Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Just Beer

There, I've said it. I'd probably be turned out of some beer fans' homes for such utterances. I've certainly been given a thumping on some beer forums for saying such a thing. Beer is produced by the sweat, and tears, of hard working men and women, and the brewers' handiwork must be admired and appreciated. Beer is my favorite beverage and I can wax poetic about it. But face it, in the end, beer is just that, a beverage. When do we get carried away in our "respect" for beer?

Recently I saw an online discussion about this article, The Best Beer in the World. The article's author shares a story about a Westvleteren 12 tasting. The folks being treated to this beer were having a good time describing the flavors they noted in unusual terms; Wonder Bread, Tootsie Rolls, Sun-Maid raisins, Grape drink. The drinkers enjoyed the beer and I thought it was great they didn't get their heads full of self-rightousness and could still have fun even when faced with a legendary beer. However, the commenter in the online discussion was indignant, and thought the attendees had "no respect, nevermind reverence for the Westveletern".

C'mon folks, Westvleteren is made by holy men, but that doesn't make the beer a holy object. What's the point of enjoying a good beer with friends if you can't have fun doing it? Should we dress in our Sunday best before consuming it? (I've never had a Westy, but from what I read, the descriptors weren't that far off the mark.)

It's not uncommon to read an online discourse in which someone will state that pouring out a beer is disrespectful. I've seen more than one person claim that, even if they do not like a beer they opened, they will drink it anyway — "out of respect." I drink beer because I enjoy it. Why should I force something down my throat that I find unpleasant? Nothing disrespectful to the beer or the brewer is implied if I find I do not like a beer.

I often wonder if the folks who claim that they would never pour out a beer feel the same way about the food they eat. The farmers work hard to produce the food that graces our tables. Do the beer worshippers always eat a food that they find unpleasant out of respect for the farmer who grew it? I doubt it.

What do you think? Do you force yourself to drink beer you don't enjoy simply out of respect for the beer? Is pouring a beer down the drain showing disrespect towards the brewer?

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 in Review

It's feels cliché to say it, but, where did the year go? As we wind down 2008, I thought it would be fun to recollect some of the beer highlights of the year. 2008 was the first full year of Musings Over a Pint and readers of the Musings have played a part in these highlights in many ways, so I hope you'll find this interesting too.

Festivals and Travel
I was fortunate enough to attend six beer festivals in 2008. We had the Northern Virginia Summer Brewfest in June and the Northern Virginia Brewfest in September. Both of these events organized by Bill Madden and are poised to become Virginia's premier outdoor beer events. Very close to home, the Blue & Gray Brewing St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest celebrations offered opportunities to enjoy more than a few pints with good friends. Traveling south, I attended two events put on by All About Beer Magazine. In April it was the World Beer Fest in Raleigh, followed in October by the World Beer Fest Durham. The best thing about attending the festivals is running into old friends and making new ones. My day job also took me to Denver three times this year so I got to enjoy that great beer town on several occasions.

The occasion of my 50th birthday in March was marked with a couple of exciting events as well. Early in the month I attended a dinner with Lucy Saunders at Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg, VA. The dinner was based on recipes from Lucy's The Best of American Beer & Food and featured Clipper City beers. Later in the month, the celebration continued at home with a fun party with close friends. 

Pubs and Breweries
On the Fredericksburg area beer scene, we saw the opening of the Capital Ale House in Fredericksburg. I do believe that the extensive beer list at Capital Ale House will have a positive affect on existing, and upcoming, pubs in the area. Regionally, beer fans celebrated the opening of Devil's Backbone brewpub in Nelson County. 2008 brought the news that Old Dominion Brewing would be leaving Virginia and moving to Delaware. They've not left yet, but December saw what was probably the last public event at the patriarchal Virginia brewery. However, as if to counteract this loss, Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, Virginia, saw increased distribution and recognition in 2008.

