Mix it up

If variety is the spice of life then the mix pack is as spicy as it gets in the beer world. Assorted 12-packs have become incredibly popular with craft brewers and drinkers alike. One of the most exciting things about craft beer is the exhaustive number of beers available to beerdoes. While there are plenty of brews that I enjoy a 6-pack of, normally I like to jump between different styles and flavors when I am drinking beer. The mix pack allows the drinker to do just that without having to buy multiple six-packs. Often these variety boxes feature three bottles each of four different offerings from the brewery. Usually the box includes three standard beers from the brewery’s year round lineup in addition to a seasonal or limited edition beer. Breweries like Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams have even started producing several different variety packs. Stores like Whole Foods and bottle shops have caught on to this trend and have begun selling 6-packs carriers where people can make their own mix pack by picking and choosing from a variety of beers and breweries.

Feeling the Folly
As in most variety packs, the selection will change from time-to-time. The Folly Pack from New Belgium Brewing has been a popular mixed box and normally contains their classic Fat Tire Amber Ale, the toasty 1554 Black Ale, the traditionally-flavored Ranger IPA, and a seasonal offering. They have recently changed this to a Hoppy Folly Pack that includes RyePA, Ranger IPA, Rampant Double IPA, and Cirtradelic Tangerine IPA. The RyePA uses craft malts from Riverbend Malt House and has a spicy-malt character underlining the tropical fruit, floral, and wet earth hop aromas. Rampant is one of my go-to 6-packs when I’m in the mood for something hoppy and has a wonderful peach and mango aroma to it. The Citradelic Tangerine IPA has a fresh aroma with a pleasant crispness from the tangerines.

New Belgium also offers a Can Folly Pack that contains three cans each of Fat Tire Amber Ale, the light and floral Slow Ride Session IPA, the bready and crisp Snapshot Wheat Beer, and of course, Ranger IPA. Canned beer is desired over bottles for several reasons (see here for more info on canned beer). If you are looking for more of this format, Oskar Blues Brewery has their CANundrum mix pack that features Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Dale’s Pale Ale, and Old Chub, a malty Scotch ale.

A blend of oysters, art, and beer
A personal favorite is the Flying Dog Variety Pack. The box art alone is a treat. All of the wild artwork for Flying Dog comes from the legendary Ralph Steadman, most known for his illustrations in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and other Hunter S. Thompson works. The mix pack includes their perfumey Flying Dog Pale Ale and Snake Dog IPA, which is more citric in nature. Flying Dog made sure that their popular Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA is in the box as well. Steadman describes Raging Bitch as, “Two inflammatory words…one wild drink. Nectar imprisoned in a bottle. Let it out. It is cruel to keep a wild animal locked up. Release it.” And I don’t think I could describe the ambrosiac flavors of this tempestuous beer any better.

The last beer in the blend is the Pearl Necklace Chesapeake Stout brewed with Rappahannock River Oysters. This beer is one of my favorites from Flying Dog. Don’t let the oysters dissuade you (it must have been scaring people because they recently changed the name from “Oyster Stout” to “Chesapeake Stout”), the oysters in this unique style of stout contribute more of a subtle salty-smokiness than a “fishy” character. Pearl Necklace uses a touch of midnight wheat malt, which adds dark colors to the beer but none of the burnt astringent character of other roasted malts traditionally found in stouts. The wheat malt gives the beer an elegant smoothness to the complex flavors of this stout.

The Original Craft
When Fritz Maytag first bought the dilapidated Anchor Brewing in 1965, he saved this antique brewery from bankruptcy and jump started the craft beer movement. San Francisco was once known for its steam beer, a style that originated during the California Gold Rush. In the sixties, Anchor was not just one of the last regional small breweries, it was the sole brewer of the steam beer style. At that time Anchor Steam was said to be inconsistent and full of off flavors. Ten years later, Anchor Steam had been revitalized to its full glory and the brewery was producing four other beers: Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine Ale, and the first Our Special Ale, their holiday brew. Fritz transformed Anchor Brewing into the epitome of quality and consistency in the industry and inspired generations of craft brewers and drinkers.

The Anchor Brewing Craft Originals mix pack includes Anchor Steam, Liberty Ale, Anchor California Lager, and Anchor IPA. Of course the name “Craft Originals” is a little misleading considering Anchor California Lager and Anchor IPA were brewed in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Since Fritz’s retirement and the selling of the brewery to SKYY Vodka, Anchor Brewing has kept its quality however their products have been more responsive to trends in the marketplace.

Liberty Ale was first brewed in 1975 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride. This beer was one of the first to use Cascade hops, easily the most popular American hop to this day, and was considered to be the first American-style IPA. These days, it is a shame that this historic beer is often overlooked for more high octane IPAs that use a cacophony of overly bitter new age hops. The brewery responded with their Anchor IPA. This beer has an increased alcohol content and a more exotic hop profile than Liberty Ale, which still just uses the single hop, Cascade.

In 1975, Liberty Ale was not Anchor’s only progressive beer. At that time, porter had gone extinct in England and there were no more examples being brewed in the country. Anchor Porter restored the smooth, chocolatey flavor of this ale style and introduced porters back to the masses. Old Foghorn modernized the English-style barleywines with the strong bittering hops of America, creating a more balanced flavor in these malty ales. While Anchor IPA and California Lager are nice responses to the modern demands of the marketplace, it would be great to see Anchor showcase the real “Craft Originals” and put the original 1975 lineup in their mix pack. A set that blended steam beer, IPA, porter, and barleywine into one box, would be unique in the market and would tell the legend of this pioneering brewery. While many changes have occurred in the industry since those days, mix packs are clearly here to stay and this trend has only spiced up the lives of craft beer drinkers.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, Feb 14, 2016

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