Fairhope Public Library

Author: Tom Ward

Summertime brews

Now that summer is here, along with the heat and the humidity, you might be tempted to reach for something light — a white wine spritzer, perhaps? — as you sit poolside or at the beach. Don’t do it! There are plenty of good craft beer summer styles now available that go great in the Alabama heat. As you probably have noticed, a number of breweries, both large and small, have begun putting out different seasonal beers, and with summer upon us a host of beers is now available with a summertime theme. Many of these beers are on the lighter side, and a number have some type of fruit flavoring. A seasonal beer that has been put out for a number of years is Summer Shandy by Wisconsin’s Leinenkugel’s brewery. No Johnny-come-lately, Leinenkugel’s was founded in 1867, but only in the past few years has it been distributed outside the Midwest. Its seasonal Summer Shandy is one of its most popular styles, and readily found in our area. A shandy is traditionally a drink made half with beer and half with some type of juice or soda. Leinenkugel’s recreates the taste of a wheat beer mixed with lemonade, and the lemon flavor is pronounced. It is refreshing, but you’ll have to like lemonade (as I do) to enjoy it. In addition to Summer Shandy, Leinenkugel’s recently came out...

Read More

Small batch beer industry brewing in Mobile

Over the past few years, Mobile has become a very good beer town, with a number of bars with dozens of craft beers available, and not just the usual suspects, but wide varieties from across the region and around the nation. We also now have a number of excellent places for off-site sales of craft beer, including some grocery stores that even offer beer on tap for growlers. However, Mobile still lacks what any good beer town needs — its own craft brewery. How can the city born to celebrate — the home of Mardi Gras, for goodness’ sake...

Read More

Texas newcomer in town

Texas is known for two iconic beers — Lone Star, which first began brewing in San Antonio in 1884, and Shiner, which has been brewed at the Spoetzl Brewery in the tiny town of Shiner (about halfway between San Antonio and Houston) since 1909. Lone Star was actually started by Adolphus Busch, of Budweiser fame, while Shiner was also founded by a German immigrant, Kosmos Spoetzl. For those who have never tried it, Lone Star is a very traditional American lager, perfect if you are enjoying ribs at the Country Tavern, but otherwise fairly nondescript. Shiner’s flagship Bock, on...

Read More

Hard cider harks back to colonial days

The craft brewing phenomenon has produced similar local, small-batch production of other spirits in the past few years, including whiskey and vodka. Like beer, one craft beverage that has begun to go mainstream — and also has become mass produced — is hard cider. Hard cider has a long history in America, going back to the colonial era. During that time, alcoholic beverages were consumed regularly by all members of society — even children — because the boiling process had the added (then unknown) benefit of killing off dangerous bacteria. In a time before pasteurization, alcoholic beverages were consumed by many instead of cow’s milk, or even water, because people realized they were simply safer to drink (as were other brewed drinks, like coffee and tea). English colonists brought their taste for both hard cider and beer to America, but found the hops and barley they were used to back home were not easily grown in New England. Apples, however, were. Thus, cider became a staple of the early American diet. The influx of German immigrants and westward migration in the 19th century to the Great Plains — where grains were easily grown — saw beer eclipse cider in popularity. Following Prohibition, hard cider did not return to American glasses — as beer, wine and liquor did — until recently. Vermont’s Woodchuck Cidery touts itself as producing the nation’s...

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More