Reporter's Notebook

Cavalcade of Beers
Show Description +

Quasi-monthly celebrations, by James Fallows and friends and cronies, of beers worth noticing.

Show 5 Newer Notes

The Heady Topper of the Antipodes

What to look for on your next trip to Sydney.

Heady Topper is a beer from Vermont with three distinctive attributes. It is extremely good; it comes in large-sized cans; and it is available only in a very limited area around its brewing site, in Waterbury. You can read all about it starting here.

I’ve found the Australian counterpart. It’s from a brewery called Modus Operandi (which I have not yet visited), in the northern Sydney suburb of Mona Vale, and it is called “Former Tenant” Red IPA.

When I was in the very well-stocked Oak Barrel beer-and-wine store in Sydney last week, I asked one of the staffers for the best, canned, Aussie, IPA he could point me toward. Best for obvious reasons; canned so I could easily bring it back in a suitcase; Aussie as part of a buy-local, see-the-world policy; and IPA because that’s what I like.

“Well, it’s probably this one,” he said, pointing to “Former Tenant.” It is indeed excellent, and the harsh truth I have to convey is that you just aren’t going to find it any place other than greater Sydney. At least for now. Another reason to visit! Among many.

Where you can buy Former Tenant from Modus Operandi, if you happen to be in Sydney.

The can even looks like Heady Topper’s. If you have a chance, check it out.

The craftbrew revolution: it’s not just for America any more

I give you Wig and Pen, on the very campus of the Australian National University in Canberra. A wide range of beers made on site, and this in the land that barely a decade ago offered mainly the thin and depressing likes of Foster’s, Tooheys, Hahn, and VB.

If you would like to be astonished by a range of craft beers from around the world, try the Oak Barrel in Sydney. And if you’re in the Australian Capital Territory, check out Wig and Pen.

That is all. Thanks to Christopher Zinn and Sam Roggeveen.

Innocent Florida beers, taken far from their homeland to the mid-Atlantic region.

I am in the middle of article-writing. Thus this amuse-bouche.

In this space I have from time to time unkindly disparaged the state of Florida. If you’re from California, you are supposed to. Also, I blame the @_FloridaMan Twitter account. Still, in atonement let me mention two nice beers I found during a trip to Miami last Friday. I was there for a National League of Cities conference to hear six mayors talk about how their cities had come back from hardships, and to talk with people at the Knight Foundation about the “City Challenge” program I wrote about last week.

On the flanks in the shot above, twin cans of Screamin’ Reels IPA, from Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida. And in the central tower, Category Five Imperial IPA from Due South Brewery in Boynton Beach, Florida. Both very much worthwhile, and conveniently available in cans for transport northward, where you see them posing in the back yard.

America is getting better, including Florida. I am sorry for being unkind.

Getting a 22-ounce bomber filled with Wren House IPA, brewed in Phoenix, at Flowers Craft Beer & Wine in Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row district two days ago.

Thanks to my Atlantic colleague Kathy Gilsinan for the reminder of why today is different from all other days: It’s National Beer Day! Congratulations to beer.

Last week I did an item about the reasons to believe that craft breweries can actually play a significant part in the economic revival of communities. Short version: because startup breweries need a lot of space but typically don’t have a lot of money, they usually set up show in low-rent, fringe, non-fashionable parts of town. The jobs and activity they create in those neighborhoods have their own effect — which is then magnified by the customers they draw to the area, particularly at night and weekends when warehouse districts would ordinarily be deserted. As Jeff Alworth wrote in an All About Beer item I mentioned:

They are people magnets, bringing folks in who are curious to try a pint of locally made IPA. In fairly short order, breweries can create little pockets of prosperity in cities that can (and often do) radiate out into the neighborhood.

Pretty soon, other businesses see the bustle and consider moving in, too. It doesn’t hurt that breweries often find run-down parts of towns that have great buildings. Once a brewery moves in and refurbishes an old building, it reveals the innate promise of adjacent buildings to prospective renters.

Springtime beer in foreground, bare wintry branches (plus bamboo) to the rear. (Ansel Adams)

Last summer my wife Deb and I stopped through Chico, California, to hear the story of how Sierra Nevada, second-largest of America’s craft brewers, had ended up in this remote site in Butte County. More on that tale ahead.

