This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

State #7: Massachusetts

Beer: Whale's Tail Pale Ale

Brewery: Cisco Brewers, Nantucket, Massachusetts

ABV: 5.6%

A (good) beer worthy of (bad) poetry.

There once was a beer from Nantucket
They shipped it on boats; couldn’t truck it
So concerning this blog
On geography grog
Sam Adams can just go and... and… stop trying to make 90 styles of beer and stop spending so much money on advertising and maybe focus on making a few styles of beer really well instead, but really, I can’t hate on Sam Adams, because they let the masses know that American craft beer could be both tasty and a profitable enterprise, and perhaps beer drinkers owe Jim Koch a debt for his work, so I would never tell Sam Adams to ‘suck it,’ but I wouldn’t choose one of their beers to represent Massachusetts for this blog either.

So, when I arrived at my parents’ house over the holidays this past winter, I was delighted and surprised to see a couple cans of Whale’s Tail Pale Ale, by Nantucket's Cisco Brewers, lurking in the back of the fridge. God only knows how long they had been there for. My parents don’t drink a lot of beer, and nobody could recall how it got there. But the good thing about beer in cans, and one of the reasons why an increasingly large number of craft breweries are using them (some exclusively) is that they keep light out, and prevent the beer from going skunky (like Caguama from El Salvador, or every Corona you’ve ever had). Coupled with newer can linings that don’t impart a metallic taste on the beer, I’m surprised more breweries aren’t using them (Whale’s Tail is also available in bottles).

Another benefit of beer in cans: the ability to shotgun.
In addition to being the rhymiest beer I will write about for this blog, Whale’s Tail Pale Ale is also wicked tasty. It’s considerably less hoppy than most pale ales, and quite a bit sweeter, but not in a bad way. Another positive attribute of the can is that it pours a nice head more easily than a bottle, bringing out those flavors a bit more easily. According to the Cisco’s web site, these flavors suffer a fate common to a lot of vacation island beers: people try it when they visit the island, and then crave it after they leave, but can’t find it anywhere back home. Sometimes that craving is probably pure nostalgia, but in the case of Cisco’s beers, it’s probably also because they taste good. “Nice beer, if you can get it” is the brewery’s motto, though fortunately their distribution area has grown a bit in recent years, and their stuff is now available in bahs all over the Northeast.

Whale's Tail Pale Ale is not only a catchy name, but it is also evocative of the old whaling industry that ruled Nantucket in days of yore. Seen here is the interior of the Nantucket Historical Association's Whaling Museum (photo from
As if Nantucket wasn’t sufficiently relaxed, Cisco also operates a vineyard and a craft distillery, ventures that started as part of an “alcohol amusement park” in the backyard of the brewery’s founders (who seem like people I would thoroughly enjoy). The combination brewery and distillery is another emerging trend in the craft brewing world, with breweries like Oregon’s Rogue and San Diego’s Ballast Point joining Cisco in making booze.

The self-described "alcohol amusement park," where beer, wine, and booze are made. I don't see any roller coasters, which is probably for the best. (Imagery from Google Maps)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Country #7: Cape Verde

Beer: Strela

Brewery: Sociedade Caboverdiana de Cerveja e Refrigerantes, Praia, Cape Verde

ABV: 5.6%

How do you say "very fizzy" in Portuguese? Anyone?
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Cape Verde before. No? I’m not surprised. According to a quiz site that I (frequently) frequent, Cape Verde is the 15th most obscure country in the world, out of 196 independent nations. This means that most people, including a lot of geography wonks like me, simply forget that Cape Verde exists when asked to name the world’s countries.
Strela just means 'star' in Portuguese. As we will see, there are lots of beers named for 'star,' or some translation thereof. Lazy marketing.

The two most obscure countries in the world, as per the results of that quiz, are Kiribati and Nauru, in the South Pacific. And they don’t make beer. Cape Verde does, however, and I somehow got my hands on some. The stuff is called Strela (Portuguese for ‘star’). And it has some interesting ingredients in it.

Water, barley malt, and corn gritz. Nothing but the best.
The reason why Strela is available in the United States is because more Cape Verdeans live outside of Cape Verde than live in Cape Verde, and apparently they are nostalgic for the local grog. I knew Boston had a sizeable Cape Verdean community, so after a little research by my old roommate Steve, I was able to find Strela at a packie in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during a recent visit (the same store where I found Prestige, from Haiti… this place had a weird selection). 

