Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beer Club (October 18. 2013)

Despite heading into cooler weather, no dark styles in the mix this week. Not a problem.

• Arcadia IPA (Arcadia Brewing Company)
• Beyond the Pale Pale Ale (Fish Brewing Company)
• Caldera Pale Ale (Caldera Brewing Company)
• Hunchback (Evil Genius Beer Company)
• Just IPA (The Just Beer Project)
• Kind Ryed (Otter Creek Brewing)
• SweetWater IPA (SweetWater Brewing Company)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Beer Club (September 20, 2013)

Two thirds of this week's offerings are from west of the Mississippi...

• Black IPA (Otter Creek Brewing)
• Flipside Red IPA (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
• India Pale Ale (Avery Brewing Company)
• King's Peak Porter (Uinta Brewing Company)
• Oktoberfest (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
• Vanilla Porter (Breckenridge Brewery)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Beer Club (July 12, 2013)

• All In Amber (Full Pint Brewing Company)
• Circus Boy (Magic Hat Brewing Company)
• Monkey Fist IPA (Shipyard Brewing Company)
• Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA (Flying Dog Brewery)
• Snapperhead IPA (Butternuts Beer & Ale)
• Stranger APA (Left Hand Brewing Company)
• Wildeman Farmhouse IPA (Flying Dog Brewery)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Beer Club (June 21, 2013)

Got a couple of repeats this week -- BUT we also had beers from three previously unrepresented breweries, including a collaboration between a nano and a micro out of eastern Maryland. The Beer Club continues to bring good drinking and new discoveries...

• Bedlam! IPA (Ale Asylum)
• Genesis Dry Hopped Session Ale (Shmaltz Brewing Company)
• Hop Mountain Pale Ale (Old Dominion Brewing Company)
• Loser IPA (Elysian Brewing Company)
• Scratch 'N Sniff Red Rye IPA (collaboration between Pub Dog Brewing and Baying Hound Aleworks)
• Seneca Indian Pale Ale (Mountain State Brewing Company)
• Sprung (Evolution Craft Brewing Company)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Beer Club (May 24, 2013)

A nice variety of styles this week.

• He'Brew Messiah Nut Brown Ale (Shmaltz Brewing Company)
• Headwaters Pale Ale (Victory Brewing Company)
• Saranac Red IPA (Matt Brewing Company)
• Striped Bass Pale Ale (Devils Backbone Brewing Company)
• Sundog Amber Ale (New Holland Brewing)
• Tell Tale Red Ale (Scuttlebutt Brewing Company)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale (Blue Mountain Brewery)

American Craft Beer Week? Yeah, another commercially manufactured observance, but I'll play along. And it's been so long since I posted a review to this blog that I shouldn't turn down an excuse.

Tonight I am sampling Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale from Blue Mountain Brewery out of Afton, Virginia. I have no foreknowledge of this brewery, so this beer will be my first impression. I am sampling it from a can, but the website reveals it is also available in 12 oz. bottles.

When poured into my tumbler, a massive quantity of foam was produced -- as in, the glass was basically full of it and I had to wait for it to collapse a bit before I could pour more from the can. The head is lovely and fluffy like sea foam, and just a slightly pink-tinged off-white. Honestly, I would say that this beer's ability to raise and sustain a head is one of its most remarkable qualities. The liquid itself is an appealing copper-amber color.

I am able to just detect the sweet, citrusy aroma at a distance of two feet. With my nose next to the glass, the smell is like a freshly sectioned grapefruit -- delicious!

The taste is good, too. Straight into an earthy hop flavor that does not completely obscure the barley backbone. Just behind the flavor peak is a distinct hop-derived fruitiness, then a slight re-emergence of grain as the bitterness really kicks in with the aftertaste. The mouthfeel has a nice weight to it, and the overall drinkability is high.

I like pale ales that are structured like this. Nothing mind-blowing going on here, but a commendable brew from this relatively new producer.

Get a load of all this copy on the can:

Nelson County: Yeah, we've been called Virginia's love child, and we're OK with that. Backwoods botanical experiments, hillbilly shine and mountain music... Not bad livin' when you consier it. So put a little authentic Virginia terroir in your mouth with a brew loaded with out farm-grown Cascade hops and deep-drawn foothills water. Got a bite, y'all.

