Tuesday, August 30, 2011

#79 - Left Hand & Terrapin Collaboration - Oxymoron

The sampling session at Ned's got me really amped up and rejuvenated about some of the beers that my friends and I have been cellaring.

In fact, there are several beers that I had even forgotten that we were aging!

This led to rummaging around in our respective "cellars" (in my case a beer fridge in my basement, in theirs a closet or two...) to see what we could find.

One of the gems that was discovered was almost a year old to the day!

Left Hand & Terrapin Oxymoron is a collaboration beer from two of my favorite brewers. Left Hand in Colorado and Terrapin in Georgia came together for what they call the "Midnight Project", and this brew is the third edition of their joint efforts.

Bottled on 8/18/2010, Oxymoron is a 7.2% ABV, 65 IBU "Teutonic India Pale Ale", AKA an American IPA brewed with lager yeast. The beer pours a light copper with a two-finger head of off-white foam.

Smelling of grass and toffee, the first sip of this brew was much different than I was expecting...I can't tell if it is due to the aging, or the yeast choice that I am not sold on but something is toning down the brew instead of making it stand out.

Although sweet, tasting of brown sugar, and balanced with some grassy hops leading to a dry finish, there is just too much left to be desired with two behemoth breweries like this pairing up. I was utterly disappointed - but I have to keep my mind off of all the amazing brews I tried this weekend. Perhaps my palate has simply adjusted to that top 1% of the craft beer world and nothing will ever be the same again!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rare Beer Tasting Session at Ned's Beer Shop

Man, I am SO glad today starts a new week...

I didn't think I would make it to this weekend!

Fortunately, I did make it, and just in time to celebrate with me Ned's Beer Shop, one of my favorite local craft beer stores, was hosting a rare-beer tasting and pizza bash on Saturday with it's sister restaurant Rivermont Pizza.

Now when I say rare beer, a lot of you might think of a new release or a hard-to-find distributor for the area - I assure you this circumstance went way beyond that, this tasting was one-of-a-kind!

The tasting was scheduled from 2-5, with seven Fall seasonals as the base brews for sampling and an additional seven rarities to be opened intermittently over the three hours. Even a couple of the seasonals were high-dollar stuff, so I was gonna make sure I was there early!

Of course, that was the plan...as it turned out I realized Saturday morning that I needed a state inspection for my car by the end of the month, and I couldn't take any time off of work to get it done. My wife had already gone out shopping for the day with the kids, so I was at the mercy of the mechanics' schedule to have a useable vehicle. After two hours of sitting there, it was 2 o'clock and I was mentally cursing that I was gonna miss out on some quality suds. Then came Dick to the rescue! He called to check if I had made it yet, and just happened to be nearby so swung over to pick me up.

Thankfully when we showed up (about half an hour late) none of the big guns had been cracked open quite yet. The pizza was already long gone, and it looked like we were going to have to fight about 30 people to get to the beer, but at least we had made it.

Ashby, one of the co-owners of Ned's and an all-around great guy (more on him in a minute), is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to great beer. Before helping to get the store up-and-running he worked for a distributor so he knows his stuff - he also has a great palate and recognizes good taste when he comes in contact with it. Anyway, he started by serving a few of the - cheaper brews, if you will - but all the while was explaining the ingredients and processes of each style. It really made for a good experience - especially for those new to craft beer.

# 93 - St. George Oktoberfest - was once their "Fall Bock", but has been retooled to a more traditional Marzen style. It was true to style with a bit of salty bite and a smooth finish.

Crispin The Saint - You guys know how much I love cider (blech!), but if I had to pick one this may be it...It is made with Maple syrup and Belgian Trappist yeast. Yeah, that's right - Belgian yeast. Had it before, but worth trying again.

# 92 - New Belgium Lips of Faith Series: Clutch - This beer was brewed specifically for the Maryland rock band of the same name. A 9% ABV dark sour ale, dark chocolate and coffee meet a slightly sour finish from being aged on dark wood.

# 91 - New Belgium Lips of Faith Series: Kick - A collaboration beer with Elysian Brewing, makes for an 8.5% ABV lightly sour, pumpkin/cranberry ale.

