|Kane Brewing Company's anniversary beers|
Here in the United States, we love holidays and celebrations. Whether it's the whimsical and inane or the somber and sentimental, it is in our nature to observe important moments with rites and rituals. Among our most cherished of these are our anniversaries--the annual remembrance and acknowledgement of some momentous event in our lives. We celebrate wedding anniversaries, work anniversaries, and especially birthdays, which, by their definition, honor the anniversary of our respective arrivals onto this plane of existence.
Breweries too perpetuate the tradition in their own special ways. Some host fetes in their own honor while others seek to add to their growing legacy with a limited addition to their lineups. As small businesses in their own rights, making it through another year, particularly in difficult economic times, truly is something worth lauding...and what better way to do so than with a special beer?
For an anniversary beer not just any brew will do. Extra care and attention must be paid to their crafting so as to elevate them to an exalted, evanescent status; they should be looked back upon fondly and stand out as a special, one-off occurrence. As such, they should serve to define the very image of the brewery they come from.
To me, there is artistry involved in the development of an anniversary beer. Some places like Westbrook in South Carolina and Stone Brewing in California choose to put new spins on familiar styles--ones that are often inextricably linked to their respective breweries. Westbrook is renowned for its stouts and so its anniversary beers are often inventive takes like their 4th Anniversary Chocolate Coconut Almond Imperial Stout and their 5th Anniversary Chocolate Raspberry Imperial Stout. Stone, in turn, is closely affiliated with monstrous IPAs and so the vast majority of their recent anniversary offerings revolve around that particular style.
Other breweries like Avery in Boulder, Colorado and Weyerbacher in Easton, Pennsylvania elect instead to focus on variety. Each of their anniversary offerings represent innovative spins on a multitude of styles. Avery, in particular, has run the gamut, making two Double / Imperial IPAs, two Saisons / Farmhouse Ales, a Weizenbock, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, a Schwarzbier, a Rye Saison, a Tripel, a Brown Ale, and several American Wild Ales over the past dozen or so years. Weyerbacher, too, has kept things fresh with an even more motley assortment that included a Double / Imperial IPA, an American Barleywine, several Imperial Stouts, a Saison alongside some more obscurer entries like a Wheatwine, a Braggot, a Weizenbock, an American Pale Wheat Ale, and a Belgian Strong Dark Ale.
I have had many of these anniversary beers and most if not all of them have been excellent. For my money though I feel like the blended brew is the purest anniversary art form. I view anniversaries as opportunities for contemplation--chances to look back upon the year and to consider the meaning and value of that moment in the present and in relation to the past. I feel like my wedding was the moment my life truly began and so on my wedding anniversary I naturally look back upon that specific date but I also reflect upon how I have changed since then; that initial instance is merely a single moment in the narrative of my life.
Breweries like Kane Brewing in Ocean, New Jersey and The Bruery out in California are absolute masters of the anniversary ale. Each of those breweries takes a beer brewed during their nascent years and blends it with newer iterations of the same beer or other complementary ones. These bastions of barrel aging create complexity and depth that are otherwise impossible to accrue by the inclusion of older batches. More importantly, there is something poetic about the fact that these inimitable brews are comprised, in part, of their breweries' respective pasts; each bottle is a biography offering a snapshot in time of a place that is perpetually in flux. It forces us to sit and to consider the longstanding history of these places and the narratives that their beers have weaved.
Mike Kane and Patrick Rue are both masters of barrel aging and it is thusly appropriate that their anniversary beers make use of their gifts. Barreled spirits obtain their identities not simply through the passage of time but the actions that occur whilst in the barrel. Leave a whiskey in a steel vat for years on end and you'll wind up with the same crystal clear liquid that went in; place that whiskey in a barrel and allow time and the elements to do their work and you wind up with amber nectar--pure potable perfection.
Again, it is not merely time that transforms these liquids but rather their ebb and flow into and out of the barrel that infuses them with complex characteristics. The wood breathes the whiskey (and beer) in, giving freely of itself, metamorphosing the liquid and elevating it to places it could not otherwise go, before exhaling it back to mix with the rest of its batch. Every frigid winter chill and scathing summer heat wave finds its way into that whiskey and beer and, ultimately, into your glass.
By blending the finished products into an even newer one each year, these brewers are in turn telling a tale--one that we get to enjoy one sip at a time. Some batches are better than others but each contributes its own unique part that serves to create the whole. We are all a result of our respective collection of experiences and so, in a way, each of these anniversary beers represents us--humanity in a bottle.