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

Michigan : Say Yes to Michigan

While settlers have been living in Michigan for many years, starting with the French in the wary 1600’s, it would be many years before Michigan became an state. When Michigan did enter the union as the 26th state, the United States was already over 60 years old. Even with this long settler history, the first records of brewing in the state show that it was the British settlers of the 1800’s, with their introduction of ale. This timeframe coinesides with the completion of the Erie Canal, a newly constructed water route connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. The introduction of this canal made it easier for immigrants to settle in the western territories like Michigan.

Not far behind the British were the German immigrants, and with them came lager beer. As was the case with many other states in the 1840-50s, lager was quickly become the beer of choice. In fact, lager became so dominant in Michigan that in the years between 1862 and 1882 the number of ale brewers in the city of Detroit dropped from 28 to 4.

One of the newly dominant lager brewers in Michigan was a guy named Bernhard Stroh. Having learned the art from his father back in Germany, Bernhard setup his own brewery in Detroit in 1850 and quickly started brewing pilsner, a pale lager style. When Bernhard first started his operation, he relied on a door-to-door sales approach, hawking his goods from a wheelbarrow.

There were no wheelbarrows involved with my acquisition of beer for this weeks tasting, but that would have been fun. Instead, I relied on some of the dwindling stock from the start of this project that included two different styles from Bell’s Brewery, and some beer from Founders, which has recently started to appear in the state and is now readily available.

So, with a nice break in the rain, and a gathering of friends in the backyard, we set about sampling, and then drinking a variety of beer from Michigan.

 

Michigan craft beer

Bell’s and Founders, Two of the many craft brewers in Michigan

When I setup tastings, I prefer to leave the IPAs until the end. With their hop kick, it usually makes it harder to get anything out of the following samples. However, more often than not lately, we have been encountering situations where it is unclear which beer to start with. With this project, the beer is not grouped by style, or year, like other tastings. Instead the beer is geographically grouped, and that often results in some strange combinations. And this week is a perfect example. We had two stouts: Expedition Stout and Breakfast Stout, and we had IPAs: Two Hearted Ale, All Day IPA and Centennial IPA.

So, sticking with the IPAs last, we kicked off with the stouts. Maybe not the best decision of the night, be we had to start somewhere.

The first stout of the night was the Expedition Stout from Bell Brewery.

Michigan Craft Beer

Expedition Stout from Bell’s Brewery

Known as the oldest craft brewer east of Colorado, Bells has been honing their craft for more than 25 years now. Starting with a 15-gallon stock pot operation in 1985, Bells has grown to a 200-barrel brewhouse today. One of the beers that comes from that brewhouse is a Russian Imperial Stout called Expedition Stout. In the glass, this beer was dark. It looked like 40 weight motor oil, and it had a really nice, sweet aroma. The mouthfeel was all malt, and it was enjoyable, placing this beer in the upper echelon for the year. After all the others were sampled, this was the first beer everyone went back for seconds.

Following the Expedition Stout, we moved to a Breakfast Stout from Founder’s Brewery. While as dark and malty as the Expedition, this beer was not as thick, and felt lacking in character. I think if I had this beer stand-alone, it would have been just fine, and even well liked. But when compared with the Expedition, it didn’t.

Michigan Craft Beer

Bell’s Brewery, Two Hearted Ale

Now here is why I think the ordering was wrong. The third beer was Two-Hearted Ale from Bells. The first time I had this beer, I was floored. It was flavorful, and very enjoyable. I wished I had easier access to it, because it was unlike anything I have had before. Now maybe after trying a few different beers on this project I have come to discover more beer like the Two-Hearted ale and it lost some of its magic, but I would like to think it was the ordering of the samples. As I have come to expect from this beer, the aroma was a rich bouquet of various hops. The color, was typical of its style, with a slightly cloudy appearance in the glass. On the tongue, the taste was very mild. This is most likely due to the two previous stouts. In the end, I will always enjoy this beer, and it does hold a special place for anyone that has tried it. Just a mention of Bell’s, and the first response is usually Two-Hearted Ale.

After the Two-Hearted Ale, we had two more selections from Founders, and we started with the All Day IPA. This beer started with “Smells like someone just mowed the lawn” and ended with “All day IPA, I don’t think so.” With its truly distinct aroma, I was expecting to really like this beer, but the finish was off. Very bitter, and not in the good way. Overall, this was not a favorite of the night.

