Pilsner and had a nice hoppy smell. But I kept coming back to that smoked oak taste. This beer reminded me of some of the Kentucky beer, with its oak barrel aging coming through in the flavor, but others actually enjoyed those barrel aged beers and felt this one had something slightly off.

The final beer of the evening was a seasonal from Oakshire called O’Dark:30. The name, derived from the dark malt ingredient, mixed with a pre-dawn brewing, pays homage to the slang beer 30, but it also reminded one taster of the movie Zero Dark Thirty.

Oregon Craft Beer

Oakshire O’Dark:30

In the glass, this beer was dark, with a clean distinct head, and had a wonderful smell. Always a fan of a dark ale, I was looking forward to this beer, and was not let down. It was full of rich flavors and had a clean, smooth finish. Definitely my favorite of the night.

That wraps up Oregon and week 33. Next week, we head back eastwards to the state of Kansas.

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Minnesota : Land of 10,000 Lakes

This week, the 32nd week of this project brings the state of Minnesota into the United States, almost a full 8 years after the previous state, California. Prior to statehood, the capital of Minnesota, St. Paul existed as part of the Territory of Minnesota, and in 1849, Anthony Yoerg started the first brewery in the soon to be state. To help lager his beer, Anthony excavated cellars into the sandstone bluffs, and those cellars still exist today.

Another Minnesota brewery started around the birth of the new state was the August Schell Brewery. Founded in 1860, in New Ulm, the Schell Brewing Company is still operating today, as the 2nd oldest operating family brewery in the United States.

While Minnesota now has a wide variety of craft breweries, there is no access to any Minnesota beer in my state, so I had to resort to some trading to get my hands on some. After a successful trade, I was able to get myself four different beers from the state. Two from Surley Brewing and two from Summit Brewing Company.

Minnesota Craft Beer

Surly Brewing Cynic Ale

The first beer of the week was a Cynic Ale from Surley Brewing. This beer comes in a can, and the rim of the can says “Beer for a Glass, from a Can“. Poured in glass, this beer had a floral aroma that was not off putting. The taste was slightly sweet, and reminded me of a Fuller’s ESB, but not as sweet.

Minnesota Craft Beer

Summit Horizon Red Ale

After the Cynic Ale, I had two different selections from Summit Brewing Company. First was a Horizon Red Ale. This beer was a nice reddish color in the glass. The smell was fruity, and it had a hoppy taste, with a clean finish. This was a great beer, I would take more.

Next was a Summit Sága IPA. This beer had a strong pine aroma, and taste. It also had a strong, bitter aftertaste that wasn’t all that refreshing. Probably a great beer, but when drank alongside the Horizon, it didn’t stand up.

The final beer of the week was another brew from Surly. This one a coffee beer aptly named Coffee Bender. I really enjoyed this beer. The smell was distinctly of coffee, and the taste had a slight burnt taste to it, but it wasn’t a bad burnt taste. It was interesting and added to the overall character of the beer.

That wraps up week 32 and the state of Minnesota. Short post this week. Vacation week. Thanks for reading. Next week, Oregon.

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California : The Golden State

As the United States was one year shy of its Dodranscentennial, the area we now know as California became the 31st state in September, 1850. At the time of statehood, the brewing industry was well on its way, with the Adam Schuppert Brewery already established in the San Francisco region of the soon to be state. Supporting the onslaught of forty niners coming to the area to pan gold, San Francisco quickly became a brewing hotbed, and by 1852, the valley contained more than 350 operational bars and pubs1

Also around that time, California was establishing itself as a major supplier of hops for the brewing industry, and prior to the destruction of prohibition, Sonoma County was a major hops supplier. While now know better as a wine region, this county is still an important player in the beer ingredient chain.

Beer ingredients isn’t the only thing California is known for, it also holds claim to another beer history first. During the booming years of the early 1850s, lager beer was also sweeping across the country. In areas like St. Louis, and Wisconsin, brewers leveraged the geographical features (caves) of those areas to assist with the lagering process. However California does not have access to the caves that are under St. Louis, and with the advent of refrigeration for beer production still a few years away, California brewers had to make some adjustments. Using the bottom fermenting lager yeast, but allowing fermentation to occur at temperatures more common for ales, a new style of beer was born: Steam beer. These days, steam beer is associated with Anchor Brewing (due to trademark,) but there are others out there, brewed under the category of California common beer.

This week, we didn’t have any common beer in our tasting selection, but we did have a nice (very small) variety of beer from the state. Many of them very interesting.

California Craft Beer

We started the week off with an Hop Ottin’ IPA from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. This beer we drank straight from the can, and it was good. The day was hot, not too hot, but hot enough to really enjoy an IPA, and this one did the trick. It had a really nice hoppy flavor and finished slightly bitter, but the bitter quickly went away, leaving no bitter aftertaste. I would buy this beer again.

