Filtering by Tag: Craft Beer
Dispatches from the Village Voice's Brooklyn Pour!
On October 12th, I raced from my normal Saturday gig (giving craft beer walking tours of Williamsburg for Urban Oyster) to the Brooklyn Pour festival at Skylight One Hanson in Fort Greene, a decommissioned bank built in the most beautiful Art Deco style. A giant beast of marble and delicate fresco, the building was truly inspiring and an hilarious place to host a sloppy, day drunk craft beer fest.
The list of participating breweries was impressive, especially considering the fest was scheduled for GABF weekend. But the gang was there, ranging from actual brewers like our buddy Heather from Sixpoint and our good friends Joe & Lauren Grimm from Grimm Artisanal Ales to NY Sales reps for national brands like Victory and Founders to friends of friends who know a guy and can pour beer and work a thirsty crowd. A mixed bag for sure, but a good time for all.
We came, we saw, we drank. And we very much enjoyed the tunes from the Don Giovanni Records DJ team! Until next time, Village Voice.
Jai Alai IPA, Cigar City Brewing Company
Flor-i-dah! I almost for-got yah!
Ah, the Sunshine state. Who doesn't love a good trip to Disney World? A rousing visit to see the grandparents? An airboat journey through the Everglades, where a quietly stern man named Bubba propells you and your drunk family through the alligator-infested waters. Oh that's just me? Okay, okay. On to the beer!
If I had to review a Florida beer, it'd better be a Cigar City brew. Lucky for me, I was able to acquire a few cans through online craft beer outlet LetsPour. The stuff has gotten quite a reputation amongst the geekiest of beer geeks, and I was ready to dive in.
The award-winning Tampa Bay brewery was founded by Joey Redner (son of infamous Tampa "Strip Club King" Joe Redner... but that's another story) and began operating in 2009. In a 2010 CraftBeer.com article, Redner describes his local boy brewing dreams and tells the story behind the brand's peculiar name.
Back when my dream was still just a dream, I concluded that my hometown of Tampa hadn’t always done the best job exporting its unique history and culture. I wanted to educate people about the town I loved as much as I grew to love craft beer. I made up my mind that spreading the word about Tampa and its Cuban-American heritage and its past as the world’s leading producer of cigars would be an integral part of what I’d do at Cigar City Brewing.
Redder sure poured all that love and pride into his beer. Today, Cigar City occupies a 15 barrel brewhouse in a 6,600 square foot warehouse space in Tampa's Carver City-Lincoln Gardens neighborhood. In addition to their production facility, Cigar City offers brewery tours and runs a tasting room where thirsty visitors can pick up a pint or grab a growler filled with one of their many styles. There's like twenty different beers! And that's not even counting one-offs! Unreal.
The Jai Alai IPA is one of Cigar City's flagship brews. The citrusy IPA is named after the great Spanish sport of Jai Alai, in which somebody has this plastic sicle thing and they kind of play a high speed game of catch with it, or something like that. My Trinidadian grandmother loves watching it and other old people love betting on it from little rooms perched above the court. Either way, the sport's namesake beer is goddamn delicious.
Pouring a foggy honey orange with a creamy, frothy head, the Jai Alai is all tropical and citrus on the nose. This stuff is super juicy -- pineapple, mango, passionfruit, awesome. But don't be fooled by the fruit -- at 7.5% ABV and 70 IBUs, this is no casual beach sipper. It comes in juicy on the palate, too, with a burst of grapefruit hoppiness giving way to sweet malt. The finish is smooth and the hops stay fresh and juicy throughout -- no pine or resin on the back of the palate, which is exactly how I like it. If all IPAs could taste like the Jai Alai, I'd die happy. And drunk. And obese.
Moral of the Florida story: grab a can of Jai Alai IPA, bet on some Jai Alai with my grandmother and enjoy Cigar City's incredibly diverse line of delicious craft beers.
Next up is Georgia! Because that's the way the alphabet goes! Hurray!
Positive Contact Imperial Belgian-Style Witbier, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
It's no secret that Dogfish Head in Milton and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware is one of my favorite breweries of all time. They were one of the first craft beers I tried, and I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Sam Calagione's sweet little wacky brewing tactics. He's a good looking, down home man who loves adventure and good beer. Ain't nothing wrong with that.
