Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Church Brew Works Comes to the Party

We finally officially celebrated my 50th birthday Friday evening, even though my actual birthday was last Friday. We had a few close friends over for an evening of food, beer and fun. I was happy to have our two parish Priests among our guests as well. There were numerous kids of varying ages in attendance who spent most of the evening in the basement playing Rockband, while the adults enjoyed classic rock and blues upstairs. Colleen, as usual, put together a fine spread of food, including some very thick hand-patted burgers, and my buddy Frank offered to man the grill. The burgers were excellent. Good show Frank!

Some of my friends travel often, and they are always on the lookout for interesting beers to bring back. Jerry recently made another of his frequent trips to North Carolina and brought along some Duck-Rabbit and Carolina Brewing beers. Frank walked in with two growlers from The Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. Those growlers were filled with "M", a special release from this brewery:

Amarillo Black Ale
After eleven years I am proud to unveil our 1,000th batch of beer. The brew crew wanted to do something off the wall to help celebrate this momentous occasion. So I give to you M. This beer can not be categorized into one beer style. It incorporates two styles into one brew. The first style and base of the brew is a stout. You will notice that the beer is as dark as our oatmeal stout and has a rich full body. We achieved this with the addition of a significant amount of chocolate malt. The second style of beer incorporated into the brew is an IPA. If you smell the brew you will notice a significant hop aroma from the use of the Pacific Northwest hop Amarillo. We achieved this by dry hopping the brew with twenty pounds of Amarillo’s in the fermenter. Upon first sip you will taste espresso and chocolate similar to a good stout. After that the citrus hop bite kicks in and lingers on the palate through the finish like a good IPA. We went all out on this brew to reward our loyal customers through the years.

Frank's visit to Pittsburgh was timed just right to coincide with the release of "M" and we all enjoyed the opportunity to try this special brew. The brewer's description is spot on. The smell of the beer is West Coast IPA, but it looks for all the world like a fine dark stout. Both the stout and IPA flavors are present and compliment each other quite well. "M" was very smooth and easy to drink, and a bit unusual. I would be interested in trying out some of the brewery's other offerings.

Besides the above mentioned beers, Star Hill Jomo Lager and Pale Ale made appearances, as did Dominion Spring Buck. Later in the evening I brought out some Blue & Gray Minor Dementia Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout. This was the first serving I've had of this from the bottle and it was just as good as it was direct from the keg. Frank and I also enjoyed some Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and Old Dominion Millennium later in the evening.

As a special treat Colleen had ordered 16 oz nonic pints engraved with "Ad augusta per angusta" and "Celebrating David's First Fifty Years". The latin phrase translates "To high places by narrow roads". Everyone got to keep their glass as a souvenir; party bags for grown ups. Of course, the evening was capped by the requisite gag gifts and over-the-hill remarks. It was all good natured and I truly enjoyed spending a fun-filled evening with family and close friends. How does it feel to be over 50? As I've answered many times recently, I barely feel a day older than I did yesterday.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Upcoming Beer Tasting Events

Here's a summary of some upcoming local tasting opportunities. Please support the generous folks who open beers for these events. I was recently told by one store owner that beer people often refuse to try out new beers at tastings and that wine shoppers tend to be more open to trying something new. Why is that?

Friday, March 28 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine, Fredericksburg
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Brooklyn Brooklyner Weisse
Fiddler’s Green Amber Ale
Penn Pilsner
Unibroue Ephemere
Old Suffolk Ale

Friday, March 28 - 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Corks and Kegs, Richmond
Beer tasting:
Unibroue 17 Strong Dark Ale (Anniversary Beer)
Stone Russian Imperial Stout
Bells Oberon Summer Wheat Beer

Friday, March 28 - 3:00 - 8:00 pm
Rick's Wine and Gourmet, Alexandria
Lambic tasting:
St. Louis Pêche
St. Louis Framboise
St. Louis Kriek
St. Louis Cassis Lambic

Saturday, March 29 - 12:00 pm - ?
Kybecca, Plank Rd., Fredericksburg
Customer choice tasting:
First person in chooses beer of the day (with reasonable restrictions)

Saturday, March 29 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Rick's Wine and Gourmet, Alexandria
Devin Arloski from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Presents:
Dogfish Head Aprihop
Dogfish Head Red & White
Dogfish Head Black & Blue
Dogfish Head Burton Baton
Dogfish Head Raison D'Extra 2007

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

Wednesday, April 2 - 7:00 - 10:oo pm
Old Dominion Brewing, Ashburn
First Taste From the Tanks - Beach House Golden Pilsner

Thursday, April 3 - 4:00 - 7:00 pm
Total Wine, Fredericksburg
A Starr Hill Brewery representative will be on hand for a Starr Hill tasting.

