beer, History

New Hampshire: Live Free or Die

We are now nine weeks into this project, which brings New Hampshire into the union and along with it, the official ratification of the Constitution. New Hampshire, much like the other coastal New England states, was settled in the early to mid 1600s. One of the towns settled during the formation of New Hampshire was what is now the city of Portsmouth. Located on the western bank of the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth, originally called Strawbery Bank, was home to Captain John Mason, who is considered the first brewer in New Hampshire, with records showing his possession of malt as early as 1635. However, the first brewery in the state wouldn’t open for almost another 200 years, with the Frank Jones brewery eventually becoming one of the largest breweries in New England.

This doesn’t mean that the good residents of the state went without their daily libations. Far from it. If fact, the 200 year window without a recognized brewery was filled by taverns and home brewers, where the taverns brewed their own beer. At that time, taverns were essential to the health of a community. They were the social hub, the place people went to get news and gossip, and in some instances, they also doubled as churches and courtrooms. Call them the original brewpubs, taverns provided both food and drink to locals and travelers alike, welcoming in anyone passing through the area.

While the similarities are strong between taverns and brewpubs, the brewpub is a modern invention, popularized in London during the late seventies. With a brewpub, the patrons become immersed in the brewing process, separated from the product and equipment by nothing but a glass window, the patrons are given complete insight into the origin of their beer. While brewpubs are common across the US today, with 1072 existing in the US in 2012, this was not always the case. In fact, New Hampshire didn’t get its first brewpub, The Portsmouth Brewery, until 1991, just 22 years ago, 378 years after Captain John Mason was brewing beer in his house at Strawbery Bank.

The Portsmouth Brewery was my first experience with New Hampshire beer. The city of Massachusetts I live in is very close to the NH border, and closer to Portsmouth than Boston. That being the case, I have made many visits to Portsmouth, and have been to the  brewery many times. The Portsmouth Brewery is also the sister company to New Hampshires largest brewery, Smuttynose, making Portsmouth the brewing capital of NH. Both the Portsmouth Brewery and Smuttynose are represented in this weeks tasting.

Because I live so close to NH, I have always had access to their beer. Smuttynose is often found in my refrigerator, and everything from them is great. From their Shoals Pale Ale, to their Star Island Single, I often have such a hard time deciding that I usually just grab the variety 12 pack. So it was a huge surprise to me when I went to grab a few different varieties of NH beer for this week, to find out that getting beer from NH, in MA is actually quite hard. And that there are really only 4 (um, err, 3?) different breweries that are available for purchase, and to make things worse, the store I was in was out of one of them.

So for this week, the tastings came from Tuckerman, Smuttynose, their sister brewery, the Portsmouth Brewery and Woodstock Inn. To make matters worse, I found out mid-tasting that Woodstock, while based in NH, brews their beer in Maine, so making the true number of NH brewers available in MA 3. The missing brewery, White Birch Brewing from the three listed above did not make it into the tasting this week, however I did have their Indulgence Ale last week, and enjoyed it.

This weeks tasting was interesting in that it coincided with a mini-beer summit at Riverwalk Brewing. Because of these overlapping events, all but the Smuttynose beer was sampled amongst the attendees at the summit, (Look for the complete write up about the summit in a forthcoming post.) providing some interesting commentary and insight into each beer.

The first beer we tried was the Headwall Alt from from Tuckerman Brewing Company in Conway. The Headwall, is an altbier, which is a German beer style defined as having a nice cooper-brown color and malty flavors, so these were the characteristics we were looking for. In the glass, the first thing that stood out to me was the darker color of the beer than I expected. I think this was partially due to the fact that I misread the label and thought that it was an ale.

“It was nice, but it didn’t seem to have any character”.

The taste was nice, but it didn’t floor me. I would drink this beer again if it was around, but I am not sure if would seek it out.

Tuckerman's  Brewery in New Hampsire

Tuckerman – Headwall Alt

The next beer we drank was from Woodstock Inn. Right from the start, this beer hit us with a slight technicality. Woodstock Inn is located in NH, our target state for the week, but the bottle indicates that the beer was actually brewed in Maine. On the brewery website, you can find news about how they are currently expanding their on premise brewery, however at the moment, their bottled beer is not actually brewed in NH. So, if I wanted to be an extreme purist I could disqualify this beer, but, it was already in my hand just waiting to get consumed.

From Woodstock, we tasted two different styles of beer, a Brown Ale and a Red Ale. A Brown Ale is a warm fermented ale with colors similar to an altbier. While altbiers come from a German heritage, a brown ale hails from Britain. Woodstock Inns brown is called Pigs Ear Brown. The Pigs Ear Brown Ale is an award winner.

Pigs Ear Brown Ale won Grand National Champion for brown ales at the United States Beer Tasting Championships in 2004 and 2006. Medium bodied with a balance of roasted and crystal malts creating a hearty nutty flavor. Medium bitterness with a slightly sweet finish.

Woodstock Inn Brewery in New Hampshire

Woodstock Inn Brewery

The first thing I noticed with this beer was a higher carbonation than the previous altbier. And the beer had a taste of butterscotch. This taste is a result of diacetyl, a natural by-product of the fermentation process. In the Oxford Companion to Beer, they say that “at low to moderate level, diacetyl can be perceived as a positive flavor characteristic in some ales and stouts“, however for me, it because the driving force of the beer and I could not over come it. In the end, I was not thrilled with this beer, however others at the tasting really enjoyed it. That is one of the wonderful things about different beers and styles, there is something out there for everyone.

Following the Brown Ale, we dove into the Red Rack Ale. The brewer lists this beer as: Amber in color with slight caramel sweetness. Medium hop bitterness. Malty up front with a nice hop / malt balance. Maybe I drank this beer too close to the Pig’s Ear, but again, the strength of the diacetyl was the dominant feature and I quickly moved on from this brew.

