December 31, 2009

Session #35: New Beer's Resolutions

Happy 2010 to one and ale. This month's session is hosted by Christina Perrozzi and Hallie Beaune, currently of Beer For Chicks (but soon to be at, ask us beer bloggers--chicks and dudes alike--

What was your best and worst of beer for 2009? What beer mistakes did you make? What beer resolutions do you have for 2010? What are your beer regrets and embarrassing moments? What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?

Starting with the best and worst beer, that's such a toughie. Namely because once again, I tried hundreds of new beers in 2009. And they weren't all during the 4 tasting sessions at the Great American Beer Fest, either. In fact, that leads to a beer regret that I'll get to later. But this is my blog and I don't have to use that old-standby answer about "I could never pick one favorite because so many are remarkable" if I don't want to. But in all truthfulness, it was a tie.

Founder's Canadian Breakfast Stout (Grand Rapids, MI): Generally, I find most beers with the word 'breakfast' right in the title to be delectable. This one tops them all. It's got all the velvety oatiness you want in a sweet stout, ameliorated by decadent chocolate and robust coffee notes and then pushed over the top by the maple barrel aging that gives it more of a pillowy softness than overt syrup accent.

Midnight Sun Oak-Aged Imperial Pumpkin Chocolate Stout (Anchorage, AK): As much of a mouthful as the name is, the beer itself is a gorgeous elixir that boasts equal parts silky milk chocolate and spices redolent of homemade pumpkin pie with the spiciness offset by the pumpkin's creaminess.

As for the worst beer of '09, that's also a tough call because I had some doozies, but two stand out the most:

The Stable Marzen (St. Louis, MO): I visited here during my beer odyssey and tooled around Greater St. Louis with Bryce Eddings. Having visited some great breweries such as Schlafly, O'Fallen, and Square One, it unfortunately ended on a sour note at this brewpub across from the historic ruins of the Lemp Brewery. Sour beers may be popular, but not when it's due to spoilage like at this place.

Sun Valley Brewing Co. (Hailey, ID): Spoilage is just about the worst offense ever. I'm aware it can affect an errant batch, but I had two different beers from two different locations while in Sun Valley for a wedding. Both were waaaay off. One bartender tried to wave it off by calling it "an acquired taste" that the locals dig. Is that so.

The most awesome part about my ex-beer-iences in '09 was that I joined the ranks of homebrewers. After years of insisting I needn't bother because the pros do it well enough for me, I realized that's far from the point. Of course, I have other incentives. Suffice it to say, my homebrew odyssey is exciting and will keep me busy straight through '10. My goal to finish my next book is right about this time next year.

Far and away the biggest development for me this past year is that, much like how I'd vowed to never homebrew and then changed my tune, Half Pint somehow tricked me into reversing my mission to stay a bachelor my whole life. One of my favorite things in the world is sitting at a brewery with a brewmaster we or she has never met and watching his eyes bug out when he hears her assess his beers and nail them. She's got a knack that far surpasses my own palate. I just hope she likes the homebrews I'm working on for our wedding and that it doesn't stop her from saying Yes.

We got engaged at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was during our annual road trip to GABF in Denver. Despite my best intentions, it's so hard to pace myself there. I really thought I was doing all right--I blame that mid-day mead tasting event. Anyway, I was pretty useless most of the Saturday there and did not get to take advantage of the special session that day.

All in all, 2009 was an exciting year, personally and in the world of craft beer. My Beeradise literally overfloweth. It's how I gauge that my problem lies not in drinking too much beer, but buying too much. My resolution is to share more of my great bottles than I already do with friends, old and new. I think it's time to open the Goose Island Imperial Brown Goose that Half Pint bought for me in Chicago (at a great wine store called Lush with a small but impressive beer chiller) back in '08. And Mario Rubio and Jesse Friedman and I need to put our grand Old Stock tasting on the books (my bourbon-aged Cellar Reserve, Mario's brandy-aged C.R., and Jesse's 3-year vertical). To say nothing of the '05/'07/'09 Cantillon Blabaer Lambiks, though we'll see if I jump on the Sour bandwagon in '10 that picked up tremendous speed in '09. Brewmasters, please, more Lacto and less Brett in 2010. I still find the sour category very hit and miss. Though, for the most part, stuff I tried from Cascade (Portland, OR) and a lot of New Belgium's stuff not yet in bottles is winning me over.

As for resolutions for 2010, I resolve to take my homebrewing to a higher level (which hopefully entails kegging. I'm kinda over the bottling thing), maybe study and go from Cicerone Certified Beer Server to actual Certified Cicerone (TM), and, after the grandness of SF Beer Week '10 (which can't come soon enough and will be over too soon), figure out a way to keep from wearing my beer intake on my sleeve, er, waistline. At least long enough til Half Pint says I Do.

Cheers to the brotherhood/sisterhood of the beer community,


December 9, 2009

Beer dinners past and future

Beer is making me fat.

That's not exactly stop-the-presses news. But it's been something that's been on my mind, and gut, lately. It seems
 the more beer dinners I go to (most recently this kick-ass Dogfish Head dinner at Hopmonk. Left: Half Pint w/ chef Billy Reid; Right: Half Pint with Dogfish rep Bryant Goulding. Each shown actual height!) and the ones in the near-future as part of SF Beer Week 2010, the more out of shape I get. It's a trend I hope to reverse, which is why Half Pint and I registered for a half marathon.
 We have no delusions of slender. It's on Super Bowl Sunday. And at the start of SF Beer Week. And we're going to the Anchor beer lunch or dinner at Hopmonk Tavern that day.

