Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unexpected Beer Haul

My family went out last weekend to have lunch at Red Robin. The restaurant is located at Massaponax, an area that has seen an explosion of commercial growth lately. After lunch we decided to check out the new Super Target across the street. I was surprised, but quite pleased, to find that this Target store had a grocery section which also stocked beer and wine. The beer selection was pretty typical of grocery store chains. However, to my surprise they had Sierra Nevada Celebration (2007) in 24 and 6 packs. I hadn't seen this year's Celebration yet anywhere else around here. Naturally I left with some Celebration. (Literally and figuratively.)

Then we noticed a World Market store in the same shopping center, so we walked in there to have a look around. There was small beer selection in here as well. An assortment of Belgian styles along with assorted other imported and domestic craft beers. Everything seemed to be available for single purchase as well. I picked up some Leffe Blonde and Troegenator Double Bock. On the way to the check out I saw a "Winter Beer 10-pack" that contained:

Saranac Pumpkin Ale
Green Flash Nut Brown Ale
Abita Mardi Gras Bock
Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter
Brooklyn Oktoberfest Beer
Bluegrass Brewing Bearded Pat's Barleywine
MacTarnahan's Blackwatch Porter
Red Tail Ale
St. George Fall Bock

This assortment is packaged by World Market. They also had various other assortments available. I decided to pick up the Winter pack since there were some interesting beers included. I'll find out soon if the beers were old or not, but they weren't dusty at least.

I wouldn't drive across town to shop for beer at these two stores, but I'll definitely check in and see what they stock when I happen to be in the area. I went out for lunch and ended up bringing home a fun beer haul. This trip got me to thinking about the other retailers of craft beers in the Fredericksburg area. Beeradvocate.com lists only three retail stores in Fredericksburg, however that information is a bit dated. In the coming weeks I intend to visit some of the local retailers and post reviews of the stores and what they stock.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Borman's Belgian Ale

This is a surprise new offering from the Blue & Gray Brewing Co. In his recent email update Jeff writes:
We also brewed a Belgian Ale a while back, but didn’t tell anyone. You’re among the first to know about Borman’s Belgian Ale. – Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren’s cannon used a fuse designed by Belgian Artillery Colonel Borman. The bang from this fine Belgian-style blonde ale comes from the strong Belgian ale yeast. It contributes spice and pepper notes, resulting in a crisp, clean, refreshing blonde beer with a rich and surprising flavor. Extended cold aging provides a superior smoothness.
I was out of town for the release day but picked up a couple of bottles at the brewery this week. (I also picked up some Temporary Insanity Stout, but that's a tale for another day.) This Belgian Pale Ale pours a golden orange. There's very little head although there's enough carbonation to give some tingle on the tongue. It exhibits an appealing yeasty smell. The mouth feel is slightly yeasty, but not unpleasant. A spicy, fruity flavor with hint of clove. I detected a bit of apple as the beer warmed. There's enough hop to give it just a bit of kick.

The folks at Blue & Gray did a good job on this one. It's exciting to see a new beer from our local brewery.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Coffee Table Beer Books

Here are two great "coffee table" books on beer I've been enjoying. Both these books would make great conversation starters. They are beautifully illustrated. Just leafing through them leaves me wanting to travel in search of the beers mentioned. Both were written by the late Michael Jackson.

Ultimate Beer is coffee table sized book featuring over 450 different beers. Just about every beer mentioned is illustrated with a picture of the bottle next to a glass of the beer. The photographs are very well done. Even the wide variety of glassware shown is a treat. In many cases the beer is shown in the brewery's own glass. The illustrations show in great detail the color variations of different beers. The author goes through more than 30 different "styles" of beer. For each group he talks about the beers and goes into detail about the tastes and smells. He also include interesting anecdotes about the beers, the brewers, food pairings, and history of many of the featured beers. There is also a section specifically devoted to food and beer, and also a section on cooking with beer. Jackson discusses beers for specific seasons, and even your mood.

