Brewery Buyouts Follow Me to Santa Barbara: Epic Bought Telegraph

I remember when AB-InBev bought Goose Island, but that wasn’t terribly shocking since Goose was already part of the Craft Brew Alliance family, which itself was minority-owned by ABI. I remember when the house of Budweiser bought 10 Barrel out of tiny Bend, Oregon and THAT felt like a big deal. I was surprised that such a behemoth in the beer world was interested in an upstart crafty company in a remote pocket of Oregon. As the wheel keeps turning, we’ve seen major acquisitions (Lagunitas, Ballast Point) and some less earth-shattering ones (like when Heineken-owned Lagunitas bought minuscule but mighty Moonlight Brewing or Green Flash bought infinitesimal but incredible Alpine Brewing). So it is with today’s breaking news that Utah’s Epic Brewing, which already has a satellite brewing in Denver’s booming River North District, has agreed to purchase Telegraph Brewing based right here in Santa Barbara.

When I went to school here at UCSB in the mid-nineties, Santa Barbara Brew Co. opened during my senior year. The Brewhouse was a couple years from opening when I graduated. Heck, even Firestone Walker, which in 2015 was folded into the Belgian-owned Duvel-Moortgat, hadn’t started slinging its pale ales (to say nothing of its 805 blonde ale juggernaut). In other words, the last time I lived in this tropical oasis, it was a beer desert. As the Prodigal Gaucho returns, I have found a quaint little brewing scene (keep in mind I moved here via Portland a.k.a. Beervana). SB is home to six breweries (Telegraph, founded in 2006, being the third oldest and arguably the best). North a bit in Goleta there are four good breweries. Down in fire-ravaged Ventura there’s a mini boom going on where the eighth, Leashless, just opened. This reminds me, I hope the unfortunately-named Smoke Mountain Brewery is okay!

Having said that, it’s not exactly like California’s Central Coast is even a burgeoning beer Mecca. The Golden State’s already got San Diego and the Bay Area. Russian River put Sonoma County on the map while even late-to-the-table Los Angeles is now charging ahead as a boomtown. Heck, even East Coast centric BeerAdvocate is hosting its first Extreme Beer Fest-LA this weekend (that I hope to attend but those aforementioned wildfires will likely keep me from being able to make it). So one of the things I’ll be diving into in upcoming coverage is how, exactly, Utah’s four-time GABF winning brewery that produces 27,000 barrels a year singled out Santa Barbara’s six-time GABF winning tiny brewery. From a recent phone conversation with founder Brian Thompson—who I first met when I ambled unannounced into his fledgling brewery in 2006—I gathered he was feeling the heat of today’s beer industry logistics. But when faced with a rumor that his was the brewery listed on an industry board as being for sale, he shot down that notion! Perhaps hearing his name in the rumors got his own wheels turning. Stay tuned for more. And if you’ve never tried any Telegraph Beer, go out and buy some and see what Epic is already hip to.

Here’s the release sent out today:

 Epic Brewing Completes Purchase of Santa Barbara’s Telegraph Brewing Co.

Salt Lake City, UT— On December 6 th Epic Brewing purchased Telegraph Brewing Company, Santa Barbara’s first and original craft brewery, and has announced investment plans to expand Telegraph and broaden the brewery’s reach as an additional brand in the Epic family.

Telegraph Brewing has been operating in Santa Barbara since 2006 when Founder Brian Thompson opened his dream brewery, focused on high-quality, Belgian-inspired, uniquely-Californian beers produced with local ingredients.

“So much has changed in the craft beer world since I started Telegraph, back when hazy beers were just called unfiltered and there were fewer than 1,500 brewers nationwide,” Thompson said. “Today, with the number of breweries approaching 6,000, the craft brewing landscape is radically different. We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished, but the increased competition from the likes of AB-INBEV’s “crafty beers” as well as new startups is requiring everyone in the industry to recalibrate their plans for the future. Earlier this year I began looking for ways to strengthen our legacy, and entering into a transaction with Epic was the right fit, both strategically and culturally. This partnership will allow us to nurture our deep California roots, retain and expand our amazing staff, and continue to develop our brand in new and innovative ways. My team and I are excited that Telegraph Brewing will remain a small, independent craft brewery and at the same time have the support and drive provided by one of the nation’s most creative, fearless, and fastest-growing brewery.”

