beer, History

Ohio: Birthplace of Aviation

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

Ohio Craft Beer

Ohio Craft Beer

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

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

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

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

Ohio Craft Beer

Hoppin’ Frog Bodacious Black and Tan

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

Ohio Craft Beer

Hoppin’ Frog Hop Heathen

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

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

For our tasting on Saturday, we had:

Ohio Craft Beer

Ohio Craft Beer Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio Craft Beer

Rivertown Brewery Old Sour Cherry Porter

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

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

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

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

A quick summary follows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, back south for Louisiana.

beer, History

Virginia: Virginia is For Lovers


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

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

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

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

10 Week summary

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Virginia Craft Beer

Starr Hill

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

Devils Backbone

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

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


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.