Thursday, March 31, 2011

#5 - Connecticut, "The Constitution State"

The UConn men's basketball team is on a tear. They won the Big East tournament title, and now they are in the Final Four where I think they're the favorites to win. Kemba Walker reminds me of Derek Rose when he was at Memphis, except Walker can shoot and doesn't have the supporting cast of professionals Rose had under John Calipari. Meanwhile Ben Hansbrough is sitting at home with nothing to show for an amazing year. To make matters worse, Calipari and his group of one-and-dones is back in the Final Four with Kentucky. It's horrible. I couldn't think of a worse end to the basketball season. I need a beer.

Beer Stats For Connecticut:
"Major" Cities: Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford
# of Microbreweries: 5
# of Brewpubs: at least 12 (my team of researchers are being lazy and don't want to revise the total now that I, I mean, they have figured out that there are more than 12 brewpubs in CT.)
Population: 3.5 million
# of Final Four teams with cheating head coaches: 2 (C'mon UConn fans, don't begin to try to defend Calhoun as a clean coach. You know he's got dirt.)
# of Final Four teams with coaches that are less than 10 years older than me: 2

Connecticut is a rich and crowded state; highest income per capita, and 4th most densely populated (although only the 29th most populous overall). With all of that disposable income and hoards of people really close by to piss you off, you might expect that there would be a lot of beer to go around. And it seems that Connecticutters (I made that up) are figuring out that there is a rich, wine drinking population in need of conversion to Beerism (Made that up too, but it's probably a real religion). Several breweries are in the planning stages to go along with the 5 currently operational microbreweries.

One of them is East Haddam Brewery, with their awesome website, that just says their name. You know it's a new brewery when the 4th grade son of the brewmaster is making the website. I guess I'll check back later for more info about the brewery. It will be right alongside the book report about Harry Houdini.

(Side Note: I associate several things with my elementary school years, because I have never discussed them since being in elementary school. Harry Houdini is one of them. Electric eels, the Piedmont region of Virgina, and the Black Plague are some others. It's almost as if the teachers were like "we have HOW much more time that we have to teach these kids? Lets just make them think eels are going to be a huge part of their lives.")

These breweries are also in the planning stages;

  • Overshores Brewing Company - Belgian style brewery, hopes to have beers available this year.
  • Nor'Easter Brewing - Trying to find a location. Will have 4 year rounds, and 4 seasonals.
  • Ten Point - Started in 2009, they are currently making beers, but are in the test phases.
  • Back East - Haven't got going fully yet. 4 year rounds and seasonals will be what they start with.
  • Half Full - Still in the planning stages. I think I'm gonna like this guy though. He sounds right up my alley from his website. Seems really passionate and not afraid to do what he wants. Pretty much what I'm trying to get through my own head right now.

Thomas Hooker Brewery - Bloomfield. Definitely the most recognizable brewery from Connecticut; it's the only one I've tried at the moment. I've had their Liberator Dopplebock which I really enjoy, and their American Pale Ale, which I have no lasting memories of. They have 8 year round beers (APA, IPA, Blonde, Munich Style, Barleywine, Imperial Porter, Red, and the Dopplebock) and 3 seasonals, one of which is a Watermelon beer. I have not found a single Watermelon beer that I like, so I'll have to try this one when it's available in the summer. Hooker distributes to CT, FL, GA, PA, NY, MA, and NJ. If you are on the East Coast, you can probably able to find them somewhere or make a quick drive to go get a case.

Cotrell Brewing Co - Pawcatuck. These guys are old school New Englanders. The Cotrell family had a printing press manufacturing company on the grounds of the current brewery. They have a horribly bland slogan ("The beer of choice in CT and RI") on their website, but at least they rhymed the slogan for their Mystic Bridge IPA. "Put a Bridge in your Fridge." They make two beers; the IPA, and the Old Yankee, which they have been making for at least 14 years now. They distribute to CT, RI, NY, DC, VA, IL, ME, and MA. Both beers get good reviews on Beer Advocate, so check them out if you're in Connecticut.

