Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas beers

Christmas time is a cheerful time of year. The stockings are hung, the tree didn't fall over (my brothers did!), and we gave presents to their recipients.

One of my favorite things to give is good beer. To my co-workers, I was able to give a Lump of Coal stout, Achilles Christmas Angel, St Bernardus Christmas ale and Fantome Noel. My coworker gave me a bottle of a Belgian Christmas ale (when I look at the bottle closer, I will edit).

For christmas eve, I opened a can of Brewers Art Resurrection- sure, it's a better Easter beer, but it is so good I couldn't resist picking up a six pack.

Bottles and cans of beer are just a few good beer presents. I have in the past got my brother a custom six pack holder- which made his homebrew friends instantly jealous. If you know someone interested, a homebrew starter kit is also an option. For under 100 bucks, you can give them a lifetime hobby. This year, I gave my brother a Hop Randall- which is basically a converted water filter, that instantly dry hops a beer, right before it gets to the cup, a pleasent surprise for any hophead.

Brewery t-shirts and other brewvana are good gifts as well. I love my t-shirts, pint glasses, growlers and posters. Serching yard sales during the summer can also be fruitful.  I have seen old growlers, old wooden beer cases, or other Beervana that is waiting for a good new home. If you know and need some gifts for homebrewers, you could have found a cooler and convert it to a mash tun for not too much more.  There are a million little things out there that any beer geek or homebrewer would love.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Session #58- A Christmas Carol

This month's episode of The Session is hosted by BeerSay:
The idea for me was based loosely around the visits of three ghosts to Ebenezer Scrooge, but relayed in a post about the beers of Christmas past, present and future.

What did you drink during Christmas holidays of old, have you plans for anything exciting this year and is there something you’d really like to do one day, perhaps when the kids have flown the nest?
Our family doesn't do much for drinks during Christmas proper, but I taken to grabbing a bottle for Christmas Eve.  The first that I celebrated with my then girlfriend, I brought along a bottle of the newly bottled Brewer's Art Ozzy.  My favorite of theirs, although Resurrection is delicious.
This year, I plan on taking and opening a couple bottles of homebrew (maple porter and Belgian pale ale) as well as something a bit special- maybe one of the BrewDog Abstrakt beers. 
In the future, my goal is to get my father in law to try one of the more exotic beers- sure he likes Yuengling and Boston Lager, but I know I can pull him into pale ales and some of the other lagers.

To Celebrate with Westy

It is weird to think that people have allowed me to grow up.  The past 5+ years have allowed me to finally feel like an adult.  Getting married, buying a house, brewing my own beer- all these things have been a great adventure.  On November 7th, I was able to experience another adventure- the birth of my daughter Ava.  

With birth comes celebration.  When my brother came in from Chicago, we were able to celebrate in style. For the birth of his first child we shared Sam Adams Utopias.  For mine- Westvleteren 12.  Super beer.  Sometimes I wonder why I drink any other style.  Love it.  Some day I will get across that big pond and bring back a case or two.

As for the blog since early November, I am sorry, it has been a bit hectic.  Eventually, I will get back on course.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Session #57: My Guilt, My Secret

After a stolen laptop made it so that Pete Brown couldn't host the 57th Session, Beers I've Know stepped up to the plate with the topic: "Beery Confessions: Guilty Secrets/Guilty Pleasure Beer":
One of the things I most enjoy about blogs and personal writing in general is the ability to have a window into another's life, in a semi-voyeuristic way. So I'd like to know your beery guilty secrets. Did you have a particularly embarassing first beer (in the same way that some people purchase an atrocious song as their first record) or perhaps there's still a beer you return to even though you know you shouldn't? Or maybe you don't subscribe to the baloney about feeling guilty about beers and drink anything anyway?

You're also welcome to write about bad drinking experiences you've had as a result of your own indulgence or times when you've been completely wrong about a beer but not yet confessed to anyone that you've changed your mind.
Can my guilty pleasure be Yuengling? What about Guinness?  They are two beers that many craft beer advocates would not supports (one made with corn, the other a macro). I think Stella Artois is a great beer to drink during a party in the summer (owned by A-B). My first beer (Yuengling) isn't too embarrassing.  I guess I could talk about the horrible end to the first night of my bachelor party (darn you huge shots of Wild Turkey). I guess I just named most of my guilty pleasures right there.
Yuengling- this easy drinking beer is local to me.  A couple friends work at the brewery and it is cheap and tastes good.  Easily the beer that I have drank the most of in my life.
Guinness- brought me into liking dark beers.  Still a beer that I will order on occasion, and a beer that helps define the stout.
Stella Artois- this beer was the first to get me to start trying belgians.  HA isn't that funny!  But I still enjoy one during the summer.
Bachelor Party- we usually go for beer, find delicious shots, and have a long night. Sometimes I wish the night would last longer.  We did have great times in Baltimore and Ithaca though.
So these are my guilty pleasures.  Not bad beer, not super embarassing stories, but guilty non the less.
What are your guilty pleasures?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My International Stout Day List

Welcome to November 3rd, or as we are supposed to refer to it, International Stout Day.  This is a day to celebrate the dark goodness of some perfect winter beers, but in autumn.  As the leaves are changing, so must the taste buds.  No longer are crisp pilsners required for weekend picnics, lawnmowing is done- so no more light wheat beers (Dunkelweizens still are welcome), pumpkins beers are getting harder to find on the shelves (since they are starting to make their appearance in July) and winter warmers have yet to show up.

