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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Country #9: Australia

Beer: Coopers Sparkling Ale

Brewery: Coopers Brewery, Regency Park, Adelaide, South Australia

ABV: 5.8%

Coopers: Actually Australian for beer.
In my travels, I have met a lot of Australians. I have found them to be universally cheery, good-natured, and well-meaning people. Perhaps I witnessed these qualities because my interactions with them so often involved them drinking me under the table. So, having never been to Australia, I can still comfortably say that Australians enjoy their beer.

Complete with requisite kangaroo imagery.
They do not, however, enjoy their Foster’s. Every last Aussie I’ve met seemed to possess a special internal organ unique to Australians: a bile gland, somewhere deep in their chest cavities, reserved for their hatred of Foster’s. When I informed one of the “Australian For Beer” ad campaign that has been on U.S. airwaves since forever, he wept not only for his country, but mine. “NOBODY drinks Foster’s in Australia,” he insisted. “NOBODY.” Then what do you drink, I asked? “Lots and lots of VB” (Victoria Bitter). “And Coopers.”

How is it that, for $1.99, I can buy a can of this stuff bigger than the propane tank for my grill? Because it is terrible.
I had tried Victoria Bitter in New Zealand, and found it mostly agreeable, but had never seen Coopers anywhere until about three weeks ago, when it was all-of-a-sudden available nearly everywhere in San Diego. So, the special lady brought home a six-pack of Coopers Sparkling Ale from the corner store, and here we are.

A cooper is someone who makes barrels. The last name Foster is a bastardized version of the word "forester." One of these names seems fitting for a brewer.
The “sparkling” here refers to its lighter, blondish color, rather than high carbonation. It pours a monstrous, frothy head (at least it did for me), and it’s bottle-conditioned, which means there are tons of yummy yeasty beasties floating around in the bottom of the bottle, a bunch of which cheerfully decorated the top of said frothy head. The flavor was simple and understated, which is exactly what I wanted after an afternoon walking around the zoo getting as sunburned as a swagman and thirsty as a jumbuck at a billabong.  Foster's will quench your thirst too, though, but make no mistake: this is real beer, a zillion times better than Foster’s.

Beer porn: At left, the monstrous head, flecked with speckles of yeast; at right: the yeast goes for a swim.
And as long as we’re talking “Australian for beer,” Coopers is now the country’s largest Australian-owned brewery (Fosters and VB are both made by SAB Miller). The bottle has the requisite kangaroo imagery on it, lest we forget where the stuff comes from. And for all you homebrewers out there, Coopers is also the world's largest manufacturer of homebrewing equipment. Well done, mates.

Friday, April 20, 2012

State #8: Rhode Island

Beer: Newport Storm Hurricane Amber Ale

Brewery: Coastal Extreme Brewing Company, Newport, Rhode Island

ABV: 5.2%

Coastal Extreme Brewing Company's Newport Storm Hurricane Amber Ale. So-so beer, but an absolute train wreck of a name (nine words!).
Let me being with a longwinded story. A few years back, students in my department used to throw an annual Local Beer Party, to which we would bring beer from all over the country and the world. The party would typically take place in January, when everyone had returned from winter break, so people could grab interesting brews from their home towns, home countries, or wherever they had been doing research over the past months. It was a lot of fun, and we got to try some very good and very bad beers.

The parties also included “bounty prizes,” awarded to those who brought beers from states that nobody had brought beer from in years past. The last year of the party, the only bounty prize states left were Alabama, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Dakota. I was back home in Connecticut at the time, so I thought finding beer from Rhode Island would be a breeze. A six pack of Narragansett Lager and 3,000 miles later, the bounty prize would be mine. However, a few hours into the party, someone noticed that my Narragansett Lager was actually brewed in Rochester, New York. Oh, the horror! 

On the bright side: the winds in your logo are spiraling in counterclockwise, as do all cyclonic storms in the northern hemisphere. That being said, next time hire this guy or this guy to do your graphic design. And if you weren't aware, this is THE twelve ounce bottle.
I got to keep my bounty prize (a snazzy snifter glass for drinking fancy Belgian ales), but I learned an interesting lesson about the geography of brewing: a lot of beer is not made where it appears to have been made. To wit: I recently purchased a six pack of Magic Hat (ostensibly from Vermont) for this blog, only to realize later that it, too, was brewed in Rochester. What the hell, Rochester?

