Is The Western US Drought 2015’s Top Beer Story

4877We all drink dinosaur pee. Or at least the water we drink was also in the bladders of dinosaurs. Things come and go but the supply of water on the planet is stable. We have as much as there has ever been. But while stable it is also mobile. The water that may have fallen as snow on west coast mountain ranges a few years ago might now be blanketing east coast cities. Which got me thinking the other week when I tweeted:

So are Cali brewers actually setting up avaricious branch plants elsewhere or just setting up their escape routes?

As is usually the case, I didn’t really put much thought into that tweet… or any other. It’s just tweeting… and it’s just beer. But ever since that clever man Stan got me thinking about the impending ceiling on the capacity to grow more barley and hops, the story playing out as California brewers seek second homes elsewhere in the United States and elsewhere in the world as me wondering if water supply is as much or more a danger to the expansion of good beer. Has the water moved away? A long way away? Last summer, the Los Angeles Times quoted the state’s brewers association’s executive director as saying if the drought “continues for two, three more years, that could greatly impact the production and growth of our breweries…” Earlier this month, an op-ed piece in the same paper said there was now one year’s worth reserves left. It’s not just bans on new swimming pools. Farms are in trouble.

Last week, the state government indicated how serious the issue was when it voted to spend $1,000,000,000 of water infrastructure. In emails back in February, Stan and I talked about the cost of creating the agricultural infrastructure to provide the over 100% increase in hop production – the extra 28 million pounds of hops – required for the US craft industry to hit the 20% in 2020 goal set by the brewers association. Is it 1,000 acres at $10,000 to buy and upgrade the acre? Or is it 2,500 acres at $20,000 to buy and upgrade? Whatever it is, it is not a billion dollars. But if the state invests that much money in securing new water supplies, who will get to use it and for what? Do breweries come ahead of playground water fountains?

I know. These are really broad and maybe dumb questions. Well, maybe not dumb as unrefined. Fortunately, others are smarter including at UC Davis where they have a California Drought Watch program which includes considerations for the brewing industry. And, yes, breweries are taking steps to help conservation efforts but will it be enough? Or is the best strategy to move with the water, to diversity through relocating? I guess all we can do it watch. Each brewery is going to have to make decisions about the long term and whether its more about stability or mobility.

Did Hipsters In The 1850s Like Adulterated Beer, Too?

uhvb1aThis is a pretty interesting bit of news in the New York Post:

The scientists discovered the glass “California Pop Beer” bottle on Bowery Street near Canal Street, where a popular beer hall, Atlantic Garden, bustled in the 1850s, scientists said. “It’s a light summer drink, slightly minty and refreshing” said Alyssa Loorya, 44, president of Chrysalis Archaeology, which headed the project. The beer is infused with ginger root, sarsaparilla and wintergreen oil, and other herbs, giving it a one-of-a-kind kick, Loorya said.

If the beer bottle collector nerds are to be trusted, California Pop Beer was produced as Haley & Co. Celebrated California Pop Beer out of Newark, New Jersey… but apparently sometimes in New York as well. The archaeologists reproduced the beer based on research that led to finding a patent for the stuff. I suspect that. I suspect something about it all. I am suspicious. Seems a bit weird that you would get a patent for a beer when every other brewery in the world relies on and has relied on trade secrecy as opposed to a patent telling the whole world about what goes into the bottle. Fortunately, someone in the Google Borg decided we should all have access to patents so we can have a look at what went into this stuff at least in 1872. Hmm…. not really beer. A yeast and an extract of wintergreen, sassafras and spruce are prepared and then, if I read correctly, they are combined with “ten gallons of water one hour, after which seventy pounds of granulated sugar”. Or maybe 105 gallons. Yum? Does it matter?

What is most interesting to me is that this is an example of a second half of the 1800s popular beverage. It relies upon the word “beer” but really is more like a an alcopop or cooler. It comes from a time when, like today, purity is less important than flavour. It also plays upon California in the branding right about when Quinn & and Nolan in Albany, New York were advertising their California Pale XX and XXX Ales. Maybe California was just neato right about then. I like the idea that spruce is part of the taste profile. An old regional favorite flavor that you can learn more about if you BUY THIS BOOK. Oh. That was a bit gratuitous, wasn’t it.

Never mind that. The point remains. The past is a foreign land and so were their drinks.

CAMNA: The Campaign For Nipped Ales

ofa1So far I have created, with a certain underwhelming success, The Pub Game Project to note the things people like to do when they get together for beer, The Society for Ales of Antiquity to celebrate those brewers who are brewing beers like those brewers who used to brew the beers as well as CAMWA or The Campaign For Watery Ale, to encourage movers and shakers to consider the thing that makes 87% to 96% of what is in the bottle.

The response has been, well, insignificant if I want to brag it up out of all proportions. But we cannot stop there. Now we need CAMNA, the Campaign for Nipped Ales, to demand that the higher the strength the smaller the beer. Look at that bottle of Anchor Old Foghorn. Look at the dime. That is a small bottle. Seven small ounces. A nip. And it is only an 8.8% brew. I am getting really tired of opening 22 ounce or even 750 ml bottles of 8% to 13% beer. It is too much. It costs too much, it is too much booze and it is an invitation to excess. You will say they are to be shared or saved for special occasions but I want the option to sip a little one alone on a Tuesday. Why can’t I except with a handful of beers from a few forward thinking brewers? How much would it really cost most moderately sized micros to put out a line of nips of their stronger offerings? Would it not make them more accessible, allow more people to have a try?