With Epic’s investment, Telegraph will not only continue brewing its well-respected beer, but will begin expanding its brewing operations. There are immediate plans to increase the production capacity and offer new packaging options, including several new 12-ounce cans under the Telegraph brand. Epic will also move seven of their foeders—large wooden vessels for aging sour beer—from their Denver brewery to Santa Barbara, enabling Telegraph to produce more of its award-winning sour beers. California locals can also look forward to a new series of modern IPAs including some juicy and hazy styles, which will be sold fresh from Telegraph’s brewery.

“It’s a long-term dream come true” says Dave Cole, Co-founder of Epic Brewing. “I fell in love with craft beer living in California and that love didn’t diminish when I moved to Utah despite the beer scene at the time. I feel like I’ve come full circle. We have been actively looking for great breweries to purchase for the past 18 months and bringing Telegraph Brewing into the Epic family is exciting. We are investing in the future of Santa Barbara and are thrilled to have a direct and local connection to the amazing California craft beer community, where we share so much history. To be part of such a well-regarded brewery like Telegraph is something I’ve always hoped to do and now it’s finally a reality. It provides us an avenue to combine our teams and build on Telegraph’s portfolio with our innovative vision. This couldn’t be a better fit – including some advantageous distribution overlaps that create opportunities to expand both brands across California and beyond.”

###

Epic Brewing Company, LLC was opened in May of 2010 in Salt Lake City and expanded to Colorado in 2013. Epic is 100% independent and family owned and is known for its innovation of style and wood aged beers, currently producing over 27,000 Barrels a year. Epic is distributed in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia & Washington D.C., Washington, Wisconsin, & Wyoming.

Telegraph Brewing, Santa Barbara’s original craft brewery, sold its first kegs in 2006 and specializes in brewing uniquely American and Belgian-inspired beers. Telegraph uses 100% domestic ingredients and as many local ingredients as possible, capturing in each sip the unique culinary and agricultural traditions of Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast. Since 2011, Telegraph has won six Great American Beer Festival medals and two World Beer Cup awards.

The Session #130: Create Your Own Beerfest

3664495894_75dbf1b0bf_mWell this is fun. Writing my own entry for The Session that I’m hosting/foisting on my fellow beer bloggers. The self-imposed assignment is to write about how (I) would design (my) dream beer festival. Conceptually, I tried to take all the major facets into account: theme, beer style(s), location, attendance, ticket pricing, and my overarching-ampersand that affects the way I think about enjoying beer, writing about beer, and celebrating beer, “and,” as in “beer and.” In other words, this is a festival for beer and what-else?

The level of self-interest in this ain’t veiled. I actually throw a few beer festivals back in Portland where I got to live from 2010 to the summer of 2017. And I may take a stab at one here in SoCal (since beerfests and sun go snifter-in-hand). My first baby is Baker’s Dozen in which I invite a baker’s dozen worth of breweries to make a coffee beer using 13 roasters’ beans and attendees also get samples from 13 doughnuteries (the 4th annual fest will be March 11, 2018). There’s Kriekfest, a celebration of Belgian Kriek-inspired beers or imports from Belgium that takes place in the Columbia River Gorge surrounded by Oregon cherry orchards (mark your calendars for July 21, 2018). For a couple years I had a hoot doing The Rural Brewer, inspired both by visiting all the tiny Oregon breweries in tiny towns far from the greater beer map as well as the running gag in 30 Rock about an off-broadway musical, The Rural Juror. And, what started as and really should’ve remained just a fun what-if exercise in beerfest tomfoolery, City of Goses. (Because beer puns.)

What these tell me is that I clearly love niche beer festivals. And that, both by design in the fact that sales are capped and never would’ve sold far beyond that cap (500), I prefer settings that are cozier. It’s what the Dutch call gezellig. That was my pitch to Portland’s moribund Bazi Bierbrasserie in launching Gluhbier Night—an intimate affair of warm, mulled beers that are a way of life at European Christmas markets (along with the infinitely more popular gluhwein). Beer fests, to me, are like the perfect concerts. It’s not that I’ve never attended stadium concerts (Rolling Stones. Eric Clapton. Even Michael Jackson at Dodger Stadium supporting Thriller!). And it’s not that I don’t love OBF and GABF with their thousands and thousands of revelers. But when you’re at a smaller venue, you feel a sense of camaraderie and anyone there might become your new beer drinking buddy. I’m still friends with someone I met a decade ago at a blues and brews fest, highlighting the power of both beer and music. So for me, when the number of attendees stretches out into the triple digits but not the fours, I think you’re really mashing with steam.

