PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- No, there's isn't a Worldwide Olympic Beer Partner for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
You say it's an athletic event and that beer is as out of place at the Olympics as a brick wall on a bobsled track? We're sorry, but this is the same event that leans on McDonald's for its food and washes it down with Coca-Cola. There's a high-calorie Value Meal right there in the sponsorship list and, somehow, there's no room for a beer?
The whole thing is incredibly dubious. When FIFA opens up World Cup play in Brazil this summer, Budweiser will be there as the event's official beer. Granted, Budweiser's parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev calls Brazil home -- one of its two headquarters is in Sao Paolo, with the other in Belgium -- but soccer doesn't seem so put off by having a brewer foot part of the bill for its biggest event.
Brewers have no problem supporting individual teams, however, with Anheuser-Busch InBev throwing its support behind Team USA, while MolsonCoors went a step further in its support of Team Canada by bringing a beer fridge to Sochi that could only be opened with a scan of a Canadian passport. It's just a shame the International Olympic Committee is such a teetotaler, considering all the great brewing locations that have hosted its events in the past.
Some of the best just happen to be right here in our backyard. We took a look around cities where the Olympic torch has been lit in North America and found five great beers being produced near Olympic sites. May each Olympic ring be filled with a taster sample of one of the following:
The torch Muhammad Ali lit while making a world full of grown adults cry still towers over the parking lots of the Atlanta Braves' Turner Field at the crossroads of interstates 75, 85 and 20. The Olympic fountain in Centennial Park still dances, albeit with the World Of Coke and Georgia State Aquarium in the background.
The pillars listing all the 1996 Summer Games' medalists still stand and the shrapnel-marred Olympic statue still marks the spot where domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph tried to bring down the games with a bomb, but all of it sits nearly vacant and eerily quiet in the colder months. The Waffle House across the street sees more action.
Yet it was those summer games that brought Sweetwater founder Freddy Bench from beer-soaked Boulder, Colo., and convinced him that he could make a brewery work there. SweetWater opened shop in 1997 and now produces upward of 100,000 barrels a year. We had the opportunity to pop into the SweetWater facilities in December and saw the fruits of a massive expansion project that added a taproom and store, office and event space, bottling and packaging lines and giant tanks that have increased capacity to a potential 500,000 barrels a year.
While Bensch and co-founder Kevin McNerney set out to bring a West Coast IPA south and east, one of their best brews is distinctly flavored by their current home. Georgia Brown is a malty brown ale with all the caramel flavor of a rich pecan pie and all the sweetness of the syrup-soaked end of a chicken-and-waffles plate. When we visited the tasting room, we had the great fortune of tasting a small-batch version out of a firkin (a little wooden, bartop gravity keg) brewed with some boiled peanut. The result was a smooth brown ale with a pleasant little undercurrent of peanut brittle that was one of the best beers we'd tasted in 2013.
If you ask nicely, they might make it again. Even if they don't, the original recipe is a tasty little cold-weather treat from a city that's had more than its share of snow and snarled winter traffic this season.
Wolf Among Weeds IPA
Golden Road Brewing
Know what the Sochi games have in surplus that were completely absent from the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles?
When people declare that the Olympics "aren't about politics," just remind them of these games and the fact the Soviet Union and most of its Eastern Bloc buddies boycotted the games. Granted, it was after the U.S. did the same for the Moscow games four years earlier, but the Soviet absence allowed U.S. players to dominate the medals table and nearly bankrupt McDonald's -- which had to give away millions of free Big Macs, bales of fries and tankers full of Coca-Cola as a result of its ill-timed "If The U.S. Wins, You Win" scratch card promotion.
It's been 30 years since those games, and Al Michaels, Matt Lauer and poor pink-eyed Bob Costas have been noticeably quiet about it in Sochi. In Los Angeles, meanwhile, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum spends a whole lot of time empty. The University of Southern California still packs it for games, but the Raiders who called it home the last time the Olympics were in town went back to Oakland in 1994. The Olympic cauldron is still lit every so often, but the memory of the Coliseum's Olympic heyday is as faint as that of the Cold War.
But why dwell? Los Angeles has never been short of points of pride, and its burgeoning craft beer scene is worth boasting about. When Eagle Rock Brewery opened in Glassell Park in 2009, it was the first brewery with operations based in Los Angeles in 60 years. Two years later, Tony's Darts Away owner Tony Yanow and former Oskar Blues and Speakeasy brewer Meg Gill came down from San Francisco and walked right in. They set up a full brewpub, got to work putting Cabrillo Kolsch and Point The Way IPA into 16-ounce cans, made appearances on The Steve Harvey Show and went about building a brewery of the scale that L.A. hadn't seen in some time.
Along the way, Yanow and Gill found success not only with their brewpub, but with hoppy concoctions including their Wolf Among Weeds 8% ABV IPA. This bitter beast puts its Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe and Cascade hops up front in its powerful aroma and its immediate burst of citrus. It's a nice welcome to Los Angeles and it's still one of the best beers you'll find in a tallboy can.
