And while the fast race cars and “hot chicks” may draw the majority of America to drink mainstream beer, a growing number of beer guzzlers have found their way to American craft beers, often brewed locally and always with great passion and impeccable character. This week marks American Craft Beer Week, so what better time to reflect on the benefits of these smaller brewers who continually find new ways to titillate and surprise our malt-and-barley-loving tastebuds.
History in the hop-ping
After prohibition, American beer manufacturing came back as primarily a mass-produced product. Like many things, it was far more lucrative to focus on quantity rather than quality. Obviously, this eventually opened the door for beer makers who explored the unexplored territories of beer making, varying hoppiness and the other primary beer components while also adding flavorings like chocolate, chilies and fruits.
“The craft brew industry is really the idea of having a vision, taking a risk, building something from the ground up and doing it a lot of times with your friends,” said Bryan Simpson from New Belgium Brewing Co. “It’s a great reflection of the grit and integrity it took to build this country from the ground up.”
Yup, talk to craft brewers, and one is awash with patriotism and all-American love for craftsmanship. Mark Edelson of Iron Hill Brewery has said, “craft brewing is a grassroots [movement], and like so many grassroots movements, it is driven by passion.”
And while there is a whole lot of science to craft brewing, it is clearly also an art: “America’s craft brewers are artisans that rather than working in paint or photography or some of those medium, they are working in beer,” said Tim Myers of Strange Brewing.
Craft brew’s growing popularity
Currently, the United States has 1,753 small, independent craft brewers, according to the Brewers Association. This is the highest number of craft brewers the U.S. has ever had, too. These are folks who produce less than 6 million barrels of beer each, compared to 100 million barrels that Anheuser-Busch produced in 1997 to earn it the title of world’s largest brewer THEN. (Note: 1 barrel = 31 U.S. gallons).
But today, the majority of brewers in the United States, believe it or not, are craft brewers. Probably the reason for this is because it is easier to set up a small business than a big business, of course, and that the market can only sustain so many big beer companies. However, the taste for craft beer grows, according to the Brewers Association. Craft brewers sold an estimated 9,951,956 barrels of beer in 2010, up from 8,934,446 in 2009. That is still a fraction of the beer love that is going around, but, if you are or know a craft beer drinker or brewer, you know this is a demographic that loves to talk about “passion.”
What’s to love…
With more than 1,700 U.S. craft beers to choose from, it can be overwhelming to move beyond the cool labels and funky names. But the good news is that these beer makers have gone to such great lengths of innovation that, much like finding your soul mate, undoubtedly a beer awaits that is your ideal beverage. For the past two years, Russian River Brew Company’s Pliny the Elder has been the Zymurgy Poll’s top American beer. An Imperial India Pale Ale, it might be just your stein of beer. Second best last year was Bell’s Brewery Two-Hearted Ale, an American Pale Ale. Other top brews included: Stone Arrogant Bastard, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Stone IPA. Beer Advocate has also given A+ ratings to beers like Rare Bourbon County Stout that comes from Illinois-based Goose Island Beer Co. They also praise Duck Duck Gooze from California’s Lost Abbey and characterize it as an American Wild Ale. Likewise, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.’s Bourbon Barrel Fourth Dementia receives merit as an old ale from Michigan.
Have no fear; your next favorite beer is out there—maybe Craft Beer Week holds your destiny and the time has come for you to find it.
It’s tough being an “A” student.
At least that’s what we always told our parents who pushed us for high marks. And for a winemaker, it’s even tougher to score high marks on her wines when she is, after all, trying to temper Mother Nature and harness the sun, rain and soil to produce breathtaking “nectar of the Gods.”
But that is exactly what Susana Balbo has done, producing wines that reviewers consistently score in the 90’s. Whether it is her signature Malbec, Brioso and Cabernet Sauvignon or her “offspring” Crios wines, like the Torrontes and Rosé, they rate 90+ points, and critics seem to gush about one of the most well-known and well-respected Argentine winemakers to date.
“Susana Balbo is to Argentine wine what Martha Stewart is to homemaking and Oprah Winfrey is to media in the United States,” wrote Vivianne Rodrigues on Reuters Life earlier this year.
In fact, Susana has come a long way from her enology degree that she earned in 1981. Much of her career was spent traveling around the world to help others create great wines in places like Chile, Australia, Spain, France, South Africa and California before she and her husband, Pedro Marchevsky decided in 1999 to create their own winery, Dominio del Plata, in Argentina. Today, Susana is president of the trade group Wines of Argentina, which represents more than 170 wineries.
Listening to nature
As a biodynamic winemaker, one of Susana’s guiding principles is sustainable agriculture. That means not only organic farming of a current harvest, but also taking a long-range approach to the land and local community to protect natural resources such that viticulture continues to thrive in this region. Additionally, Susana is known for her detail-oriented approach to winemaking. From planting to water management to blending decisions, she refuses to overlook any detail that can make a wine transcend from just good to really great. And it is likely her obvious passion for this profession that has taken her there.
It is no accident that Balbo and her husband chose Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, as their winery home. An area noted for its warm summer days and cool nights, Mendoza provides well-draining, sandy soil that is as close to perfect as it gets for making wine, despite some pretty fierce hail storms. Through a high-trellising system for grape vine stability and biodynamic farming, the grapes here benefit from a long growing season that leads to wines with Balbo’s characteristic great color, flavor and nose.
In addition to Balbo’s super premium or signature labels of Susana Balbo, Ben Marco, and Nosotros, she has become popularly known for her more moderately priced “Crios” line. Crios means offspring in Spanish, and she has said that she chose this name because these wines weren’t quite as grown up as her others – more brashly fruit forward and to be enjoyed younger than her signature wines. Regardless of the label, one thing is clear when experiencing Susana Balbo’s wines: hard work, knowledge, passion and an instinct for producing fabulous wine are undoubtedly a winning combination.
Interested in tasting some of Susana’s fine wines, then you are in luck; Susana Balbo is in Hinsdale! A reservation-only tasting is scheduled for Friday, August 27th, 6-8:30 p.m. at the Hinsdale Wine Shop. The $20 entrance fee will be applied toward your purchases. To make reservations, call 630-654-9862.
Everyone likes being part of a secret. And maybe that’s why the dinner that we held about a week ago at Topaz featuring an assortment of Jim and Mary Dierberg’s wines was such a hit. Sure, our event was publicized, and the restaurant is known to be one of the best in our area, but the wines—these were well-reviewed wines that have surprisingly not gotten a lot of press. So, it was a real treat to not only taste the wines, but to do so with the winery owners and their winemaker, Nick de Luca. Read more