Friday, February 29, 2008

Southern Beer Appreciation

"Southern Beer Appreciation" is a phrase that could apply equally to both the appreciation of beers from Southern breweries, and to the appreciation of beer by folks living in the Southern United States. The Southern Beer Society is a recently formed online organization whose stated goal is "to help foster beer culture in the Southern United States by providing beer lovers throughout the region the information they need in order to become better informed about beer-related matters in the South." This new site went online in January 2008 and is still in the formative stages. The project is being spearheaded by three friends; Jeremy (beerbuddha), a beer consultant for a beer and wine shop in New Orleans, along with Vicky (LifeIsgood) and Ken (barefootbrewer), both of whom hail from Mississippi. Jeremy describes the vision behind the SBS:
We are seeing breweries, brewpubs and top quality beer stores starting up left and right. Speaking of beer stores; the number 1 and number 2 stores on Ratebeer's Best Beer Retailers 2008 were Knightly Spirits in Orlando and Bruisin' Ales in North Carolina. Our food is tops in the country so the beers we brew won't be that far behind. I'll be honest, as an organization and website we're still in search of our identity but we know what we want to do and that is educate Southern consumers about not only craft beer but craft beer brewed in their own backyard. We also want to be an informational tool for those looking for quality beers in the South, homebrew information and also legal information regarding beer laws in their states.

I may be a bit biased, but Southern food is tops in my book, so why not promote craft beer to go along? The main activities at the site currently are the discussion forums and news updates. There is also an extensive list of Southern breweries posted. The group plans to continue adding Southern craft beer-related resources.

Speaking of craft beer in the South, recent figures from the Brewers Association show that the Southeast region showed the largest growth in the nation in craft beer sales. As seen in the accompanying map, the Southern states in general showed significant market growth:
PowerHour: Crafts Growing Fastest in Southeast

On February 21, Dan Wandel, Senior Vice President with Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), presented an in-depth look at beer sales in 2007 during the latest edition of the Brewers Association’s PowerHour Teleconference Series.. Wandel tracks beer and alcohol beverage sales in five distinct retail channels: grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, big box retailers (warehouse stores, club stores, etc.), and liquor stores. With special focus on the craft brewing segment, Dan discussed statistics gleaned from the extensive IRI product database and presented some market forecasting for 2008.

Mr. Wandel reports that the Southeast region of the U.S., comprised of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, was the fastest growing region for craft brewer sales, with nearly 32% growth over 2006. The Great Lakes, Mid-South and Plains regions also posted craft growth of over 20%. Another piece of news from the presentation is that seasonal beer sales have passed pale ales as the top-selling craft beer concept or style.

On that note, I've got some new (to me) beer from Terrapin Brewery in Athens, GA. I think I'll break that out tonight.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Capital Ale House Incentives Approved

As reported in today's Free Lance-Star under the somewhat confusing headline "City giving $100K to Capital Ale House", the Fredericksburg City Council has passed a $100,000 incentive package for the Richmond-based Capital Ale House:
Capital Ale House will get $100,000 in incentives from the city of Fredericksburg to build a bar and restaurant on Caroline Street.

The council approved the incentives package last night on a 5-2 vote, with council members Debby Girvan and Marvin Dixon opposed.

Girvan said she wanted the city to study the impact Ale House could have on similar existing downtown businesses.

"I would feel more comfortable if we knew what impact it was going to have downtown," Girvan said. "Until then, I think I'm going to have to not approve it tonight, but I want to make it clear that I think this is a good business and I welcome it to the city."

Dixon said he didn't think the city should incentivize the business "for a number of reasons I'm not going to go into."

City Economic Development Director Kevin Gullette said Ale House will provide "something that we are sorely lacking downtown"--a private business willing to put on large events that will draw lots of people to the historic central business district. Ale House puts on special events around St. Patrick's Day, Oktoberfest and other yearly celebrations at its other locations.

In response to Girvan's comments, Councilman George Solley said he had asked other bar owners downtown what they thought about Ale House's plans.

"The opinion of the people who run those establishments is pretty much uniformly that Capital Ale will help their businesses by drawing people downtown who would not necessarily come downtown," Solley said. "I don't think we need a formal economic study to realize that."

Vice Mayor Kerry Devine agreed.

"I think it goes directly with what we are trying to do, building up our evening clientele downtown," she said.

To echo Mayor Tomzak's remark to Capital Ale House after the vote, "Welcome to the 'hood." The Ale House presence downtown will be good news for craft beer aficionados, for other downtown establishments, the downtown evening-life, and the City coffers. Officials estimate they will bring in $1.7 million in new revenue over the course of the 10-year agreement. The FL-S article gives further details on the incentive packages. Other downtown restaurant owners will surely be inspired to upgrade their craft beer offerings. Capital Ale House was recently voted the 8th best beer bar in America for its downtown Richmond location, and the Innsbrook location was ranked 11th. The restaurant receives kudos not only for their craft beer selection but for the numerous events they sponsor at their locations. There are some folks in the area griping about encouraging this type of business, but they should realize it's more than just a great beer bar.

