Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jason Oliver to Open Brewpub, Leave Gordon Biersch

A new brewpub will soon open in central Virginia. Mid-Atantic Brewing News has the exciting news in their June/July issue that Jason Oliver, brewer at Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in DC and regional brewery supervisor for the chain, will leave the company to become part owner of a new brewpub to open in Nelson County. The new brewpub will be called The Devils Backbone, referring to the local nickname for the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains. Oliver's partner in the endeavor, Steve Crandall, estimates an October-November opening. MABN quotes Jason on his plans to offer a variety of beverages:
"I've got plenty of ideas and I think we'll be doing some interesting stuff."

"I'm going to have four year-round beers and three or four seasonal beers" he continues, planning a helles lager, a Vienna lager, a hefeweizen and a American-style IPA as his core offerings.

"And then there's going to be two categories which I'm going to have on year-round, but they're going to change within those categories," he continues, "so I'll always have a dark beer on tap and then-always have a Belgian style on tap as well."

Besides his own beers, Oliver says he wants to have two or three rotating guest taps devoted to beers from other Virginia breweries, and "also try to have as many Virginia wines on the wine menu as possible, and every spirit that's made in Virginia I want to have at the bar."

This is the second time in a little over a month that a respected local brewer has announced his plan to leave his current position to open a new brewpub. In April we learned that Bill Madden of Vintage 50 in Leesburg intends to open The Mad Fox Brewing Company somewhere in the Northern Virginia area in the second half of 2009.

Already home to many excellent breweries, "The Old Dominion" continues to become even more attractive as a destination for craft beer enthusiasts.

Update, July 17: Early construction photos.
Update, August 27: More photos.
Update, November 22: It's open.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Weekend Beer Tastings

Here are this weekend's opportunities to try some new beers around Fredericksburg.

Friday, May 30 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Bell’s Third Coast Ale
Pete’s Strawberry Blonde
Otter Creek Summer Ale
Asahi Super Dry
Bluegrass Brewing American Pale Ale

Friday, May 30 - 5:30 - 8:00pm
Virginia Wine Experience, Fredericksburg
Beer Tasting:
Anderson Valley Brother David's Double Abbey Ale
Anderson Valley Brother David's Triple Abbey Ale
Anderson Valley Poleeko Gold Pale Ale

Saturday, May 31 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street, Downtown
Beers TBD

Plank Road, Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Beer TBD

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery
Beer samples and brewery tours

If you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fire at F.X. Matt Brewery

WKTV-Utica is reporting on a major fire at the historic F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica, N.Y. Matt Brewing is best known for their Saranac beers. They also contract brew for a number of other breweries, including Sam Adams and Brooklyn. The fire is ongoing as I write this post. The TV station is reporting that the fire began in the canning/bottling area on the third floor. Reports say there are major cracks visible in the walls of the burning building. All streets within a six-block radius have been closed. The Saranac Thursday community event was shutdown and the brewery evacuated around 5:30 PM EST.

Our prayers go out to the owners, employees, and area residents, as well as the emergency personnel who are battling the blaze. Let's hope that everyone is safe. I'll post updates as more news becomes available.

May 30:
After 13 hours firefighters are still putting out hot spots. The roof, and 4th and 3rd floors of the building have collapsed. This building apparently housed the packaging line and is a total loss. Firefighters hope to pull the building down before it collapses further.
May 31: Brewery inferno's toll: $10M
June 6: F.X. Matt resumes production
June 13: F.X. Matt to resume bottling by June 30

"We will rebuild. We've been in business 120 years. We went through prohibition when we couldn't produce beer...and we will be a force to be reckoned with as we go forward."
-- Fred Matt, vice-president of the brewery

Virginia Brewing Company Receives Brewery License

I received word from Jim Justice at the Virginia Brewing Company that they have finally received their brewery license from Virginia ABC. This news means we're one step closer to seeing beers coming out of the Winchester brewery. "It has been a long time coming and made our day." says Jim.

Earlier this month, the company announced that John Hovermale, Jr., previously of Harpoon Brewery in Vermont, had returned to his native Winchester to brew at Virginia Brewing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Virginia Assists Small Wineries, not Breweries, in Overcoming Three-Tier System

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has created the Virginia Winery Distribution Company (VWDC) to help small wineries overcome the hardships imposed by the three-tier distribution system. In an April 18, 2008 press release from VDACS we learn:
Using VWDC, winery workers will continue to market their wine to shops and restaurants. However, they will act as agents of VWDC when placing orders and making wholesale deliveries of their wine. The VWDC will provide electronic purchase orders and invoices, collect and remit all taxes, and submit necessary government reports. By contract, VWDC and the winery are sharing delivery workers, bonded warehouse space and delivery vehicles. The cost to Virginia wineries using the services of VWDC will be $5 per transaction initially.

According to Todd P. Haymore, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia wine industry credits self-distribution with being the single most important factor in the growth of the number of farm wineries from six in 1980 to more than 130 today. “Losing the capability to self distribute was a major blow to many of our farm wineries,” said Haymore, “and winemakers and wine wholesalers recognize VWDC as a creative alternative for small wineries.” He added that the wine industry is a fast-growing and important part of Virginia agriculture, not only because of the products produced but because of the added value of wineries as tourist destinations. “Our winemakers are good stewards of the land,” he said. “They produce a product that is renowned worldwide, and draw many tourists into Virginia. Last year, Travel + Leisure magazine named Virginia as one of the Top 5 Wine Destinations in the World.”

