Craft Beer

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A couple of months ago I found myself in Flagstaff, Arizona surrounded by beer fanatics! Not that I didn't expect it. See, my husband volunteers as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Sun Sounds Foundation which is a wonderful non-profit that provides radio reading services to visually impaired people in the Valley. Long story short, the major fundraisers for Sun Sounds are 3 beer festivals - Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.

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So, being the "good" wife, I volunteered to ride up with him to Flagstaff and sample some brews. He was designated driver, so I had to bear the load of tasting the beer. But, I've always been there for him, ahem! Ok, no great sacrifice here. Poor Bill had to deal with a giggling wife on the long drive back to Phoenix, however!

But, what I found was a world of beer that I had no clue existed. The world of specialty or . After attending the festival, I was curious. I began noticing aisles of beer at Trader Joe's or BevMo, labeled Craft Beers. So, that led me to this segment.

What is a Craft Beer and Why Do I Want to Drink One?

My hubby connected me to Greg Fretz (Uncle Fretz I have learned) with Pyramid Breweries. Greg explained to me that Craft Beers are beers brewed by smaller breweries. Usually considered specialty and regional. The difference lies in that the "common" beers are often imported and not very unique, they are mass-produced in global quantities and taste that way. In fact, to be officially considered a Craft Beer you have to produce only a limited number of barrels. The result is a diverse collection of flavorful, local brews that celebrate the areas in which they are brewed. Plus, the brewers produce normal brews and seasonal brews - perhaps a pumpkin beer for the holidays or a special summer, winter or fall beer for those seasons.

Craft Beers really celebrate the development and history of beer. The English colonists quickly found that the water in undeveloped colonies made them sick, so they drank beer instead. I won't expand on this but I distinctly remember drinking beer on a beach in Mexico at about 9 am just because I was thirsty - was told not to drink the water - so this instantly made sense.

Craft Beers are unique, diverse; they can taste fresher and are certainly more unique. Some of the flavors are wild if not weird but definitely worth a try. Plus, the names of the beers are worthy of a Thursday night reading group - many of which I can't even repeat here. They celebrate what beer was - a proud, local concoction brewed and shared with neighbors. If that's not beer - I don't know what is!

What are some suggestions for some new beers to try for Labor Day? Here is Uncle Fretz' recommendations for some brews to try - especially if you're a newbie to Craft Brews:

Pyramid Hefe Weizen This is an American style wheat - based beer, but it's modeled after those of German origin. It's light, crisp with a citrus taste. Cloudy and unfiltered. It's like a blast from the past as Uncle says. This one goes with a lot of foods - a great craft beer.

Pyramid Apricot Ale This is an example of a very popular trend - fruit infused beer. Usually lower in alcohol content it's flavored very lightly with apricot. It's hazy and unfiltered. Nicely fragrant.

Oregon Honey Beer This baby's light and crisp. It's honey infused but doesn't taste like honey. It's refreshing and crisp. Uncle Fretz calls this a perfect lawnmower beer - after mowing the lawn - pop this one open, sit back and admire the lines in your lawn - mow first, drink second - or your lines might be wavy.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale This one is pale in color but is a good example of a hoppy beer. The hoppiness of a beer determines it's bitterness but hops are mainly used to keep beer fresh. It's not as hoppy as:

Pyramid Thunderhead This is for what Greg Fretz called the Hop Heads - those beer guzzlers that love a "bitter is better" beer.

Keep an Eye Out For: Autumn's seasonal beers like Pumpkin - don't groan - I hear they're delicious with a spicy, autumn leaves feel. This is what Craft Beer is all about!

Craft beer takes the enjoyment of grown-up refreshment away from the big mega corporations and puts it back where it started - a fundamental part of a local community - carrying on a tradition that has been around almost as long as the human race. Cheers! Live and Learn.

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Beer Recipe

If you want something else to do with your beer, try simmering some brats in beer and then grilling, here's how:

10 brats 2-12 ounce bottles or cans of beer 1 large onion Condiments (ketchup, brown mustard, chopped onion)

Put 2 beers in a pot. Toss in a chopped onion and the brats. If you need more liquid to cover the brats, add water. Bring the beer to a simmer (do not let it boil - ever! When steam begins to rise from the top of the liquid, it's just right. Boiling will cause the brats to burst so be careful to protect the casing). Simmer the brats for about 20 minutes.

Grill the brats about 7-9 inches above the coals or heat.

Use tongs to turn the brats often until golden brown on all sides, about 10-15 minutes if you have pre-simmered them.

Treat the brats with care until done - don't puncture with a fork or burn them.

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