Of course, there was the beer. I don't track every beer I drink, but I do try to keep an list of new-to-me beers. (If for no other reason than this end of the year accounting.) According to my list I tried 162 new beers in 2008. That's not including tasting samples had at festivals and other tastings. Most of those new beers were purchased in bottles or cans (113) while 49 were found on draft or brought home in growlers. Not surprisingly, 12 of the drafts were had at the new Capital Ale House.

The new beers comprised approximately 54 different styles, depending on how one views beers stylistically. Interestingly the top three were hop-forward beers; American IPA (12), American Pale Ale (12), and Double IPA (9). Obviously hops continue to hold my attention.

U.S. brewers, as expected provided the bulk of my new beers in 2008, with 139 American beers added. Eight other countries contributed. Besides the U.S. the top three included Belgium (9) and England (4). In the U.S., California (23), Colorado (21), and Virginia (18) led the field. I tried to devote extra attention to Virginia breweries this year. Virginia beers enjoyed for the first time in 2008 were:
  • Blue and Gray Brewing Minor Dementia Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout
  • Blue Mountain Brewery Full Nelson Pale Ale
  • Blue Mountain Brewery Lights Out Holiday Ale
  • Legend Brewing Barleywine (2007)
  • Legend Brewing Chocolate Porter
  • Legend Brewing Oktoberfest
  • Old Dominion Brewing Beach House Golden Pilsner
  • Old Dominion Brewing Dominion Baltic Porter
  • Old Dominion Brewing Millenium
  • Old Dominion Brewing Pale Ale
  • Old Dominion Brewing Spring Buck
  • Starr Hill Festie
  • Starr Hill Jomo Lager
  • Starr Hill Pale Ale
  • Starr Hill Smoke Out
  • Starr Hill The Gift 2008 WinterBock
  • Starr Hill The Love Hefeweizen
  • Williamsburg AleWerks Drake Tail India Pale Ale

Without a doubt, the best memories of 2008 are the people. Many of the aforementioned beers were enjoyed in the company of loved ones and good friends. Of all the things I enjoy about my involvement in craft beer, the real pleasure comes back to the people. The most rewarding part of doing this blog is the many friendships I've made because of it, both readers and fellow bloggers. The internet social media also played a big part. Many new friends were made via Facebook and Twitter. It's been very rewarding to meet so many of those folks in person and enjoy a pint or two.

I enjoyed sitting down and reading over the past year's posts while preparing this retrospective. It was fun to reminisce about all the good times we had in 2008. I do appreciate that so many of you take the time to read these Musings. I hope to raise a pint with even more of you in 2009!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Starr Hill The Love

The Love is a Hefeweizen from Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, VA. The beer won a Silver medal in the German-style Hefeweizen category at the GABF this Summer. All of Starr Hill's year-round beers have won multiple medals and this is the brewery's first medal for one of their seasonal beers. I was anxious to try it out, even though I've never been a big fan of wheat beers. As it turns out I would not be disappointed.

Starr Hill The Love pours a golden-straw color. I poured the beer into a traditional Hefeweizen glass in preparation for the expected Hefeweizen-style billowing head. Even with a fairly hard pour the head was only moderate, and it dropped very rapidly. There were large, and copious, bubbles continually rising from the bottom of the glass. Bready yeasts dominate the aroma. Hints of banana and citrus fruits are also present. The flavor follows suit with the same banana and citrus fruits. There's a nice hop bitterness adding complexity. The mouthfeel is creamy and the carbonation tingles the tongue. Bitter citrus zest lingers long in the aftertaste.

I enjoyed The Love very much. The flavor profile goes beyond the typical banana and clove-richness I tend to expect from Hefeweizens. Starr Hill president Mark Thompson has said that this will likely become a year-round beer, rather than remain a seasonal release. Hefeweizens are typically Summer beers, but I enjoyed drinking the beer on a Christmas afternoon. It's a Hefeweizen that I will certainly drink again.

Merry Christmas

I'd like wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. May your holiday be filled with the blessings of family, friends, and good cheer.