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

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Starr Hill Beers Arrive in Fredericksburg

When Starr Hill Brewery announced last December that they had signed a distribution agreement with Anheuser-Busch, brewer Mark Thompson let me know that we could expect to see his beers in Fredericksburg by May. It's only March but Starr Hill has arrived on store shelves. I've heard only good reviews of Starr Hill brews and I'm excited to be able to get them locally. Despite the brewery being located less than a 2 hour drive away, the beer had very limited distribution until recently and didn't make it over to Fredericksburg. Last week I picked up a six pack each of the Pale Ale and the Jomo Lager.

I tried out the Starr Hill Pale Ale this weekend. It pours a copper-orange color with an amazingly thick head that stands well over the rim of the glass. You could almost mold the foam into shapes! Copious amounts of sticky lacing is left behind has the head slowly drops. The aroma is reserved, with faint citrus hops over light malt. The taste is full of grapefruit zestiness, along with a toasted malt backing. There’s a lingering grassy hop bitterness left in the aftertaste. This is an easy to drink beer with a moderately strong but not over-powering flavor profile. I can see coming back to this one regularly. The Pale Ale would drink well on a warm summer afternoon, paired perhaps with some spicy nachos. I'm looking forward to trying out the Jomo Lager next. Starr Hill's Amber Ale is also on local shelves. It's great to see another Virginia brewery getting wider distribution. I'm hoping some of the Starr Hill seasonal beers will also be candidates for wider distribution.

Happy Easter

Today is the Feast of Easter. After a long Lent, it's finally here. This is the holiest of holy days. Today's Feast marks the fulfillment of all that was foretold by the prophets and our Lord Himself.

"But what about beer?" you may ask. Well, today we will spend the day with family. The fridge is well-stocked with beers in numerous styles so there should be something for everyone. I've got some nice Belgian-style beers picked out for the main meal, and I'm planning to enjoy some nice stouts with my dessert (that birthday cake I finally get to enjoy.)

I wish you a happy and blessed Easter day!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Trappist Beers - Westmalle

[Installment #7 in a series]

The Brouwerij Westmalle is associated with the Abbey of Our Lady of La Trappe of the Sacred Heart near Westmalle in Belgium. Monks first arrived at the site in 1793 and the monastery was officially established in 1794. It's interesting to note that it was three French monks who stopped in Belgium on their way to America, who were convinced by the local prelate to stay and establish the community. The monks were forced to abandon the site a number of times due to war, but have been on the site continuously since 1814. A brewery was set up in 1836, and the first beers sold to the public in 1861, though beer was only sold at the Abbey gate until 1921. With the exception of a brief lapse during WWI production has been continuous.

The brewers of Westmalle are said to have coined the Dubbel and Tripel names. The monks brew three different beers. The Westmalle Dubbel and Westmalle Tripel are sold to the public. As with some other Trappist breweries, the monks reserve a third, Westamlle Extra, for themselves and their guests. For this entry we decided to enjoy some Westmalle Dubbel. The embossed bottle bore a label date stamp of 18/12/08. The beer pours a dark brown color, reminiscent of root beer, with a frothy light brown head. The head soon drops leaving behind a thin ring. The aroma is very subtle and we struggled to come up with specifics. It's mostly lightly sweet malt, with some faint dark fruit and a mild spice note. The taste is as easy on the palate as the aroma was on the nose. Malt and caramelized brown sugar come to mind. There's a hint of cinnamon noted. The finish is dry and mildly bitter, with a lot of carbonation felt on the tongue.

As we enjoyed the Westmalle late on Good Friday, we were unable enjoy any food with the beer as it was a day of fasting, but some soft cheese and/or chocolate would have made an enjoyable pairing.

This is the last post in our Lenten exploration of Trappist beers. We managed to look at five of the seven Trappist breweries producing these exceptional ales. Each of the beers we tried was unique and enjoyable. Looking at the history of the breweries was very interesting to me. That these simple and holy men could create such fine beers, and continue making them for many years, often enduring trials and hardship, is a testimony to their dedication. Producing beer is a sideline for these monks. The profits are used to support the abbey and the charitable works of the monks. Dedication to quality not quantity is at the forefront and production is controlled by the monks themselves. It's no wonder beer aficionados the world over seek out these tasty beers.

The first post in the series is here.