So, at this point it has been about an hour and Ashby pulls out his first "Rare Beer" from a cooler under the table. He then proceeds to announce he is about to crack open an approximately $20+ bottle, FROM HIS OWN CELLAR! Now the party has officially started...

# 90 - Hoppin' Frog Barrel-Aged B.O.R.I.S. (Bodacious Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout) - Is a 9.4% ABV, 60 IBUs monster that is the Bourbon-aged version of a 2008 Great American Beer Festival Gold-medal winner. Can a gold medal be improved upon?? YES. This beer was amazing, and can you believe that there were people in attendance that passed on this incredible opportunity!? More for me!

Apparently Ashby had started drinking much earlier than me that day, because then he proceeds to pull out another cellared beer - and announces that all of the specialty brews of the day are courtesy of his beer fridge.

# 89 - Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout 2010 - Damn! So I searched for this beer for two years before I found the 2011 version in April, and now in short order I am sampling my second batch in 4 months - and this one is over a year old! Even more rich than I remembered, this batch is chocked full of vanilla bean, chocolate and coffee with smooth, oaky whiskey flavors in the warm finish.

Back to the "normal" seasonal brews, I am looking at the table and notice a couple of huge corked bottles..."Yeah, those are the second batch of that collaboration brew from Chico, CA and Milton, DE"

# 88 - Sierra Nevada & Dogfish Head Collaboration Life & Limb 2011 - The first batch back in 2009 sold out in two weeks. Naturally fermented (Life), and with two separate tree syrups (Limb) - Maple from the Calagione family farm in Massachusetts, and Birch from trees in Alaska this beer weighs in at 10.2% ABV and 50 IBUs. Unbelievably full-bodied, and so sweet and rich I feel like should pour it over pancakes...Awesome!

# 87 - Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale - Not bad, but how do you follow that!? I remember that this was one of the fresher tasting pumpkin beers I have sampled, with lots of meaty flavor and less of the traditional Pumpkin Pie spice.

# 86 - Starr Hill Boxcar - Now this one stands out! A pumpkin porter is a great idea, and actually more up my alley than a traditional spiced pumpkin ale...A great, flavorful porter with just the right balance of chocolate and pumpkin and a dry finish.

Brooklyn Oktoberfest - One I have had before, and will definitely have again. An excellent, very drinkable beer from Garrett Oliver and his crew that is style-conscious and one that I will pick ever year around this time.

And so ends the tasting of the seasonals...but wait! As the tasting has continued, the crowd has begun to thin out, allowing us to work our way right up to the side of the table. It as at this point after noticing our enthusiasm for the brews that Ashby starts asking what to open next - and the stuff he is mentioning is just flooring me!

Founders Nemesis 2010 - I previously reviewed this wicked barleywine back in December of last year, but now over 8 months later I am absolutely stoked to have another taste. Wow. Has not mellowed out a bit! Still delicious, mind you, but will continue to knock you on your but with its 13% ABV.

New Holland Dragon's Milk 2010 (# 85) & 2011 (#84) - I have never been able to find this beer before, and I get to sample two different batches as a comparison! Both beers were incredibly dark and rich, with lots of dark chocolate and licorice, but it was easy to see the difference in mellowness (sic?) that comes from aging for a year. The 2011 version was fiery of alcohol in comparison!

# 83 - Heavy Seas Barleywine 2009 - This beer is so old it hadn't even been named yet! What is now known as "Below Decks" and part of the Mutiny Fleet is approximately 10% and came in the most non-de script bottle I have ever seen! It look like they printed on duct tape for the label! But don't let that fool you, the beer was dark, fruity and delicious.

# 82 - Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo 2009 & 2010 - Another comparison session - both of these beers had ALREADY been aged in barrels for a year before bottling - we are talking 3 & 2 years old respectively. Both are sweet with tons of brown sugar and fruit, but the '09 was less fruity and a bit more nutty in the finish. I definitely preferred the '09!

The last beer that Ashby pulled out was one of the more difficult to find - simply due to the size of the brewery...

# 81 - Williamsburg AleWerks Grand Illumination Ale 2010 - An 11% ABV barleywine, and one of the only remaining offerings from them I had yet to try! Sweet, warm and fruity with a pleasant dry, bitter hop finish.