Just like Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island, Cape Verde is neither a cape nor green. It is named after Cap Vert, the nubby bit sticking off the African continent to the east, which is the location of Dakar, Senegal. Talk amongst yourselves.
Just how is it that the Cape Verdean diaspora is bigger than the resident population of the country itself? Well, it’s a small country, with not a whole lot to offer its residents. Cape Verde is neither a cape (it is an archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Africa), nor is it very verde (green), receiving only about 10 inches of rain per year. It was uninhabited before the Portuguese found it in the 15th century, and it got by for centuries as a slaving post. So, no rain, no natural resources, a hard-to-reach location, and the typical post-colonial madness and malaise became a recipe for a bad economy after it gained independence in 1975.  Many people left the country, and many landed in the USA. The name of the capital, Praia, means ‘beach’ in Portuguese, which sounds awesome, but the country has only recently begun to beef up its tourist infrastructure, and things are only recently starting to improve.

The geography of the Cape Verdean diaspora. Notice the large graduated circle representing New England. I found Strela in Boston, and I'm not sure if it's available anywhere else in the States.
The fact that they make Strela at all is somewhat miraculous, considering the climate makes agriculture almost futile. Ninety percent of all food is imported to Cape Verde, and one assumes that all the ingredients of the beer are too. Especially the corn gritz: because of these wacky, inferior ingredients, Strela is a typical Crap National Lager, but I think it represents a valiant effort given where it comes from. It’s very fizzy and has an overly sweet flavor, but on a hot tropical day, lounging on the praia, it’ll surely hit the spot.

Monday, March 19, 2012

State #6: New Jersey

Beer: Belgian Style Dubbel

Brewery: Flying Fish Brewing Company, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

ABV: 7.2%

New Jersey beer in a New Jersey backyard on a balmy, sunny New Year's Eve.
The state of New Jersey has a terrible reputation on so many fronts. It’s dirty and polluted. It’s a haven for mobsters. It’s a cultural wasteland, a mixture of vapid suburbanization and depressing urban strife. Day-glo orange spray tans and track suits are considered stylish. The New Jersey Turnpike is the country’s worst road. There aren’t nearly enough breweries. (Okay, so most people don’t really talk about this last one).

"You make fun of Jersey or my tan and I'll bust your nuts with a hammer!"
I’m here to tell you that all those stereotypes are true. But, like every stereotype, the kernel of truth belies the reality, in which the situation on the ground reflects an unfair portrayal of a place. There are wonderful people (my dad and brother-in-law are from Jersey), clean air, sensible fashions, and vibrant culture all over the state. The New Jersey Turnpike is the worst road in the country, however, and there definitely aren’t enough breweries in New Jersey, especially given the state’s industrial reputation. 

Get busy counting, Simon and Garfunkel. They've all gone to look for a beer. You would too after three hours of this.
Flying Fish Brewing Company, in Cherry Hill, is one of only about ten breweries in the state, and one of the few that makes enough to ship across state lines. In general, it’s hard to get Jersey-brewed beers very far from Jersey. Luckily I found myself in New Jersey visiting my sister to celebrate New Years (only a few miles from Flying Fish’s premises, no less), and I was able to pick some up. 

It's a fish. But it has propellers on it. I call it a flying fish!
The Belgian Style Dubbel that I had was mighty tasty. Even though I had it way back on New Year’s Eve, I took notes before the evening’s activities made me forget everything I liked about the beer. A dubbel is a Belgian abbey-style beer, a bit darker and stronger than a regular ale (hence the name; it is supposedly double the strength, although at 7.2% ABV the math doesn’t quite add up here).  This one was sweet, but not overly so, and, as an unfiltered, bottle-conditioned beer, it had lots of gritty yeasty beasties floating around in the glass, giving it some serious texture. Gritty, yet complex: that’s New Jersey.

You can't see the delicious unfiltered floaty bits, but they're in there.
In addition to making good beers, Flying Fish has an interesting history. It was founded on the internet in 1995, when people were still using CompuServe, where its founders solicited for ideas of all kinds (on beer styles, ingredients, names, packaging design, etc.) before a single drop was brewed. It’s a nice story, and evocative not only of the DIY ethos driving craft brewing but also the beauty of crowd sourcing, long before people were talking about crowd sourcing.