We capped the tasting off with a Centennial IPA from Founders. I enjoyed this beer more than the All Day (Disclaimer: That one grew on me too over the evening,) as I enjoy the piney aroma from the Centennial hops. It also had a nicer finish, not as bitter. I think this was my favorite Founders of the evening.

Michigan Craft Beer

Founders Brewery, All Day IPA and Centennial IPA

At the end of the sampling, everyone went to the cooler to grab a bottle of their favorite of the evening, and we all settled in to enjoy some conversation and a beautiful evening.

Thanks for all the participants this week. It was fun.

Next week. Florida.

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beer, History

Missouri : Close to Home. Far from ordinary.

Johnny Hymer was a miner always on the job,
Johnny loved his lager like a sailor loves his grog.
One day his foreman told him that this country would go dry,
John threw his tools upon the ground,
You should have heard him cry.
No Beer, No Work. 1919

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson made the largest land grab in United States history when he completed the Louisiana Purchase. Part of that acquisition was a block of land that is now the state of Missouri. Known as the Gateway to the West, Missouri, was the starting point for western exploration, including the Louis and Clark Expedition. Eighteen years after the Louisiana Purchase, Missouri would become the 24th state, and this week’s featured state.

In the early 1930s, a St. Louis lawyer named Luther Ely Smith, wanting to commemorate St. Louis’ role in westward expansion, pitched an idea for a memorial. Over the course of the next 30 years, The Gateway Arch would come to fruition, and in the process become the largest man-made monument in the United States. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, which played a critical role in western expansion, The Gateway Arch also has a physical connection to American brewing history.

In 1838, a German immigrant, Johann Adam Lemp came to St. Louis and opened a grocery store. In addition to groceries, Lemp, a master brewer back in Germany, sold his own brewed beer and vinegar. It wasn’t long before beer became his primary product, and in 1840, the Lemp Brewery was established. Starting out brewing ales, the brewery soon took advantage of the natural caves around St. Louis perfect for lagering, and became the first commercial lager brewer in the country.

St. Louis is also know for another national brewer, Anheuser-Busch. Started about a decade after Lemp, Anheuser-Busch quickly grew through multiple acquisitions and various price fixing schemes. And it wouldn’t take long for this fast growing brewery to eclipse Lemp Brewery. However Lemp and Anheuser-Busch remained the most prominent brewers in the state for a few decades, producing a majority of the 61 million gallons of beer brewed in St. Louis in 1892.

The Lemp Brewing Company would not survive prohibition, and by the 1960s, Anheuser-Busch would become one of the few operating breweries in the United States. But the Lemp brewing legacy will always live on in Missouri, as part of the land acquired for building the Arch was also the site of the original Lemp brewery.

While Anheuser-Busch would continue to dominate the St. Louis beer scene throughout the 60s and 70s, during the 1980s American would start to see a new growth in the beer industry. One of those new companies looking to reintroduce flavorful beer to the country is Boulevard Brewing Company. Founded in 1989, Boulevard has grown from its original business plan of 6000 barrels a year to a current 600,000 barrels a year. This week, we will be sampling a very small portion of those 600k barrels in the form of 5 different and interesting styles.

Missouri Craft Beer - Boulvard Brewing

Missouri Craft Beer – Boulvard Brewing

Boulevard is not the only brewery operating in Missouri today, but they are the only brewery I have easy access to here in New England. Their Tank 7 and The Sixth Glass are common sights on the shelves of many local beer stores, so we grabbed a bottle of each, and found a few others, and set out for a celebration of Missouri.

We started the evening off with Tank 7, a Saison, or Farmhouse Ale. In the glass, this beer was slightly cloudy, with a nice pale straw color. It just called out as light and refreshing, with its Amarillo hops exuding a nice, citrus aroma. The taste of this beer, slightly bitter with a dry finish, was well loved by everyone at the tasting party. While not the best Saison I have ever had, it sure is up their in the rankings, making this a beer I would come back to again.

After the Tank 7, we switched to a beer named The Sixth Glass, named after a Hans Christian Anderson Story.

