Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Beer Doesn't Matter, but Actually Does

I've just finished reading Evan Rail's new personal essay, Why Beer Matters. It's truly a phenomenal piece of writing. Rail explores not only his own relationship with beer—how it affects his career, his travel and his writing—but how beer affects everyone associated with it, from brewers to consumers. He takes you on a journey that spans the globe and ends up in his living room. It's a deeply personal and wonderfully beer-geeky experience, that he relates in a easy-to-come-by manner—It really is a fantastic work.

My only issue with it is, beer doesn't matter.

In a era of obese toddlers, car bombs, Somali pirates, multiple myloma, child pornography, global debt crises, oil spills, corrupt and violent political regimes, riotous dissidents, global warming, devastating nuclear disasters, Sarah MacLachlin's sad animals and tens of thousands of other, generally, shitty things—to bastardize a line from the film Casablanca—it doesn't take much to see that beer doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. It really doesn't matter if Mikkeller makes a better product than Budweiser, nor is it any more important if Sierra Nevada moves to North Carolina or South Carolina or the moon (Well, maybe the moon bit might be a fairly unusual turn of events.) I doesn't make one bit of difference what I think, or Evan, or Stan Hieronymus, or Michael Jackson. CAMRA's stalwart position on real ale and the BA's "Passionate Voice of Craft Brewers" are truly unimportant to 99.9% of the world. Beer just doesn't matter.

Here's the thing, though—the amazing thing—beer does matter. I'm not going to analyze the way Evan expresses how beer  matters to him—you can read the essay yourself. To me, beer matters for one, simple, reason—it's a distraction. Whether it's being written about, being talked about or being drank, beer offers a break from the bad stuff. Arguing the finer points of cask versus keg beer is cathartic—even if the argument, gets heated. Where it's made, who's making it, how it's being made and who's drinking it is a non-issue debate that takes the mind off of murder or bad political policy, or even just an evening of the kids not sharing with each other. How many of us have taken a pint at the end of the day to wash away the worry and ware of the work day? It's been done for time immerorial—by our fathers who cracked open a cold one, and walked away from the television as it sputtered the news of a another closing plant or as it showed black, zipped bags being loaded onto green helicopters, lifting off from dense Vietnamese jungles. It was in the workhouses and factories of Victorian London, as men, women and children slaved away in squalorous conditions, for a pittance. Small beer being the only thing to lift their spirits—a half a pint at a time. Beer brings a wonderfully, distractive joy, as well. Cheering on the Mets with a hot dog and an ice cold, frothy, straw-colored lager in a plastic cup at Citi Field; two buddies having an intense discussion of the merits of Cascade versus Centennial hops in this weekend's upcoming brew session; a third or forth pint raised and paid for by the lads, down to pub, in congratulations on the birth of the first granddaughter; or in my own case, the simple joy of just writing about beer, is distraction enough. Whatever the circumstances—good, bad, or ugly—we're still talking about and drinking beer, and there are plenty of things far worse that could be occupying our time and discussions.

For as much as beer is unimportant, and for as many reasons to find why beer doesn't matter—it does matter, and from where I'm sitting, it always will.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Porter Principal

I really dig Porters. I always seem to have one either bubbling away in the fermenter or socked away, down in the basement. Maybe it's Porter's inky opaqueness—like a sharks eye—that I'm drawn to. Dark mystery in a pint glass. There's something special about a simple Porter, something that is, as Evan Rail has described as, "time agnostic." However, there seems to be a trend with craft breweries to try and hide the Porter (that sounds like a euphemism, doesn't it?). Every brewery today has a smoked-mocha-raspberry-Zagnut-bourbon barrel-aged offering, while the mother sauce—to borrow a term from the culinary world—seems to have been left behind.

That's why I've decided to go back to basics for this post. No smoke, no whiskey, no vanilla, just Porter. I've picked two to examine, arguably the two quintessential Porters—one from the old world and one from the new—the archtypal brown beers (to modern porters, at least) from their respective parts of the globe—Fuller's London Porter and Anchor Porter.

Fuller's has been Fuller's since Messers Fuller, Smith and Turner shook hands back in 1845. Not traditionally known as a pure Porter brewer, Fullers has, as far as I've been able to find (and I didn't look very hard) been making Porter on and off since the 1880s—and I'd garner a guess, that they actually started well before then, but I haven't seen any records. Porter has had an up and down ride over the last two hundred years—and not just at Fuller's. Porter was the king of British beers in the 19th century, but it's popularity began to wane toward the end of the century. Change in taste and gravity caused a long and drawn-out fade away from price lists and pubs—well into the first half of the 20th century. By most counts, London-made Porter was a rarity by the Second World War and almost completely gone by the 1960s. Fortunately though, that wasn't the complete end of Porter, and Fuller's was one of the breweries who helped to re-establish it's place in the beery world. With an increasing interest in craft beers in the 1990s and Fuller's growth in the market place, that brewery would once again begin making a Porter, initially as an export-only beer, then introducing it to the U.K. market in 2000. Today, ratebeerers rank it as one for the best British Porter on the market, giving it a perfect 100 out of 100. Beer advocate also shows the love.

