A New England Beercation

Hi all, I realize that I have not blogged in over a year but I have not had much to write about let alone the time to blog with law school.  I finally was able to take a vacation to visit some friends in New England and NYC and wanted to report back to tell everyone about the wonderful beer I was able to try.  I decided to take a week to digest this trip because I wanted to see what my ultimate take away would be.  I miss the wonderful beers, I loved the experience of the breweries and meeting the great staffs…But the one take away  that I cannot ignore is that the DC area does not have a brewery that is pushing the creativity of what beer can be in the same way the New England area is.

I know, this seems a little snobby, and I am not saying the breweries here are bad.  They just don’t push the art of beer in the same way.  I thought about other areas on the east coast.  Philly, they have Tired Hands which brings bright interesting hoppy beers and saisons.  My old home of NJ, they have Carton which is making wonderful ales and east coast style hoppy beers.  The DMV does have some decent breweries but none of them have the consistent quality of the breweries I was able to visit.  Once you have the chance to sample beer from a brewery that sets the bar higher for what beer can be, it really does change how you think about the beer around you.

Without further griping, the breweries…

Treehouse Brewing Company:

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One of my new happy places

In beer nerd circles, the tale of this wonderful small brewery is well known.  Their legend grows every week with their ability to make lovely hop forward beers that taste more like fruit juice than a beer.  I was able to convince one of my friends in New Hampshire to meet me in Boston so we could give this brewery a try.  An overnight bus and 5 am wakeup calls, crazy traffic on the return trip, and I think it was all absolutely worth it.

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SO EXCITED

Treehouse opens its doors 3 days a week and is open for 13 hours total (7 on Saturday).  This availability coupled with the hype of their beers makes for long lines.  They do sell cans some times, but the majority of their beer is offered in growlers because they want everyone to drink their beer as freshly as possible.  Growlers take time to fill and Treehouse takes the time to clean old growlers before filling, so, don’t plan on a quick trip.  My friend and I arrived at Treehouse around 8:30 am because we wanted to get in and out as soon as possible, and we had nothing better to do at 7am.  Well, the place was empty, we were too early.  So we went to get breakfast because we didn’t want to be the weird guys hanging out before the brewery workers got there.  We returned at 10 am, and were 40th in line…..

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It looks like they have space to expand…speaking for everyone…we hope they do

If you ever get the chance to visit Treehouse and you want your best shot to try everything they have, plan to get there at least an hour early.  They are smart and they start taking old growlers and handing out tickets for orders an hour before.  The staff was super kind and excited to collect tickets from the first 50 people there. But, we did notice, if you were later than the first 50 tickets….you have to prepare to wait because you enter the brewery and they are going to call the numbers one by one instead of collecting slips from everyone in line.  The brewery tweeted out that they called  over 250 tickets.  They did limit the growlers to 4 per person but you have to assume everyone is getting the full amount and that they may run out of things on their website if they tell you it is limited.  They update their site often, and they may have 6 beers on draft and 2 types of cans one week and 3 drafts that are almost gone on another.  We got insanely lucky….

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We got everything except the milk stout. Naming it “That’s what she said” still could not stop us from maxing out our IPAs

They had 5 beers on tap with a reduced limit of 4 growlers, but they INCREASED the number of cans of Julius IPA for sale from 6 to 8.  We were out of the brewery by 11:45 and had our arms filled with cans and growlers.  They only fill their own growlers so you have to buy them but its worth it.  Also, bring coolers.  They serve the beer cold and want you to keep it cold up to serving time.  We did not do that, but I had a cooler for the cans.  I don’t know how true this fact of keeping the beer cold at all times is, but it would have been nice to have a cooler to CARRY everything to the car.  You don’t go there and get 1 growler filled, you get every ounce of beer you can.  4 growlers are hard to hold, end of lecture.

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The haul:

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I can still taste this gem

Julius:  It really begins and ends with this beer.  We were so lucky to get a ton of it.  This IPA is so hyped up that we could not wait to break into it once we got off the highway.  Hype can be a dangerous thing.  Reputations can be overblown because of limited supply. When everyone can’t try something, those who can get the beer may overemphasize its quality because they know others can’t get it.  This is not one of those cases.  This beer pours a hazy hazy orange with pillowy white head.  There is an immediate burst of citrus aroma the second the can is breached.  The aroma is of peaches, mango, citrus, and tropical fruit.  It tastes as good as it smells.  Sweetness from the malt really accentuates the fruit flavors in the beer.  The beer has a texture and weight when you sip it that makes you think of juice.  This beer looks and smells like juice.  Then you swallow and it dawns on you…where was the bitterness?  I think I sensed it slightly at the end, but the sip was all sweet fruit flavor no overt bitterness.  What?  How?  Why doesn’t everyone do this?  Because very few can.  The only thing I would say as a form of criticism is the beer is slightly sweet which makes it hard to have more than a couple.  Not that we didn’t try to drink more than a couple in one sitting.  Really a great beer.

