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With the passing of the 21st amendment to the Constitution, prohibition was repealed in 1933.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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beer, History

Ohio: Birthplace of Aviation

Ohio was approved as a state in 1803, however at the time Congress never passed a resolution to admit Ohio into the union, and it wasn’t until 1953 that the oversight was discovered and Ohio was retroactively admitted as the 17th state.

Ohio Craft Beer

Ohio Craft Beer

When I started on this project, my goal was (and still is) to try beer from a different state each week for 50 weeks. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy task, but I mentally bound myself to the week idea and specified Saturday as my end day for the week. So each week could, in theory kick off on a Sunday and run through until the following Saturday. In reality, most of the tastings occur on either the Friday or Saturday evenings at the end of the week. And I then try to get the post up on Sunday, time permitting. So when we were at the middle of last week and I had no idea if I would have beer for this week, I was starting to get nervous, and thinking the project goal was going to fail at Ohio.

In New England, beer from Ohio is scarce. I have seen mention of some beer, mainly from Hoppin’ Frog Brewery available in a few places, but it wasn’t guaranteed. So I decided it was time to look at alternative means for this week. On the original purchase run back in December, my sister-in-law (let’s call her Heather) was doing the drive with me. As I was explaining the potential difficulties of Ohio, she mentioned that she had contacts that would help. And, Ohio being a border state, her contact could also take care of Indiana (two weeks away) as well. So, for this week we would be moving into the social aspect of the project.

When you set goals for yourself, as I did with this weekly requirement, you don’t expect others to feel obligated to bind to your rules. So when I relied on social networks (friend of friend, not Facebook) to get beer, I knew that issues could arise with meeting my goals. When Thursday rolled into Friday and I was still without beer from Ohio, I was concerned and felt I had to take control of my own goals. I had word from Heather that her contact Corey shipped the beer, but it might not arrive until Monday. Not good for my goal. Thus, on Friday, I set out to try and cover myself for the week and rely on the shipment as an addendum to the post. I knew my best chance of beer from Ohio would be Hoppin’ Frog, and I set my sights there. My first stop at a neighborhood beer store didn’t have anything, so I had one more potential resource. Upon arrival at New England Wine and Spirits, I asked if they had anything from Hoppin’ Frog, and was welcomed with a “Yes, I think we have two different styles actually.

The streak was alive. I had two bottles of beer in hand, bought in my town from Ohio. That evening, the usual clan of tasters arrived at 5, and we set about sampling Hoppin’ Frog Bodacious Black and Tan as well as Hoppin’ Frog Hop Heathen.

Ohio Craft Beer

Hoppin’ Frog Bodacious Black and Tan

I have to admit I am puzzled by Black and Tan in a bottle. Sure, there are some good ones out there, but I always associated a Black and Tan with the experience. The two layers of beer in the glass, and as Joel put it “Having to get the green card Irish guy to pour it for you.” So we set about this beer biased out of the gate. The beer had a nice smell in the glass, tasted fine, but there was a weird after-taste. The reports were about equal across the group, with “For a Friday afternoon sippin’, this is fine.” But it was “Nothing special.” In the final pour from the bottle, there was plenty of sediment, as can been seen in the top right corner of the collage photo.

Ohio Craft Beer

Hoppin’ Frog Hop Heathen

The next beer we moved on to was called Hop Heathen, an Imperial Black Ale. The bottle for this beer was imprinted with text describing the beer, including something about an uncivilized amount of hops. We have had our share of over hopped beer during this project, and this bottle did not join that unique class of beer, however I liked this beer. It has a nice, malty flavor. It wasn’t the best Black Ale in the world, but it was not bad at all. With no smell or taste of the hops, we ended with “The only thing uncivilized on this beer is the horrible label.” With two bottles from Ohio in the books, I felt relaxed that the goal lived for another week.

A major goal in manufacturing is the reduction of product inventory. From this goal arrived the idea of Just in Time Inventory (JIT). Under the just in time inventory system, “shipments are made within rigidly enforced time windows.” A fact I left out earlier is that both Heather and Corey are engineers, and well versed in the JIT model. So, on the last day of the ‘project week’, I opened my door to a box from Ohio that contained, nine, yes nine different bottles of beer from Ohio (and a few from Indiana too). This arrival turned Saturday evening into a second tasting for Ohio, and our second largest covering for the year. So a big shout out to Corey for helping us maintain our goal for yet another week.