Their latest project is an ode to the country’s worst road: a series of beers named after the exits on the New Jersey Turnpike, with each beer incorporating some ingredient with a special significance to that exit. Their Exit 8 beer, for instance, uses chestnuts, which used to grow in abundance in the area. I’m eagerly awaiting their beer for Exit 8A, the location of International Flavor and Fragrance, manufacturers of just about every artificial flavor ever. I suggest they honor this industrial heritage by whipping up a batch of Pyridinemethanthiol Pilsner, which would taste something like pork. Ah, New Jersey.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Country #6: Ireland

Beer: Wrasslers XXXX Full Stout

Brewery: Porterhouse Brewing Company, Dublin, Ireland

ABV: 5.7%

All I know is that Wrasslers has nothing do with the WWE, and that the name of the brewery makes me want a steak.
I have a lot of Irish blood in me, and I have the freckles and history of sunburns to prove it. So, on this St. Patrick’s Day, it seemed appropriate to celebrate my heritage by staying inside and drinking beer. The weather in San Diego cooperated: it was cold and pissing rain outside, whipping the palm fronds into a frenzy. Lovely day for a Guinness!

However, I drank all the Guinness last night, and I forgot to take pictures. So, the wife and I braved the rain to go on a beer run today.

Dead soldiers from the night of March 16th.
Unfortunately, Guinness is only at its best on draft, and doubly unfortunately, Guinness is really only at its best on draft in Ireland, or so says everyone I know who has been.  Since Guinness isn’t perfect out of the can or bottle, I figured I would try something different. Luckily, I stumbled upon a store in my neighborhood that carried beers by Porterhouse Brewing Company, one of only two Irish microbreweries that exports to the United States. 

Porterhouse Brewing Company wants to remind you that they are from Ireland. And that Guinness is not genuinely Irish.
The weather still called for a stout, so I grabbed a Wrasslers XXXX Full Stout. I’m not sure about the etymology of the Wrasslers part of the name, but the brewery’s web site says the XXXX refers to the alcohol content (which is not that high, but is high for a stout) and robust flavor. The brewery claims that Wrasslers is made with a turn of the (20th) century recipe that would have been similar to revolutionary Michael Collins' brew of choice. And in an ode to The Big Fellah, there he is, right on the front of the bottle. 

That's Michael Collins, not a cop.
Whatever Michael Collins was drinking in 1900—when he would have been 10, and probably drinking stout anyway—it must have been tasty, because this is a really, really good beer. It’s a fizzier, thicker, and more bitter stout than Guinness, and with all the chocolaty, coffee-flavored, roasty complexity that Guinness lacks. Even though it didn’t pour with much of a head, it was still extremely tasty; I can only imagine what it tastes like on tap (East Coast people: Porterhouse actually owns and operates a pub in New York… you should probably check it out). It also got better with each sip as the temperature came up a bit, a sign of a good beer.

I'm not sure about the utility of the pull-tab cap, but it certainly does make for a unique look.
And of course, it wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. Luckily, I have an obliging wife, and a pound of boiled food never tasted so good. Sláinte!

The chef, the dinner, the beer, and the dog.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

State #5: New Hampshire

Beer: Robust Porter

Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

ABV: 5.7%

Dark and tasty. The head pours a nice orange color, which the label (unintentionally?) evokes.
While it’s warm and sunny here in San Diego right now, earlier this winter, when the weather was dreary, I found myself on a big-time porter kick. After all, nothing goes better with gray, rainy days than dark, thick beer. While back home in Connecticut I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some Robust Porter by New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewing Company.
Well hi there, little fella! I tried to see if the harbor seal on the bottle cap could "swim" on the head of the beer, but he "drowned" before I could take a picture.
Smuttynose, in Portsmouth, is a good, clean brewery with a dirty sounding name. The brewery takes its name for Smuttynose Island, off the New Hamsphire coast, which is actually part of the state of Maine. Even though I think of the White Mountains when I think of New Hampshire, this beer has quite the nautical theme to it, as Portsmouth is found on New Hampshire’s 18-mile long coastline. There is a little baby seal on the bottle cap, and the porter style is so named because it was favored by “porters” in Victorian England: big, strong guys you could hire to carry a load of goods from the docks to your warehouse.