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I love that I can smell these beers from 3 feet away just by opening the caps

Curiosity 20:  This was our favorite beer from Treehouse.  The Curiosity series is an ongoing experiment Treehouse does to explore new hops, new malt combinations and to explore different flavor combinations.  The beers in the series tend to be one offs that have yet to be rebrewed.  This version was a double IPA brewed exclusively with Mosaic hops.  Mosaic is my favorite hop.  It brings very fruit forward tones with very little bitterness.  I recommend everyone needs to try any beer they see with mosaic in it.  This beer was light and hugely fruit forward.  Tropical fruits and citrus dominated the aroma and palate with some nice bitterness to balance.  This really reminded both of us of Heady Topper which is very high praise.

Eureka with Citra and Harmony:  Eureka is a blond ale with Citra hops which bring a bright citrus (shocking) flavor to a refreshing base beer.  This beer was great to start out with and really would make a great beach beer.  Harmony was a softer tropical IPA with some nice citrus and bitter notes.  This version was toned down from the last batch.  We were able to appreciate it more after the second growler because we drank the first bottle in between double IPAs which really did not do it justice.  These were both very good beers.

Trillium:

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Not much to photograph here

Trillium is a small brewery in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston which is about a 15 minute walk from Boston’s South Station.  I give you this information because I want to impress upon everyone how accessible this brewery is which makes it seem crazy that it was so easy to get their beers. They open their doors 6 days a week and I was able to get in line 45 minutes before they opened on a Monday and walk out in 5 minutes with a case of beer because I was second in line.  I went back on Thursday an hour after they opened and was able to pick up one bottle of their newly released batch of Sleeper Street and did not have to wait. I don’t want people to crowd this place, but it is crazy how easy it is to get their wonderful bright beer.  I will be stopping at the brewery every single time I go to Boston.

They don’t offer tasters right now, and the tap room has 0 space anyway.  So you just go there to get in and get out.  Even with the lack of aesthetics, this is my new favorite brewery.  I lugged a case of their beer around Boston for over 3 hours and would happily do it again if it meant I could try more of their beer.  This brewery is nice because they bottle all of their beers so, if you are visiting, you don’t have to spend extra money on growlers.  They vary the limitations on their beer based on how rare it is and how much they have left of it.  Generally you can get one full growler of each beer per visit and anywhere from 4-12 750 ml bottles of each of their beers every time you go.

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The offending box

The haul:

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So tasty, I could drink this forever

Double-Dry Hopped Fort Point Pale Ale:  This was the best beer I tried all trip.  It GLOWS bright yellow from all the Citra hops they add to this.  It is so bright and the aroma is so intense.  If you get the chance to try any of their dry hopped beers, you should.  The price should not scare you off.  It is a little extra money for a huge boost of flavor and aroma.  I prefer this beer to some of the Treehouse beers because they aren’t as sweet.  This is just my preference, and I felt I needed to find some hair to split over these breweries.  I drank a ton of this beer and I regret that it sheltered the regular Fort Point pale ale because all I wanted was more of the Double Dry hopped version.  This beer is so juicy that your mouth starts to water as though you just bit into a fresh piece of tropical fruit or citrus.  Lovely drinkable balanced flavorful cup of awesome.

Fort Point Pale Ale:  Great tropical fruit forward pale ale.   On it’s own, one of the best pale ales I have ever had.  It was unfortunate I had this at the same time I had the double dry hopped version because this beer is phenomenal in its own right.

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Congress Street IPA:  Very nice balance of sweet peach flavors and some nice hints of pine and bitterness.  Great combination.

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Sleeper Street IPA: Very rich bitterness and some nice hits of pine and lemon peel.

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Cheers to you Trillium, my new favorite brewery.

Other Half Brewing Co.:

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Not quite Willy Wonka

This brewery is located in Brooklyn NYC about a 5 minute walk from the G line of the subway.  If I didn’t use google maps, I would most likely have walked right past the nondescript door.  The brewery is open 5 days a week, and there was no line there at 2pm on a Saturday.  It seems that when a brewery has better hours, they only get huge crowds on release days.  Other Half had the best taproom experience of the three breweries because I got to drink at the brewery.  They offer cans on certain release dates, but I was not lucky enough to be there for a release.  I just decided to drink from the awesome list of 12 hoppy beers they had on tap.  They do offer growlers.  There did not appear to be any limit at that time, but I know they do try to limit can releases to a case per person.  I will not go through all of the beers, I will just highlight a few of my favorites:

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Decisions, decisions

Galaxy IPA:  This is a series of IPAs the brewery makes where they pick one distinct hop and use a simple malt bill so the drinker gets to drink the beer and experience that hop by itself.  Most beers are a blend of hops and it is nice to get a chance to teach your palate about individual hops.  This beer had a nice rich peach and passion fruit flavor.  It was really unique for me because I have not gotten to try Galaxy on its own.  I can see why people go nuts for this hop.