After Woodstock Inn, the next NH beer was a beer brought to the beer summit by one of the attendees. This beer came from The Portsmouth Brewery and was a new beer released for Portsmouth beer week, which also happened to kick off on the same day. This beer was a Russian Imperial Stout called the Royal Impy Stout. This beer had an amazingly nice and smooth mouthful. The flavor was nice, with no one component overpowering the beer. I enjoyed this and would love to have more.

Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire

Portsmouth Brewery – Royal Impy

Finally, at the end of the week, to help prime the writing pump, I picked up some Smuttynose. Not only did I grab an old stand-by, Old Brown Dog, but I also grabbed a beer from their big beer series, called Zinneke Belgian Stout.

The Old Brown Dog is a Brown Ale brewed year-round at Smuttynose. This beer is an excellent go to beer and is well loved by everyone I know. I enjoy the malty taste, and supple hops. This is a very enjoyable beer, and if you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend it.

Smuttynose Brewery in New Hampshire

Smuttynose – Old Brown Dog Ale

The Zinneke Belgian Stout, was the first time I tried anything from the big beer series. I have often seen the bottles at my local store, but I guess I have never been intrigued even to deter from the variety 12 pack. In the glass, this beer was dark, it almost looked like a cola. It was aged in bourbon barrels, which seems to be a trend among many of the beers we have encountered lately, however the character of the beer didn’t seem to pick up the traits of the bourbon as much as some other styles have. It was nice, enjoyable beer. The mouthfeel was thicker than an IPA, or an Ale, but it wasn’t syrupy. The roasted-ness of the stout really stout out on this beer, overall making it a pleasure to drink.

Thanks again to Riverwalk Brewery, Cape Ann Brewing,  ReviewBrews and  2beerguys for all of their great comments and a fun evening. Look for an upcoming special post on our mini beer summit soon.

Next week, we head into Virginia, thanks for reading.

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beer, History

South Carolina: Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places

1788 was a big year for the US, adding 8 states, the most of any year. One of those states was South Carolina, which became the 8th state to join the Union on May 23. South Carolina is also famous as being the first state to secede from the union in 1860, leading to the civil war. Finding historical beer information pertaining to South Carolina has been slow going (and I can imagine it will only get worse from here out), but I did run across a book: Charleston Beer, that had some interesting, albiet more chronological state specific beer history, gleaned from old newspapers. In glancing through the book, looking for a topic for this post, I honed in on a reference to various colonial beer styles. In Beer in America, there were many references to colonial beer, and one of the main points often mentioned is that a modern beer drinker would not recognize the beer styles of the colonial times, both in quality and in ingredients.

In the Charleston book, they reference a newspaper advertisement from 1766 that listed: Double brewed Spruce Beer, table and small beer. So far this year, we have had a table beer, and talked about small beer, but Spruce Beer is a new topic for us. Spruce, often used as a substitute for other ingredients during colonial times and brewed with molasses, was also employed by ship captains to ward off scurvy, however modern science has now cast doubt that enough of the vitamin C remained through the brewing process to aid the sailors. Had we done our research, we could have tried it back when we passed through Pennsylvania, oh well, add it to a future list, as we do not have any spruce beer from South Carolina this week.

Instead, we will be sampling two interesting beers from South Carolina, both of them brewed at the same brewery, but not by the same brewer. The first beer is from Westbrook Brewing in Mt. Pleasant, SC, called White Thai. The second beer, originally brewed in Denmark, under the name Williamsburg Hipster, is now called Hipster Ale, from Evil Twin Brewing.

South Carolina Beer

South Carolina Beer

Our first beer was the White Thai. The brewers website says:

This beer, inspired by the flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine, is a twist on the classic Belgian witbier style. Instead of the traditional coriander and orange peel spicing regimen, we add fresh lemongrass, ginger root, and a dash of Sorachi Ace hops. The result is a wonderfully refreshing ale with notes of lemon candy, citrus fruit, and a slight spiciness from the ginger. Best served at 45˚F in a tulip or wine glass.

It might not be spruce, but this beer does contain fresh lemongrass (vitamin C) and ginger root which makes it pretty unique, and so far I have not come down with scurvy this week.

Westbrook - White Thai

Westbrook – White Thai

This beer also contains a dash of Sorachi Ace hops. Named after an adminstrative division, or subprefecture, in Japan, this hops was developed in the 1970s for Sapporo Breweries, but was not made commercially available until 2006. When used as part of the brewing process, the resulting product will add a lemon aroma and taste to the beer, which sounds like it will complement the Southeast Asian cuisine theme quite well.

I drank this beer straight from the fridge, which was about 35 degrees, not quite the recommended 45° from the brewer. (I didn’t see the recommendation until later). In the glass, this beer had a slight floral smell, that became more apparent as the beer warmed in the glass. With the inclusion of lemongrass and Sorachi Ace, I was looking for a lemon smell and taste in this beer, however I didn’t pick up any lemon. The taste and the mouthfeel of this beer was nice, light and refreshing. This beer had hints of spice, but it was not overpowering. In the end I enjoyed this beer, but not sure if I could drink too many (its the spice thing). I will have to try it again as recommended by the brewer, at 45° and in a wine glass. Maybe with some spicy Pad Thai.

The next beer of the week has an interesting heritage, and depending on the rules you care to establish, it may or may not be considered a South Carolina beer. Brewed by Evil Twin Brewery, Hipster Ale was the second and final beer of the evening. Evil Twin brewery started in Copenhagen and now also lists an office in New York. However the Hipster Ale was brewed, and canned, at Westbrook Brewery in South Carolina.