Dogfish Head began in 1995 in Milton, DE. Sam was a craft beer pioneer, favoring collaboration over competition and believing that the consumer simply wanted more choices and more creativity, so why not give it to them? He also was a significant player in revising many of Delaware's liquor laws to allow craft brewers the ability to pursue their dreams without having to jump through all the complicated hoops that come with setting up a brewery in a Puritan New England. His efforts shaped the way craft beer was viewed and seriously impacted the craft beer boom.
You can read an in-depth review of Dogfish Head's brewery and brewpub in my December Brewse Cruise, so I'll spare you the redudancy and just say that if you haven't been: go. Go on a beautiful summer day and taste everything. You won't regret it.
Positive Contact is special release under Dogfish Head's newish music collaboration series. This peculiar apple cider infused imperial wit is the brainchild of hip-hop producer Dan the Automator and is sourced from 300lbs of fresh pressed Fuji apples. Here's an adorable video about the release.
I enjoyed this beer at the Jersey shore on a windy Memorial Day afternoon. The beach was the perfect backdrop to the brew's crisp sweetness and its full bodied juiciness came through as warm and bright as the May sun.
The beer pours a hazy, rich honey color with about two inches of creamy yellowish head. I immediately noticed a Saison's amount of spice -- cilantro, coriander, a little white pepper, fresh cut grass -- on the nose. I liked the way the apple juice integrated with the classic Belgian wit's sweet malt, but be warned -- this is not a beer for a hophead. The aroma features a mild amount of floral hops but I couldn't detect much on the palate as the fruit took precedent over any bitterness. The heightened, champaign-like carbonation balanced out any potential medicinal qualities associated with its 9% ABV, which was a nice surprise, although I was expecting a more sour-like body instead of the deep sweetness that ran rampant on my tongue. Enjoyable, for sure, but I doubt I could drink more than one glass in a sitting.
This post is brought to you by the letter D, and concludes our stop in our nation's tiniest state. Next up: Georgia. Finally time to drink that Terrapin I've been hoarding away!
Hoppy Valley Session IPA, Phoenix Ale Brewery
Beggars can't be choosers, especially when they're East Coast beggars in search of a South Western beer. I stumbled upon this mild Arizona IPA while visiting family in Salt Lake City and immediately scooped it up to fill the gap in my sequencial 50 States of Beer quest. Hooray for Arizona! Um, or whatever.
According to its own website, Phoenix Ale, opened in mid-2011, is Phoenix's newest brewery -- and I believe it because I can't find much information about them. So far, they've released six different ales, all traditional English-style and unfiltered. The current fleet ranges from a watermelon wheat to an imperial porter with a couple hop-centric efforts in between. The baby brewery is the brainchild of Gregory Fretz, a local Phoenix resident and former beer sales rep. After fifteen years hawking other people's craft brews, "Fretzy" (below, with Brewmaster John) decided to make a go of hawking his own. Living the dream, Sir.
The 15,700 square foot brewery is located three miles East of downtown Phoenix and holds a 20 barrel, three vessel automated system custom built by Oregon's JV Northwest. They offer free tours and tastings so be sure to stop in and let Fretzy show you around if you're in town.
I tried this cold 22oz bottle of Hoppy Valley on Mother's Day, hence the flowers. It's labeled as a Session IPA, coming in at 3.9% ABV, allowing me to purchase it cold from the grocery store in SLC. While the brewery claims it's an American IPA, it tastes very English to me, with more malt than hops and a piney backbone. The pour is a nice amber with about a half inch of quickly diminishing cream-colored head. The aroma is American for sure -- grapefruit and a little fresh grass, but the mouth feel is smooth and light. The malt tempers the initial hops, pushing the aforementioned pine to the back of the palate and providing a overall lager-like experience, with bready notes and hints of molasses. Not my absolute favorite Session IPA, but a solid choice for a cool, pleasant day -- might pair well with a leisurely baseball game or an afternoon fishing trip.
