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Posts Tagged ‘microbrew’

3.  Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado

Founded:  1989
Production:  approx 60,000 barrels

(website)

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It’s gotta go back to home for me.  Doesn’t it always?  Something about those early years of ANYTHING.  Your first stumbling in the dark with a girl’s brassier.  Your first, horrible taste of coffee leading to that next, almost palatable, strangely forbidden sip.  The rowdy fans slamming their cold cans of Bud together at the tailgate party as you sheepishly waddle by slightly scared for your young life.  What’s the fascination with these items, I thought?  Why do I see them all around me?  For me, New Belgium and Odell’s were like two pony-tailed, Swedish foreign exchange students skipping towards me in knee-high socks while holding hands and shouting my name in unison.  Who were these devilish beauties?  Why am I so viscerally charged by them?  And how do their socks stay up like that?

Odell’s 90 Shilling remains to this day one of my favorite beers of all time.  Have I had it in years?  No.  Would I recognize it in a blind taste test?  Probably not.  But just the sound of its strange name brings back memories of my days in high school…those formative years when we were stumbling awkwardly through our days, slowly developing our identities and learning to connect with (or rally against) the world.  Like the smell of burning wood which always skyrockets me back to the campsites of my youth, Odell’s beers transport me.  They were my litmus, my palate-trainers….I didn’t know it at the time, but 90 Shilling and Easy Street Wheat laid the foundation for all of my experiences to come.

So where did it all begin?  After moving to Fort Collins in the 1980’s to search out his destiny, Doug Odell followed his bliss and bought an old grain elevator built in 1915 with the plan of moving his homebrewing hobby into a full-time business.  Soon, he began to make his dreams a reality and Odell’s became the second microbrewery to open in the state of Colorado.  Employing what must have been a jury-rigged system that looked a lot like the Millenium Falcon’s engine room, they built a four-level, gravity-fed brew system which employed open fermentation tanks.  Whoa.  Now that’s a vision backed up by sheer tenacity.  And within five years, they couldn’t produce enough beer to meet the demand that the hippies, soccer moms and professionals alike began to be fascinated with.

And now, as I track their business practices and brewing experiments, they are still pushing the envelope.  They began creating barrel-aged beers in the summer of ’08, and use an ingenious five-barrel pilot system which gives their brewers the freedom to experiment with new recipes every couple of weeks.  Rock on, Odell’s.  And rock on Fort Collins.

Favorite brews:  90 Shilling, Easy Street Wheat, Cutthroat Porter

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4.  Dogfish Head, Milton, Delaware

Founded:  1995
Production:  approx 35,000 barrels
(website)

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Extreme.  Fire up the frickin taste buds, because these guys are doing some funky, bold beers.  Using such ingredients as fresh oysters, arctic cloudberries, green raisins, st johns wort, and beet sugar, they’re off to the races..and running like mad greyhounds.  Sound interesting?  How bout their Malt de Liquor; a bottle-conditioned malt liquor served in its very own brown paper bag.  Now that’s street-swilling in style.

They seem to be everywhere in the media at the moment, their classic fish-shaped icon appearing so much you’d think you’d popped your head in the aquarium, and they deserve to be.  The American Homebrewer’s Association has picked their 90-Minute Pale Ale as their top-voted beer two years in a row (and who ain’t gonna listen to the legions of home chemist/hop geeks/brew monks/flavor-craving-crowd of die-hards when they sound their collective horn).   Like all the other brewers in my top 5 list, founder Sam Calagione is passionate.  But his passion lies in pushing the limits of imagination and what’s possible to capture in liquid form.

I got it in my craw to make a Pumpkin Ale a couple of months back (“Praise the Gourd”), and did a lot of reading and tasting to get familiar with what’s out there.  I found a number of approaches to this style, some over-spiced messes that wiped the spit off your tongue, and many in which no pumpkin could even be detected.  I wanted pumpkin… and was happy when I got a solid backbone of gourdy goodness in my final beer (I baked fresh pumpkin sprinkled with brown sugar until caramelized and placed in a hop sack during the boil as opposed to with the malt extracts–believe it or not, a much-debated question of timing in the homebrew community).

Of all those I tasted during my ride down gourd lane however, I most dug the Dogfish Punkin Ale.  It was hearty, well-spiced and evocative of children wearing spit-filled rubber masks greedily running from door to door through the brisk Colorado air.  It brought me back to my childhood and the details you remember:  A chill in the air.  Strange cutouts of witch silhouettes in the windows.  Yards filled with thick spider webs capable of swallowing children whole.  I think you get the picture…  That power was what hooked me to Dogfish.  That “style”, and how it took you on a ride.  Their beers are rich and full of depth like dark Syrahs from the Northern Rhone–embodied with soul.

Favorite brews:  90 minute pale ale, Punkin Ale, Raison d’ Etre

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5.  Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California

Founded:  1979

Production: approx 680,000 barrels

(website)

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No god-fearing microbrewer could ever not bow down in worship to Sierra Nevada.  It would be an outrage.  I would have to throw my shoes at you.  (I still think it would have been off the chain if Mr Bush caught one of the shoes, centered in on the thrower with his beady eyes, and threw it back like a Chinese throwing star…but no…instead, he flinched.  Anyway, back to Sierra).   Sierra Nevada is a forerunner in the field of microbrewing.  Practically THE forerunner in the field.

Along with Anchor Steam brewery in San Francisco, they broke new ground and shined a beacon of light into the dark night of “American Lagers” that had become ubiquitous since America’s post-Prohibition days.  They shook people up.  An underground following began, and people started to want more out of their grog.  They wanted an experience.  So, through a combination of renegade thinking and the tried-and-true techniques of the past, Sierra influenced a new wave of American brewing.

Starting from nothing, Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi cobbled a brewery together from dairy tanks, a soft-drink bottler, and equipment salvaged from defunct breweries before the term “microbrew” even existed.  And now, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a three-time gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival (an annual gathering composed of louts and connoisseurs alike who descend on Denver in staggering numbers every year to guzzle or swirl their way through a ridiculous number of beers). It represents for me the solid choice you’ll find on A LOT of beer lists around the country.  When in doubt, you’ll oft hear a chirpy waitress list Sierra’s name in amongst the long list of mostly domestic swill you’ll find the country swimming in.

Their use of hops and ability to capture their essences in a myriad of styles give their beers a refreshing, vibrant undercurrent.  Sierra Nevada’s journey was hard-fought, but its insistence on quality ingredients and experimental craftsmanship paid off; their beers now enjoy a large, devoted following.  And rightfully so.

Favorite brews:  Pale Ale, Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, Harvest Wet Hop Ale

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The Beginning

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“What is this?” “Beer, my friend.  Beer”

Yes, its been known for ages. Just how long beermaking has been known is staggering to comprehend. Thousands of years. Where we are today, as brewers, is astonishing. Ancient styles, long-lost techniques, are being brushed-off and being thrust into the limelight. Microbrewers and craft specialists are a-flourish with all things Belgian, German, British, and Czech…oh, and don’t forget the Yankees. We, as Americans, have found our niche of brewing; a rag-tag group of upstarts gone wild has turned into big saga, with our country being filled with artisans and shrewd businessmen alike. Aflame with passion and a wealth of information, we are off and running. So, where did it all start? What is this beer in front of me, and what is its story?

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