What ends up being the best beer for the changing of the seasons is the Stout. Pushed onto American palates by Guinness- hey I started there, you probably did too- the rich, roasty goodness can get you through the cooler nights.  So grab a dark one, and enjoy.

Here happen to be a few of my favorite stouts.  Some good beers to have one of or more than a few. (I am trying to stay away from one-offs and special releases, and focus on beers that many can actually obtain.)

1. Guinness (4.2%)- seriously, you have to give it props (Foreign Extra, if you can get it)
2. Sierra Nevada Stout (5.8%)- a highly underrated stout that has the malty sweetness, but also the bitterness that is expected from Sierra Nevada.
3. Founder's Breakfast Stout (8.3%)-the younger brother of the uber-popular Canadian and Kentucky Breakfast stouts can hold his own in any line up.  A coffee lovers dream.
4. Great Divide Yeti (9.5%)- I prefer the Oak-Aged Yeti, but the regular, belgian, chocolate, espresso, and vanilla are all very good (I didn't have the Brett Yeti, but I would imagine it was good).
5. Southern Tier Mokah (11.2%) - what tastes like a blend of the Java and Choklat, perfect balance between coffee and chocolate make this a great cold weather beer.  Delicious as a dessert (If you can't find Mokah, check out the Creme Brulee if you truly want dessert).
6. BrewDog Tokyo*- this 18.2% (yes, 18.2%) beer tastes like it should only be about 7%, dangerously drinkable. They say it was brewed with Jasmine and Cranberries, but I think they added a bit of black magic. Expensive, but worth every penny. (This was introduced to me by Mr. Mitchell of BeerInBaltimore.Blogspot. I have to credit him for my addiction to it.)

Honorable mentions go to Bell's Expedition, Troeg's Java Head, Rogue Shakespeare and Oskar Blues Ten Fidy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bad Beer Reviews- Ithaca Cascazilla

One of my favorite beers that I discovered when we went to Ithaca, was Ithaca Brewing Cascazilla.  Sure, everyone knows Flower Power, and rightfully so, it is delicious, but Cascazilla became a quick go to beer for me there.  It was on tap at most places and was absolutely delicious.

Today, I got to thinking about it, so I decided to see what the fine people on BA and RB had to say about it.  I have no problem with people not liking beer that I like. It is just when you see somethings in a review that don't add up:

1) Purchased as variety pack from Westy's in Mechanicsburg, PA.
A- a dirt red cloudy appearance.
S- N/A
T- very dry and bad aftertaste
M-It felt like i was eating powder
D-i put it down but i wont have another.
I am just not a very big fan of Red Ales and that might be the case of the poor review but i really did not enjoy this beer and will not be having it again.
I feel that it is probably a good chance that this review states why it might be a "poor review".  They knew what they were getting into, and choose to give it bad marks because they don't like red ales.

2)Bottle acquired through trade with jchow79 and poured into standard curved shaker pint glass.
A: Pours a very deep orange, almost *brown*... very dark for an IPA. Frothy off-white head, about 1 finger in size, sits on top.
S: Very malty-sweet and earthy, with a mild scent of pine hops.
T: Earthy flavors and the taste of sweet-and-sour sugars that I find to be so prevalent in East Coast IPAs. Some pine bitterness on the back end. For me, the sugars are just overpowering. What I want out my IPA is lots of hops. Bitter hops, oily grapefruit presence, citrus hops, ect. This beer just doesn't have much of any of that.
M: Reasonably good carbonation and lots of tongue coating with the sugars and hops.
D: This isn't my kind of IPA. Just not enough bitterness or grapefruit hops in them for my liking.
This beer reminds me a lot of a Dogfish IPA, particularly 90 Minute. A lot of my friends love Dogfish 90. I'd recommend this beer to any of them. But much like Dogfish 90 (and most East Coast IPAs, for that matter), this one just isn't for me.
This person chose to rate and review this red ale as an IPA. I would have given it an F as an IPA too. On the label it says "Red Ale". Sure it has a lot of hops in it for a red ale, but that doesn't make it an IPA.

3)Excited I finally found single of this.
Appearance - Heavier on the brown side than I expected. No real hints of red at all. Just sort of a dirty sour looking caramel. Chunks of yeast floating around everywhere.
Smell - Smells like your standard red ale. Slightly sour with hints of caramel. Just sort of plain, honestly.
Taste - Slightly sour with hints of light fruits. A zesty citrus that seems slightly skunked. very musty tasting.
Mouthfeel /Drinkability - As stated, quite musty. Drinkability is high. But there were actually solid chunks of yeast that got stuck in my teeth. It just sort of tastes like a musty, slight sour and mellowed red ale. On my list of red ales, this is very low.
Sure, I am weird and a beer nerd, but I would have not reviewed a non-bottle conditioned beer if there were solid chunks of yeast in it.  I would have probably sent Ithaca an email with the bottle number/lot number whatever I could find to let them know.  Skunk, Must and Floaties are all bad signs that do not normally happen from a respected brewery.