Now that I've conquered Arizona, I'm back on track and heading towards Delaware. Dogfish Head, take notice: I'm coming for you. Unless, of course, I bump into an Arkansas brew along the way...
Mystic River IPA, Cottrell Brewing Company
Connecticut! New England conservatism and antiquated puritanical liquor laws come to mind. My parents count themselves amongst the 3,580,709 residents of the Constitution State and outside of politely trying my suggestions, they're not much for craft beer. My dad will dabble in Brooklyn Lager, but that's about as micro as I've seen around there. Not the most fruitful beer state, right? Wrong!
Imagine my surprise when I read that there's an entire Connecticut Beer Trail filled with tiny, regionally distributed breweries just waiting to lead you on a tour! According to the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut is home to at least fifteen independent breweries and just as many brewpubs. Connecticut craft beer is brewed with the same love and care exhibited by their more established neighbors and it shows. Enter Cottrell Brewing Co...
Pawcatuck's Cottrell Brewing Company was founded in 1996 by Charles Cottrell Buffum, Jr., the great grandson of printing press manufacturer C.B. Cottrell. Brewmaster Charlie decided to open his microbrewery in the same warehouse that once housed the elder Cottrell's factory. As an homage to his family, Charlie dedicated his award winning flagship brew, Old Yankee Ale, to the colonial-era Cottrells famous for purchasing much of Connecticut & Rhode Island from the Native Americans. Today, Cottrell Brewing is a tried and true Mom & Pop business boasting a range of styles, limited but growing distribution and a strange but mesmerizing promotional video (see above).
Cottrell Brewing's Mystic Bridge IPA happened to be the closest CT brew I could find on tap and thus became my Connecticut representative. It pours a dark, honeyed amber, topped with a good amount of cream colored head. The aroma is subtle grapefruit with some grass and a hint of rich sweetness from the malt. Upon sipping, this IPA is resolutely East Coast, with crisp citrus fading into an earthy muddiness coating the palate. The hops are there, but they're not smacking you across the face. Malt kicks in near the end to provide a slightly sweet caramel finish that dissipates pretty quickly. The hops don't exactly cut the malt -- it's more like they work in tandem to give this beer a depth you won't find in many lighter body IPAs. The result is less about balance and more about a solid but simple IPA that can stand up to about any culinary situation. And at 6%, the Mystic is fairly drinkable, too. And, um, somebody wrote a song about it.
This stop on the 50 States journey has been fittingly short and sweet, just like Connecticut. Up next: Dogfish Delaware!
Uinta Brewing Company is one of those little boutique-y breweries that you want to love before you even taste their beer because they're small and earnest and 100% wind powered... so it's a good thing their beer lives up to it! The odds are truly against these guys -- Utah closely monitors the distribution of higher ABV beers so instead of bucking the law like our friends at Epic, these guys have decided to make do with the laws God (er, his followers...) gave them. In accordance with my theory that creativity often flourishes under constraint, Uinta's line is straight forward and sticks to sessionable style codes while still producing some tasty styles and interesting flavor notes.
The brewery, stashed away in an industrial office park near downtown SLC, features an inviting taproom with wooden tables, a circular bar and a selection of sandwiches ordered deli-style with golf pencils and a notepad. I was dissapointed to learn that Utah doesn't allow flights because of some BS "vessel per customer" law -- an unavoidable bummer, especially in a low ABV brewery.
Their naturally lower ABV beers are a notch above their attempts at an sessionable IPA or coffee porter. The Wyld Extra Pale, at 4.0% ABV and 29 IBUs was the best of the litter. Lemony on the nose with a subtle floral hop aroma, it's medium-bodied with a piney beginning, some caramel malt and a citrusy but fairly dry finish. Playing it a big close to the chest and definitely drinkable and good with a meal.
I revisited SLC in May and was able to catch a fresh batch of Sum'r Ale, which lived up to everything I had read about it. The use of Sorachi Ace hops give this refreshing brew a bready, buttery quality that pairs nicely with a warm day/a bbq/watching my nephew play baseball while trying not to get caught drinking beer in a public park in Utah. The nose is all soft lemons and rich biscuit -- like a light lager with the subtle sweetness of a true golden. Well done, Uinta.
