Beer and history go hand-in-hand (and I’m not just referring to my preferred method of late-night term-paper-writing or the proportionate relationship between consumption of beer and the languid pontificating of a rambling history buff). We love to fetishize the Founding Fathers as ale-swilling ruffians—underdog beer-lovers against a stuffy monarchy.
Any victory for the nascent USA meant, if indirectly, a victory for beer—decidedly a drink of the people. In most of our historiographical endeavors, we equate beer with proverbial bald eagles, Freedom with a capital F, and the ability to brandish a revolver and shoot it into the sky in defiance. While this glorified idea of our revolutionary forerunners may be scarily flawed, that’s fodder for a different conversation altogether.
You can see evidence of this sort of historiography in the popularity of the widespread quote, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy,” (oft attributed to the bespeckled B-Franklin himself). Did he really say that? Who knows? Indeed, who cares? It’s catchy and it fits into our image of our historical figures as we like to see them.
However, I think the link between beer and history runs deeper than that. Beer and food pairings are an extraordinarily popular trend. But what if we paired beer with other things? What beer fits best with some of our defining historical moments as a nation? This column seeks to bring you perfect pairings between local beer and our national history.
The Louisiana Purchase was, at the time, decidedly controversial. President Thomas Jefferson (a prodigious inventor—I wouldn’t be surprised if he homebrewed in one of the rooms of Monticello), entered into agreement with the French in 1803, through the work of two ambassadors, to purchase the claim to a vast chunk of what is now the Midwest. This purchase increased the footprint of the nation exponentially. Whether this was a hypocritical move by a president who championed himself as a strict Constitutionalist is beside the point. The Louisiana Purchase nabbed up some of the most fertile arable land in the country—providing us with the ability to grow enough barley to brew billions of barrels of brew.
This newly acquired swath included Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota in their entirety and meaningful, strategic chunks of Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota. Talk about a breadbasket, huh? Today, these states produce the lion’s share of barley in the US, with North Dakota being the top producer, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
Had Jefferson not taken the steps to acquire this land, perhaps the USA would be a bit smaller, or at least differently shaped. Perhaps we would not have the access to the high quality, high quantity domestic malts we have today. Obviously, malt is an integral part of all brews but full-bodied, malt-driven stout seems a perfect prost to the one fell political swoop that brought us a multitude of homegrown grains. Can we call Thomas Jefferson the fairy godfather of the American craft brewing stout? Some may call it hyperbole; I say yes.
Of course, this brings us to the actual pairing itself. Colorado breweries offer a bevy of beautiful stouts. Some rich and sweet, others dry and experimental.
Odell, Bourbon Barrel Stout: This complex brew from their “Single Serve Series” is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and has round chocolate, coffee and vanilla notes. This beauty clocks in at 10.5% ABV and comes in a festive, cork-top bottle.
Oskar Blues, Ten FIDY: Oskar Blues boasts, “Ten FIDY is the ultimate celebration of dark malts and boundary-stretching beer.” What better way to pay homage to Jefferson’s procurement of malt than with this popular barley-backed beer? Plus, at 98 IBU, it’s a kick in the can. 8% ABV.
Great Divide Brewing Company, Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti: Yes, I work here. Regardless of my potential bias, this iteration (one of many in the Yeti series) is delicious. With just the right amount of chocolate sweetness from real cocoa nibs, this beer surprises with a spicy cayenne kick on the end. 9.5% ABV.
Tags: America, beer, Benjamin Franklin, Bourbon, Bourbon Barrel Stout, Chocolate Oak Ages Yeti, eagle, freedom, Great Divide Brewing, history, Louisiana Purchase, Malt, Odell Brewing, Oskar Blues, pairing history, Stout, Ten Fidy, Thomas Jefferson, USA