These are the types of reviews that kill trustworthy reviewers.  As I have said in the past, I think we should just post the reviews and not worry about a rating system.  There was one other review that was under a C, but his was straight forward, with a good review.

I urge people to keep reviewing beers, that is helpful when searching for something new, but think about what you typed before you click post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Colorado Beer Map

I must first apologize to those who sent me the Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado (full disclosure, they sent me a Map for free to review).  This is a tremendous tool that should be used if you travel to Colorado and love beer.  This 5th Edition is packed full of coupons that easily make up the cost of the Guide.

For around $15, you can get the map with 142 Breweries and Brewpubs marked on it.  On the back of the map is a tasting guide, a list of homebrew shops, an approximate time travel chart, a list of state parks and other helpful charts. This map would be great for not only the traveler to Colorado, but also a resident.

Oh and did I mention the coupon book?  The Passport to Free Beer includes over $150 worth of coupons to many of the intriguing brewpubs and breweries. Durango Brewing, Odell Brewing, Oskar Blues Brewery and Ska Brewing are a few of the breweries that have coupons included.  Who doesn't want their first beer free at Ska?

This would be the ideal map for anyone traveling to Colorado.  The full topographical map is helpful on its own, and it has the added benefit of placing you where you need to be- AT THE PUB!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nice Little Weekend

I feel the hardest thing about moving is getting to know the area.  When we jumped from place to place in Baltimore, we stayed in the same neighborhood, but each time our closest restaurants changed.  Since we lived in Canton, the first year we walked into the square to get something to eat or drink.  This wasn't our type of crowd (mostly BMC drinking right out of college crowd- we prefer smaller, quieter places).  We enjoyed a lot of the food at the places, but started to look for different restaurants off the square. At our second and third places, we were able to find great places closer to our doorstep.  It was nice to be able to walk 3-5 minutes and be at the restaurant, eat great food, and have great conversation.  

For the past one plus year, we keep trying to find the local places around our house. It is different now, because in the city, we would take the dog for a walk and see the new places to try.  Now, we rely on the internet or ads in the newspaper for tips on new food joints. Luckily, we found one right down the road.

This past weekend, my parents came down to visit over night and to take us out for our first anniversary. We made reservations down at McCleary's Public House in Marietta.  This is a place that on Friday and Saturday night is usually pretty packed.  It had been closed for a couple of weeks (like most other places in Marietta), due to the flooding.  They also had a band (Big Red) that was going to start playing later in the evening.  This is a place that I occasionally come to grab wings with a couple of friends, so I know their beer selection is pretty good (starndard Guinness/Smithwicks/Harp tap and 4-5 rotating craft taps, and a very nice bottle selection). My mom ordered a raspberry cosmo and my dad got whatever he always drinks.  I ordered a Founders Red's Rye.  The beer was very good, a strong bitterness starts off the beer but gives way to the malt and rye.  Very easy drinker.

Our meals came out and they were about as good as you could have, except that they thought my father ordered the black and blue burger instead of black and blue steak- which they quickly took care of (they definitely felt worse about it than we did). I ordered the "surf and turf" which was filet mignon and a crabcake.  The filet was grilled perfectly medium, and melted in my mouth. After living in Baltimore for 4 years, I am usually disappointed after ordering a crabcake, but for the first time, I was not.  The crabcake would have fit in perfectly at any restaurant in Canton, Fells Point, Harbor East, Federal Hill or anywhere else.  It was delicious.

Once the band started playing a nice bluesy, jazzy, funk 70-90's rock (mostly original music from what I think I heard), I ordered the Flying Fish Organic Amber ale and then the Stoudt's Oktoberfest. The Flying Fish was a nice basic amber. It didn't wow me nor did I want to return the glass, a simple beer to enjoy.  The Stoudt's was a good Oktoberfest, nice malty backbone with a bit of bitterness that broke everything apart.

We left after listening to the band for an hour to get back home.  Overall, it was a nice night.  If you get around Marietta, McCleary's is a great place to check out. It is a place with good food, friendly waitstaff and a nice beer selection.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Newcastle Winter IPA

I didn't know much about this beer before drinking, and the label only had the Surgeon General's warning on it. I didn't know what the difference between a regular IPA and a Winter IPA would be, but I was willing to find out.

This beer poured with very little head, even though I tried to pour somewhat vigorously.  The beer is lighter brown, but still a shade or two darker than many American IPAs.  From the nose, I could tell what the big difference was going to be in my perception and reality. I was thinking of a hoppy IPA, but it was a dead giveaway that this was an English Style IPA.

Sidebar (that is in the middle of the review): the English IPA is not the big, bold, hops-first IPA that has been all the rage the last 5 years or so.  The much more balanced beer has more emphasis on the malt with a slight bitterness.  They are bittered more than other English styles, but no where near the American counterparts.

The floral, citrus hops are replaced with a nice calm bitterness, and not much aroma, which is dominated by the malt.  The taste has a nice sweetness, that is cut by the bitterness of the hops. The creamy mouth-feel (same as in the Werewolf) helps to make the beer smooth and an easy drinker.

