Author: Tom Ward

White-out! Give Belgian witbier a try

Belgium is home to a long brewing tradition, some of the world’s best beers and several unique styles — from sour lambics and dry saisons, to malty Flanders brown ales and heavy Trappists. A number of American brewers have taken to crafting their own versions of many traditional Belgian styles, one of the most popular being witbier, or white beer. Witbier is a style dating from the Middle Ages, but it had virtually died out in Belgium before being revived in the 1960s. Brewed with unmalted wheat and usually flavored with fruit (traditionally orange peel) and spices, such as coriander, it is unfiltered, giving the beer a very cloudy — or white — appearance from the yeast floating in it. Witbier is often highly carbonated. Despite the cloudy look, witbiers are not heavy, and have a moderate ABV, usually around 5 percent. The best known, and best selling, white ale in the United States is Blue Moon’s Belgian White. Found almost everywhere. Even if you’ve never tried a Blue Moon, you’ve probably seen someone drinking it at your favorite watering hole, served as hazy beer with an orange slice garnishing the top of the glass, which has become a sort of trademark with Blue Moon, a practice that borrows from the accessorizing of witbier in Belgium with a lemon. A subsidiary of Coors Brewing Co., Blue Moon’s flagship ale...

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Brews and books

I have always thought books and beer — two of my favorite things — go together very well. After all, what is better than sitting on the beach with a good book and a cold beer on a sunny afternoon? It seems a number of independent bookstores — probably in order to attract more traffic in the age of Amazon — have begun selling beer, wine and even mixed drinks in their stores. The practice has become so popular publications as diverse as USA Today and Men’s Journal have recently run articles on some of the best bookstore bars. Even book behemoth Barnes & Noble has announced it plans to sell beer and wine, although at only four brand-new stores it is building, and none near us on the Gulf Coast. Perhaps if it gets more people to buy books, we will get a Barnes & Noble with a bar. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for Barnes & Noble to open a new store here, as there is already a great bookstore in our area with a bar (and an ampersand) in it. Page & Palette is a Fairhope tradition and regionally well-respected independent bookstore. It already had a coffee shop (which, it seems, every bookstore now has), but last year it also opened a bar, The Book Cellar, as well. The Book Cellar has a nice selection...

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Don’t be a sourpuss

While a sour beer may not initially sound appealing to everyone, I would encourage those of you who have never tried one to take the plunge. If you’ve become accustomed to craft beers that are all about the hops — and more hops — sours will come as a nice change. Light and acidic, sours tend to have a relatively low ABV (usually from 4.5 to 5.5, about the same as a lager), and are often flavored with some type of fruit. The sour beer tradition originated in Belgium, with styles such as lambics and red ales. The most popular German style of sour is a gose, an unfiltered wheat beer. A number of these European varieties can be found in our area, often in 22-ounce or 750ml wine-shaped bottles (often called bombers). In the United States, sours have become increasingly popular with craft brewers, who have taken the style and made it their own, with unique twists. They are still not as widespread as craft IPAs or porters, but more and more pubs — especially those specializing in craft brews, such as Alchemy Tavern and Old Shell Growlers — have sours on tap. One of the best sours I’ve tried — on the excellent recommendation of my server at LoDa Bier Garten — was the wonderfully named Gose Gone Wild Tijuana from Baltimore’s Stillwater Artisanal. It is said...

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Goin’ Cali style

Northern California has long been a hotbed for craft beers. Tom Acitelli, in “The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution,” states in 1965 there was only one craft brewery in the United States, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., as in the wake of the Depression and World War II all of the nation’s small breweries had been taken over or run out of business by mega-breweries. Its Anchor Steam, a unique beer with dark caramel coloring and tastes, not very hoppy, is excellent. First brewed in 1896, it claims to be America’s oldest craft beer. Anchor Steam has been a favorite of mine since I first had one in San Francisco years ago, but until recently I couldn’t find it in our area. In just the past few months, however, it has turned up sporadically at a couple of local grocery stores — usually in the single-bottle section. While Anchor Steam is difficult to find, Chico’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has become California’s best known craft beer and one of the most popular nationwide. In fact, it now has a second brewery near Asheville, North Carolina. While its Pale Ale is ubiquitous, Sierra Nevada produces a wide variety of beers, both year-round and seasonal varieties. It currently puts out a “4-Way IPA” collection, with its Torpedo, Black, German and Peach IPAs. In a recent tasting...