All Green Everything:  A Triple IPA.  It was soooo drying from all the hops but there was really so much flavor of pine and grapefruit here.

It’s not you, It’s me: A collaboration IPA brewed with Seventh Sun in Tampa (another brewery I plan on visiting).  This beer was brewed with lychee which gave it a nice sugary aroma and a great restrained sweetness on the palate.

I would absolutely go back to this brewery.  They have some unbelievable hoppy beers and if you go semi early, it seems very easy to get into the small space of their tap room to drink cheap wonderful pints.

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Fresh Galaxy IPA without having to wait for the can release

And so ends my review of these 3 wonderful breweries.  I would not hesitate to visit any of these breweries again.  To rank them: 1. Trillium 2. Treehouse 3. Other Half*

*They are the closest to DC and offer a taproom to drink in which is a nice advantage.

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Successful weekend

Top 3 beers of my trip:

  1. Double Dry Hopped Fort Point
  2. Curiosity 20
  3. Julius
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Everyone should try this.

My top 5 breweries that I have visited

  1. Trillium
  2. Tired Hands (Brewpub and Fermentaria)
  3. Treehouse
  4. Other Half
  5. Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats (the brewpub only)

Yes, I managed to visit 3 of my top 5 breweries in one trip.  I will finish out the summer visiting the Dogfish Head brewpub again.  These are all breweries that everyone should visit because they offer so much unique beer every time I go.

Top 5 Breweries That I want to visit:

  1. Brasserie Cantillion Brouwerij (Belgium)
  2. Hill Farmstead (Vermont)
  3. Cigar City (Tampa, FL)
  4. Avery (Boulder, CO)
  5. Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Vermont)

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoyed this recap of my trip.  Whenever you go on vacation, you should try to see if there is an awesome local brewery in the area you are going.  You don’t have to go as crazy as I did but you can still have a great experience trying new beer and seeing how different areas brew.

Cheers!

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Perfect combination

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Beer-off! Rum Barrel Pumpkin Ales

My new beer tasting paddle.  No fraternity connection I swear

My new beer tasting paddle. No fraternity connection I swear

I think we can all agree that throwing a delicious beer in another alcohol barrel for added aging and flavor can only be a good thing.  Barrel aging strong beers has become a common practice ever since the bourbon stout, but many other barrels have a lot to offer.  Port, rye, wine and why not rum?  One of my favorite beers of all time is the rum barrel aged pumpkin ale unsurprisingly called Rumpkin.  My first encounter with this beer was at the bar Churchkey, and I was drawn to it because of the description.   I actually had plans to accomplish things after the bar before I started drinking the beer…but it was 15.9% alcohol.  I was drunk, and incapable of doing my LSAT prep.  Ever since that first batch release in 2011, I have eagerly awaited the next release of this beer and even followed the bottle count of the release and was concerned when they released almost 100 fewer cases between the first and second batch (512 to 418 and 617 this year if you are interested).  I knew Hardywood released a rum barrel aged version of their pumpkin beer in the 10% range, so I wanted to take the chance to try them side by side to see if the mellower version was superior or if the more robust boozier version was superior.

Avery Rumpkin Batch No. 2 Bottled Sept. 17, 2012; 418 Cases 18.1% ABV

So this might be one of the best beers I have opened this year

So this might be one of the best beers I have opened this year

This is an aged version of Rumpkin that I have been saving for a year and it actually has taken on a lot of new characteristics.  The original beer is rummy with a rich pumpkin flavor.  There are notes of apple cider, spices like cinnamon and all spice, and the alcohol burn at the end balances the intense sweetness and spiciness.  The barrel aged version ends up having a stronger malt flavor with some nice caramel burnt sugar notes, molasses, and some toffee.  The rum is more pronounced in the flavor but the harshness of the booze has subsided.  I love the new flavor and the fact that it has become so drinkable is nice but also really concerning because this version is 18% abv.  It’s still sweet and has a very heavy mouthfeel which makes me think that this beer has some growing to do (in a good way)

Hardywood Barrel Series Rum Pumpkin, 10.5% ABV

Yes, drinking on this beer cap table does make the beer taste better

Yes, drinking on this beer cap table does make the beer taste better

This was not a fair contest.  I was trying to see if I liked Rumpkin just because the rum aging was something so unique that I was more drawn to the aging.  Not true.  Rum Pumpkin is nice because they start with a bready malty pumpkin farmhouse ale that they age in rum barrels.  The rum adds to the sourness of the beer and leaves a nice boozy rum note that smooths out the pumpkin farmhouse ale.

But its no Rumpkin.  It may not have been fair because this beer isn’t aged.  I had some newer bottles of Rumpkin but was really interested to see how this beer aged.  I am just going to keep letting this age because its developed some fantastic new flavors that work well together and enhance the already unbelievable drinking experience.  Rum barrel aging is awesome and I recommend checking out rum barrel aged beers if you want to try an alternative to bourbon aging.

Cheers!

