Sunday, November 27, 2011

What's Bob Drinking Now? And B.R., Too?!

No, I don't have a shaved head.
While shopping at New Beer for some nice Thanksgiving Day beers to sip while B.R. chefs it up in the kitchen, I noticed one that I had never seen before -- Anchor Steam's Brekle's Brown.

It's described as a 6% avb all malt, single hop (Citra) brown ale. I believe that it's a limited edition release, in honor of Anchor's and San Francisco's long brewing history. Well, long for North America, at least. Apparently in 1871 brewmaster Gottlieb Brekle was the first brewer of what would later become Anchor.

Anyway, I figured that it might make a pre-Thanksgiving Day drink! (We saved the Abbot 12 and the St. Botolph's Town that I picked up for the actual holiday!)

It's an ear ring.

There's a rich roasty brown maltiness throughout, but without any acrid bitterness. You can pick up a slight tang amid a touch of malt sweetness. There's ample hop bitterness, too, particularly evident in the finish, which also leaves you with a little lingering malt reminder in the aftertaste.

If it were lower in alcohol, it would make for a really nice session brown. But who's gunna complain about that -- you just drink more slowly!

Wandering Star Brewery

WFMU's Beer Hear! Wandering Star podcast

The podcast is also presented in three shorter sections, linked below.

Last week, we were able to catch up with two-thirds of Massachusetts' Wandering Star Craft Brewery at a tasting event that they did at Idle Hands Bar. Head brewer Chris Post and NYC sales and events guru Chris Cuzme hung out with us in the upstairs hallway to discuss beer. Sadly, Alex Hall, the inspiration for the name of their Raindrop Pale Ale was feeling under the weather but we'll catch up with him for another Beer Hear! episode to talk about his mission to introduce proper cask ale to New York.

Wandering Star, located in Pittsfield in Western Massachusetts, is a 15 barrel brewery which started production this year although they were ready much earlier. Thanks to a proposed change in the Farmer Brewer license category, they avoided having to pay $4500 a year for a manufacturing license, a significantly heftier sum than the $110 that "tiny farm breweries" like Sam Adams and Harpoon pay even though Wandering Star grows some of their own hops and contract for some locally grown barley malted at local maltsters, Valley Malt.

Juren, the man who took all the photos above.

Juren in action!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lagunitas Food Drive At Blind Tiger

Our weekly blogpost/podcast is usually up by now (this week it's WANDERING STAR), but it being Thanksgiving... the (not quite post-production) podcast IS posted to the WFMU website, and the accompanying blogpost should be up by tomorrow. But in the meantime, we hope that you can join us at Blind Tiger on Friday -- see the details below!

This Friday, 25 November, Blind Tiger (281 Bleecker Street) is hosting a Lagunitas canned food drive. Bring a non-perishable food item with you to the bar anytime between 4 and 8pm and Mark and Trevor from Lagunitas will buy you a beer, either their IPA or their DoppelWeizen. All of the food will be donated to City Harvest. And if you're out and about and don't feel like lugging cans around with you all day (what - you don't always have a spare can of peas in your back pocket?), there is a deli down the block where you can pick something up. Bob and I will be there so come on by for a beer and a good cause!

And speaking of the Blind Tiger, it has become a recent Thanksgiving tradition for Bob and me to stroll on over there (well, waddle, perhaps) after Thanksgiving dinner instead of passing out on the couch with a beer in hand. Instead, we have a few beers at the Tiger, walk back home, and then pass out on the couch later having made the mistake of eating a second helping of pie upon our return. Perhaps accompanied by a glass of Dogfish Head Honey Brown Rum. If you're in town, it's a mellow place to hang out and the most quiet you'll ever see the Tiger at night. Bartender Dom opens the place up at 2pm on Thursday and I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you brought him that second slice of pie.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Craft Beer At Nassau Coliseum

The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is the 2nd oldest venue in use by any NHL team (the oldest one, MSG, just got an $850M renovation), and is notoriously one of the most depressing venues for so many reasons, not least of which for the team that plays there and the often ghost-town attendance.

BUT, with Rick DiPietro winning games, young talent like Tavares lighting it up, and those raucous games when the Habs fans seem to take over and electrify the entire building, it's not all bad! And one of the most surprising, impressive and delightful new wrinkles that we discovered on our third-ever jitney to Uniondale was the beer!