The VWDC is governed by a Board that consists of two winery owners, two wine wholesalers and the Commissioner of VDACS. David King, owner of King Family Vineyards in Crozet, Virginia, is Board Chairman. “We are excited to launch this new company to support the Virginia wine industry,” King stated. “This new wine wholesaler provides a distribution option for many Virginia wineries, especially smaller wineries that may not have other wholesale representation. It’s exciting for all sectors of the industry - wineries, wholesalers and retailers - to finally have this wine wholesaler in place. On behalf of the wine industry, I thank the Virginia General Assembly for creating an alternative to the Virginia wineries' loss of self-distribution.”

Virginia breweries are also prohibited from self-distribution. Granted, self-distribution was once allowed for Virginia wineries, a benefit the courts ended in September 2005. However, that seems insufficient reason for Virginia to fund a "creative alternative" for just one part of the alcoholic beverages industry. In contrast, Virginia breweries have not had this privilege since the repeal of Prohibition. For all intents and purposes this legislation allows the wineries to continue to self-distribute. And there's an additional benefit for the wineries. Under the new arrangement, the VWDC assists with the labor involved in distribution as well. The savings in warehouse and delivery expenses would certainly be welcomed by brewery startups. One retailer I contacted said he felt the "addition of products to the legislation already in place" would benefit small brewers. Beer distribution laws are more complicated (ie, restrictive) than those applied to wine so it's probably a complicated matter to adapt the laws, but certainly not impossible.

The industry credits the ability to self-distribute as "the single most important factor" in the growth of Virginia wineries. I would suggest that the craft beer industry in Virginia could benefit from this as well. Extending this state-funded cooperative to breweries might encourage more startups. One certainly cannot fault the wine industry for pushing for this privilege and the wine lobby is well-established. I'd like to see the same sort of organization by craft beer folks; brewers, retailers, and consumers. This is not just a brewer's interest. There was at one time a regional effort by underway by the brewers. However the Mid-Atlantic Association of Craft Brewers is no longer active. (The Maryland contingent split off into the The Brewers Association of Maryland.)

It's not just the brewing industry that stands to benefit, but tourism related industries as well. One Virginia brewer I spoke with told me that his local tourism bureau is very interested in working with his brewery to promote the region to visitors. Beer tourism is an important industry to many areas of the United States and indeed the world. The Virginia Tourism Corporation has a page devoted to Virginia breweries. Last updated in May 2007 the information currently posted is limited and outdated.

Is the time right for the Virginia brewing industry to demand equal representation?

The complete VDACS press release is here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dinner and a Beer at the Greek Festival

We made a stop for an early dinner Monday at the Greek Festival being held by the Nativity of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church. The church holds this three-day event over the Memorial Day holiday weekend each year and it's always a good time. Often we go back for a couple of meals over the weekend, but this year we made it just once. Colleen and I both opted to order Gyros.

I also ordered an Alfa Hellenic Lager from Athenian Brewery in Athens to accompany my meal. I admit I didn't have high expectations for this pale lager but after spending the afternoon in the sun, the cold beer was refreshing. When poured into a plastic cup the beer was pale yellow with a thin head. The aroma was grassy with a faint citrus note. The flavor was weak, though there was some hop bitterness in the finish. I wouldn't make extra effort to seek out the beer but it was not unpleasant. It was certainly better than so many pale American macro-lagers. Alfa checks in at 5% ABV. The accompanying Gryos, along with the Athenian Dancers providing entertainment, made for a pleasant finish to the afternoon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's fun being the 'beer guy'

After a Sunday afternoon at the pool with friends, it was decided that an evening get-together was in order. Since we're in the middle of a three-day weekend no one had to work Monday morning. The idea got rolling when someone said "We should drink some beer" and we all thought that was an excellent idea. :-) So after a bit of discussion we had decided on whose house to use. Another friend said he'd bring burgers, dogs and buns. Colleen and I had prepared a 7-layer "Mexican" dip for our enjoyment later in the evening so I offered to bring that. I also offered to bring along a selection of beers. This was all planned by the guys and we told our wives all they had to do was show up.

Going through the beer fridge and loading a cooler was a fun exercise in remembering friends' beer preferences. One likes brown ales, so I threw in some Avery Elle's Brown Ale. Another friend is a fan of hard cider so I added in Hornsby's Amber Hard Cider. (I've never tried the stuff but do keep a bit of hard cider on hand for this friend.) Colleen said she was in the mood for a Hefeweizen so Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier went into the cooler. For myself and another friend I knew hops were in order so I grabbed a growler of Blue & Gray Falmouth Pale Ale along with Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale. I had just picked the latter up on Saturday and hadn't tried it yet so that was to be my treat for the evening.

It was fun to be able to provide everyone's favorite styles. I keep a wide selection of beer on hand for a number of reasons. One, I never know what I might be in the mood for. Secondly, I'm very aware that not all my friends are as adventurous with regard to beer, and all have different likes and dislikes. I think it's important to beer evangelization that folks are given the opportunity to try something new, but also are able to play it safe and enjoy their favorites if they desire. (I do draw the line at serving the Bud-Miller-Coor lineup, instead keeping some milder craft ales and lagers on hand.) We had a very enjoyable evening sitting outside, eating, drinking and talking. Everyone got to enjoy a beer of their liking. Good friends, good beer, good times.

Memorial Day Thoughts

Today we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States. While many mark this day as the unofficial start of Summer, its true meaning is so much more. Memorial Day is the day we pause to honor the Americans who have given their lives during military service to our great Country. No matter what your personal feelings are towards any of our military actions, current or past, the sacrifice of these men and women is undiminished. You can honor the warrior without honoring the war. Take a few minutes out of your holiday activities today and remember these fallen heroes. We should also keep in mind those that were left behind when previous wars were declared ended.

