***Notes of a Beer Nerd is a column written by resident cellar dwelling mammal, Timperial Stout. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, concerns or comments***
Enjoyed on 4/20/2010
Location: Chico, CA
Beer: 30th Anniversary – Fritz & Ken’s Ale
Presentation: 750 ml – Brown Glass Bottle – Corked and Caged
Style: Imperial Stout
Recommended Serving Temp: 55 degrees
Notes from the bottle: Fritz Maytag, owner of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company, is regarded as the godfather of the craft brewing movement. Fritz agreed to guest brew this very special ale with us in honor of our 30th anniversary. As a nod to the robust black ales that seduced both Fritz and Ken in the early years, we bring you this Pioneers Stout, a rich and roasted ale, perfect for aging, and worthy of your finest snifter. Enjoy!
Food Pairings: Smoked meats, chocolate, deserts
Cheese Pairings: Gouda, brie, swiss
Beer Advocate: A-
Rate Beer: 100 (3.93)
The Brewer’s Association just released the 2009 top 50 craft breweries list (based on beer sales volume, craft is defined, straight off the BA site below***). Sierra Nevada can be found in the 2 position, right below the Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams). Anchor Brewing anchors in at 20. Collectively, that’s some serious volume, but that need not mean that we should look down on them in any way. In fact, since the list, by definition, only contains “small, independent, and traditional” breweries, it’s all the more reason to celebrate them.
These breweries pretty much started the craft brewing scene in America, and they are led by excellent and respected brewers, business men and spokesmen. Their success did not come over night and is, without a doubt, very well deserved. Beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam are known and enjoyed by almost every American that has ever tasted a non-Bud/Miller/Coors beer. That is incredibly impressive. It can be really hard for us beer lovers to imagine, but everyday, there are people out there having their first ever pale ale or steam beer and thinking to themselves, “wow, this is flavorful!” Chances are really high that those people picked up a Sierra Nevada or Anchor product. A lot of breweries with significantly less market share often rely on these bigger guys to create such experiences for potential customers. These are the brewing companies that have been making converts like us for about as long as was possible in this country.
The Sierra 30 series of collaborative brews is a true who’s who of the “pioneering brewers” of the craft community, and in our opinion, a highly notable milestone – a milestone that came at just the right time, when collaborative brewing is seemingly at its peak. It shouldn’t surprise you at all that these trailblazers are mingling with the trendsetters. The 5 men involved in the project are Ken Grossman, Fritz Maytag, Charlie Papazian, Fred Eckhardt, and Jack McAuliffe. A total of 4 beers will be produced, each a unique style brewed with various members of the collective, in celebration of Sierra Nevada’s 30th anniversary. This stout is the first of those 4 to be released and was crafted by Ken and Fritz, as the name suggests.
If you are not familiar with these gentlemen, shame on you, but that’s ok, we are here to educate.
Ken Grossman is the man behind Sierra Nevada. ‘Nuff said really. He started as a homebrewer, studied chemistry and physics in college, owned his own homebrew shop, and once creating Sierra Nevada brewing in Chico, CA, almost single handedly put hoppy American beers on the map. Nowadays, when the world thinks of American craft brewing, they think of highly hopped beers first and foremost. We can thank Ken for that. Some of his more recent stamps on the craft brewing world came with the production of the Harvest Series and Torpedo Extra IPA. The Harvest beers are some of the first and only 100% estate-made ales. This means that all of the malts and hops used to make the beer were grown and harvested on the breweries property. The Torpedo IPA employs a revolutionary device conceived, designed and developed at the brewery called a “hop torpedo” to dry-hop the beer.
Fritz Maytag is the great-grandson of the founder of the Maytag Corporation (yes the washing machine people). In 1965 he bought the Steam Beer Brewing Company in San Francisco and revived it. It was later renamed Anchor Brewing. Anchor is often thought of as being, along with New Albion Brewing Co. (which was founded over 10 years after Fritz bought Anchor), amongst the very first ever American craft breweries.
