Friday, July 29, 2011

That Certain Something

August 4th has been dubbed the first, official International #IPA day. Needless to say I'm a little excited. The idea of folks across the globe raising a pint, in celebration of something so near and dear to my heart is It does bring-up a question or two. Why IPA? Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love a great mango-piney-juicy-peach-hits-you-in-the-back-of-the-throat American hop bomb; and the mellow, caramel-dipped, earthy, English versions are down right tasty as well. But again, I ask why IPA? What is it about India Pale Ale that has captured the imagination of so many people across the world? It seems to have a Svengali-like hold over craft beer drinkers unlike any other beer.

Do you think it's a bit hopped-up?
I've heard the argument that IPAs are gateway beers—those most likely to be tried first by drinkers new to craft beer. I don't buy it. If I were introducing someone to craft beer—especially someone unfamiliar with beer, in general—IPA would be the last beer I'd pick as an introduction. That's like letting a sixteen-year-old, drive Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4. They might like it, but more than likely, it's just going to scare the shit out of them.

Right now the Lionheart has on four IPAs—Stone, Southern Tier, Victory Hop Devil and Dogfish Head 90-Minute. While I was there, yesterday, I saw one guy buy three of the four in one round—and I was drinking the Victory. So, That seemed to be as good a place as any to ask this simple question—what makes IPA so special? The answer I received from most of the interviewees? A resounding, "I dunno, I just like it." It's a good thing IPA isn't Soylent Green, huh? That wasn't quite the answer I was hoping for, but honestly, I only asked three people, so, you get what you pay for. 

So I put it to you, reader(s). Tell me why you think IPA is so beloved. Where do you think the mystique behind this hoppy treat, lies? 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I've Made an Ass Out of You and Me

It's like looking in the mirror.
Ah yes, assumption. The calling card of the over-confident.

I've broken a cardinal rule of journalism (Journalism? This is journalism—really?) I assumed, and proceeded to state that assumption—without evidence—publicly. That, then came back to bite me in the ass(umption). Allow me to elaborate. This past Monday, Alan posted a review of Full Sail Brewing's LTD 5 Amber Lager, in which he asked the questions:
Are national craft and regional craft at odds with each other? Was a New York craft brewer displaced by this come from away? Should that matter?
Those are valid questions. From that point he continued to review the Oregon beer quite favorably. Everything to that point was cool, until Captain Know-it -All—a.k.a, Me—popped off, in the comment section, with this gem:
I think Full Sail has a distribution agreement with AB, similar to Goose Island. That whole concept is a bit of a Catch-22, for me. On one hand I like both breweries and I'm happy I can get their beer. On the other it's just another way to feed AB and, just like you said, possibly displace a local or regional craft brewer.
Followed by this turd:
Correction, SABMiller, rather than AB. 
Therein lies the problem. Full Sail has been independently operating since, not 2007, not 1997, but in fact 1987—Making them one of Oregon's earliest established craft brewers. They are employee owned and operated and one of the largest craft breweries in the country. They are distributed to the Northeast in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts in a partnership with L. Knife & Son Companies. In the last three years, Full Sail has won 11 business/brewery awards and more than 150 beer medals and awards over the last 20 years.

Does that say "AB" or "SABMiller" anywhere? No, it does not. Does that say, "one of the largest craft breweries in the country." Yes, it does. Excuse me one moment as I remove my foot from my rather large and loud mouth. I have learned a valuable lesson today and the next time I decide to comment on something I know nothing about, I'll look before I leap. With that, I'd also like to apologize to the crew at Full Sail, again (I've already apologized on Alan's blog.) I'm sorry to involve your brewery in a conversation that was better off not being had in the first place. I am a fan of your beer and I hope to continue to be able to get your fantastic product in the future. Please—please—take me with a grain of salt. Everything but the apology, at least.

Back to the one reader I have left—If you are lucky enough to get Full Sail beers or their Session lagers, they really are worth trying. Their IPA is a real treat and it's definitely not brewed, bottled, distributed or anything else, other than by the good people of Hood River Oregon!

UPDATE: Shortly after this post was posted, I recieved a very gracious email from Irene Firmat, founder and CEO of Full Sail. She accepted my apology and then socked me in the mouth. Okay, she didn't do that last part—but I would have let her, if she asked. She did, honestly, offer to buy me a beer if I ever made out out to Hood River, and that's way more than I deserve!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Turf War