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived."
-- George Patton

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Red Pepper Crostini, Olivada, and Red Sky At Night

We had a good friend over for dinner last night and Colleen served a delectable appetizer to kick off the evening. She prepared Red Pepper Crostini which was served along with homemade Olivada paste and thinly sliced mozzarella. Some non-toasted bread was also set out with herbed olive oil. As the smells of the cooking wafted through house during preparation, I immediately thought of Clipper City Red Sky at Night as the beer that would start the evening. When the appetizers were served I opened the Saison for Colleen and I. (Our guest isn't a beer drinker, yet.)

In The Brewmaster's Table, Garrett Oliver states "Saison is not just verstatile — it's downright promiscuous. It seems to go with everything." Well, I've not yet tried it with everything, but I can tell you this beer went with the Red Pepper Crostini and the Olivada quite well. The beer has enough of a spice component to match up to the garlic and pepper flavors. At the same time it doesn't over power the food and keeps the palate fresh.

We feasted on the appetizers for quite some time. Colleen toasted a second round of bread, and I poured myself a second Red Sky at Night. Eventually we moved on to the rest of the meal. The steaks I grilled, if I do say so myself, were quite good, but this appetizer with the Saison ale from Clipper City was the food highlight of the evening.

I previously reviewed the Red Sky at Night here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Saturday Visit to Blue & Gray Brewing Company

I stopped by the Blue & Gray Brewery this morning to pick up some beer for the weekend. I rarely visit the brewery on Saturday, instead I tend to go during the week. There was quite a crowd this morning. This was probably due to several factors in addition to today being Saturday. One, it's a holiday weekend. Secondly, Blue & Gray marks the unofficial start of Summer with the release of it's Virginia Hefeweizen, currently available in growler fills only. I have little doubt this release contributed to the crowds as I saw many growlers and beer bombs being filled with this golden brew. I did enjoy a small sample while I waited. The Hefeweizen will be available in bottles in a week or two and I'll post a full review soon.

I stood in line for about 20 minutes waiting for my growler fill. Of course, the wait is no problem as free samples of the current Blue & Gray beers are freely available. It's fun to chat with other folks about the beers. It's also interesting, and sometimes humorous, to overhear comments from visitors on the tours. The best line today was from a lady who was getting a sample before going on the tour. She asked, "What do you have that's close to Bud Light?" That brought some good-natured replies from the crowd, "You can't get that here" or "Where's the water fountain?" Hey, at least she was there and willing to try something new. I've converted more than one factory beer drinker with Blue & Gray's beers, so there's a good chance she'll find something new to drink before the tour is over.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Yellow fizz water by any other name ....

When I read first read the headline I thought that someone might actually have tried passing off some cheap beer as one of our beloved craft beers. Fortunately, that was not the case, and it's rather a funny tale if you ask me. In "Agents: Bar Owners Switched Cheap For Expensive Beers":
North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement agents said they charged two men, David Edward Essa, 34, and Robert Christopher Martin, 35, both of Greensboro, with obtaining money by false pretenses after an investigation revealed the two had mislabeled kegs of beer and represented them as more expensive brands.
Essa and Martin own three local businesses: the University General Store on Mendenhall Street, Spring Garden Bar on Spring Garden Street and Westerwood Tavern on Guilford Avenue. Agents said they investigated the three businesses after receiving complaints that employees were switching labels on the beer.
Agents said the analysis of beer ordered covertly from the University General Store and the Spring Garden Bar revealed that the establishments were trying to pass off the cheaper Busch Light as Bud Light. [emphasis added]
Analysis of beer bought at Westerwood Tavern revealed the bar was selling Coors Light when customers thought they were ordering Keystone Light.

I wonder what sort of analysis the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement agents did to make this determination. It likely requires sensitive equipment to separate one flavorless beer from another. It's probably safe to assume the investigation was initiated by consumer complaints. Perhaps light American lager drinkers do indeed have discerning palates.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Holiday Weekend Tasting Opportunities

Here are the opportunities to try some new beers around Fredericksburg this holiday weekend.
Remember, the Memorial Day Weekend is one of the most deadly on Virginia roads, please be careful and responsible.

Friday, May 23 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Clipper City Small Craft Warning
Mad River Steelhead Extra Stout
North Coast Acme Pale Ale
Hornsby’s Crisp Apple Cider

Friday, May 23 - 5:30 - 8:00pm
Virginia Wine Experience, Fredericksburg
Beer Tasting:
Three beers to be determined

Saturday, May 24 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street, Downtown
Dogfish Head Raison d'Etre
Dogfish Head Golden Era Imperial Pilsner
First Customer Choice

Plank Road, Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Stone Pale Ale
Stone India Pale Ale
First Customer Choice

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery
Beer samples and brewery tours

If you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Smuttynose Really Old Brown Dog Ale

Last night we enjoyed a rare evening when we were not on the run for some school/sports/church/community event. Colleen and I actually had the opportunity to sit down after an early dinner and relax. Our son was out riding his bike so it was a good time for us to just sit and talk. I decide to break out the bottle of Smuttynose Really Old Brown Dog Ale from Smuttynose Brewery that I had purchased last Summer. Smuttynose Really Old Brown Dog Ale is part of the brewer's Big Beer Series. This is a bottle-conditioned special release Old Ale style beer. I had no idea on how long I should sit on it before opening or what to expect flavor-wise. However, I wasn't disappointed.

