Friday, July 29, 2011

98 Bottles of Beer on the Wall...

This will be a quick post - After this past weekend's festivities, I came to the realization that I had broken the 900 beer mark. 902 to be exact...

In an effort to try and keep up with the site and the brews I have sampled in more real-time (I am about 300 behind at this point that have notes but haven't been posted), I am going to institute a beer countdown to #1,000 starting from the 98 I have remaining.

In an effort to encourage active readership and a little fun, I would love for you guys - the readers - to get behind this last 100 (approximate) brews. Comment, make recommendations, check out my Beer Wishlist, and help share what is going on via Twitter and Facebook. You can also check out everything I have/am sampling by adding me as a friend on Untappd. I know that I am personally really looking forward to this milestone, but it will be all the better sharing it with other beer lovers!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Weekend Recap...A Few Days Late!

Hey there...Long time no see! I'm gonna try to do a better job now of keeping you guys up to date, and I should have some more time to devote to the site. In the past two weeks I have averaged about 60 hours/ week at work, finished an online class, and undergone a minor procedure.

As part of a much-needed break, I took a day trip to Washington, DC on Saturday with Dick to watch DC United of Major League Soccer (MLS) play Everton FC of the English Premier League (EPL) as part of the Herbalife World Footbal Challenge (otherwise known as a "Friendly"). Of course, a large part of the day would revolve around sampling some great brews that we can't find around here.

Yep, that's the 1st time I've ever been in a picture on my blog!
When we were about 2/3 of the way there, we stopped for a bathroom break in Fredericksburg, VA. Just off-the-cuff, Dick mentioned, "isn't there a brewery here called Blue and Gray?" I instantly remembered sampling their excellent Fred Red and Stonewall Stout at a Microfestivus event several years back, so we quickly looked it up. Turns out, it was less than 2 miles away!

We detoured into one of the sketchiest, most ancient looking industrial parks (I have been to a few different breweries in this type of neighborhood) and found that they were giving samples and free tours!

View from the brewery tour into the brewpub
What I have failed to mention to this point was that this day was 100° with a heat index approaching 115°! These troopers were in an un-air-conditioned warehouse still plugging away to make some high-quality suds. The least we could do was stop in to check things out!

We were greeted by "Jack", an older gentleman and part owner that served as our server for the day. Jack was a wealth of information about the history of Fredericksburg (he told us some great Civil War stories), the brewery (it was formerly the world's largest cellophane plant) and all the ins-and-outs of the brewing process. This guy really knew his stuff!

Etched glass in the brewpub with Blue & Gray logo 
We sampled the 3 beers I hadn't had yet: Classic Lager, Virginia Hefeweizen, and Franklin's Crossing IPA, and then Jack introduced us to Becky - possibly the most enthusiastic tour guide I have ever met. Becky took her time on an incredibly hot day to show two small-scale homebrewers the ropes of a 700 barrel-a-year brewery, including the remarkable homemade "Franken-filler" bottling machine (we joked that they could, "Save a cap, we'll drink straight from the tap"). Her passion for beer was infectious (like I needed any more reasons to love it!), and she provided a new experience for me - sampling the brews at different stages of fermentation. Very cool!

Union Station Great Hall
After the tour we were directed to a newer side to Blue & Gray, the brewpub. Here we were able to sample two more brews that weren't on tap in the brewery: Borman's Belgian - my favorite, and their yet-unnamed Black IPA. All great beer and great info during an unexpected stop over!
Inside G-B with brew kettles in the background

All that excitement, and we were just getting started! Once we got into the city limits, we parked at Union Station and took the Metro down to Gallery Place - Chinatown to grab some grub and more brews at Gordon-Biersch. At the brewery-restaurant we chowed down on pizza and hot wings and took advantage of their sampler. I had previously sampled the Marzen and SummerBrau seasonal, but I was very impressed with their Golden Export, Hefeweizen, Czech Pilsner and my favorite - the Schwarzbier.

The Spy Museum is privately owned, so you have to pay
Without realizing it, we ate right across the street from somewhere I had wanted to visit for some time now - the International Spy Museum. As a HUGE James Bond fan growing up, and a Black Ops/Clandestine forces supporter (Mitch Rapp is real!) now that I am older it was super cool to check out the real-life Q gadgets and learn more about the OSS, CIA, MI6, KGB, Mossad, etc. and their involvements in shaping history. After spending a couple hours looking at stuff like lipstick guns, sunglass cameras and concealed cyanide capsules we were getting hungry (and thirsty) again - time to move on to another great restaurant.

