beer, History

California : The Golden State

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

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

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

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

California Craft Beer

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

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

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

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

California craft beer

The Bruery, Sour in the Rye

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

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

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

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

  • Good
  • Industrial
  • Different

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

California Craft Beer

Monks Blood

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

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

California craft beer

Selection of Lagunita’s beer

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

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

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

1 The Oxford Companion to Beer

Advertisements
Standard
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.

Standard
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.

 

Standard
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.

 

Standard
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.

 

Standard