I love herbal beers but I particularly think sage works wonders in the right beer. But good luck pitching a story about the so-narrow-it’s-nearly-two-dimensional field of sage beers. Unless there’s a hook, a peg, an angle. Hence, I waited months until I figured CraftBeer.com would want something on Thanksgiving beers, especially ones to suggest that aren’t flavored like pumpkin pie! And since a good stuffing mix and turkey brine includes sage, well, here’s a round-up of beers so sagey, they’re sagacious.
The inspiration behind this story was actually heading home for the holidays and having my cousin pour me some geeky, ultra-unobtainable bottles
. I definitely enjoyed getting to drink some of these beers, but wondered how it was that those were the types of beers he typically drinks instead of, like me, on special occasions.
Some beers get fussed over. Some are downright coveted. Rarely are such specimens found perched on the shelf of your local grocer or even in the chiller at your nearest bottle shop. It wasn’t terribly long ago that interesting beer was hard to find on supermarket shelves. Now, the more rare the beer, the faster it disappears from said real estate. Increasingly, smaller breweries are turning to pricey memberships to get their most artful expressions straight to the mouths of devout fans.
BeerAdvcoate, the online forum turned magazine, doesn’t republish the print zine’s content online, but if you have #87, there’s my beer story on some of the next wave of funky brewers such as Cellarmaker (San Francisco), Side Project (St. Louis), J. Wakefield Brewing (Miami), and Crooked Stave (Denver), but being the contrarian that I am, I managed to make it center around one of the first to ride the wave, New Glarus’s Dan Carey. I also worked in some P-Funk, but that got cut out of the story, so I’ve taken the liberty of posting the first few grafs of the story below pre-edits:
The future of American sour beers started, in part, back in 1994 when New Glarus Brewing brewmaster Dan Carey developed a spontaneously fermented wild ale in the Flemish Oud Bruin style. He said it was probably a decade ago when he kegged some of that sour brown ale to the Great American Beer Festival. “I was particularly proud of this one and called it New Glarus Sour Brown Ale. But some people just wanted to try ‘the brown ale.’ One attendee in particular, whom I envision him doing a comical spit-take, exclaimed to Carey’s face, “Dude! This beer is spoiled; you have to take this off.”
I bet that same guy today brags about sampling said brown, since as P-Funk maestro George Clinton once said: “Just by getting a little taste of funk, you’re going to be hooked.” New Glarus, like Parliament Funkadelic, have always been ahead of their time.
Carey relayed his story of visiting the Belgian Trappist brewery, Orval, where brewmaster Jean-Marie Rock beseeched Cary, “Why do all of you American brewers copy me?” Arguably one of the greatest beers in the world could be described as simply a Belgian pale ale with an element of Brettanomyces, but there’s nothing simple about it. Unlike the brewers yeast that most breweries propagate, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, “Brett” is not so easily controlled and is a distinguishing character in many of the best Belgian brews beyond Orval including sour Flemish ales and Lambics. Rock continued, “Why don’t you make your own beers?” New Glarus has always excelled at doing just that, making their own beers, and Carey shared some thoughts on the notion of American breweries doing telltale, Belgian-style beers. “Our technology, temperament, and terroir are different. Frankly, if you were going hire a band for an event, if you could afford it you’d prefer to pay a band that plays original music and not a cover band. Rodenbach already exists,” said Carey referencing the notorious Flemish brewery. “Every musician is inspired, but I’m not a cover band.” Call his sour, frequently-fruited beers “lambic style” if you must, but Carey fervently calls them “American sour ales.”
For this first-person-account-as-written-by-third-party profile, I got to interview this guy in Colorado who’d been doing his graduate thesis on Brettanomyces. It turned into an open forum and from there, the student, Chad Yakobson, had just launched Crooked Stave, an all-Brett all-the-time brewery. Jump forward ahead just a few years and Crooked Stave is the all the rave. I’m happy to say I was able to enjoy his first couple of releases to help get his story straight;-)
Before my body was cold at SF Weekly and had barely planted my feet on Oregon soil, the first thing I did was pitch myself to Willamette Week, having noticed they oddly did not have a beer writer in the fold. How did Beervana not have steady beer coverage?! Well, if no one was doing it, I was just the carpetbagger for the job. This story on then-brand-new brewpub Burnside Brewing was actually my second post for the Willy Week blog, the first is conveniently linked from within it. Oh, and the third now seems quaint since it’s about cherished publican Yetta Vorobik expanding Hop & Vine before, jumping 3 years into the future, she’d leave us to start a family with Crooked Stave founder Chad Yakobson over in Denver.