October 28, 2013
When Bill Owens in Hayward, Calif. first brewed a pumpkin beer in the early 1980s, no one else in modern craft brewing history had done such a clever thing. His project, so it is said, was inspired by historical records indicating that George Washington had used squashes—and possibly pumpkins—in experimental homebrews. Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale became popular over the years and remains so some 30 years after its birth.
But today, that maverick beer stands modestly amid hundreds of others like it. For autumn beers celebrating America’s most iconic squash have become ubiquitous: The summer nears its end, and brewers across the continent get busy in unison adding a blizzard of spices and cooked pumpkin (sometimes fresh, sometimes out of a can) to their tanks of fermenting beer. By October and November, pumpkin brews are as commonplace as jack-o-lanterns, and from a glance at a supermarket beer aisle, one might think that America’s craft brewers had run out of ideas.
Many pumpkin beers taste about the same, brewed with roughly the same flurry of autumn spices–which is fine. Most beers of any given style, after all–whether IPAs, porters or pilsners–have a similar flavor profile. The trouble with pumpkin beers is that they can be hard to handle if too liberally spiced. William Bostwick, beer critic for the Wall Street Journal and author of the forthcoming history of beer and brewing, “The Brewer’s Tale,” notes that the standard potpourri of spices used in pumpkin beer–cinnamon and nutmeg, and usually a few others–can turn “acrid, bitter, and cloying” if they are boiled for too long. Bostwick says he has found the worst of these beers to “taste like allspice soup.”
He points out, too, that pumpkin beers generally don’t taste like pumpkin at all.
“On the whole, these are basically pumpkin pie beers,” Bostwick says. “What you taste is spices. I’m not sure most people even know what pumpkin itself really tastes like.”
Indeed, the flavor of pumpkin is so mild that it can be almost undetectable even in a lightly spiced beer. In Half Moon Bay, California, a town surrounded by pumpkin fields, the local brewery has been making a pumpkin beer every fall for 10 years. But this year, the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company toned down the recipe, from eight pounds of nutmeg, clove, allspice, cinnamon and mace in last year’s 500-gallon batch to just one meager pound for the current release.
“I specifically wanted it to taste like pumpkin, not pie,” brewmaster James Costa says. The beer, available only on draft, is decidedly unspicy—so unspicy that one might entirely fail to notice that the reddish hued, creamy topped ale is spiced at all. The pumpkin, meanwhile, is faint, as nature intended this humble squash to be.
Dawn Letner has perhaps never tasted that pumpkin beer. She owns the Chico Home Brew Shop in Chico, Calif., where she frequently sends home customers during October and November with pumpkin beer recipes.
For her, most pumpkin beers are almost intolerable.
“I might buy a bottle now and then, but definitely not a 6-pack,” Letner says. “Do you really want to sit and drink more than one of these spicy cinnamon bombs? For me, the answer is no. If I did want to, I’d just make a spiced tea and add a shot of alcohol.”
Sean Lilly Wilson, owner and founder of Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C., makes a wide array of unusual fruit and vegetable beers to celebrate the autumn–but he has chosen not to make a beer featuring the pumpkin.
“There are enough pumpkin beers in the world,” he says, adding that he doesn’t much care for the style. “They’re often so overly spiced that they’ve lost all nuances. Some of the most celebrated pumpkin beers are just too much for me.”
To make pumpkin beers, some brewers use freshly harvested pumpkins, roasted until the starches turn gooey and sweet. Buffalo Bill’s Brewery, for one, has long used the jumbo pumpkins famous for their hippo-like dimensions, if not their flavor. Half Moon Bay Brewing, on the other hand uses apple-sized sugar pie pumpkins–though Costa concedes that the variety of squash used is probably irrelevant. Other brewers use only pumpkin concentrate, rendered from cooked pumpkins and reduced to a dense, extremely sweet juice and purchased in cans. The pumpkin is added at varying stages of the brewing process, sometimes prior to boiling, other times toward the end of fermentation. Late in the process, too, the spices are added, and another pie-flavored pumpkin beer hits the shelf.