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
Luke 2:11

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Complete World of Beer Styles - Christmas Giveaway Winners

Velky Al of Prague, Czech Republic and Alexander D. Mitchell IV of Baltimore, MD are the lucky recipients of the Complete World of Beer Styles. Congratulations to you both!
Please email me with your mailing address and I'll get the Beer Styles Guide in the mail to you.

Clipper City Below Decks Barley Wine

Clipper City Below Decks Barley Wine is part of the brewer's Heavy Seas series of "big" beers. Released each December, it's only on the shelves a short time. Clipper City's seasonals have limited availability in this area so I was glad to see the beer at Total Wine. I picked up a 4-pack during my last beer run and have been looking forward to cracking one open.

Below Decks pours a hazy copper-orange color. Even a hard pour produces a thin head that drops rapidly leaving a thin ring. The aroma is sweet malt and toffee with some dark cherry and plum fruits. When tasting, the sweetness of the malt hits first. There are also dark fruit and hints of vanilla. There's just enough of a bitter hop presence to add some balance, but still allow the sweet malt to remain dominant. Alcohol warmth is apparent and there's no ignoring that this is a 10% beer. The mouthfeel is creamy and slightly sticky. A lingering bitterness, and warmth, in the finish wraps it up.

The notes on the bottle suggest cellaring a few bottles to enjoy later. I do think aging would serve to mask the alcohol presence a bit and bring out the dark fruit and sweet malt aspects even further. The beer was enjoyable "fresh" but I do think that with a bit of time it will become even more enjoyable. However, I'm not promising I have the fortitude to ignore the remaining bottles long enough to test that.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why is the Rum Gone?

It has nothing to do with beer, but I find this video montage oddly captivating. Is there some empathy for Captain Jack? Maybe it's the same feeling we get when a favorite seasonal is no longer available. Enjoy.

Southern Tier Krampus

When Matt at Kybecca pointed out the Southern Tier Krampus to me recently he described it as "a lager, but hopped like an IPA", or something to that effect that peaked my interest. The beer's name and the label description "Imperial Helles Lager" were both sufficiently intriguing to convince me to pick up a bottle.

As for the name, Krampus is a mythical goat-headed character that hands out punishments to naughty children before Christmas. For a detailed accounting of the lore, see this post by Ashley, AKA "The Beer Wench." As to the beer, read on.

A Christmas seasonal from Southern Tier Brewing in New York, Krampus pours a dark golden color with a thin head. The aroma is a mixture of sweet malt and citrus hops. The aroma jumps out immediately upon opening the bottle. The flavor is initially sweet but the hops take over quickly. The hop profile is complex; it's mostly a resinous citrus flavor but there's also enough bitterness to balance it out. A warming alcohol presence can't be ignored. Definitely a sipper. Despite technically being a lager, I found Krampus' flavor to be close to a DIPA or Barleywine. My bottle had been refrigerated and then left to warm a bit before serving. As the beer warmed further in the glass the flavors intensified, as did the aroma. As I often do, I found myself enjoying the aroma as much as the flavor.

The alcohol level checks in at 9%. Colleen and I split the 22 oz. bomber, but given we had nowhere else to be, I certainly would not have minded opening another had one been available. We drank the Krampus while enjoying some sweet kettle popcorn. A simple pairing but an enjoyable way to watch a movie at home.

Leave it to American brewers to further blur the style guidelines. I for one, am okay with this. We should spend less time trying to pigeonhole our beers into specific categories, and more time simply enjoying them. In a related matter, I've seen recent discussions regarding how well Old Dominion Baltic Porter fits (or not) certain style guidelines. Tom at Yours For Good Fermentables offers commentary on the Baltic Porter discourse.