For now, to catch up on our Cavalcade of Beers, a welcome harbinger of spring on the still-chilly Eastern seaboard. It’s a 2016 release from Sierra Nevada’s line of Beer Camp collaborative and experimental releases. This spring’s version, Tropical IPA, has been in ample stock at the neighborhood Safeway here in DC. (Sierra Nevada now serves the East Coast from a second brewery, in North Carolina.)

Neck label on this year’s Beer Camp Seasonal.

You can follow the whole discussion about this seasonal release on Beer Advocate here; most people who have weighed in like this Tropical IPA, as do I. Judge for yourself, if you still can find it in one of your stores — which is to say, if I haven’t been through your neighborhood.

Yesterday in this space I argued that Donald Trump should shut up. Amtrak’s recent decision to stock Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA on some trains showed that America is already great again.

Today the evidence from the nation’s northeastern rail corridor is mixed. On the one hand,we have the livestock-pen-indignity of the Penn Station waiting area, in which people mill around waiting for the last-second announcement of which gate to rush toward. (Yes! I know about the secret lower-level workaround. I’m thinking of my fellow citizens.) This is better than most commercial airports, but just barely. Penn Station veterans will know that the miracle of the shot below is that you can see a little area of unoccupied linoleum. But after all, this was 3 pm.

Photo: Ansel Adams

A new entry on Amtrak’s cafe-car offerings: Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA!

This is a step forward on an already progressive menu. For years Amtrak has offered Sam Adams Boston Lager on northeastern routes, plus Yuengling — and then Dogfish Head’s super-potent 90 Minute IPA, which at 9% alcohol is too much for me. [Update: and I hear from a reader that San Diego’s wonderful Stone beers have been available on the west coast Surfliner.]

But en route to NYC this evening, to accompany the traditional Amtrak dinner staple of Hebrew National All-Beef Hot Dog, I see Hop Devil, from the plucky Victory Brewing Company of Downington, Pa. It’s been marked up, to put it mildly ($7.50), but this is the price of dining out.

To hell with Donald Trump. America is already great again.

A sampling of North Texas’s finest, shown on a doorstep in Dallas today.

When my wife and I lived in Austin long ago, while she was a UT graduate student and I was working for the then-new Texas Monthly (and then-State Senator, now Congressman, Lloyd Doggett), we spent what seemed like every evening with friends at the famous Scholz Garten open-air beer garden downtown. The range of regional beer choice in those days was Shiner, Pearl, or Lone Star from Texas, and Negro Modelo, Bohemia, Dos Equis, etc from further south.

The craft brew age has come to Texas as it has everywhere else. Continuing our saga of appreciation for the increasing range of American beer greatness, please consider the four offerings above. They are shown on a Dallas doorstep, protectively nestled on a blanket with Dress Mackenzie tartan. From left to right:

My main point with these updates is to add little chronicles of the ongoing golden age of beer. For academic substantiation on that point, check out the new Journal of Wine Economics for a history and analysis of the American craft brewing movement by three academic economists: Kenneth Elzinga, Carol Horton Tremblay, and Victor Tremblay. A PDF of their 33-page essay is here. (Thanks to Russ Mitchell for spotting it.) The report includes this map of craft brewing’s expansion, after Jimmy Carter took the historic step of legalizing home brewing in 1979.

Three years ago, craft brewing was essentially illegal in Mississippi. Now the industry is taking off. Here are a few local examples, purchased in West Point, Miss., last week.

I have exactly two sources of recent interest in the fascinating-to-millions-of-people-but-previously-not-to-me world of SEC football.

One is the delightful recent book by Stuart Stevens — former Mitt Romney campaign strategist, book and TV writer, author for The Atlantic and other publications — called The Last Season. It’s the story of how, after the painful loss with Romney, Stevens spent a late summer and fall going with his 95-year-old father to every game of the football season for the University of Mississippi, his father’s alma mater. The book is about the modern role of football, especially the SEC variety. But it is also about the pre- and post- Civil Rights era deep south, about fathers and sons, about self-knowledge and self-delusion, about life’s losses and gains. I recommend it. It was 99% because of the book that I watched part of the game this afternoon in which Ole Miss steamrolled LSU.

Have been off the grid, mainly in Mississippi, so here is a good-news way to ease back in.

