Tasting and text by Karori Fry Up
Over two hundred and forty years ago American patriot Paul Revere rode through the night to warn revolutionary leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British army was advancing upon them. As the fourth of July draws near we Thirsty Boys gathered at The Malthouse to celebrate that other revolution, the American craft beer revolution.
Here’s something to think about. If you could walk from Wellington to Portland, Oregon (7125 miles) with all the craft breweries in the United States (approx. 2768) spaced evenly along your journey, you would be able to get a beer every 2.5 miles.
Now a beer tasting spanning fifty years and over 2000 breweries cannot obviously be summed up with five beers in one night. This was going to be challenging.
It is a shame that Beer Without Borders, the Malthouse and others don’t regularly import beer from anywhere near 2000 US craft brewers. However, before Dominic corrects me, I admit, my assumption here is as accurate as Nick Smith’s Auckland house-build calculator.
So to make the tasting harder I had to find a bar in Wellington with a selection through which I could weave a historical narrative, of fifty years, through five beers. It wasn’t easy.
In 1965, when a restaurateur and friend told him that the brewery of his favourite Anchor Steam Beer was about to close, and that he should pay them a visit, Fritz Maytag did that. He saw potential and bought himself a brewery, Anchor Brewing Company.
Maytag would set about improving the quality, consistency and, in fact every aspect of the brewery. He was not an overnight success. For Maytag it was a long hard grind. Despite this, Maytag’s contribution to the craft beer scene was far-reaching. Maytag would inspire many craft brewers, and he shared his knowledge with visitors to his brewery. It seems that any American craft brewer of note had at one time visited the Anchor Brewing Company.
In 1974 Fritz Maytag visited the United Kingdom searching for inspiration. One beer that impressed him above all others was Timothy Taylor Brewery’s The Landlord, a hoppy pale ale.
Somewhat suitably we start our American revolution with an English classic.
Beer no. 1, Timothy Taylor’s The Landlord.
West Yorkshire, UK. ABV 4.1%. IBU approximately 30-40.
This delicious ale poured a fantastic clear gold, with good hop and malt balance, worthy of its four CAMRA beer of the year awards.
Back in San Francisco, Maytag would brew his take on The Landlord to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere’s midnight ride. Anchor’s Liberty Ale first brewed in 1975 was the historic beer that started a revolution. The big American breweries which dominated the market were serving watery lagers with 10 IBU. Maytag wanted a flavoursome beer with up to 40 IBU.
Ideally for our tasting, beer number two would have been Anchor Liberty Ale, which was still on Malthouse’s website, but not in stock.
In 1980 a part-time bike mechanic and home brewer, Ken Grossman and his acquaintance Paul Camusi started a brewery in Chico, California . Inspired by Liberty Ale and its American grown Cascade hop, Grossman and Camusi brewed the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Pale Ale.
Beer no. 2, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Chico, California, USA. ABV 5.6%. IBU 38.
The Sierra Nevada complemented Timothy Tale but the Cascade hop was significantly more forward on the palette.
Every so often invention provokes revolution. Never was that truer than with the birth of the Cascade hop. Worldwide it was thought that European hops were – and had always been – superior to their New World counterparts. That changed in the late 1960s with the development of the Cascade… If one ingredient can be said to start a movement, it would be the Cascade hop – the plant that built craft beer. – sierranevada.com
Indeed, with generous helpings of Cascade hops, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale became the beer which would define the West Coast Style.
As a side note, home brewing of beer above ABV 0.5% was illegal in the United States until 1978. This opened the way for the relatively ‘quiet’ home brew culture to become a fully fledged and sanctioned industry led by the likes of Charlie Parpazian who formed the Brewers Association, published The Complete Joy of Home Brewing and founded the Great American Beer Festival.
[Thanks to the Jesuit for bringing up the important and relevant point of home brewing and Jimmy Carter’s influence].
