Other breweries, however, grew carefully and organically, making assertive products and finding an appreciative customer base. Some looked to the West for inspiration. More than one brewery tried to do an East Coast version of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. But today they’re blazing trails on their own.
Nobody taught Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione how to brew Pangea (a beer with an ingredient from every continent… including glacial water from Antarctica). His Midas Touch, brewed with Muscat grapes, saffron and thyme honey, harks back not to a West Coast brew but to a 2,700-year-old funereal beverage of the legendary King Midas, reconstructed through laboratory analysis of pottery shards. And while West Coast brewers can claim a certain primacy with regard to the imperial IPA style, Sam added a new twist with his 60 Minute IPA, which receives a steady infusion of hops throughout its hour-long boil. To save on labor costs, Calagione and his brew crew rigged up a pneumatic device—dubbed “Sir Hopsalot”—which dumps a tray of hops into the brewkettle every 15 seconds.
Dogfish Head subsequently upped the ante by releasing a 90 Minute and even a 120 Minute IPA. The latter exceeds the parameters for the imperial IPA style, measuring 20% ABV and 120 IBUs. I’m not sure what you’d call this beer. Maybe an IPB…India pale barleywine?
Do you like strong beers? The 2003 edition of Samuel Adams Utopias, at 25% ABV, is the world record holder. Jim Koch may have sought a wider market with an alcoholic iced tea and a light beer, but he’s still a beer geek at heart.
Belgians? We were ahead of the curve here. Unibroue in Chambly, Quebec was among the first—if not the first—to produce a witbier on the North American continent. In bucolic Cooperstown, NY, Brewery Ommegang, a cooperative venture founded by the Moortgat Brewery in Belgium and American importers Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, has been a tireless promoter of Belgian beer, cuisine and culture.
Stouts? The Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout (which doesn’t contain any actual chocolate, just a heap of specialty malts) is “the ultimate dessert beer,” writes brewmaster Garrett Oliver in his book The Brewmaster’s Table.
The South Will Rise Again
Up to this point, I’ve limited the discussion to breweries north of the Mason-Dixon line. Hamstrung by blue laws, alcohol caps and swaths of dry territory, the Southeast was for years a beer lover’s desert. “Quality is synonymous with temperature: the colder the better,” observed Stephen Morris in his 1984 book, The Great Beer Trek.
This dismal state of affairs is no longer the case. Characteristic of the New South is the Olde Hickory Brewing Co. of Hickory, NC, in the foothills of that state’s Piedmont area. The best-seller at this nine-year-old brewery/restaurant is the 51-IBU Table Rock Pale Ale, claims co-owner Jason Yates. (By comparison, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale measures about 35 IBUs.) The brewery turns out a variety of specialty dark beers, most recently a rolled oat porter incorporating grains from a defunct bakery. (“The owner said the Atkins diet had put him out of business.”)
Olde Hickory’s most unusual beer, however, is the sporadically produced Watauga Tobacco Stout, which has locally grown leaf tobacco added to the boil. Yates believes it adds a little extra bitterness to the beer. He may want to consider a wider distribution. With an increasing number of localities enacting smoking bans, bar patrons may appreciate a legal way of getting their nicotine ration!
Farther south, in Georgia, the Summits Wayside Tavern chain operates locations in Cumming, Sandy Spring and Snellville, each with around 100 draft selections. And this despite a state-imposed limit of 6% ABV that makes many brands impossible to get here. (At press time, the Georgia legislature had approved a bill to raise that limit to 14%.)
Florida is also getting with the program. Recent press reports hailed the opening of the St. Sebastiaan Belgian Microbrewery, a $2.5 million brewpub in Spring Hill in Hernando County. This is the second Belgian-themed brewpub in the U.S. that I’m aware of. The first was The Brewer’s Art in Baltimore, MD.
In addition to our fine indigenous beers, we’ve always had access to the best of the West. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Brickskeller Restaurant in Washington, DC would send refrigerated tanker trucks to California to pick up microbrews like New Albion Ale and Stout, and River City Gold and Dark from the short-lived River City Brewing Co. in Sacramento, CA. I’m still grateful for every bottle and keg of North Coast’s Old Rasputin or Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA that somehow wends it way to the Atlantic shores.
The purpose of this article, however, was not to denigrate but West Coast breweries, but to affirm that craft brewing has truly been a bi-coastal revolution. As Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, in a pensive moment, reflected:
“Historically, great beers came from a place’s endowment with natural resources, like fertile soil or raw materials. But high-speed transportation ended all that. We can now all get the world’s best ingredients, so it comes down to what we do with them. It’s less about place and more about people.”
“I think there are amazing beers being produced on the East Coast, the West Coast, and points in between.”