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Beer-off! Bourbon Stout

So I haven’t updated this blog in the longest time partially due to the fact that I have been busy with work and other things.  I have actually had some amazing beer experiences sandwiched between my last post and this one, and I am excited to share them all with you.  I attended Octoberfest in Munich and I have managed to chase down a number of fantastic rare beers.  I plan on writing all of this down but the rare beers really got me thinking about the subtle differences between some of these great beers.  A lot of the concepts are the same for example bourbon aging or putting pumpkin beers in rum barrels, but, the magic is in the execution.  So, I decided to do a vertical tasting of a group of beers fitting in a certain style so that I can compare and contrast them for you.  Keep in mind that people these are my opinions and none of this is meant to put any of these beers down.  These beers were all chosen because they are fantastic in their own right, this just for fun.  But anyway, here we go…

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Fruits of cellaring

Fruits of cellaring

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout 2012

This is the original bourbon stout.  The beer is rich bite of bourbon in the tip of the tongue, it has a nice rich malty chocolate middle which isn’t too robust and is surprisingly light considering the alcohol content.  The beer finishes with a nice bourbon warmth that allows you to really feel the alcohol and you get some nice oak caramel notes.  It’s a nice beer to drink on this cold stormy day and I really am looking forward to trying the new line of Bourbon County beers they are coming out with.  The flavors are pronounced and clean but don’t overpower each other.  This allows them to blend to give you those blended flavors of caramel and smoked oak.  Some drinkers are scared off by these big beers because high alcohol content requires high malt sugar content in most cases.  This one is definitely not overly sweet which may be due to my choice of an aged bottle.  This would be a reason for aging these beers because that allows the sweetness to subside and the bourbon notes to intesify.  This is really a fantastic treat to enjoy in a snifter,  I only wish that they would bring back the Vanilla brand because I am partial to all vanilla stouts.

mmmmmmm bourbon

mmmmmmm bourbon

Avery Uncle Jacob’s Stout Batch #2

I love Avery small batch brews so much it borders on obsession.  Usually I am a considerate beer buyer; if I see a beer I really like in the store and I want to stock up, I don’t buy ALL of them… I leave 1 for someone else.  I usually hate the people who buy out stores and I am an advocate for stores setting bottle limits of rare beers so everyone can try them.  But not when it comes to Avery.  I will buy out every Rumpkin and not think anything of it.  Uncle Jacob is credited as the first distiller to label his whiskey “Bourbon.”  I love when breweries put fun back stories to beers and it helps when the beer is awesome  This beer has a nice candy sugar marshmallow flavor at first that melts into a rich chocolate and coffee flavor.  At the end, you get a nice rich burning bourbon finish that leaves you with a great warming sensation.  This is definitely on the sweeter side.  It is only a about 6 months old instead of a year old; aging may help mellow the sweetness if that is off-putting to you.

To be nice I will spare you the "after" shot

To be nice I will spare you the “after” shot

The Verdict:  I like Uncle Jacob better.  The Bourbon County is light and complex and isn’t too overpowering.  I really enjoy it and I will certainly never pass it by at a bar, but I just like when these beers are bolder.  Uncle Jacob has a lot of strong flavors which some drinkers might find a little overwhelming and unbalanced but I really enjoy being able to get some strong sweetness in one sip followed by a strong hit of the bourbon.  Some might call it unbalanced, but there are some situations where I want a rich bold in your face beer.  Both beers are fun and always worth trying, but if the store is out where you are, it wasn’t me.  They also would be great to cellar for even longer.

Anyway I hope this will start a string of catchup blog posts.  I have some more beers to vertically taste and I want to share my guide to attending Octoberfest in Germany.  It is definitely a great drinking event any beer lover should try to attend.

Posted in Beer Lists, Beer Pron, Beer-off | Leave a comment

Why Beer?

Those of you who read my last article saw me taking subtle shots at the snobbish parts of the craft beer movement.  I still do believe that it’s wrong to be overly snobbish with beer and I will go into that in future articles.  But an article a friend sent me last week put everything more into perspective.  The big picture is that beer is losing overall market share to wine and spirits.  If beer as a whole is shrinking, that might make the 6%+ market share of craft beer seem less impressive.  Does that mean craft beer isn’t growing as quickly because beer is losing market share?  It’s possible, but I still think there is some good growth overall.  However, at this rate, in 10 years I am going to be sitting in a craft beer bar with a lot of 70 year old people (OH NO MY DRINKING FRIENDS ARE GOING TO BE DEAD SOON). But seriously I want to explore one of the main reasons why consumers might turn away from craft beer…cost.

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Cigar City makes the best pumpkin beer ever….

Before I get into this, I want to point out that I am basing this argument on people who go out to the bars or restaurants to socialize and consume alcohol responsibly.  If you want to tell me that you can get hammered on 8 rail whiskeys for 20 bucks, I can’t really offer you an alternative at that point except maybe to tell you that homeless alcoholics tend to be drinking Listerine and that’s much cheaper (and barely a step above it).  I will discuss the value of buying beer/wine/liquor in stores another time.

