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Pick Six: Averie Swanson Is Keeping It Together with Beers that Evoke Memories

The founder and brewer of Chicago’s Keeping Together selects an experience-driven six-pack that transports her back to cherished moments in time.

Joe Stange Oct 7, 2021 - 12 min read

Pick Six: Averie Swanson Is Keeping It Together with Beers that Evoke Memories Primary Image

Illustration: Jamie Bogner

For Averie Swanson, beer is experiential—it’s about the senses and enjoying the now, of course, but it’s also about digging into memories and connecting with ourselves by remembering earlier (ideally pleasant) experiences. She’s built plenty of those memories over years, both as former head brewer for Austin’s Jester King and while earning her certification as a Master Cicerone. Today, she channels her experience and knowhow through her Keeping Together brand.

First of all, Swanson brews for balance and drinkability. “So many brewers say that’s what they like to drink,” she says, “but that’s not necessarily what they like to make. For me, all I make are saisons, and I like to think that all of the beers I make are fairly balanced and drinkable.”

She says she doesn’t need someone to taste every single ingredient in her beers. “I want to be able to use ingredients in a way that creates a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts and something that is evocative and elicits sense memories in people. I want to make it just sub-threshold enough that you have to search through your memory for something familiar to tie yourself to this beer.”

For her chosen six-pack, she went with beers that consistently deliver that experience for her.

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Birrificio Italiano Tipopils

(Lurago Marinone, Como, Italy)
“I believe Tipopils is just one of the most elegant beers I’ve ever encountered. It’s crispy and floral and just super-delicate. The first time I ever had it was at a bar in Philly during the Craft Brewers Conference a few years ago. And I just remember taking the first sip of it—I was at a table with a bunch of people—I took the first half of it, and the room went quiet around me and this beer. It was just a really beautiful experience.

“It’s an Italian pilsner. So there are elements of it as a pilsner that are really familiar, like crispy-crunchy pilsner malt character, high carbonation. But it has this very different element to it as well. I think it’s just more floral than a lot of the other pilsners that I’ve had. The hop character is just really succinct, and just really … floral and pretty. It’s probably the prettiest beer I’ve ever had.

“A few years later, I ended up meeting the folks [at Birrificio Italiano] and have traveled pretty extensively with them at this point around Europe and parts of the United States. And they’re just a group of some of the most passionate and loving people. And I think all of that shows through their beer. So that beer is very much at the top of my list.

“I do have that very specific memory of this beer [in Philadelphia], and it’s always stuck with me. It’s just bright and balanced—like, texturally, it is a really phenomenal beer.”

Allagash White

(Portland, Maine)
“A lot of what drives my go-to beverages is texture. I really like body and [whether] something is silky or chewy or gritty or whatever. The texture is a huge thing for me when I go to select a beverage. So I feel like Allagash White is a chewy beer—it’s just got a ton of texture to it, being that it’s a ton of wheat. And the spice character in it is really lovely and delicate and really contributes to the overall balance and drinkability. I would say that Allagash White is probably one of the most drinkable beers that I’ve ever encountered. And it is also one of the most consistently high-quality beers that I’ve ever encountered.

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“You know, living in Texas for a very long time, we didn’t have access to this beer. Allagash wasn’t distributed in Texas when I was drinking craft beer there. So any time I would travel outside of Texas when I was still living there, and I saw Allagash White on a beer menu, I would order it every single time. And no matter where I was in the country, ordering that beer, it was always extremely high quality, which was something that I was always very impressed with. At this point, living in Chicago—I think Chicago is one of Allagash’s bigger markets, and it’s available everywhere. And I still order it just about any time I see it on the menu.

“It’s also an extremely versatile, food-friendly beer, and I really appreciate beers that have that kind of versatility—that you can pair with just about any type of food, and it goes well or elevates the dish. Allagash White always can provide that.”

