Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Beer drinking around the world -- and close to home

Watching The Sound of Music Monday night, the 1965 version with Julie Andrews, I grew curious about the setting. Supposedly Salzburg, Austria, pre- and post-anschluss (1938). The action takes place during the summer which must be extremely long in Salzburg, as the anschluss happened in early March 1938 and before the Nazis made their move on the Austrians, Maria was scampering with the Von Trapp kids in lush high meadows and boating with them on an ice-free lake. She fled to the convent, then returned, the Captain fell hard for her, gave the baroness the bum's rush, Cap and Maria got married, took a long honeymoon, and when they returned, the anschluss was over, Nazi flags were draped all over creation and it was still summer.

That's Hollywood.

So I looked up Salzburg's web site. The first link under "Things to do" was "Beer." I immediately fell in love with the place. There are cities in the world known for its beer: Munich, Fort Collins, Colo., St. Louis, Philadelphia. Yet only one of these bergs feature beer prominently on its official web site. -- Das offizielle Stadtportal, is proud of its Octoberfest and even gives visitors the dates for 2014.

I'm obviously living in the wrong country.

Or the wrong part of the right country.

In November, as I was trying to find my way through the maze of the Philadelphia Airport, I chanced across a display of the city's historic beers. Yuengling ("America's Oldest Brewery" at 180-plus years) figured prominently -- a pretty good beer popular up and down the East Coast. There were beer bottles dating back to Colonial times and cool new craft beers for contemporary tipplers. Given time, I would have settled into a concourses pub and tried some. I'll have to wait for a longer layover.

Another neat exhibit at the airport featured Philadelphia's writers. There was a whole wall of them. Owen Wister was one, a well-to-do native of the city who went to Wyoming for a time and later found fame and fortune with his best-seller, The Virginian: Horseman of the Plains. It may be the first cowboy novel. Wister and Ernest Hemingway went fishing once, although there was nothing about that in Wister's airport bio. Wister wrote The Virginian in the library of The swanky Philadelphia Club, where he was a member, and dedicated it to Theodore Roosevelt, his classmate at Harvard. Other writers from Philadelphia: Sci-fi writer Ben Bova, poet and fiction writer (and physician) William Carlos Williams, legal eagle and thriller writer Lisa Scottoline, one-time U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin, linguist and author Noam Chomsky and novelist Pearl S. Buck. Pretty good list -- and that's only a few. The author exhibit was very near the beer exhibit, which is only fitting.

Why write about beer? Craft breweries are booming, sprouting in the most unlikely places. Ten Sleep Brewing Company is the newest addition to sleepy Ten Sleep, Wyo., pop. 257. I plan on checking it out next time I'm up that way, most likely summertime, when the living is easy in the Big Horn Basin. Meanwhile, check it out on its Facebook page.

Craft breweries are cool because its founders tend to be young and adventurous, and its products are homegrown. This is the age of "local" and crafters fill the bill. Not all of them can walk out their back doors and harvest a batch of hops and grain for the brewing process. But they make the beer on site, and almost every one has at least a modest-sized tasting room. Snake River Brewing in Jackson is the old man of Wyoming breweries, a place that serves amazing beer (Pako's!), good food and even takes on interns from the nation's craft brewing college programs. They have art displays, such as the unique one last year that displayed hand-crafted bicycles. Hand-crafted beer and hand-crafted bikes.

Cheyenne is relatively new to craft brewing. A brewpub cropped up in the late 1990s downtown but went out of business. We now have Freedom's Edge Brewing Company and Shadows, both housed in historic downtown buildings. Freedom's Edge is bottling its beer, even creating some limited edition brews in fancy bottles. FEBC is expanding into the beer nirvana in 2014:
We will be opening in the historic Antlers Hotel building at 224 Linden St. [in Fort Collins] with a target opening of late February 2014. This new location will be a true small batch craft brewery that will serve as our pilot brewery, so lots and lots of experimentation! We will also be heavily involved with the home brewing community allowing local brewers to come in and brew along side of us.
FoCo already boasts a dozen breweries, including two of the best in the U.S.: New Belgium and Odell. Their customer base down there is appreciably larger than it is in Cheyenne, still predominately a Budweiser city.

The state's liquor laws don't help either. I don't want to get into details, but all the beer, booze and wine in the state is regulated by the Wyoming Liquor Division. All the beer on liquor store shelves has to be vetted by the WLC. So, when you wonder why you aren't seeing the newest and coolest and most experimental brews on the shelves at Town & Country and Uncle Charlie's, you know why. I'm a statie myself, so know better than to blame the WLC people for their outmoded rules and regs. The fact is, the craft brewing industry is moving at lightning speed while governmental agencies move at a snail's pace.

So you can do a couple different things. Do your beer drinking at Wyoming's excellent brewpubs, taking home the good stuff in growlers for later consumption. Or you can do all of your drinking in Fort Collins and Longmont or Denver, and your store shopping at Supermarket Liquor's on Mulberry in FoCo, which is what Town and Country could be if it was located eight miles south on the Greeley Highway on the Colorado side of the border.

But Wyoming will catch up. It has to.

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