I've had Fuller's London Porter a thousand times—both at home in bottles, and out on tap. What always amazes me is it's aroma. Pouring it into the glass (which was set on the counter, not near my sniffer) I was smacked with the wonderful odor of fresh made coffee, spiked with an anisette liqueur, and a wallop of roated smokiness. It tumbled into my pint glass, billowing to a dense, memory foam-like, fallow-hued head—it's pitch blackness slowly inching its way to toward the rim of the glass. The complexity of this brew's flavor is astounding. There's everything from rich bittersweet chocolate, to a slight musty tobacco. It has a rich, burnt sugar and molasses note, with a mild edge of smokey liquorice. It has a mild, earthy hoppiness, and a fairly subdued amount bitterness, but I think most of that comes from the malt. Above all, however, is its roasted nuttiness—like chocolate-covered espresso beans. There's only one thing that brings that pop, that dry, almost savoriness, to the party—and it's the one, true signature of a great London Porter—old school, dry roasted, brown malt. While this Porter makes you think you've just stepped out of Doc Brown's, time-traveling DeLorean, into the 1800s, I'm sure it isn't anything like what Fuller's made way back when—but it sure is good. (Check this out if you'd like to see what Porter they did make, a hundred years ago)

Just as in UK, Porter was also produced in 19th-century America. Cities like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and brewers like Matthew Vassar—of whom Vassar College is named—made their fortunes brewing Porter. While Porter waned in England, it continued to be made throughout the 20th Century—although what we consider to be Porter today, was a far cry from the adulterated and artificially colored American Porter of mid-century. That all changed in California during the early 1970s. If Fuller's helped to usher in the re-birth of British Porter, another brewery—6,000 miles away—didn't just help, but started the modern, all-grain, Porter craze in the U.S. Anchor Brewery, San Francisco's hallowed microbrewery, began making it's version of Porter in 1972, eventually bottling it two years later. If the British beer industry can look to companies like Fuller's to draw it's history from, then American craft beer industry need look no further than Anchor. Just as Fuller's London Porter, scored exceptionally high on ratebeer, so does Anchor's Porter, receiving a rank of 99 out or 100.

While both beers are definitely Porter, there are a few differences between the Brit and its American cousin. Whereas the Fuller's smelled of licorice, the Anchor has an unmistakable aroma of fresh fruit—pear to be exact. It's jet black like the Fuller's, with a craggy, tan flop for a head. Just as in the aroma the Anchor is full of deep fruity flavors—sweet pear and apple, tart plum and dates with just a hint of banana esteriness. There's a mild dark malt, chalky, bitterness that's complimented by a subtle, almost baking cocoa flavor, and a rounded burnt toast, roasted note. It has far less of that signature brown malt roastiness than the Fuller's, but enough to still evoke thoughts of sweet, diner coffee. It's bitterness is more pronounced than the London Porter, with an obvious use of sharper American hops, but generally the dark malt is center stage in this show. The greatest difference between the two cousins is in their body. Both weigh-in about 5.5% ABV, plus or minus a few points. However, the Anchor seems thinner, more lithe, than the roasty and robust Fuller's. Neither is wrong, and it really comes down to a matter of preference. Either way, Anchor's Porter isn't so much and homage to the London Porters of yore, but more of a re-interpretation with a decidedly Bay area slant to it.

If your a brewer—homebrew or otherwise—and you read this (and I hope you do) the one thing I hope you take away from this post is: As much fun as it is to drink and/or make a chile-cinnamon-imperial-pumpkin Porter; a simple roasty, black as night beer also is worth the while. Who knows? Maybe we can get another hundred years of great beer out of the old girl yet. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Does Two Hipsters, a Van and a Craft Brewery Make?

A dumb video.

Go ahead, click this for the video.
I'm going to warn you, though, you'll never get back that four and a half minutes of your life.

Seriously, Deshutes, nobody likes hipsters. Stick to making beer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Warm-up

I noticed last week, that Sam Adams has began running its TV ads for their new spring seasonal—an unfiltered Helles. Jim Koch and the boys in Boston may be getting a jump start on spring, but here in Albany it's still January. While it's been a mild winter this year, every now and again, Old Man Winter rears his ugly head, and out come the long johns and snow shovels. In that spirit, I thought I'd take a look at few American craft beers brewed in locations known their chilly temps.

Betcha' this guy could use a beer.
First up is a beer, from the home of Harley-Davidson and the Fonz—Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee, with a mean January temperature of 23ºF, is the warmest location we'll be visiting on this trip—Although factor in the windchill off Lake Michigan and it's a whole new ballgame. My beer of choice from this icy locale is Lakefront Brewery's IPA. This beer really has become one of my favorites and I'd go as far as to say it's become my go-to IPA. Speaking of IPAs, I think IPAs get a bad wrap as "summer beers." Sure, I enjoy a nice hop bomb in July, but there's something great about a crisp, hoppy IPA to shake-up those long nights during the dead of winter, too. Lakefront's IPA hits the mark. It pours hazy gold, with an amazing, rocky head that seems to not dissipate throughout the drink. It smells of grapefruit and mango with a subtle caramel sweetness. Its tart and dry, especially in the back of the throat; with more of that citrus quality, mingling with a bready, biscuity, mellow sweetness. There's a perfect bitterness to this one—not overwhelming, but with enough of a zap to make you smile. This beer is bright, refreshing and the perfect choice to help warm up any of the dozens of gray winter days you might have ahead of you.