He Said Beer, She Said Wine

While my own beer book collection is no match for that of fellow beer blogger Ron Pattinson, I do enjoy books, and adding a book that combines beer and food, is always is exciting. I first heard about "He Said Beer, She Said Wine" a couple of months ago via this promotional video. The banter on the video was enough to intrigue me to pre-order the book, which was released, and arrived, on Monday. (I never cease to be awed by the efficiency of "He Said Beer, She Said Wine" is co-authored by Marne Old and Sam Calagiane. Marnie Old is a nationally-renowned sommelier, author and wine educator. Sam Calagione owns Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and is well-known for his "off-centered ales" and evangelization of craft beer.

This book takes a good-natured look at the rivalry between beer and wine and is a result of a series of challenge dinners the authors hold. At these events, they each choose a beer or wine to go with each course and the participants vote on which beverage provides the best match for the food. The tone of the book is set in the opening chapters. The authors introduce themselves and the beverages with a series of essays full of good-natured jabs at the opposing beverage and its supporter. The introductory chapters also include primers on beer and wine. These chapters could stand on their own to provide an interesting background on both beverages. The information is presented in a clear, orderly manner. Even if wine, or beer, isn't your forte, you'll find the contents very easy to digest. (Okay bad pun.) These chapters serve to put everyone on an even footing before diving in to the food and beverage pairing specifics.

The bulk of the book is devoted to an in-depth look at individual food groups, such as cheeses, vegetables, spicy food, desserts, followed by discussions on how beer and wine are paired with that particular food, along with specific beverage suggestions. The reasoning behind the specific choices are well-explained. At the end of each section, the authors make their summary arguments in keeping with the debate theme of the book.

The final chapters of the book offer a unique twist. Instead of settling the debate as to which beverage is superior, the authors challenge the reader to take the debate into their own homes and put the question before their friends. Suggested recipes, along with beer and wine pairings are listed for twelve different foods. Of course, you aren't limited to the recipes in the book, there are lots of tips and suggestions for creating your own challenges. The authors work to ensure the readers are well-equipped to put together their own menus and pairings. It is the goal of the book, as Sam writes, to give the reader the knowledge to "... experience the excitement and competitive spirit of our beer versus wine dinners at home."

Throughout the book, the emphasis is on fun. Although each author is steadfast in support of their chosen beverage, the book is devoted to helping folks gain even more enjoyment from food, beer, and wine. It doesn't matter if you prefer beer over wine, or vice-versa, this book just may open your eyes to the other side.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday, and Happy Birthday To Me

Today I mark 50 years of life, or as Colleen likes to tell me, the first 50. However today we will only note it, not celebrate it, as today is also Good Friday. For Catholics this is a day of fasting and abstinence. This is the day in which we remember the Passion of our Lord; His suffering and His death. We call it Good Friday because His suffering was, and is, in reparation for our sins. So today, we too suffer just a bit. Just one meal to sustain us and no meat. It's also a day without toil, one of reflection.

Do I lament not celebrating my 50th birthday today? Not really, being trumped by our Lord is something I can handle. Considering that Good Friday hasn't fallen on this day since 1913, and it won't happen again until the year 2228, I could allow myself to feel a bit special to have been given this tiny added sacrifice.

After Good Friday services and our one small meal, I'll sit down this evening, perhaps with a nice barleywine or Trappist beer. It will be a time to reflect further on the meaning of this day, and how that might be reflected in my 50 years. That's time well spent. The party with friends can wait. (And is indeed planned for next Friday.)

Update: I read on the Brookston Beer Bulletin that I share this birthday with brewing legend Pierre Celis.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Here's a summary of some local tasting opportunities this week.

Total Wine, Fredericksburg
Friday, March 21 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Delirium Nocturnum
Tetley’s English Ale
Lancaster Amish Four Grain Ale
Sea Dog Apricot Wheat Ale
Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Ale

Corks and Kegs, Richmond
Friday, March 21 - 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Beer tasting:
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale
Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre

Kybecca, Plank Rd., Fredericksburg
Saturday, March 22 - 12:00 pm - ?
Customer choice tasting:
First person in chooses beer of the day (with reasonable restrictions)

Rick's Wine and Gourmet, Alexandria
Saturday, March 22 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer tasting:
Kronenbourg 1664
Legacy Euphoria Ale
Legacy Hedonism Red Ale
Legacy Hoptimus Prime

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

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bless This Beer

Beer has long been a source of nourishment for some monks during the Lenten fast. Beer lovers can thank Catholic monks for developing many of the fine, and often strong, beers we enjoy today. We've been exploring some of these inspired beers over the past few weeks. Interestingly, before the true nature of yeast was understood, British brewers referred to this mysterious substance simply as 'God is Good', giving credit where credit is due. Indeed The Roman Ritual even includes a blessing for beer:
Lord, bless this creature, beer, which by your kindness and power has been produced from kernels of grain, and let it be a healthful drink for mankind. Grant that whoever drinks it with thanksgiving to your holy name may find it a help in body and in soul; through Christ our Lord.