If you're in the area, I'd say swing by Uinta's facility before heading to Epic to get your feet wet. Oh and it's pronounced U-IN-TAH. You're welcome.Addendum: Now that Uinta has broadened their distribution channels, I've been enjoying and recommending their delicious higher ABV brews all over New York. Their Hop Notch IPA kills it and packs an amazing hoppy punch - don't pass this one up if you spy it on draft at the local pub.
White Rascal Belgian Witbier, Avery Brewing Company & Dale's Pale Ale, Oskar Blues
Ankle deep in my quest to review a representative beer from all fifty of these nifties, I found myself face to face with a state so saturated with incredible craft breweries that I could barely count them. Actually, I definitely CANNOT count them... That's why my Colorado post has come down to a tie!
Avery Brewing Company was founded in Boulder, Colorado in 1993. Head brewmaster Adam Avery grew his business from a small, seven barrel capacity brewery to a nationally distributed and well respected craft beer outlet. They have a wide range of year round brews as well as a rotating roster of seasonals. I spent some time in Boulder a few summers ago and visiting Avery's taproom was high on my todo list. They offer free tours seven days a week, no reservation necessary, and walking through the sprawling outdoor brewery is inspiring to say the least. They've recently amped up their barrel conditioning program so be sure to check out the rows of wine and whiskey barrels patiently incubating delicious special brews. Check out the virtual tour in the video above for a glimpse of their space. And don't forget the cask canning line! Team cans FTW!
The craft classic, Dale's Pale Ale, (or as my brother lovingly calls it -- DPA), is produced by Oskar Blues Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado. Since its 1997 brewpub start, Oskar Blues has become a microbrew titan, with widespread national distribution and a brand new brewing facility in sunny North Carolina.
After local success peddling killer homemade suds and Southern fare at Oskar Blues Brewpub & Grill in Lyons, CO, owner Dick Dale Katechis took the business a step further and installed a primitive canning plant in a rickety barn next door. As such, Oskar Blues holds the esteemed title as the first American craft brewery to can their beer. At first, the guys canned each beer by hand using a table-top machine. Just imagine that dedication. Now, of course, their canning line is gigantic and way automated (see below).
One can visit both the brewery and the little brewpub, as I did back in 2010. Here's a picture of my Mom posing with one of Oskar Blues' handsome servers. Please excuse the picture quality -- the photo was taken after a couple flights.
First, the Avery. I enjoyed this fine witbier out of a chilled can, straight from its little metal mouth. It was a beautiful Monday afternoon, so I grabbed my dog, a few cold ones, some baseball mits and a friend and headed to Prospect Park. What better way to wind down the day than sharing light, citrusy beer while tossing around a softball under the Spring sun? That's what I thought.
It's a little grainy on the nose, which I like in a wheat beer -- unfiltered yeast and a bisquity backbone lend structure to a style that can border on flimsy or soda-sweet. The mouthfeel is smooth and juicy, as expected, and I'd imagine a frothy, white head if it were poured out into a glass. I got a lot of lemonade at first, with some herbal spice on the back end to balance it out. The body maintains a light and refreshing character throughout -- perfect for hanging out at the park. It finishes with a slightly tart, champaign-like zing that's quickly tamped down as it dissipates, leaving almost no aftertaste. Easy drinking goodness.
[Reblogged from thegreatbeerquest]
Oh, Dale's! How I love thee. Let me count the ways:
1. Hops! As the beautiful, iconic graphic above suggests, this little pale that could is brimming with fresh, leafy hops. It rings in at 6.5% ABV with 65 IBUs, and I can't help but love the symmetry there. Dale's hop profile runs the gamut from citrusy to piney to grassy to floral, with the strongest contender being the citrus (mostly blood orange and deep tangerine) followed by a healthy dosage of fresh cut grass at the finish. This is a serious American style pale.
2. Cans! As mentioned, Oskar Blues was the first craft brewery to can their stunning line of ales, making them the leaders in the craft can revolution. I've long been a proponent of canning good beer -- it's durable, less sensitive to light and heat, keeps the carbonation intact and facilitates easier and less wasteful shipping methods.