What constitutes "a lot of snow?" The average U.S. snowfall, for most American cities, is around 37 inches. Lake Placid, New York averages 119 inches—that's more than three times the national average. Lake Placid also has a mean January temperature of a balmy 16ºF. Most importantly, however, it's also the home of Ubu Ale, made by the venerable Lake Placid Craft Brewery. It pours chestnut with reddish highlights and its head is thin—spreading like a bubbly spider web floating on the beer. Cherries and toffee are prominent in the aroma, with a good amount of earthy hops. It starts with a hint of brown sugar sweetness, melting into an slightly nutty, leather-like, pipe tobacco flavor. There's a slightly burnt note to Ubu, with a peppery-raisin quality—almost like ancho chiles, without the heat. It's bitterness is noticeable, but not distracting and it's hops bring a subtle grassiness  to the fray, which matches the other earthy flavors. Ubu is complex and unique, to say the least. Its a long-day-at-work-and-it's-freezing-and-blustery-outside-so-I-want-to-stay-on-my-barstool kind of beer.

Last but not least, the grand city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, or rather it's northern suburb Brooklyn Center rounds out our arctic tour. Of the 50 largest U.S. cities, the greater Minneapolis metropolitan area (including its equally chilled-out, twin sister St. Paul), ranks as the coldest. According to NOAA, (That's shortcut talk for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Minneapolis had a combined daily, mean temperature of 19º—for the months (yes that's plural) of December, January and February. Holy tundra. Fear not, for Minneapolis (or, again, it's northern suburb Brooklyn Center) also brings us Surly Bender (and the Mary Tyler Moore show). Bender (The name always reminds me of Futurama) pours mahogany, with glints of scarlet, and like the Lakefront, its got a resilient khaki head, as well. You almost know what this beer is going to smell and taste like, simply by looking at it. In the nose, it's cocoa and caramel with a toasted nuttiness. In the mouth, it's a mix of woody-caramel and and black coffee like astringency. There's a creamy vanilla quality that flows throughout the beer, intermingling with the beer's inherent earthiness. There's a slight bitterness to this one, but I think it comes more from its dark malt rather than its hops, it's a mellow bitterness that reminds me of semi-sweet baking chocolate, rather than a typical, sharp hop bitterness. Bender is quite honestly, one of the best American Brown Ales I've ever had.

So, to all of you flip-flop wearing, sunshine basking, warm weather folks, out there, remember: Maybe those frigid winds that blow across Midwestern lakes, or the feet of snow dropped by Nor'easterns across the Northeast, might just add a little motivation to produce some damn, fine beer. The boys in Bean Town—where it hovers around the 30ºF mark in January—can try and get out ahead of Punxsutawney Phil, but as for me, I'll be looking to places like Lake Placid, Minnesota and Milwaukee, for my winter warm-ups until at least April

Monday, January 23, 2012

The War Series: Review

I've been wrestling with how to give a synopsis on the first three beers made in my War Series. I have two things working against me. One, my hobbies are of less interest to you than to me; and two, I'm a little bias about the beer I make. That makes it a little tough to judge your own product, plus I'm not a "enough about you, let's talk about me" kinda' guy, but this project is near and dear to my heart. So, I called in a favor from Chad. Mr Polenz was more than happy to drink free beer and video his thoughts in a three-in-one, Chad'z Home Brew Review, for myself and the rest of the free world to see. I think he'd admit, however, that it was a fairly difficult review for him, having nothing to compare these beers to–but I think he was fair. 

Before we get into the actual review, here's a little background on each beer:

First off, a couple of things to know about he beers in general. All of the beers were all designed "in the style..." of the most popular British beers from the WWII era—Mild, Bitter and Burton. They're not based on actual recipes from any specific brewery, but rather, I drew inspiration from brewing records, used by of a number of breweries of the time (Thanks to Ron Pattinson and Shut Up About Barclay Perkins for doing the bulk of that work!) When I was designing the beers I was trying to think like a brewer of the time, using what would have been available, in Britain during the Second World War. I even went as far as to correct Albany's tap water, to water similar to that of London in the early 1940s. I've also mentioned before that I named the brews after Royal Air Force fighter planes and bombers. These first three beers pay homage to the hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire and de Havilland Mosquito. So, let's get to the beer and then Chad's review.

Hurricane 39 Mild Ale 

During the 1920s and 30s British brewers began adding American malt to their grist, because it's increased nitrogen content. During most of 1939, British cargo ships passed unimpeded across the Atlantic Ocean. However, with the onset of hostilities in the fall of 1939, British shipping lines were cut-off from their American and European allies. While the availability of fresh American malt began to slow, British brewers did still have stores of American malt that would have been used into late 1939 and early 1940. Hurricane 39's pronounced cereal flavor is due to its use of American 6-row.
MALT: British mild malt, American 6-row malt, British dark crystal malt, Invert sugar No. 2 
HOPS: Fuggle
YEAST: Wyeast London Ale III (1318)
OG: 1.035 / IBUs: 19 / BUGU: .44 / ABV: 3.6%

Spitfire 40 Best Bitter

By 1940, food rationing and restrictions were in full effect, throughout Britain—and breweries were no exception. British beer makers began to augment their beers with alternative grains like un-malted flaked barley and oats. Spitfire 40s hazy appearance is a result of its use of flaked barley. Sugar was also at a premium, with huge quantities of it going toward the war effort. Brewers began using malt extract to supplement the limited use of common brewing sugars, and so did I. While nearly all modern Bitters rely heavily on the caramel tones of crystal malt, many British brewers didn't begin using it in their Bitter grists until late in the war, or in some case after the war had ended.