Style-wise, there’s absolutely something to be said for a fest where you get to enjoy as wide a range of styles as brewers can conceive. My palate doesn’t mind bouncing around from bitter IPA to boozy BBA behemoth to puckering lambic-style and then mellow out with an approachable Continental lager. But my dream beer fest doesn’t peddle in that kind of cerveza schizophrenia. I do relish IPAs, stouts, and barrel-aged beers, but there’s no shortage of IPA fests (and IIPA and IIIPA) or dark beer fests or wood-aged ones. I’m not interested in recreating an event that’s been done before. Clearly, I really love coffee beers. And my favorite fruited beers really are cherry ones (sorry Framboise-o-philes, I rarely share your raspberry romance). One beer fest I loved conceptually was Mighty Mites, conceived and curated by session beer statesman Jeff Alworth. Nothing over 4% ABV! Imagine a fest where you can truly sample every beer and walk out on your own accord. It occurred once and then Bazi continued a watered down (I see what I did there) version of it as part of the Hawthorn Street Fair. I also was enamored with Portland Mercury’s Malt Ball, wherein Portland brewers and bands truly sat down and created a beer designed to pair with the band’s sound. They never pulled it off perfectly, but the concept was divine. So for this imaginary fest I’m scheming up, one thing I’m currently crushing on is herbal beers. (Sage beers, anyone?!) Saisons infused with Basil or thyme supplement my love of hops. This is very much in the domain of Beers Made By Walking.

herbgardenAs for my “beer and” thoughts above, since every festival is essentially a giant beer garden, naturally this one would have a giant herb garden. Picture a farmer’s market meets cooking demonstration where you get to learn about ways to use these various herbs: homemade tinctures, remedies, growing tips, and more. Keep in mind I can hardly grow a bed of mint so this is something I could really use.

As for the twin elements of festival location and region the participating breweries hail from, which I cushioned as “locavore vs. globetrotter,” I’m torn on this. Much like the best beer is, theoretically, the one in my hands, the best beer fest is the one closest to me. But in reality, neither is always or frequently true. I’ve seen some beer events championing smoked beers, and I have no clue if this is a thing, but if someone held a Rauchbierfest in Bamberg, I’d be part of that zeitgeist. Still, I’d like to see the best of smoke from breweries in and beyond Franconia. I’m still kicking myself for not getting to Night of Great Thirst, Belgium’s lambicfest, when we lived in neighboring Holland. And even that now includes great representations from breweries as far afield as the USA. So my mythical Herbal Beer Fest for anywhere from 500-999 beer fans is to be held in a gnome’s garden or a færie’s forest. And I want creatures from all around to fly or burrow their way in.

Incidentally, one of the items I put forward to participants for this exercise is to come up with the price of admission. This is something I completely struggle with IRL. As the events organizer, I confess I’d like to make money off of them. As someone who attends way more beer fests than I put on, I like to not spend a ton. I’m convinced that my events are a great value, based on how little I’ve ever made off of them. Maybe I should bring in sponsors. Maybe I should charge more. One thing I’ll never do is offer a VIP session. Unlike, say, flying somewhere where the passengers have nothing in common except a destination, concert goers and festival attendees are in it together. They should be communal and therefore egalitarian. (By way of confession, when I accept media passes to a beerfest, they sometimes include the perks of VIP admission. Perhaps that’s hypocritical, but I’d never pay extra to feel entitled to MORE of the beerfest than my anyone else. Also, I never use all my media tokens and end up sharing them with strangers.) So I don’t like to give anyone special privileges just because they could pay more than the hoi polloi. Maybe that’s just me and maybe I’m leaving money on the table as a result.

