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Brew Free or Die

January 20, 2011

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1919, made the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal, marking the beginning of the period that became known as Prohibition. During this time, crime rates soared as the illegal trade in alcohol flourished, organized crime figures became rich and powerful, and alcohol consumption nationwide is actually thought to have increased. Small, independent breweries, which were widespread throughout America before Prohibition, effectively vanished. These breweries had helped to foster a certain culture within communities, as they served as gathering places for locals to exchange ideas, and to debate things like politics and philosophy. The real damage of Prohibition was that it disrupted this pub culture and forced it underground in the form of speakeasies, making regular citizens into outlaws and forever damaging the potential of local neighborhood breweries. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1933, effectively put an end to the failure that was Prohibition, but it was not until the past few decades that American craft brewing has really been able to bounce back in a big way.

The 21st Amendment brewery, established in San Francisco in 2000, pays homage to this triumph of common sense by producing a diverse lineup of craft beers, taking traditional styles and ideas and making them somehow unique. Their flagship beer, Brew Free of Die IPA, is nice and hoppy up front with a strong malt backbone, and even has a kind of candied aftertaste similar to a Quad. If I had to pick my favorite IPA at the moment, this would definitely be it. Their Back In Black IPA is also one of the best black IPAs around, as it has a piney hoppiness that blends well with its opaque black color, and it has a smooth, creamy character that makes it easily drinkable yet unique. Even their watermelon beer, which they appropriately named Hell or High Watermelon, is unique in the way they mix real watermelon juice with a light-tasting wheat beer, giving it a distinct taste with a slight sourness like a real watermelon. Their seasonal Belgian dark ale, called Monk’s Blood, is also excellent and is coming back this February. At 8.3% abv, it has a deep mahogany color with a rich flavor profile that includes vanilla, spices, and Belgian yeast, and it manages to blend them all together seamlessly into a highly drinkable brew.

21st Amendment is also one of the first breweries to fully embrace the craft beer in a can movement, packaging their six-packs of cans in compact, well-designed cardboard boxes. Cans actually do a better job of preserving beer than bottles, and are much more convenient and better for the environment. Also, there’s just something uniquely satisfying about picking up a box of beers. The 21st Amendment brewery is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and for those with an appreciation for great beer and for the culture that comes along with it, I’m sure you’ll find a lot to like.

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