825 State Stout
Salt Lake City, Utah
We'll give Mitt Romney this much: His 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City were a much greater success than his presidential campaigns ever were.
He left the governor's office in Massachusetts just to get the event going and from the moment the members of the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" U.S. men's hockey team lit the torch, it was clear he had something special going. There was plenty of doubt about how this was going to go down in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but when IOC bribery and figure skating judging controversies are your biggest issues, you've gotten off lightly.
Sarah Hughes came through with a surprising gold medal, and Canada ended its Olympic hockey drought and began its tenure as chief thorn in Team USA's side. But there was just about one thing that was a bit problematic about the event: the beer. Let's put aside, for a moment, that restrictions on beer in Utah held the alcohol level of beer in most non-Olympic Utah beer halls at the time to 3.2% ABV. At the end of the games, there was actually a brief and underpublicized riot among fans after they were denied admittance to a beer garden.
It was a bad look for Utah, which had been trying to avoid such incidents, and a bad showing by fans who simply couldn't handle the one time the state allowed some guests to indulge. More than a decade later, Utah relaxed many of its beer restrictions and eased visitors and the general population into life at a higher alcohol by volume.
That brought Epic Brewing into the picture in 2010, when the former Californians who founded it decided to bring some of the more potent styles from their home state to newly liberated Utah drinkers. You'd think that would make a high-alcohol Russian Imperial Stout or Imperial IPA one of our picks, but it's not our fault that one of the brewery's most enjoyable beers clocks in at just 5.7% ABV.
This rich stout relies heavily on its Black, Munich and Chocolate malts for its roasty, coffee-tinged flavor and goes light on the hops for a smooth finish. There's not the bitterness of a typical coffee stout, but it's also not milkshake-sweet. It almost seems like a waste to have multiple pints of this mild, very drinkable beer when there's higher alcohol content to be had. But Salt Lake City knows a good thing when it tastes it, and this beer is just as enjoyable as that town's games were -- without any of the unfortunate beer-induced aftermath.
Lake Placid Pub & Brewery
Lake Placid, N.Y.
The Miracle on Ice took place 34 years ago, but NBC's coverage of the Sochi Games would leave you to believe it happened just yesterday.The "Do you believe in miracles" call that Al Michaels made in the game's final seconds translated to a role on NBC's broadcast team for this year's games and a rotating series of interviews with humbled members of the 1980 Soviet Olympic men's hockey team that the U.S. upset.
No matter how it turns out for Team USA this year, just having T.J. Oshie fling a few past the Russians during a preliminary shootout was likely enough to keep the torch lit in Lake Placid. Still a winter sports wonderland of skiing, bobsledding and skeleton/luge training, Lake Placid is a bit quieter than it was in 1980, but no less active.
If anything, added benefits such as better beer have only made the town more accommodating since its year in the Olympic spotlight. Lake Placid Pub & Brewery was founded in 1996 and grew so large that the folks at the F.X. Matt brewery in Utica, N.Y. -- which also makes the Saranac line of beers -- had to take over bottled beer production in 2007.
If you want a fresh one, however, there's still plenty of production at the pub. Refurbished in 2012 to add brewing and seating capacity, Lake Placid Pub & Brewery still makes a whole to of its beloved flagship style here. Ubu is a 7% ABV English Strong Ale that seems like an odd choice for the face of a brewpub, but a brilliant idea if you've ever endured a Lake Placid winter. A bold, malty warmer with plenty of kick, Ubu Ale takes its name from a patron's friendly Chocolate Labrador and is a similarly welcome site on a cold day.
If you don't believe us, ask President Bill Clinton. In 2000, the Pub was a stop for some White House interns accompanying Hillary Clinton on a trip through the area as she considered running for the Senate. The interns loved the pub and the beer and brought it back to President Clinton as a gift. After he tried it, the president had the White House aides call in and order three cases of Ubu growlers shipped to D.C. for a party at the White House. U-S-A, indeed.
Red Betty IPA
Central City Brewers
If Canada is still hung over from its men's hockey team's gold-medal win over the U.S. four years ago, who could blame them?
The team wins in its home country on a goal by Sidney Crosby against its neighbors to the south and its biggest rival -- which just happens to have a population 10 times its size. That's something worth celebrating and well worth inviting some silver-medalist southern neighbors to enjoy.
Consider Central City's Red Betty IPA a nice consolation gift. Loaded with Magnum, Centennial, Amarillo and Simcoe hops, this 6.5% ABV amber beast packs a whole lot of citrus grapefruit flavor that is in no way diminished by the nice backbone of malt. This isn't some U.S. West Coast IPA: It's a B.C. take on the traditional English IPA that just happens to give it some West Coast kick.
It's a nice bit of balance from Canada's two-time Brewery of the Year and it's available across the border in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and even some East Coast markets. We'd still suggest the trip up to Vancouver and some actual Olympic sites, but could understand if the wounds are a bit too raw.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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