It’s a good time to be a beer lover.
It didn’t used to be this way. I grew up in Portland, which has always had a beer culture. In those days it was Widmer Hefeweizen, which, if I remember correctly, was produced in a tiny little brick room near Pioneer Courthouse Square. It was only possible to get on tap, which is the only way to drink a Hefeweizen anyway, as bottling destroys all its delicious essence and leaves it flat and uninteresting. That’s the reason they put oranges in Blue Moon, and add spices and fruit. A true fresh Hefeweizen tastes great all on its own, with just its basic four ingredients, yeast, grain, water, and hops. After I went to college in Florida I had such a time trying to find Hefeweizen anywhere, until someone opened a brewery in Winter Park and started making a Hefeweizen of their own. It wasn’t great, but we drank it and were happy. (On a side note, Budweiser bought out Widmer and now it sucks.)
When we moved to Lake Tahoe in 1999 we couldn’t even get Fat Tire. I still remember our friend Jay showing up with two twelve packs that he picked up on his way through Colorado. Oh, how things have changed. Now there are so many yummy choices that I haven’t tried them all. In my time as a beertender I have been converted into a hophead. I love searching out new flavors in hops. I love these clean refreshing beers. Hops are definitely trending now. They may even have reached their peak popularity; it seems like everyone is trying to out-do everyone else with IBU’s and alcohol, and sometimes the beer suffers. There are great ones, though, and the only way to find them is to try them all.
At the moment I would say the next trend is sour beers, and that brings me to the brewer I am going to mention today, although I haven’t tried a single one of their sours, even though that is their specialty. No big whup, I always like to have somewhere new to go in reserve, but damn those things are expensive.
The brewer is Mikkeller, and they may be my favorite. Not, as I say, for hops, and not for sours, but for their brown ales. Mikkeller was started by two brothers, Danes I believe, who swoop in, take over a brewery, and brew whatever they want in there. They do not constrain themselves with the traditional German ingredient list, which made them popular in Europe, where people always want to try what we’re doing in America. They have put everything from cherries to civet cat poo coffee beans in their beers. I don’t really care about any of that stuff, either. I like what they do with brown ales.
I haven’t seen this beer in two years. Kim and I even searched out the Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco, where I had the delicious hoppy Tenderloin Wit, but no luck with the Porter.
I hope they decide to make it again someday, and hope I am lucky enough to find a bottle. It’s not sweet. It’s not full of dessert flavors. It’s just a complex brown ale, and when I say complex I mean hops and malt tangling with each other to see which one tastes better and neither one getting the upper hand. It’s like a thunderstorm coming on. It’s like tucking your head under the blanket and reading with a flashlight. Love it. If you ever find it, buy it immediately, and don’t share, unless you want to send it to me.
This weekend Jay came to visit. He brought some Alaskan Amber, a popular amber ale, and I tried drinking that, but it didn’t really work out. (I don’t have anything against Alaskan, in fact their Pilot Series includes some excellent beers, the Smoked Porter, the Black IPA, and the Imperial Red, but the amber is a sticky sweet bowl of syrup that gives me gas.)
This is the Jackie Brown, another brown ale, and comparing those two beers, the Jackie Brown and the Alaskan Amber, really made the Mikkeller shine. In the glass the head was bitter, so much so that I was afraid, but once we got into the beer I remembered why I like Mikkeller so much. I think it went something like “Oh Holy F#@! that’s good!” Again, not a touch of sweetness, just dark brown layers of hops and malt. That is what an ale should taste like. I don’t have the proper brewer’s terms at my fingertips, but I know what makes my taste buds go bonkers, and I will be going to get another bottle of the Jackie Brown to put in my beer fridge as soon as I can. I recommend that you do the same. Hats should be removed before drinking.