Reporter's Notebook

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

Show 1 Newer Notes

When Did Citrus-Flavored IPA Become Its Own Category?

I don’t know when it happened, but I’m actually glad that it did. Within the past ten days, four different citrus-infused IPAs, from four well-regarded breweries, have made their way into my awareness. You see them above, starting at the left:

I say that I “actually” enjoyed these beers, because I start out being highly skeptical of any beer you could classify as fruity. But these, which are different but all worthwhile from my POV, make vivid something I’d heard a million times but not really reflected on: that hops themselves, a powerful element of the IPA taste, bring a varying range of citrus flavors and smells to a brew.

And so I find in an authoritative piece on Citrus IPAs (which lists a number of other entries) on

Cascade hops, of course, are redolent of grapefruit pith, and stylish Citra hops live up to their tangy namesake. Increasingly, brewers embellish these already citrusy IPAs with actual zest, peel or juice from grapefruits, oranges, lemons, and/or limes to create complementary flavor profiles ideal for both hopheads and lovers of fruit beer.

Worth checking out. Larger theme: America already becoming great again.

I had somehow missed the fact that we are already four days into American Craft Beer Week! Fortunately it runs all the way through Sunday evening. In its honor, these updates:

1) Best Beer Gardens. Via Foursquare, an interactive map of the most highly rated beer gardens around the country. What you see below is a screen shot. More info at the site.

America’s Best Beer Gardens

If you could read the other side of this red marquee, you’d see it saying “Craft Beer on the Fly”

Here’s something I hadn’t come across before: Not simply good local craft beer inside an airport, which is becoming more common (and which I first noticed a few years ago, with Heady Topper on tap at the excellent-in-all-ways BTV BVT airport in Burlington, Vermont). In this case the local supplier in question is Yazoo Brewing, of Nashville, and the airport is BNA, of Nashville.

(I wrote about Yazoo last summer, when I was in Nashville to interview Al Gore for this story. Alas, I couldn’t talk Gore into visiting the brewhouse with me, so I was there on my own.)

The news for me was craft beer to go inside the Nashville airport. Or beer “on the fly,” as the Yazoo banners put it. You can buy a pint from the Yazoo kiosk in Concourse C (as I did today) and then take it anyplace inside the “secured” (post-TSA) part of the airport, excepting only (a) into other bars and (b) actually onto the plane when you board.

Why does this matter? Obviously in any cosmic way it doesn’t,  but it’s one more little ergonomic improvement. You don’t have to jam into one of the bars, elbowing for a seat and wondering if you’re already late for the plane. You can stroll with your plastic cup of craft brew to the gate, and then endure all the other minuses of airline travel with this slight positive counter-force.

The line up at the Yazoo kiosk in Concourse C of the Nashville airport.

Background on the policy behind “beer on the fly” here and here. Well done BNA and Yazoo. That is all.

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.