Like Ivar Aasen travelled Norway in the mid-nineteenth century to collect words, proverbs and expressions to create a new independent language for Norway, I travel to document strange beers and awesome flavors. And I share them here with you, the reader. The next step in my scheme will be to make awesome beer that will shake your taste buds and rock your world. You see, I am apart of a new generation of beer drinkers, and we will no longer stand for boring, tasteless crap “made by appointment to the royal Danish court”. We will no longer be silent, we will no longer stand idle by and watch the oldest and the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world being monopolized. Beer is culture! This isn’t fucking “Highlander”, where there can’t be more than one! We want change, change we can believe in, not some semi-lying bullshit from some big shot! And instead of trusting the big guys to do it right, we will arm ourselves with brewing equipment and make it our business to be apart of creating the future. We will drink new beers, and challenge everyone we meet to do the same! So educate yourself in beer, and be apart of the craft beer revolution! I’m proud to say: “I am a craft beer drinker”, and I mean it when I say: “Life’s too short to drink cheap beer”! Now enough with the propaganda, I got a story to tell, this is: The road to Southern Tier...
|Morning in NYC
I believe in love at first taste, and since that first taste of Southern Tier, our relationship has been close. The first story I ever beer-blogged was about Southern Tier, and everywhere I’ve travelled since then ‘ve been looking for Southern Tier beers; “Do they have one I haven’t tried yet here?” And if I find, I buy, and celebrate, because I love Southern Tier. So nothing would be better than going there right, to the brewery? So Kjetil and me set our sails to Lakewood, (Ta-da) and what a story it turned out to be. But let’s set the stage for this story. First came “Irene”, with heavy winds, flood and destruction, and then only a few weeks later came “Lee”. The tropical storm “Lee” hit New York State a week before we arrived, heavy rainfall resulted in historic flooding. It was 7am in the morning of September 10th 2011, Kjetil and me were in New York City and we had just picked up a sporty red rental car from AVIS. The weather was fine, there wasn’t much traffic, and we had plenty of time to drive to Lakewood, all the way west in New York State before the first tour of the brewery started at 2pm. We felt confident, nothing could go wrong, nothing was gonna stop us, we were on the road again! Nick Cave asked on the stereo, “Do you love me?” And I though about my first meeting with “Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée”. Everything was green, in fact it was super green!
|The mad river!
Everything was running smoothly, we were halfway there and in front of schedule when we suddenly and without warning were directed off the highway. “Closed!” And had we known how the road ahead would be we probably would have turned around then and there. But since we weren’t in a rush, and we knew there was a tour at 5pm also, we had no reasons to stress this minor obstacle. We decided to hit the side roads and find a way. Two hours later after driving through every side road we could think of, driving past houses under water, broken roads and getting in trouble with a cocaine crazy trigger happy local sheriff, we’re suddenly at a hotel in the middle of nowhere, NOWHERE! The whole area had been under water and everything was dirty, the hotel had no electricity, and everybody was running around like headless chickens. At that hotel in the middle of nowhere we met “The wedding band”, which just happened to have gig in the town we were going to. A lovely lady at the hotel took the time to equip us with maps and explains us the way out of this maze of closed and broken roads. Her lovely hospitality and helpfulness is the exact opposite of how the hillbilly cop from hell just treated us half an hour before. When we asked for directions his answer was: “Get the fuck out of here!” “Don’t you guy’s watch the fucking news, it’s a fucking disaster down here!” When we said we didn’t know the way out, because we were lost his response was: “I’m so angry now, I’m about to hit someone!” His right hand resting steadily on his gun the whole time, so we turned around and drove, fucking hillbilly! The directions we got from the lady failed, another cop at a road block wouldn’t let us through to get over a bridge that would have lead us out of the maze. We decided to follow the wedding band into something similar to a movie like car chase, and the next place they drove to where the place where the angry crazy psycho cop fantasied about murdering our asses. YAY! The river was crazy, water everywhere, houses under water, and reports came in that people were looting. Luckily the cop was gone when we drove by the same spot, but soon after the road were gone too, and only river remained. Using an iPhone app one of the dudes from the wedding band found a dirt road seemingly into nowhere, we stopped at a gas station in the middle of the woods, kind of looked like the place they filmed “Deliverance”. Between the banjo duels I had the perfect nature moment as I were pissing in the woods, a stalker dear were eyeballing me no more than ten meters away, and he even had the courtesy to wait until was finished before running away. We kept driving on a semi broken roads, and suddenly we found an open bridge, and the highway was under our wheels again. Civilization! We drove as fast as we dared and some, and did our best to follow their car, but suddenly they were gone, and we had the pedal to the metal the whole time. Messing around in Lakewood we entered the brewery 5 minutes to late for the late tour, (5am) due to rather crappy descriptions on Southern Tier’s website. The bartender said, “you’re too late and by the way it’s sold out”, I told her we came all the way from Norway, and that we went trough hell and high water to get to the brewery, I used all my Norwegian charm, but she just said sorry, have a beer instead. Ah, just shoot me please…
|The Empty Pint!