Olde Burnside Brewery - East Hartford. Brews here are done in the traditional Scottish style, which means nothing is different except that everyone wears kilts and bagpipes are pumped through the sound system of the brewery. Sorry. Not every joke can be a smash hit. They make three styles of beer; Ten Penny Ale (amber colored Scottish Ale), the Penny Weiz (a Belgian Witbier), and the Dirty Penny Ale (a black and tan). Then they take their Ten Penny Ale and make a stronger version; The Ten Penny Ale Reserve. They age that Reserve in Whiskey barrels for six months to get the Amazing Grace. They also make a Christmas seasonal. It looks like you can only get their beer in growlers or on tap but it says they distribute to CT, NY, ME, MA, RI, and VT, so look for it on your next trip to the Northeast.

Cavalry Brewing Company - Oxford. This brewery was started by a former soldier who served in Iraq in and in active duty and the reserves for 19 years before that. He started the brewery in 2008 and as of now makes 4 different beers, each named after someone he served with. They make ales and stouts in the traditional English style. They have an English Ale, a Golden Ale, a Porter, and a Stout, which are all strangely in the 4-5% ABV range. Seems low for a Stout or a Porter. Right now they are just distributed to liquor stores and bars/restaurants in Connecticut. If you are there for any reason order one up at dinner and take a case home. We have to support our veterans.

New England Brewing Co. - Woodbridge. Snazzy website, guys. I always love a site that's simple and easily to navigate. If you can't run a good website for your business in these days, it's almost like you just don't care. Also, they don't bottle. They can. Ballers. They're like, "our stuff is so good we can put it in any container and you'll like it." They make an Amber, an IPA, and a German Pilsner. They also are only distributed in Connecticut, but the owner has been at this craft for a long time, so I think they will be expanding at some point.

So, since each of those breweries interests me, it looks like I have a lot of beer to try. Better take a trip to Boston and swing through for a bar crawl in Connecticut on my way. Don't worry. I'll have my wife drive.

Best Beer Name: Dog Soldier Golden Ale, Cavalry Brewing.
Best Concept: Watermelon Ale, Hooker. A lot of traditional beers brewing in Connecticut, so I'll give it to the brewery who is at least using one non-traditional ingredient.
Best Label Art:  Hatch Plug Ale, Cavalry Brewing. Overall I like their artwork, and no other brewery really even places in this category. But specifically I love the Hatch Plug label. I think the guy is supposed to look intimidating, but to me it looks like he is trying to squeeze himself out of the tank. So I immediately imagine a guy who has been in that tank so long with way too many Oreos and Cheez Its and no place to exercise, who is now trying to get out, in the heat of battle, only to realize that he's put on too many lbs to fit through the hole. Probably not the intended message, but awesome nonetheless.
Most Tree Related Beer:  Elm City Lager, New England Brewing Co. Connecticutters love their trees.

Road Trips:
I assume that tree watching is a pretty popular activity in Connecticut, because the two times I've driven through, that's pretty much all I've seen. I know highways on the East coast are generally surrounded by trees, but usually you can see some town or a farm or even a rest stop more frequently than every 60 miles. That being said, I enjoyed Connecticut the one time that I stayed over night there, which was for a friend's wedding in 2009. They got married outside of Hartford and the drive from Hartford to the country club about 45 minutes away was beautiful. Tree covered of course, but still really nicely tucked into the hills. One word of caution; McDonalds' in Connecticut do not serve people who walk through the drive-thru at 2 in the morning. The counter-clockwise road trip from New England Brewing Company to Cotrell Brewing, hitting the other three on the way, is only 133 miles. If you drove straight through, you could make it from the first to the last of the five breweries in about 3 hours according to Google. You wouldn't want to drive past the breweries and not stop in for a taste, so you could easily make a nice 2-3 day weekend of sampling beers in Connecticut.