Whether you disdain pumpkin beers, simply tolerate them for a few weeks or wait all summer for them, you must give credit to Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale. Though the mild chai-tasting beer receives consistently poor reviews on beer rating forums, it was the original of what has become a wildly popular style, with almost countless examples now on the market. As of this writing, Beer Advocate’s online rating forum included no less than 529 pumpkin beers–most, if not all of them, spiced like mulled wine. And at the Great American Beer Festival, an annual fall event in Colorado, pumpkin beers occupy their very own category. Clearly, no matter the scorn felt by some critics, America loves these beers. Geoff Harries, the owner of Buffalo Bill’s since 1994, says demand continues to grow for his pumpkin ale, which is now distributed in 43 states, and he said in an interview that from October to November, the beer-drinking public goes into a state of “hyper-excitement” over pumpkin beers. Come December, though, the interest peters to a stop.
Even if you aren’t hyper-excited about pumpkin beers, it’s worth exploring the category for the oddball renditions some breweries have introduced:
- Oak Jacked, from Uinta Brewing Company, in Salt Lake City, is a sweet, deep brown ale with more than 10 percent alcohol and is aged in whiskey barrels for a creamy, vanilla-Chardonnay finish.
- New Belgium’s pumpkin beer, named Pumpkick, includes cranberry juice and lemongrass for an unusual, tart and zesty interpretation.
- Elysian Brewing Company, in Seattle, makes a well-liked pumpkin beer, too–a copper-colored imperial style named The Great Pumpkin. This brewery, in fact, has held an annual pumpkin beer festival since 2005. The event’s centerpiece is a jumbo pumpkin filled with beer and tapped like a keg.
But of the many off-center pumpkin beers available, a few stand alone as marvels of beer making. Perhaps most extreme of them all is a boozy ale called Rumpkin, from Avery Brewing Company.
“I’m one of the biggest pumpkin beer fans in the world,” says Adam Avery, the man who created this beer. As the founder of the brewery, Avery has garnered a reputation over the years for making some of the most outlandish, aggressive, almost unapproachable beers in the world. “I would drink pumpkin beers every day if I could, and it seemed weird that I had never made one before. So we thought, ‘Let’s make a pumpkin beer, and let’s make it the granddaddy of them all.’”
And unless we overlooked something grander, Rumpkin is it. The dark, cognac-like beer, which tastes of vanilla, coconut and dark chewy fruits, has been aged in rum barrels and weighs in at 18.6-percent alcohol.
Autumn is the season of abundance, diversity and color–not just pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins–and Fullsteam Brewery, at least, seems to recognize this. The small facility, now just three years old, released a persimmon ale this fall named First Frost after the seasonal event which traditionally marks the ripening of the persimmon crop. Wilson, Fullsteam’s owner, is also getting set to brew a fig-chestnut beer, named Fruitcake, and a pawpaw beer, named Pawpaw, while a sweet potato lager, named Carver, is available year round on draft at the brewery.
None of these fall and winter beers are spiced.
“We’re not in the scented candle business,” Wilson quips. “We’re in the craft beer business. We want to let people taste the ingredients we’re using.”
As for those spicy pumpkin beers, Bostwick, for all his skepticism, gets why brewers make them like they do:
“No one wants to buy a pumpkin beer expecting it to taste like pumpkin pie and finding that it tastes like nothing.”
They’d rather, it seems, have it taste like allspice soup.