Michael Jackson's Great Beer Guide is a smaller format book subtitled "The World's 500 Best Beers". Much of the content overlaps what is in Ultimate Beer. The format of this book is like that of a field guide, with one beer per page, arranged in alphabetical order. The same great photographic layout is used as in the above book. Like Ultimate Beer, this book is a pleasure to simply leaf through and enjoy. My only complaint is that my copy has a number of pages out of order with much of the "B" section inserted into the middle of the "A" section.

I highly recommend both of these books. Leave them out on your coffee table and even your non-beer drinking friends just might want to try some new beers.

More Local Newspaper Coverage of Craft Beer

This weekend our local newspaper carried another article on craft beer. Unlike the previous articles, this one was not pulled from the wire services but was written locally. The article talked with Jeff Fitzpatrick at the Blue & Gray Brewery. "GET READY FOR HIGHER PRICES" discusses the impending price increases due to hop shortages.

Of course, coverage of good news about craft beer is preferred, but it's still nice to see coverage of of our local brewery and craft beer in general.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Denver Beer Haul

I'm back home in Virginia now. As much as I enjoy Denver, it's good to be home with my family. I brought back a few beers that I can't get here. I have a travel bag that holds a styrofoam lined box that can carry 12, 12 oz. bottles. I also packed larger bottles in my suitcase. The bottles in my suitcase are wrapped in a foam carrying bag or in clothes, and put inside large zip-closure plastic bags. So far it's worked well. In fact today as the beer bag came up the ramp to the baggage carousel at Dulles I watched it flip end over end twice. There were no casualties in either bag. Interestingly, the brand label on the bag that holds the 12 oz. bottles is "Happy Day". That certainly fits. :-)

Here's the haul from this trip to Denver. I had planned on bringing back the Odell and Great Divide beers. The rest were purchased on impulse while browsing at Incredible Wine and Spirits in the Tech Center area and at Lukas Liquor Superstore in Lone Tree.

Odell 90 Shilling Ale
Odell IPA (2007 GABF Gold Medal Winner)
Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale
Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout
Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
Boulder Cold Hop British-Style Ale
Ska Nefarious Ten Pin Imperial Porter

Overall I had a very good trip. I got lots of work accomplished and managed to take in some of the Denver beer scene as well. I look forward to going back.

Bull & Bush Pub & Brewery

After work last night I made one last "beer stop" in Denver. I've been wanting to visit the Bull & Bush Pub & Brewery for some time now and finally got the opportunity. This pub does not disappoint.

The atmosphere is very welcoming. The pub was crowded but the noise level certainly wasn't high. I sat at the bar and had a good view of the service provided. I saw several folks trying to decide what beer to try and the bartender Tiffany was ready to provide samples to help in the decision process. I started off with their Man Beer IPA. A decent enough IPA but not as hoppy as hyped. Maybe it's my taste buds. Beer Advocate lists this as 7.00% ABV but it seemed less than that to me. Maybe they've tweaked the recipe, or hidden the alcohol very well. However, the IPA did go very well with the spicy shrimp tacos I had. My dinnner was very tasty. They have a decent pub menu here. After my meal I opted to enjoy a Stonehenge Stout for dessert. The stout had strong smell of roasted coffee and went down very smoothly. I enjoyed this one very much.

Dinner and drinks at Bull & Bush was certainly an enjoyable way to wind down from the day. If I wasn't already tired from my trip and didn't have to get up early to catch a flight I would have definitely stayed longer. I'll certainly go back when I next get to Denver.

I must add, I truly enjoy pubs and restaurants in the Denver area since they are smoke free. Back in Virginia a night at a pub means you will go home smelling like a dirty ash tray.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Beer #150

Tonight I had my 150th new beer of 2007. I wasn't looking for this "milepost" but a few weeks ago I realized I was getting close to 150 so I decided to watch for it. I've only counted beers where I had a full "serving". This number doesn't include brewery samples, such as the dozen or so we had at Boulder Beer this summer. Not sure if there's any significance to this milepost, but it's cool to think about.