The Tunes:
Rivers Cuomo of Weezer fame grew up in Connecticut. I've been a huge fan of Weezer ever since my roommate junior year of college would listen to "Pink Triangle" and "Jamie" while destroying our room before Notre Dame football games. No lie, I came back to our room after a game one day and the metal trash can was smashed in half, there were broken CDs all over the floor, and there was peanut butter on the wall. I asked him why he did it, and he said "it wasn't me, someone broke into our room during the game and did it." Sure, Charlie, I believe that someone came in and broke all of your CDs, didn't touch mine, threw peanut butter on the wall and neglected to take either of our laptops. And I'm not kidding, I really honestly started loving Weezer that year because of the deep cuts Charlie would rage to. They are a great band. I don't think we cleaned that peanut butter up for months either.

That story reminds me; only 5 months till college football. And probably 3-4 weeks before we make the quick drive to Massachusetts for my next post.

Connecticut Brewery Map

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

#4 - Georgia, "The Peach State"

Peanuts. That's one thing I have heard of that Jimmy Carter was good for. I wasn't alive while he was President, and I try to stay away from politics, but my in-laws have a particular disdain for Carter that I like to imagine comes from a contentious personal feud they had with him over Carter's hatred of white tuxedos in the early 1980s. Hey, my mother-in-law worked on Capitol Hill, it very well could have happened if Carter had caught a glimpse of a picture from their wedding. He would have had issue with my parents' wedding too. I wish I could get away with that now. I guess I need a white-guy afro to pull off that look now, huh Dad?

The second thing that Carter graced us with was the law that he signed in 1979 legalizing home brewing and allowing any person to brew up to 100 gallons per year for personal use. One thing led to another, and we are where we are today, with upwards of 1500 craft breweries and brew pubs in the U.S.

So, since Jimmy Carter is from Georgia, here's the rundown of the Peach State breweries.

Beer Stats For Georgia:
Major Cities: Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, Athens
# of Microbreweries: 4
Population: 9,687,653
People being denied equal access to good microbreweries by the powers that be: 9,687,652. There's always that one guy. What a dick.

Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the Constitution and become part of the United States. Besides New York, Georgia is the most populated state on the East Coast. So you would expect they would have a fairly healthy amount of microbreweries. And you would be dead wrong. They have 4. I have at least 4 microbreweries within a 30 minute drive of my house, and the entire state of Georgia only has 4. I would bet that this is due to the fact that Southern states are not known for their alcohol-friendly laws. Although, regardless of their states' desire to control alcohol consumption, people from the South are the closest thing to a race of functional alcoholics that I know of. They love their liquor. I base this on my friends from college from the south, but I think they are a pretty representative sample.

I've only had beer from one of the GA breweries, so I'm not an expert. Each of the four have fairly interesting histories.

Terrapin Beer Co is based in Athens, home of the University of Georgia, making it the main hub for hippies and rich southern kids. So, what better business to run than an environmentally friendly microbrewery. I have a sixer of their Hop Karma Brown IPA. It seems like everyone has gone hop crazy lately and makes a double IPA. So it's good to see that a few breweries are trying some IPAs that have other flavors than bitter. The bottle has a hippy looking turtle drinking a beer with what might be a sitar. I love brown ales, and I like a pale ale, so I love this beer, which is a combo of the two.  Terrapin makes a lot of unique beers and they are distributed extensively in GA, NC, SC, and VA. You can also find them in FL, TN, AL, PA, and NJ like I did. I'm sold after one beer, so you may as well try some too.

Red Brick Brewing is run by Atlanta Brewing Company, which is Georgia's oldest brewery, opening in 1983. You're only going to be able to get it if you are in the South, as they want to remain a regional brewery for the South, with no plans of expanding to a nationwide market. I respect that. They've decided that they want to focus on where they are from and become a staple in a very promising market that is not super-saturated with breweries like the West Coast or the Northeast. They make nine separate beers. Next time I'm in Georgia, which I'm embarrassed to say will be the first time, I'm going to get a Red Brick Porter.