Featured beer:
Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beer Club (May 10, 2013)

• Baltimore Pale Ale (Full Tilt Brewing)
• Farmhouse Summer Ale (Flying Fish Brewing Company)
• Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale (Blue Mountain Brewery)
• Oatmeal Stout (Breckenridge Brewery)
• Starr Pils (Starr Hill Brewery)
• Twisted Pine Hoppy Boy IPA (Twisted Pine Brewing Company)
• Wisteria Wheat (Fordham Brewing Company)

Beer Club (April 26, 2013)

Phil would like you to know that Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Company, formerly an authentic an independent brewery, is now a brand owned and produced by conglomerate SABMiller. We all get suckered sooner or later.

• Diesel (Sixpoint Brewery)
• Henry Weinhard's Woodland Pass IPA (Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Company)
• Hop Hog India Pale Ale (Lancaster Brewing Company)
• Odyssey Imperial IPA (Sly Fox Brewing Company)
• Ruedrich's Red Seal Ale (North Coast Brewing Company)
• Summer Love (Victory Brewing Company)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Beer Club (April 12, 2013)

• Geary's Pale Ale (D.L. Geary Brewing Company)
• Satin Solstice Imperial Stout (Central Waters Brewing Company)
• Extra Special Ale (Yard's Brewing Company)
• Swing Session Saison (Victory Brewing Company)
• Last Chance IPA (Weyerbacher Brewing Company)
• Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale (Flying Dog Brewery)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Beer Club (March 29, 2013)

• Caldera IPA (Caldera Brewing Company)
• Dale's Pale Ale (Oskar Blues Brewery)
• Marooned on Hog Island (21st Amendment Brewery)
• Morning Glory Espresso Stout (Old Dominion Brewing Company)
• Oatmeal Stout (Mendocino Brewing Company)
• Rampant Imperial India Pale Ale (New Belgium Brewing Company)
• The Immortal IPA (Elysian Brewing Company)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rhizing Bines (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery/Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)

Even within the craft brewing industry, known for its spirit of camaraderie, the bond between Milton's Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico, Calif., is closer to familial.

The companies collaborated in 2009 and 2011 to brew two iterations of a strong ale they called Life & Limb. Now they have gotten together again to bring out a third beer in the lineage, a double IPA called Rhizing Bines.

Collaborations have been an outgrowth of the craft beer industry's collegial climate for the years. We've seen team-ups between New Belgium and Alpine, Russian River and Avery, and Green Flash and Founders, among many others. Dogfish Head itself has participated in a dozen collabs, notably Saison du BUFF with Stone Brewing Company of Escondido, Calif., and Victory Brewing Company of Downingtown, Pa.

But the Dogfish/Sierra relationship seems to have grown into something special. In a promotional video for the original Life & Limb release, Dogfish founder Sam Calagione (who was just nominated for the third time for a James Beard Award as one of the country's most outstanding brewers) chatted with Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada and one of the true giants of the American beer renaissance.

Calagione joked about the cellarable brew: "Fifteen years from now my ultimate goal would be if Ken's kids were enjoying it with my kids at a beer festival and complaining about how horribly the first-generation people ran those companies."

Three years later, a video released to promote Rhizing Bines features Calagione chatting with 25-year-old Brian Grossman, now a general manager for his father's company. In it, Calagione says the catalyst for the new collaboration was Sierra Nevada breaking ground in 2012 on a production facility in Asheville, N.C.

"With you guys coming to North Carolina to open a brewery on the East Coast," Calagione said, "we thought it would be a fun time to get back together and welcome you to our coast and do something that again speaks of the terroir of our breweries, but is perhaps more in the wheelhouse of what we're known for as brewers."

Life & Limb contained maple syrup from the family farm where Calagione grew up in Massachusetts and Grossman family estate barley from the Sierra Nevada premises in California.

Rhizing Bines has some of the same estate barley, but other contributions are different.

Sierra Nevada loaned to the project a "torpedo" – a canister-like accessory invented by the elder Grossman for optimizing hop utilization during the fermentation stage.

For Rhizing Bines, the torpedo was packed with two kinds of hops: Bravo, a bold superalpha variety, and #644, an experimental hop Grossman describes as having "big floral notes" and "big fruit notes – almost tropical in essence."

