Last year, in a blog post accompanying the debut of Notch Brewing’s The Mule beer, Notch founder Chris Lohring called corn “the most vilified grain in America.” Lohring was referring to the fact that many popular, bland, mass-marketed beers list corn as an ingredient. Over the years, corn came to be identified as the distinguishing factor between these brews and higher-quality craft beers. Surf over to the Miller Lite page or any other representation of the American Adjunct Lager style on Beer Advocate and you’ll be confronted with a sea of dismissive comments, many of them blaming corn.
Lohring doesn’t buy it.
“It’s all bunk,” he writes. “Mass-marketed lager is bland because that is the intent of the brewer and the desire of the consumer. Corn is just along for the ride.”
Corn has played a significant role in American brewing history in part because it was the only grain available to some early brewers who’d immigrated from Germany. But corn continued to be used, despite the fact that it was more expensive than some other grains. The Brewers Association, the gatehouse for what’s considered craft and what isn’t, has gone back on a previous interpretation and allows adjuncts brewed with corn to fit into the definition of craft beer.
Lohring brewed The Mule as a representation of a corn-made, low-alcohol beer with flavor. The Mule checks in at 4.2 percent alcohol by volume, placing it well within range of its light beer counterparts. The corn in Notch’s beer is sourced in Northfield and malted by Hadley’s Valley Malt. All the grains are 100 percent US grown.
In a twist from last year’s version, Lohring eschewed the cereal mash in favor of malted and flaked corn. There are hops in this beer, too. Last year’s Sterling has been replaced with Santiam, joining Crystal and Mt. Hood varieties.
I pour a full pint of The Mule and watch the pale yellow liquid yield a white head that nearly escapes the glass. The nose is a little sweet, grassy. Nowhere is that barroom-floor, sticky-stale aroma you find in the worst of the big light beers. On first sip, this beer shouts fresh and crisp. It’s smooth and light but with a spicy, herbal quality, a product of delicate if purposeful hopping. If only all corn-based beers were like this.
As a means to prove a point, The Mule does so loud and clear. As a beverage to enjoy on the last hazy days of summer? It’s hard to argue you’d find something more refreshing.
On Wednesday, Aug. 27, the Bostonian Society and Battle Road Brewing Co. will host a beer tasting at the Old State House (206 Washington St., Boston). In its 128th year, the Bostonian Society is dedicated to studying and preserving Boston’s history. At the tasting you’ll learn about the history of Boston pubs and play an 18th-century tavern game with a “revolutionary character.” Tickets are $15 and include beer and snacks. To purchase tickets and for more information, go to www.battleroadbeeraug27.eventbrite.com.
Two Labor Day weekend festivals
The fourth annual Portland Brew Festival will be held Aug. 29 and 30 in Portland, Maine. The festival, which takes place at the Portland Company Complex (58 Fore St.) features more than 40 brewers and 120 beers and ciders. Participating breweries include Rising Tide, Bunker Brewing Co., and Allagash. There’s a fund-raiser for the Maine Brewer’s Guild Saturday morning in which rare beers from Bissell Brothers Brewing, Shipyard Brewery, and Gneiss Brewing Co. will be paired with local cheeses. For more information, go to www.portlandbrewfestival.com.
Over in Vermont, the Mount Snow Brewers Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Some 40 breweries will be on hand. The event will feature live music from the Jeff Tuohy Band and a 5K run/walk Saturday morning benefiting the American Cancer Society.
“Something we take a lot of pride in is that our brew fest isn’t like other events of its kind because it’s a great party,” said Kelly Pawlak, festival founder. “It’s not just a beer sampling event.”
For this year only, the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp will be making a stop at Mount Snow during its cross-country tour, bringing along 12 beers that were created in collaboration with some of the nation’s most innovative breweries. For more information and tickets, go to www.mountsnow.com/brewersfest.