We're doing this for our health and for other reasons. Seriously, check out said reason which you can read about in this post at Bryan Kolesar's Brew Lounge.

So, yes, I'm in training. But I'm not the most resolute runner. And with events like this recent Samuel Adams Utopias beer dinner at Monk's Kettle I didn't have the resolve to turn down, it's no wonder I'm still a far cry from being in tuxedo shape.

I know what my New Year's resolution is. What's yours?

Half Pint @ Trinity, Colorado Springs

Brief intro: I'm usually the one beer blogging from the road, but Half Pint's work has her going to points throughout K-radio territory. As such, she came up with the rather smashing idea of guest blogging when she's the one continuing the beer odyssey and I'm anchored at home. I like when couples do this. She's currently in Colo. Springs--a city I've never visited--and her last trip took her to Madison, which made me quite jealous, but doubt I could get her to blog retroactively. So without further ado...

This is Half Pint and I want you to all know that I'm a good fiancee. When I travel without my Growler (that's Brian for those of you who don't know), I always have beer on the brain - or rather where I can taste local beers - and make him jealous. Oh and I always bring some home to him.

I'm in Colorado for work and made the drive from Boulder to Colorado Springs today in the snow. I asked B to research brew pubs for me so I'd know what my dinner options where when I got to town. He suggested Trinity at the top of the list and when I browsed the Web site and saw words like "Artisanal," "Beer," "Slow Food," and "Conscious People" I knew I was in.

I showed up and sat at the bar. MJ, mother of two and super cool, helped me out immediately. Turns out she works a couple nights at Trinity more as a hobby - I thought, wow, if this place is her "get away," it must be awesome.

Being a girl who likes IPAs and Stouts the most, I was conflicted on what to order. They had Awaken Stout and Flo IPA on nitro and I was curious as I don't recall having an IPA on nitro. I asked her if I could taste it. MJ brought me all three - and said she likes her IPA a bit crisper. When I tasted the one on nitro, I completely agreed. I liked the Stout but opted for the regular Flo IPA which was super yummy. I also consulted MJ on food - the menu was long and tempting - another reason to wish B was with me. I opted for a salad and the Sweet Potato Mole Enchiladas which were AWESOME.

When I saw the medal, I remembered that they won a Gold at GABF in the experimental category. Unfortunately, this is the only beer they bottle and while I was tempted, B doesn't love all sour beers, so at $18.95 for the 750 ml, it wasn't really worth the risk.

They have lots of live music which I was bummed to miss and wish I was going to be in town on Christmas Eve for: 

"Drain the Kegs" Cherry Awaken Stout Tapping...we only brew 2 kegs of this beer each year. Last year they were both gone in 1 hour and 57 mins!!! Let's beat our record!

I won't be able to make it but definitely look forward to bringing B back here someday...


Half Pint

November 1, 2009

America the Beertiful

After 5 weeks, 12 states, 21 new breweries, and 7,500 miles, I'm happy to be back home on my bar stool (literally, Half Pint found a great bar stool made of wood, brass, and green leather from a hotel's liquidation sale). I always seem to return from these beer odysseys a little more patriotic and a little pudgier, and really, aren't they related? Perhaps not surprising is that the beer itself isn't the most cherished aspect. Don't get me wrong. Beer is good stuff, and I'll get to a few highlights in a minute, but it's the people, isn't it, that make the trip.

In Arizona, Half Pint and I stayed at A Shooting Star Inn near the Grand Canyon where Tom, the proprietor, happens to be a homebrewer. I can't wait to crack open the bottle he
gave me as a parting gift. But he also cooked us a great meal and gave us a little concert to celebrate our engagement. And in Colorado, Matt at the Ska Brewery gave not just me, but Half Pint's whole branch of her family in Durango a VIP tour. As for Colorado, I kind of have to skip over GABF, on account of it was a fun-filled blur. Um, I blame the altitude. (Photo: Half Pint, Dan Carey from New Glarus, me)

In Kansas, Hank spent a day with me at his Hank is Wiser Brewery in a town called Cheney, then also invited me into his home to show off the largest private collection of Anheuser-Busch memorabilia I've ever seen. The same day, Rob at Goebel Liquor featuring Rob's World of Beers in Wichita spent the afternoon shooting the shit and talking beer-shop with me, but in his stories, I learned a bit about his sons (one of whom I met at the store), his dad, and his granddad. 4 living generations of Robs. And one wicked strong beer fest coming up for them.

In St. Louis, my friend's folks put me up for a couple nights. They also had warm saurbraten waiting for me when I arrived. Then his dad took me on a pub crawl even though he's not the biggest beer drinker. Then again, he's German, so it's not like he's immune to the stuff. And the next day began a feeding frenzy in Cincinnati where Darryl took me on an illicit tour of locally distributed beers all within a 20-pace radius. He also got me my first taste of Cincinnati chili c/o Skyline. I not only tried the other major chili chains, I stocked up at a Kroger to conduct my own Cincinnati beer'n'chili tasting at home. That beer is c/o Mike and Kathleen Dewey who founded Mt. Carmel Brewing--in their home. The brewery's still there. They've since moved out. And of course, a special "Ja-eeeeeep" to all the Bloatarians who welcomed me.

As for my quick stop in Southern Kentucky, let's just say it turned into an over-nighter c/o Austin and Blake and a magical growler of Founder's Canadian Breakfast Stout and then some. Pretty much the only thing I remembered in the morning was the Kentucky hospitality and plans to drive to SW KY for the best barbeque, and Anita did not disappoint. Considering the fact that 2 days later when I arrived in Memphis Rendezvous was closed, I didn't have to compare the two and R&S BBQ in Thompkinsville won in a landslide. Needless to say, I didn't eat much salad on this trip.