The bustle of Flatbush Avenue dulls to a hum at the end of the dark alley. The warm orange glow of the nearby city lights forms a muted cap over the cavernous walls of warehouses and tenements buildings. The light from a few lone windows, high above the backstreet, casts down on shadowy figures. The men work silently, loading heavy barrels onto an open bed truck. Only a distant caterwaul breaks the eerie stillness. Without warning, a car's headlamps slice through the darkness—like a scalpel through flesh—illuminating the workers, their truck, and it's payload. The men freeze, blinded by the white light, as the the car's door opens. Hard-soled shoes snap against cobble. A figure steps into the light and is silhouetted by car's dual beacons. Metal slides against metal, and ends with a clack. A deafening BRRRAAATTTTT! BRAAAAATTTT! explodes from the figure as .45 caliber slugs smash into the oak barrels. Men dive for safety as wooden staves splinter and fly—a wave of foamy beer, cascades over the truck bed. Brass shell casing tinkle as they fall to the stone street. The scene is silent once again. The figure speaks before returning to the car, "Yous guys tell Oliver, 'dis is Sixpoint territory, now—capisce?" The car screams backwards and disappears into the city as police sirens wail on their approach.

Okay, I may have expressed a little dramatic license on the side of good story telling. I'm sure the guys at Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint Craft Ales get along fine. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's no animosity between the two breweries at all. The seven-year-old, Redhook brewery has however, made major in-roads into what was at one time, exclusively Brooklyn's stomping grounds. On a meteoric rise to become one of the Big Apple's most popular draught, craft brewer's, the up-start has now delved in to the world of canned beer, offering four styles—Crisp a pilsner-esque lager, Righteous Ale, an amber, Bengali Tiger IPA, of which Chad just reviewed, and Sweet Action—the brewery's best seller. While all of this canning and growing has been going on, Brooklyn Brewery hasn't been sitting on it's hands, either. Since 1988, that brewery has built itself into one of the most recognized and respected craft beer producers in the U.S. It's Local #1, #2 and Double Chocolate Stout are arguably some of the best craft beers in the U.S. Brooklyn beers are now available across the eastern seaboard and southern U.S.; in Canada and six European countries; as well as in Hong Kong and Tokyo—Not too shabby, eh? Although criticised for contracting brewing some of it's beer to Matt Brewing Co., in Utica, New York, recently Brooklyn has brought a good portion of it's brewing operation back to Williamsburg.

As I mentioned before, the punk kid—Sweet Action—is Sixpoint's most popular beer and best seller, while the Don of New York craft beer is Brooklyn's venerable Lager—also that brewery's top seller—not to mention one of the historically most popular craft beers in the entire city. So what do these beer bring to the party? I decided to find out for myself.

Brooklyn Lager takes it's inspiration from the pre-Prohibition, all malt lagers of the early 1900s. So, in a sense, this beer isn't that much different than the beer federal agents, smashed their way through barrels of, during the dark days of forced teatotalarism, in the 1920s. That in and of itself is pretty cool, but do you know what's even cooler? Brooklyn Lager is a damn good beer. It pours a red-tinted, amber-gold with zippy bubbles, beading upward. It's fruity, slightly citric, and prominently Cascadian hop, aroma is far from subdued—it hit me as soon as I opened the bottle. It's smooth, bordering on creamy, with a sweet, toasted toffee maltiness, and a crisp grass-like, peppery tartness. This is an exceptionally drinkable beer. I've had it countless times, but I'm still amazed at what a great beer this is. This is the beer that hundreds of breweries have longed to make. No matter what Brooklyn does to it's other beer, if they leave this one alone, things are gonna work out.

Sweet Action is, as described by Sixpoint owner Shane Welch, in a Framingham, Massachusetts Metrowest Daily News article, from June 1, 2011, as:
"The Sweet Action is a wickedly original creation," he said. "She said, [speaking about a friend from college] 'I really like pale ales, and I really like wheats and I really like cream ales.' I really made a fusion out of it. It's a great beer."
That covers all the bases, doesn't it? Sweet Action pours a hazy, honey-gold with a frothy head. It's citrusy, almost orangey aroma is a tell-tale, dry hop, give away. This beer gives equal weight to it's nose as it's flavor—and I'm not complaining. Speaking of flavor, Sweet Action brings first, a bready and biscuity, dry maltiness, followed by a great, juicy and sweet, peach-like quality—with a hint of mango and pine. It's bitterness numbs the tongue just slightly, and balances nicely with the earthy malt. Is it a Pale Ale? No. Is is a Cream Ale? Not quite. How about a Wheat Beer? Nope. Personally, it reminds me of the bastard child of a American Pale and a Saison—without all the Belgian yeasty funk. It's bright and fun, with a great hop kick and it's superbly quaffable.

See, there's no need for Tommy guns or muscling in. Wartime consiglieres need not apply. The borough is big enough for for two great breweries. Brooklyn Brewery made it's bones, when craft beer in New York was almost non-existent. Because of that, Sixpoint might not have been anywhere near as successful as they have been. Now, Sixpoint has a chance to learn from one of the best in U.S. craft brewing—and they're just around the corner. On the other side of the coin, a little high-quality competition from the boys south of Atlantic Avenue, might help sharpen Brooklyn up a bit.