Overall, this beer seems close to style, nothing amazing, but something a little different for the hopheads.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Newcastle Werewolf

A couple of weeks ago, a PR rep contacted me about doing a review of the new Newcastle beers- Werewolf and Winter IPA.  So up first is Werewolf:

Werewolf, a "Blood Red Ale", is a new seasonal brew- apparently a Halloween beer. After the pour, the beer looks marvelous. It was extremely easy to pour with a gorgeous 3/4 inch creamy, off-white head.  The brown colored beer had a little reddish hue to it, I guess helping out the blood red name.

The scent was extremely inviting.  It actually drew me into the beer.  The sweet aroma of caramel malts and something a little sweeter (smelled like some fruit that I couldn't put my finger on).  Just a little hop aroma was present.  I was ready for this red ale.

Once it hit my lips, it was a bit of a let down. Taste was on par with an amber ale (not much red to talk about), not on par with Bell's Amber, but certainly better than Killians. It had a slight fruity taste to it, but nothing that really makes a mark. The mouth-feel was off putting to me.  It felt almost creamy. I want something smooth, but this beer kind of left a coating in my mouth, that was not appetizing.  It did lead me to drinking more though.

Being lower in abv, the alcohol was not a factor in the taste, and the taste disappeared as soon as it was out of my mouth.  Overall, this beer was good. I would drink another one and suggest it to someone that likes this style of beer. Would it be something that I would seek out? No, but I wouldn't write it off either.

(I will revisit this beer later in the week to make sure my initial thoughts are on par with a second tasting. Also coming this week will be Newcastle Winter IPA.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Session 56- Cheers to the Big Boys

The 56th edition of The Session (I have no participated in all of them, but am glad I have gotten involved), was hosted by The Tale of the Ale, and we will be looking to say cheers to the big guys:
Anyway I want people to pick a large brewery or corporation that owns a lot of breweries. There are many to chose from. Give thanks to them for something they have done. Maybe they produce a beer you do actually like. Maybe they do great things for the cause of beer in general even if their beer is bland and tasteless but enjoyed by millions every day.
Well, I am grateful for the big brewers.  Those who own multiple brands, put out more beer than Africa has water.  I am grateful that they taught me what bad beer tastes like, how marketing programs can revolve around a false sense of what beer should taste like ("ice-cold", "triple-hopped") and how to get scantily clad women in every commercial. As for all of these fun and exciting lessons that they taught me, I do feel that Anheuser-Busch get some things right.

First off, they have quality control down to a T. If you can make that much beer taste exactly the same, all of the time, that is pretty impressive.  Sure there isn't much taste to it, but still impressive.

Second, in the summer of 2006, Bloomsburg was hit with what we thought was a 100 year flood (apparently it was a 5 year flood, as this year was much worse than that one). The town was shocked to a standstill.  The town was without drinkable water, and what came in to help was truckloads of Anheuser-Busch water in cans.  Crazy, I know. (If I can get a picture of it from my in-laws, I'll post it.) The water did not save the town, but it was a huge relief.  I am sure that they provide services like this to may disaster areas, and don't blast their name all over the news.

Finally, as many forgettable commercials and marketing campaigns that the big boys have had, A-B came through with some commercials that can be cherished:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Interesting Label from Stone

Well this might be fun.  Apparently, those crazy guys over at Stone are releasing another beer called "Stone IPA... Ruined".  I will just assume that it has something to do with Stone Ruination, maybe the middle road between the two (Ruination is a Double IPA- so maybe Ruined is a 1.5 IPA).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Baltimore Beer Week 2011- Almost Here

Something that I missed out on after moving away from Baltimore was the plethora of events that Baltimore Beer Week 2010 had. I didn't know if the BBW 2011 (October 6-16) could match the intensity, but then I looked at the events. As with last year, many events are pay as you go special tap events hosted by the numerous beer bars throughout town, along side the special events that cost a bit of money.

The Baltimore Beer Week website makes searching for events that best suit you very easy. Using the advanced search function, a person could find out what is going on at their favorite/local bars or neighborhood or just look for the type of event that they want to check out. With the introduction of a few different brands to the Baltimore region in the past year (New Belgium and Firestone Walker to name two), the events keep piling up.

It is too easy to just say "Show up at Max's everyday for something good" or "Go to Metropolitan", so here are a few that I feel are a bit special (and some cost a little bit of money), but you should definitely consider them:

10/6- Opening Tap at Ram's Head Live, $30- this is where the beer begins to flow.  If you are the talkative type, I'm sure you will have the opportunity to run into some of the Baltimore Beer Geek Hall of Famers- maybe Brad Kilpner, Joe Gold, Hugh Sisson, Brian Strumke, Steve Jones, etc.

10/6- Science on Tap: Beer-ology 101 (at Maryland Science Center), $45- join DuClaw's brewmaster Jim Wagner for this interactive look into the science behind the taste, sight and smell of beer.

10/8- Weissner/American Brewery tour, FREE- tour one of the old Baltimore Breweries.  Check out this post, by Mr. Alexander Mitchell IV, for more details.

