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Golden ales and Bam Bam in the Big Apple

(Note: This post was amended Feb. 24 to eliminate babbling that got in the way of actual story.)

Tomorrow’ s The New York Times carries an article about “tasting Belgian golden ales.” Perhaps surprisingly American beers claimed four the first five spots although half of the 20 beers tasted hailed from Belgium.

The first and fourth favorite beers were from Dexter, Michigan — which as any card-carrying beer geek knows is home to Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. Jolly Pumpkin’s own Oro de Calabaza claimed the top spot and Leelanau Good Harbor Golden, brewed under contract by Jolly Pumpkin, the fourth. Eric Asimov writes:

“Both of these beers were unfiltered, giving them a hazy appearance, and aged in barrels, but beyond that they are completely different. While the Good Harbor was funky, the Oro de Calabaza was spicy, fruity and floral, with soft carbonation and fresh, vibrant flavors. Same man (brewmaster Ron Jeffries), different yeasts, at the least.”

Yes, except of course, for the Dexter microflora, embraced by Jeffries.

“The primary fermentation does indeed use different yeasts,” Jeffries wrote in an email. “The Oro is our ‘house’ strain, and for Good Harbor Golden I use either a cool fermenting clean ale strain, or ferments with a lager at slightly elevated temperatures. I can’t decide which I like best, so I bounce back and forth between the two. Next batch I might blend them. Now that would be cool.

“The Good Harbor oak tun (1200 liters) does produce different flavors than the barrels we age the Oro in. Similar but different. If I had to pick, I would say it tastes most like the 2000L we use mainly for Bam.”

The large barrel that Leelanau bought for use at Jolly Pumpkin is on the left side in the photo above. The rest are Jolly Pumpkin barrels.

I first tasted Good Harbor in the spring of 2007 for All About Beer magazine’s Beer Talk. We liked the beer.

After I had written my notes I took the second bottle the brewery sent to share with friends I get together with semi-regularly.

When you see a bottle holding a brand you’ve never heard of, such as Leelanau, you might as well be tasting blind. But my friend, Bill, took one sniff and declared, “This is Bam.” He knew it wasn’t Bam Biere, the session Saison from Jolly Pumpkin but that was the impression.

Only problem, I said, this beer is 7.5% and Bam 4.5%. “OK, Double Bam,” he said, suddenly looking inspired. “No, Bam Bam.”

I don’t think I ever expected to be reading about the beer I’ll always remember as Bam Bam in The New York Times.

25 beers you wouldn’t kick out of the fridge

Another list. This one from Men’s Journal.

It’s received plenty of attention on beer discussion boards – see Rate Beer discussion; Beer Advocate – because notice in such a high profile publication always seems like validation.

It helps that it is a list of very good beers:

1 Firestone Walker Pale Ale
2 Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
3 Stoudt’s Pils
4 Russian River Temptation
5 Avery Mephistopheles
6 Anderson Valley Boont Amber
7 Great Lakes Holy Moses White Ale
8 Full Sail Session Lager
9 Rogue Brutal Bitter
10 Bell’s Expedition Stout
11 Southampton Double White
12 Smuttynose Big A IPA
13 Penn Weizen
14 Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale
15 Ommegang Hennepin
16 Samuel Adams Black Lager
17 Sprecher Hefe-Weiss
18 Alaskan Amber
19 Deschutes Broken Top Bock
20 Lost Abbey Avant Garde
21 Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bier
22 Victory St. Victorious Doppelbock
23 Allagash Interlude
24 Alesmith Speedway Stout
25 New Glarus Yokel

I like that it gives extra credit for striking a balance between innovation and tradition.

I like that they made Firestone Walker Pale Ale their No. 1, even if I might prefer the Double Barrel Ale, because the brewery wins medals right and left in blind tastings but can’t seem to get any love from online beer activists.

I like that it is cutting edge – with the funky little (4.6% abv) Bam Biere from the funky little Jolly Pumpkin brewery sneaking in at No. 21. And you can’t be much more up-to-date than Lost Abbey Avant Garde from Port Brewing (a beer that deserves a post of its own – in the next few days).

What I don’t like is the promo on the cover – “25 Greatest American Beers” – or the headline on the story – “25 Best Beers in America.”

What a silly notion. You need only compare the list Men’s Journal published in 2004 to the 2006 list (in 2005 the magazine picked the “Best 50” beers in the world, equally silly).

Only one beer – Alaskan Amber – made the 2004 and 2006 lists. Did everybody else forget how to brew?

No, 12 of the 23 breweries that were on the 2004 list (two breweries had two beers) also made the 2006 list. But instead of calling Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale No. 1, as in 2004, the authors listed Deschutes Broken Top Bock at No. 19.

Instead of honoring Victory Brewing’s Prima Pils – No. 2 in the U.S. in 2004, No. 1 pilsner in the world in 2006 – they singled out Victory St. Victorious Doppelbock (No. 22).

You can’t sell magazines publishing the same list every year. Of course, that’s not altogether bad for the breweries on the list, because it gives them more accolades to promote (one more thing I like about the list).

Still … 25 Greatest?

No. What they really published is a list of “24 really good beers we didn’t write about two years ago and Alaskan Amber.” A job well done, but a lousy headline.

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