Evil Twin - Hipster Ale

Evil Twin – Hipster Ale

The first thing you will notice when you reach for a can of Hipster Ale, is the eye catching pattern, with its patchwork of multi-colored triangles.  In the glass, this beer looks wonderful. It has a very nice honey color and a beautiful head. This beer is an American Pale Ale, a style of beer that highlights the citrus flavors of US hops, and that is clearly the case with this beer, with its strong citrus and piney aroma. The mouthfeel and taste of this beer was excellent, with a slight bitterness, but not an IPA bitterness. It is very enjoyable and I have found myself going back for this beer often. I am still struggling with the name of this beer. I would be shocked to see a beer of this quality with so much character replacing the slot usually held by a PBR in the hands of a hipster. But do not let the name deter you, this is a wonderful beer worthy of space in anyones refrigerator.

See you next week, as we are allowed to live free and die in New Hampshire.

 

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beer, History

Maryland: Maryland Of Opportunity

Maryland Craft Beer

Maryland Craft Beer

Maryland

Week 7, brings the Province of Maryland into the United States on April 28th, 1788, just 5 years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, declaring the end of the Revolutionary War. It would be only another 24 years before Maryland found itself as a major player in yet another international war, this time the War of 1812. For most people, the War of 1812 is known by a famous song. No not this one, this one! That’s right, during the defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that would become our national anthem. Observing the battle, Key was inspired by the large American flag called the Star Spangled Banner, flying over the Fort. In anticipation of the forthcoming battle, military leaders asked Mary Young Pickersgill, a Baltimore flag maker to make a flag to fly over the Fort. The resulting flag 30 ft by 42 ft in size. It was so large that she didn’t have the space to make it in her house, so she used the malthouse floor of the nearby Brown’s Brewery to assemble the flag. 

Brown’s Brewery, founded in 1783, was preceded by a few other production breweries in Maryland, such as the Fordham Brewing company, which opened its doors in 1703. However Brown’s had a good run, remaining in operation for 96 years and at its peak in 1850, it was the largest brewery in Baltimore producing 50k barrels of beer. However like in so many other states, prohibition decimated the brewery businesses. Some stayed alive with the production of near beer, while others closed up shop. In Maryland, fewer than half of the pre-prohibition breweries survived. One of those survivors was another Baltimore company, National Brewery Company. Started in 1872, the brewery modernized and reopened after the forced prohibition shutdown, and it wasn’t long before they were selling upwards of 230K barrels a year and in the late 1940s became the first brewery in the nation to sell beer in six-pack cans. While no longer in operation, shutdown due the the mergers that effected many American breweries of the 1960s and 70s, one of National Brewing’s products is still available due to mergers and acquisitions and is currently brewed by Pabst. In 1963, the Baltimore Colts had a running back named Jerry Hill, and he was number 45. It was his team number and affilation that led to the beer Colt 45.

No longer brewed in the state, Colt 45 is alive and well, and so is the Maryland brewing industry. Clawing its way back from the horrible bad beer years that American suffered through, Maryland is now home to quite a few unique and successful craft brewers. This week, there will be four different beers from three different breweries (and not one is a Colt 45!).

Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Baltimore Maryland

The first beer of the evening is a Belgian Pale Ale called Beer Table – Table Beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales in Baltimore. Table beers are a style of beer that are low in alcohol. Real low, like 1-2.5%. However in this case, the ABV was a bit higher, ringing in at 4.7%, pushing the boundaries of table beer a bit. One of the more interesting components of this beer is the inclusion of Brettanomyces yeast, also referred to as Brett in the craft brewing world. Brett is a strain of yeast often called a wild yeast in that it has the ability to introduce off putting aromas, such as a barnyard or a wet blanket to the beer. And when not purposely used, the beer is often considered contaminated. However some beers, such as Belgian Ales rely on Brett for creating their unique flavors.

Beer Table - Table Beer

Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Beer Table – Table Beer

In the glass, this beer was nice and light, with a decent amount of carbonation. I could smell hints of a barnyard, or maybe a horse, but it wasn’t off putting. I enjoyed this beer, but the distinct taste of the Brett was very noticeable and took some work to get used to. Someone in the tasting party described it as Having a nice bite, woody and pleasant. Overall this was a fun beer and once all of the sampling was done, this was the first bottle grabbed for a second pour.

Heavy Seas Brewery, Halethorpe, Maryland

Based in Halethorpe, Heavy Seas Brewery mission is:

… an attitude of risk-taking, a touch of the playful rogue, a desire to stretch the boundaries, all wrapped in an appealing costume of possible impropriety with a twinkle in the eye. I believe this is an attitude that we can all embrace …

The first beer from Heavy Seas is their flagship beer, an IPA called Loose Cannon. Made with a blend of four different types of hops:

Heavy Seas - Loose Cannon

Heavy Seas – Loose Cannon

Warrior, Simcoe, Palisade and Centennial, added at three different times during the brewing process, thus earning its nickname Hop³. I felt that Loose Cannon has an interesting flavor and a distinct bitterness that hung around long after the drink. It wasn’t bad, but it was there. During the tasting, this beer was described as pleasing and good. 

Flying Dog, Fredrick, Maryland

Now based in Fredrick, Flying Dog originally started as a Colorado brewery. From their stable, we will be trying an American IPA called Raging Bitch. One of the more interesting components of Flying Dog is the Ralph Steadman art for all of their labels.

Flying Dog - Raging Bitch

Flying Dog – Raging Bitch

This was the least liked beer of the evening. The taste was different, and I couldn’t place it. The hops gave off a noticeable citrus smell, but overall, this wasn’t that great of a beer and didn’t generate much commentary other than whats next?