I've now been to 47 of these here United States, having crossed 2 more off my list. In Arkansas, I met James from Basic Brewing, homebrew podcaster extraordinaire, who was generous with his time, time he didn't have. In Oklahoma, the High Plains Draughters congregated on a special night just for li'l ole me. Afterward, Gary offered me the 3 necessities--food, shelter, and homebrew. Speaking of which, he's the new OKC Home Brewing Examiner. Mazel tov. Thanks guys, and especial thanks to Chris for opening Learn to Brew on his day off. Good luck kinda-sorta getting OK off the list of the remaining 3 states to not allow homebrewing!

As for the Dixie Cup in Houston, I'm still struggling with how to put this event--one of the oldest and largest single-site homebrew contests in the country--into words. There was an alpine horn. There were hot ladies in dirndls. There were guys in bathrobes. There was Garrett Oliver not in a jacket and ascot but in a Western-themed shirt replete with embroidered hops, pouring his unreleased Brooklyn Wild 1, an American wild ale aged 9 months in Bourbon barrels then refermented with Brett. There was barleywine, oh my was there barleywine. And it started at 8:30. In the morning. A mere 5 1/2 hours after going to bed after the night before's en suite after party. And in the end, there was Rob with his Best-of-Show Eisbock and the more emotionally-rewarding Doak with his out-of-nowhere first place win for American Barleywine. To a Foam Ranger, winning American Barleywine is like a British Bulldog winning the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

My final visit en route home was in Albuquerque, or the suburb thereof known as Rio Rancho, where I met with Ben Miller. Talk about red letter days. This guy won the Sam Adams LongShot competition for his Mile High Barleywine (his first-ever attempt at the style) AND a gold medal at the GABF Pro-Am category for his Columbarillo IPA (brewed with Jeff at Chama River Brewing). 2 beers, 2 sets of the best BJCP judges, 2 amazing honors, both within 2 hours of each other. Ben poured me several of his homebrews including the above mentioned winners and a New Mexican-hopped Pale. Think this guy has a good start and good resume for when he decides to turn pro? Um, yeah. After getting his whole backstory about becoming a homebrewer, and a gifted one at that, we headed into ABQ-proper to meet up with Stan Heironymous briefly, and just spent the night chewing the fat over a couple pints at Marble Brewing. There was very little talk of beer.

Like I said, 5 weeks, 12 states, 7500 miles. But countless good times and great people. Helluva a beer odyssey.

October 8, 2009

Greeting from New Albany, Ind.

I'm sitting in the New Albanian Brewing Co. Pizzeria listening to a 6-feet tall staffer with a thunderous, infectious laugh whose in a tear listening to an actor who gets roles as jockeys, maybe four-and-a-half feet tall, with a bushy mustache and Newsie cap spinning yarns. Two women just walked in and zeroed in on him; he's obviously somewhat of a local celebrity. He's discussing a new movie about Secretariat co-staring John Malkovich and Diane Lane. My sampler tray includes Hoptimus Prime Double IPA (10.7% ABV, 100 IBU).

On a pouring Thursday afternoon, somehow finding myself between Louisville, Kent. and Nashville, Tenn. with an inadvertent day to kill, I remembered the advice of someone earlier on this beer odyssey to check out New Albanian, even if I don't recall who offered it. It started as a pizzeria in 1987 that the owner started bringing in more and better beers. Fifteen years later, they started brewing in-house. For my sampler of 5 beers, I was faced with 14 option. To get a wide array, I settled on the aforementioned Hoptimus, Elector Imperial Red, Farm House Saison, 15-B Robust Brown Porter, and Beak's Best American ESB (in reverse order, of course).

My 6" pizza has 10 toppings because they let me.

So what have I been up to since St. Louis. Well, for starters, I DID score a bottle of Whiskey Barrel-aged Smoked Porter (and while yes, bourbon is whiskey, I think they should specify and call it Bourbon-Barrel-aged Smoked Porter). CanNOT wait to bust this baby open. I palled around with Bryce Eddings, my St. Louis counterpart as a Beer Examiner. We hit three breweries: Square One, O'Fallon, and The Stable. I highly recommend the first two.

From there, I drove 350 miles to Cinannati. It was my first but probably not my last time there. Great homebrewing community, and while it doesn't boast much of a craft brewing community, things are changing. I visited Listermann and Mt. Carmel breweries (opposite ends of the brewery cleanliness and ambition spectrums). The former grew out of a successful homebrew supply shop. The latter grew out of the owner's actual house (they've since moved out, to make room for the brewery). I also attended a board meeting of the Bloatarian Brewing League, a homebrew club co-founded by Randy Mosher, author of Radical Brewing. They plied me with great beers I can't get at home such as Three Floyds Gumball Wheat (no gumballs actually employed in the making of this beer) and Founder's Breakfast Stout (though I did buy a 4-pk to take home) and I introduced them to the beauty that is Russian River Consecration. No one had heard of it. Some loved it; some liked it. The 22-year-old daughter of the meeting's hosts tossed her pour over the fence. I should've charged her $3 for her share's worth.

I also had three various homegrown Chili establishments. Cincinnati Chili is only kinda-sorta chili. It's ground beer chili, but either has cinnamon (Skyline) or chocolate (Dixie) or both (Gold Star). And it's served on spaghetti. Or li'l hot dogs. With a heaping mound of shredded cheese on top. There's the standard 3-way chili (spaghetti, chili, cheese), 4-way with onions, 5-way with red beans added, or my favorite that I only found at Dixie, 6-way with garlic.  I'm surprised Cincinnatians aren't fatter. I know I am.