Porters are strongmen who can carry your load of spices, rum, or tobacco from the docks to your warehouse. This guy is instead porting a barrel of something and a circus girl. You figure it out, because I'm stumped.
Perhaps naming the beer Robust Porter was a bit redundant, as the style is meant to be thick, dark, and richly flavored. This is a very good representative of the style, however, with lots of coffee and chocolate flavor present, and a nice, thick head. The head was so thick that I tried to put a bottle cap on it to see if it would float. It didn't, and I had to fish it out of the bottom of my glass; a minor inconvenience for a very tasty beverage.  New England winters would certainly be a lot more tolerable with more of this stuff around.

Here's what the real Smuttynose Island looks like, thanks to Panoramio user Scott Finley. Looks like a nice day for a dark beer.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

State #4: Oregon

Beer: Green Lakes Organic Ale

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon

ABV: 5.2%

Green Lakes Organic Ale in a glass for another Oregon brewery: Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, where my cousin Chad works, which after visiting I can gladly say is "killing it," and makes ALL their beers with organic ingredients.
I originally intended to write about an obnoxiously hoppy IPA to represent the state of Oregon. It’s an interesting style that hasn’t become very popular outside of the west coast of the United States, and since my California beer was a run-of-the-mill pale ale, I figured any number of Oregon IPAs would prove a worthy representative of the style.

That was until I stumbled upon Green Lakes Organic Ale, from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon. In addition to being a really tasty representative of the often-boring amber ale style, there were so many interesting things to say about this beer and this brewery.

I had lots of good Oregon beers to choose from, including any number from Full Sail in Hood River, whose beers are not spectacular but are consistently good and really can't be beat for the price. Also, as Jared can tell you, they taste much better out of a Burger King Star Wars glass from 1980.
First, along with California, the state of Oregon has long been at the forefront of the craft brewing movement in the United States, and the Deschutes Brewery (pronounced deh-SHOOTS), founded in 1988, has been in the game for a relatively long time. Although unfamiliar on the east coast, Deschutes’ beers are available all over the place out west. In addition to being early to the craft brewing scene, they are staying true to the do-it-yourself ethos driving the craft beer  movement by making homebrew clone recipes available on their web site for all their beers.

Want to know what goes into Green Lakes Organic Ale? Here you go, courtesy of Deschutes' own web site.
Second, Oregon is also on the vanguard of the organic farming movement, and Green Lakes has been certified as organic by Oregon Tilth, a non-profit organization that certifies such things. This means that the barley, hops, and malt used in brewing the beer were farmed without pesticides. It also means that the hops (which grow quite well in that part of the world) were not farmed with water diverted from streams important to salmon spawning, nor were any important spawning streams polluted by runoff during the production of the beer’s ingredients: an important ecological concern in the Pacific Northwest. “Altruism has never gone down so easy,” or so says the web site.

Oregon has lots of mountains and rivers. As such, Deschtutes uses this imagery in all their branding.
Third, there is so much geographic allusion in all of Deschutes’ branding, but particularly so for Green Lakes Organic Ale.  The brewery itself is named after the Deschutes River, which runs through Bend, and Deschutes County, in which Bend is located. The Green Lakes are a series of glacial tarns at the base of South Sister Mountain in Deschutes National Forest north of Bend. Finally, in the geo-nerd coup de grace, the label is an artistically drawn contour map of an alpine lake, albeit one stylized after the Deschutes logo rather than an accurate map of the Green Lakes themselves. 

Even though it's not a real map, geography nerds such as myself will be enamored with the contour map on the label.
And of course, the beer itself is good, too. Amber ales are typically one of my least favorite styles of beer, as many of them are cloyingly sweet, while others are just plain boring. Green Lakes manages to avoid both of these pratfalls just by adding a little hops to their amber ale. It’s less sweet, and adds quite a bit of nice flavor to the mix, without making it overly bitter. I highly recommend it.

One of the actual Green Lakes in Deschutes National Forest, with South Sister Mountain in the background. Looks pretty nice. Taken by Panoramio user rparge.