My name is Bob Weisenberg and I’m fond of craft beer, traveling the globe and meeting new friends along the way.
I can say without prejudice that 2020 will be hard to forget. But even with all the things that have occurred in 2020, I am an optimist by nature and think the new year will be a greatly improved version from the previous — and that includes the world of beer.
Like many aspects of daily life, we tend to gravitate to tastes and trends that we are familiar with and enjoy. When something new is introduced into our orbit, we have a tendency to revert to things we like, know and trust. Safe choices are human nature, and it’s partially why the human race has done so well in an ever-changing world.
I'm going to challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and experiment with some new or newly improved beers that you might skip over at your local pub or grocery store.
First a little history. Today’s lesson, with the help of the History Channel: What is the new year, and how did it arrive on January 1?
The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year date back some 4,000 years, to ancient Babylon (now modern-day Iraq). For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the spring equinox heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) and ceremonially brewed the grain into a beer-like beverage.
Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese New Year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice. "Gung hay fat choy" is Cantonese, loosely translated as "Happy New Year."
The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox; according to tradition, it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. A later king, Pompilius, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.
As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties where beer and wine were served. Beer was consumed in abundance in ancient Rome, but was soon overtaken by wine. The Romans called their brew "cerevisia," based on the Celtic word.
In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation). Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1582.
And now what’s new (or fairly new) on my beer horizon for the 1st quarter of 2021:
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
From previous articles, you know I’m a big fan of Sierra Nevada based in Chico. One of my favorite new series of beers from Sierra is their “Little Thing” lineup, which encompasses a sour flavored ale, a Hazy IPA and an Imperial IPA. All three are spectacular brews targeted to different audiences.
The sour is light, with hints of berry and hibiscus, and is low in alcohol by volume at just 5.5%. I’m typically not a fan of sours, but Sierra has a winner with this Sour “Little Thing.” My wife loves this beer.
The next beer in the “Little Thing” franchise and its flagship is the Hazy. If you’re just being introduced to IPAs, the Hazy product is a great place to start. Per Sierra, their Hazy IPA is an IPA with “juicy hops and silky malt with fruit-forward flavor, modest bitterness, and a smooth finish.” This beer is one of my favorite all-around beers.
Their last “Little Thing” beer is an Imperial IPA. This is a BIG IPA described as “flexing of full malt body, restrained sweetness, and tropical hop flavors of mango, grapefruit and tangerine.” This beer has significantly higher ABV, and should be consumed carefully.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
Firestone, based in Paso Robles, is one of the top brewers in the world. Their parent company is Duvel Moortgat, a world-renowned brewer from 1871 located in the Flemish region of Belgium. An entire article could be written on Firestone, but today I will concentrate on their low-calorie Hazy IPA, called FlyJack.
Firestone is one of the few brewers that have conquered the age-old problem of brewing a great IPA with only 96 calories and an ABV of just 4%. Firestone describes FlyJack as a “crisp and hazy IPA, with hints of citrus and tropical fruit. A full-flavored Hazy IPA with just 5 carbs.” My beer drinking posse loves this beer, even with the low ABV and carbs. It’s the taste that matters, and this beer has it all.
Baltimore Blonde by Guinness & Co.
Guinness has been brewing outstanding beer since 1752. Their global flagship is Guinness Stout, which has been brewed in Dublin, Ireland since their founding by Arthur Guinness. Guinness Stout is one of my favorite all-time beers, and having it in Ireland is a very special treat. The tour at their St. James Gate brewery in Dublin is memorable.
In 2018, Guinness began brewing in America for the first time in Baltimore, a town with historic brewing credentials. To accommodate American tastes, they created Baltimore Blonde Ale. Guinness describes BBA as “complex and flavourful. Light, floral and alive with citrus. This beer is perfectly balanced with a lingering malt and biscuity finish.”
I just recently purchased a six-pack and I’m in love with this ale. With an ABV of 5%, it's extremely drinkable and won’t fill you up. The result is a clean, crisp beer that hits the sweet spot between flavor and refreshing taste.
All of these beers and ales can be found at Costco, BevMo! or your favorite food retailer.
Until next time have a beer with a friend, be socially distant, and be safe. Cheers to a New Year.
Bob is a semi-retired HVAC executive and lifelong lover of beer while living the good life in Woodbridge.