The sixth glass! In that sits Satan himself—a well-dressed, conversable, lively, fascinating little man—who never contradicts you, allows that you are always in the right—in fact, seems quite to adopt all your opinions.
                                        Olê, the Watchman of the Tower

Missouri Craft Beer

Boulevard, The Sixth Glass

In the glass, The Sixth Glass looked beautiful, with its frothy head, and nice, caramel color. The aroma of this beer was sweet and fruity, with a slight burnt smell. While this beer presented well across the group, the taste was not enjoyed as much. Two of the four people participating, opted out of finishing this beer. One taster even went so far as calling it flabby.

From The Sixth Glass, we moved into the IPAs, the first being Boulevard’s Single Wide. Containing six varieties of hops, this beer has a lot going on. Each taster got a different aroma profile from this beer. Some picking up the citrus aromas of the Cascade hops, while others quickly detected the piney aromas of the Simcoe hops. In the glass, this beer has a nice, pale gold color with a bubbly, carbonated body. The aftertaste of this beer was clearly hops, which was expected given the number of varieties used in this brew. Overall, this beer was well liked.

The next beer of the evening was another IPA, this one called Double Wide. A Double IPA, we expected the hops in this beer to come off much stronger than the Single Wide. However we were wrong in that assumption. This beer, also brewed with 5 different varieties of hops, was darker than the Single Wide. And that darker color came through in the flavor as well, dampening the hops, and letting the malty caramel flavors come forward. In an IPA, I prefer hops, from start to finish. So with this beer, it was unexpected to have the more caramel malt taste dominate the palate. In that respect, I didn’t enjoy this beer as much as the Single Wide.

Missouri Craft Beer

Boulevard Coffee Ale

The final beer of the night was a Coffee Ale. A limited release beer, this brew joins the ranks of the coffee beers that have been one of the pleasant surprises of this project. We have been surprised at the number of beer / coffee collaborations we have encountered this year, with each one presenting a unique character. The Coffee Ale was no different. As with all of the coffee beers we have sampled this year, this beer has a nice spicy, coffee aroma. Everyone loved this beer. It tastes just like coffee! and it quickly generated ideas for recipes. This would make a great Red-eye gravy! In the end, this was another well loved beer, rounding out another great tasting week.

Thanks Boulevard, and Missouri for keeping the craft beer tradition alive.

Next week, Arkansas.

 

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beer, History

Alabama: Share The Wonder

Formed into 1817 and already surrounded by states on all of its borders, the Alabama Territory lasted just two years before becoming the 22nd state on December 14, 1819. However it would take 65 years for Alabama to see its first brewery.

In 1883, Philip Schillinger, a German immigrant, moved his family from Kentucky to Birmingham Alabama with the intent of establishing a brewery in this fast growing city. Philip already had experience as a brewer. While living in Kentucky, he and two partners created the largest brewery in Kentucky at the time, and it didn’t take long for him to repeat his success in the Magic City.

In 1884, Philip created the Birmingham Brewery and introduced fresh brewed lager to the state of Alabama, and demand of the product quickly followed. The Birmingham Brewery continued to grow until 1893, when a economic downturn combined with a coal miner strike caused the company to slip into bankruptcy. Coming out of bankruptcy as the Alabama Brewing Company, production increased until 1907 when Jefferson County, home of Birmingham voted to become a dry county, starting the battle against brewing in the state of Alabama that is still affecting the industry today.

Much like Mississippi, Alabama introduced Prohibition prior to the federal amendment, and continued to enforce the law well beyond the repeal of 18th Amendment, with some counties still dry today. The state did eventually loosen its grip on alcohol control, but it didn’t fully let go. So in 2004, the organization Free the Hops was formed to try to change the laws that restricted the making and purchasing of craft beer in Alabama.

The first challenge Free the Hops took on was increasing the legal limit for alcohol content in beer. Like many other southern states, Alabama had a law that prevented beer from having an ABV greater than 6%. And as we mentioned before, that prevents many styles of craft beer from ever entering the state. Free the Hops won, and in 2009, the Gourmet Beer Bill was passed, allowing beer up to 13.9% ABV. A huge success for the group.

After that success, they didn’t stop. There was still work to do. Alabama still had many restrictions, such as limiting bottle sizes to 16oz (changed to 25.4 oz in 2012), preventing home brewing (made legal in 2013). And many more that prevented the successful running of a craft brewery or brewpub in the state.

As the laws slowly change, brewers are also making their way back into the state after a long hiatus. And this week, we have a few selections from the state to try.