I hope to follow the progress to opening day very closely and post updates here. Ale House President Matthew Simmons has offered me access to the site to take pictures and report on the work being done. You'll be able to follow those reports here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Trappist Beers - Rochefort

[Installment #5 in a series]

The Brasserie de Rochefort is located at the Abbey of Our Lady of Saint Rémy. Originally founded in 1229, the abbey was destroyed in 1560 and later rebuilt beginning in 1664. There is evidence of brewing activity on the site as early as 1595 and brewing has continued uninterrupted since 1899.

Three beers are produced by the Rochefort monks; Rochefort 6 and Rochefort 8, both of which are Belgian Strong Ales, and Rochefort 10, a Quadrupel. According to the official abbey website (in french) the monks brew four times per week (Monday through Thursday). They do not sell directly to the public, and bottle only in 330 ml bottles. The numbers 6, 8, and 10 do not directly correspond to alcohol level. Instead they refer an old measuring unit of the density, the Belgian legal degree, which corresponds to the density of the wort before fermentation.

We continued our Trappist beer exploration starting with a bottle of Trappistes Rochefort 6. The date code stamped on the label stated L 21 02 12 08:23. I understand that indicates an expiration date of 2012, meaning a bottling date of February 2007. Poured into a large wine glass, the beer is a russet-orange color with a thick beige head. The head drops to a thin layer with moderate lacing. The aroma is muted with notes of caramel, spice and dark fruit. The flavor profile is on the mild side as well. Some dark cherries and bready yeast can be picked out, but there's no particular flavor that stands out. There is a bit of alcohol warmth noted that's more than I expected from the 7.5% ABV. The mouthfeel is smooth with a cider-like tang. The Rochefort 6 was an easy to drink beer that presents a very subtle aroma and flavor profile.

Next up was a Trappistes Rochefort 8. The bottling code on this one was L050912 08:21, indicating a bottling date of September 2007. The 9.20% ABV beer poured a dark (rootbeer) brown, and even with an easy pour developed a thick foamy beige head. Lots of sticky lacing is left as the head drops. The aroma has notes of banana, clove and yeast. The taste of the Rochefort 8 is malty and complex, with hints of vanilla, milk chocolate and brown sugar. There's a slightly bitter aftertaste though the beer finishes cleanly leaving little behind. The mouthfeel is highly carbonated. The Rochefort 8 offered a stronger flavor profile than the 6, but was still on the muted side.

Both of these beers were more subtle and milder than the other Belgian Trappist beers we've had so far. They would probably do well in keeping the palate cleansed when paired with some flavorful cheeses. Rather than as evening sippers, they may serve well as warm afternoon refreshments.

The first post in the series is here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oak Aged Temporary Insanity Imperial Stout from Blue & Gray

In a recent newsletter, Jeff Fitzpatrick of Blue & Gray Brewing announced that they have been aging about 100 gallons of Temporary Insanity Imperial Stout in oak bourbon barrels for the last 4 months. The barrels were from the neighboring Smith Bowman Distillery. The brewery is asking newsletter subscribers to vote on a name for the limited release beer. Voting ends Thursday, after which they'll need to have the new label approved by Virginia ABC in order to sell the beer. Jeff says that could take from one to eight weeks.

Today I had the chance to have a preview of this beer. The beer pours a dark cola-brown with a light beige head which persists as a thin ring. I reviewed the Temporary Insanity Imperial Stout a few months ago and this bourbon barrel aged version has a distinctive flavor from the original. The aroma is noticeably that of sweet bourbon. There's a hint of chocolate malt as well. The aging has smoothed out the flavor and there is little of the hop bitterness of the original. The flavor of the whiskey is prominent. Roasted malt and dark chocolate notes are detected. There's a warming alcohol presence as well. I don't know the actual ABV, but my estimate it's on the higher side, maybe close to 10-12%. The aftertaste adds a slight hop bitterness.

Thanks to Jeff for the opportunity to review this yet-unnamed beer. I found it very easy to drink, and it will be a nice fit for the cool Virginia evenings still in store this season. When the oak aged Insanity Stout is ready for sale, don't delay getting in line. I for one will be anxiously awaiting the release.

New name announcement here.

2008 Beer Drinker of the Year - Virginia Sends Another Winner

I just saw this posted over at The Aleuminati. The Wynkoop 2008 Beer Drinker of the Year award this year goes to Matt Venzke of Yorktown, VA. This is the second year in a row that the winner has come from Virginia. Last year's winner was Diane Catanzaro of Norfolk, VA. The 2005 winner was Tom Ciccateri of Alexandria, VA. Nothing yet posted at the Wynkoop web site.

I'll update this post as more info becomes available. Meanwhile you can see Matt's Aleumenati profile here.

Update, Feb. 26: Jay Brooks has a press release and photo at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Capital Ale House Receives Preliminary Incentive Approval

As mentioned previously, Fredericksburg officials are considering $100,000 in incentives to help bring the Capital Ale House to downtown Fredericksburg. The first of the incentives were approved in committee on Thursday. In "Ale House gets $25,000 grant" the Free Lance-Star reports:
Capital Ale House received approval Thursday night for a $25,000 grant to help offset nearly $1 million in renovations at its planned Caroline Street location.