California Craft BeerKeeping the week rolling, a few days later, we opened a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA. This beer had a piney aroma when opened, and it was stronger hopped than their more popular Pale Ale. This was my first time drinking this beer, and I liked it. It was well received across the tasting party, and our special guest Pete gave it two thumbs up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he buys it again.

Moving on from the Torpedo, we ventured into more extreme waters. Much like the wide ranging state they represent, the California beers of the day covered a variety of styles and flavors.

We started our extreme adventure with a beer from The Bruery in Orange County. From The Bruery, we had a beer from their special collection called Sour in the Rye. An

California craft beer

The Bruery, Sour in the Rye

unfiltered, bottle-conditioned brew, this one generated some commentary. In the glass, this beer was a nice honey color and had a sweet aroma. The taste was unique. With a strong lemon finish, and sour notes throughout, everyone had something to say about this beer. While we were tasting, I read out loud the description from the brewers website:

We brewed this ale with around 40% rye as a base malt and let our sour yeast and bacteria eat away at it in oak barrels for over a year creating a sour ale with a complex character of rye spice, oak and a subtle funk.

and quickly got the response of: “Not sure the funk is all that subtle!” We also tried this beer with some spicy food, and found it really changed the flavor of the beer, but for me, it also damped down the interesting flavors and wasn’t as enjoyable. This brewery is going on my watch list. I must try more of their stuff.

Between the Sour in the Rye and the next beer, Joel commented that this year, we have encountered three different types of beer:

  • Good
  • Industrial
  • Different

I think I agree, and we are about to add another to the different category. Following the Sour in the Rye, we opened a beer from 21st Amendment called Monks Blood (no link on the brewers site).

California Craft Beer

Monks Blood

This beer, brewed with figs, oak chips, vanilla and cinnamon, was the most unique of the night. I really enjoyed this beer, but I was alone in that group. This is not a beer you are going to sit and drink 2 or 3 of. With its thick mouthfeel and sweet smell, this is something you sip over a duration. Others felt it was a dessert beer, and I could see that. The fig taste was subtle, and the tail end of the taste. Unique and full of character.

Keeping the day rolling, we opened a Lagunitas Lucky 13 and a Cappuccino Stout.

California craft beer

Selection of Lagunita’s beer

The Lucky 13 had a strong piney smell as Joel described “Beat over the head with the pine.” This was true. I enjoyed the pine at first, but after a few sips, the pine overpowered everything else and took over the beer. The Cappuccino Stout was a nice, well rounded stout. It had a distinct chocolate smell and a wonderful coffee taste. Another great coffee beer.

Later in the week, I discovered a Stone RuinTen in my stock. That was a nice surprise, for a mid-week beer.

That wraps up a (late) California post. Next week, Minnesota.

1 The Oxford Companion to Beer

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Wisconsin: Live like you mean it

There was in the United States, in the beer age, no more delightful a city than Milwaukee in which to spend a day, a year or a life.1

By the time Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, it was already well on its way to becoming a major brewing center. Eight years prior to statehood, the Lake Brewery in Milwaukee began brewing traditional English ales and porters. While these styles were well loved among the English, their sweet taste and murky color were not what the German’s called beer. Within a year, the Germans would get their beer, when a German immigrant named Reuthlisberger founded the lager beer industry in Milwaukee, setting the course of the city for years to come.

The Germans brought with them their love of relaxation, beer and talk.1

Around 1844, the first big wave of German immigrants started migrating to the United States, with many of them settling in region that would become Wisconsin. One of the newly transplanted was Jacob Best. Prior to coming across the Atlantic, Jacob ran a small brewery in Germany, so when he arrived in Wisconsin, he picked up right where he left off by founding the Empire Brewery which later became the Pabst Brewing Company. Quickly, other beer barons with names like Schlitz and Blatz also set up shop brewing lager, making the city Milwaukee synonymous with the word beer.

Pour beer out upon a locality and it won’t be long till the ground is dotted with gardens. They will grow and bloom so long as the beer continues to nourish them.1

Along with the their love of lager, the German immigrants also brought another facet of home with them, the beer garden, a gathering place for all.  One of the most famous beer gardens not only in Milwaukee, but in the entire United States at one point in time, was the Schlitz Palm Garden. Opened in 1896, The Schlitz Garden, built when “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous” was sweeping the land, quickly became a major tourist attraction for the city, including a visit from Woodrow Wilson on his first presidential nomination campaign.

