As it happens, a friend of mine now works for a beer distribution company in south Alabama where my brother lives, and this friend - Chase - wanted me to help him scout out some breweries for his company to look out for. This came shortly after Alabama lifted its ABV restrictions to 13.9%, which opens the way for a lot more variety in the beer selection there.
As it also happens, Chase and my brother and their whole crowd are very much “mass produced” beer drinkers, with Bud Light and Natty Light being the swills of choice. Chase has sampled a lot more variety simply because of his job, and my brother Ray has had more variety from traveling and because of me, but “bringing the beer” was gonna be an interesting “sell”, if not a tough one.
The beers you see in that picture to the left are some of the ones I brought. And we drank them all. This thing that I’m writing now is sort of the rundown of those beers, why I chose them, and what the overall reception was.
Before I break it down, though, I gotta tell you a couple of interesting things I learned by talking to Ray and Chase. First, Chase told me about some of the odd policies that some breweries have regarding who can carry which of their beers. I was actually surprised to find that some brewers won’t let their beers be sold side by side with certain competitors. That flies in the face of the whole “we’re in this together” mentality that I perceived among the small-time breweries out there. I suppose I can accept that there’s gonna be some fierce competition, considering that their “audience” is relatively small (although it is growing!) but I guess it’s fiercer between some than it is between others. And all of them have to be on the offensive/defensive against the mass market guys, who always have the money and resources to elbow in on certain flavors and varieties and edge out the little guys with abysmal imitations backed by slick ad campaigns. Still, if any of you brewers out there read this, and you have a specific reason for not allowing a certain distribution “combo,” enlighten me. I’m not gonna give out your secret, but I am waaaay curious.
Another thing I learned is that, silly as the alcohol restrictions in my state of Georgia are, Alabama has some even more fucked up policies, and most of those fucked up policies stem from people in the religious right strong-arming state lawmakers into making everyone adhere to their religious dogma. Here’s the deal with that: I believe that fundamental religious people vote more than alcohol consumers and less dogmatically religious people do, and that makes their voice and money more vital for policy-makers, even though the uber-religious gotta-infringe-on-your-rights-so-you-don’t-commit-a-sin folks are in the minority. (Are they in Alabama? Someone enlighten me there, too.)
So here’s the deal: if you like alcohol or you think that drinking or purchasing alcohol should be a personal choice, then vote more often. Vote every chance you get. The fruitcakes vote, and so should you.
OK. Stepping off soapbox. On to the beer.
1. Yeti Imperial Stout by Great Divide. This is what I started them with. It was a specific request from Chase, and I’m not sure why he requested it, because this dark, chocolaty imperial stout is practically the opposite of Bud Light. The head on the Yeti is darker than most ales, and this beer has the consistency of motor oil - not fizzy water. Personally, I like this beer a lot - it’s very representative of what imperial stouts have to offer. So you can imagine I had no complaints when I ended up finishing the bottle by myself (Chase and Ray drank a little and were ready to move on).
2. Victory Prima Pils. Victory is one of the breweries Chase’s company is courting, and for “session” drinking - when you plan on drinking a lot of a single type of beer - this is currently one of my favorites. I think it’ll go over well with Chase’s potential audience, and after he and Ray tasted it, they agreed. For you, dear reader, it’s a solid lighter choice, a pilsner with just enough IBUs (that’s a measurement of bitterness for the lay person) to make it more interesting than Heineken.
3. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale. Currently, this big hoppy IPA is one of my favorites. My brother decided to grill that evening, so we had an assortment of sirloin and New York strip to chow on, along with potatoes and grilled zucchini. As luck would have it, dinner was served just as I cracked open the Torpedo I’d brought along. Allow me to say simply this - I like IPAs a lot, but I’ve never really paired one with a steak (I don’t eat a lot of steak). This pairing - the Torpedo and the sirloin - was incredible. I’ll do it again, and you should try it, too. BTW, Chase and Ray liked the Torpedo, but unfortunately Chase’s competitor already has a contract with Sierra Nevada.