August 2, 2013
In the fog-drenched lumber and fishing country of the Pacific Northwest, beer—hearty, rich and warming—occupies as natural a role in the local culture as rifles and chain saws, pickup trucks and crab traps, eggs, coffee and bacon. Homebrewing of beer is as popular here as almost anywhere else in the United States. Some of the best breweries in America—including Deschutes, Rogue, Full Sail and North Coast—are based in the Northwest, and such classic styles as the Double IPA and barrel-aged ales have thrived and evolved under the influences of local thirsts and creativity. So, how could I resist starting a fresh game of Find the Beer while cycling from Southeast Alaska to California? Now, five bottles of beer dwell in rock holes and guardrails between Prince of Wales Island and the Humboldt County redwoods. You may know the rules by now: Go find one of the stashed bottles, replace it with one of your own choosing, and let us know in the comment box below. Game on!
Prince of Wales Island, Alaska; Midnight Sun Brewing Company’s Kodiak Brown Ale. If you are ever headed to a town called Thorne Bay, or Whale Pass, or Port Protection, you will probably pass along Highway 929, a small, quiet strip of asphalt through the wilderness of Prince of Wales Island. If you like beer, you have no excuse not to stop. The shoulder is wide, so pull over at mile marker 13. In the rock pile on the west side of the road, the brown ale from Midnight Sun Brewing Company lurks. See the accompanying photo for details.
Tokeland, Washington; Pyramid Thunderhead IPA. Out on this remote section of coast, one finds fog, salt, surf and lumber trucks. There is also a brand new microbrewery by the road, operated out of the Cranberry Road Winery. Stop in for a friendly pint as you cycle south. But don’t lose track of the miles. Several miles south of Tokeland, immediately across from mile marker 14 on Highway 105, in the ocean-break rock wall, dwells a beer. It’s an IPA from Pyramid. See the photo for the precise location, and make a creative bottle swap.
Reedsport, Oregon; Rogue Ales Mocha Porter. The Rogue brewery is a popular pit stop for cyclists on the coast of Oregon—especially, perhaps, those who have just pedaled 100 miles and have plans to camp at the nearby South Beach State Park. Don’t have time for a visit to the brewery itself? For you, I’ve stashed a bottle of Rogue’s Mocha Porter in the very end of the west-side guardrail along Highway 101, just 50 yards north of mile marker 205. This is roughly seven miles north of the decaying, salty town of Reedsport and is an easy pick-up for a cyclist riding south.
Gold Beach, Oregon; Full Sail Pale Ale. This is perhaps not the most inspiring or dramatic ale, and I wouldn’t stop in a grocery store to buy it. Thing is, if you’re cycling Highway 101, it’s free at the side of the road. The Full Sail Pale Ale lies at the 500-foot summit of the long, slow climb just south of Gold Beach. The beer is in the guardrail, about 100 yards south of the T-junction with Herman Road. Take the bottle and leave another.
Avenue of the Giants, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park; Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale. In our last game of Find the Beer, based mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, I stashed a bottle of this high-alcohol ale in an oak tree near Sonoma—and one of our readers stole it. A noble beer hunter (the man who reported the theft) nonetheless placed a new beer in the raided hole, but the loss of the Lagunitas brew was discouraging. So I’ve reintroduced the beer to the game by burying a bottle of the same beer in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Among giant trees standing 300 feet tall, the beer lies right behind the wooden sign (east side of the highway) reading “Residents of Massachusetts Grove,” several miles south of Weott.
They’re Still There: I recently checked on a beer that I hid in June near Mendocino, California. An oatmeal stout from Anderson Valley, it has not been touched and remains as I left it in the highway guardrail. Of course, there are other beers, too, from prior rounds of Find the Beer. In the Dordogne of France, in Bordeaux, in the Pyrenees and in the San Francisco Bay Area, more than a dozen bottles lie stashed. Pull over and find the beer!