MALT: British two-row malt, Amber malt, Light malt extract, Flaked barley
HOPS: Bramling Cross, East Kent Goldings (dry hop)
YEAST: Wyeast London Ale (1028)
OG: 1.044 / IBUs: 26 / BUGU: .61 / ABV: 4.3%

Mosquito 41 Burton Ale
Strong, dark and bittersweet—Burton Ale had been one of Britain's premium beers, for over a hundred years. Because of it's success in the marketplace, British brewers had to figure out a way to create Burtons with the same characteristics as pre-war versions—using limited resources. Grain adjuncts, and coloring agents, began making their way into the day-to-day operations of many breweries. Mosquito 41 gets a good bit of its dark color from caramel coloring. While, American malt was nearly unattainable in 1941, American hops were. It was not uncommon for brewers to use yearling or two-year old dried hops, so stores of older American hops were still available.

MALT: British two-row malt, Mild malt, Flaked barley, Invert sugar No. 3, British dark crystal malt, Caramel coloring
HOPS: Cluster, Bramling Cross, East Kent Goldings (dry hop)
YEAST: Wyeast British Ale (1335)
OG: 1.051 / IBUs: 34 / BUGU: .75 / ABV: 5.1%

All right, now that you've got the info, here's the review:

I think Chad was pretty spot on with this, although I actually prefer the Mild and the Burton to the Bitter. I hadn't noticed the red apple flavor, until I drank all three, back-to-back. He's right—especially in the Mild. He did say it reminded him of other British beers, so I guess that's a plus! His reference to a coffee note in the Bitter is spot on. I initially got a pronounced caramel tone, but after having tasted it, after his review—I also notice the roasted coffee flavor. He's probably correct naming the flaked barley and I think the amber malt also contributes to that. Personally, I don't think the Burton is the least bitter, though—but he did drink and review three beers in a row.

In the end I'm generally happy with the results. I learn something new every time I brew, and an average of 7 out of 10 is pretty good (I'd have ranked the Burton and Mild higher, but then again, I am a tad biased.) This round takes care of 1939 through 1941 so, three down, three to go. Up next in the War Series Lancaster 42. It's a Sweet Stout made with everything but the kitchen sink.

 Chances are, you'll be hearing about it.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Soul, Spice and Beer

You know what I haven't done in a while? Write about food. Now that the mercury has dropped, taking Albany from what was a relatively mild winter into the clutches of an arctic tundra, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of warmer climates. My personal favorite warm climate—New Orleans, Louisiana. An' nuthin' remind me mo' of New Orlins' den homemade jambalaya—especially one made with beer!

I've written about the soft spot in my heart for the Big Easy, before. Amy and I spent a week down there on out honeymoon, in 2003. I've always been fascinated by Cajun and Creole cuisine and that trip solidified my interest. The first thing we did when we got back was unpack—but after that, I went and bought a beautiful, cast iron dutch oven—that and a good cast iron skillet are go-to tools in any good southern kitchen. I'm not talking about $150, Le Creuset, enamel-coated, fancy-pants cast iron—I'm talking pebbly, black as coal, heavy-duty, bad-ass cast iron. These are things could be used as a boat anchor if you needed one—they're no joke. With cast iron in hand, I set about developing and arsenal of Louisiana recipes, and at top of the list, was jambalaya. It's taken eight years, but I've finally gotten it where it needs to be.

Before I get in to the nuts and bolts of the recipe, let me give you a little background on this delectable dish. Jambalaya is, basically, rice, meat (or seafood) and veggies cooked together, in a savory stock. When the rice has absorbed all of the stock, it's done—it really couldn't be simpler. It's similar to the Spanish dish paella, minus the saffron; and some say it's the result of trying to make paella in the New World—without the aforementioned spice. Since New Orleans was controlled by the Spanish for a number of years, I'll buy that. Historically, there are two variations of jambalaya—Creole, or red jambalaya with tomatoes, and Cajun, or brown jambalaya, without tomatoes. The theory is the closer to New Orleans you get, the more that tomatoes appear in recipes. This stems from the ideas that way back when, Creoles lived in the city, where tomatoes were easily grown, while Cajuns lived, and continue to live, in the swamps and on the bayous, where tomatoes were harder to come by. I make a Creole version, because it seems to exemplify New Orleans, to me. The term creole in New Orleans was used, originally in the 18th and early 19th centuries, to differentiate those born in the new world, of French or Spanish heritage, from those born in Europe of the same background. It wouldn't be until much later that the association of African or Caribbean heritage and race would come into play. Either way, Creole jambalaya takes it's inspiration from all three cultures, French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean—just like it's birthplace, the French Quarter of New Orleans—and that's why I like it.

This jambalaya isn't necessarily hot, but it is highly spiced so, know that going in. Let's get to it—first up the spice mix. You can use a store bought one, but if you're inclined, here's mine:

1-1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt 

1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix everything together in a small bowl. It makes about 2-1/2 tablespoons—that sounds like a lot, but it works—trust me, it'll be fine.

