THINKING LOC-ALE-LY

In preparation for my trip around Lake Superior, doing “research” for SUPERIOR PINTS, I recently read BREWING LOCAL: AMERICAN-GROWN BEER, by respected beer writer Stan Hieronymus. He talked about “place-based beers” and discussed how many craft brewers want their beer to reflect the place it was created: the nearby land from where the ingredients come, the often historical buildings where the brewing takes place, and the locals who come to enjoy beer at the brewpub or tap room.

One hundred and fifty years ago, nearly all beer was, of necessity, local. Beer does not travel well and before the development of railroads and refrigeration (and then later extensive highway systems), beer was consumed very close to where it was brewed. But as transportation improved, breweries became more and more regional. And in the last half of the twentieth century, regional breweries struggled to become national. Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors, won the competition; the other regionals were relegated to being nostalgia beers, and contract brewed at Miller plants that had spare equipment. Then Anheuser-Bush/Miller/Coors became international. And your Bud, or MGD, or Silver Bullet would same the same wherever in the world you drank it.

But for last three and a half decades local beer has been making a comeback. Each year, more and more towns had brewpubs and taprooms where townspeople could enjoy their favorite beverage just where it was made. Old styles were revived, new interpretations of them were created and, once again, beer had flavor — it wasn’t just pale, bland, and fizzy.

Of course, some of the craft breweries became very big, reaching regional, national and even international distribution. But many of the new ones remained content to remain small, or relatively so, creating beers that grew out of the natural environment around them, and serving them to locals or travelers who wanted to taste local.

These thoughts will guide me as I travel around Lake Superior this summer, starting in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, making my leisurely way along the South Shore to Duluth, Minnesota, and then back along the North Shore to the Canadian Soo. ln my earlier beer travels, I drank the beer in the places I visited, but I didn’t consider how important the places were to the beer drinking experience I had.

This year I will. You could say that I’m making a very loc-ALE circ-ALE tour.

GOLDEN MEMORIES AND MOLSON GOLDEN ALE

The other day, a few of us were sitting at our favorite Albuquerque brewpub, Quarter Celtic, sipping their recently released Single Action Kolsch (very good). The conversation drifted toward discussions of our most memorable beer drinking experiences: sneaking the “beer our fathers drank” out of the fridge when our parents were out for the evening, the first legal beer we sipped at a tavern, and wonderful places where we had enjoyed a beer since.

Tony had the most interesting story. He was going to college in the east and the friend of the brother of a classmate asked if he’d like to spend a day working on the lobster boat his father sailed out of South Addison, a Maine town just 50 miles from the Canadian border. It would be a new adventure for this Albuquerque boy from the high desert and he quickly said yes.

“I was dropped off at the wharf before dawn,” Tony remembered. “Oscar [the owner of the boat, the skipper, and the head lobster fisherman] and his helper greeted me. He was a real 60s person — he had a pony tail down to his butt, and, as we found out at the end of the day, he lived with two or three women.

“The first thing he did was give me a couple of Dramamine pills. I thought they were for sea sickness, but I soon discovered there was another reason. Our first stop was a herring processing plant where we picked up buckets of two-week-old fish heads to be used for bait. They smelled terrible, and one of my jobs that day would be stuffing them into the traps after we’d emptied them of lobsters.” It wasn’t the choppy water that nearly made Tony lose his breakfast.

The three man crew soon settled into the routine that would last until sunset: sail to the location of the first lobster pots, winch them aboard, separate lobsters that were too big or too small and throw them back into the sea, secure the claws of the keepers with rubber bands, and put them into a tub through which flowed very cold sea water. Then Tony would grab the fish heads and re-bait the traps. During the process an occasional claw would fall off and Oscar would put it on a little shelf right next to the boat’s hot exhaust pipe.

“It was really intense, hard work for several minutes; then we’d rest until the boat reached the next location and we’d start all over again.” This went on until the sun was very low in the western sky. “”Oscar turned the boat around, and we sailed into the sunset toward port. He went over to one of the barrels with the lobsters in them and reached his arm in, all the way to his shoulder. I wondered what he was doing and hoped that I’d secured all the claws properly. An angry lobster could take off a man’s finger with one of those things.”