August 1, 2013
In 1905, John Schneider sat down, put pen to paper, and began writing an account of his life. Elderly, his wiry white beard and mustache framing a face marked with deeply creased wrinkles, his memories came simply, matter-of-fact words and descriptions perhaps disguising how ill-at-ease the German immigrant felt with his adopted language. “We were 250 brewers in [Cincinnati] and founded the Gambrinus Support Association and demanded 30 dollars per month, which the bosses didn’t agree to, and we went on strike,” he wrote. “Business was good; left Eichenlaube. Went to Moerlein’s Brewery, only there was another strike, so I left soon and went to Herancourt’s Brewery, from there to the Jackson Brewery as maltser and got 3 dollars more wage here.” His words reveal the success of his chosen industry; breweries were plentiful, and Schneider had innumerable options for work. The year was 1854, and Schneider, who would become a brewmaster before long, found himself on the ground-level of the American brewing boom, a business that would peak in 1873 with over 3,700 independent breweries operating in the United States.
140 years later, the American brewing industry is back on the rise, thanks in large part to the reinvigorated appeal — and economic success — of small batch craft breweries. In their midyear report — released this week — the Brewers Association announced strong financial growth for American breweries, dollars backed by the number of breweries operating: 2,538, the largest number since 1873. What sounded the death knell for the brewing boom, and why did it take nearly a century and a half for American brewing to reclaim its former glory? The death of the American brewery can be attributed — at least in part — to the heartbreak of loving something too much: when beer became popular, it became profitable, opening itself up to large-scale corporate control and consolidation.
Before 1810, production statistics for beer are widely unavailable, speaking to its lack of standing in the American beverage rotation. Toward the mid-1850s, however, a number of social and technological advancements made beer an appealing option for drinkers. For one, an influx of immigrants from Britain, Germany and Ireland contributed to the idea of a beer-drinking culture. Additionally, wages were on the rise, affording workers the economic means to knock back a cold one after work. Substantive improvements in technology — such as refrigeration and pasteurization — also contributed to beer becoming more widely available. In 1865, per capita consumption of beer in the United States was 3.4 gallons — by the end of the 19th century, that number had nearly quadrupled.
Up through 1873, most of America’s beer came from small, locally owned and operated breweries. While craft breweries of today are concerned with creating a breadth of creative beer styles (see the Rogue Brewery’s Bacon Maple Ale, a beer inspired by Portland, Oregon’s famous Voodoo Doughnut shop), small batch breweries of the 19th century were more concerned with distributing quality beer to their immediate, local clientele. “Today, America’s craft brewers are creating innovative, high quality beer in a variety of styles and flavors,” explains Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “But, for a good part of the 20th century, it was hard to find many examples of ales in the U.S.” Lighter styles like lagers and pilsners began to squeeze heavier ales out of the market, thanks in large part to the influx of German immigrants — like Schneider — who brought their country’s penchant for the pilsner to America.
As thirst for the malty beverage increased, a new dynamic pitted big business against small craftsmanship. In 1870, 3,286 breweries produced, on average, 2,009 barrels of beer per year. By 1915, only 1,345 breweries remained, but these were prodigious in their production, cranking out 44,461 barrels per year. “Brewery declines in the 1870s were related to refrigerated and iced rail cars allowing breweries to extend their reach, pushing consolidation and closure of small, local brewers,” says Gatza.
It wasn’t until after Prohibition, however, that these large scale “shipping breweries” began to truly outwit the smaller craft breweries — which, though outnumbered, had been able to sustain their business by supplying small batch brews to their immediate local markets. With the passing of the 21st amendment, a measure was put in place that banned brewers from owning bars or saloons, requiring a middleman to go between bar owners and beer manufactures. Such a step drove up cost for small breweries, making their model economically unfeasible. “After Prohibition, over 700 breweries opened, but consolidation of smaller brewers by larger brewers started quickly and continued to around 1980,” Gatza says. “The post-Prohibition low point was 89 breweries owned by 42 companies in the late-1970s.” A combination of factors began to make beer — especially craft beer — less appealing to the American public. Marketing campaigns effectively dictated that the industry center around pale lagers, and diet crazes proselytized the light beer above all. The bell was tolling for the American brewery: experts projected that by the 1980s, there would be five brewing companies left in the United States.