That brings me to metropolitan Louisville, of which New Albany, Ind. is a part of. Somehow I thought I'd wake up and it'd be Friday, which is when the Music City Brew Off homebrew comp in Nashville starts. Any suggestions on what to do today? Head east a bit and tour a bourbon distillery? Check out Churchill Downs despite it not being Kentucky Derby season? Or just stay put her drinking New Albanian and wait out the rain? I think this pick of my pint of Kentucky Komon (an odd black beer soured not by lactobacillus or anything Belgian, but by leaving the corn & barley mash overnight to sour just like Jack Daniels sour mash) answers the question.

October 2, 2009

Midwest odyssey

Greetings from the Orf home in So. County, St. Louis. This is the home of my fellow beer-loving, beer-traveling, beer-brewing buddy Orf who aims to make the leap from am. to pro brewer down in Austin. Imagine my glee at sharing some pints with Papa Orf last night at both the Schlafly Bottleworks brewery (I had the dry-hopped APA) followed by Growlers Pub (I had Bell's Two-Hearted IPA, and yes, you're jealous).

So where'd I leave off? Oh yeah, Kansas. Sad that Free State Brewing owner Chuck wasn't on hand, I consoled myself with a lamb burger and a pint of Stormwatcher which is a brown ale/IPA hybrid. For dessert: a glass of John Brown Ale, which almost seemed like a light stout or imperial brown, so rich and chocolatey was it.

The next day started with a tour of Boulevard Brewery across the stateline in KC, MO. The new brewhouse (Brewhouse 2) is online unlike during my first/last visit a few years ago. Production is now up to 150,000 bbls, making them the 8th largest craft brewery in the country. My tourguide and tasting room companion was Rick, nephew of Bob Sullivan who is a legendary brewing figure of sorts in KC, and the inspiration behind their Oktoberfest beer, Bob's '47. Among the Blvd "Smokestack Series" beers I picked up: Seeyoulator Dopplebock (aged on Cedar), Saison-Brett (aka George Brett, a Saison brewed w/ Brettanomyces), and Double-Wide IPA (the imperial version of their regular Single-Wide IPA).

A long, wet drive to St. Louis and a great night's sleep and here I am, about to hit Square One Brewery with my Beer Examiner counterpart from St. Louis, Bryce Eddings. From there, it'll be off to O'Fallon Brewery (O'Fallon is a town just northwest of St. Louis), purveyors of Smoke, one of my favorite rauchbiers, and I hope to find their Whiskey-aged Smoke. Fingers crossed.

September 29, 2009

Beer Odyssey II: Homebrewers edition

Greetings from Free State Brewing Co., a brewpub in Lawrence, KS, home to KU but also a Christian bookstore whose Politics section ONLY has GOP-friendly books about how faithful GWB is and what a schmuck the Rev. Jesse Jackson is.

I've been on the road for a week and a half, so apologies for this being the first blog post. As you'll see, I've been preoccupied.

Sept 19, Sat.

Drive 570 miles from SF straight to Vegas, well, Henderson. Stay with an old friend whom I met when I was 17, Arla, and her husband and her adorable kids Sage (6.5) and Gavan (4). And their zoo including dog, cat, turtles, desert tortoise, coi, and 5 birds. In the morning, I overheard Half Pint tell Arla she doesn’t like her last name and wants a new one. 

Sept 20, Sun.

Drove 250 miles to Flagstaff, AZ, or 20 miles north of there. We stayed at A Shooting Star Inn, which is nearly alone in a clearing, a really nice one. Headed into town for dinner at Beaver St. Brewery (a brewpub, which is about to launch the Lumberyard Brewery). Ordered 2 great beers: IPA and Stout. I had the brewer’s special (2 brats and a spicy sausage w/ red cabbage, onions, garlic mashed potatoes. Overall, a great way to kick-start a trail of new breweries I'll be hitting this odyssey. 

Sept 21, Mon

Breakfast at the B&B before heading an hour north to the Grand Canyon. Only my second visit by Half Pint's first. Her mom, over the phone, called it a "life-altering experience." Dun Duh Dunn. We hiked 4 out of 8 miles down the Bright Angel Trail. At the end, unpacked lunch and then told Half Pint that I had to further “lighten the load.” After all, I’d been carrying around a rock. Got down on my knee and asked, “Wanna marry me?” She screamed “Shut up!” Followed shortly thereafter by “You’re joking.” And then she started crying and said “Yes.” Then we had to hike back up 4 miles. 

Dinner back at the B&B was, of course, great. The owner, our host, even busted out the ol' guitar for a short concert. One tune was a cover in our honor, with the poem i carry your heart by poet ee cummings as the lyrics. For those interested, here is the poem.

Sept 22, Tue

Woke up early (for me) to drive the 310 miles to Durango, CO stopping only briefly to pay $3/ea. to step upon the Four Corners (U,C,A,N).

Made it to Ska Brewing where we met Matt and Bill, co-owners. They gave us a flight of all 12 beers. Favorites were Modus Hoperandi IPA and Steel Toe Stout* (*The Stout would go on to earn Ska one of three medals in a few days). I got a pint of Modus to take on the tour, for which we were joined by Half Pint’s brother Dana, his wife Michelle, and their son Ryan (not on tour: daughter Lindsay). Matt, in honor of our engagement and being shown that the bottle of Ska Decadent DIPA is one of the few bottles saved atop our Beeradise, gave us 2 to celebrate with. 

Sept 23, Wed

After b-fast at Half Pint's favorite b-fast eatery in Durango, Oscar's, we stopped by Durango Brewing Co. The tap room wouldn't open til 3 p.m. so we just chatted w/ ass’t brewer Damon who already had my RWB sticker on the door to their walk-in cooler! Fun.