For our tasting on Saturday, we had:

Ohio Craft Beer

Ohio Craft Beer Selection

  •  Hoppin’ Frog Silk Porter
  •  Hoppin’ Frog Belgian-style Double IPA
  •  Rivertown, Barrel Aged Series, Old Sour Cherry Porter
  •  Quaff Bros., Barrel Aged Ale, Savage Blank
  •  Listermann Brewing, Friar Bacon Smoked Bock
  •  The Brew Kettle, Old 21
  •  Rivertown Brewing, Hop Bomber
  •  Moerlien Brewing, Northern Liberties IPA
  •  Moerlien Brewing, Barbarossa Double Dark Lager

A lot to cover, but I found people who were up for the task.

I started by rounding up the usual suspects for an initial tasting, then it would be concluded around a fire pit Saturday night with my auxiliary tasters. Going with out established axiom that “The best things so far have come in big brown bottles”, we set our sights in the big ones.

We started with Savage Blank, a Barrel Aged Ale from Quaff Bros. Specializing in limited edition single barrel ales, Quaff Bros. attempts to capture the passion of homebrewing and the essence of microbrewing. The Savage Blank that we had is:

A Belgian Golden Ale brewed with Sauvignon Blanc grape juice, aged in four different Bourbon barrels and blended together.

This beer had a strong smell of grapes. And the taste was a unanimous dislike from everyone that tried it (5 people total). Wine has its time and place, as does beer. Let’s keep them separate.

Ohio Craft Beer

Rivertown Brewery Old Sour Cherry Porter

The next big, brown that we moved into was from Rivertown Brewery located in Lockland Ohio. Part of their Barrel Aged Series, the Old Sour Cherry Porter was released in the Spring of 2013. Listed as an Imperial porter aged in bourbon barrels with dark Michigan cherries and lactobacillus delbrueckii (a Belgian souring bacteria).

I didn’t read the description for this beer until writing this post, but during the tasting, I referred to this beer as tasting like a lambic. The sour was definitely there, and the cherry taste was strong, but not discouraging. I enjoyed this beer, and everyone else that tasted it agreed. Not something you would want in large quantities, but for a single glass, this was nice.

Next up was a beer with an interesting label. From Listermann Brewing Company in Cincinnati, we had a bottle of their specialty brew: Smoked Bock Beer. The label gave this beer some serious potential, but unfortunately the potential ended there. This beer smelled and tasted like liquid smoke. That is not a good quality in a beer. With quotes from the samplers like “What would you put a label on that.” it wasn’t well received across the group.

However the selection from Corey turned a corner after that and we all enjoyed everything else. Partly because we moved into the IPA area, and most of the tasters are fans of a good IPA, but the Silk Porter from Hoppin’ Frog, with its chocolate aromas, was a great beer too.

A quick summary follows.

The Hop Master’s Abbey, a Double IPA from Hoppin’ Frog had a big citrus nose and taste. A very enjoyable beer.

The Old 21 from Brew Kettle was wonderful, with its bouquet of pine, this beer, compared to the previous IPA, was an excellent example of the characteristics different types of hops, in this case the Simcoe,  bring to a finished product.

The Barbarossa Double Dark Larger from Christian Moerlein Brewing (techincally brewed in PA, but we let that slide), had an interesting carmel taste. It drew up conversation of early days of beer experimentation, when products like Becks Dark were considered extreme.

Another beer from Christian Moerlein was the Northern Liberties IPA. This beer was fine, but not the best IPA of the evening. On its own, without having previously had the Hop Master’s Abbey or the Old 21, I would have really enjoyed this beer.

We ended the sampling with another beer from Rivertown Brewery called Hop Bomber. At this point in the tasting, I was a bit over hopped from the three previous IPAs, so I mostly picked up a bitter taste. However I think I was mentally mislead by the name. I was expecting a strongly hopped beer akin to a Dogfish Head. But reviewing the brewers website, I can see that is not the intended case.

An American pale ale named after the famous B-24 Liberator Bomber. This beer has a wonderful malt backbone from the use of dark english crystal malt and spicy fresh rye malt. It is dry hopped with two varieties of American hops for a crisp refreshing flavor.

This is a beer would like to get my hands on again, with a fresh palate.

After starting with a nervous feeling of missing my goal, Ohio proved to be an exciting week. I never expected such a wide variety and interesting beers to arrive on my doorstep. Once again, a huge thanks to Corey for the great beer selection for the week.

Next week, back south for Louisiana.

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beer, History

Tennessee – America at its best

When North Carolina gained statehood, it ceded its western territory to the Federal Government where it was designated as the Southwest Territory by Congress. Within just 5 years, a census would reveal a sufficient population in the territory to form a state, and on June 1st, 1796, the first official U.S. territory would become the state Tennessee, and the 16th state of the union.

