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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Country #28: Sweden

Beer: Oppigårds Well-Hopped Lager

Brewery: Oppigårds Bryggeri, Hedemora, Sweden

ABV: 5.3%

The beer here looks like a blonde ale (which would have been appropriate, given its Swedish origin), but I assure you it's a lager. The dilapidated farmhouse on the bottle might also be confusing, as "farmhouse" style beers (e.g. saisons) are also very much not lagers.
As Americans, our experience with Swedish-made products is typically limited to shitty Ikea furniture. It’s a good thing Ikea doesn’t make a home beer kit. If they did, it would probably be sold as a collapsible brew tank and packets of über-generic malted barley and hops, all flat-packed into an unwieldy plank flat enough to fit under your couch, but three inches too long to fit into the trunk of your car. The brew tank would require three separate allen wrenches to assemble, it would take three hours to put it together, and it would fall apart in six months. It would be called the Brëwskittå, and you’d probably still buy it.

Page 19 of the Ikea Brëwskittå assembly instructions.
Fortunately, Ikea seems to have stayed out of the beer business altogether, leaving that to other, far more qualified Swedes. The folks at the Oppigårds Bryggeri, in bustling Hedemora (population 7,000), are certainly qualified, based on the 16 ounce sample of their wares I recently enjoyed. Their Well-Hopped Lager is exactly what you think it would be: far hoppier than a pilsner, but not as bitter as a pale ale or an IPA. It was basically a lager on steroids: darker, thicker, and much more flavorful. It was difficult to find much more information about the beer, since the Bryggeri isn’t currently making it, and doesn’t list it as an out-of-season brew on their website. However, I was able to find that they used Czech hops in the beer, giving it a decidedly different flavor than the similarly-hopped American pale ales that typically use citrusy, piney American hops.

Enough with the stars, breweries! FYI, Dalarna is the region of Sweden where the brewery is located.
I’m almost done with Scandinavian beers at this point. I’ve already done Iceland, Norway, and Finland, with only Denmark remaining. For a region not historically known for its beers—especially since hops don’t typically survive the frigid temperatures and 20-hour nights typical of Scandinavian winters—the beers have been very good. They’ve also been anything but ordinary. Most of the international beers I’ve had have been pale lagers and pilsners, while I’ve sampled sahti, barleywine, white ale, and now an excellent, distinctive lager from Scandinavia. It seems that craft brewing has taken off in the Nordic countries, displaying a passion for gustatory excellence far surpassing the stereotype put forth by this guy:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

(Should be a) State #22: Washington, DC

Beer: The Citizen

Brewery: DC Brau Brewing Company, Washington, DC

ABV: 7.0%

Curious: Among all the proudly American civic-mindedness coming from this brewery (the beer names, the Capitol Dome imagery on the cans, the statehood stuff on their web page), we have a Belgian beer from a brewery with a German-ish name.
A couple weeks ago, in a vote overlooked amongst the Bronco Bamma-Mitt Romney mayhem, residents of Puerto Rico voted in favor of becoming a full U.S. state. Puerto Ricans had voted several times before to remain a territory of the United States, but for the first time ever a plurality of voters favored statehood over independence and the status quo. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Puerto Rico will become the 51st state anytime soon: the issue is quite complicated. But it definitely raises another question: What about Washington, DC?

Of course, if we start adding states, we'll have to change our flag. If we add Puerto Rico or DC, we'll be up to 51 stars (left). If we add both, we'll have 52 (right). If we start talking about statehood for Guam, Guantanamo Bay, the Northern Mariana Islands, well... the possibilities are endless.
The District of Columbia has more people than Wyoming, and only slightly fewer than Alaska, North Dakota, and Vermont. It is part of the geographically contiguous United States, and a majority of its residents speak English as a first language, so Rick Santorum can back off. So why not make it a state? Washingtonians can vote for President, but they don’t have representation in Congress, even though they pay federal taxes. This doesn’t seem fair, and many DC residents aren’t happy about it, according to a super scientific poll of one (1) near-lifelong Washingtonian, my friend Aaron, who says “I am 100% for DC (statehood)… or a tax free life. Either one would suit me just fine, but as it stands, the current situation is bullshit.” 

My poll was not very scientific at all. But if your city decides to put this on the license plates, it's safe to say that many others agree with my friend.
I’ve written before about how breweries often try to appeal to local prides and prejudices in the marketing of their suds, and the DC Brau Brewing Company is no different. As Washington's first packaging brewery in decades, all their beers have civic-minded names. They make The Public Pale Ale, The Corruption IPA, Fermentation Without Representation (an imperial pumpkin porter), and The Citizen, a Belgian-style ale that my aforementioned friend kindly served (in great abundance!) to the guests at his wedding. (They had the Public Pale Ale there too, but I had approximately 75,000 drinks at the reception, so I don't remember much about it). 

Fun fact: I actually learned this by reading the beer can. I didn't realize that this didn't happen until 1963. Of course, while I was learning this I was also too tipsy to take a decent picture of the back of the can, so I had to borrow this shot from the interwebs.
The Citizen here is a naturalized citizen, of Belgian origin, due to the strain of yeast used in its creation. If beers were people, The Citizen couldn't be president, but it could run for any other public office, and I’d vote for it. It was the first Belgian-style beer I’d ever had out of a can, and I liked it a lot. It’s sometimes difficult to get a good, long-lasting head from beer poured out of a bottle, but the narrow opening of the can makes this a bit easier, and a good head goes a long way towards the enjoyment of a nice Belgian. A few of the Citizens we sampled were “corrupted” by an excess of lactid acid, which made them sour, but I liked the extra tartness, even if it was unintentional. As DC residents surely know, sometimes corruption gets shit done.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Country #27: Sri Lanka

Beer: Lion Stout

Brewery: Lion Brewery, Biyagama, Sri Lanka

ABV: 8.8%

Lion Stout: The Anti-Crap National Lager
Excluding the United States, this is the 27th country from which I have sampled a beer for this blog. A lot of these countries have been obscure, tropical republics, because when I have an opportunity to buy a beer from a country not known for its beer, I jump on it. My entry for Germany can wait, but if for some reason I see that Ralph’s has a beer from Guyana, I’m snatching it up.

