Glass is half-empty in Rhode Island
Demand too great for craft brewers
The craft beer industry is going through growing pains, and Rhode Islanders are among the people feeling those pains most acutely.
Earlier this year, three major craft brewers - Avery, Dogfish Head, and Great Divide - announced that they were pulling out of some markets because the demand is outstripping brewing capacity. In other words, craft beer has become so popular so quickly that brewers can’t produce enough of it to satisfy everyone.
In each case, Rhode Island has been among the states where, for now, those brewers have stopped distributing. Massachusetts, thankfully, has been unaffected, though it is easy to imagine that beer aficionados in the Ocean State will hop across the border and grab their Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Great Divide Yeti, and Avery Maharaja in Bay State liquor stores. So don’t be surprised if it suddenly becomes more difficult to find your favorite beers in places like Attleboro and Seekonk.
While this development is a blow to Rhode Islanders, it actually bodes wells for the craft beer scene. It means there is a huge pent-up desire for beer that actually tastes like something. It means people - some of them, anyway - have had enough of the cheap, bland, watery swill marketed by the multinational beverage corporations.
And in each case, the brewer has expressed a desire to increase its production capability so it can return to the states it is leaving.
For now, the abandonment hurts. Here are a few good beers that Rhode Island will have to learn to live without:
Burton Baton Burton Baton is an interesting beer. It often gets classified as an imperial India pale ale, but it’s not purely an IPA. Burton Baton is actually two beers in one. Delaware-based Dogfish Head makes Burton Baton by fermenting two types of beer - its renowned 90 Minute IPA and an English old ale - and then blending them together in a large oak tank, where the new beer sits for a month. The result is a wonderfully complex beer. Dark amber in color, the beer pours with a head pocked with fat bubbles. A lot of hops and a smidge of vanilla comes through in the aroma. Grapefruit, oak, and a lot of alcohol emerge in the taste. Because of the balance in this beer, the hops are subdued compared to other imperial IPAs, and it’s not at all bitter. Burton Baton is a robust beer boasting a panoply of flavors.
Style: blended ale (imperial IPA and English old ale). ABV: 10 percent. Price: $15 for a four-pack.
Belgica Here is a great style done well. Great Divide’s Belgica is a Belgian IPA, and it’s a particularly good one. Brewed with a strain of Belgian yeast and Belgian pilsner malt, Belgica emits the strong aromas of bananas, biscuits, and clove that are usually associated with this style, along with orange peel and other citrus notes. The beer itself is light orange with a plush head and moderate carbonation. Full bodied and bitter, it is hoppy - thanks to a lot of European and American hops - but not overpoweringly so. Rich and fruity, with apricot and tangy tropical flavors, Belgica finishes with warmth and a bit of spiciness.
Style: Belgian IPA. ABV: 7.2 percent. Price: $14 for a six-pack.
Joe’s Premium American Pilsner Avery Brewing Co. is showing the big brands how to make a real pilsner. FYI, those ubiquitous cookout beers from Bud, Miller, and Coors aren’t really pilsners; they’re what’s known as “adjunct lagers,’’ made cheaply with corn. Joe’s Premium American Pilsner, made in Colorado by Avery, is to those beers as Beethoven is to Bieber. “This ain’t your grandpa’s pils,’’ it says on the can, and by Job it ain’t. Pale straw and absolutely clear, Joe’s tingles the tongue. You don’t see many bubbles rising from a glass of Joe’s Premium American Pilsner, but one sip and you can tell it’s well carbonated. With grassy hops and lemony accents, this is a classic style done with pizzazz.
Style: pilsner. ABV: 4.7 percent. Price: $9 for a six-pack.