Dancing with extinction, the American tradition of craft brewing has undergone a rebirth in the past 30 years. “A book could be written on what is behind the renaissance,” Gatz explains. “In a nutshell, beer drinkers are far more educated about breweries and beer styles, and having great experiences with delicious beers.” From 89 to 2,538 in three decades might be more than a renaissance, however — we may be witnessing the second-coming of an American craft brewing boom.
Which isn’t to say that history is repeating itself–merely mirroring a pattern of expanding industry.
July 5, 2013
The world is no one’s oyster. If it were, it would be full of pearls. But it is stashed with hidden beers. In the past, I have left a number of bottles stashed in rock holes in random locations in southern France. (So have a few readers of Food and Think.) Now, the game called “Find the Beer” comes to America. I’ve left a trail of ales behind me in Northern California, and in this post are directions to each treasure. Please play the game right and leave a beer of your own choice if you take one of the stashed bottles. Just be sure to replace your find with a beer in a bottle–not a can, which may deteriorate and corrode under harsh conditions–and notify us via the comment box below of your contribution. Game on!
1. Big River Bridge on Highway 1, near Mendocino, CA; Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. At the south end of the bridge just south of the town of Mendocino, a beer awaits in the east side guardrail. The brew is a velvety smooth oatmeal stout from Anderson Valley that tastes vaguely like cream, sour caramel and woodsmoke. Sounds bad but it’s great–one of my very favorites, in fact. The beer is only 5.8% alcohol and not one suitable to long periods of aging, but the Mendocino County coast is cool all year, and this beer should hold up just fine until you get there.
2. Near Napa, on the Trinity-Oakville grade section of Dry Creek Road; Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale. A friend of mine once said that beer is the perfect athlete’s food. “It has water, calories and painkiller,” he explained. And so I hope that a cyclist on a long and arduous ride finds this next beer. It is sweet, fragrant, hoppy and strong. At 9.6% alcohol by volume and with some heavy sugar content, the 12-ounce bottle contains at least 250 calories (alcohol contains 7 calories per gram) and probably about 80 percent water. Bring it home, chill it, and make it your recovery meal. Where is it exactly? In a hole in a tree trunk on the south side of the highway about 100 yards west of the Mount Veeder Road turnoff.
3. Muir Woods Road, Marin County; Belgian-style homebrew. A long, long time ago, I brewed a batch of brown Belgian-style beer. Then I forgot that I ever did–until early in 2013, when I found a box in my basement containing 30 bottles dated July of 2007. The lost stash! The beers remain good, if possibly past their peak, and I’ve decided to donate a bottle to the game. I left it in an old Eucalyptus log by the side of the road, smack at an intersection that local cyclists call “Four Corners.” Precisely, the beer is hiding at the southwest corner, several feet down a gravelly bank, in a rotted-out cavity in the log. Use a stick to pull out the beer (or be on spider alert)–and let me know how you like the beer. Just be nice; it was one of my first homebrews.
4. Bicycle/Hiking Trail (Old Highway 1) in Pacifica, CA; Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Brown Shugga’. This beer, made with a liberal addition of brown sugar on top of the standard barley malt, is good when fresh. Keep it around a year, and it gets better. Fast forward two more years, and a Brown Shugga’, bitter and sweet and vibrant when it first hits retail shelves, is like liquid candy–chewy, sticky, and fudgy. So it goes for the two-and-a-half-year-old bottle that now dwells in Pacifica, on the well-known bicycle-hiking path (I like to call it John Steinbeck’s Highway 1, since he surely drove it when this was the main coastal route) that ascends inland and upward from Pacifica to Moss Beach, over Montara Mountain. The bottle is buried deep in the pine duff behind a large Monterey pine tree beside the semi-paved trail. See the photo below for details.
