DRAFT PICKS: Shutting down the beer business

If you think the government shutdown has no effect on you, my fellow explorer, you might be wrong. Especially if you are a real fan of craft beers, and follow breaking trends. Here’s the deal. As brewers around the state and nation prepare to release new beers, open up new breweries turning out new recipes, and introduce new labels to an ever-growing market of fans, a federal agency, now closed and shuttered for the duration, holds the only key to these new and varied launches. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is the agency mandated with the processing of certification and permits allowing brewers to release both new brews (recipes) and new bottle labeling. With it shut down, the release of said brews and bottles is also shut down. Now, to many folks around the country this may seem like peanuts compared to the other programs being closed and otherwise adversely affected by the government shutdown. But to someone like Jim Koch, the guy who owns the Boston Beer Company, the shutdown could turn out to be economically disastrous. In a CBS News This Morning Thursday interview with Koch, the co-founder of the company which bottles Samuel Adams beer and other stunningly popular brews, he explained the government shutdown does and will continue to have a real negative impact on the craft brewing industry “Craft brewing is very regulated,” Koch told CBS. “Every time we have a new beer, we have to have a label approved. Every time we have a new brewing process, we need federal approval and when we have new beers ready to bring to market, we need federal approval.” He then went on to point out that if new varieties he has waiting in the wings can’t be approved in a timely fashion, and the labels and recipes aren’t given the go-ahead, he may end up dumping huge quantities of beer. Dumping! Now, nobody is saying beer lovers around the country will be going thirsty, but they are saying that there may be some substantial delays in new product hitting the shelves, and in new producers being able to begin production. Too bad. But ... moving on. One of the beers reviewed this week is an excellent American Porter. We have discussed Porter in the past. I am a BIG fan of the genre, so it has not gone unmentioned in these columns. Still, some might ask American Porter? English Porter? What’s the difference? Wellll ... there is a difference actually. While some explorers tend to appreciate the old version of Porter more than the upstart American version, there is a lot to be said for the refreshing innovations brewers in the U.S. have applied to American Porter. In very general terms, American Porter is a bit hoppier that its English cousin. Just a touch. Sometimes barely noticeable, but enough to add just a little ‘something’ to the brew and the back-taste. Often, the American brewers use adjunct ingredients, (e.g. coffee or chocolate), to add a bit of flavorful heftiness to the brew. Some brewers have used smoked malts to create a ‘stage’ for the accompanying flavors. There are even some brewers who have gone so far as to barrel age their beer. Whatever the case, American brewers are really creating a brew that is outdoing its English predecessor  in popularity. Now, enjoy this week’s sampling.

Old Leghumper Thirsty Dog Brewing Company Akron, Ohio

This is a simply great example of American Porter. It is black. Leghumper pours black. Sits black. Drinks black. There is a little bit of deep, dark beige head, but not much - and not for long. The first whiff is absolutely luxurious - earthy, a bit nutty, and filled with hints of chocolate, coffee, and of course, caramel. There are some fruity tones hidden deep in the background. Somewhat plum-like, or raisin-esque. (I love making up words!) The scenting process is a joy. Serious students will just want to keep coming back for another sniff - even while they’re sipping. The first wash is most pleasing. This is a hefty brew, but not one of those that you might otherwise use to resurface your driveway! Leghumper is smooth and a bit more subtle than you might expect from the rich scenting experience. It is wonderfully tasteful, and especially well balanced. The chocolate and coffee tones are more than evident, but very, very mellow. There is an underlying hint of the dark fruits, but just enough to add a touch of mystery. In overall mouthful, some may find it a touch flat but I found it more creamy than flat. This is simply and excellent brew. Excellent.

Pumpkin Ale Rivertown Brewing Company Cincinnati, Ohio

It is that time of year, so I’ll make an effort to include some pumpkin ales in coming reviews on a pretty regular basis. This pumpkin ale - appropriately named Pumpkin Ale! - is one of the best I’ve had in a long time. It pours a rich autumn brown with glimmers of deep yellow and flecks of amber - like leaves floating down from the trees. There is a decent amount of head that lingers just a bit, so act quickly if you use the foam as a tool in the scenting. PA smells glorious - really something special. I found it outstanding actually. There is a well developed layer of maltiness that acts as a backdrop to rich scents of pumpkin pie spices - cinnamon, brown sugar, and hints of nutmeg. Then, the taste. At first wash, this actually tastes like pumpkin pie, (and I LOVE pumpkin pie!) In addition to above mentioned malts, and pumpkin pie spices, (I wonder if they used cloves or mace in the brewing?) there is a good wash of vanilla flavor ...kind of at the back of the palate. Late in the sipping. PA is quite fizzy, which is a bit of a surprise. I guess I would have expected a drink of this kind to be a bit less energetic. That can often change a touch in batches, bottles, or as a result of pouring. This is a great example of a pumpkin beer. Exceptional. Truth be known, I’m not sure how available Pumpkin Ale is in our ‘neighborhood.’ It was gifted me by a friend who had been passing through Ohio. I have seen Rivertown Brewing offerings in our area though, so this is very well worth the effort of a search.