Now, am I really going to put on this beerfest? No. Well, never say never. Like I said, I do want to create something here in SoCal that we don’t already have. And despite the bi-annual release of the Stone Brewing collab saison featuring parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, I don’t believe there’s any event just for herbal beers. If anyone reading this wants to partner, you know where to find me. But first, gut check: would you buy a ticket?

Announcing The Session #130 – Create Your Own Beerfest

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The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is our–the global beer blogging community’s–monthly get-together to write from our own respective perspectives on a single topic (of the monthly host’s choosing, which for December, 2017 means me). Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. The series was created and is organized by the duo of Stan Hieronymus and Jay R. Brooks, and more information can be found on the latter’s site.

I’m honored to be hosting for the second time, first back in 2009, and not unexpectedly have landed on a topic near’n’dear to my heart: beerfests. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and please, as someone who’s come back to The Session fold, I’m pushing to get 20+ fellow beer bloggers to participate in December, and onward) is to write about how you would design your dream beer festival. Posts are due Friday, December 1.

There are actually so many regional, local, and niche beer fests these days, we’re hearing a bit about “beerfest fatigue.” And I get that. Can you really hit 52 of ’em a year if you live somewhere near Portland, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Philly, NYC, etc? As someone who attends more than my fair share, sadly not all are created equal, but one I may not care for is probably someone else’s annual favorite. Things to ponder:

  • Size matters: When building your own fest, are you striving for a crowd of Oktoberfest proportions in the millions, an epic party of many thousands, or more intimate few hundred?
  • Styles matter: From GABF where over 7,900 beers across every imaginable style (and mash-up) were available for sampling to themed events such as barrel-aged beers or holiday ales, to the plethora of IPA fests and some other single-style fests, would the event of your design be a grab-bag or exhibit razor-sharp focus?
  • Locavore vs Globe Trotter: After deciding what kind of beers to feature, or even before, think about if you’re inviting your local breweries or ones from your Brewery Fantasy League. Are attendees going to be more tempted to support local or to get a taste of beers from breweries they don’t already have access to? Let’s put aside for a second how hard it can be to bring in a brewery that’s not already licensed to distribute in your home town if that’s where this event is.
  • Location, location, and timing: The most important element of a successful event is its location. Followed by location. Followed by timing. When and where is this fantasy beerfest of yours? Is it in a city rife with events (meaning they’ve proven to be popular) or one starved for such a fest (but who’s to say if the locals will support)? And does it take place in the summer at the height of beer drinking season or a less-crowded date where it can shine on its own?
  • Etcetera. There’s a lot more that goes into organizing a beer fest. (I know from experience in producing some that have turned into annual events and some I’ve let slip away as a one- or two-off.) So if you want to opine about your favorite kind of glassware (or hated glasses you always see), ticket prices, food vendors, or anything else that you hate witnessing or wonder why we don’t see something like we should, add that, too. Finally, end with a note about why you can see trying to make this fantasy fest a reality or why you’ll never advance this idea of yours beyond the Session post!

Thanks for participating. Again, please post your blog in the comments below by or on Friday, Dec. 1. Or you can tag me @yaeger when you post on Twitter.

The Session #129: Missing Beer Styles

sessionBefore I even jump into the 129th entry in the decade-long running Beer Blogging Session, I’m happy to announce that Yours Truly will be hosting the 130th rendition of The Session! I won’t hijack my own post and spill the beans what the topic will be (stay tuned for my announcement next week), so now I can resume tackling this month’s subject as conjured up by Eoghan Walsh and hosted at his Brussels Beer City is: Missing Local Beer Styles.

In 2017 it might seem odd to think that there are beer styles missing from our local markets. We seem to be living in an era of almost ubiquitous choice – where almost every style of beer is available to us either in bars or online, and where new styles quickly break out from their local markets to be brewed by craft or independent breweries around the world. Often though, this choice feels like one between an IPA, a session IPA, a double IPA, a NEIPA, a black IPA (although, really?), West Coast IPA, fruited IPA, etc.

You get the picture.

Outside of large metropolitan areas, areas with a large craft beer culture, or regions without recourse to online shopping the spread of different or new styles can remain limited. …(As such) what beer style would you like to see being brewed in your local market that is not yet being brewed?

