beer, product review

The Bottle Opener

In 1892, an Baltimore inventor named William Painter introduced two patents that greatly transformed the beer industry, starting with the invention of the crown cork.

The crown cork, or cap, is something we all known well. Given the name crown because of its jagged crown-like rim, this cap provided a cheap and effective method for creating an air-tight seal on the bottle. And, unlike previous bottle closures (typically cork stoppers), the crown cap promoted more effective storage, was easily removed and most importantly, disposable. All of these benefits added up to an invention that quickly took the world by storm.

In 1892, William Painter filed a patent for the crown cap.

When Painter filed his patent application, he foreshadowed his followup invention:

 It will be obvious that while some special form of opener may be required for detaching caps with the greatest possible convenience any thin-edged tool or a knife may be readily applied to the projecting edge for detaching a cap…

And a year later his next patent was filed for the “Capped-Bottle Opener”.

In mechanical terms, a bottle opener is one of the six classical simple machines known as a lever.  A lever is just a rigid structure that relies on a force and a fulcrum to perform a task. In this case, the task is opening a cold beer. Because of its simplicity, few people ever give thought to the bottle opener, or the success of this invention.

The initial patent for the capped-bottle opener

It didn’t take long for the bottle opener to become ubiquitous, and serve multiple purposes. Because of its simple design the bottle opener, one of the most utilitarian items in the beverage world, was, and still is, a cheap and effective method for displaying a logo to market a product. This simple invention in-turn lead to collectors, and books on and about the collection of these openers. These days, a quick Internet search will turn up many antique and novelty bottle openers.

For me, I have some breweriana, mostly stickers and a few bottles, like Zombie Dust. However I never gave much thought about my bottle openers. The ones I have usually came in a package of other kitchen utensils, or were promotional give aways at various events. When I did have to purchase an opener, I would often look for the cheapest one, after all it is just an opener. So when I was asked if I wanted to try out a $28 opener made by a Brooklyn based men’s accessory store called Owen and Fred, I was a bit hesitant. My first thought was about the amount of nice craft beer I could buy for that money, why would I waste it on an opener? Eventually, I decided that I should check it out and see it in action.

A few days after I agreed, a box arrived in the mail containing a 1/2 pound brass bottle opener called the “You Earned It“. My initial concern for this opener was its size. All of my other openers are small and easy to handle. This one, I expected, not so much. Did I mention it is a 1/2 pound of brass? But those concerns quickly went away as soon as I got this thing in my hand. It is impressive, with its polished edges and finely pointed lip for quickly and easily grasping the bottom of the cap to pry it off, it quickly became my go to opener.

The You Earned It Bottle Opener

The You Earned It Bottle Opener

But I really wanted to see how I would like it over time, and to see how others would react to it, so I left it in easy access for the past few weeks and observed. This opener has become the most talked about utensil in my kitchen. Everyone who sees it, grabs it, comments on how cool and impressive it is, and then after using it, they proceed to play with it as long as it is within arms reach. I have often found myself just holding the opener, feeling the smooth cool brass while enjoying a nice beer, something I have never done with any of my other openers.

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After a few weeks with this thing, I will say it is a keeper. I love having it around, not only is it a conversation piece, it is also an excellent opener. The gap is perfect, allowing for the quick, no slip opening of bottles, unlike some cheap openers I have had in the past. The lip is pointed enough to easily slip under the crown, without being too sharp to cause injury. And the mass, the 1/2 pounds of brass, is just plain fun.

If I have any complaints about the opener it is that it doesn’t have a hole to lock it down, because everyone that holds it, wants it. Before I used the “You Earned It”, I never understood why someone would buy an expensive opener when you could get one for less than a dollar at your local beverage store. But that sentiment has changed, and I recommend that you treat yourself (or someone else) to this impressive product, which you can find here, and tell them we sent you.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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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

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

 

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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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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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