Thursday, July 1, 2010

Independence Day

Well, here we are, fast coming up on the 4th of July. Independence Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, even as a kid. Sure you don't get presents like Christmas, but the weather's nicer (and my birthday's July 2, so I'm covered on the presents anyway). No turkey, like Thanksgiving, but I like burgers off the grill better anyway. No costumes like Halloween, but there's fireworks, which are way more dangerous (and therefore much cooler).

Most of all, Independence Day is a quintessentially American holiday. The other holidays celebrate things that people all over the world also celebrate, even if they do it on a different day. But only American celebrate the 4th of July (unless you count those snarky Brits who observe it as "British Thanksgiving Day").

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Even today, these words are revolutionary. Our country was born in a revolt against the way things were, by men who dreamed of the way they could be, rebels with a cause, willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to it and to each other. As with many holidays, I think too often we are having so much fun with the celebration that we forget just what it is that we are supposed to be celebrating.

Lest we forget, we are celebrating that fact that our forefathers, traitors to the Crown all, had the balls to declare that whenever any form of government became destructive and hostile to the rights of its citizens, those citizens had the right to alter or abolish it, by any means necessary. Then they proceeded to act on what they had declared. They risked it all, and many of them paid the ultimate price. One of my own ancestors, Captain Benjamin Merrill, was hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor by the royal governor of North Carolina, William Tryon. The freedoms we celebrate were bought and paid for in blood.

If we asked for a show of hands today, how many Americans would concur in this bedrock principle of our nation?

Far too few, I'm afraid...

Speaking of destructive and hostile governments, I have written in the past about HR 4278, a bill in Congress which would cut the excise duties in half for first 60,000 barrels of beer brewed annually by small ( less than 6 million barrells brewed annually) breweries. 83 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors, but Alaska's lone Representative, Don Young, is not one of them. I've written to Congressman Young about this in the past and gotten the usual form letter responses. If you live in Alaska and would like to contact him regarding this bill, you can email him here. If you're not from Alaska, look here to see if your congresscritter has already signed on to support this worthy bill.

There is now a Senate version as well, S.3339, so feel free to bug your senators about that one as well.

Enough politics, let's talk about beer. Since my last blog, I had the next in Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's 30th Anniversary Collaborative beers. This one is an Imperial Helles Bock, brewed by Charlie Papazian (the founder of the American Homebrewers Association), Fred Eckhart (long-time beer writer), and Ken Grossman (Founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing). The beer poured a beautiful dark gold with a very nice white head. The aroma was of toasty malt with some floral hops as well. Tasting it, there is a nice balance of both malt and hops, with some nice hop bitterness up front, giving way to malty sweetness. It's crisp and light on the palate, with a nice lingering finish. Hard to believe this beer is 8.3% ABV, it is so drinkable. Once again, getting a group of beer pioneers together produces a fantastic beer. The next one is due out in July, and I can hardly wait...

I tried another unusual brew, Birrificio Montegioco 's Demon Hunter, a strong dark ale from Italy. Its paper-wrapped bottle caught my eye at La Bodega in Anchorage and I decided to pick one up, despite knowing absolutely nothing about the brewery. I have read that Italy is one of the fastest growing craft beer countries in Europe, so I was interested in trying a beer from an Italian craft brewery.

When I pried off the cap, I was rewarded with a loud "pop", much like I'd expect from a caged & corked bottle. Examining the cap, I noted it had some sort of a plastic insert that went down into the bottle neck, rather than just a simple, flat crown cap seal. At this point I had to turn my attention back to the bottle, since the beer was about to foam out on to the counter! I quickly began a gentle pour into a large snifter. The beer was a very dark amber, with a truly massive, off-white head. The aroma was primarily of dark fruit and malty sweetness. Style-wise, I'd assuming their target was a Belgian dubbel, but perhaps not. On the palate, it begins with some sweetness, but does not continue into the flavors you'd expect from a dubbel, i.e dark fruit and unfermented sugars. Rather there is a strong hop bitterness, which lingers right through the finish, along with some heat from the 8.5% ABV.

All-in-all, an interesting beer, though not one I'm likely to buy again, given what it cost (around $15 for the bottle, if I recall correctly). I'm not sure exactly what sort of a beer they were aiming for, and I'm not sure how much the beer was impacted by the long, hard road it had to travel from Italy to Anchorage, Alaska. If I ever find myself back in Italy and saw it for sale there, I'd definitely give it another try.

Finally, word on the beer street is that the Discovery Channel is making a new series all about beer called BREWED, starring Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Pat McGovern from the University of Pennsylvania. I've met Sam a couple of times and read some of Pat McGovern's books can think of no one better suited to doing a show like this (excepting yours truly, of course). Here's some stuff from the press release:

Beer is the drink of the masses. If you look into a glass of beer you can see the past, present and future of mankind. Cicero lauded it, Genghis Khan fought for it and now Discovery Channel celebrates it with a world premiere series, BREWED, exploring the culture, history and variety of beer.

Meet Sam Calagione: maverick entrepreneur, family man and owner of Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. As an ambassador to the world of craft beer, Sam travels the world to experience what every culture brings to its own special brew.

In BREWED, Sam shows viewers the other side of the bottle, sharing the stories of beer sub-cultures as well as exploring life inside The Dogfish Head Brewery. BREWED goes behind the scenes at Dogfish Head as Sam’s merry band of creative brewmasters concoct new taste varieties.

“BREWED taps more than just kegs and barrels, it unlocks a fascinating history of beer making, showcasing the ingenuity and passion behind our love affair with those alluring suds and how it played a role in building civilizations,” said Clark Bunting, President and General Manager of Discovery Channel.

Running a successful business also requires inspiration, so BREWED hits the road for the ultimate beer tasting road trip. Along with archaeologist and beer expert Pat McGovern, Sam sets out to recreate “ancient ales” that have been discovered at sites around the world from Egypt to Peru. He travels to Rome to research old world Italian beers as inspiration for a new site in New York with Mario Batali. A visit to New Zealand introduces the idea of making the “first tomato based beer.” And back home, Sam is tasked to come up with a commemorative beer called “Bitches Brew” to celebrate the 40th anniversary release of Miles Davis’ famous recording.

“Beer has always been my passion. It is so much more than what you see in the glass. I’m excited to share the diligence, daring and creativity that we pour into our work,” said Calagione.

The show is being produced by Zero Point Zero Production, the same folks who make Anthony Bourdain No Reservations. Their involvement, along with Sam'sand Pat's, argues for a real quality effort, which is very exciting. It's been over two decades since Michael Jackson's landmark The Beer Hunter series, so it's time we had something new.

Well, that about it for this week, folks. Drink plenty of good craft beer and enjoy your Independence Day celebrations over the long weekend; I know I plan to.

Until Next Time, Cheers.

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