The potential extinction of the steam beer style was one of the main reasons Fritz got into brewing. His Anchor Steam kept the style alive and continues to be made and enjoyed by many today. Since very few breweries make steam beer, or if they do they don’t call it steam beer, many people mistakenly think that Anchor Steam is just the name of an Anchor beer and not a style of its own. Steam beer, also known today as California common beer, was developed in the San Francisco area and is basically defined as a lager fermented at ale temperatures. Though most small breweries may not want you to know this, California common yeast is often used to create their “lagers”, which are often not actually lagered due to the extended amount of time required to complete the fermentation/conditioning. This is due to some pretty simple economics: the longer a beer takes to complete, the longer it takes up precious time in the tanks, the less room you have to make more, the less money you make, etc, etc. These beers would technically be considered steam beers, but it appears that Anchor owns the rights to the word “steam” as it pertains to beer, so…California common beer it is, were these breweries to feel so inclined to use said naming moniker.
It goes without saying that these two gentlemen have an extensive amount of experience between them. When all that knowhow comes together…well, it seems that no single beer could possibly live up to the expectations, but if there were one style that Timperialstout might think could pull it off, it would be an imperial stout. Let’s see how they did.
Just as you would have expected from a robust stout, the pour fills my glass with a blackness that the brightest sun couldn’t penetrate. The kind of head that I fantasize about grew from that blackness with impressive gusto, built of an array of various sized bubbles, small near the surfaced of the fluid, crescendoing toward greatness at the apex. The color of the froth varies along with the bubbles; a stunning rust at the base and an inviting mocha on top. In time, the cap shrinks but stays remarkably sturdy, a good half-centimeter right to the very end, ever maintaining the same properties found on the initial pour. All bubbles: big, small, and everything between, shrink proportionately but remain stacked and multicolored. Lacing is present, but the majority of the glass stays transparent. The legs are most impressive. A tilt of the glass, and then a correction leaves a frothy wake slowly sliding back to meet the fluid. I am reminded of that last bit of an ocean wave, the seas bubbly fingertips reaching as far up the beach as possible before being reeled back to mother.
The scent possesses all the complexity of the world’s greatest stouts. We are off to a very good start. A couple of brewing masters are behind this? ‘Tis evident indeed. What I am experiencing so far makes my heart skip. It gives me goose bumps. This is why I’m Timperialstout. This is why I write. This is why I work in the beer industry. I’m extatic!
The complexity in the nose is overwhelming. Where do I begin? The roasty scents are most prevalent when it is a bit less than room temperature. Hot, charred pretzels, cocoa beans, devil’s food cake, and a lot of anise are noted. As it warms to very near room temperature, a lot of fruitiness unfolds. There is an acidic note, similar to what you might find in coffee, with a little dab of mocha to back it up. Some bitterness and a distinct organic scent is present, like recently upturned earth. A slight hint of alcohol is detected as well.
The mouthfeel is silky smooth and coating. The flavors mingle and get comfortable. I can’t say that I had the patience to allow for much time to pass between sips, but the flavors seemed to linger eternally. The aftertaste is like eating chocolate cake with chocolate icing right after brushing your teeth with a pasty, all-natural anise flavored toothpaste. Sounds weird, but it works well for me, evoking thoughts of warm pajamas, the company of family, and the holiday season. The alcohol is out to play at this point, no longer hiding in the cold, and if I hadn’t long ago accepted that inevitability when tasting impy stouts, it may be off-putting.
My experience with this beer was so wonderful on so many levels. That is why I have chosen to share my thoughts with you. My greatest hope is that you search out this beer, take it home, and have a deep experience with it like I have. While gazing, sniffing and tasting, allow your mind to briefly escape from the stresses of everyday life. Think of the men who created it and how lucky we are as beer lovers to have lived amongst them and tasted their creations. Think of the ingredients used in the product and how they may have came to be tended and harvested. Think of the waters of California that steeped those ingredients and what they may lend to the flavor and consistency. Think of the value that you hold in the relaxation you’re now swimming in. Take a deep breath. This is beer at its best.
One final note – please take a look at the sierra30 website linked above. It is beautiful and informative.
***The definition of a craft brewer as stated by the Brewer’s Association: An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional. Small: Annual production of beer less than 2 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition. Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewer’s brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
If you like 30th Anniversary – Fritz & Ken’s Ale, you should try…
The Lost Abbey’s Serpent Stout; Green Flash Brewing Co.’s Double Stout; Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro’s Imperial Oatmeal Stout
Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard earned money at a local bottle shop.