Sculpin IPA, from the Ballast Point site

1) Ballast Point Bonanza. I’ve long enjoyed Ballast Point beers, from San Diego. Earlier this month I mentioned its lightish Longfin Lager. My favorites from its lineup are actually its Sculpin IPA, as shown at right, and the packs-a-punch, spicy-plus-bitter Habanero Sculpin. Also great: Ballast Point’s Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager), Big Eye IPA, and Dorado Double IPA.

In addition to liking the beer, I’ve liked the idea that Ballast Point was co-founded by fellow Cirrus airplane pilot (and skilled flight instructor) Bill Graham, whom I’ve come to know at a number of aviation gatherings over the years. When I saw him at a Cirrus convention in Dallas a few weeks ago, he didn’t mention that he was about to sell the craft brewery for … one billion dollars. That’s the news — sale of Ballast Point to Constellation Brands as a California-based non-tech billion-dollar “unicorn” — that was announced yesterday. Congratulations to the company, and to the Graham family.

Only little cloud on the horizon: some of Constellation’s other beer brands include Corona, Pacifico, and Tsingtao. Hmmm. Please keep your brewmasters, Bill!

Hop Devil IPA, from Victory

2) Beer Road Trip. From Nathan Yau at FlowingData, a wonderful algorithmically generated map of how to visit the greatest number of the nation’s best craft breweries with the most efficient route. Not all of them are there — no Bent Paddle or Fitger’s of Duluth, Minnesota, no Yazoo of Nashville,  no Victory Brewing (and its famous Hop Devil) of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, no DC Brau of DC, no Terrapin of Athens, Georgia, none of the Mississippi breweries I’ll be writing about shortly, of course no Hangar 24 or Escape or Ritual of Redlands, California — but, to be fair, it covers a lot. Nice job.

Highlights of American craft brewing, all in one go, by Nathan Yau for Flowing Data.

3) Know Your Craft Beers. The LA Times story on the Ballast Point sale also has a interesting / challenging test on “craft” vs. “crafty” beers — ones that are still independent, versus brands that are part (as Ballast Point is about to be) of larger chains. Many of the “crafty” beers are still very good! But see if you do better on this test than I did…

This was a day of travel-related travails of many sorts. Had expected to be en route to Mississippi on an American Futures-related update trip. Instead (seemingly) unrelated but mounting mechanical and electrical problems in a small plane meant no-go tonight.

The silver lining was the excuse to try out a place I had heard about (and whose beer I’d bought) but not visited: one of Dogfish Head’s three DC-area outlets. The brewery and headquarters are nearby in Delaware. I say: even if you’re not reflecting on a cancelled trip, worth checking out.

Posters for their beers:

Since you asked, the tattoo on the right says 酒 , jiu, for liquor or spirits. As in 啤酒, pijiu, for beer or  葡萄酒, putaojiu, for wine. Pijiu was the specialty at Dogfish head.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on the beer beat, and the tips I’d like to pass along are mounting up. So henceforth a new feature: early each month, an homage to interesting beers.

November 1, 2015, Washington DC: lined up in approximate West-East geographic order we have, from left, Ballast Point Longfin Lager (San Diego); Uinta Hop Nosh IPA (Salt Lake City); Champion’s Missile IPA (Charlottesville VA); and Brau Pils from DC Brau (Washington DC).

On this warmish November 1 in Washington DC (hmm, I wonder why that could be), I show you four canned beers that we had laid in before watching the GOP/CNBC debate this past week. With a view over the still-fully-leafed trees and bamboo in the backyard, you see these beers lined up left to right, in West-to-East order of their sites of origin:

  • Longfin Lager, from the Ballast Point brewery of San Diego. From a great brewery, a very nice light lager for those who like light lagers.
  • Hopnosh IPA, from the Uinta Brewing Company of Salt Lake City. A wonderfully retro-campy label on a wonderful IPA that is one of my staples (when I can find it).
  • Missile IPA, from the Champion Brewing Company of Charlottesville, Va. I am always mildly embarrassed by the labels on these cans, the brew-world equivalent of the pulpy covers on the wonderful Hard Case Crime series. But, as with the Hard Case novels, I do like this beer.
  • Brau Pils, from DC Brau here in the nation’s capital. You can say a lot of bad things about Washington, but one of the (many!) good things is the emergence of DC Brau. I usually buy their “The Corruption” IPA, but this is a nice Pilsner.

Happy November.