Onto the jambalaya itself:

1 lb boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 lb andouille sausage, sliced into rounds (any spicy, smoked cooked sausage will do, but andouille is traditional)
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice
1Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups of chicken broth or stock
Beer (something malty rather than hoppy)
Hot sauce, to your liking
2 cups parboiled, converted long grain rice (it's important to use this, other rice gets too sticky)
Spice mix split into 2 and 5 tsps
Olive oil
Salt and cracked black pepper
Green onion (green part only), sliced
Parsley, chopped

Cut the chicken into bite size chunks, place into a zip top bag, add 2 tsp of spice mix, toss to coat. Put the chicken in the fridge for a few hours to soak up the spice. Just before you begin to brown the meat, pour the tomatoes into a 16 oz measuring cup, top off with the beer and Worcestershire sauce then let them hang out until your ready to add it, so everybody can get to know each other. When your ready to cook, get your burner up to medium high, add a little oil to your dutch oven or pot—cast iron or otherwise, as long as it has a tight lid. Brown the sliced sausage, until just crispy and then scoop it out onto a paper towel covered plate. In the andouille infused oil, brown the chunked chicken until cooked through and golden. Now it's the veggies turn in the pool. Turn the burner down to medium and cook them until they are softened and the onion is translucent This is the perfect time to season everything, so add a little s and p. Crank up the heat to high, put the sausage back into the pot—along with the reserved 5 teaspoons of spice mix, hot sauce, and rice. Stir it all together and let it cook for a minute or two. Add the tomato, beer and Worcestershire combination, and chicken stock, then bring to a boil. Reduce the temp to low. Cover and let everything do it's thing for 25 minutes. When it's ready to go, scoop out into bowls and top with the sliced green onion and parsley.


Now, to the beer part. Why does it always take me so long to get to the beer when I write about food—do I ramble? Don't answer that. I need something that will temper the spice in this dish. There are a lot of bold flavors in this one— veggie aromatics, savory sausage and heat and spice to contend with. I took a trip to Oliver's to see what might fit the bill. As usual, they had what I needed—a big, brute of a beer from the heart of Louisiana. Abita Brewing Company, located just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, makes Andygator. A Helles Dopplebock—from Abita's Big Beer Series—Andygator is the perfect fit for my jambalaya. At 8% it brings a great, sweet malty note, with a subtle fruitiness that tables the spice, and its subdued Perle hop profile doesn't convolute everything with an aggressive bitterness. Plus it was born on the bayou, and in its 22 oz bomber, I'll have plenty left over to drink with the jambalaya!

 Now, if you would excuse me I'm in the mood for a little Dixieland jazz—À plus tard.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DRANK: Chad'z Unsupervised IPA-Homebrew, Chad of Chad'z Beer, Albany, NY, USA - BOTTLE

I'm officially in uncharted waters. I've written and reviewed a good number of beers and I've drank a whole lot of home brew, but this is the first time I've been asked to review a home brew—and it's a home brew made by someone I know, to complicate matters. However, in the interest of journalistic integrity (That's a bit a stretch isn't it Craig?) I will endeavour to unbiasedly examine this beer to the standards that my reader has come to expect. In all seriousness, Chad of Chad'z Beer Reviews asked me to try the result of his first attempt at home brewing, an American IPA, inspired by those made on the West Coast. An Albany homage to Stone or Bear Republic, if you will. As a rule, I never turn down free beer, so I agreed to give it a try—and passed some of my swill on to him.

Waiter, is there a fly in my beer?
Well, that joke flopped—
this is Chad, not me.
He named his little experiment Chad'z Unsupervised IPA, an intentionally ironic title, due to the fact that he had the tutelage of an experience home brewer—his buddy Shaun—some bottling guidance from Jay of Jay's Beer Reviews and last and most importantly, he filmed the whole thing for the entire world to watch and comment on! Needless to say he received some unsupervised, let alone unsolicited, home brewing advice. You can check-out Chad's first foray into home brewing here, here,  here and here.

So how did he do? Pretty damn good—first time or otherwise. The cap popped of with a hiss—the first sign of success. The beer poured a hazy reddish-orange, the color of antique brick with a dense, creamy fop of a head. Extract brews have a tendency to darken during the boil and Chad mentioned that he had hoped it would have been lighter, but the color didn't bother me, I actually like it on the ruddy side. It was a bit hazy, and I'm not sure if that was due to a little yeast kick-up, (this one was bottle-conditioned) or if that was a result of chill haze. Chill haze happens when proteins in the beer precipitate as the beer is chilled for drinking. This is usually caused by not cooling your wort fast enough (note to Chad—get a wort chiller, you'll thank me.) The beer was carbed up pretty good, as well, and slightly on the fizzy side, but I can't blame Chad for that, kits tend to suggest to much priming sugar, in my opinion. As soon as the beer swirled into the pint on the pour, I got a whiff of it's hoppy nose. I hadn't even got my snoot into it and I got a nice hit of citrus and pine—classically American IPA, right there. Taking a good sized gulp, I got hit with really nice sweetness up front—caramel, then drifting into a grapefruity-orange, leaning more citrus than pine. There was a interesting fruitiness to it, an almost strawberry tartness that complimented it's lightly roasted malt. Its bitterness is assertive but not aggressive, and I like that. It's definitely an IPA and it hit all the right note, it just didn't smash me over the skull in doing so.

