Drinks

On National Beer Day, try these brews for a taste of history

April 7, 2014 at 10:28 AM ET

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April 7 is National Beer Day, which celebrates that wonderful moment in 1933 when the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect, marking the beginning of the end for Prohibition. For the first time in thirteen years, Americans could purchase and enjoy beer and wine without having to worry about being dragged off in a paddy wagon. 

It took several decades for America’s beer culture to rebound, but these days we have an amazing ecosystem of flavors at our fingertips, from hop-bomb double IPAs, to beers brewed with everything from chocolate and pizza ingredients to roasted goat brains. We even have historical brews, like Dogfish Head’s line of Ancient Ales, which resurrect tipples enjoyed by kings and pharaohs of yore.

Of course you don’t have to go back 2,000 years to explore the meaningful milestones in craft beer history – you simply have to visit your local beer store. There you can still purchase some brews that have had a massive impact on the development of the wondrous and unique craft beer scene we enjoy today.

Anchor Steam Beer: This beer was first brewed in its current form in 1971, six years after appliance heir Fritz Maytag III purchased a majority ownership in San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company. Anchor Steam Beer, with its sweet caramel note and spicy pop of hops, was an inspiring alternative to the glut of mass-produced lagers that saturated the market at the time. Among those whose eyes were opened by a sip of Anchor Steam was Jack McAuliffe, the founder of another important California brewery, New Albion Brewing Company.

New Albion Ale: Founded in 1976 in Sonoma, California by navy veteran McAuliffe, New Albion Brewing Company is considered the first microbrewery of modern times. Its New Albion Ale doesn’t taste like much compared to today’s pumped up craft brews – it has a gently grassy nose, a sweet dollop of malt in the middle and a dry pepper of hops on the finish – but back in the late ‘70s, this beer was a revelation. New Albion Brewing Company inspired countless California homebrewers to give professional brewing a go, including Sierra Nevada's Ken Grossman.  

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: This beer is widely acknowledged as the first true American Pale Ale, a style of beer that came to define the early years of the craft beer movement. First brewed in 1980 by Grossman at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California, this super hopped (for its time) pale ale still sets the -standard for the style and remains the brewery’s best-selling beer. Today’s hugely popular IPAs and gonzo imperial IPAs can trace their roots back to this beer, as it encouraged a generation of America’s brewers to swing for the fences.

Pliny the Elder: While not the first double IPA, Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder helped drive the popularity of massively hoppy beers through the roof, due to both its sublimely balanced flavor and a hearty dose of Internet hype. Sweet, citrusy, incredibly fragrant and completely satisfying, this wonderful hop bomb has been the benchmark for many big character beers that have followed. First brewed in 2000 for a Northern California festival, Pliny the Elder might not be the novelty it once was, but it’s still in the conversation when debating the best beers in the world.

Dale's Pale Ale: While delicious, this pale ale’s place in craft beer history has less to do with its flavor and more to do with its packaging. In 2002, Oskar Blues put this terrific beer in cans, a move that challenged the notion that “good beer” only came in bottles or on draught. The move had a big impact on the craft beer industry, which would eventually see countless brewers from 21st Amendment to Sam Adams offer great beers in cans.

Your Beer: For decades, homebrewing has been the lifeblood of the craft beer industry. Like young boys and girls with hoop dreams working on their jump shot in the driveway, homebrewers explore their talents and unleash their creativity by boiling up beer in their kitchens, garages and back yards. This hobby has given rise to the generation of professional brewers who make the craft beer industry the vibrant tapestry of flavors and styles we enjoy today. 

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.

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