What's most important however is that both of these amazing breweries have made me an offer, I can't refuse—drink our beer and be happy!

On a side note: Brooklyn Brewery's logo and packaging was created by graphic design giant, Milton Glaser. You might recognize Glaser's, I Love NY logo and Bob Dylan's, DYLAN album cover.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Goldings taste like Goldings—the Snozzberries taste like Snozzberries!

I scooted down the pub after work today, with my friend Aaron, for my 15th or 16th pint of Bombardier this week. Sitting at the bar, beating the heat in air-conditioned opulence, he nonchalantly asked if I had seen Samuel Adam's Latitude 48: Deconstructed, sampler pack. To which I replied, "Latitude 48: Deconstructed?" inquisitively. This is not surprising, I'm usually behind the times on things like this. According to the interwebs, it was released in May, but my mind's been on the Bombardier lately. He was however, kind enough to explain the whole concept—which I'll get to in a bit.

For those of you who don't know, Latitude 48, is Sam Adam's hop heavy IPA from their Brewmaster Collection. The name is derived from the use of five hop varieties—Hallertau Mittelfruh, East Kent Golding, Zeus, Ahtanum, and Simcoe—all grown near the 48th parallel. An homage to the world's hop belt, as it were. Since the majority of the world's hops are grown in the area around the 48th, Sam did not lack for variety to choose from. Although the 48th never actually crosses the UK, so the EKGs may have been a stretch, but I digress.

I've had Lat 48, a few times, it's a good beer. A deep amber that's well balanced with a nice malty tone and a hop forward bite. What I never thought about was how that mix of hops—the hoppy terroir—really affected the rest of the beer. Aaron explained that the Boston Beer Company has just given us the opportunity to do that. The "deconstructed" variety pack offers two regular, old bottles of Lat 48 and two bottles each, highlighting one of the five hop belt hops used in making original beer. That's just brilliant. It's beer-nerdy, without being over the top beer-nerdy. It sounds like the brewers at Sam were just sitting around and said, "Hey man ya' know what would be cool..." and BAM! A cool sampler pack was born. I may have made it sound like pot was involved, but that's just my interpretation.

I like Sam Adams, but I've never beer totally over the moon about them. They make some pretty good stuff, but they are not my usual go to guys. However, I have to say, I'm excited to try this. Single hop beers aren't a particularly new idea, but I don't think that's the point. How often do you get to try, essentially, the same beer—same malt, same water, same everything—with the only difference being the hop variety— side by side—to boot. EKGs and Zeus are about as opposite as they come and this variety pack offers the drinker the opportunity to really see how those little green devils affect the end product. This is a hop head's wet dream. I really have to give the Boston Beer Company big ups for this idea. Along with Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp sampler pack, I'd go as far as to say it's one of the most interesting things I've seen an American brewer do in quite a while.

So I say, cheers to you Latitude 48: Deconstructed—I'll be seeing you next time at the beer store!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DRANK: Bombardier (English Premium Bitter), Wells & Young's, Ltd., Bedford, UK (England) - DRAUGHT

Have I mentioned that I love bitter? Yes, I think I may have.

Bitter's are steadfast, nose-to-the-grindstone beers—subltle and quiet. They don't need to be pitch black or strong or hopped-up to. They step in—smooth and unassuming—and get the job done. If American pales are loud and brash, like Al Pacino, then bitters are aloof and focused like Ray Winstone. All of this makes it the perfect beer to be ignored in the U.S. Leading to both a lack of demand and therefore, a limited available supply. This leaves me with either the nitrogen fed, diacytal-ridden, stale abominable versions of Old Speckled Hen, Boddingtons and Tetley's or four-year-old, oxidized, clear bottles of  The Tanner's Jack and Hen's Tooth.

What we never get is fresh, proper Britsh bitter.


Have I mentioned that I love the Lionheart? Yes, I think I may have.

Now, as my faithful reader(s) knows I've been away this past week. Yesterday was my first time down the pub in ten days. I thought a trip might be in order; when to my wondering eye should appear, but a red cross on a white fielded, tap handle. A tap handle so pronounced that it smote all of it's beery competition—just as the Saint, that begot the same red and white symbol, slayed the dragon. All other beers offered, pale in comparison and fade into darkness. The tap gives forth it's gift—ruddy-amber, settling still and crowned with a delicate ivory froth. It has but one purpose—to be drank.