People perceive the overall cost of a craft beer to be too prohibitive when going out to a bar.  Which is fair when considering that most people come from a background where you can buy a cheap macro brew for 3 bucks or less on happy hour.  Buying liquor and wine can also be perceived as giving the imbiber more “bang for their buck” because of the higher alcohol content.  What isn’t readily apparent is that opinion is exactly what bars count on.  Liquor and wine are actually sold to the consumer at larger profit margins for the bar.  Let’s look at some numbers to give everyone an idea.   A 750 ml bottle of mid shelf liquor retails at 25 dollars (absolut, jack daniels etc).  750 mls roughly works out to be 25 oz or about 16 1.5 oz portions that bars measure by.  Each shot of liquor costs 1.50 to the house.  How ofter do you see a double pour of Jack and Coke costing 3 dollars? Never.  Jack and coke costs 8,9,10 dollars in most cities, so buying a premium spirit drink is making the bar 5+ dollars a drink.  Keep in mind I am basing this cost on retail value in stores and not the lower wholesale costs that most bars buy their alcohol at from distributors.  Even fancier mix drinks use juices and other modifiers that are equally cheap and those only serve to push the overall cost of the beverage higher.

Wine has a similar deceptive cost structure.  Most bottles yield 4-6 servings so let’s split the difference and say 5 glasses a bottle at a bar.  If the house wine costs 3 dollars a glass I can guarantee you that the bottle they are pouring from costs a lot less than the 15 dollars that works out to.  But let’s also look at buying nice wine off the wine list.  The wine list is always intimidatingly pricey to those of us without a lot of money.  Then you get to the cheap stuff, but you don’t want to be that guy who buys the cheapest wine there right?  Second cheapest wine #moneygenius.  Wellllll maybe not.  Let’s just pull my favorite quote out to really hammer this home, “a cheap bottle could be priced three to four times wholesale, while an expensive wine may be marked up only 1.5 times.”  Thank you mental floss for the numbers.  So, that 22 dollar bottle might only be a 7 dollar bottle of wine and might be cheaper to the restaurant than the bottle actually priced as the cheapest wine?  Bar and restaurant owners were not born yesterday.  From my experience, wine is a crap shoot and I have a hard time trusting a sommelier insisting that the 2010 was a really good year.  Wine is a questionable value if you don’t really obsess over it.  And if you’re not careful, you might be paying 22 dollars for a 7 dollar bottle of wine.

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Quality Ingredient

Now draft beer.  I am going to stick to explaining draft beer here because beer bottle lists sometimes behave like wine lists.  And most of the time draft beer is superior to the bottle (unless you are in a dirty bar that questionably cleans their tap lines, then bottle beer would be better…or just avoid dirty bars, ok?  A discussion for another time).  The standard way that beer is purchased is in 1/2 barrel kegs which have approximately 1984 fluid ounces.  The works out to be 124 16oz beers.  Except….the pressurized system for extracting beers doesn’t give a full yield.  There will be beer left in the keg and also you have to factor in things like foam-over and general human error that can occur in pouring.  Let’s be generous and estimate that you get 90% out of the keg or 112 beers.  A keg of a normal craft beer costs in the range of 160-190 dollars.  So most pints cost the bar 1.43-1.70 a pint under ideal conditions and most of those beers are costing 5-7 dollars in that price range.  That amount works out to 4-5 dollars profit for the bar (give or take).  That may appear to be a similar cost to the bar as other beverages, but there are also a lot of more tangible costs to consider for the bar owner who serves craft beer.

The consensus is that beer stays fresh in the keg for 30-120 days under optimal conditions.  Unlike wine and spirits you can’t just buy a large amount at a low cost and toss it in the cellar and hope that is keeps for a long time.  You are under pressure to sell it or else it goes bad.  In the case of some IPAs, they might only stay fresh for a month meaning that you need to sell it all otherwise you have to dump what you don’t use.  1/2 kegs aren’t portioned like wine or spirits so the loss of even 1 keg is a huge hit for a bar while 1 lost glass of wine is more irrelevant.

Beer tap systems need maintenance in a way that wine and liquor don’t.  The line cleaning I referenced earlier needs to take place to ensure the consistent quality of the served product.  Tap lines have to be cleaned at least every 2 weeks which is a cost that bar has to weather in time and money.  If a bar doesn’t do this, beer will start to taste sour and could get people sick.  Cleaning the lines increases the loss of beer in the keg because the beer in the line cannot be put back in the keg.  Some bars have gotten smart and started unhooking their kegs and offering the beer in the lines at a dirt cheap price to defray to cost because the beer in the tap lines ultimately gets poured down the drain anyway.  So, perhaps my 112 beer estimate was a tad off when you consider all these factors that go into serving beer.  All of that eats into the cost of the product.  If you are out at a bar the serves beer, you know you are getting a top quality product served in manner that requires attentiveness.