Alabama Craft Beer

Back Forty Beer Company, Kudzu Porter

The first beer we tried was Kudzu Porter from the Back Forty Beer Company. Located in Gadsden Alabama, Back Forty brewed its first production batch of beer in January 2012, and with that first batch came Kudzu Porter.

We held the Alabama tasting on Memorial Day, which was a beautiful day here in New England. While sitting in the backyard, enjoying the sun, I found the Kudzu to be a nice light porter. Nothing overwhelming in flavor department, but refreshing. Perfect for enjoying on a summer day. I continued to go back to this beer a few more times during the week, and it grew on me more each time I had it. The slogan on the bottle says Careful, It will grow on you! which is a play on the characteristics of the plant Kudzu. An invasive plant introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800s, this plant now dominates the sides of roads throughout the south, enveloping the rest of the landscape. For this beer, the slogan fits, as it did grown on me.

Another beer we tried from Back Forty was their Freckle Belly IPA. This beer also rolled off the production line in January 2012, and while very young in the beer world, this was an enjoyable IPA. Right from the opening of the bottle, we could smell the hops in this beer. It wasn’t the best IPA we have had on this project, but it was an enjoyable beer, with all but one of the tasters enjoying it.

Alabama Craft Beer

Back Forty Freckle Belly and Blue Pants Knickerbocker

Back Forty isn’t the only brewery working to fill the void in Alabama. Blue Pants Brewery out of Madison is another craft brewery helping to change the beer drinking scene in Alabama. From Blue Pants, we got our hands on a bottle of Knickerbocker Red Ale. Listed as their flagship beer, the Knickerbocker was an interesting beer. In the glass, it was dark red, almost caramel in color, and it was full of carbonation with a biting aftertaste. A little too much for my liking, but others in the party loved it. 

Alabama Craft Beer

Good People Brewery, Snake Handler

The final beer of the evening came in a can. Brewed by Good People Brewing, in Birmingham, we ended the tasting with a double IPA called Snake Handler. Printed around the top of the can, Snake Handler can says “Legally Brewed Since 2008″, a play on both the slow to change laws of the state and the notion of backwoods illegally brewed concoctions. Like the Freckle Belly before it, this beer was hoppy, and I really liked it. In the heat of the day, it went down well. The bitterness of the hops really helped to cut through the thirst. This beer was well loved across the tasting party. We could have used about 6 more.

In the end, it is nice to see how much the beer scene in Alabama has changed since we had our wedding there in 2001. At that time, all we could get for the reception party were flavorless beer made by big national brands. There was no craft beer scene at that time. But things are changing for the better and we had the privilege to try three different breweries that are working on putting Alabama on the craft brewing map.

Next week, check back for Maine, and a huge milestone for 50 states of beer.

 

 

 

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beer, History

Indiana: Restart Your Engines

This week, we are commemorating the December 11, 1816 admittance of Indiana into the union as the 19th state.

Prohibition was hard on the brewing industry. After the repeal of prohibition, only about 300 out of 1100 breweries remained in operation. Then to make things worse, the years after prohibition saw mergers creating huge brew houses while shrinking the number of breweries even further to about 50 breweries operating by 1980. This era lead to a mass market beer that was void of quality and character. And it would take a grassroots initiated resurgence in the late 1970s to slowly turn things around.

This turn around has its roots in the homebrewing revolution. Fed up with the state of American brewing, and a longing for beer styles no longer available, homebrewers started to experiment on their own. By relearning the skills once prevalent in our towns and communities prior to prohibition, the homebrewing movement slowly reintroduced the American public to long lost styles of beer full of flavors and characteristics unlike anything the industry was producing at the time.

Another factor considered as a major influence to the craft beer revolution was the advent of affordable airfare. When air travel became accessible to more people in the late 70s and early 80s, Americans were bringing back knowledge, and more importantly, a desire for the great food and beer they discovered and enjoyed during their European travels.

As the homebrewing movement spread across the country, each state slowly lifted old prohibition laws that made homebrewing illegal.

With the passing of the 21st amendment to the Constitution, prohibition was repealed in 1933. However that amendment did not repeal the prohibition of homebrewing that was written into the 18th amendment, where homebrewing was made illegal. It wasn’t until 1978, when President Carter signed new legislation allowing beer production for personal and family use that homebrewing was again legal at a federal level.