Maybe replace Goose Island with Southampton? Or Greenport? Or Barrier?
Our bus, sponsored by the Canadian Association of New York City, arrived a bit late, and as we hurried along to find our seats at the end of the 1st period of a Habs visitation to the Island, B.R., always scanning the beer environment, caught sight of a good sign -- "They've got Bluepoint here!"
The odds were (literally) 50/50 that the guy behind us taking our picture was in Habs regalia.
Now, Bluepoint is good. Very good. But for a major sport arena/stadium/coliseum, Bluepoint is like finding water in the desert. We didn't care which Bluepoint that they were serving -- that's what we'd be drinking, in lieu of Bud, Bud Lite, cold-filtered ice-brewed triple-hopped cold-activated lime-flavored whatever, etc.

But when I got to the one stand selling beer that was drinkable, I was confronted with a rare experience at a major sports venue -- a real choice of real beer. Would it be pints of Bluepoint Toasted Lager, Bluepoint Hoptical Illusion, Goose Island IPA, Brooklyn Weisse, Magic Hat #9, or Lighthouse Ale? For some reason George Killians Red was there, too (not an option). But the real beer-option bomb... Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter!
A tap that we've rarely seen in most fancy NYC beer bars, right at home in the Coliseum.
What?! Seriously? A smoked porter at an NHL game? How is that possible? That's nothing short of a miracle. That's a beer that I'm excited about seeing when I'm at Barcade, Blind Tiger, DBA or, really, anywhere. But at an Islanders game?
At MSG these seats 7 rows off the glass would be $500 each. But go 20 miles east, and they're only $60 -- with round-trip transportation! Thank you supply-and-demand!
So, all in all, we split two Capt. Lawrence Smoked Porters, a Bluepoint Toasted Lager and a Brooklyn Weisse. (And a Sixpoint Bengal Tiger on the way there, thank you Cory!) And all of the beers were fresh and in very good shape. Let's hope we get choices like that more often when we go to the big show. Yo, MSG, how about some Kelso Kreik!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beer: U.S. Vs. The World

This week we got together with our favorite urban hillbilly band, TRAVIS WHITELAW AND THE LONGHORNS -- the band that performs our podcast's theme song, "Beer!" We met to put some of America's iconic beers to the test against some fairly obscure "ferner" beers, and also match one import that's much like an American beer against an American-made Belgian style beer.
The cashier was very perplexed at this purchase.

 To make it easier to listen to, we broke the session up into 5 short podcasts.

Coors Light vs. Gaspar of Belgium
Miller High Life vs. Mikkeller of Denmark
Budweiser vs. Baird of Japan
Southampton vs. Stella Artois of Belgium


OK -- it wasn't really a serious beer panel. It was really more of a "beer baiting" session, with an attempt at a little humor. I mean, how can you have a head to head competition between one set of beers which strives to have an abundance of flavor, color, body, aroma and character and another set which strives for the utter lack of character? Well, if nothing more, it was a good demonstration of how advanced some mega breweries are at producing the cleanest tasting (read "sterile") beverages, which approximate neutral profiled carbonated water.

                                          (Infected Exploding Beer)
Coors Light was a no brainer for a session like this. The fact that their website says nothing about the actual beer, how it's made or its flavor is telling. The only thing that Coors Light seems to be proud of is that their beer is "cold." Seriously. That's why you should buy it -- because it's cold. And the colder, the better.

Gaspar was chosen for two reasons: 1. I had never heard of it before, and; 2. I thought that the label listed the beer name as "Caspar". So, that would work with Coors/Caspar, Miller/Mikkeller, etc. I bought all of the beers (except Miller) at New Beer. Gaspar was in the Belgian section, and the description on the label was very promising.

But Gaspar was a geyser! If you listen to the podcast, you can hear it erupting out of the bottle, amid screams of horror and cries of hysterical laughter! In all my years of judging at homebrew contests, with all the "interesting" beers that they inevitably offer, I've never seen such a gusher! With no exaggeration, a column of tan foamed beer shot straight up out of the bottle, which was sitting on a low coffee table, and positively soaked the ceiling!
Travis: "Yer gunna need a ladder if'n ya wanna taste that beer! Coors  -- 1; Gaspar -- 0!"
Not one of us were spared a soaking. It was as if a beer grenade went off. The carpet was soaked, the couch was soaked, we were soaked -- and the level of horror was equally matched by our fits of uncontrollable laughter. It was the funniest beer disaster that I've ever witnessed. We had so little beer left, that it was hard to say anything about the brew, aside from that it was, indeed, bitter, and also likely infected somehow.
The remains of the "effervescent" Gaspar.