Beer and wine make for conversation. There is in liquors of mild alcoholic persuasion that which quickens the flow of the thoughts in a man’s cranium, loosens a notch the belt about his reticence and releases upon his tongue the fruits of his meditations1

While the German’s were busying putting their own mark on Milwaukee with the introduction of lager beer and beer gardens, there was a steadily growing temperance movement sweeping across the U.S., and within Wisconsin, that would bring about another, much resisted, change to the city.

Wisconsin to the average American unacquainted with actual conditions therein, is commonly regarded as a Gibraltar of the wets — sort of a Utopia where everybody drinks their fill and John Barlycorn still holds forth in splendor2

Prohibition in the United States lasted from 1920 to 1933 with some areas embracing it more than others. Wisconsin was not one of the more embracing states. In 1931, just two years shy of the 21st Amendment, The Treasury Department conducted a survey of Prohibition enforcement in the state of Wisconsin and found that a majority of the state was doing little to uphold the federal law. In most instances, the enforcement of Prohibition was just theater as indicated by this paragraph in the report: The writer attended police court in Superior and observed the daily collection therein from proprietors of such establishments. The line formed on the right. The violator stepped up to the judge, was asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty to the sale of intoxicating liquor in his particular soft-drink establishment. Before the judge had finished with the above question, the proprietor in each case would reach into his pocket, extract therefrom a roll of bills, plead guilty, and place $200 on the desk. This is the standard penalty for liquor transgressions in the city of Superior.2

However, even with flagrant disregard of the law in many parts of the state, Prohibition still made its mark. Just one year into Prohibition, the Schlitz Garden closed, ending a 25 year run of the most successful beer garden in the United States.

Once prohibition ended, the major players bounced back and regained their foothold,  quickly regaining their leading positions of producers of beer in the country. While Wisconsin was once the home to many major national breweries, things appear to be different these days, as we were only able to get our hands on one craft brewery here in Massachusetts for this weeks tasting: Lakefront Brewery.

From Lakefront Brewery, we tried 5 different styles.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Wisconsin Craft Beer

We opened the Fixed Gear, an American Red Ale, to start the evening.

Brewed in Milwaukee for people who like beer

This beer had a deep red color when poured in the glass. The taste was caramel, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Nothing off putting at all. This beer won two awards, The Regional Champion at the Winter U.S. Beer Tasting Championship and the Silver Medal at the Los Angels International Commercial Beer Competition, and I am not surprised. This was a nice, solid beer and I would drink it again.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Lakefront Brewery Wisonsinite

After the Fixed Gear, we opened the Wisconsinite, a summer Weiss. The concept of this beer, brewed with 100 percent Wisconsin grown ingredients intrigued me. This is an idea I have always been curious about, can a beer have a sense of place? Do the locally grown ingredients give the beer a regional taste that can not be reproduced when using the same ingredients in a different area. In wine and coffee, this is referred to as terroir, and the debate still carries on about terroir in beer.

In the glass, this beer was a light golden color. The aroma had a slight banana characteristic, which is expected in a hefeweizen. The aroma stems from the yeast used to brew the beer which produces the same esters found in bananas.

When drank, this beer didn’t really have anything that made it standout. No flavors jumped out at me, and I was left wanting of a description. This beer reminded me of a session beer, and with its 4.4 ABV, it meets the criteria. While not a bad beer, it was just not loaded with the flavors that we have often encountered over the past year, but as a session beer, I could handle a few of these.

Our next beer was the Cream City Pale Ale. Milwaukee is nicknamed the Cream City for the cream colored bricks used as a common building material in the area. The color of this beer was golden honey (not cream!), and the beer had a slightly bitter aftertaste. Other than that, there were no other descriptives I could come up with for this beer.

Finishing up the Cream City, we moved to the IPA and followed that with the IBA.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Lakefront IPA

The IPA, while not emitting much of a smell, had that nice, enjoyable bitter taste expected in an IPA. I felt the carbonation of this beer overpowered the ability to get any aroma from it, otherwise, this was a typical, good IPA.

The IBA (Black IPA) was a nice, roasted dark color and wasn’t as bitter as the IPA. With its roasted tastes and bitter hops, this was my favorite beer of the night.

In the end, I enjoyed the Fixed Gear and the IBA the best. The others were fine, but they seemed lacking in character and didn’t have the uniqueness that some of the beers we have encountered on this journey have exhibited. Overall, another successful week was had putting us at 136 beers from 30 states in 30 weeks.

Next week, California. Thanks for reading.

1 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1270
2 http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/tp/id/48320

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Iowa : Fields of Opportunities

Iowa became the 29th state in 1846, and less than a year later, a temperance movement was starting to gain traction in the state. Over the course of the next 70 years, various levels of prohibition existed in the state, until 1916 when a statewide prohibition took effect, two years prior to the national prohibition.