The final Maryland beer of the night is another beer from Heavy Seas, a Imperial Chocolate Stout called Siren Noire. On their website, they list three categories for their beer: Year round, Seasonal, and Uncharted Waters — the Siren Noire is currently the only beer in the Uncharted category. Aged for three weeks in bourbon barrels, they claim it is chocolately, due to triple the amount of chocolate nibs (crushed raw or slightly roasted cocoa) without the sweetness and has notes of black currant. And to round it all off, a vanilla bean is added to the mix.  

Heavy Seas - Siren Noire

Heavy Seas – Siren Noire

This beer was nice in the glass, dark with a nice white head and had an aroma and taste of dark chocolate. We quickly described this as a dessert beer, if there was such a category. It was looking for accompaniment, like a nice slice of pie, or maybe a cheesecake. I enjoyed this beer, but it should be reserved for special occasions. If I were planning a beer meal, with a different beer for each course, this is my go to for dessert.

Next week, we dive a bit deeper into the south to visit South Carolina. Be sure to grab a glass of your favorite beer and join.

(Note: I have been trying to use the State slogan for the blog title, and with this week, I am starting to realize, some slogan are pretty horrible. Seriously, what does that even mean?)

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beer, History

Massachusetts… Make It Yours

Massachusetts

January is gone and we are now entering February and 225 years ago from this week, on February 9th, 1788, Massachusetts became the sixth state in the Union.

From the Mayflower landing at Plymouth because of low beer supplies on the ship (a storyline left out of the Charlie Brown special), to the meetings of the Sons of Liberty at the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, as they planned the start of the Revolution, Massachusetts has maintained a healthy relationship with beer.

Well known as the start of the American Revolution, Massachusetts,  it could be argued, was also the start of the extreme beer movement. As early as 1622, brewers in Massachusetts, dealing with a shortage of traditional supplies such as malt, turned to local ingredients, like Indian corn to produce beer. That being said, we didn’t dive too deep into the extreme beer this week, instead keeping it a bit more traditional. Due to an up coming special Massachusetts post later this month, the samplings for this week were indented to be keep short, however a Blizzard, and a few hours of snow removal might have voided that goal.

For this week, our Massachusetts beer come from a variety of brewers, some small and local, others more well known. The first beer is from

Massachusetts Craft Beer

Berkshire Brewing Company – Dean’s Beans Coffeehouse Porter

the west-central region of the state, a Porter from Berkshire Brewery. Two weeks ago, we had a coffee Porter from Georgia, and again this week, another coffee Porter joins us. Dean’s Beans Coffeehouse Porter is a blend between a Berkshire Brewery Porter and coffee from an organic coffee maker in Orange, Massachusetts, Dean’s Beans. In the glass, this beer was nice and dark with a thin light brown head. The taste, with its clean mouth feel, resembled that of the Terrapin Stout from Georgia, but in this beer, the hot pepper taste didn’t linger and wasn’t as prominent, making this a very flavorful and enjoyable beer to drink.

The next Massachusetts beer of the week comes from Notch Brewing, located on the eastern edge of the state. Notch Brewing has an interesting model for a brewer in that they have no physical space, instead, they use the resources of other breweries to make their products. Since the brewery they use for making their bottles is just three towns away, I discovered this brewer pretty quick, and loved them from day one.

Massachusetts Craft Beer

Notch Saison

The beer I chose for this week, was their Saison. Saison is considered a farmhouse beer. Originally brewed by French farmers for consumption while working the fields, a Saison (saison is French for season) served three major purposes: Provide beer for the field hands as they tended to the farm duties, Provide work for the farmhands in the winter months brewing the beer, and producing feed for the livestock from the spent grain of the brewing process. As anyone that has been around a farm can attest, as a farmer, you make due with what you have, and the brewing process of the Saison was no different. As a result, providing a strict definition of a Saison is very hard to do, however in the craft beer world, it has evolved into a beer that is fruity in character with high carbonation and often produce a dry mouth feel. This beer from Notch captures all of these characteristics quite well. In the glass, the beer has a nice, light color, slightly lighter than an IPA, and a totally different taste. While hoppy in nature, the dry mouth feel makes this really unique. This is a fun beer and worth checking out anytime.

In the early days of colonization, breweries were very regional. Because of the lack of refrigeration, and other modern conveniences that we take for granted today, brewers back then didn’t have the resources to distribute their product over large distances, as a result it was very common to have a local brewer that everyone frequented. Riverwalk Brewery is just that for me. With their operations only about a mile, at most, from my house, they have become one of my favorite local beers. Brewing only growlers at the moment, Riverwalk currently has three different styles of beer available. I have a hard time making a choice when  I stop in on a Friday night growler hour, however for this week, I went with the Gnomad, a Belgian Style Ale. This beer is very flavorful, with a fruity, almost citrus smell and a slight IPAish mouthfeel, from the hops. In the glass it has beautiful colors and a nice head. All around a wonderful beer, and don’t be too concerned about where to store that growler, because it will not last long.

Massachusetts Craft Beer

Element Brewing – Red Giant

At the end of this week, Massachusetts got hit with a Blizzard, and it kept everyone busy for most of the weekend, digging out cars, and clearing walkways. So after a days worth of snow blowing, I opened a bottle of Red Giant from Element Brewing. This was an interesting beer. In the glass, it was almost a honey color and due to the high carbonation, had a really thick head. There wasn’t much of an aroma for this beer, but that might have been due to the temperature, it was very cold when it was opened. The taste of this beer was clearly that of hops, with a strong hoppy bitterness. I really enjoyed this beer, and even when I came back to it after it had some time to warm up, it was very complex in flavors, and an enjoyable ale.