While now legal at a federal level, as part of the 21st amendment, each state held the final word on alcohol regulation. As a result, the ability to (legally) home brew beer has slowly progressed from state to state since 1978. In Indiana, beer enthusiasts would have to wait until 1985 for home brewing to become legal in their state. (While 7 years might seem like a long time, it wasn’t until last week that Alabama made homebrewing legal, bring all states into the homebrewing era.)

At the time of homebrewing legalization, Indiana had two breweries in operation, however since 1985, we would see that number grow to more than 38 operational breweries today. By allowing individuals the ability to practice and hone their craft without legal ramifications, an entire industry has sprung to life again, producing new and interesting beer for a welcoming audience.

Part of this homebrew enthusiast turned brewing entrepreneur is Three Floyds Brewing in Munster Indiana. Setting out … to be a departure from the fairly bleak craft brewing scene in the region, Three Floyds has developed a reputation for brewing high quality, highly sought out beer. If you look at the Beer Advocate Top 250 Beers list, Three Floyds has two entries in the top 10. Or if you prefer the RateBeer Top 50 list, they have three brews in the top 10. Very Impressive, and we were fortunate to get our hands on one of these brews for this week.

This week was a week were I couldn’t locate any beer locally. Getting beer from Indiana in Massachusetts is apparently not possible. So I went the trading route, and received a nice selection of beer from Upland Brewing, Oaken Barrel Brewing, New Albanian and Three Floyds to represent Indiana.

Indiana Craft Beer

Indiana Craft Beer

We started this week with a Helios Pale Ale from Upland Brewing. Located in Bloomington, Upland has been in the business of brewing beer since 1998. Named after the sun god Helios, this Pale Ale from Upland was well liked across the group. With “a slight bitterness to the taste, but nothing off-putting“, in the glass this beer was “more golden than expected” for one taster, but over all, it was a keeper. I could sit back and enjoy this beer at anytime.

From the Helios, we moved on to the Indiana Amber from Oaken Barrel Brewing. Listed as “Indiana’s premier, must-visit brewpub“, Oaken Barrel, located in Greenwood has been producing craft beer for 14 years now. The Indiana Amber is an American Amber that truly lives up to its name. With a deep amber color, this beer had a nice, sweet caramel smell in the glass. The caramel smell, from the malt, transferred straight into the taste of this beer, where there was a nice combination of hoppy bitterness with sweet caramel undertones.

Strange mix of caramel and bitter, but it works!

The next beer up in the queue was from Three Floyds. Typically, we do these tastings on a Friday evening, however due to a Little League game and a few missed text messages, this weeks tasting didn’t happen until Saturday afternoon. Because of that missed opportunity, I spent Friday night reading the lastest issue of Beer Advocate. In this issue, there is an article by Martin Cizmar about his attempt to try all of the top 250 beers on the Beer Advocate list. The article was an enjoyable read, and while I often frequent the Beer Advocate site for references while writing these posts, I somehow never managed to stumble on the top list. Until Friday night. What was somewhat surprising to me was that I had not had any of the beer in the top 100, though I have heard of many. The second big surprise came to me as I was scanning the list. Thanks to Redditor Zugunfall, I had in my possession, two bottles of Zombie Dust from Three Floyds brewing. This beer is currently sitting at number 7 on the top 250 list, and I didn’t even know what I had.

Indiana Craft Beer

Three Floyds Zombie Dust

With its comic book inspired label, a quick search of the beer trade forums will show you that this is a much sought after beer. Listed by the brewer as an “intensely hopped and gushing undead pale ale,” this beer would be the final beer of our afternoon. The others would have to wait until Sunday.

Right from the pour, I knew this was a special beer. It had a wonderful citrus and pine smell that immediately put me back at our mini-beer summit and the opening of the bottle of Treehouse IPA. This beer was Delicious. With its wonderful aroma, and excellent taste, this beer was an excellent end to a great tasting. There have been many great words already crafted about this beer, and I would have to agree with them all. This was one of the best beers of this project so far.

 

On the following day, over an inspired mothers day meal (including mussels steams in Abita Amber,) we had a Komodo Dragon Black IPA and a Double Dragon Fly Imperial IPA, both from Upland. Again two really enjoyable beers, showing that Indiana is here to play in the craft beer world.

Next week, we head south to Mississippi.

 

 

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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.

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Uncategorized

Connecticut: We’re full of surprises

Connecticut

Just four days after Georgia, in January 1788, Connecticut ratified the Constitution,  becoming the 5th state in the Union and week five of our adventure.