I have been to Tennessee a few times. I have walked down Beale Street, seen a New Years Eve concert at the Ryman, and passed through the mountains of Chattanooga multiple times. While I had various opportunities to drink a beer in this state, I never encountered any craft brew in the places I visited. I still recall the first beer I had in Nashville, a Guinness. Not quite a regional product.  So when I set out to find a Tennessee brewed beer, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for or what I would end up with. But fear not, because the Tennessee craft beer industry is alive and well, and we were able to get our hands on three different beer styles this week.

Tennessee Craft Beer

Selection of Craft Beer from Tennessee

During the big collecting run, which feels like a long time ago now, beer from Tennessee was a target. Since the drive passed straight through Bristol, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, there was little concern about locating a Tennessee brewed product. On the south bound journey, we spotted a beer distributor from the highway. While potentially a good sign, a beer distributor is actually not a place to purchase a beer.

When the 3 tier system was established after prohibition, a layer between the brewer and the retailer was created. This layer was the distribution layer. A beer distributor provides transportation, refrigeration, and maintenance for beer from the time it leaves the brewery until the time it arrives at a retailer.  Distributors do not sell beer. So, on our northern journey back home, we would have to do some more scouting.

When passing through the Chattanooga area of Tennessee, you are also skirting along the northern Georgia border, and according to a search on Beer Advocate, Fort Oglethorpe, GA is home to a excellent beer store. So we made quick stop at Beverage World, where we successfully acquired many of the beers reviewed to date on this adventure. However one of the states we could not get beer from was Tennessee. Even though we could throw a rock across the border from the stores parking lot, due to laws (either Tennessee or Georgia, it wasn’t clear), they were not legally allowed to sell Tennessee beer. However, the fine folks of Beverage World gave us a much unexpected lead – Whole Foods.

The Whole Foods in Chattanooga, just a few miles up the road would have Tennessee craft beer. Once there, we found products from two different Nashville Tennessee breweries. Blackstone Brewery and Yazoo Brewing Company.

Tennessee Craft Beer

Blackstone Brewery Nut Brown Ale

The first beer we sampled this week was Blackstone Breweries Nut Brown Ale, and this was a great start to the evening. This beer was very flavorful and well loved among all 4 tasters. Definitely one of the best brown ales we have encountered on this project, this beer had a wonderful, nutty aroma. The taste wasn’t bland like some ales could be, it had a wonderful character. A few weeks back, at the mini craft beer summit, we discussed brown ales and how they are a hard beer. That they get little respect. For me,  this brown ale earned plenty of respect, because it was enjoyable.

Moving up the flavor scale, the next beer we sampled was a Pale Ale from Yazoo brewing. Another Nashville Brewery, the founder of Yazoo got his start brewing beer from a homekit in college. Now Yazoo has a product line of 8 different styles of beer available throughout a good portion of the southeast. The one we grabbed for our sampling was their Pale Ale. When I poured this beer, I could immediately smell the citrus hops flavor typical of a pale ale (others in the tasting

Tennessee Craft Beer

Yazoo Pale Ale

disagreed with the hops smell). The mouth feel of this beer was clean, and the taste was slightly hoppy, but seemed to derive more of its flavor from the various malts used during the brewing process. While well enjoyed, it was described as a beer that started great but faded fast.

The final beer of the night was another style from Blackstone Brewery, the St. Charles Porter. While I really enjoyed this beer, among the group it was the least favorite of the three. When poured, it had a sweet aroma, described as mollasses. Another described it as tasting like a coffee beer.

Overall, another great week in the books. So far, as we have worked across the southern states, the beer has been remarkably good. I am not sure why I have been so surprised at this. Maybe it has to do with the souths late entry into the craft brewing game. But what I think is often overlooked with this nieve assessment is that while the southern states took their time reversing the laws of prohibition, many of the residents were quietly (and often illegally) perfecting their craft at home, waiting for their opportunity to show the world their skills.

Next week, Ohio.

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beer, History

Kentucky: Unbridled Spirit

This week was a big week for Kentucky, and I am not talking about the basketball win earlier in the week. I am talking about the fact that this week marks the 15th week of this little project, and Kentucky is the 15th state of the United States.

Prior to becoming a state, Kentucky was a county of Virginia. After some petitioning by the residents, On June 1st 1792, Kentucky separated from Virginia to become its own state.

When it comes to Kentucky, most people think bourbon, not beer, and for good reason. Bourbon is considered to have its origins in Kentucky. There is also the association of derby’s, elaborate hats and Mint juleps. While bourbon is probably the dominant drink of the state, beer has been brewed in the state almost since its founding, and this week we get to sample two different styles of beer from a Kentucky brewer.

