The Return Of New Albion Ale

To put it in the chef’s language: this is a beer of love moment. Created with thoughtful respect for brewing tradition, by none other than Jim Koch of Samuel Adams, for the pioneering efforts of microbrewer Jack McAuliffe, founder of the short lived New Albion Brewing Company, credited for starting up artisan brewing in the United States, which, in the nearly 40 years since, has blossomed into a full scale industry. But this was not the case in those days, when there were only 44 breweries in the entire country, and small scale brewing equipment did not exist. Obstacles that made Mr. McAuliffe not only craft his beer, but the tools required to produce it.
Much of this is being written about. There are videos of the resurrection of this recipe at the Boston Beer Company, where the retired pioneer brewer shows Jim Koch an original label bottle, that has no government warning on it. Luckily, the original yeast strain has been preserved from that time, which makes me wonder: is this the yeast used in Ballantine Ale?
Tasting this beer is a reminder that the struggle to make flavorful beer is no accident. A small group of individuals were determined to not live out their days drinking beer without character. That determination continues to expand.
As for this revival, the beer itself is remarkable for its simplicity. Using only cascade hops, this pale (as in clear golden colour) ale has a nutty, honey note that is gentle and very drinkable. Quite subtle, compared to the hop bomb creations of this century, but so what? This was good drinking beer without any pretension, in an era when such creations were very difficult to find.
My advice, for whatever it is worth, is to try and see if you enjoy this ale. Putting aside its historical significance, and damn it, just drink this ale. Cheers!Image


Out From The Old, Into The New

I feel fortunate that when I first secured a job as a beer writer, it was before the Internet and the ridiculous seriousness of the craft beer community, where it seems that people have suddenly discovered that the beer in the bottle or can does not come from the geographic location that the brewery is famous for. Thus Samuel Adams does make beer in Boston, but also in places like here in Cincinnati. The same can be said of so many other craft brewers. Perhaps what might be more helpful, is an acknowledgement of all the regional breweries who have taken on the contracted task of making those recipes into reality.
Another part of this craft equation I find hard to swallow is the idea that if you are a successful brewing operation, expansion means you get drummed out of the exclusive mickey mouse club of craft breweries. Thus, illustrious and historic breweries are deemed not worthy of the rather silly moniker, sometimes for being successful and sometimes for making recipes using those dreaded adjunct grains which were a vital part of making enough beer to quench the thirst of an expanding nation. Ignoring the fact that beer, has always been a drink for all the people, some craft beer enthusiasts work diligently to transform this ancient beverage into a type of economically driven snob winery. The recent release of certain monastery ales from Belgium is a good case in point: standing in line for hours for a chance to purchase some brew that the self appointed authorities at Rate Beer or Beer Advocate claim to be the best beer in the world creates a consumerist-slave dynamic, that has all the redeeming qualities of camping out, in order to purchase the latest Apple gadget. This most certainly, is not what the greatness of beer is all about.
Because I started my study of beer before a lot of this foolery, I was able to meet the beers half way when sampling without all the designations as to what I was experiencing. It was as simple as trying the beers to see if you like them. Not what some certified expert  (I have to laugh) tells you to be true. I am thankful to have lived through a time when micro brewery was the hip phrase of the day, but even that was basically meaningless. But the regional breweries were vital then, just as they are now.

Moving into this new year, the giant brewery portfolio known as A-B InBev has decided it seems, in their quest to capture the lion’s share of the 21-34 market, that anything with a 6% alcohol content should have something to do with the colour black. Therefore a television add for Budweiser Black Crown will appear during the broadcast of the Super Bowl. Much like last year’s Bud Light Platinum which proved that putting a 6% version of Bud Light in a cobalt blue glass bottle was actually pay dirt. So I was not surprised that the recent release of Beck’s Sapphirebecks-sapphire involved a 2 year development of a black glass bottle to hold the 6% reinheitsgebot creation that makes diligent use of the modern German aromatic saphir hops to produce a rather one dimensional lager that just might appeal to the same folks who enjoy Bud Light Platinum.

Another brewery operation that has been criticized, for not making beer in their home operation of Hawaii, is the Kona Brewing Company, which recently has had a national roll out of their portfolio, producing beer as far east as Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Keeping in line this 6% alcohol by volume theme, I chose to sample their Fire Rock Pale AleKona_Fire_Rock_Pale_Ale a copper coloured malty recipe with plenty of hops for support. This is a solid ale with a malty palate and a dry finish. In a word: good.

Lastly, I recently received a bottle of Shiner Prickly Pear Lagerfront-label from a Shiner Family Pack, and discovered an eccentric beer, first released last summer, that is a love it or hate it creation from the Spoetzl Brewery. Like their unique Holiday Cheer (that one brewed with peaches and pecans), Prickly Pear makes use of native Texas Cactus in a very original and unusual way. Fruity to the point of having a grape like note, this recipe seems to validate the late television chef Justin Wilson’s description of beer as “soda pop with foam on top”. Some will like this odd beer, others will not. I like this beer. As the label says: Drink One Down! End Your Drought!