While walking around Main St. we visited, but didn’t drink at, Lady Falconburgh’s beer bar. Visited and tried Zuberfizz (met owner: Banden Zuber), a bona fide micro soda maker in town. From there it was onto Carver Brewing Co. I ordered pint of Oatmeal Stout after conducting a few samples, which was bought by the bartender Zack (who just got married over weekend at Telluride Blues & Brews; they have a 10 week old baby). I also talked to Aaron who had me try their Raspberry Wheat, brewed with $800 worth of berries for 7 bbl batch! Tart.

For dinner back at Dana's, we picked up a sampler of Breckenridge Brewery beers. I marinated a bunch of chicken in Avalanche Amber but washed it down with their Oatmeal Stout. What can I say, I was in a st'outstanding mood.

Sept 24, Thur

Fueled up with a large iced coffee, large cinnamon roll, and b-fast burrito, then we hit Rte. 160 to 285 to Denver. Beatuiful scenery including light dusting of snow. Pulled into our hotel, only to discover it was the wrong one, then pulled into correct one. Rested for 2 minutes, then hit GABF. Sampled from some sought after breweries such as Cigar City (FL), Cambridge (MA) and a new Bay Area one, Sonoma Springs (CA). I was careful not to overdo it, so as to maintain some semblance of a professional decorum. After signing copies of RWB in the Beer Enthusiast Bookstore (way to go, Brewers Association) from 8-9, we, along with our hotel roommates Jesse Friedman (J-Fro) and the soon-to-be Elianna Friedman, hit Falling Rock. For the first and last time of this GABF. 

Sept 25, Fri

Today started with a media luncheon from noon to 2pm. Several courses, each paired with beer, including The Bruery’s Hottenroth Berliner Weisse in 750s, but it wasn’t quite as good as draft. From there, the Denver Beer Tour bus took us first to the Falling Rock (d'oh, we returned) where we tried some (more) Breckenridge beers, then to Great Divide where I loved their 15th Ann. Oaked IPA the best though the Fresh Hop made a solid argument, then to Wynkoop (previously owned by current Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, who addressed the media at the luncheon) for the tail end of the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting. Best beer tried: Highland Park's Big Butte Smoked Porter aged in whiskey barrels. Worst beer tried: "Mich Brett," actual Michelob Lager soured by Brettanomyces. What's that expression about putting lipstick on a pig?

And from there, Jesse and I hit tail end of the Redstone Meadery event where we missed the blend w/ Shmaltz ("2 Jews in a barrel"). This was probably a mistake as we’ll see later on.

Then onto GABF session 2. A few more samples including, I admit, some great sour beers such as Cascade’s Vlad the Imp Aler. It’d go on to narrowly avoid Gold with a Silver medal. The gold also went to Cascade for Bourbonic Plague, but that’s tomorrow. At the session, Half Pint and I scarfed down some food (and more beer) at the Farm to Table event. After my 8-9(:30) signing, the 4 roommates and I went for dinner. Rock Bottom Brewery. Where I foolishly had a pint of beer.

Sept 26, Sat

Ugh. Hungover. Dragged to Boston Beer Co. LongShot bruncheon (that should be a word) where Jim Koch announced the new Pro-Am winners. We ate w/ Stan Hieronymus who I met in person for the first time. Lots of who’s-who there. Best food: Challah French toast w/ Cherry Wheat Ale syrup. The namesake beer is just meh.

Then it was on to the early session. I could barely sample anything. I recorded 17 NorCal winners (15 in the greater Bay Area). Half Pint and I walked back to our room for a quick nap. I took an Advil. Drank some water. And finally, some time during my final signing session, I felt better. Just in time for my betrothed to be kaput, but she did work HARD selling books while I just smiled and signed. 

Sept 27, Sun

Went to Snooze for b-fast but the line was 1.5 hours long. So we got our pancake flight to go and ate at the nearby Oktoberfest, ameliorated by an oompah band. Took my fiancé and J-Fro, and Eli to Denver airport, thus missing the Rockies game I planned to take in along with my chance to go to Coors Field and check out their Sandlot brewery. But it was for the best, since I went to Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora instead, winners of Small Brewery of the Year! Met Bill the brewmaster, Kevin the owner, and a homebrewer named Ed, who has brewed double stouts in Antarctica! Oh yeah. And their beers—Apricot Blonde, Vanilla Porter, IPA, were good. A worthy honor for a worthy brewery.

For "dinner," I downed a half pint of Extra ESB and order of fried green beans at Breckenridge Brewery. Probably a mistake. 

Sept 28, Mon

Woke up late (as per usual). After finally checking out of the one and only nice hotel I'd find myself in on this beer odyssey (I was told I'm not allowed to sleep in my car this time 'round. The $33 motel I'd find 2 nights later was barely a step up), I headed east on I-70. OK, I headed west to buy a shitload of beer but went to the wrong beer store I'd later learn, then back east. Once I got to Kansas, I collected two “souvenirs.” First, the KSPD pulled me over for driving in the passing lane and got a warning. Then I got a warning for my busted tail light. In between, ate and drank at Gella’s Diner/Lb (Liq. Bread) brewery in Hays, winners of the Gold for American Stout. Indeed, Liberty Stout was deserving. My bierbock (think glorified hot pocket w/ ground sausage and yummies—a trad. German favorite) along with fried green beans for the second night in a row plus a fried dill pickle sliver ($.50) were great.

That just catches me up to Monday. As you know from the top, it's Wed and I'm in eastern Kansas, so when I get wherever I'm going tonight, I'll fill in the rest.