Fredericksburg's Economic Development Authority approved the grant on a 4-1 vote. It's contingent on City Council's approving the rest of the $100,000 incentive package for the Ale House.


[Ale House President Matt] Simmons said renovation and preservation work is estimated at $950,000. The business plans to take down the yellow-stucco facade on Caroline Street to expose the bricks that likely lie behind. It'll gut the interior, refinish the hardwood floors and leave the original brick and wood beams exposed.

"We really like the fact that this is an old building," Simmons said. He wants to "bring it back to as close to what it was as possible."

It is nice to see the City taking steps to promote economic growth downtown. Capital Ale House is expected to add 70 jobs, about half of them full-time and generate $2.8 million in sales per year. The Council memorandum and Capital Ale House application for the grants is available on the Fredericksburg City web site here. I'll plan on going by the site of the former Chords restaurant regularly to report on the progress there.

Read all Capital Ale House updates here.

An Ommegang Evening, and a little more

I got together last night with my regular drinking buddies for an eclectic evening of beer tasting. Jerry had been given an Ommegang gift pack for Christmas and was generously saving it until we all could enjoy it together. So Jerry, Frank, Tom and I planned to gather at Jerry's house to drink the Ommegang and a number of other tasty brews. When I arrived Frank and Jerry were already enjoying some Sam Adams Boston Lager. "We didn't know when you'd get here so we started with some Sam." So I had one as well, to prime the pump so to speak. A large spread of crackers, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and dips had been prepared as well to prepare for the evening.

We enjoyed some snacks before settling down to business. First up, Ommegang Hennepin. This Farmhouse Saison pours straw-yellow with a thick billowy head. The aroma is a nice blend of floral hops and earthy yeast. The taste is lightly sweet with orange and apple fruits, and slight hop bitterness. The 7.7% ABV is only barely noticeable. We all enjoyed this one very much.

We opened the Ommegang Three Philosophers next. This interesting beer is a blend of a Belgian dark strong ale and a cherry lambic, Lindeman's Kriek. The pour brought forth a rich mahogany liquid with an off-white head that dropped fairly quickly. The aroma of cherries was at the forefront along with some other dark fruits and sweet malt. After the first taste, none of us were sure we were going to enjoy this. The dark cherry flavor comes out initially, followed by the rich, sweet malt backbone of a Belgian dark ale. It was slightly tart, and somewhat astringent. The 9.8% ABV can be faintly detected in both the aroma and taste. However, I continued drinking and the flavor grew on me. Perhaps some of the initial impression was influenced by coming right off the Hennepin. In the end, Frank and I both decided we liked this one, Jerry passed on finishing his portion.

After the Three Philosophers, Tom finally arrived. Now, our buddy Tom usually prefers his Goldschläger over the beers the rest of us drink and Frank made sure there was a bottle of this cinnamon schnapps on hand, but Tom is always game to try a few beers with us. (I figure if Tom can handle the flavor of the Goldschläger, we'll find a strong beer to his liking sooner or later!) At this point we briefly changed gears, Jerry wanted to try the Cottonwood Low Down Brown Ale he had brought back from a recent trip to North Carolina. Following the strong flavor of the previous beer, this English Brown Ale from Carolina Brewing had a challenge standing up. But we were here for enjoyment, not an ordered tasting. The aroma was faint with just a bit of malt and nuttiness coming through. The flavor was sweet malt with a bit of roasted chocolate. The general consensus was it left us wanting more out of the beer. To be fair, this is decent English Brown Ale and perhaps in another grouping it would present better.

Okay, now we were ready to get in to the third Ommegang beer in the box, Chocolate Indulgence Stout. This beer is made with dark Belgian chocolate. Chocolate Indulgence pours a very dark brown with a thick tan head. It certainly looks like chocolate! The aroma of dark bitter chocolate is very strong and to me it was almost off-putting. Besides the chocolate (dark cocoa, not milk) I noted some dark fruit backed by a faint tartness. The flavor was full of cocoa bitterness, along with some roasted malt that lingers in the end. The beer is only 7% ABV but a bit of alcohol warmth comes through in the finish. The mouthfeel was moderately carbonated and not as thick as I had expected. The general consensus was a drinkable beer but we enjoyed the prior two Ommegang selections more.

At this point I opened the Victory Baltic Thunder I had brought along. I reviewed this beer not too long ago, but hadn't yet had the chance to share it with friends. I gave a quick "history" of the beer as we drank it. I seem to recall it was around this point in the evening we started singing the "B, double E, double R, U N" tune thanks to Tom over at Yours for Good Fermentables. The group was unanimous in our enjoyment of the Baltic Thunder.

After returning from one of his trips to Raleigh, Jerry showed up at my door bearing gifts; a six pack of Highland Kashmir IPA and a 4 pack of 2006 Samichlaus Bier. The IPA was consumed a while ago, but I promised to bring some of the Samichlaus along when we did the Ommegang tasting and we decided to open one now. Samichlaus pours a clear dark amber with a thin head. After the dark or cloudy beers we'd been enjoying so far this was a marked change. There's little carbonation and the aroma is sweet malt and alcohol. The flavor is syrupy sweet but not in a bad way at all. There's a dark fruit aspect to it as well. It is apparent that this is a high alcohol drink (14% ABV) and meant to be sipped. The mouthfeel is slick and warming and everyone enjoyed it very much. I had tasted some 1995 and 1996 vintage Samichlaus recently and decided I really wanted to put some away for a few years. However, this drink is such an enjoyable nightcap that I'm not sure my stash will stay untouched.