I'll drink to that!

However it seems not everyone would agree with the sentiment. Listen to this debate in the Alabama House of Representatives. This exchange over the "Free the Hops" legislation is at first humorous. But on further reflection, as one realizes that these are elected government officials, debating the rights of citizens, the situation becomes more troublesome.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Closing of Bangkok Boulevard

I just received news via the FABTS mailing list that Bangkok Boulevard has closed. This was a unique establishment in Fredericksburg and the region in general. Besides some decent Thai food, their menu listed more than 150 bottled craft beers, including about 75 Belgians. There was no better restaurant in Fredericksburg when it came to the craft beer selection. They did beer right, even down to the proper glassware. This was also one of the regular meeting places for FABTS and Chad was always a generous and gracious host.

A number of restaurants have come and gone at this location. Bangkok Boulevard was open for about 18 months, and from my conversations with local folks, was still unknown to many people, especially when it came to the beer selection. I truly wish they could have hung on longer. We have Capital Ale House coming later this year to downtown Fredericksburg, but Bangkok Boulevard was much closer to my end of town. They will be missed.

St. Patrick

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Despite what we read in the papers, the day isn't really about beer. It's about the man who brought Christianity to pagan Ireland. It's about a man, kidnapped into slavery as a boy, who returned to the place of his torture to share his Faith with the people there out of love. St. Patrick is the patron Saint of Ireland and this is also a day to celebrate Irish heritage. I suspect that many of the people drinking green beer and dancing in parades today have no clue about the real St. Patrick and why this day is truly important to so many people. Certainly the commercialism of Propositon 3-17 and the attempt to further corrupt the day doesn't do justice to the Irish people or the Saint. Our local paper ran a piece yesterday in which they asked local "Irish" restaurant owners some questions about St. Patrick. Their answers in some cases were laughable. However, at least one local Irish pub owner does know his Irish history.

As we're in the midst of Holy Week, the feast of St. Patrick isn't marked by the Church in the U.S. this year. Personally, we celebrated at a dinner with friends last week, and also enjoyed the celebration at the Blue & Gray brewery on Saturday. So today here's a simple toast to you St. Patrick. Sláinte!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

St. Patrick's Day Celebration at the Blue & Gray Brewery

Saturday marked the 6th Annual St. Patrick's Day parade and celebration at the Blue & Gray Brewery in Fredericksburg. The day's entertainment and parade lineup were jam packed. Entertainment included historic railroad car tours, Irish dancers and musicians, Seth the Magician, and face painting for the kids (and a few adults) and lots of Irish food and Blue & Gray beer. The noon-time parade had fire trucks, classic cars, the Honor America Corps, a high school marching band, Irish dancers, military equipment and local pageant winners.

You couldn't have asked for better weather. Previous Blue & Gray outdoor events have frequently been marked by cold winds and rain, but this day was exceptional. The top of my head today is showing the effects of a day in the sun. It was great to see so many families out enjoying the parade and entertainment. I ran into many friends throughout the day. Food was plentiful and several charitable organizations were on hand to sell cookies, sodas and candy in addition to the brewery-supplied Irish fare. There were two beer stations outside the brewery so there was never a long wait for refreshment. The commemorative glasses sold out early due to their popularity. Blue & Gray festival glasses are always in high demand. (In this case brewery will be ordering more and honoring the discount coupons issued.) One of the highlights of the day was the tapping of the Minor Dementia Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout. This strongly flavored brew seemed to be quite a hit. I overheard many people discussing it and urging their friends to try it out. I enjoyed more than one pint of this special beer myself.

Congratulations and thanks go out to Jeff Fitzpatrick along with the Blue & Gray employees and volunteers who put together this fun event. It was very well-run and a large number of folks stayed from start to finish. If you missed it, I encourage you to come out next year.

I've posted more pictures from the festival here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Looking to try some new beers this weekend? Here are a few free beer tastings at retailers in the area. Be sure to support your local retailers so they are encouraged to continue scheduling these events.

