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

Friday, August 31, 2012

State #18: Minnesota

Beer: John Henry 3 Lick Spiker Ale

Brewery: Cold Spring Brewing Company, Cold Spring, Minnesota

ABV: 9.1%

When I think of Minnesota, there are many things I think of, even though I’ve never been: snow, funny accents, snow, silly accents, cold, blonde hair, sleet, ridiculous accents, snow, the Vikings, the Mall of America, nasally accents, and snow plows clearing the parking lots of the Mall of America. Two things I definitely don’t think of are black people and railroads. So what better way to market your Minnesota-brewed beer than to name it after a black folk hero who smashes railroad spikes?

"It sure is hot hear in Duluth! I better take my shirt off so I don't overheat while smashing these railroad spikes!" said John Henry in zero versions of his legend.
Clearly the Cold Spring Brewing Company, in tiny Cold Spring, Minnesota (now THAT sounds like a town in Minnesota!) is not trying to make this beer appear Minnesotan in any way. In most versions of the legend, John Henry is a southern, African-American, workman’s folk hero who defeated an automated railroad spike driving machine in a contest, thereby allegorically validating the value of manual labor, before dropping dead with his hammer in his hand. It was said that he could drive a railroad spike into the ground in three licks (or strikes), which I guess is impressive after watching this pussy do it in fourteen:

I think it’s great to name a beer after John Henry, even if he has nothing to do with Minnesota. It’s a cool story, John Henry was a badass, and the connection between labor and beer has always been strong, so why not?

I also opened this beer with my awesome railroad spike bottle opener. Thanks, Ryan!
The beer is also very tasty. It’s advertised as an ale, but it tastes like an imperial stout to me, with lots of chocolaty deliciousness, a dark brown color, and an earthy, oaky flavor that comes from the beer being aged with bourbon oak chips (seriously, are we sure this beer isn’t from Tennessee or someplace?). Like John Henry, it’s also strong, at 9.1 percent ABV, more than doubling up on Bud Light. So, while nothing about this beer evokes Minnesota, I’d give it a try anyway, as long as you can get past the fact that the Cold Spring Brewing Company seems to want John Henry to be white.

Yep: he's white. Way to go, Minnesota.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Country #19: Vietnam

Beer: Hue Beer

Brewery: Hue Brewery, Hue, Vietnam

ABV: 5.0%

Take a look at the tag on the inside of your shirt. I’ll bet you 10,000 dong it was made in Vietnam. Maybe it was made in El Salvador or Bangladesh, but the idea is the same: low-tech manufacturing has largely shifted from China to a slew of other countries like Vietnam, where labor is somehow even cheaper and labor laws somehow even worse.

Now take a look at the inside of your fridge. I’ll bet you ONE MILLION DONG you don’t have a beer in there made in Vietnam. This has nothing to do with cheap labor or geopolitics or anything. It’s just that Vietnamese beer is kind of hard to find and doesn’t taste very good.

This dong has a Ho on it.
Though you’re not likely to find them at the supermarket or the average corner store, there are actually three brands of Vietnamese beer that I know are available in my neck of the woods: Saigon Export, 33 Export, and Hue Beer, the latter of which I recently tried. Just like Saigon and 33, Hue is also obviously an export, or a beer made specifically to be shipped overseas: just look at that vaguely Chinese-ish font they use! I doubt that many Vietnamese people are going to think “oh, how exotic” and pick up a six pack of the stuff because of that. Besides, the font is meant to evoke the calligraphic strokes of Chinese characters, but the written Vietnamese language instead uses the Latin alphabet with a buttload of diacritical markers to indicate different tones. It looks like this, which I think we can agree is far more "exotic":

The photo on the left was taken by an Australian soldier in the Vietnam War. There were Australians fighting in the Vietnam War? Apparently.
The cleverly named Hue Beer is made in the central Vietnamese city of Hue (pronounced HWAY) by the Hue Brewery. According to the bottle, the brewery is located “by the Perfume River,” which, unlike probably every other river in Southeast Asia, actually smells good. Hue Beer smells just like any other beer, but because it is made mostly with rice, it has a much dryer taste than most lagers. I wasn’t a big fan of this one, though it was certainly inoffensive, and certainly tastes better than this more famous Vietnamese libation. I bet it would go well with a spicy dish from this hilariously named eatery.

Don't find this funny? Then you probably don't know how to pronounce the (delicious!) national dish of Vietnam.

Friday, August 17, 2012

State #17: Hawaii

Beer: White Mountain Porter

Brewery: Big Island Brewhaus, Waimea, Hawaii

ABV: 5.8%

Things that I wish were legal in California: selling beer in mason jars. Note: Kona Brewing Co. is a much bigger and entirely unrelated brewery that just so happens to be on the same island. I just wanted to keep everything in the picture as Hawaiian as possible.
It’s not that hard to get beer from Hawaii. The Kona Brewing Company distributes all over the country (and even has some of their stuff contract-brewed at a facility in New Hampshire of all places), the excellent Maui Brewing Company has their cans placed in an growing number of stores, and, for those of you who enjoy swill, Primo Island Lager, Hawaii’s own Crap National Lager, is available on the West Coast. Considering half the people in Hawaii at any given time are probably there on vactation, it makes sense that there is a lot of beer available.