At some point a bottle of Piedmont Porter from the Minhas Craft Brewery in Wisconsin made an appearance. What immediately struck us was the label. This had to be the smallest text I've ever seen on a beer bottle, and it was in a script font as well, making it all but impossible to read. We passed it around and all tried to pick out bits of the text. Granted, we've all got 40+ or 50+ year old eyes but this was crazy! The beer poured a very dark brown, with some red showing through at the edges. The thick off-white head dropped rapidly. A faint, but typical porter aroma of roasted malt with a hint of smoke. The flavor was roasted malt and dark chocolate with a thin but highly carbonated mouthfeel.

Tom had left us by this point, and a basket of roasted peanuts in the shell and made it to the table. We opened another bottle of Samichlaus and settled in to sit and sip for a while. Eventually someone looked at the clock and we decided to call it an evening, just barely finishing within the same day we started.

Admittedly my notes from the evening are limited, and, shall we say, scratchy. Most of this was written from memory and will likely be edited when the other participants send corrections! However, the purpose of the evening was to spend time with good friends and enjoy some good beers, which we did quite successfully. And isn't that what beer is all about?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

From St. James Gate to Your Floor

Mountain Lumber Company in Ruckersville, VA produces antique wood flooring from old wood gathered from abandoned factories, mills, barns, temples and even breweries. Their product line includes Entique™ Guinness® Oak flooring made from brown oak reclaimed from the brewing vats of the original Guinness Breweries in Dublin, Ireland. The company has a short entertaining film about the Guinness vats here.

According to the company's web site:
The wood in your floors comes from the great brewing vats, ... each capable of holding some 722,600 pints of stout. Brown oak was used because it had the strength and grain to handle the stress of the process. Knots, which could give way, were filled with tiny hand carved wedges tapped in for extra strength. Many of those details were saved and can still be found in the wood.

In the late 1900's Guinness® replaced the wooden vats with metal. Some were stored and rescued by Mountain Lumber. We were able to import more than 100,000 board feet of 100-year-old oak staves. That wood was kiln dried, re-milled and transformed into the wonderful European Cooper's Oak™ you now enjoy.

Now, if I ever get around to finishing off the basement, this would make an interesting addition.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kid Joke

I was watching the season premier of the new Power Rangers series with my son last night. After some frog-alien-evil-creature thing appeared on the screen, he tells me he just thought of a joke.

"What is a frog's favorite beer?"

"A hoppy one."

Admit it, you laughed too.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Trappist Beers - Chimay

[Installment #4 in a series]

Bières de Chimay at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourmont in Belgium, produces what is probably the most well-known and readily available of the Trappist beers. Arriving at the site in 1850, the monks established the abbey and began brewing in 1862. Production was halted between 1915-1919 due to the First World War, and in 1940-1942 due to the German invaders in the Second World War. Three beers are currently produced for public consumption. The red labeled Chimay Première is a 7% ABV Dubbel. The white labeled Chimay Triple (Blanche) is an 8% ABV tripel, and Chimay Grande Réserve, distinguished by a blue label is a 9% ABV Belgian Dark Ale. The Chimay Triple is also labeled Cinq Cents when sold in the 750 ml corked and caged bottles. A fourth beer is resticted to the monks of the abbey and the associated cafe. The monks also produce four different cheeses.

We opened bottle of Chimay Cinq Cents to enjoy with dinner this evening. The date stamp on the cork is 03/07.The beer was poured into Chimay glasses and produced a thick off-white head. The head eventually dropped to 1/4 inch but never faded totally. The beer is a highly-carbonated bright amber orange, and it's quite attractive. (Food should please the eyes as well as the palate.) The aroma is surprisingly hoppy with a underlying sweet malt and hints of fruit. The aromas are precursors to the flavor palette. A complex blend of hoppy, fruity and yeasty. There are a range of spices lingering in there as well; pepper, cinnamon are noted. A faint candy sweetness waits in the background. The aftertaste has some drying bitterness with peachy fruitiness in the end. I found the alcohol to be very well-masked.

We enjoyed the Chimay with a baked chicken dish. Chicken breasts were baked with french fried onions, salsa, spanish stuffed olives and spices (with some Märzen beer poured in for moisture), which was served over rice. The dish had sort of a Mexican-Mediterranean flair. Neither the beer nor the entree over-powered the other, and we enjoyed both. I finished my Chimay as a "dessert" while preparing this entry.

The Chimay Triple is a very enjoyable beer. The hoppiness was a bit unexpected and enjoyable. The lingering spiciness and long-lasting carbonation gave the beer a refreshing aspect. I could see having this again with some salty ham or dry sharp cheese appetizers.

