Bradford on Beer

Okay, this is weird.

Posted August 26, 2010 by daniel 0 Comments | Post a Comment

I’m sitting down to watch an old movie with a bomber of Foothills Baltic Porter.  Pop the cap and pour a nice tulip glass full of the dark liquid.  I put the bottle on the coffee table and pick up the glass.  Then I look at the open bottle.  I put the cap back on it, but it’s now crimped and doesn’t sit well.

Then the “ah ha” experience.  I head into the kitchen, rummage around the crap drawer (you know you have at least one of those) and find this old holiday present of a pair of wine stoppers.  These really, really heavy three dimensional dart shaped things with rubber ribbed sides.

I drop one in the Foothills Baltic Porter and get a pretty good seal.  Hmmm.  Knowing I had a couple more bottles I took that half empty bottle with the cork dork seal on it and stuck it in the fridge.  Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

The next evening, it poured a pretty good head.  I couldn’t taste any oxidation, but one day, in a fridge, with a big beer, I didn’t expect that.  Still, a pretty good head.

I guess there are some good things coming out of the wine world after all.

A night at the bar

Posted August 20, 2010 by daniel 5 Comments | Post a Comment

Some evenings can’t get much better. I’m such a sop for gatherings in the bar. This one tops the list however.

After a bit late stay at work, I stopped in at a wonderful source of draft Fullers London Porter, Bull McCabe’s. Laura called and I invited her to join the musings at a bar. Before she arrived, good friend Barry dropped in to catch the Twins game. The three of us chatted over a pint, while I awaited the arrival of dinner – veggie burger and salad. It’s true; I am trying to drop a few inches off the waist. When the cook, a good friend and consummate master burger maker delivered the plate to the bar, I took some abuse, much to my friends’ amusement.

Then the evening got very special. John, the cook, asked if I wanted to try some home made prosciutto. Are you kidding? After a veggie burger, hell yes. And it was very, good.  Amazingly soft for prosciutto. I hope you have enough imagination to sense what went on between the prosciutto and the Fuller’s Porter. A perfect match. I almost started whimpering. I excused myself from Laura and Barry, and headed to the kitchen in the most ingratiating fashion I could summon.

There was John with a grin on his face. “I knew you couldn’t hold out.” With all the grace I could muster, having been caught on the dark side, I asked for “more.” John laughed and said he’d fix up a plate with some slices of cheese and, bonus move, some corned beef he’d also made.

So here I am, after a fantastic, but long day at work, with a modern version of a Ploughman’s Plate and a classic English porter, and great company, sitting at a wooden bar. Now if that isn’t pure romance.

Oregon Homebrewing Activities Illegal? Probably not for long.

Posted July 13, 2010 by daniel 3 Comments | Post a Comment

A recent ruling by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) has put a stop to any homebrew competition or homebrew gathering. They interpret the law, which refers to “home consumption,” to mean just that: consumption in a home, which means you make it in your home and you drink it in your home. They now consider carrying a six-pack to a party, holding a competition, or any other way of consuming homebrew to violate the state’s law.

Before you fire off the vitriolic letter or email, filled with rude and abusive things, consider a few points. Oregon is ground zero for the craft beer revolution. They have a thriving craft beer industry. All three tiers—supplier, wholesaler and retailer—have strong, supportive relationships, based on recognizing the value of craft beer to the beer industry and the state community. And to a person, I’m betting they understand the role homebrewing plays in developing this idyllic beer world.

All of this is why I can say, “probably not for long.” If the powers that be interpret the OLCC’s ruling as a need for clarification and sit down with the appropriate industry and elected officials, and work on revising the legal language, I’m pretty convinced this will go away. Ten or twenty years ago, this could have been a dogfight, but not today. The beer revolution is here to stay and all sectors of the industry and the government know it.

Cool heads need to prevail and reasonable discussions are the call of the day. Clarifying language, not storming the halls, will probably solve this conundrum and we can all get back to continuing to build a better beer world.

Getting Savor Right

Posted June 21, 2010 by daniel 4 Comments | Post a Comment

They did it again, those enthusiastic folks from the Brewers Association, Boulder, CO.  The third annual Savor, the quintessence of beer and food events located in Washington DC, was a stunner with tickets selling out in minutes.  Back at the National Building Museum, with its soaring columns, Savor meant fifteen stations with four breweries each, two beers per brewery, and a food pairing for each beer adjacent to the beer serving station. The brewery booth layouts were bracketed by an oyster bar on one end and a cheese bar on the other with a round center station with another ten breweries.  That’s the mechanics.