While Iowa battled on and off with a ban on alcohol, a few intrepid (and a few corrupt) individuals paved a path to brewing in the state. In 1859, John Kohl, along with two partners built the Minnie Creek Brewery in Anamosa city, with a statewide prohibition having ended just two years prior. The building still stands today and is listed in the National Historic Register as one of the few remaining example of early Iowan industry.

Like the rest of the country, Iowa has come around on its stand towards prohibition. After leading the way to Prohibition, the residents of the state voted for the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933. Today, craft beer is a part of the Iowan culture, with a craft beer tent now part of the Iowa State Fair.

This week, in the middle of our second heatwave in 3 weeks, we were able to get a slight break in a nice air conditioned space while we sampled 4 different brews from Iowa. One from Peace Tree Brewing, 1 from Backpocket Brewing, and 2 from Millstream Brewing.

Iowa Craft Beer

Iowa Craft Beer

We started the night off with the flagship brew from Millstream Brewery,  a Schild Brau Amber. This beer is a Lager “brewed in the style of a Vienna Lager“, a style that originated in Austria, but is more prominently made in North America with Sam Adams Boston Lager and Dos Equis leading the pack.

In the glass, the Schild Brau Amber was a nice golden honey / copper color, typical for this style of beer. Initially, the aroma was lacking, however after it warmed up a bit, I was getting hints of some interesting spices that reminded me of celery seeds. The taste of this beer was interesting and had more character than some of the leaders of this style. While it had a slightly sweet taste, it wasn’t too much and it didn’t linger, making this a sort of refreshing beer.

Iowa Craft Beer

Backpocket Brewery Slingshot

Moving on from the lager, we next opened the Slingshot Dunkel from Backpocket Brewing.

In 1516, the German Purity Law, or Reinheitsgebot originated, restricting the ingredients of beer to: water, barley and hops (in the 1800s, yeast was included). The Slingshot Dunkel, a dark German lager, adheres to the Reinheitsgebot.

Dunkel means dark in German, and in the glass, this beer lives up to its name. This beer had a minimal noise, with no distinguishing characteristics, and the taste was slightly smokey. Generating comments like, “this would be good with food” and “needs a Brat on the grill”, this beer was enjoyable, but felt more like a fall beer, not something to drink on a hot day. 

This beer won for the best label of the day. With its matte finish and simple color scheme, this label was one of the best we have seen recently and we were interested in seeing what else this brewery had.

From the Slingshot, we went back to another beer from Millstream Brewery, this time a

Iowa Craft Beer

Millstream Brewery Back Road Stout

stout. The Back Road Stout is brewed with 5% oatmeal in the milled grain, or grist, and that oatmeal stands out in the mouthfeel of this beer giving it a thick, roasted taste. The color of this beer was typical dark stout and it had a nice sweet and smokey aroma. Over this course of this project, I have enjoyed many nice stouts, and this one is up there with the enjoyable ones.

The final beer of the night was from Peace Tree Brewing. Named after a 500 year old Sycamore tree, near the town of Red Rock, Peace Tree has a line of 4 regular brews and we had their Hop Wrangler. The Hop Wrangler is a multinational take on an IPA. This beer had a real heady pour, and was dark for an IPA. In the glass, it had a real fruity smell, with hints of lemons, oranges and tangerines. On the tongue, this beer was all carbonation. Too much carbonation for my taste. The finish was quite bitter. Starting off with an interesting aroma full of multiple citrus flavors, this beer was a let down with its over carbonation and bitter aftertaste.

Overall, we enjoyed our little voyage into Iowa without have to leave New England. From our little sampling, it is clear there is some interesting brewing occurring in the state and I look forward to experiencing more. Come back next week for Wisconsin.

Iowa Craft Beer

Peace Tree Hop Wrangler

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Texas : It’s Like a Whole Other Country

He likes beer
He likes Texas
He likes Texas beer

Redneck Mother
Ray Wylie Hubbard

In 1837, the Republic of Texas made its first attempt at statehood, and after several failed attempts, it finally succeeded in 1845, making Texas the 28th state of the United States.

Sixty four years later, a group of German and Czech businessmen hired brewmaster Herman Weiss, and with that, the Spoetzl Brewery, home to Shiner beer, Texas’ oldest brewery was born.

Shiner is a Texas legend. There are coffee table books about it, movie placements, and even mentions in Breaking Bad. But the reference that seems to occur most often is in lyrics, where it holds yet another legendary status. In 2012, Georgia country artist Jason Aldean signed a promotional deal with Coors which resulted in his changing of a song lyric from grab a little Shiner Bock to grab a couple Rocky Tops.

