Like Beatlemania but for fruit beer

Something quite odd happened in Arizona this Summer. The effects may have gone further afield but I didn’t. Right here in Phoenix during the fiercest summer, people were flying into their cars when they saw on social media that beer had arrived from a Viking-themed in Fargo, North Dakota.

Phoenicians were queuing up outside to get their hands on the latest arrivals from Drekker Brewing. They have some very on point IPAs, pastry sours but the big draw for everyone is their ridiculously thick fruit sours. Hitting around the 7% mark, they’re the bastard offspring of a saison and a smoothie. Did I get involved in the madness too?

Yes. It was a crazy summer. Things are calming down now. The beers stay on the shelves for a day or two rather than vanishing in an hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if the brewers of Arizona don’t all hit us with thick fruit sours for Summer 2021.

Magic Rock takeover response

As Huddersfield is my hometown and I love craft beer, nothing made me prouder than the success of Magic Rock Brewing. I was nothing short of ecstatic when they opened their taproom within walking distance of where I worked at the time and a similar distance from where I grew up. I held my work leaving do there, had birthdays there and proudly took a Magic Rock t-shirt with me to America.

Many have reacted negatively to the news that Australian company Lion have purchased a 100% stake in the company, complaining that “selling out” will always lead to a drop in quality. I’ve listened to the for and against arguments about these kinds of purchases before many times and can see the valid points on both sides. I’d never, for instance, bother buying a bottle of Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA anymore but I visited one of their actual taprooms in San Diego and found a treasure trove of exciting, adventurous beers still being made and served there.

I understand companies want to grow and not stay still. I can comprehend how big a deal it would be for them to have cans of their main brews sold on the shelves of big stores and I know that I’m not the target audience for that kind of thing. Breweries can make mass produced boring beers for the mainstream and still make beautiful craft beers for the fans.

However, there is a more troubling fact in this corporate take over. One that has lead me to unfollow Magic Rock on all social media, to give my t-shirt away and instruct the current custodian of my Magic Rock glassware to recyle it instead of holding it for my next visit.

Lion is wholly owned by Japanese brewer Kirin and last year Amnesty International accussed them of making donations to the military in Myanmar at the height of brutal ethnic cleansing. Kirin’s response was to deny the donations were for the military, something proven false by online statements from Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

I love to see people from my hometown do well and I’ve always been proud of Magic Rock’s success. When the news was first announced I was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt but when I found out about the Kirin/Myanmar connection, things took on a different shade. Sure, international companies have to adapt to local customs in their different markets and sometimes that does involve politcial contributions which is always shady but forgiveable. However, financially supporting rape, torture, genocide and displacement is never acceptable. So, even if they do start distributing their beers over here, I’m not going to be giving them a cent.

Goose Island – Bourbon County

I had only been living in the USA for four months back in 2016 when my local craft beer shop decided to create a social media event on Black Friday for something called “Bourbon County” by Goose Island. I was a little puzzled as I associated that brewery more with mainstream beers like IPA, pales, mock Belgian and lager. I did a little research and it turned out this is the original bourbon barrel-aged beer.

As well as the main beer, our local store had all these variants like barleywine, coffee and such like. So, after work I went down the store and all they had left was the regular.

I used the term “all they had” maybe a little too frivolously, though as it did rock my socks off. I rarely give beers more than 4 out of 5 on untappd but this one managed to squeeze a 4.5 out of me. My post said “Sparklingly rich stout with those oaky bourbon flavours in full effect. The beer equivilant of stilton”. As a lifelong stilton-worshipper, that’s some high praise.

2017 came around and I wanted to try one of the variations so I persuaded my wife to go to the beer shop while I was at work. She kindly did but still all they had left was 2017’s regular Bourbon County.

I got so caught up in the moment that aside from taking the photo, I didnt make any notes or check it in on untappd. My entry for the day after just says “VERY rich” and again gets 4.5. Fuzzy, happy memories.

2018 comes along and I was determined to get variants. My local store confirmed they were getting three different variants so I booked the morning off work and got up early. I arrived five minutes before opening time (they open an hour earlier at 9am for Bourbon County day).

They’d already opened doors and were handing out numbered queu tickets to people. I was number 27. They only had two cases of the variants and when they opened them at 9 on the dot I noticed there were 12 bottles per case. Even with the one bottle per person rule, if everyone in front of me bought the whole range, I would once again be left with just the regular.