The beer poured a reddish-brown color with a moderate pale beige head. The aroma was bready malt with very faint chocolate notes, along with a bit of dark fruit. I found the flavor to be reminiscent of a standard English brown ale but a bit stronger. There was a nice caramel malt base. We also noted raisins, apple, and some chocolate flavors. Hop bitterness was mild. The mouthfeel was clean and creamy. In the brewer's notes, the brewer remarks that he felt the brown malt was overdone causing the chocolate brownie character to dominate, however I did not notice any unbalanced characteristics.

At 7% ABV the alcohol was not noticeable in the taste, and the beer went down very easily, and quickly. I lamented that I only had one bottle to open. It was an enjoyable addition to an enjoyable evening. The Really Old Brown Dog Ale is not listed in the tentative 2008 Big Beer Series lineup. If you come across a bottle from 2007 I suggest you grab it, I certainly would.

SAVOR Recordings Available at Craft Beer Radio

The folks from Craft Beer Radio were busy last week. They recorded the six Salon sessions at SAVOR, along with doing quite a few interviews. The Salon recordings are available for download now. The interviews will be posted soon. I've already listened to several of the Salon recordings and found them very interesting, and entertaining, even if I was missing out on actually tasting the food and beer being discussed.

Download the recordings here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On "Cooking with Beer"

Food and beer (or food with beer) has been getting a lot of press lately, and last week's SAVOR event help to push the topic to the front pages. I talk to a lot of people about the topic and I've found that to most people beer and food translates to "cooking with beer." And that often brings mention of a favorite recipe, usually along the lines of beer bread. What does "cooking with beer" really mean to beer aficionados?

There are quite a few "cooking with beer" books on the shelves, and it seems like more come out each week. There's quite a range of approaches taken by the authors. Sometimes the approach taken is very simple. Often we'll see recipes that call for "12 ounces beer" or "2 tablespoons beer". That's pretty generic if you ask me. Certainly in some circumstances this might be sufficient, but readers of this blog are surely aware of the wide variety of flavors available to the beer drinker. Calling simply for "beer" in a recipe is a bit like saying "2 tablespoons spice."

Other times recipes are more specific and then "cooking with beer" takes a more formal approach. For example, in "Grilling with Beer" author Lucy Saunders offers suggestions such as "12 ounces American IPA or hoppy pale ale" in a recipe for Hops and Herbs Chopped Chicken Sandwiches (page 132.) One can imagine how differently the grilled chicken might taste if the recipe had called for "12 ounces beer" and the reader selected a light American lager instead. Beer, unless one is dealing with one of the flavorless big factory beers, imparts noticeable and specific flavors to the food being prepared, and the flavor of the finished dish could vary quite a bit if the chef was left to choose simply a "beer".

Another interpretation of "cooking with beer", and one that has my interest especially, is where the beer isn't used solely in the preparation of the dish, but as an accompaniment to the meal. This is the approach taken, for example, by Garrett Oliver in "A Brewmaster's Table". In this book the author goes into great detail on various foods to pair with each of the many styles of beers discussed. He gives both style suggestions and the reasons behind the pairings. The Best of American Beer & Food by Lucy Saunders, also takes the pairing approach to "cooking with beer." It may surprise some readers that many recipes in her book do not call for beer at all in their preparation. However, the author makes excellent beer serving suggestions for every recipe. (In my opinion "The Bremaster's Table" and "The Best of American Beer & Food" are both major influences in exposing people to the pleasures of pairing beer and food in order to enhance the enjoyment of both. Both books are highly recommended.)

And finally, let's not forget the most enjoyable interpretation of "cooking with beer." That's when the cook cracks open a nice beer and drinks it while cooking! Enjoying a nice craft beer while preparing the meal shouldn't be overlooked. And by the way, beer makes a great appetizer as well.

No matter how you approach cooking with beer, remember the goal is to enjoy the many flavors of craft beer. So continue to try new recipes and experiment with different beer and food pairings. I promise you'll have fun.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

About Those Gourmet Beer Dinners

There's little doubt that the popularity of "beer dinners" is increasing. These events are good way for breweries, retailers, and distributors to expose the public to their beers, and to increase awareness of craft beer in general. I've been thinking about the costs to attend these functions, and the message the sponsors are trying to get across. Is it about the food, the beer, both? I mentioned the Samichlaus dinner at Brasserie Beck recently. This $110 a plate meal comes at a premium price. The menu received just a brief mention in the promotional email, and given the beer to be served, the price was probably to be expected. But are the expectations for a beer dinner correct? What's the message? Is the craft beer industry trying too hard to overcome the frat-boy-party-animal image that the likes of Budweiser and Coors have long saddled us with?

Most beer dinners I've read about, or attended, have a price tag of $60-70, for a 4-5 course meal. Such prices are reasonable given the venue; typically it's a gourmet meal, five or more different craft beers, along with some educational aspects. However, the more I think about it, is this necessarily the best way to promote craft beer? Sure we want beer to gain a better image, especially as a proper accompaniment to good food. But how many people are willing to regularly spend $60 or more, per person, for a dinner out? It seems to me that these gourmet meals are being promoted to the exclusion of simpler affairs. Sure, these are special events and we all want and deserve a treat every now and then, but many more people could be reached through different venues.

As people gain an appreciation for fine beer over factory beer, they will soon realize that good beer costs more. But we don't want to give the impression that good beer is an extravagance. Why isn't there greater interest in sponsoring more moderately priced events? Let's spread the message through less extreme events and offer small samples of properly paired food. Focus on education over extravagance. Brewers would do well to sponsor events promoting craft beer to a greater general audience. I recently saw notice of a $30.00 Flying Dog dinner that is described as "affordable and tasty". Certainly a step closer to what I am suggesting, but why a sit down dinner at all? Serve appetizers and light snacks, add more beer varieties, and it would still be possible to keep the cost attractive to a large audience.

