It is difficult to believe these days, but there was a time when the term beer seeker actually had meaning. This was the force behind calling the great British beer writer, Michael Jackson, The Beer Hunter, or his American counterpart, James Robertson, who would sometimes be referred to as The Beer Hound.
The search for beer was an exotic quest in those days. People would travel substantial distances, in order to obtain some elusive production, that was scarce but highly prized. Such is the stuff, as the old cliche goes, of legend. Whether it was something from the United States west coast, or across the great pond in England (King & Barnes anyone?). The obsessional dimensions of that era seem almost incomprehensible now.
This was surely made apparent to myself last week, as I checked out the selection at a local Kroger grocery superstore, where a vast array of brewing style selections were available, including such notables as Chimay Grand Reserve to North Coast Brewery’s Brother Thelonious Ale. All presented in a straight forward customer format that was democratically overwhelming with its message of so much beer, so little time.
Not only is there an abundance of beer selections, but there is a plethora of writers on the subject. This is all for the good, because no matter how many examples are sampled in a given geographic location, there are hundreds, if not thousands of recipes I can only read about. A warm thank you with unabashed gratitude goes out to all those lovers of this ancient beverage who see fit to share their passion and experiences, and thus help alleviate the logistical impossibilities.
Make no mistake, this brewing juggernaut can be an absolute tyranny of pleasure. The recent arrival of Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, 2012-2013 is a prime example of a great English winter ale, and I must confess, that this version is probably the best I have ever tasted. Not because of recipe variation it should be noted. For this great ale is still brewed in Yorkshire with water from a well sunk in 1758, using solid slabs of slate as square fermenting vessels, with a house yeast from the 19th century. But being a natural agricultural product, there are harvest variations in the whole dried fuggle and golding hops employed, and this year, these variables seem to come together to make the famous Shakespeare quote on the label to be a statement of fact.
Another early arrival of the upcoming season is a famous wassail Holiday ale from Boonville, California, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Ale. A legend in its own right, there was a time when the label said nothing about what the beer consisted of. So much so, that many years ago I made a telephone call to the brewery to make sure it was brewed with spices. A festive malty production then, as it is now, but also now being brewed into cans. Part of the craft can movement as younger folks might say, celebratory and rich.
Speaking of can beer, Ohio has become a distributing point for the famous Colorado, Oskar Blues Brewery. Dale’s Pale Ale being the first out of the starting gate. A rather raw hopped up production that borrows from the West Coast school of IPA and American Pale Ale, with a 6.5% abv that is a popular selling point for the cadre of fans who love a hop smack in the face. Although many claim this to be perfectly balanced, this aspect escapes me. A lively hop centric brew that many drink straight from the can.
In keeping in line with the supermarket approach of all roads lead to beer, I had a chance to sample some examples from the giant brewing concerns. This included Miller-Coors reintroducing Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve to a national market, providing a gentle reminder that the use of Cascade hops is one of the essential elements in the return to more flavorful beer.
Also I had some Michelob Original Lager, during a MLB playoff game and was pleasantly surprised by its focused quality. Strange that the flagship Budweiser is touted during baseball games, while the one-time top shelf all malt, Munich-style Michelob, is less expensive in price than their Great American Lager, where rice brewed beer is as steady as petrified beechwood.