The brewer looked at me after explaining a wild experiment they were trying with barley wine, “Nothing is more hipster than craft beer – you’ve got to stay ahead of the trend.” Statements like this pain me. The great pleasure of craft beer isn’t riding a wave a approval, but the freedom to experiment without the massive cost of a full-blown product launch.
Ariana Glantz, the fantastically titled Liason de Intermediary at Wiseacre Brewing Co. gave me a bottle of what they call “Future Ancestor,” a Tennessee Common Ale. If it’s not a style you’ve heard much about it’s because the Wiseacre crew more or less made the term up. They were just curious and wanted to know what the mob thought.
I asked, “What makes it common?”
“Corn. We make it with grits.” Said the DC native.
“I love grits. They certainly are common.” Said the Southerner.
And old. Wiseacre isn’t being excessively hep. That kind of thing is thought of as being very, very old school. Records indicate that by 1587, better than 20 years before those political refugees in Plymouth started making themselves obvious, settlers in the Virginia colony were attempting to malt corn in the absence of barley. In fact, people have been making corn beer in the hemisphere lot longer than there have been white people to drink it.
In 1492, the same year that the Arawak tribe in the Bahamas discovered Spaniards, Christopher Columbus and company accidentally stumbled upon over-priced Caribbean vacation packages. The Arawak were standing on the beach to greet the visitors and offered Columbus – like the pasty hordes that would come after him – a refreshing local “authentic” drink. He doesn’t mention a pink umbrella, but describes a maize beer as “a lovely amber liquid – dense, more than light – which was beaten with a wooden stick before drinking to produce a froth.” The Arawak didn’t like flat beer; they just didn’t know what to do about it.
So there is a practical and historical precedent for corn beer, but looking at the 24 oz. bottle in my hand, all I could think about was the words of the likable guide on the Budweiser brewery tour I took a few years back. After a pointed question from one of the beer knerds on the tour, he laughed and sheepishly admitted that his employers used corn and rice in their beer because “it made it easier to drink more.” Which is true I suppose. No undergraduate, no matter how hipster, is sucking down a six-pack of Bier de Garde through a funnel and 36 inches of plastic tubing. For one thing there is the cost, then there is the decidedly uncool spectacle of becoming a foamy vomit volcano in front of that cute girl in your Econ class (not the Marxist, the other one).
Regardless, I was a bit dubious when Ariana handed me the bottle but she is smiley and hard to refuse. The label describes Future Ancestor as a “tart common lager brewed with Hanna Farm grits, Shotwell candy sugar and the tag-team effort of off-color brewing.” Shotwell is a local candy manufacturer in Memphis and I could get to Hanna Farm in Arkansas from my house on my bike if I’d lay off the hooch. In truth, it was weirdly refreshing in a world where brewers are in a footrace to see who can utilize the most expensive ingredients for the hell of it. Grits and candy sugar, at least no one can accuse the Brothers Bartosch – the force behind Wiseacre – of being pretentious.
The end result of Future Ancestor was interesting. It was good, it was refreshing and light. Less dense, I’m guessing than Arawak beer with a better head on it. Imagine, gentle reader, a Budweiser if they gave a damn.