Rim Ramblings

The fine art of a beer geek

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The idea for this column came about after watching ASU play Oregon, while at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe. It was a disappointing evening for the Sun Devils, as well as myself. In the midst of it all, I looked at my life, talked to a friend on the phone in Payson, and headed over to the local liquor/beer store. How did that bring me to write this? Simply -- I further understood that I'm a beer geek, at least a somewhat smart guy, and a decent writer -- and those things put together mean that I should be writing about beer once in a while.

It was while talking to my friend in Payson that I realized the beer geek part, truly. We were talking about things when I rattled off some analysis of the Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter that I'd just had, in part to defend my "spirited" ways. My analysis? Disappointing. I'd heard much about this beer but found it to be very drinkable, but nothing exceptional. An example I suppose why Four Peaks hasn't medaled in years at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. When I think Pumpkin Porter, I just have a different expectation. I expect the Pumpkin to say "hellooooo" to me. I expect some cinnamon on the aroma, with hint of it on the back of a sip. That would be a great Pumpkin Porter -- this was not. It was drinkable, solid, a good beer for the college folks in Tempe. But after one of those, I turned back to my friend's pitcher of Kilt Lifter. The Pumpkin Porter was simply not worth the $4.25 for a pint. If I'm merely looking for a good, drinkable beer, I'll take a Kilt Lifter instead.

So this is where it all came about. I love my beer. I take pride in not abusing. I'm not hunched over four or five pints every night. (Days not drinking are important, too -- that's how you really come to enjoy when you do drink.) I try to match my beer to the occasion -- that's not always easy, but it is rewarding. People think that wine is the only thing to match, wrong. Beer has an incredible amount of possibilities if you simply take the time to try to understand and explore them. I also like to age my beer. I spent quite a bit on some brews lately, of that, at least a 1/3 of what I spent was on beers that I probably won't drink for a year or two. Aging the right beers can be incredibly rewarding -- especially when you pull one out to share with good friends to celebrate a special occasion.

I e-mailed the editor at the Rim Review this idea, and she approved it. I'll look to write this one or two times per month, depending on what's happening. I'll provide you with some insight into the beer world, including perhaps a selection or two available locally. For example, in December, I'll talk about some holiday beers. Since I am a history writer as well, you'll probably see some history mixed in as well. Homebrewers, feel free to write in, as well. I know that we've got a number of you in this area and I want to hear from you. It's been a while since I've had time to brew, but it is a great experience when I get to do it.

Whenever I'm in the Valley, I try to go to Tops Liquor in Tempe, especially if it's been a few months. Tops is located right by the ASU campus and also has a sister location on Country Club called Sun Devil Liquors. This is not meant to criticize our local beer stores. It's just that at Tops I can buy by the bottle, and the selection is a little bit better because it is Phoenix. So therefore I turn to a smorgasbord of stuff, some of which I know will be -- disappointing. (Great name does not always equal great beer.) The first thing on my list this time? Lakefront Brewery's New Grist. I'll admit that this isn't a new beer to me. I snagged a couple of bottles the last time I was at Tops. New Grist is gluten free, part of a group of sorghum beers that have come to market in the past year. Lakefront Brewery is also located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and only recently began distributing there beer out here. I toured their brewery in 2005. It was awesome. Their tour has been written about in Maxim magazine and the main part of the brewery is like an old polka hall -- something that continually inspires me when I think about it.

New Grist is one of a couple of sorghum beers available. Sorghum has always tickled my fancy because it was something that was grown in Rim Country. We have a fine history of moonshine and I'd find it hard to believe that some rancher didn't also brew up a batch of beer at some point. Sorghum may well have been an ingredient in one of those beers. New Grist is one of a couple top sorghum beers; the other one is Anheuser-Busch's Redbridge. Redbridge may have beaten New Grist at the latest Great American Beer Festival, but New Grist has my heart. In my opinion it's more flavorful, with earthy flavor. Redbridge? It's a typical big brewer's beer, solid but without an exceptional flavor profile. So I picked up a six-pack of New Grist to bring home to enjoy.

Then it was on to some newer beers. One that caught my eye was Samuel Adams' Hallertau Imperial Pilsner. This is a highly hopped beer that came in a pack of four for approximately $10. I bought the four-pack, because I figure it's a beer with aging potential. Hops are a natural preservative -- hence their role in the India Pale Ale style. The India Pale Ale style came about when Britain was on its conquest of India. Originally, beer that was being sent to India for the soldiers was spoiling. Eventually they figured out that if they added more hops, it would keep the beer from spoiling. A hoppy ale is one that will also age well -- hence I'll probably enjoy one of these bottles at a special time in the near future, while leaving the other three to age and smooth out for a year or two.

Another beer that I bought was Rogue's "Brew 10,000." This is one that only a real beer geek would buy. I spent $21 for this 750 ml swing top bottle. That may seem extravagant, but just think of what you would pay for a rare wine. This beer was Rogue's 10,000th batch and it was brewed just once. It's a 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) beer that I will cellar for at least a couple of years before opening at just the right time with good friends. And that is the real essence of beer.

Beer, just like wine or liquor, is meant to be enjoyed with friends. Some beers, just like wine, are meant to be drank right away; let's face it, you'd be a fool to "age" a bottle of Bud. But others, just like a great Cabernet Sauvignon, can be aged. An aged beer typically smoothes out and can yield new flavors. And when you have something relatively rare, there is no greater treat than opening it and enjoying it with friends. That is the essence of good beer and it's something that I enjoy. Hopefully you'll find my insights valuable. Salud!

  • Side Note about sorghum beers: This is a recent fad, albeit one that serves a distressed group of people. Most of the Sorghum beers coming to market now are gluten-free, a god-send for people with celiac disease. According to Wikipedia, this disease is estimated to affect about 1% Indo-European populations. For people who have celiac disease, this recent influx of gluten-free beers means that they can enjoy a slice of life that the rest of us enjoy.

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