We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The opening lines of the United States Constitution, which long ago set ideas in motion that continue to sculpt this nation, deserve some new attention for how they apply to the spirit with which craft beer is made in this country. It would make more than a modicum of sense considering how much some of the Founding Fathers, and undoubtedly the mothers too, purportedly drank. But, also because of the rather simple way that small to moderate scale brewing has improved many lives and imbued localities with an enriched sense of unity.
Patronizing local breweries, and bars that sell locally produced beer (wine and liquor as well) helps everyone out in a small but significant way. It ties people closer to the idea of buying locally produced vegetables, fruit, beef, chicken, or pork. And that spent money stays local, whereas some or all of it might otherwise find its way out of state, or out of country. The idea of buying locally produced food never seemed like a terrible idea, but I realize that after slowly addicting myself to small craft beer producers, I feel much more tied to and think more about local sources of… well, everything. Soap, laundry detergent, food, whiskey, furniture, etc.
As it happens, I have other reasons for opening with the Preamble to the Constitution, because of course many of us have experienced the convoluted fact-check nightmare that ensues when listening to bar-top historians sputter their knowledge while also enjoying weird and interesting brews that aren’t mainstream delicacies…. There’s something about the sort of person prone to enjoying that fine assortment of boiled and fermented hops, malt, water, and barely that also makes them prone to the nerdalectics involved (think dialectics) when discussing famous historical figures. Those half-in-the-bag stories, after all, say something about how the average drinking woman and man would like to have lived back then when the roots of the now dried up, sour, and beaten-dead-gone American Dream first took hold in colonial soil.
I’m referencing the old adage that politics go so well with beer. I’d amend that statement a bit to involve Scotch also, but the point comes across well enough. I have a half-in-the-bag story I’ll tell a bit later in this ramble, but I should say I’m more proud of the fact that I love talking drunk history with other people than I would be if I could actually shit fire… mostly because as awe-inspiring as that may sound, I imagine it would be rather uncomfortable for myself and those in close proximity…. Truly, consider the consequences. Think of how dangerous Porta Potties would become….
But that’s okay. Those are the questions we craft brewophiles bear as a burden. Well… we move on to the beer reviewing.
The first I’d like to write about hales from the Westbrook Brewery, located in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, which appears to be roughly three hours from where I now live. This is fortunate, in a sense, but for only one reason: I would blow wads of money if I happened upon a local bar that sold their beer.
I paid $12.49 for a sixer of Westbrook IPA at a Piggly Wiggly (a grocery chain I have only seen in South Carolina, though they are headquartered in Keene, New Hampshire, with a mascot that looks like a beige and bloated English doctoral candidate wearing a white cap and getting a slightly better-than-average reach-around from a U.S. Senator in a suspect bathroom stall in some airport in Illinois before breakfast).
Anyone who knows me even a little would understand that this is not necessarily something significant, because I have a rather simple genetic malformation that predisposes my brain to spend money on beer and brown liquors I have not yet tried. But even more serious, I spend money on what I already know and love, and spend it often when I shouldn’t. Ah, the sign of a true enthusiast, some of you might be thinking. And I would love to agree, if I didn’t know better.
Anyway, peruse the Westbrook site a little bit and you’ll find their mission statement, which is simple enough. It reads: “Our mission is to make the most interesting, drinkable, and generally awesome beer possible.” Short. Succinct. Hemingway.
As an aside, you can also peruse the Internet a little more and find that the mind behind Westbrook’s brews was only 25 years old when he started his project… if not younger.
Now, when thinking about describing the age of a woman or man beginning a brewery… 25 seems a tad young. But, since I’m past that age, and know damn well enough the basic process of brewing beer, I’m actually surprised that people aren’t starting breweries at ages younger than that. Perhaps that’s just naïveté on my part? Perhaps not.
Anyway, the beer packaging caught my eye and I picked up a sixer for sampling. So, to start, the beer can simply looks good.
But that’s not the important part. Out of the can, the Westbrook IPA tastes like a frothy liquid, full of hops and indeed awesomeness, which compliments their stated goal. It’s certainly drinkable, and piques interest about how their other beers taste in the mouth. So, overall I’d say they achieved their benchmark.
The hops do not overpower, which is to say that when I poured the beer at what I would guess to be between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it tasted superb. Take this to heart: one way to test the subjective heaviness of a beer is to drink it on a hot, humid day, which I did. You do this because on hot and humid days, some drinks tend to bog a body down. Think about trying to drink half a gallon of milk when the mercury reads 85 and the humidity makes you sweat every time you stand up and you’ll get the idea. So, if a beer is drinkable under the same conditions, it’s probably refreshing at almost any time.
And, after two and three, I certainly felt as though I could continue drinking in spite of the vicious heat glue-gunning my sweat-soaked t-shirt to my back. The sole drawback I observed about the beer was its price. And even then, it wasn’t bad by my standards. I paid $12.49 for a sixer at a Piggly Wiggly (a grocery chain I have only seen in South Carolina, though they are headquartered in Keene, New Hampshire, with a mascot that looks like a beige and bloated English doctoral candidate wearing a white cap and getting a slightly better-than-average reach-around from a U.S. Senator in a suspect bathroom stall in some airport in Illinois before breakfast).
Since I no longer have access to wholesale pricing of liquor, wine, and beer (I used to work at a package store), I’m not sure if that’s a rip-off, or not. That said, paying six dollars for three beers is without overstatement remarkably cheaper than buying three beers of equal quality at a bar. So, the price doesn’t bother me.