Here's a plea to brewers. Keep those fancy dinners coming, but let's see more low cost events too. Present us with 4 or 6 of your beers along with samples of easily prepared foods for everyday enjoyment. Teach folks that a Pale Ale goes just as well with nachos as it does with pan-seared salmon.

Update, May 20: Andy Crouch as posted on a related topic in The SAVOR Wrap-up And Concerns About The Growing Snobbery Of Beer…

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Green Flash Hop Head Red Ale - More fun with hops

I headed over to Kybecca this afternoon for their Saturday tasting to try the Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse. While I was there I picked up a six pack of Hop Head Red Ale from Green Flash Brewing Company of San Diego. I had read about this beer earlier in the week on the Kybecca blog. The beer was described as "a cross between a red ale and an India Pale Ale." Matt's description intrigued me as an unabashed hop head, and since we don't see Green Flash beers stocked locally very often, this was a chance to try another beer from this brewery.

This is a fairly new beer and is not listed in the brewery's web site. Green Flash Hop Head Red Ale pours a red-brown color with a thick head that leaves lots of sticky lacing as it fades. It certainly looks like a typical red ale, but that is where the similarity ends. The brewer dry hops with Amarillo hops giving the beer a strong citrus aroma and flavor. A bit of pine hits those senses as well. The hop profile is significant but the beer is still balanced with enough malt sweetness to keep things in check. There is some lingering bitterness, and a slightly oily mouthfeel. At 6% ABV it's a little high for a session beer, but still quite drinkable. I was somewhat reminded of Tröegs Nugget Nectar, another highly hopped American Red Ale. However, Nugget Nectar has a stronger malt backbone, whereas the Green Flash has a much stronger citrus profile. That stereotypical East Coast - West Coast difference perhaps?

Despite the well-publicized hop shortage, American brewers are still managing to create intriguing beers for hop fans. We enjoyed another interesting hop-tweaked beer a couple of months ago in the Amarillo Black Ale from The Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. For this one the brewer tweaked an American Stout recipe, also with Amarillo hops, to create a cross between a Stout and an IPA. The terms dry hop and fresh hop are both used to describe addition of hop blossoms near the end of the fermentation. This can add significant hop flavor and aromas to the finished beer. Some brewers add the hops to the beer immediately after they are harvested and brewing schedules are planned to coincide with delivery of the new harvest. The technique seems to be gaining popularity. Sierra Nevada recently announced an expansion of their fresh hop Harvest line, adding two new variations to the original Harvest Ale. Whatever the reasons for the growth in the use of the process, I'm confident we'll continue to see new and interesting beers from American brewers despite the ongoing hop shortage.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This Weekend's Tasting Opportunities

Here are your opportunities to try some new beers around Fredericksburg this weekend.

Also this weekend, the SAVOR, American Craft Beer and Food Experience takes place in Washington, DC.

Friday, May 16 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Bluegrass Brewing Jefferson’s Reserve Imperial Stout
Wurzburger Julius Echter Dunkel
Leinenkugel Berry Weiss
Otter Creek Copper Ale
Hacker Pschorr Weiss

Saturday, May 17 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street, Downtown
Plank Road, Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)

Schneider Wiesen Edel-Weisse
Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse, a collaboration between the Schneider Weisse brewery and Brooklyn Brewery.
As always, one customer choice.

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery
Beer samples and brewery tours

If you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Samichlaus Beer & Dinner Event

The recent Brasserie Beck newsletter brings word of an interesting, if pricey, Samichlaus beer dinner. I was fortunate to taste some vintage Samichlaus recently and enjoyed it quite a bit.
On Tuesday, June 3rd, Brasserie Beck holds its first-ever Beer Dinner featuring Samiclaus Vintages and the last known keg of 1997 Hurlimann Samichlaus in existence. The five-course dinner will include bottled vintages from 2000 to 2004 and 2006-2007, a 2005 keg and the 1997 that was keged at the Hurlimann Brewery in Zurich Switzerland.

Samiclaus is known as one of the strongest lager beers in the world with 14% alcohol by volume. The pours between the dinner courses will be approximately 2 oz. each and paired with robust Brasserie Beck menu items of Pork Belly, Duck Confit, Steak with Peppercorn Sauce, Cheese Course and a Dessert with a beer reduction.

The evening’s guest speaker will be Karl Stohr, seventh generation owner of the Eggenberger brewery in Vorchdorf, Austria and also attended by Martin Wetten of Wetten Importers, Inc.

Dinner Details: $110 per person (exclusive of tax and gratuity) 7pm at Brasserie Beck, 1101 K Street, Washington, DC 20005 Reservations by credit card only by calling 202-408-1717 Seating is limited. Valet parking available for $7.

The coveted 1997 keg will be available for sale at the bar after the June 3rd dinner.

As fun as it sounds, I'll have to pass on this one. However, since some of my friends are Samichlaus fans and drink it often, I figure we could have our own country version of this event. Samichlaus goes well with roasted peanuts, and I have both 2006 and 2007 vintages available. I'm estimating $5.00 a head should about cover it!

Samichlaus, Samiclaus, two spellings, one good beer.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Non-traditional Ingredients

Via Twitter I was alerted to several items of interest regarding brewers experimenting with alternative ingredients in face of hop and malt shortages and rising costs. Chrisod sent me a link to this Wired article, "Craft Brewers Reformulate Beer to Cope With Hop Shortage".
The shortage -- caused by a dwindling number of hop growers worldwide, and exacerbated by a Yakima, Washington, warehouse fire -- has forced [Pacific Coast Brewing's Donald] Gortemiller to use fewer and different hops than before, changing the flavor of his beer. He's also resorted to beer hacks, like "dry hopping," in which the hops are added late to the mix, consuming fewer hops and yielding a more consistent flavor.

