beer, History

Florida : Sunshine State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Craft Beer

Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale

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

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

The Cigar City Maduro had a taste of roasted peanuts.

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

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

Florida Craft Beer

Tampa Bay Brewing, Old Elephant Foot IPA

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

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

Florida Craft Beer

Cigar City Jai Alai

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

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

 

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beer, History

Tennessee – America at its best

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

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

Tennessee Craft Beer

Selection of Craft Beer from Tennessee

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Craft Beer

Blackstone Brewery Nut Brown Ale

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

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

Tennessee Craft Beer

Yazoo Pale Ale

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

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

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

Next week, Ohio.

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beer, History

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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