[podcast] After Coors Light, Miller tasted like an actual beer. But when put side by side with a barrel-aged chipotle porter from Mikkeller... Miller was only qualified to be a glass rinser once we were done with the Texas Ranger (as it is known in Europe; here it's just plain ol' Chipotle Porter), which was brewed by Mikkel at De Proef in Belgium. This one was aged in used bourbon barrels, and that subtle smokey flavor was quite apparent amid the rich, robust roastiness and expected hop bitterness. Though finding the pepper flavor proved to be a bit elusive.

"Real 'mercan beer!"
"It's cheap."

I can't remember the last time that I tasted a Budweiser. And now I know why -- there's nothing to remember! If this Bud was so devoid of flavor, color and body, then I dread the thought of what Bud Light offers, or fails to offer.
The Bud was clean to the point of not seeming to exist at all. If I was used to the "flavor" and "aroma" and "body" of Bud, then I think that tasting something as exotic as Baird's Jubilation would send me screaming. It would be like drinking non-fat, pasteurized, factory-farm milk your whole life, and then getting a squirt of warm moo-juice straight from the udder!
Jubilation, a winter celebration beer, was amber/red in color, and rich and figgy in flavor. The well balanced use of cinnamon twigs offered enough spiciness to compliment the ripe candied figs used in this delicious, cold weather tipple. Side by side, Bud tasted like a beer which had every possible "beer character" distilled and scrubbed out of it, while Jubilation was a symphony of flavor.

Remember the 2004 US Mens Olympic Basketball team, comprised of multi-million dollar NBA players, that was beaten by Argentina and Lithuania? That's what it's like for 300+ year old Stella Artois going up against a brewery from Long Island!

OK, another unfair fight. Clearly, Stella puts all their efforts into image, marketing and advertising -- not into making interesting beer. And Southampton is one of the most brilliant, creative and technically savvy craft breweries in North America. Their Abbot 12 puts even some of the most established traditional Belgian breweries to shame.

Our bottle of Stella did have more flavor than the American light lagers that we sampled. But that's like saying helium has more electrons than hydrogen (for non science geeks, it does -- one). This Stella had a hint of sweetness, and a touch of skunkiness, that reminded me a bit of Heineken. 

I think that a lot of Americans associate "imported" with "premium", regardless of what the beer actually tastes like. That's clearly how Stella is marketed, fooling Americans into thinking that this mega brewed, mass marketed, industrial beer is special. What makes Stella special? According to their website, their "9 Step Ritual" for pouring their beer does. Yup. Not the flavor, body, or aroma. Not the ingredients. Just as Coors sells their beer with a particular meaningless superficial quality ("it's COLD!!!), Stella is "special" because you pour it special! The Pour....

I'll say it's poor. And best poured down the drain. It is the Schlitz of Belgium, and I'd rather drink the Schaefer of Belgium, Maes Pils... or the Belgian PBR, Jupiler -- at least they don't pretend to be something that they're not.

Now, the Southampton Cuvée des Fleurs is a truly special beer. And so much so that it might not be for everyone. It's an 8% saison style beer made with a bouquet of unlikely ingredients: English Lavendar, Roman chamomile, Marigold, Dog Rose and, of course, hops. Delicate perfume certainly comes to mind, both in the aroma and flavor. It is truly a flower-beer experience, and for those who must try every interesting beer available at least once, just to say that they've had it, this one needs to go on your list.

[podcast - summary] I'm not sure that the tasting panel was all that practical. It wasn't intended to be. Though I definitely learned more than I had expected from the experience. And B.R. and I had some genuine great laughs sipping suds with Travis and Kyle. I hope that we either entertained, offended or educated you to some degree. Our apologies if we did none of the three. If that's the case, then either you're not reading well enough, or drinking well enough.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Breuckelen Distilling Co.


Yeah, we know that whiskey isn't beer. But you do have to make beer in order to make whiskey!

We met Brad of Breuckelen Distilling Co. at the Brewer's Choice event during Craft Beer Week NYC.  He was sampling out both of his products, a gin and a whiskey, handmade from scratch in their Sunset Park, Brooklyn distillery.

There seems to be a bit of a distilling boom in Brooklyn of late. But one thing that sets Breuckelen apart is their use of organic New York State grown wheat in their mash.

Both the whiskey, which is aged for about 4 months in oak, and the gin use 100% wheat -- which is one of a few reasons that their whiskey is not bourbon. For a spirit aged for such a short period in wood, their whiskey is surprisingly aromatic, flavorful and smooth.

Find out more by checking out this week's podcast!

Friday, November 4, 2011

What's Bob Drinking Now?

This is a new feature that we're trying out. Maybe we can get a "What's B.R. Drinking Now?" version created, too!