3. This video! So pretty!
4. Malt! In a good Pale Ale, balance is key. Dale's takes care of this by featuring a rich, sweet caramel malt that mellows out the hops and provides a velvety mouthfeel. I'm not a big fan of overly malted or bready beers, especially when it comes to Pales or IPAs, and Dale's hits on the nail on the head with this one.
5. New Royal Pints! AKA America's first fancy tall can!
“Continuing to push the boundaries is what gets us up in the morning, it’s what drives us. This package is a product of that drive and passion. We continue to do what we love, toss a can in your backpack for the backcountry or a grab a stovepipe (19.2oz.) at music and sport venues. 19.2 ounces of Dale’s Pale Ale to go with your favorite band, hell yes.” says Oskar Blues Soul-Founder Dale Katechis in this 2012 BeerPulse.com article.
That about sums up my Western roundup, although it must be said that these two beers faced some tough competition as Colorado state representatives. There must be something in that ice cold Rocky mountain water that makes beer taste better, or at least produces some wacky and super creative brewers. Endless honorable mentions go to New Belgium for having a kick ass brewery tour complete with a sweet Airstream trailer parked out front, Great Divide for making amazing seasonals, Tommyknocker for recently coming to NYC with an excellent Pilsner (pictured below) and Boulder Beer for keeping it psychedelic. So much beer, so little time.
Next up, I'll cheers the Constitution State with a Connecticut review.
Your Guide to Spring Seasonals
It's 48 degrees outside right now and according to my iPhone, tomorrow will get up to 61. While those numbers are far from promising, my fellow New Yorkers and I are banking on a smooth slide in to Spring this week. It just has. to. be. here. already.
The Mets have hit the field for another losing season, we're rounding out another bracket busting NCAA tournament and yesterday I walked from the LES to SoHo without wanting to die. So, it's time to abandon your porters and stouts in favor of my new favorite flavor: the Saison.
Historically, saisons weren't brewed to have similar characteristics. They simply referred to a group of beers fermented during the cooler months and stored for Spring enjoyment by hard working Belgian farmers. That's why we also call them farmhouse ales. Today, saisons share a number of qualities -- they're generally fruity, highly carbonated and spicy. That's why they pair so well with a sunny afternoon, Ok, there's your background. On to the drinking.
My Top Five Saisons (in no particular ranking order)
I love this big bottle/tap release from Brooklyn Brewery. I don't usually love Brooklyn's beers, but I LOVE this saison. Its green apple crispness, bubbly, champagne body and subtle sweetness at the finish make it the perfect companion for oyster happy hour (one of my favorite Spring time activities). It also pairs nicely with a good old New England style crab or lobster boil. If you find yourself in NYC and in need of some seaside-esque happy hour goodness, check out Lobster Joint on Houston St. in the Lower East Side. It's a little bright inside for my drinking-habit-tastes but the happy hour is on point -- $4 Sorachi Aces (all drafts, for that matter), $1 oysters & $4 lobster, crab cake or fried oyster sliders. I'm not sure how they stay in business but I'm sure glad they do.
Ain't nothing wrong with watching an adorable girl kiss some lobsters while you enjoy your Sorachi Ace. Nope.
Ommegang's Hennepin was one of the first craft beers I laid lips on and it continues to be one of my go-to's for a refreshing warm weather pint. Back in college, I knew a bunch of kids who worked at a cafe in the East Village. Even though they only had two taps, one was always dedicated to Hennepin and we consistently drained it. I'm not ashamed to say it went well with breakfast eggs. Nicely balanced with a mix of coriander, herbal spiciness and sweet orange peel, the mouth feel is smooth and the finish is surprisingly dry. It goes down easy and stands up well next to almost any snack. Careful with that high ABV though -- it's well hidden.