Posed this question one month ago, I’d have had a hard time delivering an answer. The only beer style that it seems my local or most of America’s craft breweries completely ignore of late is the English IPA (*rimshot*). But there, on the floor of this year’s GABF, Austin’s Live Oak Brewing was sampling attendees with a smoky motif: a 4.4% Heller Rauchbier, a whopper, jr. of a 3% Grodzinskie, and—voila—what I recall was my first taste of a Lichtenhainer. If you caught yourself reaction with “a what-en-heinie?!” you’re excused for never having heard of it before. In a few words, it’s a smoked German sour ale. In more than a few words, here’s Live Oak’s description from their webpage outlining their brilliant line of six rauchbiers:

Lichtenhaier is a German beer style that vanished in the 1980s. Similar in strength and tartness to Berliner Weisse, this beer adds the intriguing aroma of smoked malt. Fermentation with yeast and Lactobacillus creates an acidic profile. The low bitterness and high level of carbonation allows for full enjoyment of the subtle lemony acid and smoke flavors. Please enjoy this historical re-recreation. OG 9ºP, ABV 3.2%, IBU: 6

Now, I love me some thick, bone-toasting Aecht Schlenkerla Doppelbock at 8% or their 6.4% Hellerbock, each robust with bacony goodness that leaves me reeking as if I’ve stumbled into a bonfire, this Lichtenhainer was still big on smoke, medium on tartness, making it huge on flavor yet a featherweight in both body and alcohol. In other words: a perfect beer! And yet, the only time I’d ever come across the style name was general passages lumping German sour ales together such as goses and gratzers. As was to be expected, I found an entry about them on Shut Up About Barclay Perkins (and much of the good stuff is Ron Pattinson (mis-credited as Martyn Cornell initially because of a spirited sandwich feud taking place on Jay Brooks’s Facebook wall that gave me Martyn-on-the-brain) quoting vintage publications, beginning with this quote from Dr. Max Delbrück’s Brauerei-Lexicon of 1910:

“Lichtenhainer is made from smoked barley malt alone, it acquires its sourish taste not during primary fermentation, as does Berliner Weisse, but only through a later developing infection with lactic acid bacteria. . . .”

As for its appellation, Pattinson notes where Lichtenhainer hails or hailed from:

“Real” Lichtenahainer came from the villages of Wöllnitz, Ziegenhain, Ammerbach, Winzerla and, of course, Lichtenhain.

One thing I personally find interesting is that Lichtenhein, a village in Saxony, is exactly 330 kilometers southeast of Goslar where un-smoked goses emanated and 330 km northeast of Bamberg where non-soured rauchbiers have never gone extinct.

*Update* It only took Ron a few hours to not only see my post but make a few amendments. Not quite corrections as I don’t believe I got anything wrong, per se, about Lichtenhainer’s disapperance, but I’m sure Pattinson would like everyone to be aware that “Berliner Weisse was also smoked until the 1840’s. Grätzer/Grodziskie was never a sour style” and furthermore that “Lichtenhainer only disappeared for a few years.” I will say that, if it only disappeared for a few years, even people who were declared dead and then get their pulse back seconds or minutes later get to claim they were legally dead.

So there we have it. I don’t have much more to extrapolate after that, but I’m glad that I had an answer for this month’s Session and I’m glad the Session gave me an outlet to praise effusively Live Oak’s rendition of a Lichtenhainer as well as add another global destination on my bucketlist to hunt down an authentic iteration. Then again, if more breweries (that I have access to far from Texas) start giving a lick, I would only have to make the journey to my local watering hole.

The Session #127: Bottle Shops

sessionSo the 127th topic for The Session is, if you’ll pardon the crude analogies, akin to asking Cheech & Chong about what makes a great head shop or the late Hugh Hefner which campuses to scour for Playmates. Let’s let Jack Perdue over at Deep Beer set it up:

The theme chosen is Bottle Shops: Good, Bad & The Ugly. I find bottle shops interesting and would like to learn other perspectives on these places many of us purchase our favorite quaffs. We love our beer and have a variety of options in acquiring it. Some home brew, others like to visit their local pubs, beer tourism and beer destinations have become a trend, but the ever popular bottle shop is often the best and most reliable means for finding our next beer.

Of course, not all bottle shops are the same.

