beer

I’m not afraid of the dark!

This weekend I picked up my second beer in the Throwback Brewery Unafraid of the Dark IV program. Every January, Throwback releases a new, unique dark beer every two weeks. Each of these brews are made with one or more local ingredient. This program has two subscription levels, a full growler, or a half-growler (growlette) of each new brew.

I am in the growlette program, so every two weeks, I get my hands on a liter of great beer. The first beer in the series was a stout called Tangled up in Blueberry. This stout was brewed with 60 pounds of New Hampshire grown blueberries, and it was good.

Tangled up in Blueberries StoutUnlike a typical fruit beer, where the fruit flavor is strong and prominent, here the blueberries were a subtle addition, complementing the chocolate flavors in the stout. Or, as the brewer said “resulting in undertones of chocolate covered berries.”

The next beer in the program is a milk stout called The Invisible Yam. This beer is brewed with 50 pounds of cooked sweet potatoes and includes allspice, vanilla and nutmeg. Surprisingly, there was no sweet potato taste in the beer. I was expecting a sweet tasting beer, something like a sweet potato pie. Instead, it was a wonderful, roasted malty flavor, with a hint of spiciness on the finish. All of the ingredients in the brew were of perfect proportion, allowing each to complement the flavor without taking over the beer.

So far both of these stouts have been excellent, and worthy of checking out. Each time I went to pickup my “share”, the brewery had the brew available for general purchase in their tasting room. If you are in the area, I highly recommend you get to the brewery in try the latest batch. However with the quality of these beers, I do not imagine they last long.

 

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beer, History

Alaska : North to the Future

From Alaska, we were able to get our hands on 3 different brews, all from Anchorage Brewing Company, and each of these brews were unique in their own way.

Alaska Craft Beer

Bitter Monk, Belgian Style IPA from Anchorage Brewing Company

The first beer we had from Alaska was called a Belgian IPA called Bitter Monk. This was the first IPA we had that was brewed with Brettanomyces, and it was amazing. This beer started with a huge citrus smell, like a glass of grapefruit juice, and it tasted amazing. At first I was worried. Between the Brettanomyces, the Belgian-style IPA and its aging in Chardonnay barrels, there were many places for this beer to go wrong, but it never did. Instead, it was an incredibly unique beer that I will not forget anytime soon.

Moving on from the Bitter Monk, we opened another bomber from Anchorage Brewing. This one an Imperial Stout called Darkest Hour. This is another beer that appears to have had the kitchen sink thrown at it.

Alaska Craft Beer

Darkest Hour Imperial Stout from Anchorage Brewing

Triple fermented, aged in two different barrels, first a Pinot Noir barrel, then a Rye whiskey barrel, and finally bottle conditioned with a wine yeast. Again, like the Bitter Monk, this beer had plenty of opportunities to go wrong, and just like the Bitter Monk it never did.

From the bottle to the glass, this beer poured like syrup. It was dark in color and smelled of chocolate and coffee, with hints of rye and pinot noir from the barrels. With its strong chocolate and coffee flavors, this beer is clearly a coffee beer. It was very sweet tasting, with a slight grainy mouthfeel reminiscent of Mexican chocolate. The character of this beer was amazing, and the flavors were complex. The only issue we kept coming back to was the smell. There was something strange with the mixture of all that was going on that interfered with everything else, keeping us from truly loving this brew. Still, it was one of the best beers of the year.

Alaska Craft Beer

Anadromous Black Sour Ale from Anchorage Brewing

The final beer from Anchorage brewing was a Black Sour Ale called Anadromous. Wow, this was yet another amazing beer from Anchorage. I loved the sour taste, and the complex fruit flavors.

This week, we got our hands on three different brews from Anchorage, and they were all special. There is clearly something amazing going on up in Alaska.

One more post, and 50 states have been covered. Next up Hawaii.

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beer, History

California : The Golden State

As the United States was one year shy of its Dodranscentennial, the area we now know as California became the 31st state in September, 1850. At the time of statehood, the brewing industry was well on its way, with the Adam Schuppert Brewery already established in the San Francisco region of the soon to be state. Supporting the onslaught of forty niners coming to the area to pan gold, San Francisco quickly became a brewing hotbed, and by 1852, the valley contained more than 350 operational bars and pubs1

Also around that time, California was establishing itself as a major supplier of hops for the brewing industry, and prior to the destruction of prohibition, Sonoma County was a major hops supplier. While now know better as a wine region, this county is still an important player in the beer ingredient chain.

Beer ingredients isn’t the only thing California is known for, it also holds claim to another beer history first. During the booming years of the early 1850s, lager beer was also sweeping across the country. In areas like St. Louis, and Wisconsin, brewers leveraged the geographical features (caves) of those areas to assist with the lagering process. However California does not have access to the caves that are under St. Louis, and with the advent of refrigeration for beer production still a few years away, California brewers had to make some adjustments. Using the bottom fermenting lager yeast, but allowing fermentation to occur at temperatures more common for ales, a new style of beer was born: Steam beer. These days, steam beer is associated with Anchor Brewing (due to trademark,) but there are others out there, brewed under the category of California common beer.

