That was the state of beer no so long ago in the US. And a sad state it was. Most small, independent breweries had been steamrolled by the mega-breweries. The few indie breweries that remained, in order to stay afloat, had to follow the mega-brew lead with bland lagers soon to be followed by that bane of real-beer lovers' existence: Light (Lite) Beer!
|Full Boar Brewery-|
North Syracuse, NY
I think about that whenever I see one of those "best beer in every state" articles that pop up on-line and in beer magazines. Such an article would have been unthinkable in the bad old days before the Craft Beer Revolution. Yet now, pretty much every state has so many terrific craft breweries that picking the best beer (or for that matter, the best IPA, or Stout or Belgian, or Wheat) is nearly impossible because there are so many good beers out there. Just take a look at the beer menu below. This is from a relatively small brewery in Northern New York. Check out the array of beers they brew. Yet, unless you visit Tupper Lake, it's unlikely you'll have an opportunity to try any since they don't bottle. And there are hundreds of small breweries such as this around the country. One of the things I always check when my wife and I travel is local breweries. The quality of beer can vary greatly as well as the styles and the vibe of the place. Some tend to specialize in, say, British style beer, or Belgian or Sours, or big hoppy beers. Some try to run the gamut of styles from light lagers to big Imperial Stouts and IPAs. Many serve "guest beers" - craft beers brewed by other breweries which may serve to fill in the gap in the styles that they themselves don't provide. Some serve food, some don't. But the atmosphere is generally convivial and they are populated with like-minded craft beer fans who often are quick to share their opinions on their favorite brews. Consider the fact that not so long ago there were no such places. Sad.
|Raquette River Brewing, Tupper Lake, NY|
Pale Ales are really the style of beer that jump-started the Craft Beer Revolution. Think Sierra-Nevada Pale Ale or Samuel Adams Boston Ale or Saranac Pale Ale. While the roots of craft beer extend back into the '70's with New Albion Brewing Company and Anchor Brewing, it wasn't until the mid '80's that craft brewing really took off. Much of that has to do with the fact that the most popular craft beers early on were Pale Ales. Pale Ales made for a nice transition into the world of beer beyond the mega-brews Americans were stuck with for so long. They broadly retained the general taste profile of the lagers but with enhanced hop presence as well as fuller bodies and richer malt backbones. Okay, so they were far superior to our mega-brews, but not so far out as to alienate the uninitiated. This month we return to that style that was a tasty gateway into the world of craft beer.
EXTRA PALE ALE
THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Switchback Brewing, Burlington, VT; STYLE: Pale Ale; ABV: 4.8%; IBUs: 47; HOPS: Centennial, Chinook, Cascade
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our Grunion Pale Ale wasn't born on a beach, but in a backyard. Originating from an employee-only home brew contest, this award-winning hoppy pale ale is named after the tiny local fish known for late night frolics on shore. A pair of new hop varieties lend strong yet balanced summer melon aromas and herbal flavors, while a soft caramel malt sweetness holds it all together."
COLOR: Unfiltered light golden
POUR: Bit beyond Decent white head with nice lacing
AROMA: A sort of musty/dank aroma
TASTE: Well toward the bitter end of the spectrum, with big tropical fruit flavors dominant
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Can't Get Enough!
COMMENTS: "Unique, distinctive taste; Tanin flavor; El Dorado hops?; I really like this - I'll pick up some of this; I like the taste much better than the aroma; Not sure why tropical fruit aroma doesn't come through, but it's there in the flavor in spades; Really nice; Delicious - unanimously."
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "The alpha of the pack, Doggie Style complements a wide range of foods. Flavor notes: grassy, citrus and slight perfume hop aromas with subtle sweet malt body."
POUR: Better than decent head with solid staying power
AROMA: Grassy, hay, floral
TASTE: Toward the bitter side of balanced with a nice bitter finish and malty, bready notes.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Very near "Can't Get Enough!"
COMMENTS: "Easy drinking; No lingering after-taste; Very tasty; Delicious; Quite balanced; A nice, very drinkable pale ale.Well balanced, what you'd expect of an American Pale Ale; Nice bit of hoppiness with a good malt backing."
THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Evil Twin Brewing, Stratford, CT; STYLE: ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 60
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Perhaps you heard of a worldwide beer-movement that tributes favorite hipster neighbourhoods across the globe. If you feel excluded because you're hip but your city is not, this cutting-edge, 'hip without border' pale ale is an homage to you - the global hipster. Cheers!"
COLOR: Unfiltered buckwheat honey
POUR: Between Decent and Guinness Class head - pretty impressive thick, off-white head
AROMA: Sweet grass, but not a real powerful aroma
BODY: A bit beyond Medium
TASTE: Leans toward the bitter end, beyond balanced
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Pretty close to "Can't Get Enough!"
COMMENTS: "Nice opening taste; Nice beer; I could drink this all day long; Again - aroma belies the taste - not much aroma, but a big taste; Tastes almost like an IPA; I could drink a lot of these; Nice bitter after-taste; Sweet in the middle - but resolves into a bitter finish."
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This classic style is dry-hopped with pungent US varieties, wonderful aromas in the nose, medium bitterness."
COLOR: Unfiltered golden
POUR: Bit better than a Decent Head
AROMA: Floral hoppy
TASTE: Moderately bitter with hints of clove, banana, toffee; malt forward followed by nice citrus hop bite
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Can't Get Enough!
COMMENTS: "A very hoppy APA - almost and IPA; Bites your tongue a bit; Fills the mouth - excites the mouth; British vibe to it with the clove / banana opening; Malty; This is absolutely delicious; Actually it's a pretty balanced Pale Ale if you ask me."
THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; STYLE: Pale Ale; ABV: 5.80%; MALT: wheat malt, flaked oats; HOPS: Calypso, El Dorado, Centennial.
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This pale ale is brewed with loads of wheat malt and flaked oats to give it a full body that showcases the Calypso, El Dorado and Centennial Hops. Added citrus further brightens the beer and a nice dry finnish makes it extremely drinkable."
COLOR: Unfiltered clover honey
POUR: Bit beyond Decent head with plenty of white lacing
AROMA: Spicy scent
BODY: Bit shy of Medium
TASTE: Between balanced and bitter
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Just shy of "Can't Get Enough!"
COMMENTS: "They've had 21 years to get it right, and they did; Really nice beer; Very drinkable; Smooth; Pleasant, from a brewery that never disappoints, once again they have brewed a beer that fills the mouth and is oh, so delicious; Really nice easy-drinker with a terrific citrus bite; That spicy aroma is really nice, and the taste is very bright and citrusy."
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Smooth and drinkable! Nice flavorful light malts allow the summer and Cascade hops to shine through. With hints of sweet orange and coriander, this pale is unique as it is smooth."
POUR: Decent white head with nice lacing
AROMA: Grassy, earthy
TASTE: Touch of cloves, bit of pine with a little grass and bready malt underneath it all
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Just shy of "Can't Get Enough!"
COMMENTS: "A really nice beer; Almost an IPA; Delicious Pale Ale; Fills the tongue; The last in a series of delicious beers - very impressed with this Pale Ale offering; It hits all the notes you want in an APA; Not over-the-top, but a pleasing hop presence."