5. Shasta Lake, CA, under a fig tree beside Turntable Bay Road, off of Interstate 5; Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. The temperature was 105 degrees Fahrenheit (in the sun, but nonetheless) when I buried this beer in six inches of dirt, gravel and pine needles and placed two hand-sized rocks on top. But within the canopy of the fig tree, it was a cool 80. Thus, this strong IPA from Dogfish Head should be in good shape even through the fiercest heat wave. How to find it? If you’re driving north on Interstate 5 and arrive at Lake Shasta, take the exit to Turntable Bay Road. This paved downhill through the forest quickly turns to dirt. After several switchbacks and a quarter mile from the freeway, you will see the fig tree on the right as the road turns sharply left. Pull over, and scramble into the gully and start digging beside the trunk. There are burrs, spider webs and dust–but for a Dogfish Head IPA it’s worth the sweat and blood. See the accompanying photo for the exact location.
Elsewhere in the World: Those readers who have been following along know that Find the Beer had its roots in France, where the game began one year ago. Currently, a handful of beers remain stashed in cobblestone rock holes (the French love to build things with cobblestones–perfect infrastructure for treasure hunts). A number of these bottles dwell along roadways that are about to be swarmed by cyclists and fans of the 100th Tour de France. On such high mountain passes as Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque, and on the road to Col de Jau–at these locations and others, beers have been patiently waiting for months. Refer to this post from May to find your way to them. In particular, the beer on Tourmalet is a high-alcohol giant that, after one year of aging at high altitude, should be a real treasure. Go find the beer.
May 31, 2013
The countryside of southern France is drenched in classic bucolic charm and beauty–and it hardly needs improvements. Here already are truffles, fois gras, wine, mushrooms, chestnuts and cheese. Castles stand on mountaintops, sheep graze in meadows, bears and wolves add an element of the wild to the high Pyrenees, and farmers markets pop up in almost every village. For many travelers and food lovers, the region is one of the Earth’s most exciting Edens. But even paradise gets better with a rousing game of beer-hunting. As I travel through southern France on my bicycle, from the Perigord to the Pyrenees, I am stashing brews in random cracks in the rock where nobody would ever think of sticking a hand and encountering a bottle of beer–except that I’m willing to give explicit directions to these rock-holes. That, of course, is the whole point in this game that I began last spring during a similar bike ride.
I call it “Find the Beer,” and the only rules are 1) you just take one, 2) you leave a beer of your own before you go, and 3) you let us know through Food and Think’s comments box that you’ve made the discovery–and, please, tell us how it tasted. NOTE: So that you don’t wind up taking a long trek for nothing, we will keep readers updated on the status of these beers (that is, found, or still hiding) via the comment thread below this post. ANOTHER NOTE: Please don’t stash canned beers, as I unwisely did in 2012. The cans may corrode if exposed to water, frost and heat. With no further ado, here they are–the locations of great beers now lurking in dark rock holes and crevices in the South of France. Go find the beer!
1. Groléjac, Dordogne. Pelforth Brune. Stashed on May 3, 2013. Dwelling between Souillac and Sarlat, this beer–a rich, hearty brown ale brewed in France–dwells in a cozy cobblestone hole just a stone’s throw outside the town of Groléjac. This brew replaces the two cans I left in the same hole last May; one was collected by one Edward Heseltine, of England, last fall, and I took the other this May. (The can was leaking and the beer was flat.) The Pelforth Brune now rests in a rock wall beside the town cemetery, on highway D 50–just east of the village. The beer is at ground level, in a hole that faces a walnut orchard across road. Use the photo included to guide you to the right place, or just start exploring these spider houses one by one. You’ll find the beer.