This week, we didn’t have any common beer in our tasting selection, but we did have a nice (very small) variety of beer from the state. Many of them very interesting.

California Craft Beer

We started the week off with an Hop Ottin’ IPA from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. This beer we drank straight from the can, and it was good. The day was hot, not too hot, but hot enough to really enjoy an IPA, and this one did the trick. It had a really nice hoppy flavor and finished slightly bitter, but the bitter quickly went away, leaving no bitter aftertaste. I would buy this beer again.

California Craft BeerKeeping the week rolling, a few days later, we opened a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA. This beer had a piney aroma when opened, and it was stronger hopped than their more popular Pale Ale. This was my first time drinking this beer, and I liked it. It was well received across the tasting party, and our special guest Pete gave it two thumbs up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he buys it again.

Moving on from the Torpedo, we ventured into more extreme waters. Much like the wide ranging state they represent, the California beers of the day covered a variety of styles and flavors.

We started our extreme adventure with a beer from The Bruery in Orange County. From The Bruery, we had a beer from their special collection called Sour in the Rye. An

California craft beer

The Bruery, Sour in the Rye

unfiltered, bottle-conditioned brew, this one generated some commentary. In the glass, this beer was a nice honey color and had a sweet aroma. The taste was unique. With a strong lemon finish, and sour notes throughout, everyone had something to say about this beer. While we were tasting, I read out loud the description from the brewers website:

We brewed this ale with around 40% rye as a base malt and let our sour yeast and bacteria eat away at it in oak barrels for over a year creating a sour ale with a complex character of rye spice, oak and a subtle funk.

and quickly got the response of: “Not sure the funk is all that subtle!” We also tried this beer with some spicy food, and found it really changed the flavor of the beer, but for me, it also damped down the interesting flavors and wasn’t as enjoyable. This brewery is going on my watch list. I must try more of their stuff.

Between the Sour in the Rye and the next beer, Joel commented that this year, we have encountered three different types of beer:

  • Good
  • Industrial
  • Different

I think I agree, and we are about to add another to the different category. Following the Sour in the Rye, we opened a beer from 21st Amendment called Monks Blood (no link on the brewers site).

California Craft Beer

Monks Blood

This beer, brewed with figs, oak chips, vanilla and cinnamon, was the most unique of the night. I really enjoyed this beer, but I was alone in that group. This is not a beer you are going to sit and drink 2 or 3 of. With its thick mouthfeel and sweet smell, this is something you sip over a duration. Others felt it was a dessert beer, and I could see that. The fig taste was subtle, and the tail end of the taste. Unique and full of character.

Keeping the day rolling, we opened a Lagunitas Lucky 13 and a Cappuccino Stout.

California craft beer

Selection of Lagunita’s beer

The Lucky 13 had a strong piney smell as Joel described “Beat over the head with the pine.” This was true. I enjoyed the pine at first, but after a few sips, the pine overpowered everything else and took over the beer. The Cappuccino Stout was a nice, well rounded stout. It had a distinct chocolate smell and a wonderful coffee taste. Another great coffee beer.

Later in the week, I discovered a Stone RuinTen in my stock. That was a nice surprise, for a mid-week beer.

That wraps up a (late) California post. Next week, Minnesota.

1 The Oxford Companion to Beer

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Texas : It’s Like a Whole Other Country

He likes beer
He likes Texas
He likes Texas beer

Redneck Mother
Ray Wylie Hubbard

In 1837, the Republic of Texas made its first attempt at statehood, and after several failed attempts, it finally succeeded in 1845, making Texas the 28th state of the United States.

Sixty four years later, a group of German and Czech businessmen hired brewmaster Herman Weiss, and with that, the Spoetzl Brewery, home to Shiner beer, Texas’ oldest brewery was born.

Shiner is a Texas legend. There are coffee table books about it, movie placements, and even mentions in Breaking Bad. But the reference that seems to occur most often is in lyrics, where it holds yet another legendary status. In 2012, Georgia country artist Jason Aldean signed a promotional deal with Coors which resulted in his changing of a song lyric from grab a little Shiner Bock to grab a couple Rocky Tops.

2 6 packs of Shiner
99 cent butane lighter
Lucky Strikes and a fifth of Patrón
Ice down that Igloo cooler
Tank of gas that oughta do her
I can feel a good one coming on

Good One Comin’ On
Blackberry Smoke

Texas musicians have always liked to sing about their beer. In fact, the Spotzel brewery sponsored its own band, the Shiner Hobo Band, with the band getting paid 1 keg per performance. In 1947, Bob Willis and his Texas Playboys first recorded the song Bubbles in My Beer which was performed by many Texas musicians, including George Jones and Willie Nelson.