This one took some digging to find when it was first released in 2010. I was living in Northern California and had to drive about two hours to a liquor store in a lonely strip mall east of San Jose to get my hand on a single 12oz bottle. These days, however, the collaborative saison is getting some much deserved added distribution and you can pick one up in most Dogfish Head sanctioned outlets. The beer itself is surprisingly easy going given the punch these three breweries usually pack, a quality I wholeheartedly appreciate in a saison. Not as sweet as many of its brethren, the du Buff garners a mellow, mid-palate very herbal spice kick and crisp, peppery lemongrass finish to dry it out. I'm particularly fond of the beer's limey-ness, as it cuts through my favorite early Summer snack (carne asada tacos, duh) like a shiny knife.
Here's a sweet little video about this craft beer meeting of the minds.
Wild card! This sneaky little can makes its way onto shelves during the coldest months of the year when most American beer nerds are knee deep in bourbon barrel aged stouts and coffee soaked porters. I stumbled upon Sneak Attack's gleaming cream colored face last January and it surely brightened up a cold, blustery Brooklyn night. I cracked the tab, poured it slowly into a semi-clean pint glass and... Coriander! White peppercorn! Clementines! Tangy lemon! Champagne! Bubbly and refreshing but strong enough in spice to hold up against any slow cooked Winter's meal... I can't wait to enjoy this sucker alongside some Summer BBQ, come to think of it. Pork shoulder & a Sneak Attack? Fire up the grill already.
My family lives in Connecticut, so when I visit I try to vet their local "package stores" for any interesting New England-centric releases. That's how I found Two Roads Brewing Co. (Stratford, CT). It happened to be the day after Easter, so I grabbed a six pack of their freshly debuted saison, Worker's Comp, and settled down with some Chinese takeout (Yes, I know I live in spitting distance of the best Chinatown outside of China but there's just something about suburban Chinese food that makes it SO unexplainably amazing -- anyone feel me?). Anyways, this saison only enhanced my General Tso's tangy, spicy deliciousness and stood confidently by me as I destroyed some salty Chow Mein. The young brewery managed to strike a balance between juicy tropical fruit and dry, peppery clove without that all-to-familiar overpowering, palate-takeover sweetness. I especially liked the smooth pear -- subtle but persistant, soft enough to coat the tongue throughout. At a mere 4.8 ABV, I was able to down a few while still saving some room for illicit helpings of my Dad's Moo-Shu Pork and maintaining a decent level of familial conversation.
So, while this next week attempts to flirt with the 70s, crack open a cold, spicy-sweet Saison and enjoy this Spring weather, friends! It won't be long until we're sweating into our adjunct lagers and yearning for the porter-doused nights of yore.
Pliny the Elder Double IPA & Great Beer/Great Wine Blonde Ale, Russian River Brewing Company
Due to my inability to secure any beer from Arizona or Arkansas, here we come -- to the holy grail of craft beer, that sweet Western land of promise and golden haired babes... CALIFORNIA.
Of course, when put in the position of choosing a single beer to represent an entire, hop crazy, stoned blind landmass, why not go with the best? So, Pliny it is. And Pliny it will be.
It's really not much to look at -- a storefront on a suburban street in Santa Rosa that empties out into a dusty parking lot filled with rough looking local boys in checkered Vans and snapbacks with worn, flipped up brims. I spent a few years between high school and college living in and around these Northern California towns and I didn't even notice RR until I moved back for grad school some years later. I think its humble brick and mortar presence is a big part of its charm.
A pizza-heavy brewpub with as much seating as they can fit, the customers range from craft beer pilgrims to construction workers fresh off a shift to families munching on warm, saucy pizza bites. During my most recent visit, I was able to secure a spot at the bar and immediately ordered a pint of Pliny followed guiltily by a California sampler flight. My girlfriend and I were vacationing nearby and she kindly offered to drive my drunk ass up to the hotel afterward, hence the pint and flight combo. Otherwise, I would have probably fallen asleep on the bar. These beers don't fuck around.
Pliny the Elder is one of my favorite beverages of all time. I'm not going to waste your time with my own description, other than to say that it undoubtedly lives up to its juicy, citrusy, and hop-heavy reputation. And then some. Fresh from the tap, it pours a warm caramel with a slight, bright white head that dissipates quickly. The smell will knock you off your bar stool and the refreshing aroma is balanced by a syrupy mouth feel and crisp, grapefruit on the palate. It scored a well deserved 100 on RateBeer and its 8% ABV is conservative considering its impressive abundance of flavor. It's simply everything I ever wanted in an IPA, so sue me.