Located in Lexington, the second largest city in Kentucky, is the Alltech Lexington Brewing Company. Founded in 1794, The Lexington Brewing company was once the largest building in the city of Lexington, however it failed to navigate prohibition era successfully, and as a result lost its pre-prohibition era dominance. It appears that the company limped along in some form until 1999 (but I can’t find details), when the company was reestablished by Dr. Pearse Lyons, a man with a deep family relationship to the brewing and distilling industry. Since its rebirth, the Lexington Brewing Company has been working to produce a high quality product while maintaining its Kentucky roots.

Kentucky Craft Beer

Kentucky Brewing Company

The first beer sampled from Kentucky was the Kentucky Ale, a marriage of an English Pale Ale and an Irish Red Ale. One thing I am learning about myself from this project is that I prefer beer styles that have stronger (but not too strong) characteristics. I like the hoppiness of an IPA, the smells that clearly stand out as soon as you pour it in the glass. Because of that, I have been struggling with ales. Not because they are not good, but because they are hard to describe.

This ale looked great in the glass, but there was no distinct smell or flavor that I could latch onto in an attempt to help describe the beer to somebody. It was definitely better that anything you will see mass produced across the U.S., but why you should drop everything and find a bottle of this, I am not capable of providing that information.

If you are a fan of some of the more well known Irish Reds that have been on the market for years now, you will probably love this beer as it does have more character than those. But as I continue on my quest to understand and appreciate the ale style, this beer has not helped me answer any questions quite yet.

During my research on Kentucky, I stumbled upon a new set of terms and vocabulary pertaining to alcohol laws. We have previously mentioned encountering dry counties, but Kentucky takes it to another level. According to this wikipedia page, there are 7 different classifications of a county’s alcohol law status. This is quite detailed for a state that prides itself on being the largest producer of bourbon in the world. In fact they claim to produce 98% of the bourbon in the world, and linking that strong bourbon heritage to beer, the next beer we sampled from Kentucky was a Bourbon Barrel Ale.

Kentucky Craft Beer

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Considered their flagship beer, the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, is aged for six weeks in the freshly decanted bourbon barrels, and that is clear right from the opening of the bottle. The first impression you get is bourbon, and it is amazing how the beer picks up the smell and flavor of the bourbon from the barrels. If you are a fan of bourbon, you should try this beer, as it was probably the best bourbon beer I have tried on this project. But I would classify this as a sipping beer, not something you would take to a Super Bowl party.

The benchmark of late for this blog has been the fire pit beer. What beer could you enjoy more than one of while sitting around a fire pit. This beer would be hard to have on my fire pit list. Instead, this is a beer that I would enjoy with a nice meal. Or since I am not a big fan of straight bourbon, I might have this on hand for myself when hanging out with friends that do like their bourbon, straight.

That concludes this week, next week, we move into Tennessee.

 

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beer, History

Vermont: The Green Mountain State

Vermont

During the Colonial days, taverns were to the citizens what the internet is today. They were a place to check in on what was going on in town. A place to learn about the weather, hear the latest news, or play a quick game with friends. All while grabbing a beer, glass of rum, or some food.

Taverns were an essential component to the community as they were a place where local governments organized, formed and conducted business. Because of this, many taverns hold an important role in the history of the United States, like the Windsor tavern in Vermont. Now called The Constitution House, The Windsor tavern is where a group or representatives met in 1777 to adopt the name Vermont and to also create the states constitution.

Fourteen years after the crafting of the constitution, Vermont became the 14th state in the union, and our sampling state of the week.

When I mention to friends that lived in the state that this week was Vermont, the first thing they say is, “what beer is from Vermont other than Catamount?”  And the answer to that is, there are a few breweries and Catamount isn’t any of them! In fact, the Catamount brewery closed down in 2000 and the building is now owned an operated by Harpoon.

One of the easily accessible breweries (at least in my area) from Vermont is Otter Creek. A few months back, one of my local beer stores hosted a craft beer night, and while there I had a few people tell me that I had to check out the Otter Creek Black IPA, it was good stuff. But this week I went with their staple, easy to find Copper Ale.

Vermont Craft Beer

Otter Creek Copper Ale

In the wild world of beer, there are generally two major classifications, Ales and Lagers, and these classifications are established by the type of yeast used to make the beer, either top-fermenting (Ales) or bottom fermenting (Lagers). However, like anything else, the details are much more complex and placing all beer into two large classification buckets doesn’t come close to addressing all of the styles and creations that are coming out of the craft breweries today.

Classification of beer into styles based on fermentation is a relativity new phenomena. And with Ales, this is no different. For a style of beer that is considered older than England, The Oxford Companion to Beer states that the term “ale” only began to become synonymous with top-fermented beers generally as late as the 1980s.

