As anyone who knows me will attest, I don’t really need a good excuse to drink a good beer. But I figure that, when a legitimate opportunity comes knocking, one should open the door.
So, a few days ago, when I heard that May 11-17 was called “American Craft Beer Week,” I quickly pledged my allegiance to the craft and set out to celebrate my favorite American craft beermakers by patronizing my favorite American craft beer retailer, The Wine Source (though, from where I’m standing, they might need to change their name). Rather than grab a six-pack or 22 oz. “bomber” from only one or two breweries (hey, I may be a loyalist but I’m also a cheapskate), I decided to check out what was being offered by the store’s so-called “Beer Club.” Luckily, there is no fee to join this club or any membership requirements (besides, I agree with what Groucho Marx says about clubs). It is simply a tall metal rack of about a half-dozen shelves lined with an ever-changing assortment of single bottles. You just pick whatever you want to try — beers range from about $1 – $3 apiece — and they offer a 10% discount if you buy six at a time. Participating in the “club” is a good way to try something new without investing in a beer you may not like.
Last week, to maximize my commitment to Beer Week, and minimize the damage to my wallet, I picked out a half-dozen new-to-me native varietals. My goal was either to try new offerings by breweries I know and trust or to pop open something untried from parts unknown. Nearly all fell into the latter category, and I drank one or two each night, with and without food, and jotted down my thoughts in order to share them with you.
Here, then, are my mix-a-six picks, in order of consumption — the choice of when to open was based on mood and meal. Enjoy!
Hop Head Red Ale, Green Flash Brewing Co. I have to admit, the words “Hop” and “Red” on the label caught my attention before anything else. Most of the red ales I’ve tried have been fairly tame, tending toward sweet and mild. So the idea that this San Diego-based brew was boasting some extra hoppiness was appealing. And I was not mislead. This beer poured out in a dark amber, almost auburn color — even the lively foam head had a ruddy glow. The familiar citrusy hops aroma was immediate and the taste was dry and bitterful — the label refers to it as “resinous hop character,” which is an apt description, since all the liquid in my mouth evaporated with the first sip. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it an IPA and drank the beer with some zesty-salty turkey tacos and salsa. It was a good pairing, not quite sweet enough but, like any redhead, brash and ready for a fight against the spice.
The Love, Starr Hill Brewery LLC. I know it sounds weird to say, but I’ve got a crush on this bold, bubbly, very approachable wheat beer. Although technically a German hefeweizen, this oddly-named brew (reportedly the byproduct of a friendship between a Charlottesville, Va.-based brewer and a yeast “smuggler”), is as lively and quick as a Belgian. It’s got a golden hue, plenty of fragrance and flavors (I noticed banana, orange, and cloves), a low alcohol content (only 4.6%), and a steady, racy base of carbonation. All of which made for a very refreshing aperitif with some gourmet nibbles — salted almonds, hard pretzels, and Cheez-Its (oh, yeah). Brewed unfiltered, it arrives delightfully hazy in the glass and leaves a nice ring of tasty yeast in the bottle. Overall, this is one of the best wheat beers I’ve had in awhile — go share “The Love” with someone you love.
Blue Paw Wheat Ale, Sea Dog Brewing Co. My faithful brew guide, Jed, is crazy about a particular blueberry-flavored beer, which he says is the best. But this one, from the Portland, Maine-based brewery, was the only one of its kind on the club’s shelf last week, and now I wonder if I should’ve taken a cue from Jed. I’m sure that brewing an ale with wild blueberries grown in a state renowned for the fruit ensures good quality, I just wasn’t wild about this beer. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of fruity beverages. Maybe it’s the bad memories of too many girlfriends (i.e., girls who are friends) drinking bad wine-coolers in college. More likely, it’s the fact that I think wheat beers are fruity enough on their own. Moreover, if the fruit flavor is simply “added,” as it is here, rather than used as an integral part of the brewing process, the end result tends to be insipid. This beer might be best served with dessert — it went well with a store-bought oatmeal cookie, for instance — but a good fruit beer, like a lambic, is more versatile and makes an excellent accompaniment to food infused with fruit flavors, such as pork chops and applesauce (swell, ma!).
Genesis Ale, Shmaltz Brewing Company. Apparently, this aptly named beverage is the first creation in the “He’Brew: The Chosen Beer” line from this Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based brewhouse. And, after only one bottle’s worth, I’m happy to declare it my new first choice for light brown ales. Honestly, I’ve passed over this beer many times, basing my judgment on the cartoonish artwork and corny shtick on the label. But, oy!, was I wrong. It’s a pleasant pour, right out of the bottle, with a nice brown color, fruity aromatics, and a malty sweetness that’s balanced by just enough hop bitterness. It’s dry on the palate and even a little tart — and it’s certified kosher, which made it even more appetizing with our Oscar Mayer hot dogs. L’Chaim, indeed!
Orange Blossom, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery. Although promisingly pungent and effervescent from the bottle to the glass, this beer unfortunately suffered the same fate as the blueberry wheat ale — lots of fruity goodness but not enough “beeriness” to make it a good beer. It was certainly refreshing, but in the way a cold orange soda serves as a quenching quaff on a hot afternoon. As a cream ale, it might pair well with a light salad — Amy makes a lively one with mixed greens, mandarin oranges, almond slivers, and a tart vinaigrette dressing — or even grilled fish, like orange roughy (these recipes look good). But on its own, this blossom (which, it turns out, is cultivated by the familiar Pyramid Breweries) just didn’t open up for me.
Eye of the Hawk Select Ale, Mendocino Brewing Company. The only novelty in the mix that’s made by a brewery I knew, this well-balanced, brisk ale was nonetheless a surprising selection. Slightly sweet and dry, with lots of hoppiness, carbonation, and a lovely reddish-amber complexion, it proved the perfect pal for our occasional Sunday night comfort-food smorgasbord — french fries, pizza rolls, chicken nuggets, ketchup, frozen peas, etc. You may laugh, but this complex and highly capable bird met the toasty notes head-on, cut through the fat and oily spices, and simply soared with every bite. I’ll have my eye out for it from now on, for sure.
There you have it, a chronicle of my six degrees of celebration in honor of American Craft Beer Week. As always, let me know what you think. Have you had any of these beers before? If so, what do you think of my opinions? What is your favorite American craft beer? Did you celebrate the week in a similar fashion?
In case you are wondering, American Craft Beer Week isn’t, as my cousin Peter suggested, merely an opportunity to have your kids cover old Natty Boh bottles with papier-mache. Nor it is simply a marketing ploy by the Brewers Association to sell more suds. As a matter of fact, the week-long event was originally created by Congress under House Resolution 753, which was enacted in 2006 to commend the efforts of American craft brewers, who are responsible for creating and maintaining more than 30,000 U.S. jobs, who support American agriculture and its products, and who contribute to the well-being of “the Nation’s communities, economy, and history.”
See, that’s not crafty pork at all. Or, if it is, may I suggest a nice orange-flavored ale, with a decorative (and functional) hand-knit cozy, to help wash it down?