Ask a brewer, “Why do you do what you do?” and the answer often involves a singular moment when he or she was awakened – enlightened - to the possibilities of certain beers. And often that awakening comes during a trip to Europe. After all, they’ve been brewing beer there – very, very good beer – for a very long time. There’s Belgium of course, Germany, the Czech Republic - I’m not a brewer, but my epiphany about what beer could be came when I first checked into a hotel room in Prague and found Pilsner Urquell in the mini-fridge. Brewer Doug Odell’s epiphany came in the British Isles. It seems to me that British beers get overlooked by many in the discussion of the world’s best - but not by Doug.
You see, when he and his wife got married, they decided to honeymoon in England and Scotland. Doug had been there before, but as a child, so no beer drinking was involved. This time, there was plenty. If you’ve never been to a British pub, get up, get on a plane, and savor the experience before it goes away – I’ve read reports that the number of true pubs is dwindling. I lived in London back in the 80’s and visiting the ‘local’ really was a treat. And Doug and his wife went to plenty of them, where Doug got his first exposure to English cask beer and English and Scottish ales in general. Turns out he loved them. And that became the template for the beers he would develop at his fledgling brewery on the cutting edge of the American craft beer movement.
His flagship, a groundbreaker in this country when he began brewing it in 1989, is 90 Shilling. Doug says back then, “90 Shilling was considered a pretty flavor forward beer, a significant departure from what was available to most people at the time. I wanted to make an all malt beer that had character but wasn’t going to blow everybody’s socks off. And so, I came up with the 90 shilling. It’s just such a nice, smooth combination of roasty, nutty character, malt backbone, and some hop balancing. And even today, even with all the hop forward beers and the success of our own hop forward beers, our 90 shilling still does well and still is our best selling beer.” The name? Doug says “We stole it from the (old) Scottish method of taxing beer. 90 shilling was kind of the highest level of alcohol taxation” for the highest quality beers. As for British tradition, the shilling was used as currency for more than 400 years, starting in 1549.
Doug built on the foundation of 90 Shilling with other British style beers such as his superb Cutthroat Porter. And don’t forget IPA, the most popular American craft beer style, originated in Britain as a beer to ship to India back in colonial days. But as the brewery grew, so did the variety of beer Doug was brewing – including seasonals, a Bohemian pilsner, a wheat beer, an ale with cherries and raspberries, an ale brewed with grape juice, even barrel aged beers. But it all began with a honeymoon in Britain. And I’ll drink to that. Cheers.
Check out more about Odell Brewing Co. by checking out the sneak peek below & watching the full episode online, anytime on Ora.TV!
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