Newport Storm Brewing Company, however, is most definitely in Rhode Island, so I feel like my bounty prize is earned now. I tried their awkwardly named Newport Storm Hurricane Amber Ale while I was home this winter to knock another state off my list.
Here's what the map looks like now. Apparently I need to start drinking more large states or more flyover states.
There really isn’t a lot of brewing going on in Rhode Island, which I suppose is excusable, given its wee size. That being said, I had high hopes that Coastal Extreme Brewing Company Newport Storm Hurricane Amber Ale (nine words!) would carry the Ocean State’s beer banner with a little more pride, given its relative lack of in-state competition. Instead, it was merely okay. It had plenty of flavor, but was way too sweet for my liking. It was also disappointingly watery and flat, especially for an ale. It still beats the fizzy yellow stuff, but not by much. When I picked it up at the liquor store in Fairfield there was a sheen of dust on the bottles, which is never a good sign.

The beer is not evocative of The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635, but it does have a an accurate hurricane symbol on its bottle cap.
Finally, I think marketing craft beer with local imagery is a great idea, but I really don’t think of hurricanes when I think of Rhode Island. I do think of clams, bridges, beaches, funny accents, lighthouses, and Nibbles Woodaway, who would make a fantastic mascot for just about anything. Family Guy’s Pawtucket Patriot has the right idea, at least insofar as its marketing approach is concerned. Oh well. 

"Mediocre beer"

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Country #8: Norway

Beer: #100 (Barleywine-Style Ale)

Brewery: Nøgne Ø, Grimstad, Norway

ABV: 10.0%

This is some serious, Viking-quality beer that'll have you bellowing Uff da! in no time.
I have no idea what kind of beer the Vikings would have drunk, but my imagination tells me it must have been thick, dark, and strong. Those guys were crazy, in pursuits both malicious (raping, pillaging, burning) and courageous (reaching North America five hundred years before Columbus). The sensory overload of the Viking lifestyle demanded serious beer, and Norwegian brewery Nøgne Ø could have provided it for them, had it not been founded only ten years ago. 

Nothing says Norway like the letter  Ø
These guys make serious stuff: the beer I tried, #100, is a barleywine-style ale, which is perhaps a redundant name, as barleywine really just refers to certain types of ales that have enough alcohol to rival wine. #100, named as such because it was the 100th batch the brewery made, is as black as a December high noon in Hammerfest (where the sun doesn’t come up from late November to late January), as rich as a Viking back from a successful pillage, and as thick as his gut after munching on twenty legs of lamb for dinner. At 10% alcohol by volume, it packs a punch, and when you pour the entire 25 ounce bottle into a big glass and drink it one sitting (as I did), it packs the alcoholic punch of about five Bud Lights. So, if you’re a Viking, it might make for a nice breakfast.

I would have drank my Norwegian beer out of this thing, if I had one. I would also probably have one of these if they didn't cost $89.95
Nøgne Ø, Norway's first craft brewery, has made a name for itself brewing over-the-top beers like this. The packaging screams Norwegian: simple, utilitarian design, and not one but two of those o’s with the line through it in the brewery’s name—which means Naked Island in Norwegian, referring to the barren, rocky crags off the Norwegian coast that Grimstader Henrik Ibsen wrote about. Their beer, however, is unabashedly American in character, and the brewers aren’t afraid to admit it: the bottle claims they are “thoroughly inspired by the boldness of American brewing,” and they often collaborate with American brewers, including San Diego’s own Stone, with smashing results. Before Nøgne Ø came along it was hard to find any Norwegian beer in the States, but their commitment to making interesting beers has landed them on the shelves of Whole Foods here in California (where I got mine), as well as at one of the bars just up 30th street from my house. I’m not sure what uff da! means exactly, but drinking this beer made me want to say it.

One of Ibsen's "naked islands" off the coast of Grimstad. This one is wearing a lighthouse. (Picture by Panoramio user Tore Heggelund)