Long story short, I was a tad excited about the Bombardier. I've thought about reviewing it, but c'mon, my opinion might be little skewed—I just said it's tap smote all it's competitors for cripe's sake. My opinion is fairly obvious at this point. Either way, I've been rather happy these last two days, and I'll stay that way until the bitter runs out.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The South Shall Rise Again

Brock giving his speil during a tour.
Earlier in the week I mentioned that the south has been a bit slow to catch on to craft brewing, or even just craft beer, for that matter. I also mentioned that South Carolina however, has started to embrace it. Well, some fellas' down in Myrtle Beach are darn right bear-hugging it. New South Brewing is Myrtle Beach's first, and as far as I know, only craft brewery. There are a few brew pubs, but New South is the only true brewery operating in the Grand Strand. The brewery itself is tucked away amongst Myrtle Beach's lumber warehouses and it's wind and sand blown exterior hides a cool, 20 to 25 seat tasting room. The bar sits adjacent to a chemistry room, plastered with beer posters from other breweries, and overlooks the stainless fermenters of the main room. My dad and I stopped by on Thursday and we got a chance to shoot the shit with Brewer, Brock Kurtzman and Operations Manager Roddy Graham, and they gave us the low-down on New South.

Opened in 1998 by David Epstien, the brewery initially started as the draught-only, proprietary brewery for the South Carolina based, T-Bonz restaurant group. As the brewery's reputation grew, so did demand. Fast forward ten years to the next phase of New South's rise—the canning machine. In 2009, New South began canning it's flagship, and wildly popular white ale—A crisp Belgian style wit with all the hallmarks of that classic style and a light body and sessionable quality. The brewery utilizes a 20 bbl system and produces on average 2,500 barrels a year, although this year has been particularly good so they expect closer to 3,000. Along with the white ale New South now produces six beers—a lager, a nut brown, an oktoberfest, an IPA and Kurtzman's favorite, their Dark Star Porter. New South is being distributed across South Carolina and is making it's way into North Carolina and Georgia, as well.

Now, it hasn't been all picnics and unicorn farts for the boys at New South. South Carolina's laws can be a little behind the times, especially when it comes to booze. It's actually been a tough row to hoe. According to Roddy Graham, as of three years ago they weren't even allowed to drink any of the beer they produced on the brewery premise—let alone have a tasting room! That may have made brewing a bit challenging, but the brewery charged ahead, anyhow. Another stumbling block came with the State's maximum level of 6% ABV for beer. Years of lobbying with the state's other breweries and wholesalers alliance finally resulted in the raising of the limit.

Roddy and a white ale
Part of New South's success is the enthusiasm of their head brewer, Brock Kurtzman. I asked him how he got involved with the brewery and in a nut shell, he said he graduated from Coastal Carolina University with a microbiology degree and promptly went to work as a bartender. After meeting David Epstien though the T-Bonz group, he convinced Epstien to let him clean kegs. One thing led to another an Brock worked his way up the ladder—of stale beer, steam and caustic—eventually brewing his first batch of beer ever with New South. Oh, by the way, that batch was 750 gallons—You home brewer's are crying your eye out right now, aren't you? What impressed me about Brock was his obvious intention to move forward. No laurel resting for this guy. As we were talking he was sipping on a prototype Black IPA he's been tinkering on his with his brand new ten-gallon system.

Now, you might say, big whup? What brewery doesn't do that? And you're right, a lot do use small systems to perfect recipes; but New South is in a unique position. First off, it's in an area where three years ago they had both kinds of beer Bud and Bud Lite, so local palates might not be used to some styles. Secondly, and most importantly— Myrtle Beach is hot. I mean fucking hot. On Wednesday the heat index was 115º. The smaller system really allows them to fine tune their beers. Of their six offerings, I've had three—The lager, white and nut brown. All have been full of flavor, exceptionally slaking and surprisingly light bodied. Even the nut brown, while bringing both chocolate and caramel tones, still was lithe and easy to drink—even on a day well into the 90ºs. Roddy summed it up best when he said, "We're brewing for our environment, and we don't have a problem with that." This is all not to say that New South won't produce a Dry Stout for St Paddy's day, but they are well aware of where the proverbial bread is buttered. Their beers are intentionally light bodied and their white ale is a perfect example of this. It was originally produced as a summer seasonal, then put on as a stable beer, upon request from the local restaurant community. The public demanded light and refreshing and who were the boys at New South to argue?

So, all said and done—I went. I saw. I drank. And so should you. Plan a trip to South Carolina, go to the beach, see an alligator, and then grab your growler and stop down and see the boys at New South Brewing. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Homeward Bound

Today's our last day in Dixie. We'll be heading back north over the next few days, so no posts until the weekend. Fear not, faithful reader(s) there will be one last southern-fried adventure for you to live vicariously through. Check back over the weekend and I'll tell you about my new buds Brock and Roddy.

