DRAFT PICKS: Craft brewing — More than just a trend
I recently was involved in a discussion made even more relevant by a singular event that took place 80 years ago this week.
On April 10, 1933, a state convention was called in Lansing during which delegates voted overwhelmingly, (99 t0 1), to ratify the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealing the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition.
Proudly, Michigan was the first state in the Union to so ratify the 21st Amendment.
So, 80 years later I was part of a discussion during which the question was asked, “Do you think the craft brewing boom is just a trend or a ‘bubble?’”
I don’t think the growth of craft brewing is a “trend,” a “fad,” a “vogue,” or a “craze.”
I think the increase in the number of craft brewing operations may peak at some point, but I don’t think we will ever find ourselves back in the situation where a couple handfuls of breweries dictate what beer drinkers pour in their steins.
I think, in many ways, the growth of the brewing industry is a simple fact of life.
I don’t base my argument on my love for beer. I do base my argument on my love for GOOD beer.
Look, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, back in the day — before Prohibition — there were a lot of breweries in these United States.
The Prohibition amendment was ratified in 1919. At the time, there were just under 1,350 breweries in the U.S. That number actually was much lower than in the 1870s. During the logging era and the land expansion booms, there were close to 3,300 breweries around the county.
Every small town that had hope for the future was home to a brewing operation.
Big Rapids had a couple. Evart had two — one at a time — including a “branch” operation of the Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Marion had a brewery.
They were all over the place, and each local brewery was turning out good quality, locally produced lagers and ales (mostly lagers), some of which gained national acclaim.
Then Prohibition hit and thousands of breweries were shut down never to return to operation when some 13 years later the law was changed.
Immediately following Prohibition’s repeal, there were just over 450 breweries up and running in the entire county. Nearly 1,000 didn’t survive.
The “big guys” not only survived, but with improvements in refrigeration and shipping, they thrived.
The local operations, however, just never came back ... until now.
Today, there are about the same number of breweries in the U.S. there were 125 years ago (2,126 in 2012 compared to 2,011 in 1887).
What is happening, in my opinion, is that more and more local breweries are turning out much better tasting, more locally specific, and much more sustainable brews than ever before, and the consumer is beginning to discover what he and she have been missing — good tasting beer, locally produced, by people they know, and at a decent price.
People are tired of mass-produced, commercial-grade beer and inevitably turn to something tastier and better if they realize it is there. The realization of the availability of good beer is growing day by day.
Most small, local brewers know their hand-crafted brews will never compete economically with giants such as Bud Light, but the major brewing operations know that the small craft brewers are dishing out a surprising dose of hurt on them when it comes to market share.
The big difference is that locally owned and run craft brewing operations don’t need to “compete” with Bud or Miller. They will do well enough, thank you very much, in their own niche markets with modest growth and more limited national exposure.
And their product will remain true to the craft.
Craft brewing and the growth of craft and micro-brewing operations isn’t simply another trend.
It is actually a return to the way things were once-upon-a-time, when good brew was produced by good people in supportive communities.
Much like it is today.
(Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
Founders Brewing Company
First of all let me point out something not necessarily directly connected to a review of this beer.
While visiting my favorite purveyor of ales and spirits in Grand Rapids, I had an extensive discussion with a REAL specialist who pointed out a big mistake people make regarding beers such as Founder’s recently released KBS.
“When you buy good beer, you don’t always have to rush home and drink them,” he said. “Buy four. Drink two with a good friend. Then cellar two for a special date in the future.”
Some beers can and should be cellared for enjoyment down the road in time.
KBS is one of those beers that will not only store suitably, but can age well and benefit from a little time in the bottle under the correct conditions — Upright, at a temperature of 45 to 50 degrees (a nice cool spot in the basement rather than a refrigerator if possible) for easily up to two years. Serve at about five degrees cooler.
Consider the special, loving effort that went into the production of this ale.
Respect the craft. Respect the craftsman.
Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout is an Imperial Stout that packs a bit of heat and logs in at 11.2 percent ABV.
KBS pours a rich dark brown with sparkling tones of deep black cherry color where the light bounces of the glass just right. It is a luxurious, expressive pour with a surprisingly decent head (about a quarter inch in a pinot noir-style wine glass). The dark beige foam dissipates quickly leaving a spotting of lacing.
There is a lot happening in this beer. The first sniff introduces the explorer to the heightened level of bourbon-esque alcohol. Along with the complex aromas, there is a well-defined “heat” and you can actually smell it/feel it. It is easy to discern the wood bourbon barrel smell — sweet and spirited.
There also is a well-communicated sense of chocolate and fine background scents of coffee and vanilla — all the best elements of a finely and carefully designed list of grains.
At first wash, I found the chocolate malts to play a dominant role with coffee and other caramels being certainly evident , but more muted. There really is no need to waste time trying to find some hidden fruitiness or the more brown-sugary tones that are sometimes present in Imperial Stouts.
What is up front here is simply what is up front. There is no pretending and no pretense.
There is a great balance of respectfully crafted ingredients.
The bourbon tones are strong throughout giving this stout a very full-bodied feel and taste.
For some, it may be just a touch boozy. I think not.
This is far less syrupy than what some might expect. Far more smooth and creamy. The delicate blend of aromas and sensual tastes makes this a brew that is well worth the hype and very well worth the investment.
Frankly, I believe this beer lives up to every word that has been printed or preached in its favor.
KBS has received a lot of honors and accolades — and deserves everyone one of them in my opinion.
This is a great brew.
Dark Horse Thirsty Trout Porter
Dark Horse Brewing Company
Thirsty Trout Porter is categorized as a Baltic Porter. In very short, Baltic Porters differ from the more classic British-style porters in that they incorporate a bit of the Imperial Stout sweetness creating a porter that is a touch milder and sweet than many of the more working class porters.
This Dark Horse offering pours a very dark brown in color and creates only a medium beige-light brown head of foam that is gone pretty much as soon as it arrives.
There is a decided sweet aroma at first whiff. A muted fruitiness is quickly overwhelmed by the more prominent malt elements including an almost mocha like scent. The roasted malts take control quickly and command the scenting process. This is a rather mild smelling brew while still being obviously malt forward.
The first sip is a pleasure — lots of sweetish maltiness, some background supporting tones of coffee and even a bit of espresso. There is a little hint of an almost licorice presence. There arguably is a hint of vanilla with the coffee.
I wrote this down at the start of my ‘‘exploration,” but found it more difficult to identify further into the tasting. I decided to note it nevertheless.
While in scenting I thought the chocolate tones were more mocha, I found that in the tasting the chocolate malts presented themselves more like a dark chocolate. Almost semi-sweet.
This is a brew with a complex flavor presentation — complex but not overly complicated.
Despite any complexity, Thirsty Trout is surprisingly well balanced.
The mouth-feel is pleasant — not at all watery, but not too creamy either.
There is a hint of “heat” at 7 percent ABV, but nothing that will disturb the experience.
This is a fine example of a Baltic Porter. I enjoyed it but expect I will stick with the more traditional worker-style porters.
Whatever the case,
I would, and will pick this up again.
You should too.