Sierra Nevada Celebration

(Chico, California)
“Celebration is exemplary of my craft-beer memory, when I first started drinking craft beer—let’s see, this would have been 2000 and … Ah, God, it would have been a long time ago. But I was definitely a hophead. So, I sought out all of these super-hoppy, super-bitter beers. And Sierra Nevada Celebration just takes me back to those young days of drinking craft beer.

“It’s super-dank and resinous from the American hops. It’s got a gripping bitterness to it, but it’s still perfectly in balance with the malt sweetness. This is another beer that has a really beautiful body to it. I appreciate it also because it’s a seasonal beer—it’s only available for a month or two. It marks that changing in the seasons or passing of time.

“Last year during the pandemic, when we were all drinking beers at home—which was not something that I did a ton of before the pandemic—but being at home all the time, going to the grocery store and picking up a six-pack and taking it home … That was one of the first times in a very long time that I can remember going to the grocery store, buying a six-pack, bringing it home, drinking the whole thing—and then going back to the grocery store the next week and buying that same six-pack. Like, this beer for me, it’s perfect. [It’s also] always high-quality.”

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Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba

(Brussels, Belgium)
“Taras Boulba is probably my ultimate beer. It is bitter and bracing and yeast-expressive.

“And I know that I keep mentioning memories, but beer drinking for me is a very experiential thing. I’ve told people plenty of times that I think I would have lost a lot of my sense-memories from when I was a younger person if I hadn’t gotten into drinking beer and being really aware of my flavor experience the way that I need to be, to do what I do. There are so many times when I’ll take a sip of a beer, and I’ll smell something, and it reminds me of something—and I can’t really quite put my finger on it. But as I continue drinking the beer, the memories come flooding back into my brain.

“And for me, Taras Boulba has this really strong sense-memory. It very much tastes like my first trip to Belgium and memories that I have of being in Europe, and it also represents the entire evolution of beer as I know it. It’s rooted in tradition and agricultural ingredients and microbiological collaboration. Yvan [de Baets] is very much a yeast whisperer. But it is also a beer that’s shaped by technology and utility and human connection. And this beer is just extremely special to me. I think if I had to choose one to take on the desert island with me, it would be that one.”

Brasserie Au Baron Noblesse Oblige

(Gussignies, France)
“Noblesse Oblige is a beer that was done in collaboration with Jester King while I was there, though I didn’t have any hand in making it. It was very much a collaboration between the head brewer and the barrel-program manager at the time with the folks at Au Baron—and they make a small number of beers, and distinct beers.

“But this particular one—they call all of them bières de garde, even though they kind of straddle the line between bières de garde and saison. I would make the argument that they’re a little bit more in the saison camp, as we know them here in the States.

“But that beer is made with honey and American hops [Sabro, Brewer’s Gold, Cascade, Simcoe]. … But it is such a beautiful, drinkable, floral beer. It’s on the lower end of the ABV spectrum [4.7 percent]. It’s another really beautiful, very pretty beer. It very much transports you back to the place where it’s made, in your mind. I haven’t actually been to their brewery, but drinking that beer makes me feel like I am sitting on a porch or patio overlooking a lake in France. It is just a very delicate and lovely beer.”

Live Oak Grodziskie

(Austin, Texas)
“When I was living in Austin, this was the beer that, any time I would go to Live Oak, or any time I would be out with folks, I would order this beer. It is sessionable—it’s only like 3 percent ABV, or somewhere in that range.

“But this beer is just one of the most beautifully textured beers. For being as full and chewy as it is, it is just so drinkable and goes down so easy. The smoke complexity on it—it’s oak-smoked wheat—and there’s so much going on in the flavor profile. I would tell people when I still lived in Texas that it was very much a breakfast beer—like something that you would [drink] with pancakes.

“But it’s just chewy, and kind of meaty, and bacon-y, and the smoke doesn’t linger for too long. Once your palate acclimates to it, the smoke is just kind of a background note. I find that beer to be incredibly drinkable and enjoyable.”

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