Since there was plenty of snow to move, the Red Giant needed some company, and that company was the final beer of the week, a Wheat Wine Ale from Mystic Brewery called Old Powderhouse. This beer is part of their 24° series, and it was definitely the most extreme of the week. In the glass, it was a nice amber color with not much of a noticeable head. The mouth feel on this beer thick, that of syrup. The beer let off fruity aromas, and had a taste much better than I ever expected. In the end, I enjoyed this beer. I knew going in that it wasn’t something to be consumed in large quantities, but when slowly consumed over the course of dinner, it was a pleasant beer.

This week, there was so much to choose from, I didn’t even know where to begin. As a result, I just grabbed a few that looked interesting and enjoyed the adventure. I still have some Harpoon Directors Cut in the fridge, that didn’t make it for this post, but I have heard great things and look forward to checking it out.

Next week, we head slightly south again, into Maryland.

 

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beer, History

Georgia: On My Mind

Georgia

In 1733, just 55 years prior to becoming the fourth state, James Edward Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia. In the early days of the colony, Oglethorpe was aware of the amount of work required to build a successful colony. He was also concerned about the potential effect that drunkenness could have on the productivity of the settlers. Drunkenness at the time was considered a result of drinking higher alcohol beverages such as whiskey or rum, so as a deterrent, Oglethorpe offered each new settler 44 gallons of beer in an attempt to steer the settlers away from the “demon rum”. The beer the settlers drank on a daily basis was a type of beer called small beerSmall beer helped colonial families maximize their resources through the reuse of grains, was often used as a substitute for water and due to its low ABV (1-3%), it was consumed throughout the day.  While small beer fell out of popularity in the 19th century, the beer laws of the country seemed to hold onto the idea of lower alcohol beer much longer. It has only been over the past 8-10 years that many states legally allowed higher ABV beer (most beer was restricted to 4-6%). In fact, it wasn’t until 2004, that Georgia increased the legal ABV for beer from 6%. Prior to 2004, most craft beer was illegal in the state, including three of the four beers sampled this week.

Finding beer from Georgia wasn’t all that hard. It was all over in Alabama, and you could even find it on tap at places like Dreamland BBQ. So, during a visit to Mark’s Mart in Selma, AL, I picked up some beer from SweetWater Brewing out of Atlanta. Then, while travelling back home, we made a slight detour off I-81 in Chattanooga to see if we could find some beer from Tennessee. A quick search on Beer Advocate pointed us towards Beverage World in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and this place was a find. As soon as I walked in, I knew I was in a special place. The staff really knew their beer, I mentioned a state, and they went straight to the location on the shelf and I was quickly setup up with beer from South Carolina and North Carolina. They explained that, while they were just a across the Tennessee border, they can’t get any beer to sell from that state (But Whole Foods, in Chattanooga would be the place to get some.) They were so helpful and knowledgeable that I had to ask if they had anything special from Georgia that I must try, and boy they sure did. I left there with some interesting beer for this week and expanded my selection from a single style to five different types of beer from three different breweries.

Georgia Craft Beer

This week’s selection

Beer Number One: Liquid Bliss

Georgia may known for its peaches, but it is also the number one producer of peanuts in the nation. So, it is only fitting that we start this week out on a beer made with peanuts, and chocolate. Brewed as a side project at Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, liquid bliss,

Georgia Craft Beer

Terrapin Liquid Bliss

combines peanuts and chocolate in a porter to create a very unique beer. In the glass, it has the look of a typical porter, or as one taster said: “It looks like motor oil!”. But the smell was totally different, a distinct mix of chocolate and peanuts. I was concerned about the taste. I have had chocolate beer before, such as the Black Chocolate Stout from Brooklyn Brewery, but adding peanuts was taking this to a whole new level, and I was pleasantly surprised. The peanut taste was there, but it wasn’t overpowering. What really stood out was the taste of the chocolate. It was described as “A peanut butter cup”, and “smooth and silky”. While I couldn’t drink too much of this, as it was sweeter than I typically like in a beer, I would rate this one a success.

Beer Number Two: Wake ‘N Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout

The next beer we sampled from Georgia was also from Terrapin. When Terrapin was founded, their goal was to craft beer unlike anything else coming out of the southeast, and this second beer continued with the unique theme set by the liquid bliss. Another stout, the Wake ‘N Bake, brewed with coffee beans from Jittery Joe’s Coffee (there is even a coffee for the beer), this beer packs a punch. An oatmeal stout is brewed with oats and was associated with “nourishment and viewed as healthful”. With a stout, the grains usually lend to a chocolate or coffee flavor. With this beer, the majority of tasters agreed it tasted like cold coffee. Normally, I do not have an issue with cold coffee, but for me, there was something else in the taste, hot peppers, and I found the after taste hard to get over. Overall, 2 out of 4 people sampling this beer loved it.

Beer Number Three and Four: 420 Extra Pale Ale and Festive Ale

The next two brews hail from SweetWater Brewery in Atlanta. An Extra Pale Ale called 420 and a seasonal brew called Festive Ale. The first beer sampled was the 420. Being the only beer this week with an ABV less that 6 (5.4%), the 420 is a typical pale ale, light-copper colored and hoppy. I enjoyed this beer, and it would complement a nice summer day quite well. It didn’t have any specific characteristics that made this standout from other pale ales in my opinion, but it was good. It would be interesting to try it with other pale ales to see where the distinct characteristics stand out. Again, well received among all the tasters. Next was the Festive Ale.

When the chill Sirocco blows
And winter tells a heavy tale
O, give me stout brown ale
– Anonymous, 1656

The Festive Ale is considered a Winter Warmer, a dark beer brewed during the winter months, often with spices, mimicking a past when beer was heated and spiced, and sometimes mixed with strange ingredients such as eggs and even toast. Luckily modern brews winter brews leave the eggs and toast for breakfast, but they still contain unique mixtures of spices. With this beer, the spices were not overpowering, if fact, they were almost non-existent in the taste. This was defiantly a strong, but very enjoyable beer.