10/9- Stillwater Ales Day (at Max's Taphouse), pay as you go- a remarkable lineup of Baltimore's own.  Many small batches, unique/rare stuff from one of the best brewers around. I must go for any beer lover in Baltimore.  They will also be selling bottles of Olde Bay Saison- very limited.

10/13- Stillwater Artisanal Ales dinner at Jack's Bistro, $65- This is a pair made in heaven. I have not had the pleasure of being at one of Stillwater's beer dinners, but I have heard that they are great. I don't know where you can go wrong with the great Stillwater beers and Jack's creative menu- who knows what Ted will come up with.

10/15- Pratt Street Real Ale Fest (at Pratt Street Ale House), $40 (advance)/$50 (door)- This Real Ale Festival (otherwise know as cask)- features over 23 Breweries and 40+ different brews.  Something for everyone, and everyone there loves good beer. The BrewDog Paradox Smokehead and Stillwater/Oliver Breweries/The Brewers Art – S.O.B. look intreguing.

And many, many more.  Check out the schedule to figure out your weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Baltimore, Books and Beer

If you have lived in Baltimore for any period of time, whether it be one week or 30 years, I am sure you have a unique story to tell. That is the basic principle behind Smile Hon, You're in Baltimore:
"From the harbor to the hills, SMILE, HON, YOU'RE IN BALTIMORE!
collects the tales of those for whom Mobtown has left her indelible mark:
polished, professional essays; barroom sermons delivered from the sanctity of a
favorite stool, the poet's fleeting sentiment captured in both word and snapshot -
a slice of Baltimore as told by Baltimore, all presented with the time-honored,
DIY accessibility of a limited-run, handcrafted zine.
So, come on, Baltimore - what's your story?"
So what does this have to do with a beer blog?  On Friday, September 23, the release party for the 14th edition of Smile Hon will take place from 6-8pm under the CityLit tent at the Baltimore Book Festival. This free event will feature readings from the book, some live music and free beer- courtesy of The Brewer's Art- some of Baltimore's best beer.

The latest issue is a 68 page zine (which costs $4 and can be picked up at Atomic books, Red Emma's, Cyclops Books and Ukazoo- around Baltimore) is packed to the gills with stories, poems and pictures that give a true, yet humorous look into the city. Former issues have had themes of tattoos, transportation, crime, waste and more.

I suggest you check it out. Great stories, live music and free beer combine to make a nice little evening.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fall Time Brews

Summer brews get a lot of hype.  Those thirst quenching, fruity wheat beers are easy and fun to drink while at picnics, parties and around the fire pit.  I love a good Bell's Oberon or Dogfish Head Festina Peche.  Christmas beers, with their spices, and winter warmers, with their high abv, get the attention of those looking to sip next to the chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  Packed in between those two beer seasons, are Oktoberfest beers.

I like a good malty Oktoberfest Lager.  I did my best to brew an oktoberfest ale for my wedding, it wasn't the same, but it was good. For the pure German in you, you can drink some Spaten or Paulander- easier to find German Oktoberfest beers. For the domestic side, I enjoy Flying Dog Dogtoberfest and Sam Adam's Oktoberfest.

But what else do people drink in the Fall?  I have a couple ideas of what I like.

Bring on the IPAs. Many people think that they summer is too hot to drink the hop bombs. The high IBU beers get drowned out by the Christmas beers, so drink them while you can.  It isn't quite cold enough to need the high abv beers, but the 6-7% beer might cut through the fall chill.  A perfect beer to grab would be the Sierra Nevada Estate- the freshest of the fresh, all locally grown ingredients. Grab a jacket and head outside.

The darker beers also work well when it starts to get dark earlier.  The porters, stouts and brown ales all work well.  The beers with a little extra body can carry you through the tail gate.  Picking up some Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald would impress a newcomer to craft beer or the seasoned mustached CAMBRA member.

Fall has unique beers too.  Pumpkin beers are in season.  I am not the biggest fan of them, but there are enough people that cannot wait.  Dogfish Head Punkin, Southern Tier PumpKing, Heavy Seas Great Pumpkin and (if you need some warming) Weyerbacher's Imperial Pumpkin are all great beers that give a fresh dose of pumpkin.  Goes great with corn field mazes.

Finally, find some of the unique seasonals.  First one that should come to mind is The Bruery's Autumn Maple.  This perfect for Thanksgiving beer is brewed with yams, maple syrup and other spices that would accompany a Turkey dinner. Check with the local brewpubs to see what unique ingredients they are throwing in their beers, and take home a growler.

Hopefully, you can embrace Fall beers.  They are versatile and easy to drink.  What are your favorites?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Some call it the End of Summer

Labor Day weekend is a celebration of those who work hard to put food on the table. It also marks the unofficial end of summer. The beaches are packed for the last time. People have picnics, family reunions, and get one last swim in.

For me growing up, it meant that we had to start getting the farm equipment ready to harvest- usually no day off. With the harvest season, I also got the start of soccer season. Now that my playing days have mostly passed, I have found a different hobby to take up my time. It is no longer too hot to sit next to the boiling pot of hops and sugars. I now look forward to the cooler months.

So to celebrate this change of seasons, I thought I would brew a nice cooler weather beer. So what is it? Hopefully, it will be the perfect Maple Porter for Halloween and Thanksgiving. This weekend, I created a base porter, and I will add maple to it in secondary.