Here's the winning point with this beer—body. Like I said earlier, I've drank a ton of home brew, and some can be a bit anemic. An ingredient miscalculation or a bit to much make-up water is usually the culprit. If your brewing a Light Mild or a lawnmower beer you might be able to justify it, but a thin Porter—not so much. Chad, on the other hand, nailed this one. Unsupervised IPA has that great viscous mouthfeel you want in an IPA—not to heavy, but not watery, either. Body can really make or break a beer, and combined with Unsupervised's aroma and citrus notes, Chad's first shot was right on target. This beer, being his first, was came out pretty good, and the best part about home brewing is you get to drink all your trials until you get exactly like you want it. This was a very drinkable beer that I'd happily quaff while sitting on a bar stool at the Lionheart.  

So, a big Right On Brother to Chad—you keep making them, I'll keep drinking them. As for anybody else interested in what I think (not likely) about your home brew, drop me a line—here, in the comment section, or on drinkdrank's Facebook page. Like I said, I never turn down free beer! 

Monday, January 16, 2012


There's something to be said for the simplicity of lager.

Ales, on the other hand, are not unlike Shakespeare's observation on the practice of deceit—a tangled web. Let's take Brown Ale, or should I say American Brown Ale, Northern English Brown Ale and Southern English Brown Ale. These little ales couldn't be simpler—American Browns are slightly bitter and can be light or very dark brown, while the Southern English varieties are sweet, malty and very dark—but fairly weak. Northern English Browns are amber to reddish brown, and while sweet, they are often quite dry and, typically a bit stronger than their southern brothers—but not as strong as their American cousins.

See how simple that was? Two or three flow charts later and viola—the intricacies of Brown Ale!

Lager's not like that. When it comes down to it, you've got two categories, light and dark—compare this to the waterfall of ale categories. Seriously, look at the basic frame work of ales: Pale Ales, Brown Ales, Milds, Scotch Ale, Porter and Stouts, Wheat Beer, Barleywine and Strong Ales, not to mention the Belgians and all their subsets. It's like the cop car pile-up at the end of the Blues Brothers. Now, I'm not talking style here, I'm looking at the broader context, and the simplicity of the lager system is it's brilliance. In fact, lagers are like the arch-nemesis of "style". I figure, 99% of the world thinks there are only two kinds of beer anyhow—light and dark—so, why not go with it.

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony... 
That's exactly what Full Sail Brewing in Hood River Oregon did. You may remember Full Sail as the brewery I insulted back in July—but that's behind us now. This post is here to say what a brilliant idea it was for them to capitalize on the simplicity of lager with their Session line of lager brews. Full Sail has devised two basic beers—Session Lager, which is light and Session Black, which is not. Two simple recipes, and all the lager bases are covered—simple and brilliant.

Session Lager has bright, sparkling golden, tone with that classic grainy and grassy lager aroma. It's an easy drinker with an almost cracker-like malt quality. It's crisp with a citric edge, not tart, but sweet, boarding on fruity. It's bitterness is almost non-existent, yet I wouldn't call this one particularly malty. The hop flavor is there, in the subtle grassy way that only can come from Saaz hops. All right, I'm going to go out on a limb here and make my opinion known here—this is the ultimate pizza beer. Really, this is the beer you want to be drinking every time you eat a slice. Whatever the topping—anchovies, pepperoni, black olives, pineapple, or sweet corn and baked beans, for those of you in the UK. Thin-crust New York, deep-dish Chicago or new wave Californian—this is the beer to have when the dude in the trucker hat and the 1984 Honda Civic hatch-back is at the door with your pie.

Meanwhile, on the dark side of the moon, Full Sail also offers Session Black—a deep, dark chocolate hued beer with, yet again, that same grainy and grassy aroma—but with a subtle smokiness. Black is more roasty than it's lighter counterpart, with its toasted malt backbone stepping to the forefront. Those dark malts bring  chocolate and caramel to the party and it has an almost doughnut-like, breadiness—like brioche. Its sweetness fades to a mild tartness—with a plum like quality as you hold it in your mouth. Black is more bitter than the lighter lager, as well. It's not a biting bitterness, but those dark, toasted malts have a tendency to accentuate a beer's bitterness, along with anything that would come from the hops. I've been seeing more and more American made dark lagers on the market—Saranac Black Forest and Magic Hat Howl, to name a few—and of course Guinness, has recently released it's Black Lager, internationally. Session Black holds it's own with these beer, it's dark and complex and just a fun beer to drink.

So, there you go, the Session lagers are proof positive that the old adage of keep it simple, stupid—works. On the consumer end, why not, occasionally simplify things to a 50/50 decision—dark or light? Not all the time, mind you, lord knows we all love debating the merits of double chocolate-cherry-milk stout, but once in a while it's nice to throw our ale-ish caution to the wind and leave our lager-y decisions up to a coin toss. I'm pretty sure you'll be happy 100% of the time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

F You

Just a quick post to let everyone know that drinkdrank now has it's own fan page over at the book of faces place. Now, those of you who are not my friends—and you know who you are—can still catch-up on all the fast-paced action that is drinkdrank on FB. Those of you who are my friends—and you know who you are—are gonna get two, two, two times the double d! Sorry about that—and no I can't refund your money.