Dogfish Head contributed a specially selected Red Fife winter wheat from Anson Mills, a grower of organic heirloom grains in North Carolina. The beer is being brewed with house yeast from both breweries.

Whether it's because of the familial bonds or just the combined prowess of more than 50 years of brewing experience, Rhizing Bines is an outstanding beer. It pours a warm, clear amber color with an impressively dense white head with lots of staying power. The aroma is earthier than expected, with musty hops, yeast and a hint of its 8 percent alcohol.

There is loads of complexity in the taste, all pulled together with deft craftsmanship. It is sweet, but not ponderous like many double IPAs I've had, and there is a malt grain flavor in the middle that brings it down to earth. I pick up notes of butterscotch and cantaloupe. The smooth, glassy mouthfeel lends the impression of a rich, substantial brew.

Rhizing Bines is one of the most appealing beers I've tasted lately. It will pair with food – the brewers suggest barbecued meats or chevre – or would make a good after-dinner sipper. It's in 22-ounce bottles in stores, for about $13 to $14.50, and on tap regionally.

This article appeared in the March 27, 2013 edition of The News Journal (Wilmington, DE)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Beer Club (March 15, 2013)

A fantastic variety in this week's mix-pack!

• G'Knight Imperial Red (Oskar Blues Brewery)
• Toasted Lager (Blue Point Brewing Company)
• Cadillac Mountain Stout (Bar Harbor Brewing Company)
• O’Ryely IPA (Widmer Brothers Brewing)
• Gunpowder Falls German-style Dunkel (Bauernhof Brewing Company)
• Double D Double IPA (Old Dominion Brewing Company)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Philly Craft Beer Festival (March 2, 2013)

On this chilly, cloudy Saturday, I journeyed by car, train, and bus to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for the Philly Craft Beer Festival. More than 80 breweries (at least 23 from Pennsylvania) dispensed samples of their brews under the shelter of two gigantic tents.

Below is a list of the most memorable beers I sampled, along with any specific recollections I can conjur.

Coal Porter - Atlantic Brewing Company (Bar Harbor, ME) This was the first dark beer we tasted that day among an onslaught of IPAs. I was not familiar with Atlantic. They are still quite small, apparently, with distribution only in New England, the mid-Atlantic, and Ohio.

Obovoid Oak-Aged Oatmeal Stout - Boulder Beer Company (Boulder, CO) This was served on nitro, so it had a dense, creamy head and velvety mouthfeel, even above what you'd already expect from an oatmeal stout. The woody note was nicely integrated with the dark malts. A real treat!

Rye Stout - Lavery Brewing Company (Erie, PA) Very roasty, with a substantial rye spiciness. I didn't tasting anything else all day that was quite like this. Props to tiny Lavery!

Rugbrød - The Bruery (Placentia, CA) A Danish-style dark rye ale -- can't claim to have had one of those before. Bread and toffee, with a sudden turn toward Belgian-type sourness at the end. Very unusual.

Stegmaier Porter - Lion Brewery, Inc. (Wilkes-Barre, PA) The venerable old Stegmaier brand is perpetuated by the Lion Brewery, and this porter is very solid, with deep malt flavor and that faint smokiness I love in porters.

Chocolate Stout - Appalachian Brewing Company (Gettysburg, PA) This was the last beer I sampled in the first tent, and it was among the best. Super dense and chocolatey. The pour was far more generous than the supposed 2 oz. limit, but I definitely wanted more.

Hop Karma Brown IPA - Terrapin Beer Company (Athens, GA) To my surprise, one of the best beers I tasted all day. Nice caramel, crème brûlée flavor -- somewhat reminiscent of Tröegs' Flying Mouflan, hands down my favorite beer of the 2012 International Great Beer Expo.

Ground Break American-style Saison - Ithaca Beer Company (Ithaca, NY) I loved the slightly heavy mouthfeel of this beer, and its apricot fruitiness and lemony but not overstated hop contribution.

Doppelbock - Cottrell Brewing Company (Pawcatuck, CT) Although their website declares them "the oldest continuously brewed and bottled beer in Connecticut," Cottrell was another new discovery for me. I was impressed that this flavorful doppelbock was able to cut through my palate fatigue so late in the day and make a strong showing.