Beer Number Five: 17th Anniversary

Georgia Craft Beer

Red Brick – 17th Anniversary

The final beer of the week came from Red Brick Brewing, the oldest operating craft brewery in Georgia. Opened in 1993, as the Atlanta Brewing Company, the company changed their name to Red Brick Brewing in 2010. When the good folks at Beverage World handed me a four pack of 17th Anniversary  they told me it was special (and strong). Aged for months in Jim Beam barrels, this beer is a limited edition brew.

“I rather whiskey than cinnamon in my beer”

Right from the start, the smell of whiskey was strong with this beer. The color was a dark copper color and the beer was clearly unfiltered, with plenty of little floaters. The taste was clearly bourbon, probably a bit too much actually. A few people in the testing love their bourbon, but they were not fans of this beer. Myself, I found the whiskey taste and smell too strong, I prefer something with more hops. “Is there any of that 420 left?”

In the end, the tasting party loved Georgia. The past two weeks, the beer has been getting more palatable, while still staying interesting. Georgia has some great brewers, and with beer names like 420 and Wake and Bake, there is clearly something else going on down there to inspire their creativity.

Next week, we come back to New England with some fun selections from Connecticut.

 

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beer, History

New Jersey: Come See For Yourself

New Jersey

New Jersey has a strange relationship with beer and brewing. The Hoboken Historical Museum lists the state as home to “Americas First Brewery” founded on February 5, 1663, yet Gregg Smith in Beer in America states that most historians in America agree that the first brewery opened in New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island in 1612 by Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen (also mentioned here).

During prohibition, New Jersey openly defied the new federal laws, and in Trenton, bootleggers had the support of the police chief.

Speakeasies illegally (but openly) operated throughout the state. Trenton, for example, flourished with taverns, with one such dive “secretly” operated on Chancery Lane — across the street from the police station.

The History of Beer in New Jersey

And only recently, New Jersey relaxed their very restrictive and antiquated brewing laws that prevented them from competing with neighboring states with restrictions such as limiting microbrewery production to 3000 barrels a year.

With the new laws, it will probably not take long before we start to see an increase in production, and more interesting brews flowing out of New Jersey. In the meantime however, New Jersey beer is not available in Massachusetts, so I had to extend my search across borders. To get some beer for this week, I relied on a planned holiday drive to the south. On the drive, we stopped at a Wegman’s in Wilkes-Barre PA, for nourishment and to check out their craft beer selection. I heard from friends that they had a nice variety of craft beer and I should be able to find some of the beer I was looking for. While I did not find anything other than Dogfish Head for Delaware, I did find two breweries from New Jersey – a huge score. Since I knew we would be passing back through the state in a week, I decided to wait until the return trip to make my purchase.

What I didn’t plan for however was a snowstorm on the return trip to mess up the deliveries and the store running out of  beer from Flying Fish (It must be good!). I was really looking forward to Flying Fish, and I am now even more curious about it.

During the planning stages for this blog, Flying Fish was the first brewery I discovered from New Jersey and had it listed in my notes as number one on my NJ target list. Flying Fish is considered New Jerseys largets microbrewery and has an interesting line of brews. They even have a series project called the exit series, based on the New Jersey Turnpike, with each beer representing the “uniqueness” of the region around the exit number on the label. If you have ever travelled through New Jersey, you have probably been on the New Jersey Turnpike. Considered one of the most heavily travelled highways in the country, the Turnpike provides access to most of the state and is often used as a starting reference point. “Your from Jersey?, What Exit?” was an often heard expression of my youth. With the Flying Fish exist series, they are trying to capture that essence.  For example, the first beer in the series appropriately called Exit 1, is an Oyster Stout, representing the oyster industry of the Exit 1 Bayshore area.

River Horse Brewery

Even though there was no Flying Fish to be found, I was not left high and dry. Saved by a variety 12 pack from River Horse Brewery, I had something to sample for New Jersey. River Horse Brewery is located in Lambertville, New Jersey (exit 14), on the banks of the Delaware river and will be the fifth brewery we sample in this adventure.

The nice thing with variety packs is they give you the chance to sample a few different brews from a single brewery. With the River Horse variety pack, there were 4 selections: American Amber Ale, American Pale Ale, Belgian Style Tripel, and a Rye IPA.

New Jersey - River Horse

River Horse Variety Pack

The first brew I grabbed out of the box was an American Pale Ale called Hop Hazard. This beer had a nice proportion of hops, a distinct characteristic in American Pale Ales. It was not over powering, and with the last two weeks of extreme beers, it was a much required change of pace. The American Pale Ale is considered “one of the first Americanized styles”, and originated with the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Based on a British Pale Ale, but with local ingredients, such as the American grown Cascade hops, an American Pale Ale can impart citrus and piney tastes. I didn’t get the piney, but the citrus was definitely there in the smell. The color was a beautiful orange hue. It is typical for this style of beer to be unfiltered, and that is apparent in the haze seen in the glass. Overall I loved this beer, It was easy to drink. The flavors were well balanced and at 6.5%, it wasn’t too over powering.

New Jersey Beer

River Horse – Hop Hazard

 

rye2

River Horse – Rye IPA

The next beer I sampled was a brew in their Brewers Reserve Series – a Rye IPA.

When it comes to rye, the first thing that pops into my mind is rye bread with its wonderful distinct sour taste. In a beverage, I picture a short glass with a distinct dark brown liquid from Kentucky, or the Rock and Rye my uncles swore by when they were under the weather. Until recently, beer was the last place I expected to see rye. It just wasn’t common. The first time I saw it in a beer it was Rich and Dans IPA, from Harpoon. Now I had my second Rye beer in my hands.