2. Le Bugue, Dordogne. Chimay Brown (blue bottle). Stashed on May 4, 2013. About 100 yards east of kilometer marker 27 on highway D 703, a bottle of this highly esteemed Belgian beer dwells in the fourth drainage hole at the base of the rock wall between asphalt and cliff. Or was it the fifth hole? You tell me. This Chimay beer is the third drink to find its way into this hiding place. Last spring, I stashed a can of strong Dutch lager here. And in the fall, an American man, one Andrew Quinn, removed it and kindly left a bottle of Normandy cider. (It was excellent after a winter of hibernation.)
3. Massat, Ariege. Duvel Belgian “SPECIAALBIER.” Stashed on May 12, 2013. This beer, a light-colored strong ale of 8.5 percent alcohol, lives in a hole along a rock wall on highway D 618, about nine kilometers uphill from the charming old town of Massat. When you arrive at a village named Brusque, the beer is all but yours. Use the accompanying photo to guide you to the gold.
4. Gorge de St. Georges, Highway D-17, Aude. Fischer Bière De Noël. Stashed on May 16, 2013. Just four kilometers upstream of Axat, in the Aude River gorge, this 6-percent alcohol lager awaits the hand that finds it in the cliff wall, between two sections of precipice contained by chain link fencing. If you’re going uphill, the beer is stashed on the left-hand side of highway D 17, about 100 yards upstream of the junction with D-118. D 17 is the road that leads to Col de Jau, a 4,935-foot pass that frequently occurs in the Tour de France route. Perhaps grab this beer on your way to the top.
5. Sougraigne, highway D 74, Aude. Biere de Printemps Aux 7 Cereales. Stashed on May 19, 2013. A craft beer of France, this small label was found in a fancy organic foods co-op and should be worth the trek to get it. It is 6.5-percent alcohol and contains seven grains, for what all that is worth. The beer is hidden in a rock wall precisely beneath, and just to the left of, the kilometer-3 marker on highway D-74, en route to Sougraigne, in the Aude department. It’s a small country road in a beautiful forested region–a worthy touristic drive whether or not you find the beer.
The 2012 collection. These beers need special mention. I stashed them in 2012. They are all strong beers, and if alcohol content has a say in how well a beer endures time (which it does) we should expect they are still in good shape. The only questions are: Are they still there? (Nobody has claimed to have found them.) And have the cans endured the weathering effects of four seasons? (Aluminum may easily corrode and I have halted all use of cans and am now only placing glass bottles of beer, and I encourage others to do the same.)
1. Col d’Aubisque, Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Kellegen Blond Special. Stashed in June, 2012. This one is a year old now. I left it in the cliff halfway between the Col d’Aubisque and Col du Soulor passes, in the Pyrenees. It lies in a cobblestone crack just beside a spray-painted Basque freedom message, ‘LIBERTAT.’ Note that this beer is in a can. It’s not certain whether the aluminum has survived a blazing summer and a frigid winter without corrosion.
2. Col du Tourmalet, Hautes-Pyrénées. Beer type unknown (I forget). Stashed in June, 2012. I can’t recall exactly what the beer is–but it’s in a glass bottle, weighs in at a high alcohol content, and should be in good shape still. Trouble is, you must reach the top of this grandest of Pyrenees Tour de France passes to get it–nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. Precisely, the beer is hidden in a concrete bunker-like structure on the right side of the highway (if you’re ascending from the east side). Listen: The beer is tucked under a ground-level ledge (you’ll see what I mean when you get there), directly beneath the letter “L” in a spray-painted political message about Basque freedom.
3. Sauternes, highway D116 E1 (in the base of the cobblestone rock wall facing the entrance to Chateau Lafaurie-Peyragney), Gironde. Amsterdam Maximator. Stashed in May, 2012. The beer, an 11.6-percent wine-strength monster, is in a can. It is quite possible that corrosion has allowed in the air, spoiling this lager. Don’t make a journey to this point for the beer alone. The local wine is quite reputed–but if you’re there, it will be worth sticking your hand in a hole to get this big lager.