(Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in the What’ll You Have? beer-review series. The fifth one went up back in August.)
My first taste of the great beer made by Tallgrass Brewing Company is a little hazy but nostalgic in my mind. It was at least two years ago or more, and I was looking for a canned craft brew at my local liquor store because I was setting out on the lakes with my canoe later that day. In lieu of getting the higher-priced Surly, I decided to take a chance on the wonderfully adorned pint-sized cans of Tallgrass Oasis, which is a ‘dry-hopped Imperial ESB’. It’s damn tasty: hoppy but not oppressive, with a nice balance of bitters. Tallgrass has since expanded their offerings to include the Ethos IPA, the Velvet Rooster Belgian and the Buffalo Sweat stout, among others. But the one I come back to the most these days is the 8-Bit Pale Ale, a ‘hop-rocketed American pale ale’, which has a 5.2% alcohol by volume, paltry and sessionable compared to the 7.2% of the Oasis.
What the hell is a hop-rocket, you may ask? According to the Tallgrass website, a hop-rocket is ‘the stainless steel vessel that we use to cycle the beer through [Australian-grown] Galaxy Hops for six hours before we send the beer to you. This adds extra hop oils, tastes and aroma, not gained in the normal brewing process’. I can testify that this process jazzes up a style that can sometimes be boring when not done innovatively. There’s a fruity element to 8-Bit that’s not super sweet or overpowering but that lends an extra dimension to the palate, raising it above your average American pale ale. I recently had Lakefront Brewery’s Cream City Pale Ale again for the first time in a while, and I’ll tell you right now there’s a wide gulf in taste between the two beers, even though both are categorized as pale ales. 8-Bit offers a more pronounced hop bump, and there are hints of citrus.
Tallgrass Brewing Company’s offerings were originally just a sliver in my local store’s craft beer cooler and while they’re still a microbrewery, they have expanded their lineup of beers and have become more accomplished in what they do. The brewery has won many awards for its beers and now distributes to 12 states, including Wisconsin. Tallgrass was founded in 2006 by Jeff and Tricia Gill, who decided to move to Manhattan, Kansas, to open a brewery. Jeff had been a homebrewer for six years and he and Tricia worked hard to make their dream a reality.
In 2010, Jeff made a move that would revolutionize his brand: he released the Tallgrass ‘Canifesto’, which declared that Tallgrass would be distributed in aluminum cans only. Jeff, a former geologist, found that not only do cans completely block out beer-damaging light, but they’re also less weighty to ship than glass bottles and incredibly easier to recycle than glass. Of course, this change in Tallgrass philosophy also led me to try their beers for the first time, as I was headed out on the lakes with my canoe, where glass is prohibited.
Probably a year or so after I started buying and enjoying Tallgrass beers, a representative of theirs was providing samples of their brews at the same local liquor store where I’d first discovered Tallgrass IPA and Oasis. This simple but friendly, outgoing touch cemented my fandom of Tallgrass Brewing Company. They are earnest folks brewing superb beers and putting some serious thought into it to boot. I have to say, with tasty beers like this in cans, it has me buying glass bottles less and less. Check them out for sure.