The first post in the series is here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Smoking Ban Measures Fail

As predicted earlier, the four measures to restrict smoking in Virginia restaurants were killed in subcommittee last week. The members of the House ABC and Gaming subcommittee of the General Laws Committee proved their unwillingness to allow the measures to go to vote before the full House. Why are they afraid to let all the people's elected representatives vote on this? As reported in The Free Lance-Star this morning:
The bills in question were four the Senate had passed; the House ABC and gaming subcommittee of the General Laws Committee had killed all House bills to ban smoking last week.

The vote was not recorded, but was done on a voice vote, and surprised no one, since that subcommittee has killed smoking bans in the past. House of Delegates rules do not provide for recorded subcommittee votes.

"These guys don't want to be on the record on matters like that," Gov. Tim Kaine told reporters after the subcommittee meeting. "The leadership of the House is very afraid to have this voted on in an up or down [manner]."

We'll have to wait and see what happens next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to favor establishments that make the no-smoking decision on their own.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Beer-fueled Social Networking

I recently joined a couple of new online social networking sites which have their focus on beer. Although social and online might be somewhat exclusive terms, such online communities have become quite a phenomena. Witness the growth of Facebook and MySpace. (Neither of which I have accounts on.)

Democracy's Drink, "devoted to beer and the people who enjoy it" was founded by Rich Gallagher in July of 2007. Rich describes his thoughts behind the site in Beer, Blogging, and the Pursuit of Content. The membership role is approaching 200 beer lovers as of this writing. I ran into a lot of familiar faces when I joined the community. My member page on Democracy's Drink is here.

The Aleuminati is another new online beer community, and is described as "an online community of men and women dedicated to the preservation, propagation and proclamation of fine ales, lagers and specialty beers." The Aleuminati site was begun by Shawn, the Beer Philosopher in January of this year. You can find me on The Aleuminati here.

In addition to these communities, several beer-related forums have been a mainstay for online sharing of information. While not offering as much interaction between members as the social networking sites, RateBeer, BeerAdvocate and RealBeer are the most well-known online beer sites. Each of these offers something slightly different and they each have a different temperament to the discussions. I would suggest "lurking" a while to get a feel for the neighborhood before contributing to the discussions on any of the sites. These sites are excellent resources when researching new beers to try, or when planning a trip.

Now, if all of these sites aren't enough to fill your quest for craft beer information, there are hundreds of blogs on the subject as well. Blogs tends to be more of a one-way communication channel, but most do allow reader comments. You'll find a list of the blogs I read regularly on the left side of this page. For even more, see the list of nearly 200 beer blogs at the really simple BEER syndication site.

Links to all of the mentioned sites can be found in the sidebar to the left. If we aren't able to enjoy a beer together in person, I hope to see you in one of the online communities. Pour a beer and stop by and say "hi".

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Blue Gray Breweriana Show Begins Today

I've been remiss in mentioning this local event. The annual Blue Gray Show starts today at the Ramada Inn on Route 1 in Fredericksburg. Collectors and brewers from around the world gather for this 4 day event. I'm hoping I'll be able to drop in at some point this week. Bob Tupper will be the speaker for the Saturday evening dinner. In addition to the breweriana aspect, numerous kegs of craft beers have been lined up for sampling in the hospitality room, and many of the brewers will be there as well. You can buy event passes at the door. This will be a new event for me, but I've heard only reports of good times!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Expansion Hints from Blue & Gray Brewing

The latest email newsletter from Blue & Gray Brewing contains an exciting bit of information regarding future plans. Jeff Fitzpatrick talks about the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day event at the brewery, and then throws this out:
Big Brewery news
This may be the last year our St. Patrick’s Day event will be held at this venue. Our landlord is imposing restrictions on our ability to tent the street in front of the brewery such that the Oktoberfest (an event 3 times the scope) will be impossible. We have our eyes on a new brewery site that is much more accommodating in several ways. We’ll keep you posted on the plans to move and co-locate a pub on the new brewery site.

The craft beer scene in Fredericksburg continues to evolve and grow. Let's hope these plans come to fruition. If you've been to any of the outdoor events at the brewery, you know how constraining the venue is. Trying to keep all the activity and people restricted to the area directly in front of the brewery can be a challange. The inside of the brewery isn't that expansive either. Tastings are done while standing at a small counter. A proper seating area would make for an enjoyable sampling of Blue & Gray's beers. I'll see if Jeff has anything else to share when I visit the brewery this week.

And on to Boy Scouts ...

This afternoon my boys crossed a milestone along their journey to adulthood. The boys in the Cub Scout den I've worked with for the past three and a half years all became Boy Scouts. I first got involved when my son joined Cub Scouts and the Pack was short adult assistance. I started as an Assistant Den Leader, did a brief stint as Assistant Pack Master, and for the past year and a half guided as a Webelos Den Leader. Working with the boys the last 18 months was especially rewarding. The Webelos projects move beyond the simpler activities of the previous years, and are geared toward preparing for the maturity and independence of Boy Scouts. I could really see the boys developing into young adults.