Happy travels to all my fellow travelers. Drink good beer to all my fellow beer drinkers.

September 4, 2009

Session #31: Summer Beers

This month, Peter (& Sammy) at Better Beer Blog ask us beer bloggers to blog-tificate on Summer Beer; not necessarily beers with images of sunshiny beaches or picking peaches on Gramma's farm, but the ones that quenched our collective thirst this summer. And I had a helluva vacation this summer that, for the first time in a long time, was in no way a beer-cation.

The first beer I had in Puerto Rico wasn’t anything to blog home about, but I didn’t come for the beer. Half Pint and I went to Puerto Rico because it has a tiny, undeveloped island called Vieques afloat in tepid Caribbean waters that blend from cobalt to azure. It’s also home to hundreds of wild horses, a handful of restaurants that offer house-made infused spirits using native fruits such as quenepos and star fruit.

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. American citizens don’t need a passport to travel there, and it only takes a first-class stamp to mail a letter home, but neither natives nor gringos can vote in federal elections (despite holding primaries!?), it possesses a decidedly second-world look and feel, and most telling of all, you can search alto y bajo and not find a single American craft brewed beer.

Half Pint did our vacation research. The kind where you go to get away from everything. I don’t think I’ve spent a week offline and without a computer at all since 1996. And certainly, as I mentioned, this was not a beer vacation. She found a rental casita owned by Joe and Mimi, ex-pats from Pittsburgh. They love their bare bones life on the island, but Joe would wrestle one of the wild horses for a can of Iron City beer. The fact that the water felt like Sapphire soup compared to the brain-numbing water I’m used to in the San Francisco Bay still didn’t keep me from craving a well-stocked fridge of Anchor Steam.

So back to that first beer I had. After almost a full day of traveling by seven modes of transportation from our apartment to our rental casita, Mimi had fresh-baked mango coffee cake (they have four different types of mango trees in their backyard) and some ice-cold Medalla Lights waiting for us, which helped combat the heat and humidity. Cervezeria India is the only production brewery in Puerto Rico. It’s indistinguishable from Coors Banquet, which is fitting because I was told only gringos drink Medalla Light and Puerto Ricans drink Coors Light. In this climate, the only thing you’d ever reach for is a lager, which is fortunate, since availability ranges from bottles of Dominican brewed Presidente to cans of Schaeffer. Yes, Schaeffer. I half expected to find a case of Fallstaff in a tiende.

Our week of sunbathing, snorkeling, and just floating in the Caribbean ended muy rapido. Too rapido. But instead of taking seven straight transportation vehicles home, we split them up and spent a night in Old San Juan on the main island. Primarily a seaport for cruise lines, the area houses all the chains we escaped, but with a grande added bonus. A bona fide brewpub!

But that, my friends, is another story. It's a story about the Old Harbor Brewery that will be published in Celebrator soon. It's a great brewpub, but when I think back about Vieques, my summer beer of 2009 was gold can after gold can of Medalla Light (ranging from 4-6% ABV, such is their QC program).

September 3, 2009

Beer buddies, Pt I

If I haven't blogged about my ex-beer-iences in beyond yesterday's "Session," it's because I've been awash in great beer, or, more importantly, great beer experiences. Pt. I of IV starts with the Sunday before last.

I guess more accurately it starts with finishing my first triathlon down in Santa Barbara.  To get the full story on how I got into running, which led to the idea to go from marathoner to triathlete, click here. I completed (though not competed) it with Half Pint, Papa Yaeger (67), and Mama Yaeger (almost 66). While a big breakfast was our reward, another one came when my friend brought me to the brand new Union Ale Brewing Co. (a tap house, not a brewpub). It was started by brothers Ben and Matthew Chrestenson. I'll say this; for their first foray into the gastropub game, they hit it out of the park. 

The decor is stately yet inviting in dark woods with barrels about. The menu is comforting yet hip. And the beer, well, there are 20 taps ranging from the "accessible" (Red Nectar Ale) to the truly beer geek-worthy (Allagash Curieux, Green Flash Imperial IPA). It's nice that they had not one but two taps dedicated to their brewing neighbors, Telegraph Brewing. For the time being, their house beers are the Firestone-Walker brewed Pale (doesn't compare to Double Barrel Ale, 4.5%), Hefeweizen (bubblegummy! 4.7%), Blonde (surprising hop presence, 4.4%), and IPA (don't hate me; I prefer this to Union Jack, 6.8%) that they brew for all their pub accounts. There's also a decent bottle list and I got to try the Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse for the first time. They also created an extensive beer cocktail list. I know these things are hot, but I've pasted their offerings below for you to judge for yourself because while I enjoy cocktails, I believe beer tastes perfect right out of the tap/bottle.

Overall, a welcome addition to the Santa Barbara area beer bar realm. I'll always enjoy The Brewhouse, and after a day of ogling co-eds on campus there's the great Hollister Brewing Co. in Goleta, but for Santa Barbeerians (not just members of the homebrew club of that name), please welcome Union Ale.

Colorado Junkie Coors Light and Red Bull. Served over ice with lime. 

Bloody Beer Union Ale California Pale, clamato juice, horseradish, spices. 

Mexican Piñata Union Ale Honey Blonde, fresh mango and strawberry puree. Served over ice 

with citrus garnish. 

Three Lemons to Cuba Union Ale California Pale, fresh lemon, orange and grapefruit juice. 

Served over ice with cinnamon, star anise and citrus garnish. 

Kuala Punch Union Ale Honey Blonde, fresh kiwi and strawberry puree. Served over ice with 

citrus garnish. 