The second beer I tasted is Great Beer/Great Wine. It's a Session ale only released at the Brewpub during the great grape harvest, usually around mid-September. According to RR's description, this smooth Blonde is brewed to give the sweaty winemakers something cool to drink after coming in from the endless vine rows.
Wine country's blatant beauty is overwhelming yet RR's Great Beer/Great Wine is anything but, in a good way. It's crisp and malty, with a quiet sweetness and a creamy mouth feel. Not too tart and not too bisquity, it scored a 91 on RateBeer. I enjoyed the tropical fruit aroma and the pleasant, honeyed sour quality reminded me of switchel, an age-old concoction consumed by farmers at the end of a work day. I worked on a Vermont dairy farm throughout high school, so I'm a little nostalgic when it comes to antiquated country beverages. Ok, maybe a lot nostalgic.
So, there you have it: California. I've spent several years living in the Golden State and I can't say that I miss it. Compared to their perfect beach sunsets, the smell of ocean air, the SF Giants in all their glory and the aggravatingly cheerful disposition of flower children, I much prefer my gloomy NYC neurotics and threadbare Queens baseball. But I do miss one thing, and that's Russian River Brewing Company. Oh, and Mission style burritos.
Snake Handler Double IPA & Flagship IPA, Good People Brewing Company
So, I'm starting a new series in which I attempt to taste and review a craft beer from each of our fifty nifty United States (in alphabetical order, of course). For my inaugural 50 States of Beer post, I decided to sample a couple of fine canned brews out of Birmingham, Alabama.
Good People Brewing Company sold its first keg in 2008, opening with just fourteen local accounts. As you might have guessed, Alabama's liquor laws were antiquated and tough, and the Good guys faced their fair share of battles.
"At that time Alabama’s beer laws ranked amongst the country’s strictest and most antiquated. For instance, the legal alcohol by volume (ABV) limit was 6%. Despite this, Good People found a wellspring of local support. Along with concerned citizens and the ardent advocacy group Free the Hops, Good People has helped to spur on changes to allow Alabama’s beer culture to thrive."
- GPB Website
Through it all, they managed to get some ABV ordinances passed and opened a bigger 1000+ barrel facility in Birmingham in 2010. Their distribution is currently limited to Alabama and they remain focused on being a community minded local brewery. Thank goodness I have traveling beer buddies in Birmingham, because these beers were perfect for my new series kick off. Roll tide!
My friend Jacki brought me up two varieties of GPB -- Snake Handler Double IPA and their flagship IPA. Both are canned, which is something I'm really into these days after reading a great article in the Winter edition of Beer Connoisseur. I love the old school, graphic aesthetic of the labeling, like a craft beer version of the Miller High Life, working-class-throw-back style. You know -- greasers, etc. Very Birmingham.
I tried the IPA first, working my way up the ABV ladder. It poured a nice copper color. It's unfiltered, so the cloudiness enveloped the glass and lingered as it settled -- always a comforting sight to me. The aroma is on the lighter, refreshing side with herbal and floral notes that easily surpassed any metallic seepage from the can thanks to the dry-hop process. The initial taste was awesomely balanced, with equal parts caramel and hops and not too piney. Very drinkable at 7.2% with 64 IBUs. Smooth mouthfeel with a bit of bitterness to the finish. I could have used a little more citrus flavor but overall it's an excellent IPA that could combat any hot, muggy 'Bama night.
The Snake Handler Double IPA is reminiscent of a punch in the face -- a really enjoyable, extremely fun and rewarding punch in the face. With 9.3% ABV and 103 IBUs, this beer is not fucking around, no sir.
As you can see from my excellent beertography, the Snake Handler pours out a pretty, deep orange color with a dense, peachy-white head. The nose was all sticky-sweet citrus for me, which I loved. The taste follows up on the nose's promise and delivers a big bang of orange and grapefruit up front, finishing into a more piney bitterness as it leave the palate. Some good balance from the malts to keep the sweetness sustained throughout. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with good carbonation to keep it from getting overly thick and creamy -- my preference when it comes to bigger beers like this bad boy. Another perfect hot weather brew, I cherished every drop of the two Snake Handler cans entrusted to me. And then I was wasted.