It was with no small amount of pride, that I approached the day when my son and 7 other boys would bridge over to Boy Scouts. All eight of the boys had earned their Arrow of Light award, the highest award in Cub Scouting, and they were all staying together and joining the same Boy Scout Troop. I am proud that they all have reached this stage admirably. Of course, I also looked forward to the lessened demands on my time. That anticipated change was not to be though. I was asked to follow the boys into the Boy Scout Troop as an Assistant Troop Leader, and I did accept that invitation. I truly believe that Scouting is a great influence for developing boys into gentlemen and upstanding citizens, I could not refuse to continue to contribute towards that end. I guess there are a few more camping trips in my future!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Trappist Beers - Orval

[Installment #3 in a series]

The Brasserie d'Orval is located at the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval monastery in Belgium. Monks have lived at this site as far back as 1071. The ravages of the french revolution destroyed the abbey in 1793, which lay in ruins until 1927. The brewery was established 1931 in order to produce income for the Order. The brewery has been upgraded and modernized over the years since. As with some other Trappist monasteries, the monks also produce a cheese, only available in Belgium, France and Holland.

The name Orval comes from "Golden Valley." According to legend, Countess Mathilda of Tuscany was visiting the site, when she lost her wedding ring in a spring. She prayed to the Lord and at once a trout rose to the surface with the precious ring in its mouth. Mathilda exclaimed "Truly this place is a Val d'Or'!" In gratitude, she decided to establish a monastery on the site.

Orval produces two beers, only one of which is available to the public, Orval Trappist Ale. Petite Orval is brewed for the monks and is only available at the abbey. Orval Trappist Ale is a Belgian Pale Ale that checks in at 6.9% ABV. The beer comes in a unique bowling pin shaped 11.2 oz. bottle. Edit: The bottling date is 07/05/2007.

Pouring the Orval slowly into an oversized wineglass produced a full, billowing off-white head. The beer is a orange-copper color with some haziness. Spicy, malty aromas are released during the pour and picked up by the nose immediately. There's a pleasing peppery smell, along with some faint fruitiness. The taste is an earthy blend of yeast and a light, bready malt. A light sweetness is present, which balances the hop bitterness. A fruity aspect appears as the beer warms. The finish is somewhat astringent, but pleasant.

I enjoyed the Orval with some spicy Hunan Pork. Although the flavors of the beer are subdued, they stood up to the spicy meal very well. I had no trouble enjoying the complex flavors of the beer despite the red pepper spice in the dish. The heavy carbonation kept the palate refreshed.

I found Orval Trappist Ale to be an easy-to-drink, refreshing ale. The relatively low ABV makes it suitable for nearly any occasion. And, it provided a good start to this exploration of the Trappist beers. I look forward to opening the next one.

The first post in the series is here.

Trappist Beers - Starting Lineup

[Installment #2 in a series]

After being delayed by a busy schedule, we're about to get underway on our exploration of Trappist beers. Pictured here are the beers I have lined up so far. If time allows I'd like to fill in a few missing pieces, but there's enough to start with. But where to start? The order will be dependent on my mood at the time. First up I think will be Orval. I've been wanting to try this one for some time, just never got around to it. If you follow along, be sure to check out the links that will be provided for the monestaries and breweries. You'll learn more about the people and processes behind the beer. They all have fascinating histories. Understanding where the beer comes from will surely enhance the pleasure of drinking them.

The first post in the series is here.

Capital Ale House Update

More news about the new Capital Ale House location coming to Fredericksburg appeared in our local paper today. "City working to bring Ale House downtown" reports on the financial incentives Fredericksburg officials are considering. Incentives totaling up to $100,000 are being discussed. Another interesting note from the article is that the agreement would require Capital Ale House to have it's occupancy permit by November of this year. One could optimistically assume that there's enough padding built into the calendar to prevent failure, and the business would be open well before that. The owners of two other local establishments, J. Brian's and Sammy T's are both quoted in the article as supporting the newcomer to the city.

Read all Capital Ale House updates here.

Another Smoky Night at the Pub

Last night was our monthly "Dads Group" meeting. Once a month, a group of Catholic men gets together, along with our Priest, at a local "pub" for dinner, beer and discussion. It's always a lot of fun, and makes for an enjoyable guys night out. The pub we visit has two rooms, with separate entrances for the smoking and non-smoking sides. The actual division is illusory though. We use the non-smoking side, but I usually leave my coat in the car so it doesn't get embedded with the stench of cigarette smoke. Of course, my clothes still smell of smoke when I return home.

Since I choose to visit the pub, the odor I return home with is the result of a decision I make. However, I read with great interest "Three smoking bans pass Senate" in our local paper the other day. There are three laws up for consideration that would in effect ban smoking in restaurants. Of course, this is far from a done deal. The House of Delegates has historically killed these laws. Virginia has had a long love affair with tobacco and that relationship won't go down easily. I prefer to smell my food and drink rather than cigarette smoke and am more inclined to visit pubs on my occasional trips to Denver, where a smoking ban is in effect. However, I'm not entirely comfortable with a government regulation in this area. (Although, there are already many proper and necessary health regulations in place for food establishments.) The health police don't necessarily have a consistent track record and there could be a slippery slope here.