Lemon Aide Stand Union Ale Hefewiezen, hard apple cider, fresh squeezed lemon aide. 

Served over ice with citrus garnish. 

Shandy Sierra Nevada Stout, fresh squeezed lemon aide. 

Summer Shandy Union Ale Honey Blonde, fresh squeezed lemon aide. 

Belgian Chocolate Waffle Sierra Nevada Stout and Anheuser-Busch Shock Top Belgian White Ale topped 

with whipped cream and bitter chocolate.  

Noidish Pancake Sam Adams fresh squeezed orange juice.

Black and Brown Sierra Nevada Stout and Root beer. 

Black and Apple Sierra Nevada Stout and hard apple cider. 

Trojan Horse Sierra Nevada Stout and Coca Cola.

August 21, 2009

Music from the Beer Lands!?

In my open letter to the record execs at Putumayo World Music, I take these beverage-and-music lovers to task for compiling music from the Wine, Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate lands, but neglecting the vast Beer lands! Who's afraid of a little oom pa pa?

August 20, 2009

Collaboration Fermentation: Sierra Fishhead

Hopping on the collaborative beers brewwagon, I've started a series on my Examiner blog about such beers. I contemplated calling it Brewing in Tandem, but in the end, Collaboration Fermentation won out. First one up for scrutiny is one that's not even out yet, nor in the mash tanks. The grand poobah Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada (1980) and the grand wizard Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head (1995), together, in the same bottle? Usually I discuss brewers as pouring their blood, sweat, tears, and souls into their beers, but in this case, it's their Life & Limb (10% strong ale) as well as Limb & Life (5% session beer). Read more here.

August 3, 2009

Session #30: Beer Desserts

This month, David Jensen at Beer 47 asks us beer bloggers to blog-tificate on Beer Desserts, that is, dessert that features beer as an ingredient. You'd think by my last post that I'd already known this was the upcoming topic, but you'd think incorrectly.

Here's the snippet from my previous post dealing with this very subject that starts with two beers I chose to pair with the beer dessert I'd prepared:

O'Hanlon's Original Ruby Stout and Ale Asylum Mercy Grand Cru: I found this bottle of port barrel-aged stout at Beverage Warehouse in LA, and...I knew I had to try it. The Grand of an ultra limited release from this Madison, Wisc. brewery and came into my possession c/o Tom Griffin, the Barrel Guy, which is an entirely different story altogether! I have many fine dessert beers in my possession, but for dolce, the mere appearance of port and the mere mention of Grand Cru made them custom-fit for a wine-themed beer dinner...These unique brews helped wash down the vanilla bean Tripel pot de creme, found on the Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton's dessert recipe page. I've made creme brulee before, but this was my first (and certainly not last) pot de creme. It required reducing 12 ounces of the aforementioned Affligem Tripel into mere tablespoons, but it was worth it.

Now, just in case there's a story in The New York Times on beer desserts the way there was one on beer cocktails (cheers to Joe Ruvel), I posted a pre-scoop update on David's topic at SF Beer Examiner. Writing there about other area beer desserts, many of which are in ice cream form (stout flavors, stout reduction sauces, and one I've gotta try--21A Watermelon Wheat ice cream), I'm always puzzled when I see bitter beers suggested as dessert pairings. I love sweet beers (Gimme a bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Stout over a DIPA any day), it's no surprise I think beer is the perfect dessert accompaniment, and "spice" as it were. I still wake up in a cocoa sweat when I dream about the Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse Sean made for the National Homebrewers Conference dinner--decadent mousse with two kinds of chocolate and Hazelnut Brown Ale, topped with malted barley and paired with a flabberghastingly great Chocolate Stout (both Rogue ales).

That's it. This is killing me. I know I've got some chocolate hazelnut gelato in the freezer. The only question is, am I going to float it in a chocolate stout, a coffee stout, or one of the chocolate coffee stouts I've got?

August 2, 2009

Beer dinner IV: Beer is the new wine

Half Pint and I had fallen off the beer-dinner horse we started riding back before we even shacked up together, but got back on in fine fashion. Since it's been a while, a recap is in order. We invite four other people over (since our table seats six), devise a theme (Stoutstanding, Locavores, Bob's Yer Uncle, among other similar ones), plan a menu replete with beer pairings, and clear some space in the Beeradise.

The guest list called for Colleen & Hunter (Half Pint used to work for Colleen, and they've had us to their new house a few times) and Esther & Emmett (I forgot how Half Pint and Esther met, but I now play ultimate frisbee with Emmett).* Let's just say that C&H live in Marin and have an impressive wine stash; Esther was born in France. As we were dealing with oenophiles over beer enthusiasts, the chosen theme for our beer dinner was wine. A little proselytizing on my part, if you will. (*At the last minute, Emmett was called away on assignment by the New York Post, and Tanya graciously accepted our 11th hour invite.)
I first selected beers already in my Beeradise, and I'll explain how they fit the theme:

People say the perfect accompaniment to wine is cheese & crackers. I say it's homebrew. So as an antipasti, I poured my latest homebrewed creation, my Single Minded (single-hop: Centennial) American Pale Ale. It went over quite well, including the part where I explained to Esther that yes, this beer was made by me in my kitchen. 

Telegraph Reserve Wheat and Dogfish Head Festina Peche: These Berliner Weise-style sour beers, 5% and 4.5% ABV respectively, are akin to the Sauvignon Blancs of the wine world. Just as you'd start a meal with this wine, why not pair the insalate with these beers. And what kind of salad to serve? The peach juice in the Festina Peche made me think: stone fruit and prosciutto salad. I grilled up organic peaches, white nectarines, apricots, and plums and tossed them in some sort of a dijon balsamic vinaigrette I whipped up. Plated on a bed of prosciutto with freshly-shaved parmesan and a chilled slice of green pluot. I ain't gonna lie, it was a tad weird, but I thought it was tasty and I'd make it all over again and pair it with the exact same beers.