Being turned down like that after travelling over the Atlantic Ocean and struggling ten hours in a car really bummed us out. My expectations were reset to minimum standard and we headed for the hotel and got some food before we followed the bartender’s advice, to have a fucking beer! After the crazy drive it’s a miracle we even found our way to Lakewood, and without “The wedding band” we never would have. So we cheered ourselves up and called a local cab company to drive us to the bar. Some stinky unclean sweaty redneck pig came to pick us up, after waiting ten minutes for us to get out of our hotel room, because the lock on the door decides to call it a day and retire so we had to break out, we jumped in the cab. The first thing this inbreed looking sorry excuse of a man did was to ask for a cigarette. Lakewood is a really small place, and the person who drove the car didn’t even know where the fucking brewery was, next thing he did was to complain how the sun hurt his eyes as he drove up a hill against the sun, what a pussy! After explaining our way to the brewery we’re finally there, the air was filled with the sweet smell and aroma of hops. I love the smell of hops in the morning! The bar was packed with people enjoying themselves and suddenly everything seamed brighter. Welcome to “The Empty Pint”…
|Haffy & Kjetil with the Pumking!
The first beer we bought were the “Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale”, all I got to say is hail to the pumking baby, hail! One of the best beer experiences of my life, halle-fuckins-lujah! Pumpkin pie with crust, spicy and sweet, a dessert, and an experience most beer drinkers never will have, close to perfection. Made with caramel malt and pureed pumpkin, lots of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove, this were one beer I will not be able to forget at all. After that we treated ourselves to seven other glasses from Southern Tier’s tap selection, all of which we’d never tried before. The ones I remember the best were the Hopsun, Harvest, Porter & the Rasberry Wheat. Even got to try a brand new one, the “5 Boroughs Belgian Pale Ale” that were made for the New York craft beer week that was arranged the week after. Beer fresh from the brewery, very recommendable!
|Inside "The Empty Pint"...
One problem with the pub were the staff, most of them didn’t seem overly interested enough to please a craft beer geek, and when one of the employees insisted that we should drink the beer from the pint glasses, I thought it went to far. I asked Kjetil, “Why the hell do you bring beer in pint glasses?” He said: “They don’t wanna give us the other glasses anymore.” At the “souvenir” store, they sold their Imperial Glasses, but what’s the deal with serving these awesome beers in shitty glasses? I of course marched straight to the bar and settled this problem, giving me IPA & stout in pint glasses, who do they think they are? They also sold beer for take away in growlers, a growler is a half a gallon glass bottle, and for only eight dollars you could fill it with anything you wanted in their tap selection. Pretty cool, wish I could do that at Cardinal in Stavanger, I’d come by before a vorspiel and fill it up with my favorites from the tap selection that day.
After going through all the Southern Tier’s we hadn’t tried before, we had some of the other beers the bar sold. Now remember me and Kjetil have tried around 28 different beers from Southern Tier in total. That’s why we went for a Stone Arrogant Bastard, an old favorite of Kjetil, awesome beer with tons of attitude and balls, by the way: “you’re not worthy”! I got hold of one of the bartenders for take away beers, among them “Oud Beersel Oude Geuze”, best before 2029, and only 6% alcohol, Impressive, it was quite good actually. Yeah so we figured it were a better idea to go to the hotel room and have some beer, cause some of the local redneck chicks had been looking and drooling at us for quite some time. They looked a bit like the sewer mutants from Futurama, and we really didn’t want to go to some local bar just to be escorted to a shotgun wedding the day after.
It was midnight when we were planning to leave cause the bar were closing, when one of the guys working there said, “So you’re the guys from Norway, wanna get a tour of the brewery before you leave?” “Yes please!” Pallets upon pallets with beers, oh sweet beer wherefore art thou beer? “Pumking” to the roof and lots of good stuff ready to be shipped out to bring joy to the world. The bottling line still only does 15.000.000 bottles a year, I mean since last time I wrote about Southern Tier. The room isn’t really that large, but there is still room for more fermenters and conditioning tanks, (2.000 gallons each and they had around 20 of em, not really sure been drinking a lot!) and the bottling line isn’t running 24/7 so there should be room for some expansions. In conditioning the last of the Pumking, made only for tap, were enjoying its last days in its mothers womb, just beside a Un*eartly and a Gemini. What perfect symmetry! Southern Tier use their own yeast strain and have two lab technicians making sure the yeast is happy on their pay roll. Southern Tier have been around since 2002 when Phineas DeMink and Allen "Skip" Yahn started the brewery, and if they keep making awesome beers like they do today, there’s really only one way this could go!
When we left that night we were pretty happy, we went through hell and high water to get there, and almost had to crawl over corpses, but in the end we got the service we’ve learned to expect as spoiled Norwegians. And that’s the way it should be! Before leaving we posed for a picture in front of the Southern Tier logo and when our guide found out we pay 50 bucks for a bottle of Tier at the local pub, he gave us two for free!
Cheers and hail to the king baby, hail to the Pumking, the king of American Pumking ale, Southern Tier Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale… (Yes you're suppose to have a hard time reading that last sentence!)