On his Live In Aught-Three album, Texas musician James McMurtry starts No More Buffalo with “…I used to think I was an artist. Come to find out I’m a beer salesman.”  Understanding that the link between musician’s and beer is strong, Shiner has been a long supporter of the Texas music scene and still sponsors a music festival (albeit it is in Colorado, not in Texas.)

Today, we skipped the Patrón and went with our 1 six pack of Shiner, the family pack, and to show off some other beer from the state, we also grabbed some Buried Hatchet Stout from Southern Star Brewing Company.

My first experiences with Shiner were on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. On two different trips there, I had a nice portion of Shiner Bock. Finding Texas beer in New England is hit or miss. More on the miss side for me, so during the planning stages, I brought back a six pack of Shiner Family Reunion from Alabama.

Texas craft beer

Shiner Family Reunion

This six pack contained one each of: Bock, Black Lager, Kosmos, Blonde, Hefewiezen, and Brewers Pride selection. We started the tasting with the Brewers Pride selection. Part of a limited series batch, this selection was a special brew with a locally sourced ingredient: Prickly Pear. Moving on from that, we tried the Black Lager. Next in the tasting series came the Blonde, followed by the Kosmos and finally the Hefewiezen. Since I have had the Bock before, I donated my only bottle towards some future good will for the blog.

Texas Craft Beer

Shinerr Prickly Pear

The Prickly Pear beer was different. I was expecting something similar to a fruit beer, or maybe a lambic, but this was neither of those. Cactus Fruit is said to taste like a watermelon, or maybe a kiwi, however I got none of that. The smell was sweet, but the taste was neither sweet nor sour, and it definitely wasn’t the taste of beer. Other tasters described it as a non-sweet fruit juice, and the lower carbonation sure gave off that look. This was not my favorite of the weekend, but two other tasters wanted more.

The Black Lager, and frankly the Blonde, Kosmos were pretty status quo. They were all fine beers, but they lacked character. The Black Lager, my favorite of the three was fine, but it wasn’t a standout. It had a slight malty taste, but it wasn’t at the levels I would have preferred. Others stated that maybe this was a fall beer and would taste better when the air was crisp, and a fire was going. The Blonde was more champagne like, with its higher carbonation. Unlike the Black Lager, this beer was described as a refreshing beer in the heat, but nothing [flavor-wise] jumps out. The Kosmos was probably the least liked of the bunch. It has a slight sour smell and taste that didn’t mix well with the caramel-ness of the malt.

Texas Craft Beer

Texas Beer Selection

The final Shiner of the weekend was the Hefewiezen. Again, this beer wasn’t anything I would be clamoring for anytime soon. A good beer, but maybe after all of these weeks of interesting, sometimes experimental, brews, I have come to cherish the unique and distinct characteristics that have become prevalent in American craft beer. An interesting experiment might have been to compare this Hefewiezen. with something a bit more mass market, like a Harpoon UFO.

Texas Craft Beer

Southern Star Brewing Buried Hatchet Stout

After all of the Shiner was opened, we cracked open a can of Buried Hatchet Stout. This beer was different. It had that distinct smell of roasted malt, grains and coffee, a characteristic that has been popping up over the weeks on this project. The taste was sweet and coffee-like, and it had a thick mouthfeel. Not maple syrup thick, but it wasn’t a light beer. While well liked, this beer was described as Tastes better than it smells. and Not sure I could drink a whole can of this.

That concludes Texas. And while we enjoyed the tasting, we were not enamored with the beer from Shiner. Except for two tasters that will take more of that Prickly Pear if you have it.

Thanks for reading. Next week Iowa.

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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

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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Tennessee – America at its best

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

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

Tennessee Craft Beer

Selection of Craft Beer from Tennessee

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Craft Beer

Blackstone Brewery Nut Brown Ale

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

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

Tennessee Craft Beer

Yazoo Pale Ale

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

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

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

Next week, Ohio.

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beer, History

Vermont: The Green Mountain State

Vermont

During the Colonial days, taverns were to the citizens what the internet is today. They were a place to check in on what was going on in town. A place to learn about the weather, hear the latest news, or play a quick game with friends. All while grabbing a beer, glass of rum, or some food.

Taverns were an essential component to the community as they were a place where local governments organized, formed and conducted business. Because of this, many taverns hold an important role in the history of the United States, like the Windsor tavern in Vermont. Now called The Constitution House, The Windsor tavern is where a group or representatives met in 1777 to adopt the name Vermont and to also create the states constitution.

Fourteen years after the crafting of the constitution, Vermont became the 14th state in the union, and our sampling state of the week.