Most of the beers were presented by senior members of the brewery – beer celebrities such as Greg Koch of Stone, Brett Joyce of Rogue, Kim Jordan of New Belgium, Gary Fish of Deschutes, Brian Buckowski of Terrapin, Patrick Rue of The Bruery, John McDonald of Boulevard, Brian Dunn of Great Divide, Gene Mueller of Flying Fish, Jamie Emmerson of Full Sail, Sam Caligione of Dogfish Head, Rob Tod of Allagash, were among the many brewery types on hand to talk beer.  The lucky few who got tickets had the best and the brightest to learn from.

Savor now soars to a completely different aesthetic than simply the mechanics.  While the logistics are extraordinary, and Bob and Nancy of the Brewers Association manage them very well, it is the questions that are raised which separate this event from all others.  Fortunately, I had Bruce Paton, the Beer Chef, at my elbow during most of my wanderings to help with just such questions of sensory perception and analysis.  Here are a few of the pairings where I can at least read the notes!

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA paired with jerk chicken.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much “jerk” to the chicken.  However, the Sculpin was a hop feast with a lot of spicy mouthiness to it.

Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout paired with mac and very cheddar cheese.  Perhaps the catering company was a little conservative because, as with the jerk chicken, cheese lacked the expected sharpness.  Easily remedied.  Bruce and I took our Obsidian Stout to the cheese booth and found a sharp chedder, which just nailed the pairings, a perfect compliment of rich nutty texture and sharp malt/cheddar finish

Dog Brewing Pub Dog Very Cherry Ale paired with oatmeal stout chocolate truffles.  A dynamite example of cutting, or as Bruce put it “relieve the flavor.”  When the truffles followed the cherry ale there is a brief flash of the flavor than a surprisingly clean palate.

Flying Fish Exit 16 Double IPA paired with a paella.  The paella lacked the punch I’d usually associate with the dish.  However, the pairing gave Bruce an opportunity to talk about two types of heat – herbal that goes well with hops versus spicy that elevates the heat when paired with hops.

Green Flash Trippel paired with asian bbq salmon.  The Trippel is all malt, no candy sugar added to get it to the alcohol.  The salmon accented the malt base perfectly, with the fish oil pairing the Saaz hops.

Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery Big Cypress Brown Ale paired with buffalo chili.  Fortunately the chili was barely present allowing for the nutty brown to shine.  Meaty meets malty in a nice collision.

North Coast Brewing Le Merle with baked goat cheese in a tomato sauce.  Bruce described this as a very happy marriage.  The texture was very complimentary with the acidity of the goat cheese balancing the Belgian funk.

Uinta Brewing Co. Detour Double IPA paired with mahi-mahi fish tacos.  The double IPA just roared over the tacos.  Mahi-mahi has some subtle flavors accentuated by the pico de gallo.  The malt depth and spicy levels of the IPA were just too big.  However, the Cockeyed Cooper paired with salted dark chocolate caramel truffles showed how the sum can be greater than the parts.  The roasted barley and cocoa beans laid a nice foundation brining out the heat of the alcohol.

Although many others were tried, the above represents the limits of my note taking and my ability to read what notes I have.  Too much a hedonist and not enough a journalist.

Hidden Jems!

Posted June 18, 2010 by daniel 0 Comments | Post a Comment

What’s particularly cool about the craft beer industry are its hidden gems (like this post I just found hidden in the drafts folder!)  that are rare and distinctive, those unique experiences which are so far removed from the tried and true comfortable local or  favorite beer. This job allows me the opportunity to chase down some of these crazy ideas, like the Big Beers, Belgians & Barley Wine Fest in Vail, Colorado.

Weeks later I’m still remembering and thinking about this event. Celebrating its 10th year, the Big Beers has a lot of serious upside to it. First, it is in Vail and the snow was perfect. Having hung up the boards a few decades ago, self-preservation was the rationale, I looked on with envy as brewer and attendee hit the slopes for a few runs. Beyond the skiing, wandering through the frozen, streetlight painted Vail village after a raucous dinner with brewers and enthusiasts just can’t be replicated in many places around the country.

However, the second feature transforms the event. The Colorado Front Range throws it’s full support behind Big Beers. Virtually the whole Brewers Association, the trade organization for craft brewers, attended this gathering as spectators, enjoying the bounty without the stress of running it.  (They do put on the Craft Brewers Conference, the Great American Beer Festival, Savor, not to mention all their publications.)  John Carlson, the head of the Colorado Guild was there, as were virtually every brewer in the state. For a serious beer lover, this was rubbing elbows with the greats of one of the leading beer scenes in the country.