If you're on I-95 Northbound today, honk and wave—Or give me the finger. Trust me, you won't be the only one to do that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Latitude Adjustment

You know what I love about coming to South Carolina? You might say it's the thousands of bright magenta and white blooms of the state's crape myrtle trees; or the warm, ocean breeze, flapping umbrellas at Huntington Beach State Park. You might think it's a sunset walk along Murrells Inlet's boardwalk that parallels it's beautiful salt water marsh; or even the fresh scallops, grouper, shrimp and oysters offered up by every restaurant along the Grand Strand. You'd be right. I do love all of those things. Although there's another thing I love—all of the little beery differences. The things I can only wish for in New York. The Christmas morning like anticipation of beery gifts. The south has been a little slow to catch onto the craft beer craze, but recently, South Carolina seems to have embraced it.

Shiner Bock and some friends.
Saturday was our first full day in Conway, so a quick* trip to Kroger, for some malty treats, was in order. Kroger's selection is good, offering the standard grocery store American macro fare, along with beers from Terrapin Brewery, out of Athens, Georgia and New Belgium products, both unavailable in Albany. What got me, however, was Shiner Bock—the beer that built Texas. I actually could feel my heart race when I saw the six pack. I've been told it's available in New Jersey, but I've never seen it, not that I'm in Jersey that often, anyhow. I can see why this simple little beer, crafted in a simple little town is so popular. This crisp, sweet, lager really lives up to it's neck label's description as a delightfully drinkable dark beer. Genny Bock is great, but Shiner plays second fiddle to no one. Any idea when Shiner is really amazing? When it's boiled with fresh clams, shrimp, corn-on-the-cob and baby new potatoes. Throw in some Zatarain's, onion and lemon wedges; boil that all together on the grill and you've got a party.

While the beer selection at Kroger's was good, hands-down the best beer selection I have ever seen in a grocery store, has to be in the Piggly Wiggly. The beer aisle is truly amazing. Here's a very brief run-down: Bells Two Hearted Ale, Great Divide's Samurai Ale, Saison Dupont, North Coast's Acme IPA, Fuller's ESB, London Pride and Porter, a whole bunch of Rogue's best, and just about everything available from Sierra Nevada, this time of the year. There is almost no place in the states unrepresented, let alone the rest of the world, by the wiggliest of pigs beer coolers. PW is like a beverage center that also sells deodorant and frozen pizza. So what did I buy, you ask? South Carolina's own Pig Swig Pig Tail Ale. Never hoid of it? That's because this fantastic amber ale has just come on the market and it's brewed exclusively for Piggly Wiggly by the Greenville, South Carolina brewery–Thomas Creek. This beautiful little beer pours deep copper with a rich, creamy off-white head and brings a sweet caramel aroma. It's decidedly tart with a nice plum and stone-fruit quality and it's bitterness, while there, doesn't overpower. Talk about being pleasantly surprised!

Some of Bubba's love.
Okay, enough about grocery stores. As of yesterday, the best South Carolinian beer experience for me, has to be last night. Amy and I do a date night once a trip to South Carolina. It has to involve three things—the marsh-sided village of Murrells Inlet, seafood and no children. This year was no different. The locals like to refer to their amazing home as a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem. The main drag, Highway Buisness 17, is lined with restaurants and ice cream shops, bars and marinas, and backs-up to one of the most amazing salt water marsh in the entire continental United States. I'm not exaggerating here, it really is breathtaking. Boats bob along the boardwalk and ruddy workers scrub their fiberglass decks after a hot day on the water. Shore birds float overhead and that amazing sea air fills your lungs. It's really and truly perfect.

After a tasty dinner of broiled, fresh seafood —while overlooking the swaying marsh grass and rolling tide—we ended up, at the quintessential coastal South Carolina beach bar, and most appropriately named, Bubba's Love Shak. Popping a squat we spent an hour teetering in Bubba's brightly painted rocking chairs, watching both the snowy egrets and tourists walking past our perch. I sat and truly relaxed—forgetting about work, the drive home or any other bothersome issue—nursing a (frustratingly unavailable in New York) Bell's Oberon, as the sun dipped below the palmettos behind us.

Spiritual Nirvana, perhaps. Beery Nirvana, most definitely.

*Anyone who has travelled any distance on South Carolina Highway 501 between 9am and 9pm during the months of May through September, knows that there is nothing quick about this road. The traffic lights have the ability to turn from red to green and then warp the space time continuum. People have lived whole lifetimes waiting for those lights.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I Wish I Was in the Land of Cotton... Wait A Minute, I Am.

860 miles with two kids under the age of five; bobbing and weaving around every truck on the eastern seaboard and torrential down pours in Nowheresville, Pennsylvania. Think I really needed a beer? You betcha'. But, where could one find great beer on such a toddler affected interstate sojourn? The Rite-Aid in Ashland, Virginia, of course! After a phenomenal dinner at the Virginia Barbecue Company, (the baked beans and hush puppies are spectacular!) Amy and I thought we should stock up on some snacks for the next day's drive. I should have guessed I'd be in for a treat as I watched the clouds split open and a beautiful, golden column of light shone down from the heavens on to the refrigerated section of the pharmacy—but what did I know? As the six pack levitated into my open arms, (I may have begun to hallucinate from barbecue and road fatigue, at this point) I shed a tear right there amongst the Gatorade and Funions.