When I was first drafting the idea of this year long project, I envisioned it as a travel story in reverse. I would be visiting each state of the union through the beer brewed from that state, and thinking about how that beer travelled to me. Of course there was some, and probably will be physical travel, but in the end, the beer will be doing the majority of the travel, not me. Travel is synonymous with adventure. When people talk about travel, they often focus on the adventure of the trip, the challenges and risks they experienced, and overcame. In that respect, this blog, so far, has been an adventure. I have experienced flavors and styles of beer beyond anything previously consumed — and lived to talk about it. I had put on my explorer hat, and surf the web for places to purchase beer. And perused the shelves at stores, longingly looking for that one beer from a needed state. And so far, it has been educational, and more importantly fun. Lets hope the adventure continues.

Another component associated with adventure is mythologies and legends. There are many ancient legends of travel and adventure, from Odysseus to Ishmael. Beer is not exempt from the world of mythology. With myths such as the Finnish epic Kalevala devoting more lines to the origin of beer and brewing than to the origin of mankind, and the mythical Flemish king Gambrinus who is sometimes credited with inventing beer, one doesn’t have to look far to find mythology in beer.

And that brings us to this weeks tasting, and the legend of the Sea Hag.

This week, we will sample beer form two different Connecticut breweries. Early in the project, I was exchanging messages with a friend and he told me about a beer from Connecticut that I must include in my tasting. And it just so happened, he was going to be driving to Massachusetts from Connecticut and we could meet up for an exchange. When we met, he brought along two different IPAs from Connecticut, one from New England Brewing and another from Two Roads Brewing. Given that Connecticut is just one border away, I wanted to round out the selection with maybe something from Thomas Hooker, so I headed over to the Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, and to my surprise, they did not have anything at all from the state of Connecticut. This came as a shock to me. I assumed the western states would be hard to acquire during this project, but I never thought I would have an issue getting beer from our neighbor. So, thanks to Matt S., Connecticut was saved and the project lives for another week.

In the late 1700′s or early 1800′s, a traveler and charlatan named Robert Henway came to New Haven in search of his latest business exploit. While there, he married a young beautiful local named Molly. As Henway’s business prospects soured, he abandoned Molly and boarded a ship to a distant location. Molly, impassioned by her love (and possibly fury) for Henway, stowed away on the ship in pursuit of her husband. During the voyage, Molly mysteriously disappeared. Her spirit returned to New Haven to haunt the port city.

New England Brewing – Sea Hag IPA

Connecticut Craft Beer

New England Brewing – Sea Hag IPA

The first beer of the night is an IPA from New England Brewing, located in South Norwalk. In operation since 1989, New England Brewing produces three different types of beer, an Amber, a Lager and an IPA. For this week, we are tasting their Sea Hag IPA. This beer is named after the legend of the Sea Hag, and old Connecticut sea myth.

During my research for this post, I was looking for some more information about the Sea Hag myth, another beer mythology link was worth investigating. I found this blog, where the quote above is from, but that was the only info I could find. There wasn’t even a wikipedia page, and that set off an alarm bell. A few more creative wikipedia searches turned up a deleted page about the Sea Hag, and in the comments section, I found a link to this story from CNN which goes on to explain how that Sea Hag myth was started as a guerrilla marketing campaign by New England Brewing to market their new IPA. Now considered one of their best selling beers, the myth generation apparently worked.

As far as taste, this beer generated many comments. Overall, it was a well received beer. For an IPA, it was much lighter in color than what I would typically expect, but it had a nice mild hoppy taste. “A decent IPA, one I would be happy to drink again.”

Two Roads Brewing – Double IPA

Connecticut Craft Beer

Two Roads Brewing – Road 2 Ruin

The next beer in the selection was a double IPA from Two Roads Brewing in Stratford called Road to Ruin. This IPA was a bit darker than the Sea Hag, and also had a bit more hops kick. The smell was a nice citrus smell. I enjoyed this beer, but when drank with the Sea Hag, they both blended together into a non distinct flavor. Everyone in the drinking party enjoyed this beer, but nobody was completely floored.

In the end, I enjoyed both beers from Connecticut. They were drinkable and enjoyable. I could easily revisit either beer at anytime. However I was surprised at how hard it was to come across beer from Connecticut when we are border states.

Next week, bringing it local for Massachusetts.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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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

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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