As for me, I'll leave the debates on style classifications to those who are excited by such minutiae. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the innovations the brewers continue to bring us. And I'll wait with hope that my only visit from the Krampus this Christmas is of the drinkable sort.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Buffalo Chicken "Sliders" and a Hoppy Beer

It's been a while since I posted about a food and beer combo so I figured I'd share something we've served a number of times recently. This recipe comes from Kraft Kitchens. These Buffalo Chicken sandwiches are easy to prepare. They're quite tasty, and can be served as a main course or as a snack while watching the game on TV. A friend who does not normally eat chicken enjoyed them recently, and then asked for the recipe!

The shredded chicken is heated with hot pepper sauce and water. For the dressing prepare a mixture of mayonnaise, ranch dressing, chopped celery, and blue cheese. The chicken, dressing, and shredded cheddar cheese is spooned onto small buns to make a sandwich. We like to use small, "slider" sized buns.

This spicy sandwich goes great with a hop-forward American pale ale or IPA. We've recently been enjoying these with Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Even though the meal takes less than 20 minutes to prepare, it just seems right to be enjoying a beer while preparing the sandwiches too.

Detailed recipe here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekend Beer Events

Wow, the last weekend before Christmas. While you are out doing those last minute errands, take a break to stop in and enjoy a free tasting from your local retailer. Maybe even take home a new beer to wind down with after your chores are done.

Friday, December 19 - 4:00 - 8:00pm
Rick's Wine, Alexandria
French Beer Tasting:
St. Rieul Biere de Noel, Brasserie Bourguignonne Ambree and La Mouska, Brasserie Mandrin Sapin (Amber Ale made with pine needles and buds), Brasserie Mont Blanc Le Verte (Ale brewed with Genepi flowers)

December 19 - 5:30 - 7:30pm
Corks and Kegs, Richmond
Holiday Tasting Event:
Bad Elf, Ridgeway Brewing, UK, Santa's Butt, Ridgeway Brewing, UK, Biere Au Sapin, Brasserie Mandrin, France(made with pine and spruce buds and needles)

Saturday, December 20 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Kybecca, Fredericksburg
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
Delirium Noël, Stone Double Bastard, plus 1 Customer Choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Saint Rieul De Noëll, Penn Brewing Christmas Bock, plus 1 Customer Choice

Saturday, December 20 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Rick's Wine, Alexandria
Beer Tasting:
Blue & Gray (Va.) Cranberry Christmas Ale, Cape Ann (Mass.) Fisherman's Navigator Doppelbock, Samuel Adams (Mass.) Chocolate Bock, R.J. Rockers (S.C.) Bell Ringer Ale, Victory (Pa.) Old Horizontal Barleywine, Schlafly (Mo.) Reserve Barrel-aged Imperial Stout

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

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Event schedules subject to change. Call ahead before traveling.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Science of Brewing

The Brewing Science Institute of Colorado held a one-day workshop at the University of Mary Washington on Tuesday. Attended by brewers from around Virginia, the workshop presented an overview of microbiological methods in the brewing of beer. Topics such as healthy yeast cultures and brewing contaminants were discussed. Virginia breweries including Battlefield Brewing, Blue & Gray Brewing, Legend Brewing, Old Dominion Brewing, Starr Hill Brewery, St. George Brewing and Williamsburg AleWerks attended the workshop. The event was organized by Jeff Fitzpatrick of Blue & Gray Brewing.

I was disappointed to have missed this event that brought together so many Virginia brewers. I received an email about it a while back, and unfortunately filed the email and then forgot about it. The Free Lance-Star has coverage here.

Glassware Guide from Slashfood

The Slashfood blog has published a three-part online guide to alcoholic beverage glassware. Of main interest to readers of this blog is the section devoted to Beer Glasses. Nine different glass styles are discussed. Simple and straightforward, the guide focuses on the attributes in beer that the glass will emphasize, such as the head or aroma. There are also guides posted for Wine and Liquor & Cocktails.