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Get your Irish up!

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us again, and there’s never a shortage of opportunities in and around Mobile to get your Irish up. The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick parade and the annual street party hosted by Callahan’s are Mobile traditions. There are numerous other opportunities on both sides of the bay to celebrate your Irish heritage, no matter where you’re from. There is perhaps nothing more Irish than a Guinness stout, brewed at St. James’s Gate in Dublin since 1759. The “black stuff’ is certainly the most identifiable Irish brew, with its distinctive creamy head and roasted malt taste. While traditionally found in Irish pubs in the United States, Guinness is now readily available at most bars that have any beer selection at all. It is easily found on tap in bars in our area, as well as in bottles and cans at local grocery stores. If you don’t get your Guinness on draft, make sure to pour it into a glass, rather than drinking it straight from the bottle, to make sure you get that distinctive head. While certainly the most recognizable Irish stout, Guinness is not the only beer from the Emerald Isle you should try. When I was a young beer professor (actually no more than a beer lecturer at that time), I lived in Cork, on Ireland’s south coast. The second largest city in...

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Bottle conditioned on the Boulevard

I spent six years living in Kansas City at a time when the craft brewing movement was just taking off. It was a great city for experiencing a bunch of good beers from throughout the Midwest, as both bars and grocery stores carried a wide variety of brands and styles of beer. There were also a number of brewpubs in town, where you could get a good burger and a fresh beer in your own neighborhood. Apart from the small brewpubs, during the time I lived there Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Co. was the only real brewery in the city. Its beers were a source of civic pride and found on tap at virtually every restaurant and bar. Bottles of its Unfiltered Wheat seemed to be in everyone’s fridge. Founded in 1989, Boulevard is now available in 31 states. It produces 10 different beers year round and numerous seasonal styles every year. Moving back to Mobile a decade ago, I was disappointed — but not surprised — that I could not find Boulevard’s Bully Porter, Pale Ale or Unfiltered Wheat (still one of my all-time favorites) in our area, as it was still a regional brewery. However, in the past two years or so, as Boulevard got bigger and our own beer scene improved greatly, I’ve been happily surprised to occasionally find different styles of Boulevard on tap in...

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Let the good beer flow!

It’s Mardi Gras time in Mobile, and while you may be stuck with flavorless Budmilcoorlite at the balls, you can stock your Yeti with something tastier for the parades — and in the spirit of the season — if you look hard enough. As expected, Louisiana brewers have a host of special Mardi Gras beers for the Carnival season. Abita, the granddaddy of craft brewing in the Pelican State, turns out its Mardi Gras Bock every year at this time. The light, German-style lager is a regional favorite, and I know many people around here look forward to its...

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Let’s get this IPA party started

The popularity of India Pale Ales (IPAs) over the past few years has been rather remarkable, moving from a craft beer appealing mainly to a niche audience into the mainstream, where it is easily found on tap at every bar and available in bottles and cans from brewers large and small. If you don’t believe me, check out your local grocery store — I found more than a dozen different IPAs at mine. While relatively new to Americans, IPAs have a long history, going back to the height of the British Empire in the 18th century. As the story goes, the British government needed to supply its settlers, officials and troops in far off colonies with their favorite beer from home. However, the traditional English ales that they were used to went bad on the long journeys around the globe. Eventually, by using more hops and a higher alcohol content than regular ales, brewers in England were able to produce a beer that could withstand the trip (to India and beyond) and satisfy the thirsty expats. In this country, the modern IPA — a strong, hoppy, flavorful beer — emerged with the craft beer movement in the 1990s. A dramatic contrast to the light lagers that dominated the American beer scene for decades, IPAs soon became favorites of those attracted to a bolder brew. Personally, I have a couple...

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