We do tend to patronize non-smoking restaurants over the opposite when we're planning a family dinner out. Whether I agree in principle with the law or not, I would not lament the cleaner air when I'm out for a pint.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

National IPA Championship

I received an email from the folks at Brewing News alerting to the National IPA Championship:
Join us in celebrating March Madness with a single elimination bracket of 32 IPAs from across the nation going head to head in a battle to see who has biggest cone-jones! The National IPA Championship (NIPAC) starts with the preliminary round on February 23rd in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Enter your prediction of each round on-line at to qualify for the 2008 NIPAC Winners Contest. All contestants that correctly predict the winners of every round and the final champion will be included in a NIPAC Contest Winners Drawing. Prizes include a full case of beer from the 2008 National IPA Champion, tee-shirts, posters and brewery merchandise.

Visit our on-line Locker Room for full descriptions of each of the IPA competitors. After confirming your age, you will then be able to review the beers and then proceed to our on-line contest . Want to know if your favorite IPAs advance to the next level? Follow their progress on-line using the link provided in the Locker Room. NIPAC winners are posted to the web site within 24 hours of each round.

Print a bracket sheet to put in your office, beer bar, homebrew shop...anywhere! Get hopped up - join the fun on your own, or in an office or bar pool!

The judging rounds will be held in four cities with the final round in on March 8 in Atlantic City, NJ. I didn't see any information on how the judging of the beers will take place, who the judges will be, or if the judging is open to the public. Nonetheless this sounds like a lot of fun and will surely spark some interesting debate among fans of IPAs. You can download bracket sheets and enter your predictions online at

Trappist Beers for Lent

I've been trying to think of a beer-themed project to write about during Lent. While Lent is a time of personal sacrifice and prayer, I also wanted to do something different on the blog. I decided I would work on a series of posts focusing on beers from Trappist breweries. Lent seems a fitting season to spend some time learning about these beers and the men who brew them. I'll gather beers from as many of the Trappist breweries as I can find locally and enjoy them over the upcoming weeks, while at the same time doing some reading on the monks and their history. (No, this is not considered part of my Lenten sacrifice.)

The term Trappist refers to monks of the Order of Reformed Cistercians, a Roman Catholic religious order that adheres to the Rule of St. Benedict. There are about 170 Trappist monasteries in the world. Following the rules of the order concerning manual labor, most Trappist monasteries produce goods to be sold to the public in order to support themselves and their good works. A few of the monasteries produce beer for this purpose. Simply defined, a Trappist beer is a beer brewed by, or under control of Trappist monks. Only these breweries are permitted to display the Authentic Trappist Product logo which indicates compliance to the rules set by the International Trappist Association. There are seven recognized Trappist breweries in the world. Six are in Belgium and one is in the Netherlands.

The breweries and their monasteries are:Currently I have beers on hand from five of the breweries and am confident of obtaining the sixth. I don't expect to find any Westvleteren locally as it is only officially available at the abbey in Belgium. If anyone has some Westy they personally picked up at the monastery, and would like to share, I'm all ears. (I'll bring some good cheese to enjoy. :-) As I work my way through the beers I'll be updating the blog with more information about the beers and the breweries.

Additional information on Trappist breweries, their history, and the beers can be found at the Trappist Beers and Monks and The Trappist Brewers and their beers, as well as on the individual breweries' sites. I'll update the list above with links to the individual posts on each beer as I get to them. You'll also be able see all the posts in the series to date, on one page, by clicking here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl Beer Assemblage, Good Friends, New Friends, and One Outcast Beer

We joined four other families for a quickly arranged Super Bowl party on Sunday. The host, who isn't a craft beer drinker, let me know he'd have some "geriatric beers" on hand and that I might want to bring along some other beer that I would like. "Geriatric" being the term he uses for the macro-beers he prefers. I loaded a cooler with Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale, Avery Ellie's Brown Ale and Old Dominion Spring Buck. I figured that would be a well-rounded selection as I wasn't sure what other folks might choose to drink. Since we were only going next door, I could always make a refill run if necessary. I also packed up a number of shaker pint glasses, just in case there were no glasses available.

Upon arriving I set my cooler in the corner of the kitchen, and set out the glassware on a nearby countertop. Not too long after we arrived another family arrived, also toting a cooler. In that cooler was a variety of craft beers. Soon another cooler was carried in, followed by another. These contributions brought an assortment of beers from Sam Adams, Old Dominion, Carolina Brewing, Leffe, Rogue, Duck-Rabbit and a number of other craft breweries. I spied some bottles I didn't recognize but never got around to taking a closer look. It looked as though we had nice assortment to get us through the game. As folks settled in and got into the beers, I was pleased to note that they were pouring the beers into the supplied glasses.

Not too long into the evening, I heard someone exclaim "Who put this Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic in my cooler?" Apparently the person who brought it was trying to pass it off. That started a conversation among three of the guys who had tried this beer already, and who were in agreement that they hadn't liked it. I remarked that I'd never gotten around to trying the Cranberry Lambic. That led to good-natured prodding the rest of the evening that it was time for me to try it. I wasn't really in the mood so kept dismissing those requests. Besides, being the lone Patriots fan in the room, I figured I was getting enough ribbing already. What if I actually liked the Cranberry Lambic? Why be even more contrary? It was a fun evening (despite the outcome of the game.) A few of the families in attendance had not met previously so new friends were made. As the game droned on, we spent a lot of time discussing craft beers, our beer experiences, along with likes and dislikes.