The beer that made the 150 spot is Great Divide Hibernation Ale. I enjoyed this at the Tap Room at the Great Divide Brewery. This American Strong Ale was very easy to drink. I suspect the alcohol (8.10% ABV) could sneak up on you very easily if you aren't careful. I stopped after one. :-) The malt flavor was very well balanced against the hop background. I preferred this over the Odell Extra Special Red Ale I had last night.

I also had the privilege of having the very last tasting of the Belgian Hibernation before the keg ran dry. Patrick who runs the Great Divide Tap Room said this was a special version of Hibernation brewed with the Hades yeast. (Hades Ale is Great Divide's Belgian Strong Pale Ale.) I also picked up some Fresh Hop Ale to bring home.

From the "It's a Small World Department", I struck up a conversation at the Tap Room with a couple visiting from Harrisonburg, VA who were were doing a walking tour of downtown Denver breweries. At one point there were three people in the Tasting Room, and all were visiting from Virginia. Another couple came in before I left, but the place was pretty empty while I was there. Perhaps Denver is all 'beered out' from last week. :-)

Hotel annoyance

I've heard that restaurants will play loud background music in order to keep guests from lingering (urban legend?), but I never imagined I'd be annoyed by forced background music in my hotel room. As I was trying get to sleep last night in Denver I was disturbed by music coming in from outside. I thought it might be from the lounge across the street or from a car in the parking lot. So I waited. 11:00 PM turned to midnight, which turned to 1:00 AM, and the music continued. I finally got dressed and went to down to the lobby and walked outside. The music was coming from speakers on the outside of the hotel! The same music was playing in the lobby. I talked to the desk clerk and he offered to turn the music off. So I finally got to sleep, only to be awakened at 5:30 AM by the music playing again. When I went down for breakfast I talked to the desk clerk again and he told me he was required to have the music on. Incredible, hotel policy requires playing music outside guest rooms all night long!

I've stayed at this same hotel several times and have always had good experiences. I asked for and received a new room that is away from the front of the hotel for the rest of my stay. I spoke to the manager as well. He said this was all "programmed in" and he would have to look for a way to lower the volume on the outside speakers at night. It's certainly a bizarre world we live in.

Late for the (Denver) party

Well, here I am in Denver on business the week after the Great American Beer Festival has ended. I'm sure hoping the 40,000 visitors to GABF have left some beer in Denver for us late arrivals. :-)

I did stop at Gordon Biersch at Dulles Airport while waiting for my flight and enjoyed a pint of their Märzen. Despite their presence at major airports and in the D.C area, I've never had any of the Gordon Biersch beers. I've been enjoying Märzens lately and the Gordon Biersch Märzen proved to be very nice example of the style. Gordon Biersch claims it's their most popular beer.

After dinner I stopped in at the Great Northern for a quick beer. The bartender Brian recommended Odell Extra Special Red Ale, part of Odell's Single Batch Series. I've enjoyed every beer I've had from Odell and look for their beers whenever I'm in Denver. It won a Bronze medal at GABF where in the Imperial or Double Red Ale category. In any event it is an interesting beer. More malt than hop IMO, despite the emphasis on hops according to the brewery's web site. There was an interesting flavor background that I couldn't place. Not sure I'd order another, but certainly don't regret having tried it.

I've got a busy couple of days ahead of me, but hopefully I'll be able to take advantage of the craft beer scene in Denver as well. And while I'm not a big baseball fan, it's worth mentioning that the folks in Denver are watching their Colorado Rockies with much excitement. As I write this the Rockies have a big lead over Arizona Diamondbacks in game 4 of the National League playoffs.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Animal lover? More like dangerous driver

Driving down the road this morning, I spotted a car with a bumper sticker that said "Puppy Mills Breed Misery". Okay, an animal lover's car I thought. Then as we passed I saw the driver had her dog sitting on her lap. We soon passed a pickup truck and the driver had his dog on his lap as well. What's wrong with these people? If they have to turn suddenly their ability to turn the wheel is going to be hindered by the animal on their lap. And what happens to the poor animal when the car stops suddenly or hits something? The dog is going to be squished between the driver and the steering wheel. Cars today have warning stickers about putting small children in the front seat due to the danger of injury or death from the airbag deployment. What do these people think is going to happen to their dogs?