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Not on Bar Rescue

Beer is a much better value overall when you look at the  costs that go into serving it when compared to wine or spirits.  There is a good reason that Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue always recommends that owners turn to liquor to increase profits.  He rarely ever encourages a bar to become a craft beer bar.  A bar that serves craft beer is giving you a better value money wise and they are putting more care into the product than just pouring a beer.  If you want to get a quality product at a good value, in my opinion, craft beer is the best option and it is disappointing that more people don’t see it that way.  If you have tried beer and just plain don’t like it, I can accept that.  But if you are turning away from craft beer because you think it’s a better value to go with wine and spirits, you really need to think about the numbers.  I hope this gives you all some enlightenment on this subject and stay tuned for my next post.

Cheers!

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Why I don’t rate beers

What am I saying?  Don’t rate beers?  I see you write about beers that you like on this blog all the time!

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Random Cocoa Nib aged bourbon stout

Well yes, I do mention a number of beers that I have enjoyed at different times throughout my excursions, but, what you should notice is that I never put a character on that description.  No A-F.  No 1-5…10…35.  No first grade word grades (Good, Very Good, Poor, Excellent).  I will admit that I used to participate in rating on websites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.  I was obsessed with improving my rating profile like most of the people on these sites.  Sitting at the table pouring beers at my desk, giving ratings that all started to sound the same after a while.  Honestly it felt like a chore, and I was finding myself getting defensive when I saw someone downrate a beer I absolutely loved.  How did these people not understand the sublime flavors of Samuel Adams Double Bock?

I also saw opposing ratings that really confused me because of the writer’s word choice.  One of my favorite Imperial Stouts (Bell’s Expedition) was described by one review as tasting deliciously like charcoal and rose petals.  Charcoal…and rose petals.  I get the roasted aspect of the beer making you think coffee and smokey flavors….but charcoal is one word I would just never use for this beer.  Then to also say you got a lot of rose petal off the beer?  I have to call bull shit on that rating sir.  Nothing in that wonderful beer would give you that impression so I either have to assume you are a troll of some sort or someone who is rather misinformed about what you were drinking.  After that day, I was rather disillusioned with offering my ratings on beers.  They just seemed to be pawns in another online community where it was more important to score points.  That may not be what everyone does, and I do check these sites to get a base line on beers that I am going to try and I do value the opinions of the bloggers that started the sites.  There was just a contingent of the online community that didn’t appeal to me.

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Random Jersey FU to Hurricane Sandy

I was a little put off by my sudden realization, and that coincided with a visit to one of my favorite beer bars (Churchkey). I happened up to the bar and sat next to an older gentleman whose name I cannot remember.  But it was the conversation we had that made me envy his existence.  He was at the bar meeting friends with a few bottles of beer to try at the bar, as well as a few beers from the bar.  He was more than willing to pour me a glass eagerly asking if I had ever tried a beer from Trans Tunisia (it wasn’t good but now I can say that I have had a beer from Trans Tunisia).   The other impressive thing was that this man had sampled beers from over 90 countries and had sampled over 10,000 beers.  I asked this sage person who was clearly enjoying his later years in a fashion to make any real beer geek jealous, “How do you catalog these beers, and do you rate them?”  Well apparently he has an excel spread sheet and writes everything down when he goes to beer festivals.  When it comes to ratings, he found that he had to stop doing them.  Why?  Because he frequently experienced a situation where he would rate a beer one day and then the next day he would try it and would find himself less impressed.  Why?  As he pointed out….EVERYTHING.

Everything can and does have an effect on how you enjoy a beer.  The glass, the location, the people you are with, the temperature outside, the day of the week.  It can all change how you enjoy beers.  Don’t believe me?  Buy two bottle of the same beer, drink one Monday night after work and drink the other Friday after work.  Seems like it would have an effect on how you are enjoying the beer, right?  What I like to tell you all about are the special beers that I experience at dinners, festivals, and bars, usually with people who are important to me.  It’s nice to write about a beer you like when you are sitting on the couch or the game or at a special event, but your senses are inevitably going to change based on the situation. But I don’t want to pass judgment on a beer or brewery based on one beer that may have been consumed in less than ideal conditions.  This mentality also coincided with a few stories I had read from one of the icons of craft beer, Sam Calagione.

Sam is one of the most passionate advocates and defenders of the industry and I think he has a good head around the situation that craft beer is in.  Any percentage growth of the industry as a whole only puts a small dent in the 90+ percentage of the total market controlled by the macro brewers.  One of his recent quotes was, “It’s pretty depressing to frequently visit this site (BeerAdvocate) and see the most negative threads among the most popular. This didn’t happen much ten years ago when craft beer had something like a 3 percent market share.”  I agree.  This movement is too young to be putting down a craft brewery just for making money.  In a further interview I watched, Sam points out, “90% of the Beer Advocate community is awesome and is doing god’s work to put small breweries like Dogfish and particularly smaller to the national radar of good beer, but there is that minority component of eating their young. (Better Beer Authority; 12:04).”  The last thing that anyone should be doing is putting down a brewery just because you don’t like them.  People who are new to craft beer really take the opinions of other people seriously, and I don’t think people should be putting down breweries just because they don’t like one beer.