This precipitated a nostaglic moment for me.  I had a wonderful opportunity to judge at the homebrew competition with a couple of serious homebrewers. Funny thing was, looking around the room, I knew more people in that room than I had at any of the Southeast judgings I’d been in on lately. Nearly twenty years after leaving, I still miss the Colorado beer scene.

Back to the Big Beers, what Bill and Laura Lodge, of High Point Brewery, have put together is a complete beer experience for those who are serious about their beer.  A couple of beer dinners, some seminars featuring major brewing talent from the States and Europe, a Cicerone seminar and test hosted by Ray Daniels, the already mentioned homebrew competition, and then the beer festival itself where a couple dozen breweries showcased their spectacular big beers.

I attended one of the two beer dinners where Adam Avery, Avery Brewing, and Sam Caligione, Dogfishhead Brewing paired off with Chef Adam Votow acting as the ringleader.  Imagine double pairing two beers with one dish.  The show stopper was the Dugana IPA from Avery and the Chicory Stout from Dogfish Head paired with a rubbed pork loin, an exciting triangulation.

The Lupulin Reunuless at the Brickskeller

Posted by daniel 0 Comments | Post a Comment

Round three or four of the brewery young guns slam fest got seriously toned down this year.  From previous years’ mash-ups, with heavy doses of bathroom humor, this beer maven summit transformed itself into an historical, sociological, political, aesthetic feast of rare talent gathered on one platform.  Of course, it took the legendary Dave Alexander, Brickskeller and RFD proprietor; to bring everyone together into a room packed with beer geeks and beer scribes.

Here’s young Dave on the cover of our first redesigned issue:

Picture this – Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Brewery), Kim Jordan (New Belgium Brewery), Rob Tod (Allagash Brewing Co), Greg Koch (Stone Brewing Co.), Bill Madden (Mad Fox Brewery), and Bob Pease (Brewers Association) – all jammed together on the podium to present on fifteen different beers.

With this level of fire power it’s easy to see how the conversation rambled throughout the new brewing landscape.  Two dominant threads were industry education and history.  Between the brewers and Bob from the association, the audience got a short course on the economics of running a small brewery and the valued work of the trade association, particularly the latest initiative to reduce the excise tax burden.

Ken talked about the early days and how few of those pioneers were still around (besides Sierra Nevada, would you believe only 1!) and the many crossroads he’s faced in the intervening years.  His early benchmarks, and the origins of his equipment, were eye opening given his stature today.  One of his progeny, Brian, was in the audience indicating a long future for the company.

Kim Jordan, perhaps a leader of the next generation of craft brewers, noted the cost to fund growth rates.  Going from today’s numbers, which exceeds 10% in many markets including Washington DC, would require such a massive infusion of capital to build the equipment infrastructure to create, distribute and market that next few percentage points of growth.  Bob Pease joined in with a discussion of the trade association’s efforts to get the excise tax reduced for small brewers in the interest of funding this expansion.  As with Ken, Kim had a brewing offspring in the audience with Zak Danielson sitting amidst the New Belgium gang.

Often associated together along with goombah Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Greg, Sam and Rob talked about getting their companies going some during the implosion of the late 1990s.  With an industry established, these “pioneers” moved in rather unique ways to fulfill their personal mission.  Greg’s aggressive defiance, Rob’s quiet almost monkish aesthetics, Sam’s raucous flavor explorations have all lead to legendary profiles that have rocked the foundation of craft beer expanding the tent in exciting dimensions.

And then Bill reminded everyone of the roots or our industry as he talked about opening his new brewery in two weeks.  Although a long standing brewing stalwart of the DC brewer community, Bill is launching his own place reminding all of us that the pioneering passion continues generation after generation.

A few notes from the 15 beers presented:

Vintage 50 Wee Heavy – Not from the unopened Mad Fox, but from Bill’s private stash.  The last keg in existence of one of his legendary creations, which takes six hours to mash.  This was the ultimate statement of a wee heavy.

Oaked Arrogant Bastard – Greg says this is not barrel aged, but aged on oak chips which rounds out the hops taking the edge of the well respected in-your-face beer.

30th Anniversary Imperial Helles – Ken made this to honor the pioneer homebrewers picking a lager to honor Fred Eckhardt’s Treatise on Lager Beer and using a lager yeast from Charlie Papazian.