Even within the Ale category, further classification continues, with Pale Ales, Amber Ales, and the list goes on, to include Copper Ales. Finding a definition of a Copper Ale required some digging. My typical source (OCB) has no mention of the style. There are questions on some internet brewing forums about the style, and I also ran across this definition

Copper Ale: This is an ale which is aged in oak casks to obtain its beautiful copper color and its unique wine-like taste. Primarily produced in Belgium.

Since the Otter Creek website is under construction, I was not able to verify if this beer was aged in a oak cask like the definition suggests. However I did not get any unique wine-like taste from the beer. In the glass, this beer has a nice copper color. As has been typical with most of the six-pack bottled beers sampled on this adventure, there was little to no head. This beer is good, but there isn’t anything special about it. The smell was slightly fruity, but it didn’t have any unique characteristics that made it easy to refer to. That taste was the same. It wasn’t boring like a big, mass produced beer, but it also didn’t have any distinguishing characteristics that have been observed in other beer this year. Overall, this is a beer I will buy again, but if you are looking for something that has unique character, this isn’t it.

Other beer from Vermont this week is another ale from The Shed which I just discovered is now part of Otter Creek. The beer, called Mountain Ale is a typical brown ale, in taste and color.

Vermont Craft Beer

The Shed – Mountain Ale

Brown Ales are a style that I have a hard time extracting descriptives for. They seem to rely more on the malt to carry their flavor, and I appear to be better at discerning the hops flavors. I think because of that I have spent more time this week with the Mountain Ale and the previous Copper Ale, trying to develop my tasting for this different malt styles.

So, as I develop my tasting palate for a malt, I would place the Mountain Ale in the same category as the Copper Ale. I like it, I will go back to it, but at the moment, I am struggling to better describe these styles of beer.

In the late 1990s, there was a popular sitcom on television. While this show took place in Ohio, not Vermont, it did prominently feature a tavern called the Warsaw tavern. That show was The Drew Carey Show. One of the plot lines from the show was the formation of a brewery in the garage of the central character, Drew Carey. The beer the brewed was called Buzz Beer and it was unique in that it was brewed with coffee. With a slogan of “Stay up and get drunk all over again,” the idea of a coffee beer hybrid provided for great comedy. Now, just nine years after the end of the show, actual coffee beer seems to be trending. And continuing with that trend, we will wrap up this week with another coffee beer (I think that makes 4 for the year now?).

Vermont Craft Beer

Long Trail Coffee Stout

The Coffee Stout from Long Trail was a nice find. A part of their brew master series, this was not on my radar when was out getting beer for this week. Each coffee beer we have tried this year have been fun, and each had a unique characteristic, like the pepper aftertaste of the Wake ‘N Bake. To date, I think the overall favorite was the coffee beer from Berkshire Brewery in Massachusetts.

Well, there is a new king in town. This coffee stout was great. The mix of coffee and stout was perfect, with neither stealing the show. According to a story earlier this year in the WSJ about coffee beer, getting the coffee to beer ratio is a critical factor in the success of this brew. I would say Long Trail nailed it. Get yourself a bottle of this beer as soon as you can, it is worth it. But don’t rely on this beer to help you “stay up and get drunk all over,” because coffee beer has less caffeine than a cup of decaf.

Last night while chatting over the Coffee Stout, Joel said it best The best beer so far have come from big brown bottles. While we have had some great stuff from the traditional six pack sized bottle, and cans are all the rage this year, it has been the growlers and the 22 ounce bottles that have left us excited at the end of most weeks. We will see how that plays out for the rest of the year, but at the moment, it is something to think about the next time you are in the market to try something new and exciting.

 

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beer, History

Rhode Island: Unwind the Ocean State

Rhode Island

In 1790, Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution, and the next state up on our beer adventure.

For this week, there are three different beers on the tasting table. Two from Providence, and one from, well, we will get to that.

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States, yet in 1914, it was home to the largest lager brewery in New England, The Narragansett Brewery. However as was more than common around that time, Narragansett fell victim to the

Rhode Island Craft Beer

Narragansett Bock

devastating effects of prohibition and barely made it out the other side. When prohibition did finally end, Narragansett was in financial distress, however with some help, the company came back and by 1955 it was once again the largest selling beer in New England. However after a series of mergers and acquisitions, typical of the industry during the late 60’s and early 70’s, Narragansett closed its doors in 1981. The early 1980s was a rough time for breweries in America, with about 100 breweries existing nationwide at that time, the lowest number in the history of the country, including the prohibition era.