Fortunately this road is nowhere near the Big Island Brewhaus and their deliciousness.
What’s more difficult is getting to Hawaii itself. My wife had no problem doing this, because she’s smarter than I am and got a bunch of people to give her a bunch of money to live on the Big Island to do research for over a month. I thought I would be stuck teaching and doing jury duty all summer and wouldn’t be able to join her, but the perfect storm of creative schedule finagling and plummeting airfare occurred, and before I knew it I, too, was gawking at volcanoes and drinking beers named after them.

Just another evening in Hawaii. Don't think anyone has named a beer after Kilauea yet. Get on it!
Kona has a beer called Fire Rock Pale Ale. Hilo’s Mehana Brewing Company makes Mauna Kea Pale Ale, named after the Big Island’s tallest peak. And Waimea’s Big Island Brewhaus, a microbrewery-Mexican restaurant, makes something called White Mountain Porter. White Mountain, by the way, is the hauli translation of Mauna Kea, and is so named because it actually sees snow in the winter.

There was no snow on it when we were there, but the White Mountain name might also have something to do with the clouds that are there just about always.
Porters are fantastic, but this one is really quite special. The chocolate and coffee flavors present in good porters go really well with coconut, so if you’re making beer on an island with a bazillion coconut palms, why not throw some in there? It’s a subtle flavor, but still noticeable and completely complimentary. The only bad news is that you not only have to go all the way to Hawaii to try it, but you also have to go to the Brewhaus itself, where they will happily pour some into a mason jar for you to take home. If you go, you can also try beers infused with jackfruit and ginger, but they weren’t as impressive.

Surprise: coconut-infused porters go really well with home-made chips and salsa and the most Hawaiian of all foods, a chili verde burrito.
If such a trip isn’t in your future but you’re intrigued by coconut-infused beer, try Maui Coconut Porter, which is similarly stupendous. Kona also makes something called Koko Brown, which uses coconut extract instead of real coconuts, and is a brown ale instead of a porter, so it tastes a bit too sweet for grown-ups.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Country #18: Malta

Beer: Farsons Lacto Milk Stout

Brewery: Simonds Farsons Cisk, Mriehel, Malta

ABV: 3.8%

Is there some EU or Maltese law that says you must disclose that "caramel color" has been added as conspicuously as possible on your product label?
Farsons Lacto Milk Stout sounds like a chocolate bar you’d pay 5 pounds for at Harrod’s in London. Instead, it is a beer from Malta that I paid 3 dollars for at Palm Springs Liquor in La Mesa. The world is a weird place. So, when 80% of your country's name consists of the word "malt," you better make good beer, especially since most people probably know absolutely nothing about your country.

I bet you twenty bucks that these are the only two Maltese things you've ever heard of.
More important to ask, though, is why exactly does Malta, a couple of islands south of Sicily, collectively smaller than Andorra (yet a full-fledged member of the European Union), produce a beer that sounds like an English candy bar? 

Found it! It's right here! About the same size and population of Omaha, Nebraska, if you were wondering.
The simple answer is that until 1964 Malta was a British colony. So, Maltese language and culture is a weird mix of English, Italian, and its own native heritage. I worked on a research project with a professor from Malta who had an Italian first name and an English last name, but whose first language, Maltese, was more closely related to Hebrew and Arabic than either. Watch the clip of a newscast below to hear it being spoken, and try pronouncing some of the words on the ticker at the bottom. 

And so it was that the Farrugia family anglicized the name of their brewery to Farsons in the 1920s, perhaps to better fit in with their English overlords. The styles of beer they made were also very Englishy; a pale ale at first, and then, by the end of World War II, Lacto Milk Stout. Milk stouts get their name because lactose, or milk sugar, is added after the beer ferments, giving it a creamy, sweet, milky taste. 

Mine was clearly not from the pub. I guess it was kind of special, though.
Usually when you get one on tap at a pub it will be nitrogenated, giving it an even creamier texture and bigger head, but my bottle of Lacto was lacking this, of course. It still hit well on the sweet, creamy, and milky fronts, but was generally a lot thinner than, say, a Guinness. It was especially sweet, though not cloyingly so, like every brown and amber ale ever. I found myself thinking “I could drink five or six of these in a row!” when I was halfway through mine, and then, when I was done, I found myself thinking “yeah, that’s about enough of that.”

So maybe you don't quite live up to the fact that the word "malt" is in your country's name. Still looks worth visiting to me (lots of great picture of Malta, including this one, taken by this guy)