Rising Tide Brewing Company Teaches Us How to Truly Drink Responsibly

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write about Rising Tide Brewing Company’s Zephyr.  It’s an autonomous IPA, a true original in our beer-scape of citrusy West Coast knockoffs.  It tastes more of pears than grapefruit or pine.  It hits the pallet with something unique.

Rising Tide 2But I have something more pressing on my mind.  Something pertinent to the social landscape we’re currently mired in.

Last Friday I visited the Rising Tide tasting room in Portland to fill my growler with Zephyr.  (I needed it for research, you see.)  Since I was standing in a tasting room amongst fermenters and friends, I had a few samples.  My friends and I got talking to the woman pouring drinks, and I started complaining, as I’m wont to do, that they should sell six packs of their beer instead of the 22 oz bombers they currently sell.

The gregarious tasting room concierge explained, “We’ll never hit the price point we need to sell six packs.”

“I get it,” I said, “you’re the little guy, and shelf space in stores costs money.”

“Yes,” she said, “plus we have to pay for our space and equipment, and they pay all our health insurance.”

Say what?! I thought.

“Say what?!” Tim said.

“That’s amazing,” Anna said.

The woman smiled at our exuberance for her health insurance coverage.  “The brewery can be a dangerous place, because of that, they probably — ”

Tim cut her off, “Because you work you should have health insurance.”

We raised our glasses.  Hell, yes.  Rising Tide pays their employees’ health insurance.  Do all microbreweries?  What kind of sad world do we live in that we’d assume that a small business wouldn’t?  Oh yeah, we live in this world.

“Well, now I feel like an idiot asking you guys to rush into six packs,” I lamented.

The woman smiled.  “Don’t,” she said and moved to help other customers.

I wonder how many companies eschew buying health insurance for their employees in the name of profit, growth, and Ayn Rand egotism.  The answer: a lot.  That’s part of the reason we have a healthcare crisis in this country.

Big beer companies urge us to ‘Drink Responsibly’ at the end of their glamorous commercials awash with supermodels and watered down beer.  While here in Portland, we have a beer company that truly allows us to ‘Drink Responsibly.’

Moral of the story: Drink Rising Tide and Drink Responsibly.

I’m going to write about Zephyr.  The beer’s way too good to be a footnote to this post.  But with the state of the health care system right now — The Affordable Health Care Act under attack by a billionaire-funded GOP, corporations doing all they can to withhold health insurance from employees — I wanted to take a moment to praise a company who not only touts a great product, but possesses a social conscience as well.

Employees deserve health care.  Period.

Thanks, Rising Tide.

Cheers!

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Hill Farmstead Brewery is a Microbrew Dream

You find yourself in Burlington, Vermont, and you don’t know why. You’re not frightened. You’re where you’re supposed to be.

It’s night. You walk down Church Street and get a Bombay Grab IPA at Vermont Pub and Brewery. This is delicious, you think.

After tipping the angelic woman behind the bar, you walk up St. Paul and take a right on Bank. You push through the doors of the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. When you get to the bar in the back, you know you’re going to ask the bartender for a Heady Topper, and you know he’s going to say they’ve sold out. But you ask anyway.

“We’ve sold out,” he says. Without waiting for your reply, he pours a beer in a glass and pushes it towards you.

“What is it?” you ask.

Hill Farmstead Sign“Abner. Hill Farmstead Brewery,” he says and floats away to the next customer.

You drink. Good God. It’s fresh. Piney. There’s tropical citrus. And the finish. Smooth. The words ‘world class’ ring in your head.

You try to catch the barman’s eye. You want another. A man, three feet tall, maybe less, tugs on your shirt.

“Go there,” he says.

“Where?”

“Go there,” he repeats. “Greensboro, Vermont.”

Then he’s gone. You drive to your hotel. You dream of rolling mountains and endless farmland.

You awake with singular purpose. It’s a sunny fall day. A day that feels infinite.

The houses along Route 15 gleam. After forty-five minutes, there are more cows than houses. You see a winery on your left, but you don’t stop. This isn’t about wine; it’s about beer.

Your car soldiers up 15, through towns that seem impossible.

There’s a sign for Greensboro. You turn.

No signs for Hill Farmstead Brewery pop out of the bucolic landscape. You’re lost, but you don’t panic. A woman wearing a full Carhart jumpsuit leads a horse along the dirt road. She’ll have answers. And she does.

“Turn around, just passed the next bend,” she says.

You thank her and she smiles. Maybe you could live here forever, burn your old life and move in with this woman and her horse. You shake the siren song of the landscape and turn the car around.

Hill FarmsteadOne bend and there it is. Out of this landscape appears a building with cedar shingles so new they’re still yellow.

Through the construction, you find the hobbit door. You push into the tasting room. Your brother’s there.

He says, “I’ve already paid for your tasting.”

Hill TastinLike all dreams, the tasting is temporal, fleeting. The Double Citra IPA is a citra hop manifesto. The Edward is an everyday APA dream. The Harlan IPA is clean and dry — yeasty. The Abner IPA already tastes like an old friend. There’s one more beer to taste. A porter. A dark beast named Everett. It’s roasty. Malty. Yeasty. You imagine that somewhere on this land there’s a living culture of yeast that brings all these beers together, creating the Hill Farmstead experience.

You buy a bottle of Abner. Your brother rides shotgun in your car and you both marvel at the moon.

“How does life after this go on?” you ask.

“You live your life, and you come back here for more,” he says.