It is a hard concept to grasp that the post World War II era was more devastating to the brewing industry than the Prohibition era. The blame for this devastation could easily be placed on the big national brewers that were growing fast at the time, and while partly responsible, the story is more complicated. Another factor that contributed to the decline was the change in the way consumers purchased their beer. Prior to the war most beer was purchased and consumed at local taverns and pubs, however post WWII, home refrigeration became more prevalent and the ability to bottle and can beer became more economical resulting in a decline of draft sales.

Thankfully, we have gotten beyond the low point of the 80s, and the beer industry is once again booming with each state providing a variety of choices from multiple breweries. Included in the list of thriving breweries is the reincarnated Narragansett brewery.

Rhode Island Craft BeerIn 2005, The Narragansett name was revived by a group of Rhode Island investors, and seven unique products are now available for consumers. Of those, two were part of our tasting this week, and that gets us back to the origin of this weeks selections. From ‘Gansett, The Lager and Bock were selected.  Narragansett is currently a contract brewery, and that means they are not brewing their beer in Rhode Island. According to their website, the Lager is currently brewed in Rochester, New York, and the Bock is brewed in Providence, Rhode Island. So, we can count one of the two as being from Rhode Island, same situation as we encountered in New Hampshire.

Each of these beers are what I would consider a summer, backyard, fire pit beer. They are not packed with the complex flavors and character as seen in other craft beers. To me, they are just typical beer. They are good but if I am looking for a single beer to enjoy with a meal, or to unwind with, this is not where I am going. However if I have to hang out after a long day of working in the yard, I wouldn’t mind a nice can of Lager or Bock.

The other beer from Rhode Island was an IPA from Trinity Brewhouse. I couldn’t find any history about the Trinity Brewhouse online. This is a beer that I picked up at the Craft Beer Cellar because it was from Rhode Island and it was all they had (other than

Rhode Island Craft Beer

Trinity IPA

Narragansett) from the state. This beer was also ok, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as other IPAs encountered during this project. It was just a typical, highly hopped bitterness, without the lovely citrus or piney smells and tastes characteristic of a better IPA.

Being a border state to Massachusetts  I was once again surprised at the limited availability of beer from Rhode Island. However with only 6 breweries in the state, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Next week, we are still in New England, with Vermont.

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beer, History

North Carolina: A Better Place to Be

North Carolina

North Carolina Craft Beer

Highland Brewing Gaelic Ale

After New York, the young nation would have a 16 month wait until North Carolina joined as the 12th state. But for us, we only had to wait a week before a new beer joined the ranks.

Online beer history for North Carolina is sparse, as seen in this timeline which shows a large hole between the 1774 when North Carolina opened its first brewery and 1908, when North Carolina became the first southern state to enact a statewide prohibition. That was a full 12 years before the 18th amendment went into effect and in the end, it would be a total of 27 years before alcohol was allowed (legally) in the state again. Even with the 1935 repealing of prohibition, it would take many years for North Carolina to recover from the effects. And in fact, with dry counties such as Graham, it really hasn’t fully recovered. So it was surprising to learn about the prolific craft brewing scene in Asheville, on the western side of the state.

The Asheville brewing scene while relativity young, with the first brewery starting up in 1994, has grown up quick. Considered Beer City, USA, Asheville North Carolina is home to more than 12 breweries. When you compare that to the 7 breweries currently operating in Boston, a city with a population size 540 thousand larger than Asheville, you realize that there must be something special in the Asheville North Carolina water (pun intended).

Asheville is not the only place that craft brewing is surging in North Carolina. According to the brewers association, North Carolina had 58 breweries in 2011 (and probably has even more now). And despite that impressive number, I have yet to find North Carolina beer in Massachusetts. But I was prepared for this, and planned appropriately.

As I was collecting beer from states that I knew would be hard to obtain, I encountered an interesting problem. Space. There was only so much space in the car to transport back all these interesting brews, and as a result I had to start trimming back on the variety. Since this was mostly ad hoc, there was no systematic selection process in progress. And as a result, I ended up with only one style of beer from North Carolina. Oh well, there are worse problems to have, and after last weeks epic tasting adventure, the slower pace was a welcome break.

So, that brings us to this weeks selection. A six pack of Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina. The Gaelic Ale is an American Amber Ale not based on any particular style.

North Carolina Craft Beer

Gaelic Ale

In the glass this beer was not cloudy and had a nice amber color, it reminded me of honey. While the picture is deceiving, this beer was not heavily carbonated. In fact, it had a mild carbonation, making it really enjoyable to drink. The smell sweet with hints of honey, and that sweetness carried through in the taste, but was well complimented with a slight bitterness from the hops that help to balance out the sweet. Finishing with a clean, refreshing mouthfeel, this beer was a wonderful combination of flavors and smells.