RFD is a Washington staple!
Regional Food and Drink (RFD) IS a restaurant in theory, but this place has the best tap list in the DC/Metro area AND over 300 bottles to choose from if you can't find a good pour. Under normal circumstances, I would want to eat out on their covered patio, but it was so damn hot we ate inside and it STILL affected my appetite - something that takes a lot! We ordered our first round of drinks and an appetizer that turned out to be the largest plate of nachos I have ever seen. I wanted to stay strictly tap, but I chose a brew that probably wasn't best suited for such a hot day - Oliver Breweries Coventry Cream Ale. It was a very good beer, but the nitro was a bit thick so I needed something lighter for my second. For the next beer I went with Southern Tier Farmer's Tan Imperial Pale Lager. Yes, it was lighter, but only in color! In flavor and ABV (9%), though, it knocked my socks off! I was also able to sample the two brews that Dick ordered, Flying Dog Backyard Smoked Ale and Bear Republic Apex Imperial IPA, both weighing in at 7.5% ABV and incredible beers in their own right.

Never would have known this was an art gallery...
We finished up at RFD and still had about an hour before we needed to get to the Metro so we crossed the street to head into our second museum of the day - and you thought I was completely uncultured! The Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraitry is part of the Smithsonian Institution and looks just like the Supreme Court building. What is inside, however, is one of the most impressive and priceless collections of canvas, photography, sculptures and other art mediums in the US.

Unfortunately, we had to rush through it and photographs of the exhibits were not allowed - but I highly suggest stopping in to see this in addition to all of your other traditional monuments and museums that are better known in DC.

The MLS still has a way to go to catch up to the EPL
Finally, after an already filled and exhausting day, we hopped onto the Metro to head to RFK Stadium for the game. At the start I was really excited, but then the activities of the day and the incredibly oppressive heat began to catch up with me. We sat in the stands and I sweat worse than I ever have in any sauna. I simply can't imagine having to perform as an athlete in that type of environment! In the end, the visitors from across the pond put on quite a showing, as Everton soundly defeated United 3-1 in front of a sparse crowd at home.

The experience was great (this was my first professional soccer match) but I can't say enough how the stifling heat put a damper on the day's festivities. I am also learning quickly that I am getting too old for 8-hour road trips within a 24-hour period - especially when it means driving back overnight! In the end, I can still look back on it as a good time with good food, good beer, and athletic competition - every man's dream!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager ('06 & '11)

I don't know about where you guys live, but it is freakin' HOT here in Virginia! I am not one to normally whine about steamy weather, in fact I actually enjoy sweating - but it hit 100° today, and around here that includes 80% humidity!

Funny enough, it was exactly the same temperature in Shiner, Texas today, where this beer originated.

I first sampled Shiner 97 when it first came out in 2006 to celebrate the Spoetzl Brewing Company's 97th year. It stood out to me then for two reasons:

  1. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't have waited just three more years to celebrate their 100th anniversary. (I still haven't found the answer to that question)
  2. Despite the unanswered enigma, the taste of this beer floored me! I was just breaking into craft beer at the time, and had never heard of a Schwarzbier...All I could think of was about 15 different Space Balls references.
Well, after that experience I didn't see Shiner around much except for the occasional sixer of Shiner Bock at the grocery store. Then just a few weeks ago I stopped by the supermarket and stumbled onto the "Shiner Family Reunion" mixed six-pack. Eureka! 

Strangely enough, there is a 97 Black right there in the mix pack - I thought that was a one-off beer! In fact, I thought it was so unique at the time that I kept the bottle to one day right about it...and that day is today!

Do you like the new bottle or the old one better?
Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager is a jet black brew with ruby accents, and pours to a two-finger head of off-white foam that diminishes quickly. The newer, more modern label features the motto, "Don't be afraid of the dark."

According to the label, it turns out this beer gained such a following in the mid-oughts (sic?) that the brewery brought it back for good! And for good reason...the brew is made from specialty malts and imported Czech Staaz and Styrians hops!