At the end of this all, I am a beer geek and enjoy taking the time to passionately advocate for better beer.  I want my friends out trying all the new beer that they can, and frankly I am very proud about every friend I have that now goes to the bar and requests a craft beer over a macro brew.  Beer snobs use their drinking to lord it over other people and make them feel like they can’t stack up to the drinking habits of more informed patrons.  And if you want to measure statistics of beers up against numbers such as overall popularity, the macro breweries would inherently win because they control most of the market.  If rating even one beer lowly makes one new drinker reconsider craft beer, then it’s not worth it to me.  Nothing depresses me more than seeing a new beer drinker excitedly mention a certain IPA to another semi-educated person and have them smack them down because that IPA isn’t Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper.   The inclination that beer is something that regular people can’t start to enjoy because they don’t know what the best beers are is insane.

This is a drink of the common man.  We have elevated it but it should never be something scary like a sophisticated wine list.  Beer drinkers are the most friendly people in the world, we just want to drink with you and share.  Don’t scare people away from a beer because its a B+ instead of an A-.

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Frosty Cheers!

Anyway,  I am preparing a follow-up post to this to compare the difference between a beer snob and a beer geek.  I am just on the heels of visiting Yards Brewery and Samuel Adams (the long wait is finally over) so I plan on relaying that information.  And I will be making my pilgrimage to DogFish Head in August to see the glorious brewery and eat and drink at the brewpub (one of my favorite restaurants), so, be prepared for more posts soon.

Cheers!

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Random Beer Thoughts

Lately I haven’t really had enough material to post one coherent blog post, so, I decided to share some of my disjointed beer experiences/observations with some sarcasm for your enjoyment.  First, let’s focus on one of the worst beer and food combinations I have EVER experienced.

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Stone, please make this always…forever

I’m serious.  The worst part is the it involves one of my new favorite beers.  Stone Espresso Russian Imperial Stout is sinfully dark and full of the boldest espresso flavor that I have ever experienced in a beer.  It is the closest thing to liquid espresso that I have ever seen next to the real thing.  It’s a classic engine oil black stout with a robust cream-colored head and espresso flavor and aroma everywhere.  Now, what food did I eat with this beer?  A beer with so much flavor that it should be impossible to topple with flavor?  How about spicy garlic ginger chicken wings.  Spicy, sweet, pungent food doesn’t go with espresso.  It was weird and warped the flavor of the beer to give it a funky flavor and the roasted flavors just did nothing good for the wings.  Ugh, sometimes the beer you are drinking with your food will just work out, and sometimes you end up experiencing frankenflavors that you didn’t know existed.

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Special Beer for a Bold Glass

Now onto my new favorite beer drinking glass.  The Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada IPA glass.  I had heard about this glass after the last collaboration the two breweries did (Rhizing Bines), and I have to say I was as skeptical as anyone could possibly be of a beer specific glass like this.  A glass just to enhance the flavors of the IPA?  Why was it that shape?  Is this just a gimmick?  The glass just felt like another attempt by a brewery to market itself with a glass.  I did find it on the Dogfish website for 9 dollars a glass, so why not try it?

I love this glass.  I didn’t want to, but I do.  It’s great for IPAs  The bottom of the glass has little indentations to create bubbles, the slim base with ridges helps to create more aeration while you drink, and the tulip part of the glass is lipped so your nose can peek inside the glass so you can smell the hops as you drink.  I didn’t think it was possible, but I have been drinking so many more IPAs just because I have this amazing glass.  If you are a person who loves a good IPA, this glass is for you.  It isn’t a gimmick, all the work put into this glass really makes the beer better.  The only drawback that I have heard from most beer experts is that the glass is made with very thin glass and is prone to breaking.  It requires hand washing and must be treated like a fine wine glass.  You could just use a fine wine glass to enjoy most beers but why would you?

Randall Jr.

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Peach Cascade Infusion (I had a lot of leftover Cascade Hops)

The Mini Enamel Animal.  I had been looking into beer infusions for a while.  It might seem odd because shouldn’t the beer have enough flavor on its own?  Yes, but it’s fun to experiment with new flavors in a beer without having to brew a version that you have been looking to try.  If I want to try a watermelon cascade hop IPA, I can do that.  I have read the recent articles that suggested using a french press, and it seems like a good idea, but I just couldn’t keep using my coffee source for beer.  I use my french press every day, and its hard to fully clean all the time just to make one beer infusion.  I get the idea of multi-tasking, but if you don’t clean the french press, you get a hint of coffee flavor in your beer that you might not be looking for.  Frankly, I think you would need another french press just for beer, and that is just too much money.

