Archive for May, 2017

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 travelĀ 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’dĀ 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.