As a greenhorn, I first dipped my toes into the malted waters in the megachain BevMo. In those days, though, the modern bottle shop scarcely existed since craft beer was on the uptick and wax-dipped, corked’n’caged, coolship-fermented, foeder-aged beers had yet to dominate the glassy knolls of today’s beer geek Meccas.

From witnessing firsthand the birth of San Francisco’s revered City Beer Store where Craig & Beth curated exceptional coolers and shelves full of whalez bait and across town where Eric Cripe once converted The Jug Shop into the bomber bastion of the Bay to my most recent local retailer, the world-famous Belmont Station now helmed by Lisa Morrison, bottle shops have long served as my social hub, ear to the tracks, and source of retail therapy. I dare confess they’ve alleviated any chance my bank account has had of ever appearing bloated.

Furthermore, some of my best memories on the Open Beer Road have included the time I spent hours at Goebel Liquor talking to Rob Miller, III about his “World of Beer” where he sold self-cellared carriers of Celebration verticals and was grooming his son, Rob, IV, to manage the store where they’ve stopped counting after the 1,700th SKU. That was in Wichita, KS and I had an even more memorable–or forgetful–night in Bowling Green, KY where Blake Layne tapped for me the keg of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout he’d been hording at Chuck’s. It was also the first time I’d enjoyed Brooklyn Black Ops RIS. And several more which I can’t detail since the night ended with me checking into a room at the hotel across the road.

Bottle shops are great because–besides the obvious, which is that it’s where you go to buy good beer and get recommendations from the employees who ought to be the most credible, local experts–they’re the closest beer lovers have to treasure chests. In lieu of gold dobloons and strings of pearls, you are rewarded with shelf after shelf of bourbon-aged stouts and fruit-forward sour ales; Bohemian pilsners, German pilsners, dry-hopped pilsners, and silly imperial or black or yuzu pilsners abound. But what about the buried treasure? One of the most fun things you can do at a huge bottle shop, especially one that’s in a less populated town or even in the less trendy neighborhoods, is getting down on your hands and knees and moving bottles around to rifle through dusty, forgotten and forlorn bottles in the back that less eagle-eyed whale hunters have missed. Once, when The Bruery’s Four Calling Birds came out, I happened upon a Partridge in a Pear Tree. And long after Deschutes’s Brandy-aged The Abyss had been snatched up by the devil’s share, I received the angel’s.

I shop less at these places today than I used to (this blogger tells himself as he’s en route to Denver where he knows he’ll stop into Mr. B’s near his Airbnb pad and scour the coolers and aisles searching for American krieks, maybe a beloved CONE-IPA [that’s not an IPA made with hop cones but Colo-brewed New England-style], and even though he only buys beers from the state he’s in, he’ll make an exception if he finds anything from Missouri’s Scratch Brewing like he did last year). Partly because with a kid, I have less time for shopping as well as hosting bottle parties. But also hugely because I did so much that my cellar overfloweth and I’m on hiatus until I can drink it down to clear some room. And that’s after our recent move which necessitated depleting the stash by a solid 20%. But like I said up front, no matter how crudely, somewhere between being an addict and a connoisseur lies the layer many of today’s beer consumers and the place we get our fix or strike gold is down at the bottle shop.

 

Total Eclipse of the Hops

ECLP_12oz_Can_2017_ChromoshpereBlonde.pngAdmittedly, it’s not always easy thinking up themes for my Beer Traveler column in All About Beer. But even at the beginning of the year I knew that with the Totality streaking across the entire USA, there’d be enough breweries submerged in darkness to squeeze a handful into a travel story. Featured herein are breweries from Pacific City, OR where the Path of Totality first hits land, through Salem (also in OR), Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, Paducah, KY (probably the first time Paducah has appeared in any beer-related travel story), Nashville, and Greenville, SC (from the comments, boy are folks in nearby Columbus and Charleston, SC upset about their omission through my lack of ability to include every single brewery that’s going to experience mid-morning nighttime.) Anyway, feast your eyes on these (you don’t even need those special glasses to view it.)