Jailhouse Brewing Company brews in Hampton, GA. Their story is pretty well documented on their website and it's a worn out story that, honestly, I'm just tired of hearing. Guy likes beer, guy buys 1920's era jailhouse in small town, guy completely renovates jail, guy buys brewing equipment from defunct brewery, guy waits for Georgia to give him a license, guy brews beer. They started brewing in October of 2009, so they are pretty much just getting started, but their beers are available in and around Atlanta in bars and beer stores. Not shockingly, all of their beers have Jail themed names (Mugshot IPA, Breakout Stout, the Solitary Confinement Series.) They currently have three year round beers, and from reading over their website, they seem to have a lot of passion and desire to do well, which is enough for me to want to give them a try. However, eventually the newness will wear off and they'll have to let their beers speak for themselves.

SweetWater Brewing Company is in midtown Atlanta and has been there since 2004. They began as a brewery in 1997 when two guys from Colorado figured Atlanta needed a microbrewery. They brew 5 year round beers, 5 seasonals, and some more special edition stuff. Their slogan is Don't Float the Mainstream, and they seem to be serious about brewing without taking themselves too seriously. They say that their beers are unpasteurized so they are best within 90 days. The distribute in AL, FL, NC, SC, TN, and of course GA. It would probably be a fun place to visit and it's probably very convenient to downtown Atlanta, making it a definite day/evening pre-gaming tour possibility.

Best Beer Name: So Fresh and So Green, Green - Terrapin. This beer uses fresh hops from Washington's Yakima valley that are flown in over night prior to brew day. Plus, any homage to Andre 3000 and Big Boi gets my vote.
The Make a Movie About These Guys Award: Jailhouse. Could be a murder mystery/comedy about a brewer who happens upon a murder in the act, setting in motion a long and drawn out investigation, only to find out that the murder was just a scene from a high school student's movie for English class, called "Trouble's Brewin' " Could be a horror film, where the jailhouse ghost haunts the brewmaster and continually makes him mess up and brew Miller Light called "Less Taste, More Thrilling." Ok I'm on a roll, but I'll stop there.
Most Likely to have been Phish fans in High School: Sweetwater. They're from Colorado and they have a 420 Extra Pale Ale. Case closed.

Road Trips:
I can't personally recommend anything, but, I'm sure there is a lot to do in Atlanta, which would get you close to two of the breweries, Atlanta and Sweetwater. Hampton is only a 45 minute drive south of Atlanta, so that's an easy day trip if you are staying in the city. I love going to college towns, and Athens has a great music scene, so I think my first choice brewery to visit in Georgia would have to be Terrapin. Hang out, listen to some up and comers play in a small bar, while drinking unique beers. Sounds like a great trip for the fall. Maybe catch a football game between the hedges at UGA while I'm there. Just need a way to quit my job.... please read my blog.

Like I said, Athens is known for its music scene, so a lot of bands have gotten their start there. REM and B-52s cut their teeth in Athens. Brian Burton, aka, Danger Mouse, is from New York, but got his big break in Athens after winning a contest to open a show for Outkast and Goodie Mob (two big Atlanta hip-hop groups. I personally love everything Outkast has ever done. Spottieottiedopalicious is #1 a spectacular name, but #2, also a great song. Sorry for the long parenthesis) After the show he gave his demo tape to Cee-Lo Green, and eventually they formed Gnarls Barkley which made both mega-stars. Since then Burton teamed up with the lead singer of the Shins and they put out an album last year as Broken Bells. It's a great mix of beats and catchy melodies, like folk with a hip-hop/electronica beat background. Almost like if Bubba Sparxx learned to play guitar. Nevermind. Nothing could be that good. Burton is one of those musicians that seems to want to explore every type of music possible in an effort to find the one that really fits him. My guess is that he will keep doing collaborations with people from all different genres. I'll keep on tuning in. You should check out the album. It's self titled.

I'll be back in a month or so with Connecticut.

Georgia Brewery Map