And what of the Cranberry Lambic? When I came home and was putting the leftover beers back into my refrigerator, I discovered the poor stepchild of the Sam Adams Winter Pack had somehow made its way into my cooler! So soon, I'll take the time to find out just what this beer is all about.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Beer Label Mapping

I ran across this post yesterday over on BeerAdvocate. Custom label manufacturer, Etiquette Systems, has posted a map of the U.S. created from images of beer labels. By clicking on a state you can see a larger image of the selected beer label. For those with non-Flash enabled computers, there's an image-only version here.

The post on BeerAdvocate generated the usual BA ramblings of the wrong beers being chosen for some states. However, I thought this was is an interesting project and it certainly helps illustrates the spread of breweries across the U.S. I enjoyed clicking through the map and seeing what beers were chosen for each state.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Session #12: Barleywine

This month's session is hosted by Jon at The Brew Site. The chosen theme is Barleywine, alternately written as Barley Wine. A substyle of Strong Ales, the style is divided into English and American versions. The American versions typically have a more assertive hop character. English versions are usually more suitable candidates for long-term aging, and many aficionados actively search out vintage bottles. Interestingly, in the U.S. Barleywines are labeled Barleywine Style Ale. The appellation simply alerting the consumer that barleywines are high in ABV like wines, but are indeed beers. An example of our government regulators hard at work protecting the American consumer by making matters more confusing.

Sticking with a local theme, I selected the 2007 Barleywine from Legend Brewing in Richmond, VA. A couple of other Legend beers were reviewed previously. The brewer used a London ale yeast strain and English hop varieties; Fuggles and then Goldings for dry hopping. The Legend web site notes that the barleywine is aged for 6 months before release.

Legend Barleywine pours an attractive chestnut-brown color with a thin head. The head soon drops but leaves a persistent ring and minimal lacing. A complex aroma of caramel, raisons, and plums meets the nose. As the beer warms light alcohol aromas are released. The bottle I had is from the late 2007 bottling and is labeled 11.5% ABV. The taste of this barleywine lives up to the clues offered by the aroma. A sweet caramel maltiness, along with dark fruits like figs and plums are detected. There's a substantial, though not over-powering hoppiness as well. The mouthfeel is smooth with a light carbonation. This barleywine leans towards the English style rather than the more aggressively hopped Amerian style. Legend brewer John Wampler writes that the beer is "Probably a hybrid the way it turned out, leaning toward the English." However you choose to classify it (if you must), this is a very nice drink and we'll surely visit this local offering again.

We paired the Legend Barleywine with a banana split dessert made with a warm barleywine sauce. The recipe was taken from the chocolate chapter of our well-worn copy of The Best of American Beer & Food by Lucy Saunders. Barleywine, dark brown sugar, chopped almonds and butter are simmered into a smooth sauce. The barleywine sauce was poured over bananas which were in turn topped with butter-pecan ice cream. The dish was then topped with Colleens world-famous chocolate hardening sauce. The almonds and the dark fruit flavors of the barleywine blended very well and the dessert complimented our drinks quite nicely.

That's it for this month's session. It was fun to plan out a special evening treat around an enjoyable, if not somewhat decadent, beer and food combination. Be sure to check out The Brew Site for a summary of this month's Session.

Update: Jon has posted the Session summary here.

St. Brigid of Ireland

Today, February 1, is the Feast day of St. Brigid of Ireland. St. Brigid has an interesting association with beer. According to tradition Brigid was working in a leper colony when they ran out of beer. Since beer was an important source of safe liquid refreshment and nourishment, this was a serious issue. Brigid is said to have changed her bath water into beer to nourish the lepers and visiting clerics. In another miracle attributed to the Saint, Brigid provided beer to 18 churches for an entire Easter season, all from a single barrel of beer in her convent.

Brigid was inspired by the preaching of St. Patrick, and along with Patrick, is considered a Patron Saint of Ireland. Brigid was a great advocate for the poor all her life. As a young woman she frequently gave away her family's possessions to help those in need until she was eventually granted her wish enter the religious life. Around 470 A.D. she founded Ireland's first convent which became one of the most prestigious monasteries in the country. The historical facts surrounding St. Brigid's life are few because numerous accounts of her life include many miracles and anecdotes deeply intertwined with pagan Irish folklore. Nonetheless she is an important figure in Celtic history.

A prayer attributed to St. Brigid begins "I'd Like A Great Lake Of Beer For The King Of Kings. I Would Like To Be Watching Heaven's Family Drinking It Through All Eternity." A worthy wish indeed.

The Saint's name is frequently, though incorrectly, written as Bridget. The Great Divide brewery in Denver offers St. Bridget’s Porter, which was initially released as St. Brigid's Porter. The name was eventually changed to match the common misspelling. Today we'll raise a toast to St. Brigid. Here's hoping to see that Great Lake some day.