Total Wine, Fredericksburg
Friday 5 @ 5, March 14 - 5:00pm
Gouden Carolus Triple
Weihenstephaner Kristal Weiss
Mendocino Eye of the Hawk
Tommyknocker Butthead Dopplebock
Weyerbacher Old Heathen Imperial Stout

Corks and Kegs, Richmond
Beer tasting, Friday, March 14 - 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Harp Lager
Guinness Extra Stout
Smithwick's Irish Red Ale

Kybecca, Plank Rd., Fredericksburg
Beer tasting, Saturday, March 14 - Noon
Customer choice tasting:
First person in chooses beer of the day (with reasonable restrictions)

Rick's Wine and Gourmet, Alexandria
Beer tasting, Saturday, March 15 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Harpoon Hibernian Irish Red Ale
Smithwick's Irish Red Ale
Beamish Irish Stout
Guinness Export Stout

And not to be forgotten, the St. Patrick's Day parade at Blue & Gray Brewery is Saturday.

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Trappist Beers - Koningshoeven

[Installment #6 in a series]

The Brouwerij de Koningshoeven at the Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven in the Netherlands is the only remaining Trappist brewery outside of Belgium. Interestingly the brewery is located only about 8 miles from the Belgian border. Monks arrived on this site at Tilburg in 1881 and they have been brewing since 1884. In 1999 the brewery entered into an agreement with a commercial brewery and lost the right to use the Authentic Trappist Product logo, although the brewing of Trappist style beers never ceased. The privilege to use the "Authentic" logo was reinstated in 2005. In many markets the beers are branded as La Trappe, however in the United States they are marketed under the Koningshoeven name.

We resumed our Trappist beer exploration with Koningshoeven Tripel. The bottling code stamped on the label was hard to make out. It appears to read "K04J4" on one line, followed by a blurred "10:94" on the second. I initially wondered if we'd be enjoying this beer with our meal as we were presented with a very stubborn cork. I can't recall having as much difficulty with a corked and caged bottle as I had with this one. Perseverance paid off and we were greeted by a attractive glass of marmalade-orange color with a thick, frothy off-white head. The head dropped fairly soon leaving lots of lacing. The aroma of the Koningshoeven was a sweet fruitiness with yeast and mild pepper in the background. The flavor has fruit at the forefront; oranges and apples, and not overly sweet. Hop bitterness is restrained. There's a very nice malt balance to the flavor with a slight pepper note added in the aftertaste. The 8% ABV was very well-masked in this Belgian triple. Mouthfeel is moderately thick and creamy. There's just the right amount of refreshing carbonation.

Dinner this evening was a Thai dish of Chicken Peanut Satay. The dish was light in flavor but not overwhelmed by the well-balanced beer. For dessert, a simple Hershey chocolate bar provided a fitting finish. Colleen and I both enjoyed this Koningshoeven Tripel very much. Thankfully, it was well worth the effort it took to open the bottle.

The first post in the series is here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

St. Patrick's Day Parade at Blue & Gray Brewery

The 6th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and Celebration will take place this Saturday, March 15 at the Blue & Gray Brewery in Fredericksburg. The day's events begin at 10:00 AM and the parade kicks off at Noon. The fun continues until 3:30 PM. Blue & Gray events are family-oriented and always a lot of fun. Of course, plenty of excellent Blue & Gray beer will be available as well!

Meal tokens (Corned beef, cabbage, potato, and a beer!) are only $5.00 in advance and the brewery donates the $5.00 to local volunteer fire and rescue units. Advance purchases can be made at the brewery and a few other locations around town. Check the Blue & Gray website for the latest festival details. See you there!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Washington Post Beer Madness, NIPAC results

The Washington Post announced today the details of their second annual Beer Madness Tournament. The judging panel, comprised of 9 readers and columnist Greg Kitsock, gathered a few weeks ago at the Brickskeller in D.C. to sample 32 beers, and through elimination arrived at a champion. The Post will dole out the the results over the next few weeks, with the winning beer to be announced on April 6. The website has information on the panelists and the 32 beers selected for the competition.

In a another competition, the The National IPA Championship (NIPAC) winner was announced yesterday. The winner in this competition, which was carried out over several weeks in different cities, was Green Flash IPA from the Green Flash Brewing Company of California. You can see the complete results here. My pick for the winner, Two Hearted Ale from Bell's Brewing, was the runner up. Having enjoyed Green Flash IPA as well, I certainly won't argue with that result.

