Bradford on Beer

A College Beer Town

Posted May 2, 2011 by daniel 0 Comments | Post a Comment

A great thing about touring prospective colleges with my daughter Anne is that she is already well-heeled on the pleasures of a good beer scene. I had wanted to visit Dennis Thies’ Green Man Brewery for quite some time. Apparently we picked the perfect day. After a four-hour drive, we pulled up to the building as the temperatures plummeted. We hustled in pushed by a cold front and found the bar at the brewery to be just short of perfect.

Located in the shell of a former garage, it was filled to the brim with customers watching a soccer match. Age and gender defied marketers’ expectations: I was not the oldest nor was Anne the youngest and women made up half of the crowd. We settled in next to a couple who were there for the beer. Period.

I had a cask porter, served from a beer engine, which couldn’t have been more perfect. As I scanned the brewery and watched some soccer, I couldn’t help think that this was as good as local gets. Packed and noisy yet without being obnoxious and surrounded by strangers who were easy to talk to. Of course, the porter was fantastic. Had another.

On the way to the hotel I pulled over and stopped at Bill Drew’s Craggie Brewing Co., a favorite beer joint of mine. Whenever in Asheville, I relish grabbing a pint of Antebellum ale with the unusual ingredients of molasses, ginger and spruce tips. Very dry and very complicated.

Our table mates at Green Man gave us a restaurant recommendation for tapas at Zambra; two thumbs up. After a quick change at the hotel, my daughter and I we took some food suggestions by the bartender and paired them with beer from Pisgah Brewing. The masa crusted Gulf shrimp and prosciutto wrapped dates were unbelievable. Made even better paired with the pale ale and porter. Great food in small servings paired with excellent beers to work back and forth between dishes? Their couldn’t have been a better situation at that moment.

After a day rambling around bohemia, Anne and I dressed for dinner and went to the Hector Diaz’s Modesto. This restaurant is highly-touted and considers Highland Brewery‘s owner Oscar Wong as one of it’s fans. Once again we experienced some excellent pairings - I loved putting the Gaelic Ale next to the muscles diavolo with the hops a hit competing for the finish. I also matched the Oatmeal Porter with the mushroom gnocchi with a truffle sauce. The porter seemed to unite the two dominant flavors unbelievably.

The press of college took over the rest of our trip. I’m hoping my daughter ops for UNC-Asheville because the school is wonderful and the location breathtaking… and there’s plenty of food and beer for me!

Now’s your chance to vote Asheville BeerCity USA again. Vote here.

What’s with Homebrewers?

Posted March 25, 2010 by daniel 1 Comment | Post a Comment

I had the pleasure of once again addressing the James River Homebrew Club at one of their meetings at Legends Brewery, Richmond, VA. These are the guys who will be handling the beer for the upcoming World Beer Festival - Richmond, and a perfect bunch for the job without a doubt.

So, how could I tell, on walking into the room, that this was a bunch of homebrewers?

On a recent flight from Atlanta to Phoenix I noticed a particular tone to about half of the passengers. A lot of black clothes, flat billed hats, diverse facial hair, dead-eyed stare; clearly all members of the same tribe. A few questions to my seat mate and I learned all about the motocross event the night before and even met the 5th place winner.

Homebrewers aren’t quite that easy to pick out. Sure, they have a similar appearance, but not that distinctive. The middle girth could be wider than norm, but not universally. Just a little rough around the edges, possibly. Maybe. Definitely no drama or ostentatiousness.

But it’s more in the attitude. The room buzzed with bonhomie. Everyone had a grin on their face, a conspiratorial grin. And they could talk, almost exclusively about beer. A sample glass was in each person’s hand and they were all tasting from a wide range of homebrews brought in by club members.

Now think about that. This is a crack bunch of amateur brewers, medal winners, certified judges, and serious beer dudes. And you bring in your own beer and offer it up?

There in lies the defining characteristic of a homebrewer. Their amazing self-confidence. Frankly, often completely justified. I had some painfully beautiful beers that night that were a wonder to enjoy.

As I recently wrote about my experiences with SweetWater’s Brewer Your Cask Off, homebrewers are supremely assured and knowledgeable about what works and doesn’t work in homebrewing. Whether they are correct or not is a whole other question. To paraphrase an old saw: you can put three homebrewers in a room and have four different opinions about any and everything.

The James River Homebrew Club is no different. They are passionate about brewing. They enjoy a heated discussion, no feathers get ruffled. And they make drop-dead gorgeous beers. They have no qualms about sharing their beer because they know it is the best that they are making and they are going to make even better soon.

So, readers, if you don’t know any homebrewers I suggest you go make some friends. For the price of a bit of tendentious beer geek talk, you’ll experience some wonderful beer and wonderful company.

Let me hear from you readers; what is it with homebrewers?

And the Casks and Crowds Came

Posted March 23, 2010 by daniel 0 Comments | Post a Comment

What an event. A tent in the SweetWater Brewery parking lot full of more than 80 casks. Now, lest you think they were a bunch of English ales served cool but not cold and under-carbonated but not flat, each one represented the vision and aspirations of a person or a business with few ties, if any, to a commercial brewery.

A Quarter of the Casks

Leave it to SweetWater to dream up a beer festival, Brew Your Casks Off, where their friends—lots of retailers, some charities, a few homebrewers, several beer scribes, many beer publications (including yours truly)—knocked themselves out to each make a cask ale. Amateur hour!

Then SweetWater goes and sells tickets to the event.

The top four judged brews and the People’s Choice winner will be recreated and served at the upcoming SweetWater 420 Fest this April 17th and 18th in Candler Park!

Freddy Judging Best of Show

Given that the beers were made by amateurs, the range in quality was surprisingly tame. I found few if any were awful, a bit more weren’t too interesting, but a very large majority were fun and enjoyable to drink.

Judging the Worst of Show with Jon Pinkerton

I judged the “worst of show” and, while about half of the bad beers were not pleasant, the winner of the worst got the title not so much because the beer was bad, but because it had so much chili pepper in it you couldn’t drink it. It was smoking, for real.

I check out my Paradise Porter

As for my beer, Paradise Porter—well, it was interesting. True to plan, it did end up tasting just like a Christmas ginger snap cookie and, to be honest, the first few sips were a lot of fun. However, the fun faded faster than a teenager’s crush and then it just hung around in the mouth as the drinker hunted desperately for the splash bucket.

As a veteran festival producer, I enjoyed the crowd scene most of all. Everyone was talking about the casks, like this was the ultimate scavenger hunt. They were holding up their programs, going over the numbers, chasing down cool sounding beers and passing on recommendations. The customers were all over this concept, and with good reason. It was different. It was fun. And the beers were pretty cool.

The Girls Check out the Casks

I’ve already got some ideas on how to break into the winner’s circle next time.

2010 JUDGES PANEL AWARDS

1st: Fontaines | Hop n’ Spicy (#32)

2nd: Gibneys | ELT Ale (#49)

3rd: Taco Mac | PNS Reserve (#11)

4th: Locos | Moose Brew (#79)

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

Cypress Street | Knobzilla Vanilla Oatmeal Stout (#50)

BIGGEST LOSER

Raging Burrito | Raging Xocolate (#37)

The Atlanta Humane Society was voted best charity and took home a check of $1,876 from Brew Your Cask Off.