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tales from the dusty corner of the cellar.

Shut the hell up, bitter provider!
Posted Saturday, January 14th, 2012 by bakes

I open the Indestructible Box, a tank of a thing that would survive a collision with my beater Volvo, and look at the latest bounty received in the longstanding TipTop vs Bakes beer exchange.  Among the bounty of Midwestern offerings was a 22 ounce bottle with a clean, simple logo stating "Steel Toe Provider Ale," an unassuming yet promising 5% ale.  As it was cold and as I was in the mood for something not-huge, I popped it open and poured it into my glass.  Nice golden color, white head, a beery-looking beer... but the aroma was fresh, hoppy, lightly malty, and it tasted wonderful.  And it got me to thinking...

A year and a half ago Tip Top and I hit up the (now late lamented) Alchemist as the final stop on a one day Vermont beer tour.  It's a long as hell trip, and the stop at the Alchemist wasn't going to be a one beer and goodbye trip.  So we start with the Ouroboros at 8%, then John Kimmich mentions that Heady Topper was on tap, and then a couple of surprises from the cellar, none of which were less than 8%, and I think about the drive home...

Then I look at the beer menu and see four words:  Shut The Hell Up!  at 3.3% ABV.  OK, why not...

It was an epiphany; a beer of incredible balance, full of hoppy goodness and light, honey/grain maltiness.  I enjoyed the living hell out of it.  And realized as the night wore on that I was discovering its subtleties, and enjoying the fact that I wasn't getting snockered.  Plus it was fun as hell to shout, when the bartender asked if he could get me anything, "Shut the hell up!" "Right away sir!"  The beer reminded me quite a bit of Surly Bitter brewer, another beer with tremendous flavor balance and dazzling hoppiness that, at 4.4%, I could enjoy all day (and have).

There's a place for beers such as these, and it's a place at the everyday table.  I love big complex craft beers as much as anyone; a well brewed Imperial stout or double IPA or Belgian wild ale is a wonderful thing and I enjoy them often.  But how many can you have in an evening before your palate is decimated by the sheer weight of the flavors in these beers?  Craft beer drinkers should have flavorful, lower alcohol options for times when they want to simply enjoy brews over a long period of time - yes, call them session beers if you will. 

Yet some brewpubs seem to look down their nose at these offerings.  Some make them as a sop to the Coors Light drinker and pretty much admit as much; "we have this for the macro swiller, you don't wanna try it."  Well, why brew something you feel the need to apologize for?  Alchemist certainly didn't; neither does Empire Brewing Co in Syracuse, whose Skinny Atlas Light is an amazingly tasty kolsch that hits the spot on a hot day and whose GABF awards are as proudly displayed as those for any other beer.

The place for these beers is in the everyday fridge; this is where there is room for exponential growlth in the craft beer industry.  Beers such as Provider and Bitter Brewer and Shut The Hell Up are beers you can hand to a macro beer drinker and open their eyes to the possibility that not all craft beer is "heavy," beers that you can drink all day at a backyard barbecue and enjoy the hell out of as much as you enjoy the ribs on the smoker, and beers that serve the same function as a macro lager but serve a higher purpose by engaging the taste buds as opposed to passing over them.

Here's hoping more craft brewers embrace such styles and celebrate them in their lineup.

4     


Before Craft Brew...
Posted Friday, April 2nd, 2010 by bakes

The domestic beer world was a dark, dark place.  Or more precisely, a golden yellow place.  Venture back with me into an upstate NY beer distributor's store, circa 1980...

There in the beer cooler, are six packs of a couple of recognized brands, Bud and Miller High Life.  There's no Bud Light, Budweiser Select, Budweiser Select 55, Bud Ice, Bud Ice Light, Budweiser Brew Masters' Private Reserve, Bud Dry, Bud Silver, Bud Extra, Bud Light Chelada, Budweiser American Ale, Budweiser NA, Bud Light Lime, or Bud Light Golden Wheat to clog the shelves.  Just Bud.  Plain old brewed with rice, acetaldehyde hangover inducing Bud.  Whee.  The Miller selection is similarly simple. There aren't any Coors products anywhere in sight, as they are still Golden, Colorado contraband.

There are, however, numerous other beers on the "mainstream lager" shelves for your enjoyment, many of which (along with their advertising catch phrases) are now either dead, dying, or hipster fuel;  the better known ones being PBR, Schlitz (Go for the Gusto!), Piels (A good drinking beer!), Schaefer (The one beer to have when you're having more than one!), Genesee (Make mine a Genny!), Utica Club (and their talking beer steins Schultz and Dooley), Stroh's (Fire brewed!), Ballantine (Frazier's dad couldn't be wrong... could he?) and Rheingold Extra Dry.

Thirsty yet?

No?  

Well, let's check out the next cooler over.   This cooler is full of the regional brews, some considered better (Schmidt's, Matt's Premium, Genesee Cream Ale (aka Genny Screamers for their aftereffects, or Green Grenades), Narragansett, Kohler, Yuengling) and some worse (Topper, Knickerbocker Natural, Reading, Bartel's (your dad warned you about this foul concoction), Stegmaier, Gibbons (your 8th grade health teacher regaled you with the tale of finding a slimy blob of yeast in a can of this)) ... the list goes on.  In western NY, the Naragansett and Reading would be replaced by Koch's and Simon Pure and Iroquis and Goebel's (pronounced joe-BELLS).  The vast majority of these are long gone, the breweries closed. 

Next to that cooler is the "we don't know what the hell to do with these dark brews so we'll stick them here and see if anyone notices" shelf.  Here, beers like Yuengling Porter, Stegmaier Porter, Koch's Jubilee Porter, Prior Double Dark, Genesee 12 Horse Ale, and Ballantine India Pale Ale (yes, those last two are considered to be dark beer) reside, just above the "rocket fuel" malt liquor shelf full of Colt 45, Maximus Super, and the everlovin' Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull for the truly desperate soul with a buck twenty nine to get lit on.

Some of these were more than passable; Yuengling Porter was (and remains) a solid American porter.  Genny 12 Horse was not only tasty (it would be akin to an amber ale today) but also packed a "for the time" wallop of 6.2% ABV.  Ballantine IPA was like nothing you'd ever experienced at that time.  There was this oaky bitterness that no other beer had.  Then? It was transcendent.

That's what we had, at least as far as US brews were concerned.  There was a rumbling about new beers being brewed at tiny breweries out west, and but we didn't see squat.  It was this, or imports.  So a phenomenon occurred.  No, not microbrews; Brador Runs!  But that is another story...