Visit Fastidious Boozing - Slashfood's Glassware Guide for the complete guide.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shooting Creek Brewery to Begin Brewing Soon

There's good news in the ongoing saga of Shooting Creek Farm Brewery in Floyd County, Virginia. Local anti-alcohol forces had appealed the granting of the brewery's license. Last month the two sides in the dispute agreed to sit down, with a neutral party, and talk over their differences. Now it appears those talks were successful in reaching a compromise.

I had the opportunity today to speak with Jason Anderson, the new manager at Shooting Creek. Jason came on board after Ray Jones left to pursue a job overseas. Owner Brett Nichols and Jason have worked hard to clear the hurdles thrown at them and bring their craft beer to the area. The brewery did make some concessions in order to appease the local opposition. Among those concessions, the brewery will not be selling beer for off-premises consumption. That means no bottles or growler fills at the brewery. There will also be no tours or tastings for the foreseeable future.

There will still be plenty of opportunities to enjoy Shooting Creek's beers. Jason tells me they hope to join up with local wineries and take part in regional wine festivals. Beer at a wine festival is good beer evangelization! Shooting Creek beer will also be available through a local distributor. Details are still being worked out but look for the beers on retail shelves in surrounding counties early next year. Per their VABC license, there is the possibility of special events at the brewery but nothing is planned yet. Please do not show up at the brewery hoping for a tour or samples. You'll be disappointed and the neighbors will be riled up. Jason tells me they've had to turn folks away. You've been warned.

The brewery expects to have 6 year-round beers, along with a couple seasonal rotations. No brewing is occurring while the final legal details are being worked out but Jason says they hope to be brewing by late January.

Jason also told me that the farm has been working to bring a hop crop into production. They eventually hope to use at least some of their own hops in all their beers. That's a good thing for Virginia agri-tourism. Using Virginia-grown ingredients is one of the things that gives the Virginia wine industry a leg up in securing industry support from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Brett, Jason, and Ray, are to be commended for their persistence in reaching a compromise. The opposition, though a small group, has been vocal, and often illogical. But it appears the hard work will pay off and Virginia will soon boast yet another craft brewery.

Click here to read all of the posts on the Shooting Creek issues.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Huddled Masses of the Nicotine Addicted

Last week the Fredericksburg City Council passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to grant localities the power to ban smoking in public places such as bars and office buildings. Currently such power lies with the state, rather than the localities. Previous anti-smoking measures in tobacco-friendly Virginia have failed, so I'm not overly optimistic about this one.

One of the arguments frequently heard against such a ban is the nuisance and litter created by smokers gathering on the sidewalk outside of bars and restaurants. For example, The Capital Ale House is non-smoking until 9:00PM. As I tried to enter the establishment recently I had to push my way through a gaggle of smokers who had gathered right outside the entrance. I have to wonder how desperate these people must be for a cigarette that they must stop at their first step out of the door to light up. Yep, it's a downside to smoking bans, but I still prefer this aggravation to going home smelling like a dirty ashtray. Since we can't legislate common courtesy, the hassle of moving through the huddled mass of the nicotine dependent is a small price to pay for clean air inside.

The Free Lance-Star article about the council resolution is here.

Complete World of Beer Styles - Christmas Giveaway

Last week I profiled The Complete World of Beer Styles from All About Beer magazine. Thanks to the generosity of the folks at All About Beer, I've obtained some extra copies of the guide. To celebrate the holiday season, I'll be giving away a couple of copies to some lucky readers of this blog.

During the next week, pick your favorite beer style, or one of them, and submit a reply to this post. Tell us what style you chose and why you chose it. (Please limit yourself to one comment.) I'll accept entries through December 23 and pick 2 random winners on Christmas Eve, December 24.

And don't forget about the December Brooklyn Brewery bar stool giveaway. Your favorite beer style comment will also be counted as an entry in that drawing too.

