The relational power of college football is really quite remarkable. Random events that would otherwise be lost among other happenstances in the vast nothingness of my perpetually muddled mind become hallmarks of Saturdays past. For example, I turn my back porch into a poor-man's smokehouse dozens of weekends a year, and more often than not, the result is a toot-my-own-horn worthy slab of meat. But if asked to recall specific dates or recipes or cuts, even from only months ago, I'd likely furrow my brow, try to count forward from the date we purchased our house, and begin to verbalize my brain's sad attempt to place vague, isolated images in context only to trail off while mumbling something to myself about wearing an onion on my belt.
But with a college football game as a conceptual anchor, my synapses' syncopated pandemonium becomes something else entirely. I can recite not only dates and events, but entire portions of time that would otherwise be lost.
On September 17, 2013, I drove a county over to a fish farm and watched a man catch, kill, and filet what hours later became my first foray into the magical world of smoked rainbow trout. On my way back home, I stopped at a mountaintop apple orchard, a roadside spring pouring from a large cave, and a cove farm that sells grass-fed beef and native plants. I gave the fish a quick brine, threw it on the smoker with some Applewood chunks, and drank a Samuel Smith's Organic Cider with a not undue level of self-satisfaction.
Why do I remember all that? Believe it or not, it's not the sum of those seemingly memorable events. My particular environs allow for semi-regular short drives to orchards, small farms, cove forests, and natural springs or waterfalls. Without photographic reminders, the hikes, smokes, and hootenannies all melt into one another. So, no, it wasn't that my Appalachian meanderings were so remarkable that I just couldn't forget.
It's that I was rewarded for my efforts that evening with a kick in the groin, as State lost to Auburn on what was essentially the last play of the game. My Auburn buddy texted me immediately afterward to note that his team "definitely stole" the win. (Though admittedly neither of us was totally sure about what kind of team we had at that point in the season.) I was not comforted.
The trappings of game days—food, drinks, people, places, lucky underwear, etc.—stay with you. If they don't, you're not doing it right. The haze of time may render some of these memories more impalpable, but it doesn't erase them.
So now, after this trip down what-the-hell-does-this-have-to-do-with-anything lane, I come to this: To me, Texas A&M football is synonymous with Yoo Hoo.
You see, one of my very first memories of college football is of a Texas A&M game I watched with my Aggie grandfather. A Natchez oilman with multiple children attending school at the University of Mississippi, he remained true to his alma mater. So when my grandparents visited us one fall weekend while we were living in what is now Big XII country, he wasn't about to miss a chance to watch a televised Texas A&M-Arkansas game. The rest of the family went out shopping, but he and I stayed behind (though, being all of seven or eight years old, my decision was likely made to avoid languishing in the mall more than anything).
I have no idea who won the game. But I do recall TV trays, hamburgers, and, most significantly, having my first Yoo Hoo. It was out-freaking-standing. I could feel the rad coursing through my veins.
Now, as I've set up my thirty-something camp at the intersection of obnoxious local foodieism and highfalutin booze snobbery, I'm not going to be reaching for a Yoo Hoo anytime soon. Its brown, sugar-laden, water-based, pretend dairy splendor will have to live on fondly in my memory with my parachute pants, Marvin-the-Martian t-shirt, and inflatable sneakers. Just like Fireball Island and Pop Rocks, Yoo Hoo had its time. That time is not now.
So, New Republic Brewing, you're on deck. Whatcha got?
For an outsider, Texas booze is both impressively familiar and a complete mystery. The state's oldest legal distillery needs no introduction, for its product—Tito's vodka—is about as pervasive and well-received as any American spirit I can think of. And who can think of "Texas" and "beer" without immediately recalling Shiner Bock? The beer-making gnomes they've got working down there at the Spoetzl Brewery have made quite a name for themselves.
As impressive as those brands are, they're also all that come to mind. In a state as massive as Texas, I assume there has to be a fairly extensive network of microbrewers and distillers speckled across the Lone Star's huge tracts of land. But without looking, I just didn't know.
Turns out, Texas craft beer has been experiencing a boom not unlike the industry in Alabama, albeit on a larger scale. By the end of 2012, close to 100 microbreweries were operating in Texas, producing nearly 375,000 kegs of beer per year. They employed thousands of people and, all told, contributed $2,300,000,000 to the state's economy.
One Texas city that was fortunate enough to directly benefit from this recent wave of hoppy love was College Station, where mild-mannered homebrewers John Janusky and Dean Brundage were waiting to bestow upon Aggie Nation the gift of local craft beer.
Though Dean was a 2008 transplant from California, he quickly made a name for himself in College Station's homebrewing scene. He reestablished a defunct homebrewer's club and participated in dinners where he would act a beer sommelier for the guests. John, also an active member of the local homebrew set, became acquainted with Dean at one of these functions. Then, during a club meeting, Dean began to discuss what was no doubt tucked away in the back of many of their minds—College Station needed its own brewery. According to John, Dean opined that he "just needed someone with some business sense to help him" get the project off the ground. "I volunteered that I had a little bit of business sense," John recalls, and that was all it took.