Geistbear sent a pointer to an article from his Geistbear Brewing Blog. In "It's the end of the beers as we know it and I feel fine" he writes:
Economic theory states that one of the possible reactions to scarcity is substitution. The current growth rates of 10% per year of craft brewing I don't see demand subsiding anytime time soon. So there will have to be another answer found and I think it's down the road of substitution. American brewers have proven if they can do anything it is innovate.

Also on Twitter, Brookston advises us to "Seek out Moonlight Brewing's "Working For Tips," a beer Brian Hunt made with only Redwood tip, and NO hops!" I found no info on this new beer on the Moonlight Brewing website. BeerAdvocate classifies Working for Tips as a "Scottish Gruit / Ancient Herbed Ale" and lists a number of beers of this style.

We will likely be seeing a growing number of these alternative ingredient beers. American brewers have long shown they are willing to experiment with new (or old and forgotten) ingredients. However such experimentation is pointless unless American consumers are willing to try results. Are you stuck on your current favorites, or are you willing to try something new?

More commentary on the Wired story:
Alan at A Good Beer Blog:
Wired's Good Summary Of Price Inputs Got Me Thinking
Stan at Appellation Beer:
Monday musing: The bright side of the hops shortage

Update, May 14: Knut Albert has posted about some very non-traditional ingredients.

Birth of a (Clipper City) Cask

Thomas Cizauskas, in his blog Yours for Good Fermentables has posted a photo-journal detailing what goes on behind the scenes in preparing a firkin of fresh Clipper City ale. As a fan of the Clipper City Heavy Seas line, I found it quite interesting. I've enjoyed fresh casks of Clipper City beers on several occasions and had admittedly not given much though to the work that goes on to prepare these special treats. Starting with cleaning the casks, to measuring the hops for the hopsack, to purging the air from the cask, to priming with the krausen, to filling the keg, it's an involved and detailed process.

See Casking at Clipper City for a new appreciation for what goes on before you enjoy that fresh cask at a Clipper City dinner or tour.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Local Winners in National Homebrew Competition

The Fredericksburg area is well-represented at the American Homebrewers Association National Homebrew Competition. The first round results are in and local home brewers have made a good showing in the regional judging for the South. Congratulations folks!

Category 9 Scottish and Irish Ale:
Second (9E) - Aaron Zaccagnino of Fredericksburg, VA, Global Brew Tribe

Category 11 English Brown Ale:
Second (11B) - Joe Gherlone of Fredericksburg, VA, Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP)

Category 24 Traditional Mead:
Third (24C) - Lyle Brown of Fredericksburg, VA, Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP)

Category 25 Melomel: (Fruit Mead):
First (25B) - Aaron Zaccagnino, Barbra Zaccagnino, Fredericksburg, VA, Global Brew Tribe
Third (25C) - Lyle Brown of Fredericksburg, VA, Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP)

Maybe, just maybe, we'll get to taste some of these winning brews at an upcoming FABTS meeting. You can check out the complete results here.

Update, June 19: We did indeed get to try some of these beers at the June FABTS meeting.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Local Free Beer Tastings

Here are your opportunities to try some new beers around Fredericksburg this weekend.

Friday, May 9 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine, Fredericksburg
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Hebrew Messiah Bold
Lancaster Strawberry Wheat
Lagunitas Maximus Double IPA
Hofbrau Munchen Maibock
Cuvee Euphorique Belgian Ale

Friday, May 9 - 5:30 - 8:00pm
Virginia Wine Experience, Fredericksburg
Beer Tasting:
Bell's Oberon
Orkney Dark Island
Orkney Red MacGregor Ale

Saturday, May 10 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Kybecca, Fredericksburg
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:

William Street, Downtown Fredericksburg
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2002
St. Peter's English Ale

Plank Road, Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Eggenberg Pilsner
Legend Hefeweizen

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery, Fredericksburg
Beer samples and brewery tours

If you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout

The last two beers I posted about were from West Coast breweries, so I figured it's time to move back to the East. Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout is an old favorite and one of the first stouts we enjoyed on a regular basis. In fact, we typically have at least one of the Old Dominion beers on hand at all times. It is my understanding that the original Oak Barrel Stout served onsite at the Old Dominion Brewpub was aged in actual oak barrels. However the bottled product, and all current production, is produced with wood chips added during the fermentation process.

This beer pours jet black with a robust beige head. Some lacing is left behind as the head slowly drops. The aroma is that of dark chocolate and roasted malt, with faint vanilla notes. The flavor has roasted malts and oak, with some licorice. As the beer warms a slight smokiness comes out. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy. I found that a bit of milk chocolate went well with my beer. There's a nice lingering hop bitterness, but none of the expresso astringency that one finds in some stouts. This is one goes down easily, perhaps too easily. However, at just 5.2% ABV that's not too much of an issue. The stout was also very soothing on a pollen-induced sore throat.