What an awesome 2.5 hours of celebrating great beer! After all that awesome brew I HAD to go into the shop and pick up a six-pack, even though I had just purchased 4 bombers the night before. I paid and we were literally walking out when I hear Ashby say, "Hold on, I'm feeling generous..." Now he is feeling generous!? What was he feeling before?

He walks back to the table, and my jaw just about hits the floor. He sets down the large bottle on the table, making sure to point out the bottle number on the label - #2. I don't care if it is a homebrew, everyone knows that the brewer keeps the first bottle of every batch for himself, and the rest can be sold to the public. In this case, bottle #2 - the first bottle sold for consumption - was for Firestone-Walker's Parabola (#80). One of the most sought-after, single-run batches of the year from that amazing brewery in Paso Robles, CA. 13% ABV, barrel-aged, and goes down as smooth as melted chocolate...

This was a day that I will remember for a long time to come! Many thanks to Rivermont Pizza for hosting, and to Ned's Beer Shop and specifically Ashby for sharing these incredible brews.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Process of Brewing Beer

For those of you that have always been interested, here is the brewing process from start to finish boiled down to a single graphic...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Creating an Inviting Bar-At-Home Space

How sweet would this be in your basement?!
A couple of years ago I finished my basement, with full intention of turning it into the ever-celebrated "man cave". 

I was going to put in a wet bar, a build-in for my big-screen TV, and even possibly throw in a full-fledged liquor cabinet. Then we found out my wife was pregnant...

That room has now become a combination toy-room/family room - which is fine with me. However, when/ if we move I WILL be getting that bar I always wanted!

It’s not easy to figure out a way to build a home bar without having the new setup clash with the interior design of your apartment or home. Home bars are often squeezed into remaining spaces, and these aren’t always the prime spaces of a home (which is why they weren’t used for something else in the first place). Creative planning and some nifty intuition, however, can be huge assets to anyone attempting to build a home bar. Instead of focusing completely on logistical needs, someone with a more freestyle approach can make even seemingly unusable spaces work, all without having the new bar area mess up any design element of the house at large.

First, figuring out counter space is crucial. In some homes, people are lucky enough to have long, flat surfaces in often unused rooms that can be quickly converted into bar counter space. In other homes, there’s no such preexisting counter space, and as a result, counters must be built or bought. Make sure if you’re building a bar counter for your home that you measure accurately, as home bars that are too low or too high can create comfort and stylistic problems. If you do end up with counter space that is too high or low, however, there’s no need to panic just yet. There aren’t only bar height barstools available all around, but counter height barstools and extra tall barstools as well.

And barstools really are something you need to invest some time into thinking about. If you only need 3 barstools, you can possibly invest more into each seat, and allow for a wider chair berth. If you require a whole host of barstools to fit at the counter, slimmer, leaner barstool designs may better suit your needs. Many home bar owners like their home bars to in some way duplicate the experience of a real bar, and features such as pivoting bar seats and dark, metallic colors can really help capture the essence of real town and city bars.

Be sure to add personal touches to your home bar space as well. Framed pictures on the walls, personalized shot glasses and beer cups, and even well-designed lighting can all contribute to the creation of a home space that feels like an authentic bar. Just be sure to avoid things that might sour the mood, such as depressing artwork, lighting that’s either too poor or too bright, etc. That way, people are in the mood to drink, not to sulk, when they come over to visit you.

My house is already affectionately known as the "party house", but I plan to reach new heights when I can officially christen my own personally bar!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

#94 - Unibroue Maudite

Tonight I am drinking a beer from a brewery that continues to impress me, despite my constant stupidity of overlooking them due to their packaging.

After over 900 different beers, things start to get fuzzy (both figuratively and literally) and it becomes increasingly difficult to remember which brews I have had. Not that I mind having a good beer for a second time, but my priority is to try as much of what is out there as I can. I have actually had to resort to keeping a constantly updated spreadsheet on my phone to keep track!

The problem with tonight's beer lies in the fact that it is packaged with a telltale gold foil top...I should know better at this point than to assume that all such beers are the same!

Unibroue Maudite is an 8% ABV, light brown colored ale that pours to a one-finger head of off-white foam.