The beer has a strong, roasty aroma, and at first sip contains a sort of flat cola texture. The first taste that hits your palate is just like I remembered back in '06: chocolate malt sweetness, followed by a roasted bitterness similar to espresso. This brew is very smooth, and incredibly easy to drink at only 4.9% ABV and 18 IBUs. However, Shiner needs to make one change - switch away from screw top bottles!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Baltika #8 Wheat Ale

Last night we met up with my sister-in-law's family at one of my favorite restaurants, Waterstone, a fire-roasted pizza joint.

If you follow the blog, you may also have noticed that the upstairs of the restaurant is home to the Jefferson Street Brewery. I have raved about several of the brews offered here, including the two I had tonight: the Honey Wheat and Oatmeal Stout.

The only thing that I am disappointed with is that it appears they have completely stopped making seasonal beers...Coming from the place that showcased the winner of a local homebrew competition on their tap line (Dr. Evil ESB), it sucks that they have found their 5 niche beers and closed up shop.

Take this as a challenge JSB! Your beers are top notch, so break out of this state of mind!

Anyway, those brews were good, but I have already reviewed them...

As a nightcap, I sampled a beer I had recently picked up at Pints O' Plenty at the recommendation of owner Doug John. Doug has over 20 years of brewing experience, and just finished working with Clipper City Brewing and their Heavy Seas line to produce the 2011 Letter of Marque (Belgian Dubbel), so I think I can trust him to know his stuff!

Baltika #8 Wheat Ale is a golden honey color with a two-finger head of white, fizzy foam. The brew came in a large clear bottle (uh-oh), and proudly claims on the label it is the #1 beer exported from Russia.

When I pop the cap, the immediate aroma is of banana, but then I get...what is that? Gasoline? Man, I really didn't care for their #9 lager, so this has me worried. The first sip is uber carbonated and contains loads of fruity flavors: banana, citrus and apricot. I don't know what I was expecting from a wheat beer from St. Petersburg, Russia, but this is NOT it.

The beer is actually semi-tangy, sweet, and full of spice. It has all of the refreshing crispness that you would expect from a wheat, with a lingering sweetness in the finish. Don't let that initial smell fool you, this is actually a really good beer, and in a big bottle to boot!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dogfish Head Squall IPA

First Saturday in a while without a beer festival to go to, and I am feeling withdrawals!

Instead, I got together with Dick to have our own little impromptu sampling party...and what a way to start it off.

You can never go wrong with Dogfish! Especially when it is a beer I have looked long and hard (that's what she said) for...

Dogfish Head Squall IPA is a bottle conditioned, naturally fermented version of their 90 Minute IPA - one of the true classics of craft beer. The brew weighs in at a hefty 9% ABV and is an orangish-amber color with a two-finger head of off-white foam.

It smells of bread and grapefruit, and is incredibly boozy in the first sip - and I love it! It honestly might be the best from Milton that I have had yet. The thick, sticky mouthfeel really grabs onto your palate and doesn't let go until it has absorbed every bit of moisture from your tongue! The lingering bitter hop aftertaste is amazing, and what an awesome slogan, "Unfiltered, Unfettered and Unprecedented."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Strangford Lough St. Patrick's Best

Today consisted of lounging by the pool in the sun, sipping (or chugging - don't judge me!) nice cold beverages.

Tough life, right?!

One of the brews of the day was from a brewery that is somewhat foreign to me - and they should be, they are from Ireland! I have only had one other beer from this company, their Legbiter Ale, and it was good enough to pick up another.

Strangford Lough has three different beers dedicated to St. Patrick, and why shouldn't they? - St. Paddy's is my favorite day of the year!

So, I'm sitting by the pool alternating between Blondes and Wheat beers and I crack this baby open...Definitely wasn't expecting it to be this dark!

Strangford Lough St. Patrick's Best is a 4.2% ABV, dark amber/mahogany colored beer with a two-finger tan head of large bubbles and foam. The brew smells sweet of caramel and smoked barley, and at first sip I get LOTS of earthy texture and flavor - almost to the point of bitterness. There is enough brown sugar or molasses flavor to keep it balanced, but this is a intensely flavorful beer for such a low ABV. It brings to mind Orkney's The Red MacGregor...

I loved this beer, so keep an eye out for it!