Legend Brown Ale you have delivered me.

I'm not going to do a full review on this one, other than to say it really hit the spot. Although gasoline mixed with hillbilly urine, probably would have done the trick at that point. Legend Brewery is a Richmond based brewery and brew pub offering a variety of styles from porter to hefewiezens. The brown was a solid American-style brown with a northern English, chocolate malt slant. Back in the hotel room the beer's malty richness helped to settle my leftover road rage and mellow the searing pain between my eyes. The kids preformed a circus act and used the Holiday Inn Express's bed as a trampoline—Ten hours in a car might have left them a bit rambunctious and the longer than usual naps probably didn't help either. As the kids bounced around the room like two superballs, I laid in a semi-fetal position, across an arm chair and ottoman, suckling the smooth, brown liquid from it's bottle. Slowly I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of  tractor-trailerless open roads.

Did I mention that I really needed a beer?

More beery adventures from the Palmetto State, to come later in the week.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Beer: A Genuine Collection of Cans

I'm going to be doing a bit of traveling this week, so expect my next post sometime this weekend. In the meantime, check out a video with twangy music while a guy flips through a book about beer cans.

The book looks pretty cool. Think of it as beer porn—with pics of beer cans instead of naked ladies (I'm not selling this very well, am I?) Anyway, you can get your own copy here, or just check what the rest of the book has to offer. It seems to play to the graphic-designer-who-loves-beer market. I fill that niche quite nicely.

See ya' this weekend.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The drinkdrank Interview: Mike Proctor of the Lionheart Pub

You may have picked up on this, but I want to officially state it:

The Lionheart is frickin' awesome.

I'm planning on doing a full scale post on the bar itself, but I wanted to showcase just one of the many reasons why I love this place. Mike Proctor has been working in bars around Albany for the past twelve years—ten of which have been behind the bar at the Lionheart. Along with being a great barman, Mike is also responsible, not only for slinging beer, but also figuring out what needs to be slung. He's in charge of keeping thirty-two taps flowing with the best craft beer available; and he does a damn good job of it. Saison Dupont, Dogfish Head World Wide Stout and Pretty Things Fluffy White Rabbits are just a few of the beers I've had the pleasure of quaffing, due to Mr. Proctor's diligence. Mike was kind enough to sit down with me, and give an insight into the retail end of the craft beer biz. Here's how it went:

Have you always been into beer, or does it just come with the bar tending territory?

Yeah, during college I drank plenty of swill and garbage like the vast majority of people. I've always been the type that preferred variety and try to find different things... There's that and more than likely, a healthy amount of boredom that got me drinking other beers. You start with, ya' know, Bad Frog and a bunch of other horrible things... Slowly but surely you wind your way up—at that point it was with Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, which were just starting to pick up in the mid to late nineties.

So, how do you decide on the beer for the Lionheart?

I look at two things, mainly—I look seasons and I also look for role players. Here, about eight to ten taps rotate through out the year. I try to have, say at Christmas time, a spiced ale. I also like to have something hoppy on tap, that's a little bit bigger—your Double IPAs, or something you'd classify as an Imperial style. Something hoppy, something malty. Invariably, no matter what time of year, someone is going to ask for something dark and black—even if it's in July.

You also have to look at what breweries are up and coming. Who's hot, who's not, and what you can pick out to distinguish yourself from the other business in town. What happens when you start to look around at other bars around town, is that you see a lot of the same draughts—it's gotten a lot better, but there's still a cookie-cutter, tap-line stamp that you can see throughout town.

What your most popular craft beer?

Import, it's Guinness. Craft—if you want to argue it—would be Blue Moon. If not, it would probably be our Sam [Adams] Seasonal.

What surprised you as a beer you thought was going to do really well, but ended up flopping?

I put on, at the same time, Rogue Dead Guy—which is still on and still a solid performer, every week—and Red Seal Pale Ale. I really liked that beer, and I still do. I thought, "Wow! How can this miss?" I was more worried about the Rogue—it's got a cool tap handle and all—but I didn't guess at the time, that it would have as much celebrity as it did when I put it on. The Red Seal just stayed there. I really thought it would do better. It just goes to show you one of the unfortunate things, in any business, you can take a product, that's well made, deserving of praise, adequately priced—just an all-around nice, solid product, and there's no guarantee that it will do well. Someone working really hard on it, won't make a difference in the end game, unfortunately. (laughs)

What have you really wanted to get in, but can't?