To aid in the taste testing, my brother offered a tongue. He is not much of a beer drinker, which I honestly commend him for because on paper his lineage would dictate anyone but a person who does not like beer. He took a moment to taste this one and offer some adjectives. Curiously, the nasal passages of my younger brother detected gentleness, with a kick, and his tongue affirmed. “It’s not strong initially,” he said. “Soft, but sturdy. Melodramatic.”
Soft… but sturdy? Originally, I heard him say “Soft, but Saturday…” which did not make too much sense, and upon clarification I could still not see what he was getting at. I have never heard someone describe a beer as “sturdy”, but I certainly have heard people describe a beer as “solid” so I guess that works well enough. But, Seriously Hungover Jesus… only my brother would call a beer melodramatic. And, somehow, I agree with that. It makes sense, even though I can’t say why for sure.
Now, the Thomas Creek I had the following night. It’s called the Deep Water Dopplebock Lager, and is a beautiful beer.
First thing to know is a dopplebock is a German style lager beer. If you have had the good fortune to try the Harpoon 100 Barrel Series Helles Blond Bock, you’ve had a relative of the bock. The dopplebock is to the lager what the double IPA is to an IPA, or at least that’s how I’ve looked at them. The bock has a third brewing stage called an eisbock, the strongest in alcohol content and flavor. The only eisbock I’m aware of consuming is the Aventinus Weizen Eisbock, which if memory serves, clocks in around 11 percent abv.
Eisbocks are interesting because the beer is subjected to freezing temperatures during the brewing process. Then some of the resulting ice is removed, and that means a higher alcoholic content in the beer as well as concentrated flavors. One way to think about this process is to consider whiskies. Often when that delicious brown liquor comes out of a cask, it’s a tad strong for the average consumer’s palette (which I disagree with both in principal and spirit. A strong Scotch whisky—remember, no “e” when dealing with Scotch—is a beautiful thing.), so distilleries often add water to lower the proof of the whisky. Eisbock basically reverses that process. I’m also reminded of a time I sampled a Pabst Blue Ribbon eisale, to possibly coin a word, on route to a beer tasting at BAR in New Haven. I had cracked a can of Pabst in the car (legal in Connecticut if you are not driving, which I was not) and found it to be mostly frozen, but being an ardent conservationalist, I drank it anyway. It held the essence of a PBR, but certainly had much less overall taste… and had to be almost entirely alcohol because the can felt like it had cold rocks inside.
I have never heard someone describe a beer as “sturdy”, but I certainly have heard people describe a beer as “solid” so I guess that works well enough. But, Seriously Hungover Jesus… only my brother would call a beer melodramatic. And, somehow, I agree with that. It makes sense, even though I can’t say why for sure.
Anyway, back to the Deep Water. When I first tasted it, I wrote down a few adjectives: “toffee, caramel, hint of maple, brown sugar, roasted something,” which actually meshes reasonably well with the breweries website description of their product: “rich creamy flavor, roasted nut tones and an easy finish with notes of coffee and toasted chocolate.”
Were I in their place, I would not have written “toasted chocolate” simply because when coffee is involved, it’s kind of obvious where the “toasted” or more accurately (in an asinine way) “roasted” flavors originate. The nut tones I can agree with as well. After reading that, I realized it tastes like a cousin of the Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. For the record, the Thomas Creek brew has a few points on Sammy Smith’s Nut Brown. First, the labeling of the bottle is better—a low blow on my part because the Sammy Smith’s labels are just ugly as shit in general and almost any brewery could beat them in a visual contest. And second, the beer is cheaper, clocking in at $8.99 for a sixer compared to the same price or more for four beers, while offering the same quality of beer to the gutty works.
It’s a solid beer, and I definitely recommend the dopplebock by Thomas Creek, as well as the IPA by Westbrook.
Hmm, I haven’t gotten around to telling that half-in-the-bag story I mentioned above. What I was going to recall to you was this: I have watched and gotten angry over many elections in the years that the forger of this Universe has allowed me to live. And, long before I could legally drink, I recall sitting with a Honey Brown, or a Red Dog, or whatever I could get my hands on that wasn’t my father’s beer… and vociferously hammering one television or another with popcorn bowls, or remotes, or one time part of a sandwich my brother had just made for me because he liked to do things like that and our parents weren’t home and I knew damn fucking well that if I threw anything with substantial density I’d crack the TV and incur living hell for it…. That night was in 2004, and John Kerry was debating President George W. Bush, and the entire process of the debate system as I thought it should operate fell apart in my eyes like a balsa wood model plane subjected to a carbon-steel battle axe, and reduced my idealistic and naïve understanding of how this country operated to the pointless pseudo-entertainment that the presidential debates had become… still are, for that matter.
No amount of the fifth of Jim Beam we passed around seemed able to alleviate the skittering senselessness one felt when watching those two men verbally spar like drunk donkeys on broadcast TV. I remember we smoked salvia on the back porch, and someone had an intense hallucination of John Kerry dancing like one of the pink elephants in Fantasia, but I just saw phosphenes and odd characters from Saturday morning cartoons, and couldn’t shake the angry suspicion that a pushover of a president who had allowed us to get into a quagmire would be elected again because the Democratic Party couldn’t get their shit together and because true members of the Republican Party were complacently satiated by that dumbfuckshit in office.
That was a long time ago. Nine years this fall. But, unless a stroke afflicts me with serious brain damage, or I die on account of my own stupidity, I won’t forget the sensations I have had while enjoying beer to spite politics. I only feel fortunate that I have had the pleasure to know so many men and women who like to sit and relax with a beer and debate whatever yawns into mind. At this point, I am not sure what I would do to cope with the tooth-smack pain a person gets when listening and watching and reading the disgusting slurry of sad happenings that from time to time the America’s governmental representatives inflict on the public… if I could not occasionally, if not regularly, crack open an American-born craft beer and mellow out a bit.