A few weeks ago I swung by Oliver’s Beverage Center in Albany to pick up some beverages, and was intrigued by a large display for something I’d never heard of before: gypsy-brewed craft beer.
I wandered over to check it out. The shelves were filled with mysteriously labeled bottles of beer I’d never heard of, and I decided to buy a bottle with a pretty picture of a melting candle on it. Printed on the bottle in tiny letters was a website address, and when I got home I pulled it up.
The beer I was drinking was an American-style pale ale from a Sweden-based brewery called Omnipollo, founded by two guys named Henok Fentie and Karl Grandin. “We conceive our recipes at home and travel to different breweries across the globe to craft our ales,” Fentie and Grandin explain on their website. “Our ambition is to change the perception of beer ... forever.” The beer I was drinking, I learned, was called Mazarin. Mazarin is “my take on a ‘thinker’s beer,’” Fentie writes. “Rather than being big and undecipherably complex I wanted to create something that would calm a hop yearning nerve without fuddling the brain too much.”
I did some more research. Gypsy brewers, I learned, are itinerant craft brewers. Rather than owning their own brewery, they travel, brewing their beers in different locations. In a 2010 profile of gypsy brewer Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Claire O’Neill of NPR described gypsy brewing as “brewing on the go, a supersubculture of the craft beer industry,” and said that “Like an old-world itinerant preacher, Strumke travels from brewery to brewery — from Belgium to Baltimore — spreading the craft beer gospel.”
The idea of a bunch of small-scale craft brewers traveling the globe and selling their wares struck me as rather cool, and last week I finally sat down and tried the Mazarin, since the quality of the beer would determine whether I will to Oliver’s and buy more gypsy beer.
The Mazarin was quite good — a hoppy, complex and flavorful pale ale that made my mouth tingle. But my favorite thing about Mazarin might be the beautiful bottle it comes in. Days later, I can’t bring myself to throw it away. I think I’ll set it on my counter, next to small collection of distinctive bottles. And who knows — maybe I’ll buy some more gypsy-brewed beer soon, and add to this collection.
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