Pliny. It's in Pennsylvania—Philadelphia—in limited spots. But there's always some beers that I looked at as a challenge to get in. Can I get? Can I get it? How can I finagle it? There's the horse trading part of it that makes it fun. This past year, I was able to check off one of those boxes. I was able to get Dogfish Head World Wide Stout on tap. It's released in lots, twice throughout the year—in kind of a difficult way— and it's not always available. A lot of the stuff that you want to get, means setting up your supply chain, your distributors... A month ago, I finally got a bottle of Sam Adams Utopias. That took—I don't know—eight years for me to get a hold of. I'd been asking for it, consistently, might I add, (laughs) to no avail until this year. Some of it is timing, some of it's getting to know the right people from the brewery—who'll say, "You're the kind of account—the kind of person—we want to sell this to. You won't screw it up or sell it as something it's not."

You mentioned before, hoppy beers and Imperial styles. How do you see those trends affecting your business?

One of the tough parts about a lot of those beer is that they are self-limiting. Stone Brewery is best known for Arrogant Bastard, which is a good beer, I like Stone; but it's seven percent, you can only have so many before you start to feel it. They make other beers that are within the five to five-point-five range. But that one that gets all the attention... With regards to higher ABV, I think there's a little bit of sexiness there. There's a little bit of a challenge. A brewery can say, "We got it this high." People always like to see things go up, not necessarily go down—there might be a human factor in there.

As near as I can tell, you're starting to see an trending down with the big hop bombs. That probably started about two years ago. You started to see stuff peak out—oddly enough when the hop shortage started. Look at any American style—the Harpoon Brewery always does this—I taste it and, it's good—a little too hoppy for the style, but that's just their way of making it their own. It's just a result of the American craft beer palate. 

As far as affecting the business, it gives us more variety. It gives us more options to pick from. Before it was just IPAs and pale ales then all of a sudden you had this, kind-of-cousin to both of them.

Why do you think that session beers and session drinking has not become more popular in the US?

America already has it's session beer—Coors Light and it's Bud Light. Light beers in general are America's way of re-branding the idea of session beers. Light, refreshing beers, that people can have more than three or four, and not worry that they'll be okay the next day. The argument of course, about session beers is: should you stick to the classic style? Transpose the English style and have that apply over here.... There's always a big thing about styles in general—How you should stay true to them, why they're there, and the whole idea of consistency, knowing what to expect and having industry standards. But I think they might be taking them a little too literally. You might be looking at a nice big green tree, but you're missing the forest. Some people don't want to hear it because they, for the lack of a better word, have this prejudice against Bud/Miller/Coors. I know, I get that. That doesn't mean what they are doing, they are not doing well.

What are you drinking at home?

Ya' know I had some Victory Sunrise, last night that I think is really, really good. It's really nicely balanced. I picked up a Sierra Nevada Beer Camp sampler pack, which is a little pricey, but so far it's been worth it. They've got some really nice stuff in there. I've got some Bellhaven cans in the fridge—just their regular ale. I found some Lefthand Oktoberfest bottles, which are excellent. We'll see how they stood-up, since I forgot about them. Ya' dig around in your boxes and all of a sudden you find a bottle. "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that!" You wonder if it's any good, and of course there's only one way to find out.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fourth of July Eve Eve and a shed (Okay, it's a garage)

One the greatest joy in my life is grilling-out on a hot summers day, with beer in hand. The good Dr. McLeod and his "Beer in the Shed" post has given me the perfect excuse to do just that (not that I don't do it everyday, anyhow.) So I give unto you:

The "Alan McLeod Presents: Beer in the Shed Fest 2011," Day 1 Check list: 

Shed. Check (technically it's a garage, but you do with what ya' got.) 

It's shed-like, right?
84º F (29º C). Check 

Sunshine. Check. 

Weber grill. Check 

Kids in kiddie Pool. Check.

Little League coach's shirt. Check 

Kids running through sprinkler. Check. 

Little Tikes Cozy Coupé. Check. (This one is optional) 

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Check, and then check again. 

Homemade Italian sausage patties*, char-grilled to perfection. Smothered in fresh grilled green peppers and tangy Vadalia onions. Topped with toasted Kaiser roll. Served with fresh corn-on-the-cob and chilled Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Check. (I may have written a menu or two in my time.) 


Walk to the local ice cream shop. Check.

Squirt bottle fight. Check

Drinking my last Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, whilst listening to the booms and bangs of fireworks from an unknown locale. Check.

Fourth of July Eve Eve was fun, but today was just Country Joe and the Fish. Tomorrow is Hendrix. 

If it doesn't rain. 