Update December 24: We have our winners...
Velky Al of Prague, Czech Republic and Alexander D. Mitchell IV of Baltimore, MD. Congratulations to both of you. Please email me with your mailing address and I'll get the Beer Styles Guide in the mail to you.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back to Basics - Blue & Gray Classic Lager

We had our annual members' Christmas dinner for a charitable organization this weekend. As often happens, my friend Frank and I were charged with arranging for the beer. Our local Blue & Gray Brewing Company is very generous in their support of the organization, so we frequently serve Blue & Gray beers at our functions. Many of the members are macro-lager drinkers, and Miller Lite and Corona make frequent appearances. However for this function we decided upon Blue & Gray Classic Lager.

A quarter keg of Classic Lager was ordered. Someone also purchased some Yuengling and Miller Lite just in case the macro-drinkers were steadfast in their choice. To help promote the Blue & Gray being served I brought along a stack of Blue and Gray pint glasses for use by the folks at our table, rather than the standard red solo cup. Many people made surprised comments like "You brought your own glass?" Instead of long explanations, I generally replied with a simple "yes", as if I find nothing noteworthy in that action.

Blue & Gray Classic Lager is a Munich Helles style lager. It's a crisp, clean beer that will appeal to many people. The beer pours a golden yellow with a moderate white head. The aroma is sweet malt with slight grainy hint. The flavor is malty with an ever so slight sweetness. The malt is well-balanced with a lingering hop bitterness. The meal served was a typical institutional-style ham and potato dinner. The flavor of the Classic Lager allowed the bland food flavor to come through, and the beer provided a needed flavorful contrast to the food. I believe the alcohol percentage of the Class Lager to be 5% or less, so it is easy to drink over a long evening with friends.

It's no secret that I lean towards strong flavors in beer, be it hops or roasted chocolate malts. A simple lager is not often my choice. It's been awhile since I've had the Classic Lager from Blue & Gray, and I enjoyed getting back to basics very much. While enjoying my beer, I was thinking about the suggestions often made when trying to tempt macro-beer drinkers with craft beer. So often those suggestions lean towards Belgian-style beers or other non-typical beer flavors. I can't help but wonder why that is so. The macro drinkers are already showing a preference to a moderately flavored lager. Why not tempt them with similar style beer? Offer another "yellow" beer, one with more flavor, but not one that shocks with a big change.

This tactic seems to have worked for our function. I did not notice anyone drinking the Yuengling and Miller that was held in reserve. In fact, by the end of the evening the keg had kicked. Many attendees did opt for wine and stronger spirits, so not everyone drank beer. Nonetheless, we had actually ordered more beer than we have in the past, and this was the first time I recall that we did not have beer left over at the end of the evening.

In our quest to try new, bigger and bolder beers, let us not forget that there are good craft "basic" beers waiting to be enjoyed as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fredericksburg's Missing Cask Ale

They say patience is a virtue. For cask ale fans in the Fredericksburg area, it's a necessity.

Back in October, I received a press release for a new pub chain coming to Fredericksburg. The Pub's beer selection is said to "include cask-conditioned brews, ales and domestics that change on a rotating basis." The Pub was scheduled to open earlier this month, but has been delayed by changes to the exit design required by the local health department. A January opening is now planned.

Oh, by the way, this new establishment is now properly known as "The Fredericksburg Pub." This change comes after the attorney for a nearby business, also called The Pub, notified the owners of the new The Pub that the name was already in use in Spotsylvanina County. So let's see if I can explain. The Fredericksburg Pub is the new pub, it's not located in Fredericksburg City, but in Spotsylvania County. The Pub is the long established business, just down the street, also in Spotsylvania. Got it?

Readers will recall when I made a visit to the then under construction Capital Ale House, I was shown the preparations being made to support two casks of fresh ale. I've been making inquiries weekly but, as of last night, these taps are still unused. Here too, the wait for local cask ale continues.

On a related note, be sure to check out Tom Cizauskas' post at Yours For Good Fermentables regarding fake cask ale being passed off as the real thing. Let's hope we don't have to deal with such a travesty locally.