So, go and like your little hearts out.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DRANK: Heady Topper, The Alchemist, Waterbury, Vermont, USA - CAN

There's going to be some much going on in this post, I'm not sure where to start. This one's going to have a "phoenix from the ashes" slant, along with a little brewing 101, plus the can versus bottle debate—that's all before I even get to the review. Luckily for me, both BeerAdvocate and RateBeer scored it a perfect 100, so maybe it's worth all the fuss.

All right, lets start with the phoenix scenario. Back, during mid-October, in my One For the Road: Vermont post, I mentioned that a number of Vermont breweries and brew pubs were destroyed when Hurricane Irene ran ramshackle through the the Northeast corridor. Unfortunately, The Alchemist Pub and Brewery was one of those places. In August, when the Winooski River flooded the village of Waterbury, The Alchemist and every other business and residence in town, found themselves knee deep in the big muddy—literally. Initially, it looked as if a little, or in this case a shit ton of elbow grease would be able to get the place back up in running. It became clear, quickly, that as much as everyone wanted that to happen, the Alchemist Pub and Brewery was too far gone for a rebuild.

Okay, enough with the bummer stuff.

What's amazing, about all this, is that owners John and Jennifer Kimmich were already in the process of expanding their operation. Four days—that's right, four days—after the flood, their new cannery, dubbed the Alchemist Cannery, officially began operation. John and Jennifer would move their brewing system to the new location and keep doing what they do best—brew great beer. The plan is to focus on Heady Topper for now, but there is also talk of a smaller 60 seat pub on the site of the old place, as well.

Up next— a little Brewing 101. One of the things that makes Heady Topper a bit unusual among it's Double IPA peers, is it's measure of 120 International Bittering Units, or IBUs. IBUs, for the uninitiated, is a scale for determining a beer's bitterness—the higher the number the more bitter the beer. The number is a bit subjective, but it's a decent guideline. It's important to remember IBUs don't measure hoppiness—hoppiness isn't quantitative. That would be like assessing a pizza's oregano-ness. Here's the other thing about IBUs—they're a bit one-sided. Take two beers, say a Pale Ale with an IBU rate of 30 and an Imperial Stout with a rate of 60. According to the numbers the Stout should be more bitter. Take a sip of both and the APA is the one with the more aggressive bitterness —why? Because the Stout's gravity is way higher than the APA, so the bitterness has a lot of malt sweetness and character to contend with. This relationship between gravity and bitterness is referred to as the BUGU ratio, or the Bittering Units/Gravity Units ratio. 

"Shit, math." You say.

It's actually simple. Just look at each beer's original gravity (OG), or the beer's gravity prior to fermentation—let's say 1.052 for the APA and 1.085 for the Stout. We can shorten those gravity numbers to just 52 and 85. Now divide those numbers into each beer's respective IBU rates. The APA works out to 57:100, or .57 while the Stout hits 70:100, or .7. The closer to 50:100, or .5, the more balanced the beer. So, even though Heady Topper has an IBU rate of 120, it's OG is fairly high as well—I'm guessing in the 1.080ish range—making it hoppy rather than overtly bitter. 

By the way, this is easily the longest, single beer review I've ever done.

Okay, let's get into the whole can versus bottle thing—no math I promise. I'm a can proponent, they're ergonomic, they keep cold well and they keep out light—all good stuff. The Alchemist takes it a step further. Normally I don't quote copy from cans or bottles, but I'm going to do it here, because this is a great take on the whole can thing. Not only does the Alchemist can rather than bottle, they ask that you actually drink directly from the can—yup, you read that right, a craft brewer suggesting to drink their beer—sans glass.
Why do I recommend you drink it from the can? Quite simply, to ensure a delightful, hop experience. The act of pouring it in a glass smells nice, but it releases the essential hop aromas that we have worked so hard to retain. - John Kimmich
Never heard that one before! Is it horse shit to sell canned beer, maybe, maybe not—but I'm drinking it from the can. You present me with an argument like that and I'll take the bait every time.

So how's the beer? Every bit as good as you'd expect with a score of a perfect 100. What more needs to be said? Besides, I've said enough already.

Oh wait! I do have one last thing to say—Thanks to Chad for giving me this one! 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I Think This is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Since starting this blog back in May, I've gotten the chance to get to know a bunch of people who not only love beer, but love to write and talk about beer—from all over the world. I've gotten to know the likes of Max in the Czech Republic, Ron in Amsterdam, and Alan up in Canada. Although, I haven't actually met any of them, in person.

That is until this week.

This past Thursday, all that changed, and didn't even have to leave Albany. Ya' see, not only is Albany the home of drinkdrank, it's also the home of Chad Polenz, the proprietor and, I'll go as far to say, internet sensation, at Chad'z Beer Chad has been reviewing beer, with a little help from his video camera, for quite awhile, and has amassed a substantial following on both his blog and on YouTube. We first crossed-paths in the comments section of Zak Avery's blog, Are You Tasting the Pith?in early June. You'd think living, literally, ten minutes away from each other we'd have hooked up before now, but being  the only two beer bloggers in Albany, we're both pretty busy! Seriously, after a number of Facebook and text messages (Aren't I tech savvy?) we finally got it together.

Not only did we meet up, Chad was awesome enough to invite me to co-review on not one, but two beers and do an interview with him about my blog. Sitting in his kitchen, the first beer we broke down was Ithaca Beer Company's Alphalpha (which I pronounced alpha-alpha.) Here's the best part—I don't have to get into a long-winded description, that would take me hours to write, I'll just let the videos do the talking!