FABTS March Meeting

On Saturday, 20 local beer lovers met at Bangkok Boulevard for the March gathering of the Fredericksburg Area Brewing and Tasting Society. As usual, Chad and the folks at Bangkok Boulevard were most accommodating. Chad filled in a few missing items in the beer line up from the restaurant's stock. The theme for this month was English Ales; Ordinary Bitters, Premium Bitters, and Extra Special/Strong Bitters (ESB). In all, 26 commercial beers were sampled, along with 4 home brews brought in by members.

Bitters are low ABV beers, with a mild flavor profile of low bitterness balanced with malts. Many are session beers, under 4%ABV, allowing the drinker to enjoy several with friends without feeling the effects of the alcohol or numbing the taste buds. During our tasting session, a number of the beers elicited comments such as "There's nothing there." Of course, we weren't there to enjoy multiple pints of the beer, so perhaps we weren't imbibing in the proper manner for the style. One thing that I believe may have contributed to the comments is we're slowing coming out of Winter here and many of us have spent the last several months enjoying decidedly non-sessionable beers such as Imperial Stouts, DIPA's, Barleywines. Could be we're just spoiled. There were quite a few excellent beers tasted. Perhaps Summer is when we should be focusing on these beers.

In the Ordinary Bitters, I believe we only had one on the list, Tetley's English Ale. I had this one for the first time just week or so ago, and did enjoy it. The 2 ounce sample yesterday seemed lacking, which points back to my theory noted above that these beers are properly enjoyed in larger quantities. There were a number of standouts yesterday. Coniston Bluebird Bitter was notable among the Premium Bitters, as was the classic Fuller's London Pride.

Moving on to the ESB's, Morland Old Speckled Hen was poured from a nitro-widget can and was quite enjoyable. For comparison, we followed that with the same beer from a clear glass bottle. That beer was light struck and not very enjoyable. That brings me to something else I noted from the session. We seemed to be hitting a higher number of off-flavor beers. Whenever you sit down and try 20-25 different beers, the odds are that one or two will have been mishandled in some way. (Add to that there are a number folks in the group especially adept at picking out these off flavors.) The majority of the beers we sampled were imports and travelling long distances gives more opportunity for mistreatment. There were also a number of beers bottled in clear glass. As this isn't a style that's overly popular with many Americans, stocks may sit on the shelf longer. Off flavors may be more noticeable in these mild flavored beers. Whatever the reason, our dump buckets filled faster than usual.

Daleside Ripon Jewel Ale was another memorable beer. A nice combination of bready malt and bitter hops led me to make a note to look for this in the future. Two other classics from Fuller's, the ESB and Fuller's 1845 were both impressive. We also sampled a Lakefront Organic ESB, the same beer I reviewed for this month's session. Unfortunately this batch was infected. The beers I have at home are from a different batch according the labels and didn't have this issue.

Chuck Triplett, frequent contributor to DC-Beer and the forums, and Ray Johnson, organizer of the Blue Gray Breweriana show, drove down from Northern Virginia for the meeting. Chuck brought with him a couple growlers of beers we aren't able to get in this area. The first was Bill Madden's ESB from Vintage 50 in Leesburg. This ESB was probably the hit of the day. Unfortunately by this point I was enjoying good conversation with friends and was not taking notes, so I have nothing specific to say other than it was well-received and enjoyed. Bill has a well-deserved reputation for fine beers and this was no exception. We also were treated to the "Bitter American" from Old Dominion brewery. Recently some local folks have taken to making disparaging remarks about Old Dominion based on the partial ownership by Anheuser-Bush, and some recent changes in the beer lineup and personnel at the brewery. However, from messages posted on DC-Beer, and from tasting this beer, OD seems to be on the right track.

Home brewed beer is welcome at any meeting. This afternoon we were treated to four examples. Again no notes, only memory. A Rauch Dopplebock from Lyle was enjoyed first. Several of the members had tried this at the Blue Gray show last month and spoke highly of it. You need to be a smoked beer fan to enjoy this one. I am, and I did. Dave brought in more of the smoked pumpkin beer he's brought to a couple of meetings recently to get opinions on how the beer holds up over time. The smokiness has decreased, allowing more honey flavors to come through. Two members brought in porters. Rick's enjoyable beer was labeled "HSP" for Hop Shortage Porter. Scott's porter was also pleasing. He remarked that he didn't think the ABV was as high as he was hoping for, though the beer still had plenty of flavor.

As usual the gathering made for a very enjoyable afternoon. I tried a number of new beers and met a couple of new friends. What else could one ask from an afternoon devoted to beer? Upon my return home I learned that we had just recently lost power, an outage that lasted 6 hours. We had evening plans for dinner with friends at a neighbor's house. Fortunately most of the food had been cooked by the time the power went out, and the gas stove still worked. It turned out to be an enjoyable evening despite the hum of a generator in the background.