2 6 packs of Shiner
99 cent butane lighter
Lucky Strikes and a fifth of Patrón
Ice down that Igloo cooler
Tank of gas that oughta do her
I can feel a good one coming on

Good One Comin’ On
Blackberry Smoke

Texas musicians have always liked to sing about their beer. In fact, the Spotzel brewery sponsored its own band, the Shiner Hobo Band, with the band getting paid 1 keg per performance. In 1947, Bob Willis and his Texas Playboys first recorded the song Bubbles in My Beer which was performed by many Texas musicians, including George Jones and Willie Nelson.

On his Live In Aught-Three album, Texas musician James McMurtry starts No More Buffalo with “…I used to think I was an artist. Come to find out I’m a beer salesman.”  Understanding that the link between musician’s and beer is strong, Shiner has been a long supporter of the Texas music scene and still sponsors a music festival (albeit it is in Colorado, not in Texas.)

Today, we skipped the Patrón and went with our 1 six pack of Shiner, the family pack, and to show off some other beer from the state, we also grabbed some Buried Hatchet Stout from Southern Star Brewing Company.

My first experiences with Shiner were on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. On two different trips there, I had a nice portion of Shiner Bock. Finding Texas beer in New England is hit or miss. More on the miss side for me, so during the planning stages, I brought back a six pack of Shiner Family Reunion from Alabama.

Texas craft beer

Shiner Family Reunion

This six pack contained one each of: Bock, Black Lager, Kosmos, Blonde, Hefewiezen, and Brewers Pride selection. We started the tasting with the Brewers Pride selection. Part of a limited series batch, this selection was a special brew with a locally sourced ingredient: Prickly Pear. Moving on from that, we tried the Black Lager. Next in the tasting series came the Blonde, followed by the Kosmos and finally the Hefewiezen. Since I have had the Bock before, I donated my only bottle towards some future good will for the blog.

Texas Craft Beer

Shinerr Prickly Pear

The Prickly Pear beer was different. I was expecting something similar to a fruit beer, or maybe a lambic, but this was neither of those. Cactus Fruit is said to taste like a watermelon, or maybe a kiwi, however I got none of that. The smell was sweet, but the taste was neither sweet nor sour, and it definitely wasn’t the taste of beer. Other tasters described it as a non-sweet fruit juice, and the lower carbonation sure gave off that look. This was not my favorite of the weekend, but two other tasters wanted more.

The Black Lager, and frankly the Blonde, Kosmos were pretty status quo. They were all fine beers, but they lacked character. The Black Lager, my favorite of the three was fine, but it wasn’t a standout. It had a slight malty taste, but it wasn’t at the levels I would have preferred. Others stated that maybe this was a fall beer and would taste better when the air was crisp, and a fire was going. The Blonde was more champagne like, with its higher carbonation. Unlike the Black Lager, this beer was described as a refreshing beer in the heat, but nothing [flavor-wise] jumps out. The Kosmos was probably the least liked of the bunch. It has a slight sour smell and taste that didn’t mix well with the caramel-ness of the malt.

Texas Craft Beer

Texas Beer Selection

The final Shiner of the weekend was the Hefewiezen. Again, this beer wasn’t anything I would be clamoring for anytime soon. A good beer, but maybe after all of these weeks of interesting, sometimes experimental, brews, I have come to cherish the unique and distinct characteristics that have become prevalent in American craft beer. An interesting experiment might have been to compare this Hefewiezen. with something a bit more mass market, like a Harpoon UFO.

Texas Craft Beer

Southern Star Brewing Buried Hatchet Stout

After all of the Shiner was opened, we cracked open a can of Buried Hatchet Stout. This beer was different. It had that distinct smell of roasted malt, grains and coffee, a characteristic that has been popping up over the weeks on this project. The taste was sweet and coffee-like, and it had a thick mouthfeel. Not maple syrup thick, but it wasn’t a light beer. While well liked, this beer was described as Tastes better than it smells. and Not sure I could drink a whole can of this.

That concludes Texas. And while we enjoyed the tasting, we were not enamored with the beer from Shiner. Except for two tasters that will take more of that Prickly Pear if you have it.

Thanks for reading. Next week Iowa.

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Florida : Sunshine State

What better way to celebrate our country’s birthday than with some U.S. brewed beer?

This week, on the 4th of July, we are covering the 27th United State state, Florida. Gaining statehood in 1845, Florida was the first part of the continental United States to be settled by Europeans when the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first landed in 1513. For most of its 330 years of European occupation prior to statehood, Florida was controlled by Spain. There is no historical record of these early Spanish settlers brewing beer in their newly claimed territory, so Florida would have to wait for another Spanish immigrant, Vicente Martinez Ybor, to build that first brewery in 1896.

