The Back Story:
It’s a funny thing about wine regions. People are very, very protective of where their favorite wines come from. Wine regions have spawned organizations, bloggers, books, arguments, articles, and carefully delineated wine sections.
But what about beer?
I’ve had a Belgian Twitterer(er?) quickly and sharply correct me when I incorrectly referred to a Canadian ale as a Belgian ale instead of “Belgian-style.” Can you imagine a Kentucky resident knocking someone down a peg for referring to a Heineken as an “American beer”?
I’ve been told that Colorado is the capital of American craft beer (a claim I wouldn’t necessarily dispute, either). Considering the staggeringly good beer coming from that state, it’s a rightful argument.
Oktoberfest is a now-worldwide celebration inspired by Bavaria and its many, many fine beers. Without the German pride and enthusiasm combined with quality food and brews, this innocuous seasonal festival would never have reached global obsession.
Basically, the short answer is yes, beer regions have their supporters as well. Because beer is so much less dependent on terroir and because beer (generally) takes a lot less time to craft and perfect, regions matter much less than the process and the quality of ingredients. This doesn’t negate the fact, though, that hops are like grapes in that they have ideal climates and harvest times. It’s just that there are so many more ingredients involved in the process that the gains are diminished.
The perception of region is more dependent on the fact that certain places attract certain brewers and breweries, and that tradition dictates product moreso than terroir. Belgian-style ales can be brewed anywhere on the planet, but the best still arguably come from Belgium. The monasteries that made the Trappist and Abbey styles famous still hold the mystique and guard the secrets that keep their product in higher esteem than the non-so-designated outsiders.
Because the New World is so, well, new, we don’t really have respected beer regions yet. Americans celebrate their Budweiser and Miller beers, and Pabst Blue Ribbon is only somewhat ironically consumed by hipsters. When Belgians bought Anheuser-Busch, swill-drinking Americans acted as though the world were ending. Since the buyout, A-B has produced two astoundingly not terrible beers: the American Ale and Golden Wheat. Lo and behold, the noise machines wound down, and the world moved on. To relate, a similar reaction would be to Americans protesting a Bordeaux chateau purchasing Franzia and developing premium wines that don’t taste like the underside of a shower drain. There shouldn’t be a down-side, but we just largely didn’t know better.
I don’t think we have too much longer to wait on this. We’re developing regional craft beers that are gaining steam. Dogfish Head in Delaware, Abita in Louisiana, Bell’s in Michigan, these are all attracting like-minded, experimental brewers who are slowly bringing recognition to their respective regions. Because of the absence of tradition in any of these regions, they are free to create whatever beers strike their fancy. There is one state, though, that I believe is ahead on many fronts.
The state that produces Coors Light.
Allow me to present exhibit A for the case of Colorado as the first great beer region of the United States: Great Divide‘s Espresso Oak Aged Yeti. Aged with oak chips and infused with coffee, this beer showcases the innovation of American brewers.
The nose of the beer is of a dark roast coffee combined with notes of almond and vanilla. There’s no mistaking the added coffee in this beer.
The mouth feel of the beer is wonderfully active and hefty with a very thick smoothness. The carbonation is more aggressive than I anticipated. It’s bright and sharp.
The flavor of the beer is, as you might expect, primarily coffee-forward with a hint of vanilla. The hoppiness comes through after the initial coffee flavors fade, contributing a bitter orange zest. The finish is a blend of dark chocolate and espresso, and it tastes almost exactly like the sediment at the bottom of a mocha latte. You’re basically approaching a wine level as far as alcohol is concerned, at 9.5%, and it’s hardly detectable. It does for beer what alcohol should always do for beer: stay out of the way of the flavor while providing the structure.
For the Casual Drinker:
The color alone should suggest that this isn’t going to be a light affair. The coffee flavor, though, makes it drink much more smoothly than a black stout would. As much as I mention coffee in the descriptors, it’s actually fairly light, at least lighter than a cup of coffee would be. If you’re looking for a food pairing, you’re going to want to look on the hearty side. Savory dishes like pork or chicken with spices and gravy, or spicy, bright foods.
Phenomenal. Of the higher end craft beers I’ve had, this one is right up there. For $11.00 per half-liter, it’s not cheap, but let’s face it: you’re willing to spend $20 on 750 ml of wine, why not invest in a properly brewed craft beer? 8/10
In Case You Missed It:
Beer: Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti
Producer: Great Divide
Region: Colorado, US
Price: $11 / 500 ml