*Homemade Italian Sausage Patties

1 pound cold, store bought ground pork or fresh ground pork shoulder
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder 
1-1/2 tsp ground sage 
1-1/2 tsp crushed rosemary
1-1/2 tsp crushed fennel
1/4 cup ice water 
salt, cracked and crushed red pepper to taste 

Mix all spices into ground pork. Add water. It's going to be mushy, but you need the water to keep the pork moist, during grilling. Form into patties and chill for at least a half hour before cooking. Grill like a burger. Top with grilled Os and Ps. Serve on a toasted bun.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Session 53: 12-Steps to Beer Snob Redemption

Redemption, eh? Well, I have a secret I'd like to come clean about.

My name is Craig and I'm a beer snob.

It's a constant struggle—a one-day-at-a-time effort, but thankfully, I been snob-free for 12 years now.

I do have to clarify my stance, there is a difference between beer nerdiness and beer snobbery. If beer was a sporting event, beer nerds paint their whole body to look like their favorite beer label and wave giant foam bottle openers. Beer nerds are the true believers in al things beery—but harmless otherwise.

Beer snobs are a whole other breed. They are right and you are wrong. End of story, good night Irene. You're beer, recipe, brewery or opinion can never compare to theirs; they are far more educated in the ways of beer, and their palate has been painted gold by Zeus himself—and they'll let you know that. You might know the beer snob by a few other names, like "The-asshole-at the-end-of-the-bar" or "That-guy's-a-dick."

Sound familiar? Yeah, it does. Don't worry, I've been there too, but it doesn't have to happen again. I can help—just follow these 12 easy, steps to beer snob redemption:

1. Admit that your home brew might not always be better than brewery made beer.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure you've made some great beer. But when I say, "Hey! This bock is good," and you say, "yeah, but mine is better." Think about the position you've put me in. Now, I have to fake smile and nod uncomfortably. I've never had your bock, it might taste like the inside of an artifical leg. I'll stick with the one I'm drinking.

2. Come to grips that some people do not like Belgian beers.

Yes, it's true. Funky, yeasty, spicy beer might not be everybody's cup of tea. They are not less of a human being because of this. 

3. Understand that your opinion is not, necessarily the only opinion.

Unless you say Nazis are bad or I'm the most charming man in the room, I might not always agree with you. You may enjoy pig anus flavored beer—more power to you—I'll pass. 

4. Remember that arguing with another beer snob is a pointless, waste of time.

That dude loves Dogfish Head, you love Rogue, you'll never convince each other, otherwise. Talk about religion or politics, the conversation will go smoother.

5. Realize that just because it's a craft brew, does not mean that it is good. 

Momentum, energy and angular momentum cannot be created or destroyed. That's a generally excepted statement of a universal constant. It's funny how there is no mention of all craft beer being awesome. I wonder why that's missing?

6. Don't believe everything you read about beer.

"I just read on, that triple IPA could be the next double IPA." 

Yeah, don't say that in public, you'll sound like an ass.

7. Believe that, "This beer is good" is an acceptable way of describing it. 

What you say: "Oh my! Do you get notes of charred baobab and beaver musk?"

What they think: "This guy is a dick."

8. Know that drinking from the bottle will not kill you.

If you're at a cook-out, and the host doesn't have proper glassware, don't worry, It'll be okay. Look at your plate—you're about to eat a burnt hot dog and warm macaroni salad—having a tulip glass doesn't really matter, does it?

9. Accept that all beer does not have to taste like Pine-Sol or be able to remove furniture varnish.

Not all beer has to burn, when you drink it. This isn't the old west, and you're not ordering rotgut whiskey in the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone. I like spicy food, but I'm not going to put Tabasco on ice cream. Big, hoppy beers are great, but who wants to pass out at the bar with chemical burns around their mouth? Relax, and order a mild.

10. Understand that it is not the waitresses fault, that the restaurant does not serve La Chouffe.

If you don't like the beer that a restaurant offers, order water and shut-up. The server doesn't want to hear you thoughts on the state of craft beer in dining establishments—she just want to be done with her shift, so she can count her tips from the rest of the douchebags she waited on. Don't bother asking for a chalice, either. 

11. Always assume water chemistry, bottle conditioning and IBUs are boring party conversations.

That hot chick in the corner wants you to talk about her, not beer.

12. Admit, to yourself that it's okay to like what you like.

Drinking keg beer, macro lager, stuff not made in Flanders, IPAs with 60 IBUs or Michelada, will not make you less attractive to women or breakout in weeping scabs—and I promise, the kids at school will not make fun of you for it.

There are plenty of others reasons to make fun of you.

This post isn't really about beer at all—it's about behavior; and there's been some pretty bad behavior on-line recently. Beer is supposed to be fun. You drink some great beer, you get a little buzz, you have fun. How is one person more qualified than another to do that? Or for that matter how does the process by which that beer is served, even fit into that equation? I'm not sure why this elitism is rearing it's head, but if there's two things I hope you get from this article—drink what you like and don't be a dick about it.