Tony half expected to see lobsters clinging to the skipper’s arm when he pulled it out of the barrel. But that didn’t happen. Oscar was clutching three bottles of Molson Golden Ale in his hand. “He gave us each a bottle and pointed to the lobster claws. As we chugged toward the shore, we watched the changing colors of the sunset, ate the delicious bits of lobster meat that had been cooking by the exhaust, and drank our chilled Molson Golden. I’d never before had a beer that tasted so good, and I haven’t since.”

We all agreed that Tony’s was the best of the golden beer-drinking memories we’d been sharing that afternoon and bought him a Single Action Kolsch. It was golden and Tony said that it was very good.

But not as good as that Molson Golden he’d enjoyed many years ago at the end of a long, hard day of lobster harvesting.

MY SUMMER OF BEER

“This summer,” I told my friend, “is going to be my summer of beer.”

He got a puzzled look on his face and said nothing for a few seconds. Then he replied: “But … isn’t every summer your summer of beer?”

I had to admit that he was right. Every summer since I’ve been of legal drinking age (and even before), I’ve enjoyed drinking beer — in the back yard of my parent’s home (when they weren’t around), on our back veranda in Toronto, on the front stoop with our Kalamazoo, Michigan, neighbors, and, for over three decades, on the dock at the edge of the Upper Peninsula — the UP (Michigan) lake where we spend the sunny afternoons.

In the early days of my summer dock sitting, I wasn’t that fussy about what kind of beer I sipped. There used to be a “riddle” that went this way: What’s the favorite beer in the UP? Answer: whatever’s on sale this week. Over the years, I consumed a fair number of favorites.

But things have changed over the last decade or so. First, the local supermarkets started carrying Bell’s Oberon, then Sierra Nevada. Now you can buy bottles or cans that come from breweries only two or three hours away — real Yooper beer. There are even four brewpubs, where you can get growlers, within a half hour drive of my dock.

Last fall, when I closed up the cabin, there were 20 breweries or brewpubs in the UP. By the time I leave this fall, there’ll be seven more. When I told my publisher (who this summer is bringing out BEER 101 NORTH — an account of my travels along the Oregon and Washington coasts ) about this beer boom, he suggested I do a book on it. And so, for my summer of beer, I’ll be visiting and writing about these 27 breweries; and next summer I’ll be covering breweries bordering Lake Superior in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario. It’s going to be called SUPERIOR PINTS.

I’ll be making regular posts over the next few months reporting on my travelling and sipping.

One of my stops will be a souvenir shop in Marquette, where I’ll by a T-shirt that says “True Yoopers Drink Local.” I’m not a true Yooper, just a summer interloper. But I can pretend AND I certainly will drink local during my summer of beer.

A REALLY HOT CHILI BEER

Whenever I drive through eastern Oregon, I always stop at Baker City. That’s because it’s the home of Barley Brown’s Brewpub, the winner of oodles of medals at the Great American Beer Festival. In the last four years they’ve picked up five gold, six silver, and four bronze awards.
Last week, I made a visit to talk with general manager Tyler Brown and head brewer Eli Dickison. They were just finishing up a brew of their Hot Blonde, immersing a bag of chopped jalapenos into the conditioning tank. Eli told me that the beer used a blonde ale base, which gives the end product a smoothe maltiness. The jalapenos provide flavorful, slightly piquant, and a little sharp contrast. After I’d tried a sip, I immediately orders some bottles to take back to New Mexico. My friends in Albuquerque pronounced it much better than any chili beer they’d tasted from the Land of Enchantment.
Dickison also makes two other chili beers. Joan (named after a redhead in the TV series Mad Men) is a combination of chili and ginger with a red ale base. In the winter he makes a jalapeno stout.
This fall the Great American Beer Festival will include a chili beer category in its competition. You’ve got to bet that Barley Brown’s Hot Blonde will be one of the favorites to win a medal.

TRAVELS OF A CERVESAPHILE: ICICLE BREWING OF LEAVENWORTH, WASHINGTON

During the early 1960s, when we travelled frequently on US Highway 2 between Spokane and Vancouver, BC, Leavenworth (located west of Wenatchee) was a dying logging town. It isn’t a dying logging down any more — it’s a thriving tourist destination.