Eric’s Ale – New Belgium blended a dry sour beer, aged in oak with a more sweet, alcoholic beer, with a secondary fermentation using peaches.  smooth and characterful

Bourbon Barrel Belgian Style Stout – not a real style, but Rob liked combining Belgian funk, with mocha from Jim Beam barrels and linking them with the stout bitterness.

Namaste – the only time served outside of the Dogfish Head tasting room. Started with a Tois Fountain sort of beer and added stuff chosen by Mariah, Sam’s wife, including lemon grass and actual oranges.

Life & Limb – celebrating the brewing renaissance and the family that goes into a good brewery, Ken and Sam blended Ken’s own barley and Sam’s own maple syrup.  This too was the last cask and almost got dumped before someone figure out what it was.

There were numerous other beers and hours of conversations worthy of a short book, not a too long blog.  Watch for round four or five same bat-time, same bat-channel.

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.


Brewing My Cask Off!

Posted March 15, 2010 by daniel 1 Comment | Post a Comment

As the cab pulled up to SweetWater Brewery, I knew there would be trouble. But for whom? Read More…

Beer and a Sense of Place

Posted March 11, 2010 by daniel 0 Comments | Post a Comment

Twice now, I’ve helped grow a beer community. First time was working for Charlie Papazian at the Association of Brewers where a posse pushed the Colorado beer culture into the stratosphere. The second was here in Durham, NC, where a wasteland has become a mecca in an eye blink. Both times, festivals were the leading edge, gathering beer lovers in one place and sharing that sense of being of the same tribe—the Beer is Good Tribe.

Me with a gang from the Charolotte Beer Club

Now we’re at it again in Columbia, SC. If you missed round two of the World Beer Festival-Columbia, you missed something special. This is an eager beer town. There are maybe a dozen “influencers,” passionate beer lovers driving the evangelical mission. What’s pretty cool is the local industry seems as excited as the zealots. There’s a beer retailer who can’t help enough. The homebrewers are eager and passionate. The wholesalers are all on board, too. With Flying Saucer and Mellow Mushroom smack in the middle of nearly 100 retail license holders, it is a serious beer market. The pieces are in place.

The crowd in front of Unibroue

And we add the forum. This year, attendance was up 25% and the crowds couldn’t be nicer—after all, it is South Carolina. Lot’s of pleases and thank-yous. The volunteers who sign-up, show-up. The convention center people propose solutions to problems that haven’t happened, yet.
And when last call happened, everyone just walked out!

A sample of the thousands of guests and hundreds of volunteers

Here’s a few beer notes from the floor.
Coast Brewery was out of their well-respected Kölsch, but their IPA was well-crafted, with a very herbal finish.
Foothills tapped a cask of Total Eclipse Stout for the VIP Lounge. Very soft, as a good cask ale should be, the stout finished with some very well-rounded chocolate notes, slighty toffee even.
Malheur from the Brewery De Landtsheer, Belgium was one of the treasures of the night. Coffee brown, it had a crisp, toasty nose. A study in malt that began with a lot of roasted nuts and finishing with lots of yeasty spiciness.
Wells’ Banana Bread Beer could be one of the more unusual beers, because it does have a distinctive banana bread flavor and it works. Take the breadiness of a classic ale and add in those deep notes of banana, rich and heavy, and there’s something unusual and special here.
I did have to follow that with Atwater Block’s Vanilla Porter, which always reminds me of crème brûlée.
Of course, a good dose of hops will balance all this sweetness. Victory Brewing consistently delivers sharp beers. Their HopDevil had a long fruity, tangy, dry finish lingering for quite some time.
I next settled in with a Stone Levitation. This one suffered from being too cold, so I dove into a plate of pulled pork. When I returned, the hop bite scoured the back of my mouth with just a hint of sweet malt to offset the rich hopping levels. This is a very, very bright beer with an amazingly long finish.
A quick stop at Chimay where I discovered the Blue was already history (these Columbians are pretty savvy) so I asked for a serving of the Red. There is a lot spice in the Chimay portfolio. This one had a spectacular pepper finish. A serious dinner beer.

Telling the Chimay story.

Thomas Creek Double IPA, very toasty, roasted malt, with a musty, hoppy finish. Rich and sharp at 12.5 percent ABV and 143 IBU.

I can only imagine what year #3 is going to bring for this exciting Columbia, SC market.  Next year’s fest is going to be pretty interesting.  Put it on you calendar and be sure to stay an extra day or two.  Great place to hang out.