The two got to work, and by May 2011, New Republic was legally brewing. What began three years ago as a "nano-brewery" that could make 31 gallons (roughly two kegs) at a time has expanded in a phenomenal way: Four year-round beers, a couple of seasonals, and a few experimental releases available on-site, all of which are now brewed in a facility with about twenty times more capacity than when the brewery began.
Well gigged, my gigging giggers.
The dude in the cowboy hat brews your beer.
Of course, we've heard enough from various southern brewers and distillers this season to know that starting a business like this isn't all rainbow-dipped gumdrops and sunshine-flavored snow cones. Though Texas' craft beer industry has been surging, the fellas at New Republic note that many of the state's liquor laws are still either "archaic" or skewed in favor of large, national manufacturers or distributors. For example, until very recently, New Republic and other small Texas brewers had to navigate a nonsensical maze of regulations that severely hampered these companies' ability to do what breweries in other states take for granted. Laws on brewery tours, distribution, direct take-home sales, on-site consumption, and so forth tied New Republic's hands out of the gate. The rubes in Austin eventually wised up enough to allow crafter brewers to have formal taprooms in 2013—New Republic, by the way, is knocking the whole taproom idea out of the park by regularly hosting some amazing live music to go with your libations—but there's still lots of room for improvement.
On top of the standard legislative malarkey, some of Texas' brewers—large and small alike—have battled a unique climate-related beast I hadn't yet encountered: a shortage of water. As you may be aware, over the past three or four years, large swaths of Texas have experienced a protracted, devastating drought. The beer industry, whose entire existed is premised upon the availability of quality water, is starting to take the problem seriously, and Texas brewers of all sizes are trying to conserve water where they can.
New Republic has luckily never had a problem accessing sufficient water, and in fact has always been quite pleased with the water in the College Station area. "Our water has a great mineral profile for brewing the styles we brew," John tells me. The one unique challenge their source presents is actually compositional: "Unfortunately [the water] also has so much sodium that it comes through in the final beer." That requires the brewery to "strip [the] water down through a reverse-osmosis filter and build back the mineral profile [they] want during the brewing process."
And finally, what list of a start-up's trials and tribulations would be complete without a nasty letter from another alcohol manufacturer's attorney? Hey-Oh! Come on, guys, we've got to think about that innocent consumer who stumbles into his favorite beer store looking for a bottle of cheap-as-dirt, bottom-shelf "bourbon" he vaguely recalls the name of only to be utterly confused by a can or growler full of beer. The purveyor of Everclear and Rebel Yell demanded satisfaction.
But hey, that's ok. What do you do when life gives you a lemon? You take the lemon, toss it at the other guy's Charlie Browns, and rename your beer this:
Dammit Jim! I'm a beer not a bourbon!
New Republic's brewing philosophy is similar to Good People's in Birmingham—simple, well-made, classic beers. They focus on traditional German and English styles, and keep their seasonal and year-round line lineups lean. John admitted that they'll likely try to add a "classic American pilsner" when their production capacity has increased to the point that they can afford to tie up a fermenting vat for the time required to ferment a lager. But for now, they're doing all they can to keep up with demand in Bryan-College Station and Houston, the brewery's two current markets.
For those of you lucky enough to be in one of those areas, at least six different beers regularly await your consumption. The seasonals include a Belgian tripel in the summer ("Warimono") and a porter in the fall ("Windlass"), the latter of which is finished with sweet potatoes. The year-rounders cover most of the other essentials—a blonde, an amber, a double IPA, and a dunkelweizen. The amber ale is the aforementioned and gloriously named "Dammit Jim!," which is a malty but well-hopped ale that John tells me pairs well with the smoked brisket I assume all residents of Texas eat at least once a day. The dunkelweizen—a style that's likely a little under-represented in the field, at least from my observation—is called "Skylight," and is a dark wheat beer John describes as "smooth, with a nice tart note from the wheat and plenty of banana and clove." There's the blonde ale called "Kadigan" whose appeal is as well stated at the end of some dude's review on Beer Advocate as it was by the guys at the brewery: "I plan to drink a lot of this in the future." And then there's the double IPA "Whipsaw," the newest addition to the year-round fold. What does it go best with? Per John and Dean: carrot cake.
Honest to God. Carrot cake.
And you know what? That sounds like a solid way to end a day if you ask me. A post-game pint and a big-ass piece of carrot cake.
But, man, now I kinda want a Yoo Hoo, too.
Football is so great.
Ever notice how there seem to be more ales from small craft brewers than lagers? Well, there are. And, for those of you who don’t brew beer and/or research the stuff enough to write a series of thematically-meandering blog posts about it over the course of four months, here’s a layman’s explanation straight from the horse’s mouth: "There are two major classifications in brewers yeast. Ale and Lager. Ale strains are top-fermenting and typically ferment at higher temperatures. Lager strains are bottom-fermenting and ferment at lower temperatures. Without getting scientific, lager yeasts ferment slower and require more time to condition." Other brewers have told me that while an ale may take between two and four weeks to ferment, a lager will take at least twice that long. So the next time you feel like whining to your local microbrewer about their sparse selection of lagers, shut your mouth and give the bearded gentleman serving you a nod. He can't bend space and time, but he's doing his damnedest.