It seems that over four decades ago, concerned town leaders decided the way to save the town was to make it a place tourists wanted to come — and created a plan to make the place look like an alpine Bavarian town. It worked and the town began to grow, not shrink.

It even had a brewery, Leavenworth Ales. But in the early part of the century, the company merged with Fishtail Brewing in Olympia and moved to the Puget Sound city. Then, on a trip to Germany five or six years ago, Pam and Oliver Brulotte, owners of the Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill and Beer Garden, realized that their town couldn’t be truly Bavarian without its own craft brewery. And so was born the idea for Icicle Brewing (it takes its name from the Anglo mispronunciation of the waterway the Native people called na-sik-elt).

Wandering through Leavenworth on a recent journey from Albuquerque to Victoria, BC, I immediately spotted the brewery (I have a nose or an instinct for such places). Gretchen Wearne, the tap room manager, enthusiastically welcomed me. A graduate of San Francisco and by her own admission a one time drinker of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Blue Moon wheat beer, she’d come to Wenatchee to work with AmeriCorps. A summer job at the new brewpub seemed like a fun idea, so she moved to Leavenworth and has been at Icicle ever since — becoming along the way very knowledgeable about craft beer and the craft brewing industry.

She showed me the 25 barrel brewing system, which last year produced 4500 barrels of beer, available not only in the tap room but around Washington state east of the Cascades. I briefly met Dean Peibe, the head brewer, an engineering graduate of the University of Washington who used to home brew in his dorm room and later apprenticed with Seattle’s Pike Brewing. He was in the middle of meetings and could only chat briefly.

Then came the best part sampling two of Dean’s creations: Crosscut Pilsner and Dark Persuasion German Chocolate Cake Ale. I’m not usually a fan of beer with additives, but this was surprisingly good. It’s a hopped down version of Peibe’s robust porter which is infused, post fermentation, with cocoanut extract and cocoa power. It would be a great dessert beer to go along with a rich vanilla bean ice cream.

Knowing that I still had a couple of hours of driving ahead of me and that I had to limit my sampling, Gretchen generously presented me with four 22 ounce bottles of their year-around beers. In addition to the German chocolate cake (which did go well with ice cream) and the Pilsner (which started with a slightly sweet maltiness and ended with a crispness contributed by the various Noble hops used), there was an IPA and an Amber. Bootjack IPA at 6.5 per cent ABV and 64 IBUs was in no way a hop bomb, but it had a very nice balance of hops and malts. Dirty Face Amber Lager (not a style that I usually like) was well-rounded and had a crisp hop finish.

It certainly won’t be another 50 years before a drive through Leavenworth — because I’d be 125 years old them. But even if I did achieve that longevity, I wouldn’t want to wait that long to enjoy Icicle Brewing’s beers again. Going through Leavenworth takes me over a hundred miles off the direct route from Albuquerque to Victoria. But I’ll definitely do it again next year — every extra mile will be worth it.

 

 

 

 

A NEW MEXICO BEER UPDATE: LIZARD TAIL BREWING OF ALBUQUERQUE

When Albuquerque was recently named the fourth best American city for beer lovers, one of the reasons given was the growling number of brewpubs in the Duke City. Indeed, in the eight months after NEW MEXICO BEER (The History Press) went to the printers, eight new breweries or brewpubs opened here. Today, we profile Lizard Tail Brewing, 9800 Montgomery Boulevard.

It begins as a familiar story, two home brewing buddies, in this case Dan Berry and Ken Rhoades, start receiving more and more complements about the beer they are making. One of them, Dan, feels the need to seek a more creative and challenging career. And so after nearly two decades of amateur brewing, he makes the decision to go pro and invites Ken to join him.

But why, Dan and Ken were asked, start another brewery in a city that already had close to a dozen already. “We felt there was a niche. There was only one brewery [Sandia Chili Grill] in the northeast part of town. And, with most people concentrating on big hoppy beers, we wanted to provide beers that were more malt forward. And, we also liked Belgian beers. Some of the other breweries had one or two; we wanted to offer a range.”