I love my dog too. But I'm not going to endanger myself, other drivers, or my pet by driving with him on my lap. I guess it's easier to put a sticker on your car proclaiming your love of animals than it it to actually think about protecting your pet.

Local Newspaper Coverage of Craft Beer

Recently our local paper, The Free Lance-Star has been running articles on the craft beer scene. The articles are pulled from news services, rather than written in-house. I suspect someone on the staff has an interest in craft beer.

Beer makers spice up offerings for autumn - Pour Yourself A Pumpkin (9/26/2007)
Discusses pumpkin beers. Weyerbacher Brewing Co. and Shipyard Brewing Co. get mentions.

Dinner that calls for wine can say 'beer' (9/26/2007)
The author talks about "The Brewmaster's Table" by Garrett Oliver.

Oktoberfest beers alive and well (10/3/2007)
Talks about the popularity of Märzen / Oktoberfest style beers.

HOPPY TRAILS TO YOU SEARCHING FOR SUDS - Wine tours? Nah. Not for beer snobs (10/13/2007)
Travelling to breweries and festivals.

Coincidence or an interested staffer? In any event, it's great to see craft beer getting some press time in front of the general public.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Impending Beer Price Increases

We've been hearing for some time now that the price of beer would be going up due in part to problems with hop supplies. A fire at a major warehouse combined with less acreage being planted in hops has been widely reported. Apparently there are issues with malt supplies as well. Jeff from Blue and Gray Brewing as posted an alert that prices would be going up an estimated 20-30% next month. He's has included a letter from his supplier giving all the gory details leading to the shortage and subsequent price increases.

Okay, so some have questioned how much effect the cost of ingredients really has on the total cost of beer. But, for the sake of argument, let's accept that prices will go up. Craft beer is under-valued if you ask me. Wine lovers have no issues paying premium prices for wines. But the effect on price isn't the scary part. The issue is the supply. If the brewers can't get the hops and malts they need, they can't make the beers we love, at any price. Small brewers are going to be affected by this the most. The mega-brewers have contracts for large quantities. Who do you think is going to get served first?

Hugh Sisson over at Clipper City Brewing discusses this in his blog too. It too is worth a read.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Brewmaster's Table

I suspect The Brewmaster's Table by Garrett Oliver might just be the best book on beer and food ever written. Perhaps even the best book on beer, period. If anything it's a very enjoyable read. Garrett is the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery. Interestingly, Garrett writes in the book that Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout was his resume for getting hired at the Brooklyn Brewery. This beer happens to be one of my favorite beers. I'm looking forward to this winter's release.

Reading the book, one begins to feel he knows the author personally. Garrett goes to great length to accurately describe his beer and food dining experiences; not just the food and beer, but the atmosphere and settings where he had those experiences. Each chapter goes into depth about a style of beer. Next the food pairings for the style are discussed. After that, "Notable Producers" of the beers are listed. The author's personal experiences are also recounted. Garrett covers not only the "classics" but many pages are devoted to the "modern" beers coming from today's brewers, especially those in the U.S.

The book might also be described as a travelogue. The reader gets to know the breweries and the people behind them. The book is full of the histories of breweries as well. The author has been fortunate enough to get to know the people who run breweries around the world and shares those experiences.

I refer to this book frequently when deciding on a beer to have with a meal. Given time I intend to also read it again cover to cover. I suggest you do the same.