Rise Up Stout - Evolution Craft Brewing Company (Salisbury, MD) My very last sample at the end of three hours of tasting. The ex-Delaware brewers delivered a wonderfully rich flavor in their coffee stout. I am told that they are doing remarkable things with their barrel-aged and blended Menagerie series, but, alas, it was too much to hope that they would bring their top-end products to a festival.

Apart from a slightly chaotic situation with the bus queues for returning to the subway terminal, this was a very enjoyable event that offered many new discoveries. Time to consider buying tickets to the International Great Beer Expo in June.

Beer Club (March 1, 2013)

• Genesis Dry Hopped Session Ale (Shmaltz Brewing Company)
• New Albion Ale (Boston Beer Company)
• Righteous Ale (Sixpoint Brewery)
• Bête Blanche Tripel (Elysian Brewing Company)
• Scarlett Red Rye (Speakeasy Ales & Lagers)
• Old Heathen Imperial Stout (Weyerbacher Brewing Company)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Beer Club (February 1, 2013)

Peak Organic and Southampton grace our Beer Club's brewery list for the first time. (Technically we've not had a Fordham beer either, although we have had three from Old Dominion.) Also glad to see seldom-submitted local brewers Sly Fox again. It's all about discovery!

• Samuel Adams Cream Stout (Boston Beer Company)
• Hop Noir (Peak Organic Brewing Company)
• Biere De Garde (Southampton Publick House)
• Odyssey Imperial IPA (Sly Fox Brewing Company)
• Ram's Head IPA (Fordham Brewing Company)
• Baba Black Lager (Uinta Brewing Company)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Beer Club (January 18, 2013)

We've got a great variety of styles this week from all over the planet. Looking forward to making my way through these.

• Dominion Baltic Porter (Old Dominion Brewing Company)
• Full Sail IPA (Full Sail Brewery)
• Red Rocket Ale (Bear Republic Brewery)
• Sky High Rye (Arcadia Brewing Company)
• St. Rogue Red Ale (Rogue Ales)
• Theakston Old Peculier (T & R Theakston Ltd.)
• Wolaver's Alta Gracia Coffee Porter (Otter Creek Brewing Company)

"Kettle to the Medal" finale

In the narrow, high-windowed brewhouse of Wilmington's Iron Hill Brewery, a hose trailed down from one of the shiny steel fermenting tanks into a bucket filled with a sterile solution. The water bubbled, sometimes in ferocious bursts, blowing up an enormous, fluffy crown of foam and yeast from a batch of Riverfront IPA recently moved into the tank.

The bucket's ebullience set the right tone, and its comical gurgling was a good conversation-starter as the narrow confines of the brewhouse -- one of the few places you would not choose to socialize in this spacious venue -- began to fill up with people.

The long-awaited judging of Spark's Kettle to the Medal competition was underway, and those filing in were beer enthusiasts from all walks of life who had been invited to serve on the judging panel for the event. Among them were distributors, restaurant insiders and accomplished amateur homebrewers.

Everyone was directed to a high table bisected by a wide strip of masking tape. One side of the divider was marked "A" and offered 4 oz. samples of a brown ale. The other side, marked "B," supplied samples of a different but similar-looking beer. Which one tasted better?

No one was more eager answer that question than I was, because beer "A" was mine -- my first attempt at homebrewing, as previously documented in these pages. Beer "B" was the maiden effort of Spark editor Rob Kalesse, who also brewed up the idea of the competition.

Beer lovers tend to be pretty sociable, and on this evening I witnessed many a happy tableaux of old friends, former coworkers, and professional peers hugging and catching up on each others' lives before turning to the solemn business of sipping homemade beer.

Before long there were so many people packed into the brewhouse that it was hard to wind a course to the far end of the room to dispose of empty glasses. Standing clear of the ebullient bucket also became challenging.

I was excited to have our beers critiqued by folks who are comfortable throwing around terms like "diacetyl" and "acetaldehyde." It was also nice that others who don't know those words would be giving an opinion from their gut.

Through an admirable and uncharacteristic show of restraint, my opponent and I had both avoided popping bottles for an advance taste test, so we were preparing to experience our first sip of what we had made. I was almost as eager to taste Rob's as I was to finally taste my own. I snagged a snifter from each side of the dividing line and prepared to face destiny.