“The whole process took close to five years,” Dan remembers. One of the earliest steps was to enroll in an eight month course with the American Brewers Guild in Vermont. “It’s something every home brewer who thinks he wants to make a living making beer must do,” he comments. “There’s just so much to learn.”

Finding a name for their new venture proved a challenge. “We made a list of nearly forty names,” Ken Rhoades said. “Then when we went through the list, we found some of our names were the same or to close to those of other breweries. We’d thought about the name Obsidian.” But that was what Deschutes called one of their brews. When the list was winnowed down, Lizard Tail seemed most appropriate for New Mexico.

“One of the names we didn’t use was Three Green Goats,” Ken laughed. Colorful, different — but it might not create the right image for the beer.

Finding a home for the brewery was somewhat easier. In 2012, Bad Ass Brewery had ended its brief and frequently troubled existence and departed from its strip mall headquarters. “The landlord had kept the brewing equipment in payment for rent owed,” Dan explained. “And so the Bad Ass location and the brewing equipment came with the lease Berry and Rhoades negotiated. Berry assumed head brewer duties and Rhoades oversaw the business side of operations.

Dan decided to make the brewery’s first offering a brown ale. “We wanted a session style ale, something malty, but something that didn’t use a lot of grain. We need our recipe to produce an economical version of a malt forward beer.”

The chalk board above the bar at Lizard Tail lists a wide array of beers: twelve of them regular offerings and four special offerings of Belgian styles. “We wanted to have something for everyone,” Dan remarked. “Whitetail Weiss” and “Blue Tail Blonde” are for drinkers fairly new to the craft beer scene. The former is 4.2 per cent alcohol by volume and the latter 5.0. There is a honey pale ale, an IPA and an ESB, an amber, and a brown ale, all of them under six per cent.  Desert Dweller Dubbel and Desert Night India Black Ale, are the strongest regulars at 6.8 per cent ABV each. Nor, by Albuquerque standards are the beers very hoppy. Eleven are rated at under 60 International Bitterness Units. Reptilian IPA, Desert Night Black IPA and Black Bearded Rye Stout are all at 70 IBUs.

The day I visited in early February, Belgian Abbey (7.1 per cent ABV), Belgian Strong dark (10.5 ABV), Biscochito Brown (8.0 ABV), and Oatmeal Stout (5.8 ABV) were the listed seasonal beers.

In describing the house style of Lizard Tail, Berry commented: “We wanted something for everyone. We started classic versions of the well-known styles and then tweaked the recipes to provide our own interpretations. We wanted balance and complexity. We wanted people to notice the subtle mix of flavors in each of our brews.”

Desert Tail does not offer food. However, patrons are welcome to bring their own eats or to pick up something from the restaurants that are nearby in the complex. There are two special nights each week. Monday is Open Mike night and Tuesday is Geeks Who Drink, a trivia challenge night.

 

A NEW MEXICO BEER update: Brewsical Chairs II

In today’s post, we complete our profiles of head brewers who have assumed their posts since the publication of NEW MEXICO BEER (The History Press) in April.

On a small platform just inside the brew house at Nexus Brewery and Restaurant stand a pair of pink boots. They belong to Kaylynn McKnight who became the establishment’s head brewer after Manuel Mussen moved back to California in the spring. And, they are an emblem signifying Kaylynn’s membership in the “Pink Boots Society,” an organization of made up of women who work in the brewing profession. Kaylynn is proud not only to display them, but also to wear them — they indicate that she is part of a relatively small, but growing segment of the modern brewing industry. Centuries ago, most brewing was done by women; but with the industrialization of brewing in the nineteenth century, the role was assumed by men. But things are changing — and Kaylynn, one of four female brewers in New Mexico, is part of that change.

Kaylynn, who grew up in the Albuquerque, remembers how, as a child, she frequently smelled the aromas of her father’s homebrewing efforts. “At first I didn’t like the smell, or the taste of hops,” she remembers. “But I gradually got to like it.” The liking grew when she and her brother brewed a few batches of their own and increased further when she began a job as a server at Chama River, the Albuquerque gastro-pub.