These are the questions asked by CAMNA – the only international organization of its stature which dares take on this cause and those lined up against it. Some may think the utter irrelevance of CAMNA to the discourse is a challenge but I say it is an opportunity – an opportunity to be the mouse that roared… in the forest where trees fall when no one in around… in a land far far away.

Lee’s Mild, 8th Anniversary Ale, Stone, California

What can you say about a beer that says so much about itself. I picked this one out of the stash, $5.99 USD last time I was south. It is a one off brew made in August 2004 from Stone of a previous standard of theirs called Lee’s Mild…which makes it more of a revival than a one off. At 7.8% I am wondering where I will find the mild in it but these things do happen sometimes.

Mild is generally the lightest of the dark ales – below porter, sub-dark and under brown. Big in, say, Wales circa 1910, milds are now rare. They also were a bit of an innovation when they came out as they were a break from stales or beers that had attractive sour tang to them. The idea of an actually sterile and fresh to the consumer beer was very 19th century
industrial revolution. I think the only true one I have had – other than those I brewed myself – was at C’est What in Toronto last winter. The perfect session ale. But that one was only 3.3%…or 42% the strength of this one of Lee’s. So what will this bottle provide when opened. The BAers give great hope. More in a moment when I get the danged thing open.

It pours a really attractive reddish mahogany with a rich and lace leaving tan head. Good and black rummy – sweetness worked through and dried. Masses of malt with notes of fig, date and pumpernickle with a good swath of green and twiggy hops cutting but not severing betwixt and between. It is just a notch below an old ale or something that might come out for Christmas but not by much. A long long finish. Another impressive big ale from one of the great US brewers.

Stone Brewing, San Diego, California

Two devils for two snowman
 

Two more from Stone Brewing of San Diego: Double Bastard Ale and Smoked Porter. A couple of months ago, I reviewed Arrogant Bastard here and Ruination IPA here.

The Double Bastard poured deep tea in colour with a beige head. It has the richness of Arrogant Bastard simplictor with something more of the hop whallop of Ruination. It is hot with massive malty flavours of tobacco, leather ballglove, apple butter and fig. Heavy body. At 10% alcohol it ought to whallop but it is a well blanketed bat that strikes. Comfort then good night. Here is what the advocation is saying.

The Smoked Porter was deep garnet, its rich smokiness not overwhelming and not really much in the finish. Below the molassesy deep malt there was some surprisingly fresh grape juiciness, then cola, then dates all laced with the reek. At 5.9% is is one of the more modest Stone brews. Not one of the BA’ers has a bad word to say about it. I think I had a pint of this on tap when I was in Vancouver in 1998 at The Whip, one of the nation’s finer spots, with my pal Robyn on a Saturday afternoon before we retired to Granville Island Market for rhubarb pie. Maybe these happy happy men who teach a beer class at UBC are occassional Whiperonians.

Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing, California

This is a hot beer. Boozy. Good boozy.

But what would you expect from a beer who has its own URL at www.arrogantbastard.com and has “You Are Not Worthy” on the cap. Stone Brewing Company has a satanic theme going with its branding, too, that probably ensures that it will never be sold in the Liquor Commissions of Atlantic Canada. [Come to think of it, not unlike the third wave California ska band Mephiskaphelese, they of the skanking version of “Bumblebee Tuna”.] The webpage also includes personal oaths that you have to accept before it will let you in, including:

I acknowledge that the material contained herein may be contrary to the multi-million dollar ad campaigns conducted by large brewing companies I may or may not have been fool enough to believe in the past.

Attitude. Expected from a beer that also comes in double and oaked versions in 3 litre bottles with padlocks. I did not notice them being described as family sized.

The beer is loverly, ruby mahogany with none of the unbalanced hoppy excess of Stone’s Ruination IRA. No, this is pure balanced excess. Concentrate of ale. The hops are herbal and vegetative rather than floral, the water soft. It is a real showpiece of malt, big and rich but nothing tricky, no thread of chocolate or smoke. This is umami beer – not utterly dissimilar from miso if you think about it. If the Ruinator is raw garlic, Arrogant Bastard is it slow roasted. All the advocatonians, but for 2%, like it. One did not like the heat of the alcohol, one thought it was unfortunate that you could only have one or two. Deary me. The departed brewers of Belgium are rolling over in their graves.

$3.99 USD for one 22 oz bomber at the Party Source. With all the top ups at the border, probably something like $7.50 CND to get it to my sofa.

Big Hop Bombs: Ruination IPA, Stone Brewing, California

Nothing but an ale most masterful could claim this name. 7.7%. Light wine. It smells like opening a bag of hops pellets and tastes like licking one out. This is a BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEG brew and meant to be. If you do not like hops this is not the beer for you. If you can not contemplate beauty in the idea of having hops petals sprinkled upon your salad of leafy spring greens, this may not be the brew for you. If you like beer that hits your mouth like Tabasco with no pepper in sight, you may want to try it out. The bottle says:

Stone Ruination IPA. So called because of the immediate ruinous effect on your palate. The moment after the first swallow, all other food and drink items suddenly become substantially more bland than they were seconds before.

The same could be said for spraying your mouth with aerosol Pledge or Minwax…and for the same reason. This is BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEG. Have I said that already? It is like distilling blue cheese down to a syrup and sucking down a pint of that. Intensity. Supersaturation of the hop acid. 100+ International bittering units. Right there. In my mouth. Here is what others say. Here is what the brewery says.Wow.