Friday Froth: Iceland And Sweetwater Come To Connecticut

James Gribbon

Reykjavik and Atlanta usually don't have anything in common besides yours truly, but we've all come full circle this week. The daisy chain works like this: I love Iceland, and have done some work for the country here in the U.S. which allowed me to to visit the land of fire and ice, eat hákarl, and learn the correct pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull. I also have a degree in history from the University of Georgia, where I became acquainted with Sweetwater Brewing Company. Just recently, Two Roads and Evil Twin conspired to produce Geyser Gose, using Icelandic ingredients, and Sweetwater made their Connecticut debut. Hell yes.

Like so much of the other information I learned in college, I have no recollection of the first time I had a Sweetwater beer, but I do know it was their 420 Extra Pale Ale. The rumor was that it was made with hemp seeds, which sounds edgy until you find out hemp seeds are the major constituent of most commercial bird seed and no, it's not. It is, however, a pretty good beer, and was a hugely welcome option in the tightly constricted beverage portfolio of the bible belt. For perspective, 420 is not too far off the Southern Tier Harvest ale I mentioned a few weeks ago - a bit lighter in body.

I was excited to see Sweetwater join our ranks up here this week, and wasted no time ordering up a Hop Hash double IPA. This is a fairly powerful beer at 7.8%, and has a juicy hop nose over its basic amber color, and thick head of tiny bubbles. There is some fruity hop flavor at first, but it is swiftly followed by a hard bitterness. This is not a beer to give to anyone on the fence about IPAs, but just the thing for the slavishly dedicated hop head. Here's why...

Hops, especially the new, designer varieties, are unbelievably difficult to come by these days. Ferrari, when they came out with the Enzo for the 60th anniversary of the brand, wouldn't sell you one, even if you had the million dollars to blow, unless you had purchased several Ferraris before, were in good standing with the brand, and currently owned an F360 Modena. It's like that with hop suppliers. The hottest varietals, whether it's Azaccas, Mosaics, Simcoes, etc. only dribble your way when you have a purchase contract for large volumes of more standard hops. Sweetwater called their supplier in the Yakima valley in Washington state, where a huge percentage of American (i.e. the best) hops are grown, and tried to figure out how to get more of the good stuff. 

They were told that no additional whole-cone or pelletized hops were coming their way, but there was this gunk that stuck to the pelletizing machines they could have if they could find a way to use it. The gunk was concentrated lupulin - hop oil - and hop bits. If it was marijuana, it would have been called hash or keef and, originally "Johnny Hash," the brewers settled on the name Hop Hash for the beer they made with it. 

The bitterness eventually subsides as the palate adjusts while you're drinking this double IPA, and the sweeter aspects of the hops shine through. I wouldn't put it on the level of NEBCO Sea Hag, but if you like that, you'll probably like this. Sweetwater also makes another variant called Hash Brown, which is sharp and slightly acrid with the toasting process, and the hops end up being buried a bit as a result, but it's a nice, if slightly severe, brown ale. 

Two Roads/Evil Twin Geyser Gose is one of the best beers of 2015, and they worked hard to get it. Two Roads brewmaster Phil Markowski and Evil Twin's 
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsøtraveled to Gæðingur Brugghús in the north of Iceland, where they worked on gathering Icelandic moss, kelp, rye, birch-smoked sea salt, and an intensely bitter yogurt called skyr to mine for flavor and bacterial contributions. The result is Geyser Gose. 

The Stratford brewery packages their 5.5% gose in 16oz. cans, from which it pours a hazy straw color with a stupendously thick head, considering the style. It smells like wheat washed in seawater. All it takes is one sip of this German-inspired beer to know it rivals anything Europe has to offer. Salty, smooth, and herbal, (possibly owning to the moss and kelp) Geyser is an honestly, truly Good Beer which has sprung forth from the Two Roads/Evil Twin collaboration. There is an understated acidity which is - I'm not going to say 'where it should be' - but how I think it works best in a gose. Everything, all the elements, harmonize so well there's almost an umami taste. I'm inclined to agree with Steve of CTMQ, who gave it an A+ rating. This one is available in pint cans, but probably not for long, and the pint I had when taking my notes was on draft at Local in Fairfield. 

Go. Drink. This. Beer.

I can't say it any more plainly than that. See you out there.