Ybor, who left Spain for Cuba in 1832, founded a very successful cigar company which he eventually moved to the Tampa area in 1885. In Tampa, Ybor built a cigar factory that was the largest in the world at the time. To keep his employees from moving back to Cuba, Ybor also built a community around the factory that included housing, a hotel and the Florida Brewing Company.

Opened in 1896, the Florida Brewing Company, at 6 stories tall, was, and still is, the tallest building in Ybor City. The height of the building was essential for the gravity-fed brewing process where the raw grain material entered on the top floor, with the resulting finished product stored in tanks on the bottom floor. Brewing both La Tropical Ale and Bock, the Florida Brewing Company was very successful and soon became the leading exporter of beer to Cuba.

However, as we have witnessed in other states, with the national prohibition on the horizon, challenges would soon arrive. Florida enacted prohibition in 1918, two years prior to the national prohibition. Prohibition was detrimental to most of the smaller breweries, with the larger ones scraping by. In Jacksonville, Jax Brewery, which opened just 5 years prior, switched their business to ice and near beer which helped them survive. Florida Brewing Company had  a different strategy, as stated here: “Florida Brewing Company took a different approach: ignoring the law. In fact, the brewery kept making beer up until 1927 when they were finally raided and shut down.”

The period after prohibition was the same for Florida brewers as it was across the country. Many brewers started, operated for a few years and closed. This pattern continued until the 1960’s when two big national brewers moved into the Florida scene. With the arrival of Anhueser Busch (and their marketing theme park) and Schlitz, it became increasing harder for the smaller breweries to compete.

To make things worse for small brewers was the passing of a strange bottle-size law by an angry group of law makers. In the mid 1960s, Miller changed their mind about building a brewery in Florida, instead choosing Georgia. This change angered state lawmakers, and with the backing of Anhueser Busch, they passed a law restricting beer bottle sizes to 8, 12, 16 and 32 ounces. This law was a direct assault at Miller and their 7oz “pony” bottles. However this law also prevented 22 oz bottles, the common bomber size used by craft brewers as well as the well loved 64 oz growlers.

With the bottle-size law changed in 2001, opportunities for craft beer are opening in Florida. However, even with these constraints, a few intrepid breweries, starting with Dunedin Brewery have helped to turn around the Florida beer scene.

This week, thanks to Walt (remember Walt from our Arkansas tasting), we have beer from two of these Florida craft brewers: Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Cigar City Brewing.

The Florida tasting was held on Independence Day, without which, 50 states of beer would not exist. And on this beautiful afternoon, we settled into three different selections, two from Cigar City and one from Tampa Bay Brewing.

Florida Craft Beer

Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale

We started the evening off with a brown ale from Cigar City called Maduro. As Walt tells it: Cigar City is much newer [than Tampa Bay Brewery]. Owner Joey Redner is trying to get out from under his infamous father’s reputation as Tampa’s best-know strip club owner. Joe Redner Sr. has battled city hall for years over his nude dance clubs.

From our view up here in the Northeast, Joey Redner is succeeding in changing the family reputation starting with two gold metal winning brews. The Maduro Brown was a fun beer. With its dark color and malty aromas, one taster described its sweet taste as Roasted peanuts. This beer started up a conversation over the caramel smell and taste that was a distinctive characteristic of this brew. At one point, I mentioned to first time 50 states participant, Erin, that she was allowed to dump any beer she did like. No requirement to finish. On the Maduro, she responded with a hearty: It’s not dump-able.

The Cigar City Maduro had a taste of roasted peanuts.

After the Maduro, we switched over to an IPA from the Tampa Bay Brewing Company called Old Elephant Foot. Tampa Bay Brewing has been in business longer than Cigar City, and again from Walt:

Tampa Bay Brewing Company’s Old Elephant Foot is a local favorites. TBBC has been around for years and until recently you could only get the beer on tap at the restaurant. They make a great stout and a lighter beer (One Night Stand).  Vicki, the owner, is from Wales and did stunt work on the British series “The Prisoner” made back in the 1960s (when she was a teen barmaid at a Wales pub).  My son was an assistant chef at TBBC a few years back. They serve a great beer soaked meatloaf.

Florida Craft Beer

Tampa Bay Brewing, Old Elephant Foot IPA

Surprisingly, with it combination of Northern Brewer, Centennial and Cascade hops, this beer didn’t have the hops aroma we have come to expect from an IPA. It was also a bit lacking in the flavor department too. While it was a very enjoyable beer, it didn’t stand up to some of the more interesting IPAs we have encountered on this journey. While I didn’t mind this IPA, and will grab one the next time I am at the Tampa airport, one of the non-IPA drinking tasters described the Old Elephants Foot as “tasted like that [an old elephants foot].” 