My Recipe:
8 lbs. Light LME
8 oz. Chocolate Malt
4 oz. Roasted Malt
4 oz. Caramel 60 L.

1.5 oz Willamette (60 minutes)
.5 oz Willamette (10 minutes)

WL013 London yeast
OG- 1.062

I went light on the finishing hops in hope to keep the aroma from the maple to be added.

Also, Labor Day weekend has now been dubbed my homebrew weekend. Last year, we brewed a double batch (American Wheat and Oktoberfest Ale) for my wedding. I look forward to brewing next year as well.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Session #55- Label, Coaster and Cap art

This month's issue of The Session was hosted by HopHeadSaid. He asked the group of bloggers participating to:
"1. Choose your favorite label, coaster or cap art.

2. Write a paragraph that explains your affinity to your entry. Your explanation can be as shallow as or as deep as you want."
I don't know if I have a favorite label, coaster or cap.  What I do know is that I like some more than others. As much as people don't want to admit it (and some are proud to admit it), the label art plays a big part of which beers are bought and which stay on the shelf.  I think that the art can form your mind on what the beer should taste like. I'll give a few examples of labels that can predetermine (for the good), what the beer's experience is going to be like.

1. Flying Dog Raging Bitch- this beer is a Belgian IPA.  With its 8.3% abv, the beer's strength can get you through the colder days and nights and the bitterness can break through the warm summer days.  Neither is hidden well, and can smack you on the face like a B****.  The label gives the same idea.  Crazy, ravaging dog is as wild as the beer.  Expect to get the huge hops followed by the Belgian yeast characteristics.  It is as Raging as it gets. (Artwork on all Flying Dog beers are done by Ralph Steadman-who was the illustrator for Hunter S. Thompson.)

2. Goose Island Matilda- One inspection of either the Matilda labels, and the first thought that comes to your head is elegance.  You expect a nice delicate beer.  A beer to pour into a tulip or stemmed glass.  Something that is to be sipped, savored and examined.  You may just want to start with it cold, and let it warm to let out all the flavors.  The script text on the bottle screams upper class.  Makes me think of Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence. Enjoy this one like a bottle of wine.

3. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a classic, basic beer.  It begs to be drank with friends on the deck, in the backyard or any other time.  The label has the same classic characteristics. It gives the vital information, shows a laid back river landscape, the perfect place to drink one (especially now that they can it).  If you look at the label, you are not expecting the beer to blast you with hops or be infused with any unique ingredients.  You are just looking a good beer.

4. The Bruery Autumn Maple- This beer is seasonal in more than just the name.  It screams fall time.  From the sweetness to the yams, it is a perfect beer to have with Thanksgiving.  One look at the label is all that it takes to see fall time.  The colors of brown and orange, the leaves in the background and the simple text give the drinker a predetermined idea of what they are getting, and they are rewarded.

Overall, I feel those are great labels. I love seeing them at a bar or beer store, as I have no hesitation to drink any of them.  The label sets the tone on the beer, and the drinker get make an easier decision on a purchase.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Beer Bucket List

I guess you could say this thought was inspired by Norman Miller's blog post. He gave one line, that made me think, "There are so many beer adventures that I want to do and things that I want to experience." This is true on so many levels.  Overall in my life, there are many adventures that I want to do and things that I want to experience. 

I have been blessed to have been able to attend some great (and fun) beer related events or places: the inaugural Baltimore Beer Week events, Max's Belgian Festival, Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Fest, a freezing cold Troeg's Splinter Black release, Taming of the Brews, attended many brewpubs (though no where near as many as my brother), had a beer at The Masters, started homebrewing, et cetera. I have been able to enjoy way more great beers than I can list.  Way too many styles to think about, way to many breweries to remember.

So this quick post might as well be my Beer Bucket List of things that I want to do or try:

Major release party, Dark Lord Day or the like
Visit Europe and drink Belgians and Germans from the source
Get to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver
Go on a SoCal beer trip, NorCal Beer trip and Portland beer trip
Take and pass the Cicerone test (would love to become a Master, but probably not going to happen)
Volunteer for a brewery at a beer festival (I want to see what the other side sees)
Help plan a beer fest charity fundraiser
Attend Philly Beer Week events
Sample some Russian River
Brew a tasty .5% beer
Brew a tasty 10+% beer
Brew All-Grain with the proper set up
Use "wild" yeast in a beer
Get the rest of the equipment for kegging (we have the corny kegs)
Win an award in a homebrew contest

What would you have on your list?

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Session #54- Sours

This month's The Session is hosted by Jon at The Brew Site.  The topic: Sours.  Something I find close to my heart.

I’ve been gradually exploring Sour Beer and finding myself seeking out and trying various beers which fit into the “sour” realm (yes, I’m purposefully avoiding the word “style” here as it is entirely too loaded): beers inoculated with wild yeasts, soured with fruit (often in conjunction with those wild yeasts and barrel-aging), lactic acid beers like Berliner Weisse-influenced beers and the rare Gose, and so on. It’s a challenging area, both in acquiring a taste for soured beer and in brewing them—fortunately many brewers are being adventurous and branching out these days, giving us many more options.

