A taste of the real stuff

At a recent outing in Big Rapids, I was once again accused of being a beer snob. Sigh. OK. Look class. I admit, I don’t drink what I have called in the past “corporate” or “industrial” beers.       I just don’t like ‘em. And ... I would rather invest my hard-earned cash paying for brews that are the result of real dedication to the craft of brewing than waste money on mass-produced, hops flavored water. Here’s why. Most of the beer, (by volume), produced in these United States is churned out by one of two companies – Anheuser-Busch or Miller. These two companies produce a couple of the most popular beers on the market – Bud Lite and Miller Lite. And then there is that most American of all beers ... Budweiser. Trouble is, these beers aren’t American. Both are just part of a larger stable of beers owned and produced by foreign companies. Budweiser, (and all its attendant beers), is one “department” in the AB InBev conglomerate which is  run out of Leuven, Belgium. AB InBev is huge and produces over 200 brands of beer, some of which might surprise you – Beck’s and Stella Artois for example. Since the Europeans took over Budweiser and others, the word has gone out that for the first time in history, the recipes are changing ... ever so slightly. It’s a money thing. There are actually websites set up to protest the change in the Beck’s beer recipe. Then there is Miller. Miller is also not American owned anymore. It was purchased by a South African company based in the United Kingdom and is now called SABMiller. They turn out some 80 beer brands including Leiniekugel. Sigh, again. The point is, when you buy a corporate or “industrial” beer you not only aren’t necessarily buying American beer anymore, (the profits certainly aren’t staying in the U.S.) You also may not be buying the beer you thought you were. Fact is, the recipes are changing ... ever ... so ... slightly ... But then, there are the smaller, craft breweries still holding on and keeping the faith. Let’s look at one, for example, (and there are plenty of others.) Rogue Brewery is, by their own declaration, dedicated to growing their own. It’s on their label, and just about everything else they have printed. For example, the Rogue team are turning out a scrumptious Pumpkin Patch Ale, (see below.) This inventive brewing process includes fresh pumpkins grown in a patch on the brewery farm - immediately adjacent to the brewery’s own 42 acres of hops vines. The pumpkins are harvested, roasted, and tossed into a brewing kettle to blend with a fine ale and an excellent spice list creating a delicious one-of-a-kind brew. This couldn’t be done at the corporate beer level. It’s not financially feasible. Rogue uses no chemicals, preservatives, or additives in their brewing process. On their website, the Rogue team declares: “Rogue is a small revolution, which expresses itself through handcrafted ales, porters, stouts, lagers and spirits, and this is the way we conduct our business. The spirit of the Rogue brand, even the name, suggests doing things differently, a desire and a willingness to change the status quo ... “We do what we do to become a meaningful industry leader through the products we create and by building an organization that is successful without being big, bureaucratic, or common. To be a leader doesn’t mean you have to be the biggest. The best leaders lead by example and by doing things the right way, even if it means going against the grain ... The Rogue brewing team have a list of points they call the “Fundamental Agreement.” ● The way ahead is clear. ● Be honest about the battlefield. ● Throw out the old rules that don’t make sense. ● Get out of the comfort zone. ● Go to the front of the fight and stay there. ● And most important, cut out all the B.S. Behavior principles based on the Fundamental Agreement were developed and dubbed “The Rogue Way.” ● Listen generously. ● Speak straight. ● Be there for each other. ● Honor commitments. ● Give acknowledgment and appreciation. That, ladies and gentlemen, is class act brewing, not people sitting in Belgium overseeing a U.S. market and cutting back a bit on the recipe in order to save a penny or two. That’s why I like Rogue, Crankers, Founders, Dogfish Head, Big Sky, Fort Collins and a whole slew of others. They are the real deal. And they are all American.

This week's draft picks

Chatoe Rogue First Growth Pumpkin Patch Rogue Ales • Oregon Oh My Goodness. This was a mighty fine ale and well enjoyed. Highest marks. All glory, laud and honor to the Rogue team for a pumpkin ale that will most likely be much more widely accepted than some similar offerings hitting the seasonal market. Pumpkin Patch pours a rich, deep amber color that is a touch cloudy and creates an inviting beige, almost tan head of foam. Without the head, this wonderful ale almost looks like a dark cider in texture. Most inviting. A heady mixture of spices and malts blend to give Pumpkin Patch a welcoming aroma, There is a depth of scent that makes the investigative steps so enjoyable. The rich malts lead the way, but there is a healthy background of fine spice that doesn’t just announce “pumpkin pie” as do so many similar efforts. At first wash, the richness of this ale explodes on the palate. The malts basically set up a base for the layering of wonderful spicing. Vanilla and cloves are pronounced. Cinnamon takes its place with pride. I’m sure there is some cardamom - one of my favorite spices ever. (It’s a Mediterranean Basin thing.) I’ll bet there is nutmeg tucked away as well. You really need to slow down a bit with this one. Slow down, and start over again. Deep smell. Deep taste. Then ... enjoy. The mildly starchy taste of roasted pumpkin mixes so elegantly with the finely selected menu of malts. What a glorious balance, this is simply brewing art created by people who care deeply about what they are doing. The mouth-feel is velvety, almost creamy, with mild carbonation. Pumpkin Patch is simply a joy. I’d imagine this is a limited edition, or at least seasonal brew.   Indian Brown Ale Dogfish Head Craft Brewery • Delaware This is a wonderful American Brown Ale that the brewers claim is “ ... a cross between a Scotch Ale, an India Pale Ale and an American Brown ...” A tall order, but one well filled. I love these Dogfish guys. They love what they do, and it is telling. Indian Brown Ale pours so rich and deep brown but with inviting burgundy streaking at the edges when held up to the light. There is a creamy head that accentuates a rich malty smell tinged with a mild hoppiness that is noticeable, but not too forward or pronounced. At first sip, the hoppiness becomes a more obvious and noticeable with a healthy swirl around the mouth. As odd as it may sound, there is almost an IPA quality to this ale with the malts backing the brew up in an almost guarded way. Indian Brown is a bit  ... odd. But in the most inviting and even exciting fashion. There are the ‘standard’ malt tastes - mild caramel, a touch of coffee, a smidge of brown sugar. But there is so much more. Much, much more. The florals add a very, very refreshing note. It’s exciting to note that there are some brewers who are willing to take a traditionally malt-forward brew, and pull the ol’ switcheroo bringing the hops to the front all the while retaining the visual impression of a dark ale. Gosh this was good. A great example of how smaller brewing teams with dedicated brewmeisters are able to play with the recipes and turn out some inspiring beers.