Old Dominion Brewery took some heat from the local craft beer community after the company was sold to Coastal Brewing, a joint venture of Fordham Brewing and Anheuser-Busch. Staff and product lineup changes after the sale only fueled the flames. However, recent reports from locals visiting the brewpub tell a different story. Brewer innovation is producing new beers, and the old favorites, such as the Oak Barrel Stout are still being produced.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Not So Good Beers

With few exceptions, I prefer to focus on good beers when writing these musings, however the St. Petersburg Times is running an article entitled "The world's 10 most disgusting beers":
Good beer is increasingly easy to find in America, and that is good news. However, there are still plenty of gag-reflex-triggering beers on the shelves, and it is time these offenders of good taste were called out.
This article is getting a surprising amount of attention. I think the article is somewhat tongue-in-cheek and I don't know if the author has actually tasted all the beers, or if they made the list based on their descriptions. However, the beers he's included certainly aren't ones I'd choose to drink. I won't post the list here, you'll have to read the article yourself. You'll surely have your own opinions on a better (or would that be worst?) list. The article generated a lengthy discussion on Real Beer. There was also a thread on DC-Beer, in which Alexander D. Mitchell IV provided a link to a Japanese beer that might qualify for inclusion, along with a photo link.

Honestly now, how many on the list have you tried? In the interest of full disclosure, #9 on the list, Milwaukee's Best, was certainly a staple back in college. :-)

Buy American, Buy Local

Jeff over at Blue & Gray Brewery has this commentary on his website:
The federal government is sending nearly each and every one of us a $600 rebate. If we spend that money at Wal-Mart, the money will go to China. If we spend it on gasoline it will go to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or Canada, if we purchase a computer it will go to India, if we purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, if we purchase a good car it will go to Japan, if we purchase useless stuff it will go to Taiwan and none of it will help the American economy.

The only way to keep that money here at home is to buy beer, since it is the only product still produced in the US. Thank you.
I like the way the man thinks.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Seasonal Shifts - Sierra Nevada Summerfest

Seems the seasons are shifting on the calendar. Last January, while in the throes of Winter, we were enjoying Sierra Nevada ESB. In that case, the brewer tells us ESB stands for Early Spring Brew. Recently while shopping for beer, I came across Sierra Nevada Summerfest. It's May! We're in the middle of Spring!

Okay, in all seriousness, I know it's about marketing, and the brewers need to get their beers in front of people. That's why we see the Fall beers starting around July or August. So, let's cut right to the chase and take a look at this Summer release from Sierra Nevada. The beer pours a straw-yellow with a thick, creamy head. (The color is actually a bit lighter than is shown in the photo to the right.) I'm glad I decided to dig out the Pilsener glass for this one. Even with an easy pour I had to empty the bottle in stages. The aroma is grainy with faint floral hops. I found the flavor light and refreshing, with bitter hops and an ever so slight citrus zestiness. A crisp, bready maltiness keeps everything in balance. The finish is dry and clean.

This is a crisp and refreshing Pilsener. I half expected something a little more heavy on the hops, coming from Sierra Nevada. However I am quite pleased that those expectations were unmet. At a mere 5.0% ABV this will be easy to enjoy during the heat of Summer. I do wonder how many beer drinkers will miss the attractive and flavor-releasing head by consuming directly from the stubby bottle. Me, I'll keep the Pilsener glasses handy and enjoy this one throughout the actual Summer.

Three Sheets Episodes Free on iTunes

There are currently two episodes of Zane Lamprey's Three Sheets available for free download from iTunes. Zane's adventures are not always prime examples of responsible drinking, but often interesting none-the-less.

Beglium: Flaming beer, a shot made of Brussels sprouts, and a chocolate hangover cure – Zane tries it all in Belgium, home to a huge variety of beer. Dodging the notorious beer hunter and hanging with beer-brewing monks, it’s all in a day’s work for Zane.
Croatia: Zane steps behind the fortress walls of Croatia to find homemade Grappa and Marask flowing. When he arrives in Dubrovnik, Zane crashes a pub-crawl and does his best to keep up with some hard-drinking Croats through a very long night.

Get them while you can, if you are so inclined, and iTunes-enabled.

Beer Can Coffin

This is carrying one's love of PBR just a bit too far. The Washington Post reports:
Bill Bramanti will love Pabst Blue Ribbon eternally, and he's got the custom-made beer-can casket to prove it.

"I actually fit, because I got in here," said Bramanti of South Chicago Heights.

The 67-year-old Glenwood village administrator doesn't plan on needing it anytime soon, though.

He threw a party Saturday for friends and filled his silver coffin _ designed in Pabst's colors of red, white and blue _ with ice and his favorite brew.

"Why put such a great novelty piece up on a shelf in storage when you could use it only the way Bill Bramanti would use it?" said Bramanti's daughter, Cathy Bramanti, 42.

Bramanti ordered the casket from Panozzo Bros. Funeral Home in Chicago Heights, and Scott Sign Co. of Chicago Heights designed the beer can.
Mr. Bramanti has tried it on for size, and he's used it as a cooler, now that's creepy. Maybe if it was painted to look like a Dale's Pale Ale can...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kicking Back With a Moylan's Hopsickle

Saturday was a typically busy weekend day and it was late in the evening when Colleen and I finally sat down to relax. We were both hungry, and in the mood for a hoppy, big beer. So while Colleen sliced up some very nice Irish Cheddar Cheese, I perused the beer selection in the basement and came up with a bottle of Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial Ale. Moylan's beers are recent arrivals to our area and I recall it was the label bearing the words "Triple Hoppy" that had intrigued me to make the purchase.

The beer pours an attractive copper-orange color with a tan head. Sticky lacing is left behind as the glass is emptied. The aroma is that of strong citrus hops with a good bit of sweet malt thrown in. The hop aroma comes across as "wet" and fresh. Hopsickle supplies a hop explosion in your mouth. It's not all citrus though. You are hit with pine and bitter notes as well. The finish is bitter with a lingering sweet malt stickiness. At 9.2% ABV the alcohol flavor comes through in the aftertaste. The flavor and mouth feel remind me of what you get from wet hopped beers such as Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale or Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, though on a much bigger scale. The Moylan's web site doesn't offer any clues if the fresh (or wet) hopping is used, although the label mentions "fresh hops."

Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial Ale is a very nice Double IPA. Often these Double, or Imperial IPAs present characteristics that whisper Barleywine, but the big hop profile in "Triple Hoppy" keeps it solidly on the DIPA side. The dry, sharp cheese was an excellent foil for the big flavors and syrupy finish of the beer. If you are a fan of the Double IPA, this is one you should try.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Spring Cleaning

I've been doing a bit of Spring Cleaning recently. We found ourselves with a lot of singles in the beer fridge. These consisted of the one, occasionally two, remaining bottles from numerous 6-pack purchases. I'm sure I'm not alone in acquiring new beers before having finished what's on hand. Before you know what's happened, there's big collection of one-offs in the refrigerator. So, for the past month or so, I've not bought any new beer, but have been working my way through the older beer in the fridge. It's been fun to revisit some of these beers. The downside is there's usually only one bottle of each, so some evenings we might enjoy an eclectic mix. On the upside, none of the beer has been old enough to have gone bad. And there's been a nice surprise or two. After I thought I had consumed my last one, I found one more bottle of Clipper City Winter Storm. Ooh! I see a Slaapmutske Triple Nightcap tucked in the back.

We've pretty much worked our way through all the leftovers now. There are still plenty of big beer singles, but that's a different story all together. And the really exciting news is I'm ready to go shopping!

Friday, May 2, 2008

VBC Beer Fest Postponed

Received this email this morning:

To ensure compliance with Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control regulations, the Virginia Brewing Company (VBC) is postponing its Beer Fest to a date in the near future. Watch for news and updates.

See you soon!

--Your friends at ZeroPak / Virginia Brewing Company

The Session #15: How did it all start for you?

The blogging duo of Boak and Bailey is hosting this month's round of The Session. The London-based writers ask the question "How did it all start for you?
Continuing the “Beervangelism” theme, we’d like you to write about the moment when you saw the light. At what point did you realise you were a beer lover / geek / enthusiast? What beer(s) triggered the conversion? Did someone help you along your way, or did you come to it yourself?

In short; how did you get into good beer?
That's a question I'm asked pretty often when folks find out I enjoy craft beer. I have given it a fair amount of thought but still, the start is nebulous. Colleen and I have been drinking better beer for quite some time. See, the thing is, we didn't know there was such a thing as "craft beer." Some beers we just liked better than others. Didn't everyone? I wasn't so much disgusted by the big factory beers, as much as I liked other beers better. (I'm not saying our early choices were excellent beers, just better.)

Yes, I used to be a big Budweiser drinker. I could walk in to my local watering hole and the ice-cold bottle would be open and on the bar before I got to my seat. ("Glass? I don't need no stinkin' glass.") On thinking back, I absolutely hated warm beer, it had to be very cold. Of course today I know why my beer was so undrinkable if it wasn't ice-cold. One of the first other beers I can recall drinking regularly was Pete's Wicked Ale. This "dark" beer, what I now know was a Brown Ale, offered more flavor than I was used to from my macro-choice, and I liked that. We bought a lot of Pete's back then. I can recall the day I stopped in the beer aisle while we were grocery shopping and found no Pete's in stock. We looked for something else and eventually selected Redhook Nut Brown Ale. Soon we couldn't find our latest favorite beer as it was apparently a seasonal (Spring) release.

The first major hint we had that there was even more to be discovered was when we wandered into a local beer & wine store in search of the aforementioned Redhook Nut Brown Ale. Not finding it, we somehow settled on John Courage Amber, an English Pale Ale, or perhaps it was an ESB. I recall thinking how expensive this beer was compared to the other beers we had been trying. Now this was something different. It had a nice bitterness and it was imported. Recently I went looking for John Courage Amber. I wanted to see if I still thought it was so good but have been unable to find it. I believe that Courage Brewing was swallowed by Scottish & Newcastle, and in turn the Courage line was later acquired by the Wells & Young’s Brewing Company, and indications are that this beer is no longer being produced, or at least exported to the U.S.

For years we'd randomly try other beers in addition to those highlighted above, often choosing the usual "craft" suspects one could find at the grocery stores; Shiner Bock, Bass Ale, St. Pauli Girl, Foster's, all come to mind. Then I was introduced to the Blue & Gray Brewery here in Fredericksburg. That was, I think, my first "fresh" beer. The light started getting brighter about that time regarding the myriad of flavors and styles that are available from beer. Soon afterwards I was given a gift membership in the Beer of the Month Club for Fathers' Day. And as they say, the rest is history. I started researching "craft beer" on the Internet. Suddenly the downstairs "spare" fridge was filled with beer, and the bottled water was now relegated to the garage. The Beer of the Month club soon was boring. Before I knew it, friends started jokingly (I hope) referring to me as a beer snob and asking questions. Last Fall I took the additional step of starting this blog. That's when things really spun out of control. The secret was out. I was an official beer geek.

I must say I've met more people through this hobby than I could have ever imagined. We went from simply searching out new beers, and being thought of slightly eccentric by friends, to enjoying a full-time passion. So to answer the original questions, we essentially started on our own, and learned by hit or miss. Eventually the passion was fueled by the many new friends, both live and online, with whom we share this passion. So, no lightening bolts or epiphanies here, but an ongoing evolution.

Be sure to visit Boak and Bailey to see a summary of the contributions to this month's Session.

Update, May 4: The hosts have posted the Session roundup.