We finished off this 4th of July tasting with another beer from Cigar City. This beer, another IPA, is called Jai Alai. The name Jai Alai, a game from the Basque region of Spain, brought up a discussion of the intro sequence to Miami Vice, where there is a quick clip of the game being played. Then the conversation moved to Mad Men, and the attempted Jai Alai television special plot line. Once everyone was up to speed on Jai Alai in popular culture, we moved to tasting the beer. This IPA was all about the aroma, with its nice piney, grassy, citrus smell. The taste was similar for this beer, and it had an enjoyable sweet finish. This was another enjoyable IPA, but not the best of the year. Given the amount of IPAs getting produced these days, and the number we have tried, it is quickly becoming a category that requires something special to stand out for our tasting party. Then, before we wrapped up for the evening, this beer started yet another conversation about the can and its resemblance to a 1970s soda can. With all the reminiscing done, we declared Florida a success.

Florida Craft Beer

Cigar City Jai Alai

In the end, I enjoyed all three brews from Florida, but the Maduro was definitely my favorite of the evening. Again, thanks to Walt for providing this week’s beer and brewery backstories.

Next week we will be deep in the heart of Texas.

 

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beer, History

Michigan : Say Yes to Michigan

While settlers have been living in Michigan for many years, starting with the French in the wary 1600’s, it would be many years before Michigan became an state. When Michigan did enter the union as the 26th state, the United States was already over 60 years old. Even with this long settler history, the first records of brewing in the state show that it was the British settlers of the 1800’s, with their introduction of ale. This timeframe coinesides with the completion of the Erie Canal, a newly constructed water route connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. The introduction of this canal made it easier for immigrants to settle in the western territories like Michigan.

Not far behind the British were the German immigrants, and with them came lager beer. As was the case with many other states in the 1840-50s, lager was quickly become the beer of choice. In fact, lager became so dominant in Michigan that in the years between 1862 and 1882 the number of ale brewers in the city of Detroit dropped from 28 to 4.

One of the newly dominant lager brewers in Michigan was a guy named Bernhard Stroh. Having learned the art from his father back in Germany, Bernhard setup his own brewery in Detroit in 1850 and quickly started brewing pilsner, a pale lager style. When Bernhard first started his operation, he relied on a door-to-door sales approach, hawking his goods from a wheelbarrow.

There were no wheelbarrows involved with my acquisition of beer for this weeks tasting, but that would have been fun. Instead, I relied on some of the dwindling stock from the start of this project that included two different styles from Bell’s Brewery, and some beer from Founders, which has recently started to appear in the state and is now readily available.

So, with a nice break in the rain, and a gathering of friends in the backyard, we set about sampling, and then drinking a variety of beer from Michigan.

 

Michigan craft beer

Bell’s and Founders, Two of the many craft brewers in Michigan

When I setup tastings, I prefer to leave the IPAs until the end. With their hop kick, it usually makes it harder to get anything out of the following samples. However, more often than not lately, we have been encountering situations where it is unclear which beer to start with. With this project, the beer is not grouped by style, or year, like other tastings. Instead the beer is geographically grouped, and that often results in some strange combinations. And this week is a perfect example. We had two stouts: Expedition Stout and Breakfast Stout, and we had IPAs: Two Hearted Ale, All Day IPA and Centennial IPA.

So, sticking with the IPAs last, we kicked off with the stouts. Maybe not the best decision of the night, be we had to start somewhere.

The first stout of the night was the Expedition Stout from Bell Brewery.

Michigan Craft Beer

Expedition Stout from Bell’s Brewery

Known as the oldest craft brewer east of Colorado, Bells has been honing their craft for more than 25 years now. Starting with a 15-gallon stock pot operation in 1985, Bells has grown to a 200-barrel brewhouse today. One of the beers that comes from that brewhouse is a Russian Imperial Stout called Expedition Stout. In the glass, this beer was dark. It looked like 40 weight motor oil, and it had a really nice, sweet aroma. The mouthfeel was all malt, and it was enjoyable, placing this beer in the upper echelon for the year. After all the others were sampled, this was the first beer everyone went back for seconds.

Following the Expedition Stout, we moved to a Breakfast Stout from Founder’s Brewery. While as dark and malty as the Expedition, this beer was not as thick, and felt lacking in character. I think if I had this beer stand-alone, it would have been just fine, and even well liked. But when compared with the Expedition, it didn’t.