Tune in next time as I attempt to peel the 22oz panties off Alaska...
Epic Brewing Company, Salt Lake City, UT
Reasons Why Epic Brewing Company Rules: A Brewse Cruise Essay
- They're they proudest, most perfectly irreverent brewers of high gravity ales and lagers I've ever met.
Does Epic care that its Mormonistic (is that a word?) state strictly monitors and limits the ABV of beer sold in bars, grocery stores and even state-run liquor stores? No, Epic doesn't give a fuck. They are the first brewery since prohibition to exclusively brew beer above 4.0%. And they've been successfully handing it to the man since 2010, distributing the majority of their product out-of-state while also selling an amazing variety of cold (state-run liquor stores prohibit the sale of cold beer) bottles from their tiny brewery shop in downtown SLC.
- Their hand-crafted, inventive line is primarily sold in 22oz bottles.
Because you really ought to be serious about drinking this stuff. And you also really ought to share.
- Their brewery features a sandwich shop the size of a closet.
As soon as Utah's ATF laws changed to allow breweries to sell their own draft beer as long as food was also consumed, Epic installed a tiny sandwich shop in a narrow hallway. They list about a dozen snacks on a chalkboard and it's manned by a guy who looks eternally bored and claustrophobic. All so you can now enjoy a post-tour sample.
- They age their Brainless® on Peaches Belgian-Style Ale in imported French Chardonnay casks.
Are you impressed yet?
- Said Belgian-Style Ale is incredibly well-balanced and somehow drinkable, despite its 10.7% ABV and oak conditioning.
Yeasty, sweet fruity notes give way to a complex mixture of hay and a little sour zing at the end. I'd recommend letting it open up like wine, maybe even decanting it. It also ages well and each release it a little different (and marked by the brewery).
When I visited Epic, the tour guide was really nice and informative and gave us an in-depth behind the scenes tour of the single building brewery. Apparently, it used to be even smaller before they bought out the Thai place next door to install their warehouse. Unbelievable. By far the best brewery experience in the great Salt Lake and worth a visit. Fingers crossed for New York distribution.
Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Who doesn't love Dogfish Head? Their quirky, charismatic and somehow resolutely humble founder, Sam, practically singlehandedly brought craft beer to the forefront. He's the kind of guy that travels all the way to Egypt to collect wild yeast, names limited edition brews after dead blues musicians and continuously hops IPAs for 120 minutes. What an adorable wack job. I might be a little bit in love.
[While this appears to be a picture of my girlfriend, it's actually a picture of the back of Sam's head at the table behind her...]
I've been to Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats Brewpub in Rehoboth twice and to the actual brewery in Milton, DE once. Although both are pretty awesome, I'd check out the brewpub if you had to pick one -- it's a bit more accessible and you get the same amount of hands-on sights and beverage selection, including their full line of spirits. The food at the brewpub definitely lives up to the beer, which is really saying something. And there's always something special on cask.
What to drink? I'm a big fan of their seasonals -- Festina Peche, Aprihop, Punkin Ale, Chicory Stout, etc. I find that they seem to be the most balanced, fresh-tasting and consistently interesting of the batch. Sam can get a little wild with his experimentation and I tend to get lost along the way. But the seasonals are 100% worth it every time.
The first craft beer I remember consuming was a Festina Peche. Maybe that's why I hold the little delicate Summer Berliner Weissbier so dear to my heart. Maybe its the juicy peachiness that first fills your mouth, or the tart, fruity zing that lingers on the back of the palate, or even its light, saison-like champagney mouth feel. Either way, I knew from that first sip that this was unlike any other "beer" I had ever tried. From that moment forward, I put down my 40oz of Ballantine, purchased a mini-fridge off Craigslist and scoured the Brooklyn streets for more. And six years later, I'm still drinking it.
So, beerded fellows, visit Delaware, hit the outlets and finish your day with some good eats and inventive brewing ala Sam.