Next week, we enter state 13, Rhode Island. See you then.

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beer, History

New York – The Empire State

New York

New York is considered home to the first brewery in North America, started in 1612 on the island of Manhattan, 176 years before New York became the 11th state. Since the opening of that first brewery, New York has maintained a rich history with beer and brewing, leading the way into the largest tasting of this project so far.

New York is home to the Hudson River. As essential today as it was hundreds of years ago, The Hudson River was a major influence in the settlement of New York. By providing easily navigable routes to the northern fur trading industry, the first trading posts, which eventually became cities, grew up on the banks of this mighty river. Originally there were three major settlements. Of these, New Amsterdam (New York City) and Beverwijck (Albany) are the most well known today. The third settlement, Kingston, became the first capital of New York in 1777, as it was considered safer from the advancing British who already occupied New York City, and were threatening to attack Albany.

New York Craft Beer

Six Point

Unlike the shortened duration of the government seat in Kingston (The British invaded a few months later and burned the city), the cities brewing history has endured. With the first known brewery opening in 1667, Kingston still maintains a connection with brewing today, and that connection is the seat of our tasting this week.

One of the fun parts of this project is the social aspect. Getting to share in the experience of the beer on a weekly basis helps to provide momentum and encouragement. So, when New York was on the horizon, I reached out to some good friends that live in New York, asking them to come and join us for this patriotic endeavor. Not only did they jump at the chance of a long overdue visit, they contributed to the cause, bringing along three different styles of beer from Keegan Ales in Kingston New York.

Not wanting to hog all the fun, I sent out a message to other friends to come and join us on this celebration of New York Beer. All attendees were presented with one request, if they brought a beer that was brewed in New York, I would provide some excellent homemade pulled pork to help wash it down. The convergence of these events set the stage for an epic beer tasting event.

Hosting a beer tasting is an interesting task. When assembling a group of friends, you are guaranteed to have a wide variety of tastes and preferences. To make the event enjoyable, and educational for all, I decided to print out rating cards that could be used to help guide the experience.

Eleven weeks ago, when I started this journey, I had little knowledge about beer tasting, or the technical aspects of beer beyond just enjoying it. But I have been learning more each week, and one thing I have learned so far was that there are certain characteristics to look for in a beer, and knowing those characteristics goes a long way towards beer appreciation. So I wanted to provide each guest with a card to help establish a vocabulary that they could use to communicate with the other guests. By sharing experiences like mouth feel, and carbonation level, everyone was able to describe what they did and did not like about all the beer sampled.

So what was all the beer sampled? That is what sort of turned this gathering of friends into an epic event. As has been chronicled here, it is not always easy to come upon beer from different states. And I have learned first hand that entering a store with a goal A beer brewed in New York, requires either a knowledgable staff, or plenty of time to peruse the shelves. New York has a few well known craft breweries. Brooklyn and Ommegang quickly come to mind, and they each have a few different selections in local stores, so I was expecting, 10, maybe 12 different beers to arrive, with many duplicates. So imagine my surprise when we finished the evening with 21 different beer selections sampled (22 if you count the Black IPA the night prior).

Twenty Two. That is an impressive number. Just last week, I highlighted how 35 different beers have been sampled in the first 10 weeks. Now in one evening, more than half of that number was reached. The details of the evening are still getting compiled, and will be a part of a second post, however the first New York beer of the week will get covered here.

With the event planned for Saturday evening, Friday was set aside for welcoming our New York guests and getting the pork on the smoker. To help with prepping the smoker and getting caught up, we started the weekend off with a Growler of Black IPA from Keegan Ales. Called Black Eye, the brewers website describes it quite well:

This is a black I.P.A (Get it? Black Eye P.A.) that first hits you with a big floral hop aroma that really invites you in.  Upon tasting this beer, the chocolate malty flavor overtones take over the forefront of the pallet.  It then returns to you and finishes with a traditionally big I.P.A. hop character.

New York Craft Beer

Keegan Ales Black Eye

The first black IPA to make the tasting this year, this beer was an excellent representation of the style. This beer was dark like a stout, with a beautiful head. This combination, along with the hopiness of a traditional IPA made this beer an enjoyable drink. This beer was excellent, and started the weekend in the right direction.

Look for a part two post some time this week, after I review everyones notes.

 

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beer, History

Virginia: Virginia is For Lovers

Virginia

After New Hampshire ratified the Constitution, all eyes were focused on New York and Virginia, two large and wealthy states that sat in the middle of the newly forming country. Luckily, the wait was short, and Virginia ratified only four days later, on June 25, 1788, becoming the 10th state of the Union.