I started with mine, of course. I liked the way it looked in the glass -- not quite as dark as I'd hoped, but a nice, warm amber brown with decent clarity. The aroma was pleasant but subdued, despite my use of slightly more finishing hops than the recipe called for. English brown ales are not known for a big aroma, I reassured myself. We're still in this fight.

First impression upon sipping? It was... not half bad. Not all good, either, but not half bad. The carbonation was mild -- along the lines of a cask conditioned ale -- but enough to evade the nightmare scenario of dispensing flat beer to an expectant crowd.

My main concern was that the flavor would not be bold enough to impress the judges. There didn't seem to be any predominant offensive flavors, but there could have been a little more intensity overall. I hid my affiliation with beer "A" as I mingled and anxiously probed the judges (including my contest advisor, brewmaster Ric Hoffman of Stewart's Brewing Company) for clues about which submission they preferred.

How did beer “B,” Kalesse's ale, turn out? His had a stronger aroma, but there was a slight pungency that didn't appeal to me. I was aware that his team had tinkered with the recipe's hop ratio, too, and they clearly went at it with a slightly heavier hand.

This worried me some, as I figured the judges might share the widespread American preference for hops. Rob's beer also seemed to have more overall flavor and fuller carbonation -- which vexed me, since we both bottled on the same day.

From snippets of overheard conversation and the odd glimpse of a poorly folded ballot card, I was convinced by the middle of the event that my beer was going down in defeat. My consolation was that it had been a very fun and educational process. But I would still be disappointed if I lost.

Around 7:30 p.m., the designated vote counter -- an ostensibly impartial party who happens to be the the girlfriend of Rob's advisor -- whisked the ballot box into the back room. She emerged a short while later and announced the tally: beer "A" had received 25 votes, and beer "B" had garnered 22. (Kalesse recounted and I still won. I guess she really was impartial.)

It was no landslide, but I had won the honor I'd been after for six nerve-racking weeks. And even though the medal that Iron Hill brewmaster Brian Finn hung around my neck was the plastic kind you get in 12-packs for a dollar, it still felt pretty sweet to wear.

A few days later, after the veil of anonymity was lifted, I visited Hoffman at Stewart's for some direct feedback -- and for a pint of his celebrated oyster stout. (The beer's GABF silver medal is well-deserved: this stout has a super smooth texture, with subtle, slightly smoky flavor and a delightfully dense, creamy head.)

Four days after his initial encounter with beer "A," now re-branded as StormDawg Brown, Hoffman poured a glass of it and noted, "The carbonation has come up a bit. You're in good shape there."

We sipped. We pondered. "Needs more flavor," I honestly assessed. "How do I fix that next time?"

"You'll affect that by using more specialty grains," Hoffman said. One fundamental issue with malt extracts is that they ferment quite completely, not leaving behind much residual sugar to contribute flavor and body. "That thinner character is one reason a lot of people move on from extracts to all-grain brewing."

If you do stick to extract brewing, Hoffman said, one simple way to improve your beer is to avoid preassembled kits. Piece together the ingredients for your recipes from the homebrew store or from a reputable mail-order supplier. "You don't know how long that kit has been sitting there, and you don't know how long ago the grain got milled. You should mill the grain as short a time as possible before you use it, otherwise it can impart a stale character."

Reviewing the mechanics of my brew day step-by-step, Hoffman stopped me when I described teabag-style dunking the mesh bag of specialty grains. My naive idea was to extract as many sugars as possible from the bag.

"You want to be careful with that," he cautioned. "Do you taste a slight astringency in your beer?" Yes, I do notice a premature drying out of the flavor -- and at least one of the Kettle to the Medal judges mentioned the same quality in his tasting notes. "That could be where that's coming from. You want as few grain particles in there as you can get."

Armed with my medal and Hoffman's great feedback -- and anticipating a call for a grudge match from Kalesse -- I am inspired to take another stab at this homebrewing thing. But, I mused aloud, do I really have time for it, with two kids, a demanding job and other hobbies?

"Makes a good excuse for beer drinking on the weekends," Hoffman grinned devilishly. Thanks, Ric, but that happens to be one thing I am not short on.

Grateful acknowledgement to Mr. Thom Thompson for lending me his brewing rig (twice) and for sharing his experience and a few of his beers.