The next FABTS meeting is planned for April 12, at Kybecca. The theme for the month will be "bocks" of any type; Doppelbock, Eisbock, Maibock, Weizenbock are all included. Be sure to check the FABTS web site for more details. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Beer Guide from RateBeer

I picked up this inexpensive book a few weeks ago. The Beer Guide is a compilation of user reviews from for over 2,700 beers. This pocket guide lists the brewery, the style, and ABV for each beer. Also included are a few user review quotes for each beer. Editor Josh Oaks doesn't hesitate to include negative user comments as well. To illustrate just how subjective beer tastes are, in many cases the users quoted give contrasting opinions. The 100 point RateBeer scale has been converted to a 5-star system for quick analysis.

I find the reference most useful when I want to quickly lookup a beer and get some basic information such as style and ABV. The book would be handy to carry also when shopping for beer away from home, when one might not be familiar with the beers available in the area. While I rarely choose to buy a beer based solely on user reviews at RateBeer or BeerAdvocate, it's handy to have some basic offline information. The Beer Guide also includes a chapter on food and beer pairings by Stan Hieronymous. This is an inexpensive reference that's proven to be quite handy. I'll definitely be taking it with me when I travel.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Session #13: Organic Beer

The March edition of The Session is hosted by Chris O'Brien over at The Beer Activist. Chris has chosen the theme of "Organic Beer" for us to ponder this month. A quick search made it apparent that none of my regional breweries produce any organic beers. Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore will be releasing its Oxford Organic Ales line in April. However, that is not soon enough for this Session.

A friend returned from a recent trip to North Carolina with a six pack of Lakefront Brewery Organic ESB and I decided to focus on that for the Session this month. The beer was brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and purchased in Raleigh, North Carolina. I am immediately struck by the irony of brewing an environmentally friendly beer and then shipping it 900 miles, although that is certainly a shorter distance than many commercial brews are shipped. Lakefront Organic ESB is brewed with 100% certified organic ingredients. Information on the brewery's organic production can be found here. When the USDA was recently pushed by large breweries to allow non-organic hops in organic beer, Lakefront Brewery lobbied against the change.

Lakefront Organic ESB pours a slightly hazy amber-copper color. There's a thin off-white head that drops quickly leaving a thin ring, with very little lacing. The malt aroma is strong with bread and caramel notes. I don't detect much in the way of hops in the aroma. The taste is yeasty malt, with just a touch of fruitiness. The bitterness is on the low side, though there seems to be more hop bitterness left in the aftertaste than is experienced initially. The mouthfeel is light and smooth. This was an easy drinking beer without any strong flavor profile. It was on the low side of Extra Special Bitter, but a very nice mid-afternoon treat. I drank the Lakefront ESB to spice up a quick lunch of frozen pizza. And for that it served quite well. The low initial bitterness level was actually enhanced when paired with the pizza.

Was I expecting a flavor identifiable as organic? I probably subconsciously expected some organic sense to the beer, much like those organic breakfast cereals that end up tasting like milk-soaked cardboard. Thankfully, the taste profile was just beer, no cardboard.

Be sure to visit the Session Roundup at The Beer Activist to see a summary of all this month's posts.

Minor Dementia Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout

Jeff at Blue & Gray Brewing has announced the winning name in his "name that beer" contest. Subscribers to the brewery's email newsletter were given to chance to suggest, and then vote on, a name for the brewery's new oak bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. The new beer will be called "Minor Dementia Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout".

Jeff provided background on the beer's namesake:
William Chester Minor was Union Army surgeon and served at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. W. C. Minor later made many scholarly contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary while confined to a lunatic asylum. Minor had to punish fugitive soldiers by branding them with a D for "deserter". Some were Irish immigrants, which would later play a role in Minor's dementia delusions.

There's more history on William Minor at the Crime Library website. Shortly after Minor moved to London from the U.S, he came to the attention of English authorities. In the early morning of February 17, 1872, he shot and killed George Merrett of London. Interestingly Merrett worked at the Red Lion Brewery and was on his way to work when he met his end. This new beer is a barrel-aged version of General Sickles Temporary Insanity Imperial Stout, which is named for another Civil War veteran once described as "separated not only from family but from reality".

A request for label approval has been submitted to Virginia authorities. Upon approval the beer will be available for sale. Stay tuned.

My review of the beer is here.