When I mention to friends that lived in the state that this week was Vermont, the first thing they say is, “what beer is from Vermont other than Catamount?”  And the answer to that is, there are a few breweries and Catamount isn’t any of them! In fact, the Catamount brewery closed down in 2000 and the building is now owned an operated by Harpoon.

One of the easily accessible breweries (at least in my area) from Vermont is Otter Creek. A few months back, one of my local beer stores hosted a craft beer night, and while there I had a few people tell me that I had to check out the Otter Creek Black IPA, it was good stuff. But this week I went with their staple, easy to find Copper Ale.

Vermont Craft Beer

Otter Creek Copper Ale

In the wild world of beer, there are generally two major classifications, Ales and Lagers, and these classifications are established by the type of yeast used to make the beer, either top-fermenting (Ales) or bottom fermenting (Lagers). However, like anything else, the details are much more complex and placing all beer into two large classification buckets doesn’t come close to addressing all of the styles and creations that are coming out of the craft breweries today.

Classification of beer into styles based on fermentation is a relativity new phenomena. And with Ales, this is no different. For a style of beer that is considered older than England, The Oxford Companion to Beer states that the term “ale” only began to become synonymous with top-fermented beers generally as late as the 1980s.

Even within the Ale category, further classification continues, with Pale Ales, Amber Ales, and the list goes on, to include Copper Ales. Finding a definition of a Copper Ale required some digging. My typical source (OCB) has no mention of the style. There are questions on some internet brewing forums about the style, and I also ran across this definition

Copper Ale: This is an ale which is aged in oak casks to obtain its beautiful copper color and its unique wine-like taste. Primarily produced in Belgium.

Since the Otter Creek website is under construction, I was not able to verify if this beer was aged in a oak cask like the definition suggests. However I did not get any unique wine-like taste from the beer. In the glass, this beer has a nice copper color. As has been typical with most of the six-pack bottled beers sampled on this adventure, there was little to no head. This beer is good, but there isn’t anything special about it. The smell was slightly fruity, but it didn’t have any unique characteristics that made it easy to refer to. That taste was the same. It wasn’t boring like a big, mass produced beer, but it also didn’t have any distinguishing characteristics that have been observed in other beer this year. Overall, this is a beer I will buy again, but if you are looking for something that has unique character, this isn’t it.

Other beer from Vermont this week is another ale from The Shed which I just discovered is now part of Otter Creek. The beer, called Mountain Ale is a typical brown ale, in taste and color.

Vermont Craft Beer

The Shed – Mountain Ale

Brown Ales are a style that I have a hard time extracting descriptives for. They seem to rely more on the malt to carry their flavor, and I appear to be better at discerning the hops flavors. I think because of that I have spent more time this week with the Mountain Ale and the previous Copper Ale, trying to develop my tasting for this different malt styles.

So, as I develop my tasting palate for a malt, I would place the Mountain Ale in the same category as the Copper Ale. I like it, I will go back to it, but at the moment, I am struggling to better describe these styles of beer.

In the late 1990s, there was a popular sitcom on television. While this show took place in Ohio, not Vermont, it did prominently feature a tavern called the Warsaw tavern. That show was The Drew Carey Show. One of the plot lines from the show was the formation of a brewery in the garage of the central character, Drew Carey. The beer the brewed was called Buzz Beer and it was unique in that it was brewed with coffee. With a slogan of “Stay up and get drunk all over again,” the idea of a coffee beer hybrid provided for great comedy. Now, just nine years after the end of the show, actual coffee beer seems to be trending. And continuing with that trend, we will wrap up this week with another coffee beer (I think that makes 4 for the year now?).

Vermont Craft Beer

Long Trail Coffee Stout

The Coffee Stout from Long Trail was a nice find. A part of their brew master series, this was not on my radar when was out getting beer for this week. Each coffee beer we have tried this year have been fun, and each had a unique characteristic, like the pepper aftertaste of the Wake ‘N Bake. To date, I think the overall favorite was the coffee beer from Berkshire Brewery in Massachusetts.

Well, there is a new king in town. This coffee stout was great. The mix of coffee and stout was perfect, with neither stealing the show. According to a story earlier this year in the WSJ about coffee beer, getting the coffee to beer ratio is a critical factor in the success of this brew. I would say Long Trail nailed it. Get yourself a bottle of this beer as soon as you can, it is worth it. But don’t rely on this beer to help you “stay up and get drunk all over,” because coffee beer has less caffeine than a cup of decaf.

Last night while chatting over the Coffee Stout, Joel said it best The best beer so far have come from big brown bottles. While we have had some great stuff from the traditional six pack sized bottle, and cans are all the rage this year, it has been the growlers and the 22 ounce bottles that have left us excited at the end of most weeks. We will see how that plays out for the rest of the year, but at the moment, it is something to think about the next time you are in the market to try something new and exciting.

 

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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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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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