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Watermelon Cascade Sam Summer Ale

That’s when I found this mini version of Randall the Enamel Animal.   Randall, was a way to combat the intense west coast IPAs that have been coming out by filtering the beer through extra hops as it gets poured.  The idea actually started with a water filter, and then Dogfish Head developed a machine specifically for this.  I saw that they made this mini-version, and decided to give it a try.

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Looks like a science experiment and it kinda is

Randall Jr. is cheap and allows me to have something specifically for beer infusions.  I get that I have a french press, I also understand that Randall Jr. is a water bottle with a screen on it.  I don’t care, this didn’t cost me much money, is easy to clean, and lets me combine fruit, beer and hops very easily.

How do you infuse beer?  Just take some leftover fruit like some peaches, cut them up and drop them in with some extra hops and you can just pour the beer over.  Cap the mixture and let it sit for 2o minutes in the fridge and you have a new fruity beer with some massive hop aroma on the nose.  Hops can be found at local home-brew shops and they don’t cost more that a few dollars for a couple of ounces.  There is one draw back to the infusion process that everyone should be aware of.  The french press or the Randall filter the beer through a mesh strainer which compresses a lot of the carbonation out of the beer.  This beer will be a lot flatter than it originally was pre-infusion.  It will still have some crispness to it, but it will be more like drinking a cask beer that a fully carbonated beer.  If this doesn’t bother you, I recommend trying this.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed these experiences.  I will be making a trek up to two of the most influential breweries for me as a drinker this Summer (Sam Adams and DogFish Head).  I will be posting about those later as well as some more homebrewing diaries.

Cheers!

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Savor 2013

Let’s start off the with exclusive Beer from Savor.  New York Limited: Ommegang; Saranac; and Brooklyn Breweries collaborated this year to produce a rich spicy and citrusy white lager that is 100% bottle re-fermented.  This 8.5% ABV beer is big but also refreshing and was perfect to start my birthday week in the DC Summer.

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Can’t wait to see how this ages

This was a big deviation because of the move to NYC.  The tickets didn’t sell out, I haven’t been to this venue in the city, how was this event going to go?  This was Amazingly well run.  I’d even say this was better than last year because it wasn’t so crowded.  I actually got oysters this year!  (Note to anyone offering all you can eat oysters at an event that people pay for entry up front…there will never be enough oysters. Oyster people are bottomless pits)  The event moved well, the breweries all had enough beer and food to go around, what more could you ask for?  I loved how one of the walls essentially sported the murderers row of barrel aged beers (Avery, Bruery, Lost Abbey, Firestone Walker…it was crazy) and both Bell’s and Founders decided to bring raspberry beers.  They told me it wasn’t on purpose, but it’s more fun to speculate.  I am just going to give you my favorite pairings:

Favorite Pairing: Willoughby Brewing Company: Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter Paired with Black and Tan Brownie with Butterscotch and Pretzel Bite

This small Ohio brew pub brought one of the most anticipated beers to the event and it totally delivered.  The brownie was amazing on its own, but with that rich chocolate peanut butter beer with a kick of coffee; it was amazing.  The pairing was a tight rope walk of bold flavors that just exploded in my mouth.  Pretzel, toffee cut with peanut butter and coffee.  The salt of the pretzel made the chocolate rich and creamy.  I am just so sad that I will most likely never get to taste this again.  It’s Savor, that’s the treat and the tease of the event.

Runner Up 1: Ballast Point Brewing Company: Toasted Coconut Victory at Sea Imperial Porter Paired with Murmura: Puffed Rice with Jaggery Sugar Caramel

Puffed rice Jaggery whatever?  Or fancy rice krispee treat.  You say tomato, right?  This beer was really nice and sweet with the addition of toasted coconut and that was really made sweeter by the rich vanilla flavor this beer already possesses.  It was crunchy sweet, roasty and light.  Perfect pairing.  Also I have to mention here that I the Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin IPA at a bar the night before..it is the spiciest chili beer that I have ever had.  Let’s just say my morning felt like I had eaten 100 spicy wings the night before.  I ate nothing else spicy.

Final Runner Up: Brooklyn Brewery: Black Ops Paired with Chicken Liver and Chocolate

This was what a lot of people said was the “Best Pairing” but I was more thrilled by the aformentioned dessert pairings.  This was a fun pairing.  It was sweet, savory, meaty and the that was really cut by the nice rich bourbon stout.  It was a fantastic play on salty and sweet, but hey I was in a sweet mood.  Feel free to disagree.

It gets hard to remember all of the pairings overall, but these were the best overall.  And you know they were good because I was able to remember them 2 days later.  This event is fun because it marks the release of a lot of these beers to the general public.  The Bruery Bois is a special beer they release every year aged in bourbon barrels, you should check your local beer store to see if they are getting it.  Lost Abbey Deliverance is already out and you should try it while you can.  I hope this encourages all of you to mark your calendars so you can pick your favorite beer and food pairings next June.

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Perfect End to a Perfect Night

Cheers until Heavy Seas Burgerfest this weekend!!!

 

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