Seeing green

Green grass that is. After struggling for 6 years to grow grass here, this fall I'm making yet another attempt. We're surrounded by woods and the trees suck the moisture out of the ground. Add to that the compacted Virginia clay and it's a "tough row to hoe." In some spots the ground is so hard it doesn't even make mud after a rain! After a moderately wet start to fall, I was able aerate thoroughly. Just over two weeks ago I put down seed, and very heavily at that. Wouldn't you know it, no rain since and none predicted for the next week. I've been running the sprinkler daily around the house, and the seed has sprouted. Seeing green out there instead of red clay is cool, but I wonder if I can get it established. I've not been able to water out to the easement along the street. All that seed in those areas is a bust. The street easement is bare dirt, and has been for 6 years. Somehow the developer was able to get one over on the county and never properly established grass along the street. And the pathetic part of the story is that our HOA pays a service to drive mowers over it once a week and blow dust clouds down the street.

We've also put down some organic fertilizer from Gardens Alive. We used this stuff at our previous house and it did wonders for the Virginia red clay "soil." I'm hoping a few applications here will have the same effect.

The seed has germinated well in the areas we can water regularly. It's a thrill to come down the drive and see green grass rather than bare dirt. Of course, it's still too early to tell if it will stick. Check back next Spring to find out if we succeeded in establishing grass.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Fermenting Revolution

"Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World" by Christopher Mark O'Brien is an easy read that provides an interesting and thorough historical account of beer and brewing, going back 10,000 years. The title of the book got a laugh from some friends who saw me reading it. The author blogs at Beeractivist.com and continues the theme from the book there. Even if you don't think drinking good beer will save the world, the historical perspective is fascinating. Did you know that until relatively recently brewers were female? ("Brewster" is the proper term for a female brewer.) Being Catholic I found the section on Saints and beer very interesting. The historical connection of the Church and breweries is well-known. Lately I've been noticing just how many breweries and/or beers are named for Saints, even if there is no religious connection. I can't say I accept the author's version of Jesus' water-to-wine miracle or the Last Supper account. (He suggests beer rather than wine was involved at both events.)

The book's account of how the U.S. went from drinking good beer, to Prohibition, to drinking watered down yellow fizz should be required reading for any beer enthusiast. You'll understand how Americans' perception of beer got where it is, and how the craft beer industry (or revolution) is changing that. Hopefully someday a discussion of the benefits of drinking beer won't invoke laughter from folks who just don't get it. :-)

Saving beer bottles

Yes, I save beer bottles. Actually just one of each new beer I try. I started mid-2006 and have around 175 currently. I don't collect bottles from beers I don't drink. I occasionally will bring home bottles from restaurants or trips, but most of these were beers had at home. It's fun to look through the bottles from time to time and reminisce about the beers, or the occasion when they were enjoyed. Sure, most beers bottles are the same except for the labels, and saving just the labels would take less space. But, my basement is unfinished right now, so it's easy to keep a couple of industrial shelves up and store the bottles. I've put pictures of the bottles here. The pictures are about a month old and the collection is not static by any means. :-) The bottles are in multiple rows, so it's hard to see the ones in the back.

Someday we'll finish the basement and have to cull out the common ones, but for now it's a pastime I can indulge in freely.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Our "home" for the weekend

We took the Cub Scouts camping this weekend. Between scouts and their famlies, we had 69 folks along. The setting was ideal; a fishing pond, clean facilities, and plenty of room for everyone. The weather was excellent.

On Saturday, my group, the 2nd Year Webelos had a fishing lesson from Dave and Chris, two accomplished fishermen. Dave talked to them about rod and lures. They learned some useful knots and practiced casting. Chris demonstrated fly fishing lure tying and all the boys tied a lure to keep. We also reviewed some rope knots and hung a dining fly. On Sunday, breakfast was "catered" by one of the dads and we ate well. :-) Later we worked with clay as part of the Craftsman pin. A well-known sculptor was also on the camping trip and the boys were treated to some pointers from him.

A great time was had by all. This is the last trip my group will take before they bridge over to Boy Scouts in February. I think I'll miss these trips. :-)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Welcome, have one on me

Just what the world needs, another blog. Pour a good beer and sit awhile. I have no idea what this will turn in to, but I hope you will come back.