Michigan Craft Beer

Bell’s Brewery, Two Hearted Ale

Now here is why I think the ordering was wrong. The third beer was Two-Hearted Ale from Bells. The first time I had this beer, I was floored. It was flavorful, and very enjoyable. I wished I had easier access to it, because it was unlike anything I have had before. Now maybe after trying a few different beers on this project I have come to discover more beer like the Two-Hearted ale and it lost some of its magic, but I would like to think it was the ordering of the samples. As I have come to expect from this beer, the aroma was a rich bouquet of various hops. The color, was typical of its style, with a slightly cloudy appearance in the glass. On the tongue, the taste was very mild. This is most likely due to the two previous stouts. In the end, I will always enjoy this beer, and it does hold a special place for anyone that has tried it. Just a mention of Bell’s, and the first response is usually Two-Hearted Ale.

After the Two-Hearted Ale, we had two more selections from Founders, and we started with the All Day IPA. This beer started with “Smells like someone just mowed the lawn” and ended with “All day IPA, I don’t think so.” With its truly distinct aroma, I was expecting to really like this beer, but the finish was off. Very bitter, and not in the good way. Overall, this was not a favorite of the night.

We capped the tasting off with a Centennial IPA from Founders. I enjoyed this beer more than the All Day (Disclaimer: That one grew on me too over the evening,) as I enjoy the piney aroma from the Centennial hops. It also had a nicer finish, not as bitter. I think this was my favorite Founders of the evening.

Michigan Craft Beer

Founders Brewery, All Day IPA and Centennial IPA

At the end of the sampling, everyone went to the cooler to grab a bottle of their favorite of the evening, and we all settled in to enjoy some conversation and a beautiful evening.

Thanks for all the participants this week. It was fun.

Next week. Florida.

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beer, History

Arkansas: The Natural State

Who would have thought an Arkansas beer would be better than a British beer

On June 15, 1836 Arkansas became the 25th state of the United States.

Prohibition was an issue in Arkansas well before statehood. In 1832, a grand jury attempted to invoke a law prohibiting the production and sale of alcohol. However, that ordinance could not be enforced, and it would take a more organized effort from the temperance movement to get the state legislature to pass the first alcohol ban in the early 1850s. Luckily for breweries, these early attempts at prohibition were geared towards whiskey and other ‘hard’ liquors,” leaving beer consumption untouched until the national Prohibition.

While the temperance movement was busy lobbying the state legislature, the first known brewery in Arkansas was started by a German immigrant named Joseph Knoble. Settling in Fort Smith Arkansas somewhere between 1848 and 1851, Joseph Knoble constructed a three-story brewery that still stands today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Knoble Brewery operated until Joseph died in 1881. With the end of the Knoble Brewery, Arkansas would have to wait until after Prohibition to see another brewery operating in the state.

After a few failed attempts in the 1950s and again in the 1990s, it would take the turn of a new century to see a true revival of the beer scene in Arkansas. Now, 80 years after the repealing of the 21st Amendment, Arkansas has nine operating breweries, with more on the way. And this week, we had the opportunity to sample a beer from Core Brewing in Springdale thanks to the great folks at the Arkansas Beer Blog.

A few years before Joseph Knoble set up shop in Arkansas, John Fuller, Henry Smith, and John Turner started the Fuller Smith & Turner Brewery just outside of London, UK. Still in operation today, Fuller’s has a well established, easily accessible line of beer, including a beer introduced in 1971, the original ESB. With its profusion of rich malt, orangey fruit, and peppery hops, the Fuller’s ESB is an award winning beer. However, it wasn’t winning any awards this week, as we used it to compare against an excellent ESB brewed far from London.

Arkansas Craft Beer

Core Brewing ESB with Fuller’s ESB

For this weeks tasting, we had a welcome guest, Walt, who happened to be visiting one of our chief samplers. It was Walt, visiting New England from Sunny Florida, that provided that excellent quote at the beginning of this post.

Knowing that we only had one beer to sample this week, and having access to the original of the style, I decided it would be interesting to try them side-by-side to see how they stack up. So, on a beautiful, sunny New England day, we gathered around the table in the backyard to try some beer.

Arkansas Craft Beer

Core Brewery ESB

From the glass, the Core was a dark gold color with a thick head and had a nice fruity aroma. At the first sip, the aroma transformed into a pleasant nutty and caramel taste, finishing with a nice bitter dry mouthfeel. What a wonderful beer.

After polishing off the Core, we opened a bottle of Fuller’s ESB to try the original. Right from the start, it was obvious these two beers were not the same. The Fuller’s was lighter in color and  much sweeter, lacking that bitter finish that stood out with the Core. Overall, this beer was considered too sweet and  “kind of wimpy.”

To be fair, the American version of an ESB has derived from that original, evolving into its own distinct incarnation, however at the end of the day, put that Fuller’s back on the shelf and treat yourself to a Core.

Again, thanks to Jonas at the Arkansas Beer Blog (check out their site), for hooking us up with a great beer for this weeks tasting. Well done Arkansas!

Thanks for reading. Next week Michigan.

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