You know who else would've snatched it up? This guy, Michael Jackson, who is is not THAT Michael Jackson, but who was just as white and is, sadly, just as dead as the singer. I'll take The Beer Hunter over The King of Pop any day.
As a result, I’ve only tried a few different styles from other countries. A whopping 19 of the 26 international beers I’ve sampled have been pale lagers or pilsners, and most of those countries have territory between the latitudes of 23.5 degrees north and 23.5 degrees south (that means tropical, for you geographic noobs). 

When you can't stop sweating, there's nothing like 166-proof beer to help you forget about how miserable you are.
So, I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw a beer from an obscure tropical country—in this case Sri Lanka—that was very much not a lager. In fact, Lion Stout, from Biyagama’s Lion Brewery, had the consistency of motor oil, was bursting with bittersweet, dark chocolate flavor, and packed a punch, too, with an ABV of 88 percent (note: not really). The fact that I found it at Cost Plus World Market, which specializes in bad pottery instead of good beer, was all the more serendipitous.

What's in a name? Arab traders called Sri Lanka Serendib, which shares an etymology with serendipity. It used to be called Sinhala, and its people and language still go by this name. Sinha means "lion," and the Sri Lankan flag, which is officially badass, has a lion (with a sword!) on it. Sri Lanka just means "venerable island." Ho-hum.
What is a beer like this doing in a country like Sri Lanka, a tropical island just a few years past decades of religious- and ethnic-fueled civil war? The answer is that, for all its (many, many, MANY) faults, sometimes colonialism does at least some good. India benefits from its use of English as a lingua franca to help it stay plugged in to the global economy! And… ummm… well, Vietnam has banh mi, thanks to France, and Sri Lanka has this beer. Good job, Europe!

Not sure what all this hubbub about lions is in Sri Lanka, as they have never lived there (the country is circled on the map here).
And Lion Stout is as colonialist as it gets. It is a dark, heavy, English-style beer, with an English language name. It comes from a brewery founded in 1881 by one Sir Samuel Backer to cater to English managers of tea plantations, and is currently made primarily for export (much like the tea on those plantations), because heavy local taxes have made beer unaffordable for most of the Sri Lankan population. Hell, the bottle and cap even call the beer’s home country Ceylon, the colonial name that hasn’t been used since 1972. 

This beer is as much from Ceylon as Chiang Kai-shek was from Formosa.
Despite it’s über-Englishness, and the fact that it’s now owned by the Danes, the fact that beer is made in Sri Lanka is ultimately good for Sri Lanka. It provides jobs for Sri Lankans, and export income for the economy. So maybe the Brits left behind something a little bit more substantial, and beneficial, than just tasty beer.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

State #21: Virginia

Beer: The Love

Brewery: Starr Hill Brewery, Crozet, VA

ABV: 4.6%

You know what's nice? Flying 3,000 miles to Virginia, getting to your friend's place, opening up the cabinet to get something to pour your beer into, and finding this glass.
Here’s a multiple choice question for you. What on earth could possess me, a man who wrote these words while wearing a sweat-stained baseball cap and a scruffy, untrimmed-for-three-weeks beard, to buy a beer with a pink label?

a)    The proceeds went to breast cancer research.
b)   I am completely secure in my masculinity. And also nobody saw me drink it.
c)    It was on super-duper sale.
d)   I was in Virginia for a wedding (Congrats, Aaron and Stefanie!), the beer was from Virginia, and I was feeling kind of mushy. And also I was thirsty.

While the fact that Mark A. Thompson has made a living making beer makes him more of a man than me, I think his third-grade-looking signature and pink-labeled beer might bring him down closer to my level of manliness.
If you chose D, congratulations! Choice B is also a decent choice, if not the best choice, because I have to be honest with you, I don’t think I’d roll up to a party with a six pack of this stuff. It’s not just that the label is pink; the beer is called The Love. From a marketing perspective, it’s approaching Smirnoff Ice levels of femininity, and I have to think that’s hurting sales among red blooded men like myself who would otherwise enjoy a nice microbrewed hefeweizen.

The 'Starr' in Starr Hill comes from the name of the neighborhood in Charlottesville where the brewery was originally located. Thus, the stars all over the bottle.
The Starr Hill Brewery, where The Love is made, claims the name comes from the yeast used in its making. A friend of the brewer brought back a particularly tasty strain of yeast from Germany, and after ten years he finally “shared the love” with the brewer by providing him with some of the yeast. Also, as we all know from reading bumper stickers, “Virginia is for Lovers.” So, I guess it’s got that going for it too, which is nice.

Check that: I think this bumper sticker sums up Virginia a little better.
The beer was just okay: standard wheat beer fare, but with very little head. I imagine the brewery must be doing well, however, since they moved from their original digs in Charlottesville to a larger facility outside of town a few years back. In general, I imagine Charlottesville must be a nice place to start up a brewery, what with all the drunk students, jerky popped-collar lacrosse players, hipster faculty, and Thomas Jefferson's ghost wandering about.