Reminder: FABTS Meeting Saturday

The Fredericksburg Area Brewing and Tasting Society meets tomorrow (Saturday, March 8) at Bangkok Boulevard. The meeting starts at 1:30PM. This month we will be discussing (and tasting!) English Pale Ales. The meetings are always a lot of fun and very informative. $5.00 gets you a seat at the table. Come by and join in the fun. Bangkok Boulevard has great food too! More meeting details here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Clipper City Dinner with Lucy Saunders

Wednesday evening I had the pleasure to attend a fine beer and food event at Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg, VA. Chef Patrick Dinh prepared 6 dishes from The Best of American Beer & Food. The author of this cookbook, Lucy Saunders, along with Hugh Sisson and Tom Cizauskas, both of Clipper City Brewing were our hosts and all regaled us with interesting information about beer, food and Clipper City.

Since I'll be marking half a century of life in a couple of weeks, my ticket to the event was an early birthday gift from my wife. It wasn't feasible for both of us to get away to attend the dinner as it was a 2 hour drive from home, and on a "school night." So Colleen said I should go AND spend the night in Leesburg to avoid the long drive home after dinner. Clipper City is one of my favorite breweries, and that we're fans of Lucy Saunders' book is no secret to readers of this blog. So this was an exceptionally special gift. (Dear reader, your envy is forgiven, I am indeed a lucky man.)

The Menu

Course 1: Lager Steamed Mushroom Dumplings with MärzHon Sweet and Sour Sauce, served with Balto MärzHon

Course 2: Angry Shrimp "Szechuan" Style, served with a fresh cask of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale

Course 3: Fennel Crusted Rack of Lamb, with Barley Risotto and Peg Leg Stout Sauce, served with a fresh cask of Peg Leg Imperial Stout

Course 4: Holy Sheet Glazed Angus Skirt Steak with Cumin Pepper Onions and Raclette Potatoes, served with Holy Sheet Über Abbey Ale

Course 5: “Hooks 1 Year Blue” with Nut Bread, Pear Coulis and Micro-herb salad, served with Below Decks Barleywine (2007 vintage)

Course 6: Coconut Cream Pie Dessert with Hang Ten Marshmallows, served with Hang Ten Weizen Dopplebock (2007 vintage)

Now that you are salivating, let me add that the experience exceeded all expectations. Chef Dinh prepared a repast extraordinaire. All of the pairings worked extremely well. You will notice in the list above, not one, but two casks. Good beers on cask are not common finds, but this night we were treated to two casks of fresh ale.

The six beers selected for the evening were served in order of increasing ABV. I knew we where in for an extrAARGHdinary experience when by the third course the beer was already up to 8% ABV!

One topic of discussion during the evening was "are cask ales better than their non-cask versions?" That's probably a rhetorical question as they are often different beasts and hard to compare. However, when I was enjoying my fresh-casked Peg Leg Stout, I remarked to Tom Cizauskas that this was the best Peg Leg I'd ever tasted. The flavor is full of roasted malts and chocolate, highly drinkable with just enough bitterness to keep it interesting. The casking really smooths out and blends the flavors. If I had to pick one course as my favorite, I'd say it was the lamb and Peg Leg Stout.

Before the second course, Lucy Saunders, Hugh Sisson and I were discussing how to pair beer with spicy food. Does one want a highly hopped beer to accentuate and continue the flavor on the palate, or does one want more of a palate cleansing beer with the food? Well, I don't believe there is a definitive answer. But we do know in this case, the Loose Cannon Ale was a perfect match for the "Szechuan" spice of the shrimp. The spice wasn't fire-hot but it was very present, and the hoppy ale enhanced the flavoring on this dish. This pairing gets the vote as my second favorite course of the evening.

It was a pleasure to finally meet in person, both Lucy and Hugh, having had only electronic exchanges with them in the past. And it was fun to meet up with Tom Cizauskas again. Besides beer-related conversation, we both enjoyed a laugh over our fond remembrances of phonograph records. Of course I dropped another hint for a Clipper City dinner in Fredericksburg. :-) Shawn Malone, and the entire staff at Tuskies, did a superb job in presenting this dinner. If you find yourself in Leesburg, be sure to visit Tuscarora Mill. When it comes to craft beer and food appreciation, suffice it to say, they get it.

In the top photo are Chef Dinh, Lucy, and Shawn. At the bottom, Shawn and Tom successfully tap the Peg Leg Stout.
More photos from the evening are posted here.

Update, March 9: Tom Cizauskas has posted his notes on the dinner here.