The Rye IPA from River Horse looked darker than the Pale Ale in the glass. It wasn’t quite the Kentucky rye color, but it was getting close with it nice reddish tint. When used in beer, rye adds another level of complexity to the flavor. It doesn’t have that hearty  sour flavor you would associate with a nice slice of rye bread, but you can definitely notice something in addition to the typical flavors of an IPA.  After sampling this beer, I was having a hard time picking a favorite between the rye and the Pale Ale. The others that sampled it all agreed, this was a beer they could kick back and enjoy.

Two down, two to go.

Having sampled a Tripel last week, I was a bit hesitant to grab the Tripel Horse, but in this case, the hops wasn’t overpowering. This was a drinkable beer. While not my favorite of the tasting for the evening, this was something that I would drink again.

The final beer of the evening was the American Amber Ale. Like the American Pale Ale, the American Amber Ale is also a beer from the early years of American craft brewing. The name originated from the color of the beer, with its nice amber color. The American in the name comes from the American hops used in the brewing process.

This was another beer that was well liked among the group. I had a hard time distinguishing any specific characteristics of the beer, they were all starting to merge with the previous tastings. I guess that should be expected with the different brews are not as extreme as the previous weeks.

Wow, what a difference a week makes. Last week, we were all reaching for something other than our samples. This week, we couldn’t get enough. As the New Jersey slogan says, Come See For Yourself, I recommend that you try River Horse when you get the chance.

Tune in next week for Georgia, there are some interesting samples on hand.

 

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beer, History

Pennsylvania: Virtue, Liberty and Independence

Pennsylvania

One hundred years before it was even a state, Pennsylvania began brewing beer. In 1685, William Frampton opened the first brewery in Philadelphia. Just two years later, in 1687, Anthony Morris built Philadelphia’s first commercial brewery, which remained in operation as a family business until 1836. Being the largest populace in the time of the American Revolution, Philadelphia also became an important location in the construction of the United States. Many delegates involved in the Constitutional Convention resided in local taverns, which also doubled as boarding houses and allowed travelers a place to sleep, eat and drink. This tavern – delegate link allows some historians to proclaim the importance of beer in the founding of the country. One such story is the formation of the Connecticut Compromise, which defined the structure and representation each state would have in the Constitution. The story goes that the delegates staying at the Indian Queen tavern met over beer in the evenings to hash out the compromise. Sure, this logic requires a few leaps: delegates met at taverns, taverns sold beer, therefore delegates drank beer while they constructed the plan. True or not, it makes for great barstool conversation.

In our great town there is an able man that has set up a large Brew House, in order to furnish the People with good Drink, both there and up and down the River

— William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, 1685

Pennsylvania’s brewing history did not stop with the forming of the country. While none of the breweries from the colonial days exist today, Pennsylvania can still lay claim to the oldest brewery in the U.S. — Yuengling. Located in Pottsville, Yuengling was established in 1829 by a young German immigrant, David G. Yuengling. Though there were stumbles, a fire, and a few failed attempts at expansion, Yuengling continues to survive. Their largest test of survival came in the 19th century with the ratification of the eighteenth amendment, the national prohibition of alcohol. Unlike most of its competitors, Yuengling endured the 13 years of prohibition through the production of near beer. This adaptation and continued usage of their production line allowed them to continually modernize their process, while other brewers let their production facilities fall behind, preventing them from a quick reentry into the market when prohibition ended.

Being from Pennsylvania, I have had many opportunities to drink Yuengling. Most places in the state usually had multiple varieties available on draft, my favorite being their dark brewed Porter, Black and Tan; however, their Traditional Lager is its most prominent brew.

All beer can be classified as either an ale or a lager. The major difference between these two families of beer is the type of yeast used during the brewing process. Ales are brewed with a top-fermenting yeast, while lagers use a bottom-fermenting yeast. After the primary fermentation process, lagers undergo a period of maturation, also called lagering, that can last from a few weeks to several months. During the lagering process, the beer develops the characteristics and flavors associated with a lager.

Depending on whom you ask, Yuengling is or is not a craft beer. As a brand, it really has grown in name recognition over the past years (example: President Obama using it in a bet with Canada). While the intent of this blog focuses on craft beer, the vague craft beer status had nothing to do with Yuengling missing out on this week’s  samplers. I can only blame a complete lack of foresight on my part.  I completely forgot it is not available in New England, and did not grab any while I was in Pennsylvania. It is all about the distribution.

That brings us to this week selections. This week, we will get to sample brews from three different eastern Pennsylvania breweries: Victory, Tröegs and Weyerbacher.

Of the three Pennsylvania breweries getting sampled this week, Victory is the first one I heard of, and that was through a collaboration they did with Dogfish Head. It wasn’t too long afterwards that I started to see Tröegs appearing in my local stores. As far as I can recall, this will be my first tasting of anything from Weyerbacher.

Pennsylvania Beer

Tröegs – Mad Elf

Tröegs

We started the night off with Tröegs, a central Pennsylvania brewery that has been in operation for about 16 years. From Tröegs, we sampled their Mad Elf Ale, a seasonal Christmas ale. Christmas ales are usually brewed around the holiday season and can contain a variety of fruits, herbs and spices. Another feature of the christmas brew is its high alcohol content, and the Mad Elf, is no exception, coming in at 11% ABV. Brewed with honey and cherries  Mad Elf presents dark red in the glass, with a nice thin white head.

The smell is distinctive sweet and cherry. However, the taste is thick, and much too sweet and  syrupy in my mouth. In the Oxford Companion to Beer, they state that “honey adds a distinctive sweetness and roundness, although in excess it can be perceived as rather cloying on the palate.” I sure had that feeling with this beer. In the end, there wasn’t a person in our group that enjoyed this beer, all struggled with the same issue, too sweet and syrupy.

