beer, History

Wisconsin: Live like you mean it

There was in the United States, in the beer age, no more delightful a city than Milwaukee in which to spend a day, a year or a life.1

By the time Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, it was already well on its way to becoming a major brewing center. Eight years prior to statehood, the Lake Brewery in Milwaukee began brewing traditional English ales and porters. While these styles were well loved among the English, their sweet taste and murky color were not what the German’s called beer. Within a year, the Germans would get their beer, when a German immigrant named Reuthlisberger founded the lager beer industry in Milwaukee, setting the course of the city for years to come.

The Germans brought with them their love of relaxation, beer and talk.1

Around 1844, the first big wave of German immigrants started migrating to the United States, with many of them settling in region that would become Wisconsin. One of the newly transplanted was Jacob Best. Prior to coming across the Atlantic, Jacob ran a small brewery in Germany, so when he arrived in Wisconsin, he picked up right where he left off by founding the Empire Brewery which later became the Pabst Brewing Company. Quickly, other beer barons with names like Schlitz and Blatz also set up shop brewing lager, making the city Milwaukee synonymous with the word beer.

Pour beer out upon a locality and it won’t be long till the ground is dotted with gardens. They will grow and bloom so long as the beer continues to nourish them.1

Along with the their love of lager, the German immigrants also brought another facet of home with them, the beer garden, a gathering place for all.  One of the most famous beer gardens not only in Milwaukee, but in the entire United States at one point in time, was the Schlitz Palm Garden. Opened in 1896, The Schlitz Garden, built when “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous” was sweeping the land, quickly became a major tourist attraction for the city, including a visit from Woodrow Wilson on his first presidential nomination campaign.

Beer and wine make for conversation. There is in liquors of mild alcoholic persuasion that which quickens the flow of the thoughts in a man’s cranium, loosens a notch the belt about his reticence and releases upon his tongue the fruits of his meditations1

While the German’s were busying putting their own mark on Milwaukee with the introduction of lager beer and beer gardens, there was a steadily growing temperance movement sweeping across the U.S., and within Wisconsin, that would bring about another, much resisted, change to the city.

Wisconsin to the average American unacquainted with actual conditions therein, is commonly regarded as a Gibraltar of the wets — sort of a Utopia where everybody drinks their fill and John Barlycorn still holds forth in splendor2

Prohibition in the United States lasted from 1920 to 1933 with some areas embracing it more than others. Wisconsin was not one of the more embracing states. In 1931, just two years shy of the 21st Amendment, The Treasury Department conducted a survey of Prohibition enforcement in the state of Wisconsin and found that a majority of the state was doing little to uphold the federal law. In most instances, the enforcement of Prohibition was just theater as indicated by this paragraph in the report: The writer attended police court in Superior and observed the daily collection therein from proprietors of such establishments. The line formed on the right. The violator stepped up to the judge, was asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty to the sale of intoxicating liquor in his particular soft-drink establishment. Before the judge had finished with the above question, the proprietor in each case would reach into his pocket, extract therefrom a roll of bills, plead guilty, and place $200 on the desk. This is the standard penalty for liquor transgressions in the city of Superior.2

However, even with flagrant disregard of the law in many parts of the state, Prohibition still made its mark. Just one year into Prohibition, the Schlitz Garden closed, ending a 25 year run of the most successful beer garden in the United States.

Once prohibition ended, the major players bounced back and regained their foothold,  quickly regaining their leading positions of producers of beer in the country. While Wisconsin was once the home to many major national breweries, things appear to be different these days, as we were only able to get our hands on one craft brewery here in Massachusetts for this weeks tasting: Lakefront Brewery.

From Lakefront Brewery, we tried 5 different styles.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Wisconsin Craft Beer

We opened the Fixed Gear, an American Red Ale, to start the evening.

Brewed in Milwaukee for people who like beer

This beer had a deep red color when poured in the glass. The taste was caramel, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Nothing off putting at all. This beer won two awards, The Regional Champion at the Winter U.S. Beer Tasting Championship and the Silver Medal at the Los Angels International Commercial Beer Competition, and I am not surprised. This was a nice, solid beer and I would drink it again.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Lakefront Brewery Wisonsinite

After the Fixed Gear, we opened the Wisconsinite, a summer Weiss. The concept of this beer, brewed with 100 percent Wisconsin grown ingredients intrigued me. This is an idea I have always been curious about, can a beer have a sense of place? Do the locally grown ingredients give the beer a regional taste that can not be reproduced when using the same ingredients in a different area. In wine and coffee, this is referred to as terroir, and the debate still carries on about terroir in beer.

In the glass, this beer was a light golden color. The aroma had a slight banana characteristic, which is expected in a hefeweizen. The aroma stems from the yeast used to brew the beer which produces the same esters found in bananas.

When drank, this beer didn’t really have anything that made it standout. No flavors jumped out at me, and I was left wanting of a description. This beer reminded me of a session beer, and with its 4.4 ABV, it meets the criteria. While not a bad beer, it was just not loaded with the flavors that we have often encountered over the past year, but as a session beer, I could handle a few of these.

Our next beer was the Cream City Pale Ale. Milwaukee is nicknamed the Cream City for the cream colored bricks used as a common building material in the area. The color of this beer was golden honey (not cream!), and the beer had a slightly bitter aftertaste. Other than that, there were no other descriptives I could come up with for this beer.

Finishing up the Cream City, we moved to the IPA and followed that with the IBA.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Lakefront IPA

The IPA, while not emitting much of a smell, had that nice, enjoyable bitter taste expected in an IPA. I felt the carbonation of this beer overpowered the ability to get any aroma from it, otherwise, this was a typical, good IPA.

The IBA (Black IPA) was a nice, roasted dark color and wasn’t as bitter as the IPA. With its roasted tastes and bitter hops, this was my favorite beer of the night.

In the end, I enjoyed the Fixed Gear and the IBA the best. The others were fine, but they seemed lacking in character and didn’t have the uniqueness that some of the beers we have encountered on this journey have exhibited. Overall, another successful week was had putting us at 136 beers from 30 states in 30 weeks.

Next week, California. Thanks for reading.

1 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1270
2 http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/tp/id/48320

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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

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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