“Oh,” is all you can say as the moon seems to nod in agreement. You clutch your bottle of Abner to be sure it’s real.

Always Remember, It’s Just Beer

To some people, the title of this blog might be blasphemy.  Like when Mick Jagger sang through those big puffy lips, “I know, it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.”  A lot people were up in arms.  Only rock and roll?!  How can Mick be saying this only five years after Woodstock?  How?!

Well, easy, because it is only rock and roll.

And that’s where I’m at right now with beer.  Whoa, I know, I’m the guy who keeps touting this as the greatest beer renaissance in the history of humanity.  I still assert that this is the most wondrous time on earth to drink beer, but as I imbibe on the most brilliant beers being brewed in the U.S. right now, I keep coming across a certain sanctimonious attitude that I think is the wrong way to approach something as simple as beer.

Zombie Dust SixerHere’s an example.  Recently, I was lucky enough to have some Zombie Dust come my way. (Thanks again, Jeremy!)  When it arrived, my friends and I treated every bottle like it was nectar poured straight from the good Lord’s teet.  I found myself thinking, Only drink one a day and make sure it’s at this temperature in this kind of glass.  Shit, I was tempted to wear the white gloves those guys don when handling Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Guess what, at the end of the day, it’s just beer.  It’s made from water, grains, malt, hops, yeast, and, of course, love.  Those are some pretty humble ingredients.

Maybe what I’m asking is that we not do to beer drinking what wine connoisseurs have done to wine.  Let’s have some dignity.

My friend who works for a wine distributor told me they have a nickname for buyers who over-think every bottle of wine they order: cork dorks.

Let’s not be the beer equivalent of cork dorks.

In a lot of ways, though, the hop head might just be beer’s cork dork.

Here’s an SAT analogy:

Cork dork is to wine as hop head is to beer.

I’m a hop head.  Guilty as charged.  And I love talking and writing about the beer making process and what hops were used at what time of the boil.

But what I’m asking for, ladies and fellas, is that we don’t over-think our beer drinking. It’s just beer drinking.  You know what, let’s call it what it truly is: beer drinkin’.  Let’s lose our pretensions along with that refined ‘g’ at the end of ‘ing’ words.

Heady ManI’m going to make three promises to myself and the world right here on the internet where everyone can hear me.

Promise One: If I have a Heady Topper (or near equivalent) in my fridge, I’m going to drink it when I feel like it.  Even if my palate doesn’t feel fully cleansed and the beer is below 65 degrees.

Promise Two: The next time I see someone drinking a Sam Adams, I’m not going to berate them and explain that it’s not really a microbrew.

Promise Three: I’m going to stop trying to sound like the smartest beer drinker ever when I’m in a beer conversation.  Instead of talking, I’m going to fill my mouth with beer.  Delicious beer.

Let’s keep the beer drinkin’ simple.  It’s beer, for God’s sake.

Cheers!

Zombie Dust is a Monster Brew

I’ve figured it out.  It came to me while I was enjoying a glass of Zombie Dust this past weekend.  It all seems so clear now I feel foolish to have missed it before.

Here it is: the key to making world class beer is keeping the taste notes simple and graceful.

Here’s another way to think about it, it’s like when a great musician plays a brilliant solo, he doesn’t play a lot of notes just because he can.  Rather, the solo is brilliant, because the few notes he does play are the right notes.

Zombie Dust SixerLet’s explore this epiphany further using Zombie Dust as a test case.  Three Floyds Brewing Company’s Zombie Dust is currently number six on Beer Advocate’s list of the top 250 beers in the world.  And having enjoyed Heady Topper (currently number one) and Pliny the Elder (currently number three), I’ll assert that Zombie Dust can hang with the big boys.  The Dust shares some important characteristics with Heady and Pliny.

None of these beers are over-the-top, punch-you-in-the-face beers.  When I started writing about beer, I figured most of the highest ranked brews in the world would be big beers with bold flavor spectrums.  This isn’t the case, and I believe it’s because when a beer tries to be too big, it just ends up being a mess with muddled flavor and tons of alcohol.

Zombie Dust’s genius lies in its elegant simplicity.

Zombie Dust LabelThis beer is all about the citra hop.  When I made a clone batch in my kitchen, the recipe called for eight ounces.  Now that I’ve finally had a glass of Zombie Dust (thanks, Jeremy!), I can see that Three Floyds has figured out how to let the citra hop shine at the forefront of the Zombie Dust experience.  The citra hops impart a pineapple and grapefruit citrus freshness to the beer that helps create its world class character.  Their hop schedule during the boil and dry hopping stages have created the perfect balance of bitter, flavor, and aroma.  Instead of going big with the other ingredients, Three Floyds dialed back on the grains and malt, so what you have is the exact right amount of sweetness just below the citrusy bitter.  The beer also has an impeccable body and mouth feel reminiscent of Pliny the Elder.

Cheers to Three Floyds for giving the citra hop the right stage to shine on!

From the description above, it’s clear that Zombie Dust isn’t a beer where the brewmasters threw everything they could find into the brew kettle.  Not at all.  Zombie Dust has a refined taste.  A reserved brilliance.  The difficulty with doing something where the boldness comes in the simplicity, of course, is that there’s no where to hide imperfections.  And really, this beer has no imperfections that my palate can discern.  Like Miles Davis playing a four note solo, each note needs to be the right one or it just sounds rudimentary.  There’s a fine line between simple-genius and simple-stupid, and Zombie Dust, like many of its brethren atop the beer world, has figured out the alchemy of simple-genius.