The Session #126: Hazy, Cloudy, Juice IPAs

sessionWhen I first started beer blogging, I was an avid Sessioner. Alack, I’ve been remiss of late and see that I participated once a year since 2013. That ends now. I’m recommitting myself (even if a few days late). And happily that means jumping back in as my friends Gail Williams and Steve Shapiro up at Beer By BART ask us to sniff on this:

(The) still-emerging – though no longer new – unofficial beer style. This kind of beer has gotten so much buzz (and some mocking) in the last decade and a half that it’s surprising it has not come up on The Session yet.  New England, Vermont-inspired, Northeastern, Hazy, Juicy or whatever you like to call these low-bitterness, hop flavorful beers, they are being made everywhere now and people are definitely buying them. So fire up your keyboard – let’s hear about your own encounters with these strange IPAs.

I like beer, all kinds of it in fact. And I certainly care more about the end result—its overall pleasantness as a factor of aroma, texture, and flavor—than I do about what style the brewer calls it or if it’s the “right” beer to be drinking either in terms of popularity or seasonal appropriateness. As such, when half the beer lovers I know are enamored of New England IPAs and the other half abhor the idea of opaque IPAs, I guess I’m firmly in the camp of take it or leave it.

I do faintly recall my first Heady Topper. It garnered a live-action Meh emoji. At the time, living in close proximity to Russian River and ergo fresh Pliny the Elder, I just figured the can I’d been handed (unsure how long it had been in transit) was the East Coast’s best stab at a bold IPA. It didn’t pop the way PtE does. Maybe I’d have dubbed it Pliny the Middle-aged. By the time I had it a second time, I was actually in the state of Vermont where the can at the Burlington airport failed to meet the tastiness of even the other Vermont-style IPAs I’d naturally sampled at breweries like Prohibition Pig (established in the same space where the Alchemist Pub suffered its fateful flood), FOAM, and one a bit less off the hype-grid, 14th Star Brewing up in St. Alban (where Verizon charged me as if I was in Quebec because it’s so close to the border). Their B-72 Double IPA, I got the sense, was brewed begrudgingly for tourists clamoring for this marketing terroir, but it really was hazy/juicy/smooth and I’d happily drink it again if I’m in Vermont. Because when in Rome.

There are signs NEIPA is in full-fledged fad mode, and it’s fast-tracking all the fads IPA itself has gone through. We’ve seen NEB(lack)IPA (or as I’d prefer to call it: a New England Cascadian Dark Ale—a hilarious oxymoron given that it’s both New England and Pacific Northwest in origin and would probably be brewed out of the Midwest). Oh, and we’ve seen the Citrus-infused NECDA!

 

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An afternoon visit to M Special Brewing in Goleta, CA. What’s in that snifter above?

Oh, and speaking of NEIPAs from Cascadia, back in Portland—which I already miss greatly—the first brewery to jump on the Vermont wagon was Great Notion Brewing. Their Juice Box (8.2%) and Juice, Jr. (6%) set the tone for PDX’s race to out-NE everyone, wherein even early poo-pooers are now hazing to the max. Among Great Notion’s litany of beers with the word “Ripe” in the name and “New England” in the description, there was one called Orange Creamsicle IPA. I’d never had Tree House’s infamous Julius—nor have I had it yet—but my first sip of Orange Creamsicle, made with both orange and vanilla flavors—instantly brought me back to my childhood spent at Orange Julius. And I think that’s why some adult beer drinkers slag these adult-beverages that sorta-somehwat appeal to more juvenile palates. They are fruity and juicy and sweet and, well, nostalgic. But hey, it’s not like the industry doesn’t have its share of famous beers that famously taste like Mexican chocolate cake or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so there’s no reason to get sanctimonious about what other people enjoy in their glass of beer.

 

All kidding or ribbing aside, I just enjoyed a few beers at one of my new local breweries, M Special in Goleta, where I got a beer they honestly dubbed an NEIPL. And you all remember how much you scoffed the first time you saw the IPL acronym. Back to my original point, I only care if the beer I’m drinking is good, not if it’s a good style. And it had all the attributes those five letters denote: it was certainly citrus and tropical fruit forward, more sweet/less bitter, and some of the clean, crisp expression of lagering over top/warm fermenting you’d look for in a lager and before you get all bunched up that lagers are ultra clear, then you need to have a kellerbier my friend. I think even some progressive German brewers could clearly see their way to appreciating an NEIPL or NEIPA, even if they can’t see through it clearly.