So that’s our topic for August: Sour Beer. I’ll leave the implementation up to you, but here are some suggestions: seek out and review a sour beer of some kind; write about your experiences with brewing a sour beer; talk about your first sour beer experience; who’s brewing the better sours—Belgians or Americans (or somebody else)?; perhaps a contrary approach—what you don’t like about sour beers. Or if you have the perfect sour beer idea you want to write about, I can’t wait to read it!

For me, a non-drinker for the first 21 years 18 days of my life, crashing into the world of craft beer was fun.  I did not become used to the BMC light lagers, and could not stand them when I started drinking.  One piece of advice my brother gave me, a couple years before I started drinking, went something like this: "No matter what you are doing, do it because you like it.  There are people here (we were at a party) drinking Bud Light to get drunk, even though they hate it.  They would enjoy this so much more if they were drinking something they liked."  Now, college parties are going to be full of whatever is the cheapest thing available, but the "drink what you like" idea is what I base my beers off of.  My wife and I don't drink a lot of red wine, why? We don't like it (I will enjoy a Malbec with a good steak, but that is about it).

Fast forward 5-6 years from that party, and I was sitting in Max's Taphouse trying many different beers.  By this time, I had become a hophead, trying all beers of all styles trying to find what I liked and didn't like.  I saw a style on the list that I didn't ever have before; I asked for a Rodenbach Grand Cru.  BOOM!  I don't think I understood the flavors in my mouth, but still to this day my mouth waters thinking about Grand Cru.

Since that first sip, anything that says sour or wild on it, has gone in my glass.  From Gueuze to Orval to Flemish Red to Gose, the list goes on and on. Now I will go to bar, see one and order it.  Sometimes I will get a "warning" from the bartender that it might be too sour for me. I nod my head and take a sip.  Other times I will get a great surprise when walking into a brewpub and see Gose on tap (happened at a friend's rehearsal dinner at River House- delicious, refreshing Gose, soft on the sour and salt, but great on a hot day).

So finally, I think I found what I like. In it, I get a mouth puckering delight.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime

This past summer has been kind of tough.  With a pregnant wife, a best friend that got married and a million things going on with work and the house, I haven't spent nearly enough time drinking craft beer, or out and about to see what is new.

What did happen this year is:
  • I have had a Dogfish Head Namaste in the fridge for the entire summer (this should have been drunk in the past week, with the 90+ weather everyday).  
  • At Shanks, I did have a Victory Summer Love, which I would drink everyday. I have also had a Flying Fish IPA and St. Boniface ESB- two good beers to style.
  • I have two neighbors interested in my next brew day.  
  • I am starting to plan two brew days:
    • one a fall easy drinking ESB
    • a Maple Porter to be ready for Thanksgiving.  
  • I have started my keg system (for my friend's wedding we kegged homebrew, which means we bought kegs and borrowed a CO2 cylander- that's our next purchase). 
  • I bought my first glass carboy to use as a secondary (formerly, I left it in primary for a long time- all positive results).
  • From the recently married friend, I receive my very own hot dog roller and drunken man handle growler
  • I was able to pick up the AB:05 and AB:06 BrewDog Abstrakt beers, which keeps my collection up to date. From Jmooy, I also picked up a Evolution Menagerie No.5- good god, I need to open it and drink it.
  • The beer box was finally moved into the basement for a cooler, more stable temperature (eventually we will finish the basement and I will have the beers on shelves instead of in the beer box).
The Hot Dog Roller

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ithaca Beer Weekend, Day Two

Ithaca Falls
This is Part 2, make sure to check out our First Day

We woke up slightly hazy from the night before, and decided to be active around Ithaca on the beautiful Saturday. We grabbed a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant, and hit the road. We walked up the Cascadilla Gorge, until we found that it was closed when we were almost to the end of it. So after turning around, and trekking back to the start, we decide to find Ithaca Falls. “Just a short mile trip over the hill,” someone said. The hill was steep, coming down the other side was steeper (happy we didn’t fall).

But when we got there, it was worth the walk. It may only be one water fall, but it is huge- 150 feet high, 175 feet wide. The walk back to the hotel was not as bad as it was to get to the falls. Even thought it was around 2 miles, it was flat. After putting our feet up for an hour, we headed over to PuddleDockers, to try out some canoes and kayaks. We had not been in a canoe in maybe 10-15 years, so we knew this would be an experience. Other friends grabbed kayaks, since that is what they are more comfortable in.

Mahogany Grill
Taking the boats up the canal to the lake was a fun, relaxing workout. A little over a mile up the canal, we were in Lake Cayuga. We could tell when we got there, as the water went from calm and flat, to choppy. So we hung out there for a little, and then headed back.  It was a great mid-afternoon exercise.

