Saturday, September 10, 2011

High Water and Canned Beer

Please pardon my extended absence from the blog. I've been a bit distracted by the aftermath of devastating flooding across the region caused by the remnants of hurricane Irene. Fortunately the Whiskey Room sits on high ground and I only suffered the inconvenience of having to drink by candle light for a few nights. I took a few photos of a suspension bridge for snowmobiles that is just down the road (the center normally hangs 12-15 ft above the water).


Further down the road, much of town was laid to waste as the mighty Winooski River breached its banks. The water reached levels not seen since the great flood of 1927, and among the casualties was an iconic local brewpub. With waist deep water in the bar / dining area and kitchen, and the basement brewing facility completely submerged, The Alchemist was effectively destroyed. The good news: they will rebuild, and hope to re-open by the end of the year. The better news: they had just completed a 15 barrel production brewery and cannery on the other (and higher) side of town. By a stroke of fortunate timing, the new facility opened less than five days after the flood, offering 16 oz cans of their Heady Topper (an American Double IPA) by the case, 4-pack and individually. In a tremendous showing of local support, the first run of 300 cases sold out in a day and a half.

Some of you might be wondering why a craft beer is being put in cans. Many years ago I theorized that Heineken was available in cans solely to tap into the lucrative airline beverage market (obviously glass bottles and turbulence don't mix). But there must be more to it than that, and there is. The microcanning trend began in 2001 with the introduction of canning equipment geared toward smaller producers and the availability of smaller minimum orders from can manufacturers, and has slowly gained steam since. Cans have many advantages over bottles: lighter weight saves on shipping costs and is better for outdoor activities like hiking, aluminum is easier to recycle than glass, breakage becomes a non-issue, cans can go places where bottles are not allowed (or practical) - parks, stadiums, boats, beaches. And, most importantly, cans do a better job of isolating the beer from light and oxygen than bottles do.

So, how is the beer? First I should note that I feel the same way about hoppy beers as I do about smokey Scotches - I really like them, and appreciate the intensity and depth they offer, but I kind of have to be in the right mood to enjoy one. Neither generally fits the bill of an everyday sipper for me. The big surprise here, once you get past the fact that you have good beer in a can, is that you are advised by the label to drink it from the can and go against your intuition to pour it into a glass. According to the brewmaster, putting it in a glass will release hop aromas but diminish the impact of the hops on the palate. Fair enough, but I'm going to try it both ways, um, for research purposes. Hop levels of IPA's usually go up hand in hand with alcohol content, so at 8% abv I was expecting quite a wallop. The bitterness is intense, but not overpowering as I feared. You get little aroma from the can, and the beer is quite smooth up front, but quickly gives way to an attack of hoppy bitterness. The finish is quite lengthy, with the bitterness reverberating in gradually diminishing waves of intensity. Strangely, after a few sips, the intensity of the bitterness seems to fade away, and the Topper becomes incredibly easy to drink (frighteningly so considering its alcohol content). This may sound odd, but the chocolate chip cookie I'm nibbling on seems to refresh the palate and bring the concentration of the hops back to the forefront. How is it from the glass? Hop aromas are definitely released. It certainly smells nice, but the dropoff of flavor on the palate is quite significant. It definitely loses more than it gains going from the can to the glass. Great beer in a 16 oz can, who knew?

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