French for "damned", the beer's label features a canoe flying in front of a blood red moon over what looks like a smiling gargoyle. After a little more research on the website, it turns out that there is an old folktale in Quebec where this beer is brewed that goes something like this:

"The Legend of 'Chasse-Galerie' is a tribute to the early lumberjacks of Nouvelle-France. The legend tells of eight daring woodsmen who, during winter, yearned to be home for the Holidays. They conjured up the Devil and all of them pledged their soul in return for flying them in their canoe to their village. As they sailed across the moonlit sky, one of them managed to free himself from the pledge by invoking the name of God, which caused the flying canoe to come crashing down to earth."

When the foil is removed and the cap is popped, there is an incredible aroma of raisins, plums and exotic spices. The first sip is a bit lighter-bodied than expected, but it does not detract at all from the complexity and flavor. There is plenty of carbonation and the palate is teeming with fruity sweetness. This beer is rich and delicious, and I can hardly taste the alcohol. Wonderful!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

#95 - Lagunitas Hop Stoopid Ale

God, I can't wait for this week to be over!

Not that the next will be any better...I'm looking ahead to a 6-day work week consisting of probably 60-70 hours on the job.

A tough day at work ends, and what do I come home to? The f*(%!^& TV isn't working...So the final 1.5 hours of my night wastes away on the phone with DirecTV trying to get stuff straightened out without popping a blood vessel in my neck.

As a reward for making it through this day without a murder/suicide situation, I am finally checking a beer off of the ole' wishlist.

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid Ale is an 8% ABV, 102 IBU monster! It is only possible to make this brew with the use of hop extracts, a fact that the older brewers at the brewery in Petaluma, CA were vehemently against according to a description on the bottle - the label of which features an old barn straight out of Deliverance...

The brew pours a hazy golden-amber color with a two-finger head of off-white foam. It smells initially of pine resin and honey, but lots of other complex fruity and floral notes come out as you lift the beer to your nose.

There are tons of different hops used in the process of making this beer, and they come together in a warm, buttery and sweet combination. Lots of sticky bitterness, and oh-so-dry in the finish. This beer leaves me with cottonmouth it is so awesome. Makes me want to brush my teeth with it in the morning!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#96 - Oskar Blues G'Knight Imperial Red

I absolutely hate the month of August...

It was not always this way - but gone now are the days of my youth when August was spent with cookouts and pool parties, baseball and vacations.

It just so happens that August is the busiest time of the year in my chosen (questionable) field of employment.

The only thing getting me through this month is a cold beer waiting for me at the end of each day.

Tonight I decide to spend my time with a beer from a brewery that spits out more nicknames than a SportsCenter commentator (drives me crazy - just call the d@&# game).

Oskar Blues G'Knight Imperial Red has been called a, "can'o bliss", and a "Velvet M-80" among other things. It is a 8.7% ABV brew that pours to a brilliant copper color with a one-finger head of off-white foam.

The beer smells of TONS of pine and candy sugar - just a wafting aroma of pungent hops. The first sip is nice and warm with some serious grapefruit in the middle and a sweet, dry finish. The can explains the beer as, "Still big, still red, still sticky". Sticky is an incredible adjective! This beer leaves my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth!

This awesome brew was created as a tribute to Gordon Knight - a craft beer enthusiast, brewer and ambassador that lived in Colorado near where Oskar Blues is located. Gordon was tragically killed in a helicopter accident while helping fight a forest fire, flying the chopper to dump water on the blaze. You can read more about his story and the inspiration for the brew here: N3978Y

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Homebrew Batch #3 - Inferior Brewing Co. Wreckless Raspberry Wheat

Ok, so I actually sampled this brew a couple of weeks ago, I just never had time to write my thoughts...

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to help out with the most recent batch of homebrew - my son had been born less than two weeks earlier, and being the incredible husband and father that I am I wasn't about to leave my wife home alone with the kids while I went out. (That is a bold-faced lie - I was just tired from lack of sleep and went to bed early that night). In my stead, Dick and Tom had to step up their game and work on putting together a world-class beverage by themselves - a task which I now understand was too much for them to handle without me...

I have only heard this account secondhand, but I now understand why this beer has been named "Wreckless". It all started with Dick putting together what seemed to be a pretty solid recipe - a combination of ingredients from two awesome beers: Starr Hill's The Love and Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis. Our goal will always be to produce something rare or never-been-tried, so he decided to throw in a few pounds of Raspberries - something we all agreed would make it stand out. So then brew day comes and my understanding is that things are going swimmingly: the grains are steeped, the boil is achieved and malts are added, hops are added to the wort at intervals, wort chiller is added to cool - then things start to go downhill.