Victory Brewing

About 60 miles east of the Tröegs brewery resides an old mill town, Downingtown. Located in Downingtown is another small Pennsylvania brewery, Victory Brewing. Started in 1996 as a restaurant and a full-scale brewery, Victory has steadily grown their operation from 1725 barrels brewed in the first year to 82 thousand barrels produced in 2011. I have tried a few different beers from Victory over the years, most notably Hop Devil. For this weeks sampling however, I chose Golden Money, mostly because it was the only product from Victory I could find on the shelf at one of my local stores at the time. Golden Monkey is a Tripel, a style of beer that was first commercialized in Belgium in the 1930s and has an excellent “origin story”. The story goes that in the medieval times, when most people were illiterate, casks of beer were marked with X’s to indicate the strength of the beer: X was the weakest and XXX was the strongest, where strength was a rough translation of alcohol by volume. The triple X morphed to the word, “tripel.” I had always assumed the casks in the old cartoons were full of whiskey, but maybe they were actually drinking a nice Tripel beer instead.

Victory - Golden Monkey

Victory – Golden Monkey

When poured, the first thing we noticed with the Golden Monkey was the high-level of carbonation. Tripels are often bottle conditioned. That means that when the beer is bottled, there is a very small amount of carbon dioxide, but sugars called priming sugars are added to the bottle to allow the yeast to continue to ferment in the bottle. This process produces a well-carbonated beverage.

 

Don't drink the yeast!

Don’t drink the yeast!

Because of the remaining yeast, drinking the sediment on the bottom of a bottle conditioned beer is not advised. Golden Monkey even provides directions about this right on the bottle. This beer had a lot going on. Some of the comments heard were, “honey taste” and “spices“.  As with the previous tasting, this beer took some time to warm up to and wasn’t well loved in the group. Unlike previous beers, this one didn’t get abandoned, but I would be surprised if anyone of us sought out this beer in the future.

I did come back and try the remains again later in the evening, after the bottle had warmed up some, and I enjoyed it more. While still not on my top list, it was my favorite of the night.

Weyerbacher

Sticking with the southeastern corner of the state, we next sampled a brew from Weyerbacher, located in Easton. Like the others breweries sampled from Pennsylvania, it started production in the mid 90s. I had seen Weyerbacher on the shelves of some stores in Pennsylvania when I was last there, but I didn’t expect to find it in my town. Last week, while browsing about, I was pleasantly surprised to see a bottle of Double Simcoe IPA, and decided it should be part of the sampling.

The Simcoe name comes from the type of hop used in the brewing process. Simcoe is a proprietary hop favored among craft brewers, especially in double IPAs. In The Oxford Companion to Beer, Matthew Brynildson describes Simcoe as having a:

unique aroma profile composed of piney, woody, and grapefruit citrus notes mixed with slightly dank and spicy notes of onion and garlic.

With the Double Simcoe IPA, we could immediately smell and taste the hops. It wasn’t of the strength of the 90 minute IPA, but it was strong. The smell was sweet, and I could easily detect the citrus notes. I did not however detect any essence of onion or garlic.

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

This beer had an awkward, and strange aftertaste (maybe from the onion notes?) that made it hard to become something I would look forward to enjoying.

In the end, I was really regretting my lapse in purchasing Yuengling while in Pennsylvania. While not the best of beers, it is very consistent and enjoyable. It would have been a nice ending. Everything sampled this evening left the tasters craving something else to cleanse the palette. Some even choosing 107 proof bourbon.

Overall,  I think the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is still my favorite of all the sampled brews so far.

 

See you next week for New Jersey.

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History

50 States of Beer

In the pre-prohibition era, U.S. beer producers sold their product mostly in kegs and all sales were to saloons within 60 miles of their production facility.  This system allowed the brewer to handle their own distribution and the ability to hand choose where their product was served. Unlike todays model where a brewers beer can be found at multiple places in a single community, brewers back then would try to get the most popular saloon for their product. Once they successfully landed the popular local watering hole, the brewer worked to retain their exclusivity on the location, through methods such as purchasing the liquor license for the saloon, or helping the saloon through various monetary incentives. This model of business is referred to as the tied-house system, where the breweries were strongly linked to the retail outlets, or saloons that sold beer for consumption. However, the tied-house system had its flaws, and the temperance movement leveraged these flaws to help form the basis for prohibition.

Fast forward to the 1930s and the end of prohibition. In an attempt to control beer prices, the brewers worked together to draft the Code of Fair Competition signed by the U.S. President in 1933 that prevented tied-houses. This legislation eventually (not without its own bumps and bruises) became the three-tier system of distribution that still exists today.

The three-tier system is composed of:

  • Tier 1 : The Brewer
  • Tier 2 : The Independent Distributor
  • Tier 3 : The Retailer

While the creation of the three-tier system solved many of the early problems, it is not without its own problems. In an attempt to learn more about the distribution system and the associated problems first hand, I am setting out to obtain and sample some beer from all of the states in a single year (And try some great beer along the way!). This blog will cronicle this adventure. It will be about the beer, how it was made, where it was made and how it got from the brewery to my house in Massachusetts.

As if that isn’t enough of a challenge, I will also try to sample the beers in the order the state joined the union. There are 52 weeks in a year and there are 50 states. Starting with Delaware, I will attempt to progress, each week from Delaware in the first week of January, to Pennsylvania in week two, and continue on as far into the year as possible.

I hope you join me in this adventure.

* Much of the historical information in this post came from the excellent paper by FogartyFrom saloon to supermarket: packaged beer and the reshaping of the U.S. brewing industry.

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