Next up, my "Interview with a Craft Beer Enthusiast" with Chad. If you ever wanted to get into my head, here's you chance. Look, we switched it up and changed seats, too.

Chad and I have a whole bunch of things planned for the future—a video review of Goose Island's Demolition, home brew swaps, another interview—next time, I'll interview him—and I'm sure we'll figure out  some more things to do as well! Definitely head over to Chad'z Beer and his YouTube channel, and keep checking here for more collaborations from Albany best beer blogs!

Update! Chad posted our third video review—the one of Demolition—so I thought I'd tack it up here, to finish out the trilogy. Listen for my favorite line "...It's the Belgian Banana!"


Thursday, January 5, 2012

It's A Bad Day When You Don't Learn Something New

Let me preface this by saying, this has almost nothing to do with beer. Almost.

The other night, while cruising in the CR-V, I had the radio tuned to WAMC, our local public raio station, and was listening to American Public Radio's Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal. They were doing a story on the slow moving, but gradually opening job market in the U.S. The story featured a young woman who recently graduated with a degree in veterinary medicine, but was having a very difficult time finding a job in Oregon. She did eventually get one—her employer crediting her tenacity and the fact that she handed-out her résumé, in person, to every vet office in the Willamette Valley.

That's the point where I stopped listening.

Wil-AM-it—That's how you say it? For years, I've been referring to Willamette hops as Willa-MET hops. What else have I been mispronouncing? IPA is still eye-pee-eh, right? At least Lagunitas is nice enough to put the pronunciation right on the label.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I must be in a Belgian state-of-mind. The last three out of four beers I've written about have come from Belgium, and Since I'm on a roll, why stop now, I'll just go with it.

Arguably the king of Belgian farmhouse breweries is Brasserie Dupont, producer of the recently-to-become-world renowned, Saison Dupont, which is made on Dupont's working farm/brewery in Wallonia—one of the last in Europe, I might add. Saison Dupont has taken the world by storm, being named "The Best Beer in the World" by Men's Journal magazine, in 2005. I don't know about that, but it does exemplifies the idea of a Saison. It's a gorgeous hazy gold, like sunshine on a late summer afternoon, with an amazingly, stark white rocky head. It's crisp and citrusy, pushing both orange and lemon, with a spicy herbal spin to it. It's funky, too—a great balls o' funky, funky. It has a wonderful grassy tang that flattens out to a earthy flab, that's just, well, funky—and fantastic. Now, I realise I'm not the first to exalt this beer's qualities, but Dupont really has mastered the art of farmhouse brewing—across all of it's beers. From crisp and refreshing Saisons to it's funkified Pale Ale brother—the Belgian Strong Ale—Dupont, along with it's Moinette line, has nailed this farmy, homespun style of brewing.

Yeah—good old light, hazy and crisp farmhouse brews. How could you not love them? And I do—but sometimes I want something deep and dark. You know what would be great—A farmhouse stout.

Catch ya' on the flip-side.

What? A farmhouse stout? A beer that explores that same great balls o' funkiness, as a Saison with a dark, roasty nature along for the ride? You must be mad, man. Who would do that?

Brasserie Dupont would—and did.

It's not that far fetched of an idea. You see, Saison isn't really a style. In fact, it doesn't really make a difference what the Saison is made from, or it's gravity, but rather, that they are akin to the house brews of Belgian farmers brewed seasonally. Basically, Saisons are the chili of the beer world—No two recipes are the same and everyone has their own version. Some chili is made with beef, while others are made with pork and chicken, and don't forget the bean contingent—but, it's all still chili. Saisons are like that as well, they're a beery melting pot, of sorts. They have grists that range from wheat to pilsner malt to caramel malt, and anything in-between. Spice or no spice, noble or ignoble hops, it's up to the brewer. So, why not brew-up a Stout that's a nod to a Saison? Think of it as a Saison of a different season.

Monk's Stout, Brasserie Dupont's newest addition, captures all that great Saison Dupont-ness in a magically dark and complex brew. Originally brewed in the late 1950s, this version of Monk's was based off a recipe pulled from the brewing records of Brasserie Dupont, from that time period. It even pours like Saison Dupont, just with a craggy head of khaki, instead of white; and it smells like black coffee and oranges. It's crisp, yet roasty and smokey. It has hints of dry cocoa and dark stone fruits, with just the slightest hint of citrus. Oh, and it's got that funk, that uniquely Dupont funk. Yeah, I know a lot of Belgian beers are funky, but this funk is something special to Brasserie Dupont. What's even more wonderful—the funk dances with the dark malts and roastiness of this Stout, like Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire. It's amazingly light and slaking—it's a Stout for cripes sake—Stouts aren't supposed to be thirst quenching! It's sweet and bitter and astringent and roasty and funky—and just down right good.

There seems to me, to be an inevitability to this beer. I feel like this Stout was always meant to happen— first came Saison Dupont, and now, here comes her deliciously dark and foreboding brother. It's almost as if one beer can't be, without the other—like when Kirk split in two during The Enemy Within on the original Star Trek. Saison Dupont and Monk's Stout are a beery yin and yang, the Corsican bothers of fermentation and most definitely a dynamic duo. Which means there's bound to be a little sibling competition. If Saison Dupont was "The Best Beer in the World" for 2005, my money is on Monk's Stout for 2012.