If I was able to have Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Anchor Liberty Ale, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale my next beer would have been from the now defunct New Amsterdam brewery. In the very early eighties Matthew Reich pioneered successfully craft beer contract brewing. New Amsterdam beer was brewed at F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica, New York. While F.X. Matt brewed his beer, Reich was out marketing it, walking the streets of New York and getting New Amsterdam into bars and restaurants. When New Amsterdam did become a physical brewery it didn’t last long. Matthew Reich’s legacy included offering consultations to budding contract brewers.
One man who paid for a consultation with Reich was Jim Koch. In 1984 Koch, a Harvard graduate, one-time Outward Bound instructor and management consultant, co-founded a brewery which, by nature of its success would go on to challenge the definition of Craft Beer. Jim Koch came from a family of brewers and when he told his father he wanted to start a brewery he received two good pieces of advice. First, make good beer. He wouldn’t compete with the marketing budgets of Big Beer companies, but he could make a superior product to drive demand. Secondly, “You don’t need a brewery”. And so it was that the beer was brewed under contract in Pittsburgh. I believe it is entirely appropriate in any 4th of July or American craft beer revolution tasting to include Boston Beer Company’s flagship beer, the Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Sadly this is another beer which appears on the Malthouse list, but not at this time.
Beer no. 3, Dogfish Head, 60 Minute Pale Ale.
Delaware. ABV 6.0%. IBU 60.
As you can see I could easily have finished my five beers of the American craft revolution in the 1980’s. So for beer number three, of the beers available, I leapt ahead to the 1990’s. Sam Calagione and his wife opened the Dogfish Head brewpub in 1995. His first beer was a pale ale but Sam realized that his tiny brewery would need something different if it was to become anything greater. Sam Calagione would be at the forefront of another American revolution. Dogfish would be a leader in pushing boundaries; adding ingredients like organic Mexican coffee and licorice root to the brewing process. Sam would also take the use of hops to new levels, especially with his 60, 90 and 120 Minute Pale Ales, where hops were added to the brew every minute for 60, 90 and 120 minutes.
Now our tasting sort of skewed the order a little here. Mostly, this was due to the available selection at Malthouse. Beer number four was to have been our last, but due to the lower IBU and respect to our taste buds it was promoted up the order.
Beer no. 4, Maui Brewing Company, CoCoNut PorTeR.
Maui, Hawaii. ABV 6.0%. IBU 30.
I had chosen this session-ending beer to reflect the American craft beer scene as it is today. Good beer is being brewed in more far-flung places than ever before (or at least since post-prohibition in the United States). Clever people, using local ingredients are fueling this expansion to meet demand. Ciaran of the Malthouse had mentioned that Dave Kurth of Coromandel’s Hot Water Brewing may have had a hand in the CoCoNut PorTeR, but I forgot to fact-check with him.
A Thirsty Boys tasting, as is our wont, strays and deviates as the night wears on. Along the way we had briefly discussed brewpubs. We had also discussed Phantom Craft, what we in New Zealand tend to call Faux Craft. We had also discussed the similarities between the American craft beer revolution and the New Zealand craft beer scene. And so it was that beer number five also deviated, …into two beers.
Beer no. 5, Rogue Ales, XS Dead Guy Ale.
Newport, Oregon. ABV 8.1%. IBU 60.
Beer no. 6, Rogue Ales, XS Imperial I2PA.
Newport, Oregon. ABV 9.5%. IBU 95.
Like Dogfish, Rogue deserves its place in the extreme beers category. Founded by three Nike executives in 1988, Rogue is a Thirsties’ favourite. The XS range is excessive, and it was a fitting way to end our American craft beer revolution with a beer rating 95 IBU.
Voted best beers, first was Thomas Taylor’s The Landlord, and second was Rogue XS Dead Guy Ale. The Brits scoring one back over the Americans.
The last act of the night, however, was to toast my ancestor, Thomas Graves. In 1781, Graves, a British Admiral, lost a naval battle which effectively for Britain, lost the American Revolution. It is with great pride that I celebrate the incompetence and failure of my family which resulted in the birth of a free nation.
What would your 4th of July line-up be?