We made reservations at Mahogany Grille for dinner, and got there as our table (outside on the gorgeous day) was opening up. Steaks were served up around the table, as well as some brews- a Goose Island Honkers to start, then Ithaca Partly Sunny to finish. Food was perfect. We were ready to take a nap after filling our stomachs, but that was not going to happen.  We decided to look for an empty bar and keep the staff company, and we found it around the corner at Moonshadows. We did not know that an hour and a half later it would turn into a dance club. That was ok though. We had our beers, a couple shots, and talked to the great staff (we also saw a couple people order fish bowls- we did not, that would have been bad). The bartenders and manager were great. Appeasing us and our craziness, and starting the night off right.
Chapter House chalkboard tap list
When the crowd started to roll in, and the DJ started up, we settled our tab and headed off to find another bar. We heard good things of the Chapter House, but seeing that it was up the hill (we were not trekking that again), we decided to find another bar around the Commons. Then we spotted a cab- BINGO. Off to the Chapter House we go.

As we entered, we immediately saw why some people told us to go there. 48 of the 50 taps were pouring (mostly) craft beer. Only downside was the $5 cover for the live bands playing, but that wasn’t too bad- the first band was though. If you like to listed to slower, depressing sounding music while drinking a Bear Republic Racer 5, you can go right ahead, we did not.  Thankfully, that was the opening act. The band that came after them was country-rock (maybe Rock-a-billy) and brought the mood up a bit. Ithaca Flower Power, Lake Placid Ubu, Victory Yakima Glory, Middle Ages IPA, Lagunitas IPA, Stone Pale Ale, Original Sin Cider and others were poured into our glasses for the rest of the night. And to top it off, the wedding party that we met the day before at Kilpatrick’s showed up.  Great night. It was finished off by a walk down the hill, back to the pizza place with some hanging out at the outdoor tables, then back to the hotel to crash for the night and drive home the next day.

What a great weekend- great food, beer and friends. Ithaca is one place that I look forward to coming back to in the future, as my wife would love to hit up the wineries (which we didn’t even do), and then we could hit the town at night for beer.  Ithaca, it was a pleasure.
band at Chapter House
Chapter House taps

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ithaca Beer Weekend, Day One

Bandwagon Brewpub
We cruised into Ithaca, NY hungry, thirsty and looking for a nice, relaxing weekend.  What we got was great food, great beer and a weekend that kept us going.  From the local brews to the gorges and waterfalls, this was one town that refused to disappoint us.

Surprisingly enough, the one place we planned on visiting, Ithaca Brewing, did not happen.  We just didn’t have time, and pleasantly enough, we were able to find enough of their beer around town (surprise, right) to keep us happy.

When we got to town Friday night, we checked into the hotel, and then started the search for some brews and food.  We hit up Bandwagon Brewpub, a local brewpub in the basement of a building.  While there was a wait for the tables, we just grabbed a couple of beers.  I had the sampler, which consisted of Strawberry Cream, Hefe-Wheat, Common, Double IPA and Oat Meal Stout. 

Ithaca Ale House Bar
The Strawberry Cream was smooth, not really my cup o’ brew, so I placed it aside. For someone who enjoys the fruit beer (non Belgian lambic), this would be a good beer. The Hefe-Wheat was a refreshing beer, hazy with a nice yeast kick. The Common was very clean. I probably created a problem, because I was kind of looking for a Anchor Steam, and got an average, slightly better than average beer- I would put it on the level of Troeg’s Scratch Keystone Common. The stout was nice and smooth with the oatmeal not overpowering, but keeping it smooth.  The highlight was the DIPA.  That blew us away.  Great beer, hops all over the place, but the malt was kept in check and made its presence as well. The place also had guest taps, as two of the group decided to get Abita Purple Haze and Southern Tier Hop Sun.

Ithaca Ale House Tap List
We left there in search of some cheesesteaks to fill our stomachs. We found some at the Ithaca Ale House. We also found a nice tap list, and a band that was starting to play. Beer of the night was the Ithaca Executioner 13- they called it a “Double Hoppy Wheat Ale”.  It definitely was spot on. Hops burst through with power.  Before that, I had the Ithaca Dark Humor.  I think I was expecting too much when I read the description of “All Brett Porter”. The dark malts masked some of the brett, but there was that yeast bite to it that made it delicious. I also could not turn down a Sierra Nevada Southern Tier Harvest- still one of my favorite beers.

Taps at Ithaca Ale House
We left the ale house as the music was getting too loud for a narrow space (maybe we are just getting old). And found ourselves at an “Irish” pub in a hotel (Kilpatricks Publick House). It was time for a shot- it was a guys weekend after all. The Shillelagh it was. If you don’t know, this is the best irish shot out there- 1/3 Jamison, 1/3 Baileys and 1/3 Irish Mist (we had to substitute Amaretto, because an irish pub didn’t have Irish Mist). After plowing through this shot with the bartender (who we just taught how to make it), he suggested the “shot of the night”- a Pancake Shot. This 3/4 Jamison, ¼ Butterscotch Schnapps shot, followed by Orange Juice tasted just like a Pancake. It was crazy.  Oh yeah, they had beer too. Ithaca Cascazilla (a pun from the stream that runs through town and Godzilla) was a hopped up red ale that we ordered a few of.
There, we met a wedding party (wedding was the next day), who insisted on tasting the Pancake shot- multiple followed.  After being informed of the short night (bars stop serving at 1 a.m.), we ordered a last round, then headed over for some pizza on the commons, back to the hotel to rest up for the next day. Overall, it was a fun night of booze, food and friends (old and new).