Beer is in the blog’s title, so I should give it space. Last week was American Craft Beer Week. I took full advantage in exploring the many ways one enjoys craft beers1. Granted, my celebration was more than a week, but that’s the time I needed in order to fully experience all that one does with craft beer.
It all began where many American craft brewers began. A friend2 and I devised a recipe for a strong dark Belgian ale while drinking a few Belgians along the way. A lot of the best craft brewers started out brewing their own after discovering the many possibilities for beer in Belgium. We threw back three nice beers over cheese and crackers while pouring through books and websites that would help us formulate our brew, which is tentatively called “Belgian Budweiser”. However, if the lawyers at InBev and I have any say, that moniker will change3.
The following day was a rainy afternoon where I found myself in front of a Wallace & Gromit marathon with my daughter. In order to fight off the cold, rainy weather, I sipped on a Great Divide Oak-aged Yeti. We beer geeks love our imperial stouts, but we love them even more when the vanilla-like esters are released from the oak barrels4.
A friend stopped by a little later to share an Avery Maharaja, his favorite beer. His love for batch 9 carried him through a somewhat disappointing batch 10 last year in hopes batch 11 would not let us down. It didn’t. Upon finishing the hoppy, mango-like nectar, I pulled out one of those batch 10′s just for a comparison beer geeks refer to as a “vertical”. Batch 10 was still the lesser beer, but I have to say it’s fared well over the last year.
Officially, American Craft Beer Week started with a happy hour on Monday at one of the preferred watering holes here in Columbia, Sycamore5. Though small, the bottle and tap lists are loaded with the best that Missouri distributors can conjure6 . Of course, the best part of any happy hour is the conversation. Folks I knew from the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts as well as a few people I met on Twitter7.
The week also called for some travel. My daughter and I flew to Ohio for a couple of days in order to celebrate my grandparents’ 90th birthdays. Of course, there were beer stops after landing in Columbus. I dropped some cash at Palmer’s and Weiland’s for some nice out-of-market brews. Another mark of beer geekdom is our commitment to beer tourism. Even when we don’t go on a trip specifically for the beer, we’re always sure to pick up something not available in our home states.
I didn’t just buy; I consumed. A Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale8 paired well with my North Star Thai burrito. Jeni’s Ice Cream supplied me with both a Kona Stout ice cream as well as a Cherry Lambic Sorbet to go along with my scoop of Buckeye State. There was some Great Lakes’ Commodore Perry IPA waiting for me at my parents’ place. We followed that with my own Wowee Zowee.
Maybe the best part of craft beer geekery is finding a hidden treasure. On our way to my folk’s place after the birthday party, we hit a small town drive-through for some beverages, hoping I didn’t have to break into my haul from Columbus just yet. Luckily, this was Ohio and Great Lakes beers are everywhere. Bernie’s Drive-Thru in Bellefontaine had four packs of the Lake Erie Monster. This beer had to be maybe the best of the week and possibly year. It’s one balanced imperial IPA. So hoppy, but with a strong malt backbone. I would have finished the four pack on my own had it not been a 9.1% boozer of a beer.
The return home brought more beer over the weekend. It was also stifling hot9, weather so hot that it motivated my wine-drinking partner to request a beer. Out came the New Glarus Belgian Red, as cherry a beer as I’ve ever had. Despite its girlie fruitiness, this beer hit the spot after a long day of travel through the near-90 degree weather.
A friend showed up10 for dinner and we cracked open a local/STL brew by Schlafly. The Grand Cru was chosen as a beer that would pair well with the shrimp and saffron over homemade pasta we had slated for dinner. It did go nicely and I finished the night off with one of my Ohio imports, a Dogfish Head Immort Ale11.
The following day saw us smoking meats all day long. I opted for a standard go-to beer to split among three of us. Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid is just that kind of beer. And at $4, the price is definitely right.
That evening also happened to be the series finale of Lost12. I volunteered our house guest to join me in my second vertical tasting of the week. We sipped on Dogfish Head World Wide Stouts from 2007 and 2008. The ’07 was quite phenomenal: complex, smooth, boozy. The ’08 was pretty great as well, but it had a strong coffee thing going and some of its fizz gave it more mouth feel. Of course, after drinking 12 oz. worth of an 18% ABV beer, who knows if I remember the details accurately.
The long “week” that was dedicated to American craft beer ended appropriately13 at a local brewery where the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts gathered some of our favorite pale ales and IPA’s for a tasting14. The bottles were passed quickly around the table, nearly knocking me on my ass. A Gordon here, Hop Henge there. The hops were flowing, finally wearing me down after a great week of drinking.
Appropriately, I finished the last of the Wowee Zowee. My beer stood up well to a powerful list of IPA’s Monday night. And as my beer ended its run, so did the longest American Craft Beer Week ever15.
I don’t know exactly what the point of this post was supposed to be. I guess I just wanted to share all the ways in which craft beer can be enjoyed16. There’s the getting back to the roots of the movement through Belgian beers and homebrewing. I drank beers that suited the weather or the cuisine. Vertical tastings were experienced as well as old stand-bys. Beers were shared and beers were smuggled in my suitcase. It’s a big deal and certainly worth more than a week of my year. I guess that’s why I celebrated eleven days.
1It’s not like I don’t do this all the time. I just did more than usual over the last week+.
2Who happens to be a chocolate maker, the same chocolate maker who sold me some cocoa nibs for a beer I brewed a couple of weeks ago.
3I’m thinking that the name of our “brewery” might be Belgium Budweiser or some mashup of the two terms. The beer itself should be based on some scary Belgian folktale. Anyone know of any evil characters from Belgian folklore?
4Seriously, if you drink an oak-aged beer, pay close attention to that vanilla character. Some brewers use actual barrels while others just toss in a load of oak chips.
5Well, the official part is Monday, not necessarily our happy hour/Tweetup.
6 Which is better than we sometimes give credit. They do a nice job of bringing in beers from Michigan and Colorado. If we could just get more beer from the coasts…
7We had a “Tweetup”. They call it a “Tweetup”.
8This may be the best beer to pair with any food. The dark malt gives it a sweetness and roastiness that pairs with fatty meats that are either grilled or smoked. The hops hold up to anything with spice. The balance of the beer means that none of these characteristics overtake the others. Really. It’s the perfect beer for food.
9Summer has arrived in Missouri, a time when we officially change the name to “Misery”. (This is not a reference to my old blog.)
10Oddly enough, from Ohio where I had just left via plane. We passed over him on our way home.
11A bit of a letdown, but at 11% ABV, I could cellar it and see what happens.
12This has got to be the best show in TV history. However, why can’t good TV shows make good finales. It was good to a point, but a letdown in the end.
13Actually, I felt as though I ended the craft beer debauchery this evening with another smuggled beer, Green Flash Imperial IPA. What a great beer. I may have to take a few days off from the hops.
14My friend and I brought Three Floyds Apha King, Alesmith IPA, and the very last Wowee Zowee.
15Not counting the dudes who have 2-3 really good craft beers every night of the year. Their weeks never end.
16Of course, I don’t know whether I’ve accomplished this, but I don’t have time for revisions. I can hear my readers ending their real simple subscriptions to my blog as I type this.