‘I used to harass Ted Rice and Jeff Erway to let me go back into the brew house. I thought it was fascinating. And when Jeff opened La Cumbre in 2010 I applied for a job in the brewery.” Her first duties were far from glamorous: scrubbing floors, cleaning tansk, and finally transferring beers from one tank to another. Her duties increased and as La Cumbre’s production increased, she spent more time involved in the actual brewing process. “I had really good teachers, first Ted Rice and then Jeff Erway, and then Daniel Jaramillo.

Early this year, when Manuel Mussen decided to return to California, he recommended that Kaylynn apply for his job at Nexus. It was just another example of what she calls the “like a family” relationship that exists among New Mexico brewers. “We borrow materials from each other and help each other with our problems. Of course, we like to compete against each other. It’s a healthy, friendly rivalry and it makes all of us work to be better.”

Moving from La Cumbre to Nexus required an adjustment. “La Cumbre was a production brewery, we were always busy working to meet the demand — and it kept growing. Here, we are making less beer; it’s mainly for the restaurant. So we have more time to plan and to focus on developing or tweaking recipes.”

There was also a change involved in going from a brewery where the emphasis was on hop-forward beers to one where malts played a greater roll. ‘It was a challenge. I’ve spent a lot of time concentrating on the qualities that each malt gives to a specific beer. Ken [Carson, owner of Nexus] told me I wasn’t to change the Scottish ale. That was his favorite. And I didn’t want to alter the Imperial Cream Ale, which won a medal at the World Beer Cup. But I have tweaked some of the recipes. The IBUs [international bitterness units] are higher than they used to be.”

She has also had a chance to develop some unusual beers. “I had fun developing Honey Chamomile Wheat”. I used 4.5 pounds of fresh chamomile flowers.”

Kaylynn has followed in the footprints of some of New Mexico’s most respected brewers. Now she has a chance to make her own footprints — with her pink boots and her brewing skills.

***********

James Warren didn’t travel from Beaumont, Texas, to New Haven, Connecticut because of beer. It was to be with his girl-friend, who was attending Yale University. But not long after his arrival, beer became an important part of his life. “One day, I went on a brewery tour at New England Brewing Company, in New Haven. I was fascinated and decided that, instead of becoming a teacher, I’d like to become a brewer.”

Warren  joined New England Brewing, starting by working on the canning line, and then moving up. He also studied brewing at the American Brewers’ Guild. “I also worked at BruRm at Bar, a local brewpub, helping out where I could.  So, over a few years, I had good practical experience working at a production brewery and a brewpub.”

Although James gained valuable experience and enjoyed living in New England, the Southwest beckoned. “My grandparents had a summer cabin near Glorietta, and I used to spend time there. When I realized Connecticut was over, I applied to breweries in Arizona and New Mexico.”

He was interviewed by the Santa Fe Dining Group for the Chama River head brewer’s job left vacant by the departure of Justin Hamilton to start his own brewery, Boxing Bear. “I didn’t get the job, but the Santa Fe Dining people told me that they would be looking for a new brewer to take over from John Bullard, who was leaving Blue Corn, in Santa Fe, and they asked if I’d be interested.”

Warren was, and arrived in the City Different in the summer. And it was different, not just because the weather was hot and dry instead of hot and humid. “In New England, the beers were much more malt-forward than they are in New Mexico. I arrived here not long before the New Mexico IPA challenge and tasting the beers in the competition, I quickly gained an understanding of the New Mexico beer culture. They love their hops here!”

Since arriving at Blue Corn, James has worked at becoming familiar with the characteristics of the  brewpub’ s core beer list. “I’ve followed John Bullard’s recipes, but made a few tweaks here and there. If anything, I’m focusing less on IBUs than I am on the aromas the hops contribute. And I’m working on developing some of the darker, maltier beers.” His success with darker beers was illustrated this fall when Blue Corn Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout earned its third gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. “The recipe isn’t much different from John’s, which won a gold last year,” he remarked, going on to say he’d tweaked it a little — making it slightly less hoppy.

Asked about his overall style approach, he reiterated that he was a malt-forward brewer. “There are so many beautiful things you can do with malts!” he exclaimed. And then he confessed with a chuckle: “If you look in my fridge at home, more often than not you’ll find some cans of Oskar Blues Old Chub.”

That’s an eight percent Scottish ale — and you can’t get much maltier than that!