We have entered the age of beer acquisitions -- craft breweries are now buying other craft breweries. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as businesses purchasing or joining forces with competitors is actually a sign of a healthy marketplace. The problem is in perception: When a craft brewery like Portland's 10 Barrel Brewing Co. is bought by a mega-brewer like Anheuser-Busch/InBev, drinkers write them off as sellouts and bemoan the death of the industry. When a craft brewery buys another craft brewery, however...
If you've driven to San Diego from Phoenix, you've likely passed right by Alpine Beer Co. I won't blame you for missing it; the place is tiny, just a 30-ish seat brewpub next to a small brewery tucked between trees on a mountain road. But the operation's size belies its impact -- Alpine makes some of the best hop-focused beers in the country. The brewery was founded in 1999 by homebrewer and career firefighter Pat McIlhenney and existed for three years as a contract operation, with beers made back down at sea level by AleSmith Brewing Co. in San Diego. The facility in Alpine, which opened its doors in fall 2002, today employs 20 folks and produces around 3,000 barrels of beer every year.
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But as I mentioned, Alpine's impact is larger than its operation. Of the top 100 beers in the world on beer rating website beeradvocate.com, four of them are brewed by McIlhenney. His beers are very popular but often hard to find, which is why craft beer fans -- especially those living in Arizona -- should've been excited about Alpine's acquisition by Green Flash Brewing Co. last November. The agreement not only allows both breweries to remain independently operated and maintain their distinct brands and cultures, but it provides that several of Alpine's beers will be brewed at Green Flash, an operation about 20 times the size of Alpine with a much larger distribution network.
The result: Alpine beer will soon be available in Arizona.
According to representatives from Crescent Crown, the distributor that'll carry Alpine, the first shipment to our state should arrive in February. The starting lineup will be McIlhenney's Irish Red, Hoppy Birthday, Nelson, Captain's Stout, Alpine Ale and Duet, and they'll be available on draft only. Here's what to expect from each brew:
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- McIlhenney's Irish Red: The first beer Alpine ever produced, McIlhenny's took home silver at the 2004 Great American Beer Festival. At 6 percent ABV, caramel and toast flavors meld before a dry, rye-spiced finished.
- Hoppy Birthday: An incredibly dank and sticky aroma replete with fresh-cut grass, floral honey and white crackers leads into flavors of weed and pithy citrus peel. The finish is a bit weak, but the lightness of body makes this 5-percent ABV anniversary pale ale very drinkable.
- Nelson: Named after the New Zealand-grown Nelson Sauvin hops used to brew it, this beer delivers a smorgasbord of flavor: lemon, pine, fresh-cut grass, subtle oniony funk, earthy soil, dish soap, mint and green peppers.
- Captain Stout: McIlhenny retired a firefighter captain in 2009, and this beer has all the authority of a fire crew leader with a velvet-smooth yet powerful blend of coffee, cocoa nibs, peanuts and oatmeal flavors.
- Alpine Ale: The brewery's namesake pale ale seems to be everything its other beers are not: mild, balanced, clean, sessionable. It's got subtle citrus/pine hop character and sweet caramel malt flavor in a 5.5-percent ABV package.
- Duet: Alpine's original IPA clocks in at 7 percent ABV, blending Simcoe and Amarillo hops "in harmony." Get it?
Alpine comes to Arizona next month. Be on the lookout in future shipments for Pure Hoppiness, an 8-percent ABV imperial IPA that smells like a Hawaiian pizza, and for its big brother Exponential Hoppiness, an ultra-resinous hop monster brewed by doubling the amount of hops with each addition.