As it happens, most people in front did buy the set at $73+taxes. Most but not all so there was still Wheatwine and Chocolate Orange left. Oddly, the first variant to sell out was the vanilla stout which puzzles me as that is the one kind of stout I’ve never been able to get along with.

The Wheatwine seemed completely unrelated to the main beer except for having been matured in bourbon barrels. It’s the first year they have made it though they have previously made barleywine as part of the series which is almost the same thing. The gentle taste of wheatwine really worked as an apt vessel for the strong bourbon barrel flavors. Its definitely not a starting point for the first timer unless you have an aversion to stout. It’s a little dearer than the regular Bourbon County but not by much so if you’re looking to try something different its perfect.

The chocolate orange version, made by adding cocoa nibs and orange peel to the barrel adds only a fraction of difference. While those lovely flavors are discernable and appreciable, they are deep beneath the overpowering taste of a stout that’s been left in an old bourbon barrel for ages. It adds an 8% improvement for the tastebuds at a 48% price increase. It may look more appeasing in the photos than previous years regular beers but I do have a much better camera this year.

Lovely as the original is, what is the point in spending nearly double on a slight variant? Is it one upmanship so you can boast that you drank something most other people can’t? I hope so because otherwise the attraction may be the veneer of respectability granted by such an air of prestige for a beer around the 15% mark. With it tasting so delicious it’s gone in no time at all and the effects are clearly felt!

The times have changed a lot since this beer launched. Now many breweries produce barrel aged stouts of distinction. They are even easier to find with Founders not only now mass producing their Kentucky Breakfast Stout but also reducing its price. While Bourbon County is no longer the unique experience it once was, it is still an amazing beer. Every stout lover needs to at least try the main beer, just remember to enjoy responsibly!

Lonesome Valley Brewing, Prescott Valley

3040 N Windsong Dr Prescott Valley, AZ

Hiking around Lynx Lake this Summer I began to develop a considerable thirst and took to my phone to see if there were any breweries in the vicinity. I was delighted to see this alluringly named place was just a few miles away and on the way home. My designated driver was down with the plan and it was payday. Dogs allowed on the patio and food served. Deal.

Sadly, despite the name and the close proximity to a local beauty spot, the bar is by a busy road in a built up area. That all went out of the window though when their Hoptumis Pryem pale ale hit my tastebuds. Oh God after an August hike it was like first aid for my throat. A certifiable classic pale and impossible not to gulp down.

Next target was The Riveter, a rosemary sour. Mightily tart and so refreshing that it bordered on decadent. By this point the food had arrived and stone me if that was not the best soft pretzel I have ever eaten, even better than the ones in Germany.

What was really crazy though were the men’s toilets. Decorated with beer matts from all over the worlds, many quite old including the English ones. Some I’d not seen since I was a small child in the beer garden with a bottle of coke and a bag of Seabrook’s crisps. Sadly my phone had died so no evidence this visit.

I took away a growler fill of Power Jam, a traditional porter with no crazy flourishes, just straight up classic style. Sorry about the dirty draining matt under it. That’s my home not their brewery!

Its not exactly my local but I will be back.

First two photos by Chris Letson.

Modern Times Lomaland Fermentorium, San Diego

3725 Greenwood St San Diego, CA

When it comes to American craft ale, Modern Times seem to have taken the throne these last couple of years. Whether it’s my local beer shop in Phoenix or the celebrated Tor Beers back home in West Yorkshire, their beers are prominent on display and sell fast.

So, after a quick trip to L.A. we failed to head straight back to Phoenix. The magnetic pull of Modern Times drew us South to San Diego to check out one of their brewery locations. There are about three visitable MT sites there now but the Lomaland Fermentorium was the easiest to get to from the freeway.

Right in the heart of an industrial district, this huge unit was a hive of activity with actual brewing (and roasting) going on. We came hoping they’d have lots of tasty onsite exclusives that you dont get in a can at your local. We were not disappointed, in fact we were overwhelmed. It took all of us a while to work out what to do.

The only same way around it was to all order little 5oz sampler glasses of what was on offer and pass it round the group. We tried sours, pales, hazy IPAs, porters and, most importantly, barrel aged stouts. Nothing let us down and we had some very high hopes to start with. It was a liquid banquet.

It’s a palace of good beer. There’s no food on offer other than cakes and cookies but they let you bring your own so who cares? This isnt a gastropub, this is an all year long beer festival. San Diego is a wonderful city and well worth visiting anyway so if you do go, make sure you make some time for Modern Times.