Wow, with Virginia, we are now 10 states into this project, so this might be a good time to reflect on some data. To date, we have sampled 35 different beers from 25 different breweries. Of the 10 states, half have at least one product available in Massachusetts. At only 50% availability, we do not have access to a wide variety of craft beer and it will most likely get worse from here out.

When beer production started in the new colonies, brewing was a neighborhood business. At that time, distribution was geographically limited due to constraints like the lack of refrigeration, and poor road networks for shipping. In the modern global economy, where businesses like Amazon can have a book on our doorstep the next day, it is hard to grasp the fact that we can’t get beer from other states. This project has started to make clear that the craft beer industry is still mostly a regional business.

This raises the question, what influences what beer is available where? The logical thinking would be that as a brewery grew, its distribution range would spread out in an expanding circle from the brewery, as it might have in the colonial days. Following this pattern, a beer from Virginia would first expand to neighboring states, like North Carolina and West Virginia, prior to getting in a state like New York, or Massachusetts. But so far, the data doesn’t help craft that story.

10 Week summary

Some statistics at the end of week 10. 17 styles of 35 different beers, from 25 breweries.

Using the website DistanceFromTo, I calculated the distance between Massachusetts and every state covered so far. And while beer from Georgia, the farthest state away so far is not available in Massachusetts, neither is beer from Connecticut, which is a border state. When prohibition ended, the alcohol laws in each state became vastly different, and these different controls really impacted the overall distribution system. This disruption to the distribution system is becoming more apparent as the project continues.

Virginia, 516 miles away does not have any breweries that sell beer in Massachusetts so I had to bring some back from the road trip. Virginia has a total area of 42,774 square miles, and for some reason, it really never seemed so large to me. Probably because most of my experience with the state involved driving down its eastern seaboard towards North and South Carolina. So imagine my surprise the first time I drove Interstate 81 from border to border. This section of highway feels endless. Travelling as co-pilot on the most recent trip back, I was recounting the journey on Twitter with tweets like:

Driving 81 across Virginia should be part of a Mars mission training. Of course the Mars trip is shorter and more scenic.

and

Never been so happy to see ‘Welcome to West Virginia’ sign.

Surviving a long car trip (this one was 23 hours, one way), requires stamina, coffee, good conversation, coffee, and an iPhone full of music. One thing that makes for good conversation is interesting scenery, and drives like this are never a let down. And this trip was no exception, with its 75 foot tall crosses on hillsides and giant cow statue standing watch over a baby Jesus in a nativity. However we always find the Virginia stretch to be pretty bland, and wanting for something interesting to discuss. So it was, on the journey south, at about midnight that we saw a sign for Devils Backbone Brewery, next exit. That sign, the first (and last) that we saw on the highway for a brewery, gave the rest of the nights drive a purpose. Given that it was the middle of the night, we figured the brewery wasn’t currently open, so with a fresh cup from Starbucks and Tom Petty coming out of the speakers, we set about finding Devils Backbone beer on the return trip through Virginia.

On the northward drive, the search was on for locating Virginia beer, and more specifically, something from Devils Backbone. It wasn’t until we got to Blacksburg Virginia that we finally found a place populated enough to possibly have a craft beer store. Being a college town, home to Virginia Tech, our chances for finding beer were much higher, so we were excited. One observation that we made earlier in the week was that the Walmart’s in the south actually had a small, interesting selection of craft beer. And so there we were, on a Friday night in Blacksburg Virginia, searching the shelves of Walmart for Virginia beer.

Nestled between the expected Walmart big name, flavorless brands, we discovered two different Virginia breweries. Starr Hill and Devils Backbone. Victory! On that particular evening, all we found were IPAs from both breweries. So this week we will be sampling interesting Virginia IPAs

Virginia Craft Beer

Starr Hill

The first beer we cracked into this week was the Northern Lights IPA. Drinking two different IPAs back to back really provides insight into the variety of this style of beer. In this case the differences were very apparent. In this glass, this beer looked a bit darker than most IPAs. It had an almost honey color to it. And the smell was of sweet citrus. The taste was also sweet. Much sweeter than I have ever tasted in an IPA, and all the others at the tasting agreed. As expected with an IPA, there was a bitterness from the hops, but the sweetness (maybe from the malted barley?) was the defining characteristic of this beer.

Devils Backbone

The next beer we opened was an Eight Point IPA from Devils Backbone. The beer had a great smell, very piney, a characteristic that I personally love in an IPA. This beer was excellent. It was much hoppier than the Northern Lights, and overall had more structure. Well loved by everyone in the group, and a few bottles were consumed during the tasting.

Next week, we move into New York, and it is building up to be a special tasting. Come back and read about it.

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