The newly purchased wort chiller has the wrong attachment for the sink, so Tom has to try to hold it against the nozzle for the cool water to run through...This isn't working, so they decide to take the brew pot outside to run the chiller attached to the outdoor spicket...Then a thunderstorm starts...They take it back inside to avoid adding rainwater...Once cool, the guys forget to save some wort to check original gravity...Then they pitch the yeast before there is a full five gallons in the bucket and water has to be added later...What a mess! The definition of "Wreckless" (misspelling and all!)

Four weeks later after an addition of 3 lbs. of fresh Raspberries to the secondary, and bottling, I get to sample the final product. And you know what? It isn't half bad!

Inferior Brewing Company Wreckless Raspberry Wheat turned out to be an approximately (no way of knowing for sure) 4.5% ABV pinkish-amber brew with a one-finger head of small off-white bubbles. The beer smells sweet and fruity, and at first sip is light and airy with some tartness and just the right amount of Raspberry flavor. All said and done, it is a little watery for my taste and has a strong sour bite to the finish, but it accomplished what we were after - a refreshing summer beer that was a little different than what was already out there!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#97 - Lagunitas Imperial Stout

Continuing on from Saturday's get-together - 
After all that heavy steak, as if I wasn't already headed towards a food-induced coma, I decide to pull out the final beer of the night. Apparently I hadn't checked the alcohol content of this brew before I threw it into the mix pack to take over to Tom's...

Lagunitas Imperial Stout is a 9.9% ABV juggernaut that is described on their website as, "kinda like a hydraulic sandwich in a glass". WTF?!

I like the other description better - "Dark and thick like your favorite dessert with a Bonus." Yeah, it was definitely  a heavy dessert-style beer. Black with a two-finger head of off-white flecked foam, the brew smells of dark chocolate and licorice.

The first sip was actually much sweeter than expected, but still incredibly rich and roasty. Lots of chocolate and bitter java swirl to provide the most excellent night cap after a night of gluttony. Under normal circumstances, and AT MY OWN HOME I would have handled this 22 oz bomber by myself. However, that night it was simply too heavy and I'm glad I got to share it. A truly awesome beer, and a great end to a great night!

Monday, August 1, 2011

#98 - Full Sail Brewmaster Reserve Hop Pursuit 2011

On Saturday Tom invited the family to come over for a cookout.

We were excited because they also have a new baby and we hadn't hung out together in a while.

We came over expecting burgers and dogs, and maybe a brat or two, but Tom surprised us by pulling out 8-10 oz filets, New York Strip steaks and chicken! He really took this shindig up a notch!

So, of course each member of the family fulfilled their roles: the older kids playing, the moms looking after the young ones and the guys hovering over the grill drinking beer...(I'm getting slapped for that comment as I type it). 
We had this amazing spread of meat in front of us, but Murphy's Law took effect to try and disrupt the day. Tom's grill did everything it could to keep us from enjoying all that protein.

First, we discovered that the drip pan/burner cover needed replacing to keep the flames from getting out of hand. A quick trip to Lowe's solved that problem. Then, we get the grill warmed up, throw a couple of the steaks on and what do you think happens next? Yeah, the propane tank kicks it...It never fails, that will always happen at the most inopportune moment. Fortunately, we had only put away a brew apiece at that point, so we hopped into the car to swap out the tank.

Ten minutes later we could hear that Siren song of sizzling beef, so we could finally relax and crack open some of the good stuff...

Full Sail Brewmaster Reserve Hop Pursuit 2011 is a 6% ABV, 55 IBU Extra Pale Ale that pours a golden orange  with a one-finger head of dense off-white foam. The bomber's label is sage green with the Full Sail shark fin logo over a lime green hexagon.

The brew smells strongly of floral and citrus hops, and the first sip was surprisingly bready and medium-bodied. I tasted lots of orange and grapefruit from start to finish. The best part of the beer, however, was the malt base. The sweetness carried the beer, and even grew on me more as it warmed. It paired very well with the well-seasoned steaks.