4. Three Philosophers by Ommegang. I personally prefer IPAs and stouts to Belgian-style ales, but I like Ommegang a lot - the freshness of an American-brewed Belgian vs. an imported one is distinct enough to taste. Also, the cherry finish on their Three Philosophers is a strong selling point for me. Apparently, it’s a selling point for my brother as well - this was his favorite of the evening, and he’s asked me to bring him some down when I come back to visit. Of course, Chase could always get a contract with Ommegang and Ray would always have Three Philosophers available….
5. Dale’s Pale Ale by Oskar Blues Brewery. While the idea of quality beer in a can fascinates me, I have to admit that the variety I brought was breaking down at this point, especially as I was discovering that Chase and Ray didn’t have the taste for hops that I have, and several of the beers that follow are on the hoppy side. I brought the hops because it’s summer, when I prefer to trade malt for hops. This unassuming piece of canned heaven packs a lot of hops - not the most I’ve ever tasted, but enough that I consistently buy Dale’s for “sessions.” And Dale’s isn’t even my favorite offering from Oskar Blues.
6. Chimay Red. Nowadays, I find typical Belgians like this one kind of uninteresting, but I figured it was representative of a beer style Chase would need to pursue. Sure enough, he brought over a Piraat which we didn’t open, but that I find similar in taste to Chimay. My brother actually liked the Chimay (not as much as the Three Philosophers, though!), so I guess we discovered a niche beer style he’s going to enjoy for a while.
Which brings me to a point that I made in my very first blog post about beer - that even the most dedicated Budweiser drinker could probably find a flavor or variety in all the varieties out there that would please him (or her) enough to make a break from the mass-produced market.
7. Abita’s Strawberry Lager. Which brings us to Derrick. Derrick is Ray’s good friend and almost next door neighbor, a hilarious ragamuffin of a guy - imagine if Gilligan was outspoken and actually stood up for himself. Anyway, we cracked open this strawberry-flavored concoction from Abita, and Derrick wouldn’t let anyone else have any. Derrick’s preferred libation is Natural Light, so there you have it - my point made in spades. For myself, when I first tried the Strawberry Lager, I was expecting a lambic-style sweet drink or at the very least an imitation of Pete’s Strawberry Blonde. Abita’s drink, however, is much better than either, because while the strawberry is certainly present, it is never overpowering. Not something I’d drink every day, but certainly something worth having a few times over a hot summer.
8. Rogue Dead Guy Ale. It was getting dark when we opened this one, and I thought we were opening the next one down (the Donkey Punch). So I was surprised when my hops-resistant friends actually liked this beer. Then I looked and saw that they had actually opened this malty, dry, brown bock-style beer. Since these guys were familiar with Amber Bock, I was no longer surprised. A step up, though, so mission accomplished.
9. Sweetwater Donkey Punch. This is the latest offering from Sweetwater’s Dank Tank, their single vat dedicated to the truly experimental and unique. Well, a few year’s back the Donkey Punch would have been experimental and unique, before places like Moylan’s went hop crazy and places like Dogfish Head went off the infusion deep end. Now the Donkey Punch (which, because of censorship policies now bears the double entendre moniker DP) is pretty standard. This doesn’t make it a bad beer - it’s not - but it makes it kinda… normal. Except for the name.
10. Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale. Naturally, we all had a good time reading the label of this strong red ale, which echoes the sentiments I have toward mass-produced beer almost exactly (including the arrogant stance: fuck fizzy piss beer). For them, the Arrogant Bastard went over well enough, but I think it was too late in the evening for it to make a lasting impression. For me, this ale represents a typical red or brown ale, except that when you’re sitting down and drinking it, I mean really paying attention to what you’re drinking, the complexity of the flavor is astounding.
And that’s it. That’s what we plowed through, the four of us - me, Chase, Ray, and Derrick - on a Monday night in July, with the temperature a balmy 85 degrees (at night!) and the fireflies and mosquitoes battling for our attention.
Fortunately, most of our attention was focused on the beer.