Brooklyn Blue Apron and Napa Smith Lost Dog Red Ale:  Here was my primary thought for these beers to pair with secondi. The only Brooklyn Brewery beer commercially available in San Francisco is this brown ale designed specifically for the menu at Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Any beer not just fit for, but requested, for what has been dubbed the very best restaurant in the country--in the heart of wine country--HAD to be uncorked at such a dinner. As for the Napa Smith beer, hello?, it has Napa in the title. Both are 7.2%, surprisingly malty, and both beckoned for a hearty meat dish. With some expert advice from Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, I marinated pork in Affligem Tripel along with cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, orange peel, and sea salt. The fact that I had all these on hand leads me to believe I'm more of a half-assed gourmet than I suspected. A day after the homemade marinade set in, the pork met our awesome grill built into the range, while some butternut squash that was in the same marinade (but swapping olive oil for beer) roasted to perfection. (Esther's tasty green beans also found their way onto the plates.) To my surprise, while I love brown beers and might opt for a pint of Blue Apron straight, the Red drew more praise in this round of pairings.

O'Hanlon's Original Ruby Stout and Ale Asylum Mercy Grand Cru: I think I found this bottle of port barrel-aged stout at Beverage Warehouse in LA, and wherever I picked it up, I knew I had to try it. The Grand Cru (which astonished French-raised Esther, who pronounced it tres bien) is of an ultra limited release from this Madison, Wisc. brewery and came into my possession c/o Tom Griffin, the Barrel Guy, which is an entirely different story altogether! I have many fine dessert beers in my possession, but for dolce, the mere appearance of port and the mere mention of Grand Cru made them custom-fit for a wine-themed beer dinner. Now it all makes sense, yes? These unique brews helped wash down the vanilla bean Tripel pot de creme, found on Sean's dessert recipe page. I've made creme brulee before, but this was my first (and certainly not last) pot de creme. It required reducing 12 ounces of the aforementioned Affligem Tripel into mere tablespoons, but it was worth it. Rich dessert, two rich beers, made for six rich tummies.

I fear I raised the bar for future beer dinners on this one. But ultimately, it's just about good friends and good conversation sharing a nice meal, and if I converted any winos into beeros in the process, so be it.

July 22, 2009

Recently at the Toronado

Last week at the Toro-nado here in SF, I rode there primarily there to meet Jens Ungstrup,  the primary RateBeerian who, to date, has reviewed 13,546 beers. I’d recently interviewed him for a story on beer geeks in the August All About Beer and he happened to be in town for the Rate Beer Summer Gathering (which I was out of town for over the weekend:-(

In addition to chatting over several great beers (including provided by staff), Jens left me with a bottle of Amager Rated XX.

This Danish Double IPA boasts 23 different hops in this one bottle; I'm expecting to be overwhelmed.

Ultimately, it was a night of great drinking that proved yet again what is so great about the beer community, which is, that it’s not just about the beer. Here we were, total strangers (except that I knew something about him, such as that his mom is worried he drinks too much and he has a 12-year-old daughter who doesn’t know what to make of her dad’s hobby), and we spent almost 5 hours together trying 5 new (to us)

beers apiece. For the record, all of mine were winners: Telegraph Reserve Wheat (with lemon verbena and Brett), Russian River Publication (an Imperial Saison brewed for a gathering of publicans), English Ales Black Prince Porter (from a brewery in Monterey I’d barely heard of), the above mentioned Fantome Saison (gor-jus. Truly tasted like str

awberries), and El Toro Deuce DIPA (brewed with 5 hops including my fave, Simcoe).

We were joined by Steve Shapiro from Beer By Bart and his friend Mark, the T’s Betsy, and later Steve’s wife Gail Ann Williams. It was just one of those nights where nothing monumental happened, but the Duvel’s in the details.

July 16, 2009

Brewing 101

How could I be the first to think of this? A brewery ought to open up along the major highway that runs up California's Pacific Coast, probably in the Central Coast, and call itself Brewing 101. The basics of brewing. They could offer many basic styles such as an Amber, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Porter or Stout, and maybe throw in an IPA.

On the way back from a brief road trip to LA, Half Pint and I took the scenic Highway 101 back to SF, which is how I finally made it to the Santa Maria Brewing Co. It's easily one of the tiniest breweries I've seen. It stands on the north side of a "river" (I've never seen a drop in it) across the bridge that separates it from Santa Barbara County, which is why it's in the more easy-going Nipomo instead of restrictive Santa Maria, evidently. It's for this reason that I think it ought to be called the more accurate name of Brewing 101.

Inside, it's a jovial place with room enough for 
perhaps 3 regulars at the bar--each with non-stop refills of $4 pints, and table space enough for 4-5 regulars to hang out with a pitcher and take-out from the highly regarded "Santa Maria Style BBQ" joint directly adjacent.

Since I was driving and had precious cargo in Half Pint and our dog Patsy, I only had one pint so I had to choose wisely. It was rather hot, so I figured the Wheat Beer was the safest. Let's just say the sample I asked for of the Belgian Brown proved I should've gone for that instead, as the Wheat that day had a slight infection. Not that anyone at the bar, or the jovial bartender John seemed to mind. And should any off flavors abound next time I pop in--and I will--I'll splurge the extra buck for a pint of the IPA. Should go great with a pulled pork sandwich from next door.

If my count is correct, this marks the 45th California brewery I've hit. Only about 200 to go.