So, for a long, long time, Smuttynose Star Island Single would be the beer you'd see on this page. And it still does show up in the fridge on a regular basis.

But right now it's the Southampton Abbot 12 that I can't get enough of! After cleaning out the shelves at Good Beer, I took two off of the shelves at New Beer tonight (and sampled the Mikkeller Elliot Brew, a collaboration with Struise of Belgium, which was on tap tonight).

The Abbot 12 won a Gold Medal at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival and is described by the brewery as: "A strong, dark ale with notes of raisins, figs, and caramel, and a pronounced “dark rum” character. Deceptively smooth at 10.5% alcohol, this strong ale is ideal as an after-dinner sipping brew."

This bottle listed a 9.9% abv with an original gravity of 22.5 plato, and poured out with a generous lingering tan head. The dark aged fruit aromas wafted up and brought to mind rich brown malts, mixing with some background yeast spiciness. The flavor was candi-sugar sweet, with the slightest hint of cocoa/dark chocolate, a little alcohol as it warmed brought to mind rum, sweetly blanketing the mouth with its rich, thick body. This beer reminds me of Westvleteren, and that's not a comparison made often, if at all.

This beer is the perfect accompaniment to a crisp, cool fall evening, sipped slowly along with a snack of nutty, sharp, aged Holland gouda. I think that I'm going to need a case of this beer to survive the coming winter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Victory Prima Pils Clone Brew At Bitter & Esters

WFMU's Beer Hear! Victory Prima Pils Clone podcast
On a cold snowy October 29th Saturday... wait -- what?! Yes, snow!

You can make beer with snow... or at least write it.
For the first installment of the "Brew Like a Pro" series at homebrew supply/brew on premises shop Bitter & Esters, Sean from Victory Brewing was on hand to help Tim, Douglas and John guide a group of homebrewers through a very special brewing session -- making a clone of Prima Pils.
Sean/Victory arrives, in from the driven snow.
That, in and of itself, sounds cool, but homebrewers try to replicate their favorite beers all the time. So, what's the big deal? Well, what if the brew session leader -- Tim, in this instance -- spent a day with the master brewer of Victory, was given all the brewing materials directly from the brewery, and then given the brewery's recipe and brewing instructions? Believe it or not, that's exactly what happened! And if that wasn't enough, a representative from the brewery was on hand as well!
Preparing the strike water for dough in.
About six homebrewers signed up for the morning session (there was an afternoon session, as well) to brew Prima Pils on Bitter & Esters three-tier HERMS brewing system. Below are chronological photos of the first part of the brew session.

The idea behind the "Brew Like a Pro" series is to get not only detailed technical advice from a subject beer's brewer, but, if possible, the exact same ingredients as well -- the same malt and the same hops (probably not the exact same water, though). And, if possible, have a representative from the brewery on hand to assist with the brew, and provide general information about the brewery and specific information about the beer being brewed.

Tim, who is spearheading the program, said that one of the goals is to showcase the best examples of established commercial styles by the breweries considered to be exceptional in brewing those styles. It also demonstrates an interesting point -- homebrewers can make exceptional beers. You don't have to be a pro to brew like a pro!
Sean of Victory gave the group the "Victory story" [bonus podcast], about how Bill and Ron started the brewery. He also spoke about Prima Pils and the pilsner style.
Victory's History bonus podcast

Tim said that he's looking forward to approaching other breweries about having their beers cloned at the Bitter & Esters laBREWtory, maybe even some from Europe and Scandinavia. Keep an eye on their website and Facebook page for updates, and for the locations and dates when the Prima Pils clone will be available.
Soon the water will be hot enough for dough in.
While we
Books on brewing at Bitter & Esters.
Douglas on the ones-and-twos. Sort of.
Almost ready.
Dough in!
Step infusion mashing -- step 1, protein rest at about 122.
Sean (L) tells the tale of Victory as Tim (R) looks on.
John hacks into A-B, as the group plots.
Tim, Michigan James and Corduroy Kurt.
Is it a DEA photo op, or Victory photo hop?
Beer in the morning, beer in the evening, even at supper time...
Trust these guys -- they're professionals.
OK, maybe not this guy.
Step infusion mashing -- after the protein rest, it's a raise
in temperature for step 2, a beta-amylase rest.
Ari, a first time homebrewer, plans on his own brewing sessions. 
Hear Ari's plans for future brewing sessions.
Step infusion mashing -- step 3, alpha-amylase rest.
Mash it up.
Foggy windows -- tell tale sign that a brew is in progress.