Update, February 22: The Fredericksburg Pub is reviewed here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend Beer Events

It's the weekend! That means it's time to try out some new beers. Here are the local retailers' tasting opportunities.

Friday, December 12 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine, Fredericksburg
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, Samuel Smith India Ale, Kona Pipeline Porter, Lancaster Strawberry Wheat, and Brooklyn Lager

Friday, December 12 - 5:30 - 7:30pm
Corks and Kegs, Richmond
Beer Tasting:
Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (California), O'Hara's Irish Stout (Ireland), and Manager's Special Surprise

Saturday, December 13 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Kybecca, Fredericksburg
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
Stone Pale Ale (San Diego), Southern Tier Choklat Imperial Chocolate Stout (New York), plus 1 Customer Choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Gouden Carolus Noel (Belgium), Southern Tier Choklat Imperial Chocolate Stout (New York) , plus 1 Customer Choice

Saturday, December 13 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Rick's Wine, Alexandria
Beer Tasting:
R.J. Rockers (SC) First Snow Ale, Allagash (ME) Interlude, N'Ice Chouffe (Belgium), Schlafly (MO) Oak-Aged Barleywine, Blue & Gray (VA) Minor Dementia

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

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Event schedules subject to change. Call ahead before traveling.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Random Bits From Here and There

These odds and ends are humorous in some ways, but in other ways not so much. It's a bizarre world in which we drink.

Shotstick is a drinking party toy designed to enable synchronized group drinking. An extensible pole holds a series of beer or shot glasses. Participants hold the Shotstick and when they drink, everyone's drink is "served" at the same time. I wonder what happens if everyone is not of the same height? I foresee major spillage. This ranks right up there (or is it down?) in usefulness with the Beer on a Stick.

iBreath is a combination breathalyzer and FM transmitter for the iPod. I must admit I would have never considered the advantages of bundling a breathalyzer and an FM transmitter. After attaching iBreath to an iPod, the user blows into a tube to administer an alcohol breath test. I assume that once the person determines they are not intoxicated, they can use the FM transmitter to make the drive home more enjoyable. How could this possibly be made more useful? Maybe an attached ice scraper would be handy as well.

Lastly, and by no means least disturbing, The Wall Street Journal brings word of trouble at that bulwark of childhood fun, Chuck E. Cheese's. Apparently it's not all that uncommon for fights to break out between adults at the restaurants.
Fights among guests are an issue for all restaurants, but security experts say they pose a particular problem for Chuck E. Cheese's, since it is designed to be a haven for children. Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children's birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.

Now some towns are asking CEC to step into the ring. Amid pressure from local politicians, some Chuck E. Cheese's have stopped serving alcohol and added security guards who carry pistols.

Fighting drunks and armed guards for your child's birthday party. The only thing missing is a Shotstick.

Dogfish Head iPhone App - AleBoards

AleBoards is a free application for the iPhone that keeps tabs on your local DogFish Head Alehouse. When launched, the app downloads the photographs of the chalkboards that are posted on the restaurant's website. The chalkboards list the current tap selections. There are two Dogfish Head Alehouse locations, one in Gaithersburg, MD and the other Falls Church, VA. You can switch between locations with the tap of a button.

This application might be of interest only to those living near the restaurants, but it's an interesting and fun way to promote the beer nonetheless.

Download AleBoards.
Thanks to FABTS member James for the pointer via the club's mailing list.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Food and Beer Online Lookup Tool

Here's another fun online tool for looking up beer and food pairings. This one is brought to us by Michigan Live. The Flash application presents beer suggestions for a variety of foods. As with the Wisconsin Cheese Cupid website mentioned recently, this site also has a regional focus. In addition to general beer style recommendations, the suggested pairings include specific beers from Michigan brewers such as Arcadia, Bell's, Founders, and New Holland, among others.

The web page also includes advice from some Michigan experts, including Fred Bueltmann from New Holland Brewing Company. I do enjoy seeing these sorts of articles online where they are seen by folks who may not be familiar with matching food and beer. Simple, and non-intimidating. It's good beer evangelization. And, since we can get some of the suggested Michigan beers here in Virginia, it will be easy to try out some of the suggestions!

Visit the Michigan Beer and Food page here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All About Beer - Beer Styles Bonus Issue

Last week I received a surprise in the mail when All About Beer Magazine mailed its 2008 Bonus Issue, The Complete World of Beer Styles. This is a gift to subscribers, but I understand it will be available for sale on newsstands early next year.

The Beer Styles guide is based on Keith Florian Klemp's articles from past issues of All About Beer. Klemp's writing is not so much about technical style guidelines, but about the history and geography, the "personality" of the beer. To quote from Julie Johnson's introduction:
Keith Klemp's articles have always approached beer styles as evolving narratives that weave together natural resources, shifting cultures and changing technologies. The stories are less about original gravity and appropriate levels of bitterness, and more about how geology, agronomy, culture and history give rise to beers of different characters that we later come to term "styles."

The articles in this issue are grouped by the origin of the styles. Three broad categories are presented; Styles from the German-Czech Tradition, Styles from the Belgian-French Tradition, and Styles from the British Tradition. These are further broken down into a total of 21 style families. This taxonomy provides an easy way to understand the origins of the wide variety of beer we have today.

While I've not yet devoured the entire issue, I am thoroughly enjoying the read so far. This approach to beer styles is more interesting than reading about IBUs, OGs, FGs, SRMs, and other technical minutia. All of these details have their place, but to know where, why, and how a beer developed tells us so much more about the beer we enjoy. Brewing tradition and innovation are intrically woven into the culture and history of the region. Understand that and you understand the beer.

In addition to the historical information, the guide does include recommendations for serving temperatures, glassware and even food pairings. The guide also makes note of commercially available examples of the beer styles discussed. Going further than a simple list, each of the examples is accompanied by tasting notes and other information about the beer or brewery. This special issue is as informative as any reference book on beer.

If you aren't already a subscriber to All About Beer, then watch your local newsstand and pick up a copy of The Complete World of Beer Styles when you see it. (And you should subscribe.)

Update, December 16: See this post to win a free copy for yourself.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Beer and Cheese" Gets Some Love

A wise friend recently opined that "most any beer pairs well with most any cheese." That's a statement that I agree with wholeheartedly and frequently put into practice. Even though "wine and cheese" gets all the publicity, that pairing often fails in practice. A new web site from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board helps to promote "beer and cheese." Wisconsin Cheese Cupid blends Flash animation and a sultry-voiced narrator to suggest cheese pairings for a number of different beer styles. Being Wisconsin-based, the site does focus on cheese produced in that state. Cheeses to pair with wines and spirits are also suggested. Still, it's a fun site that just might tempt the wine drinker to try something new.

Visit Cheese Cupid.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Session #22: The Repeal of Prohibition

The 22nd installment of The Session is hosted by 21st Amendment Brewery. In an appropriate twist of fate, this Beer Blogging Friday falls on December 5th, the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in the U.S. Our host describes this month's theme thusly:
In 1920, there were thousands of breweries across America making unique, hand-crafted beer. The passage of Prohibition wiped out this great culture. On December 5, 1933, the states ratified the 21st Amendment, repealing the 18th Amendment, thus ending 13 years of Prohibition in America. At the 21st Amendment Brewery, the repeal of Prohibition means we can celebrate the right to brew beer, the freedom to be innovative, and the obligation to have fun.

What does the repeal of Prohibition mean to you? How will you celebrate your right to drink beer?

For me, this anniversary serves as a reminder of what was, and what threatens to be again; the return of Prohibitionist restrictions. There are many forces, even today, working hard to take away our right to enjoy alcoholic beverages. They forget, or choose to ignore, the lessons of history and are willing to repeat the mistakes of the past. These forces often misinterpret biblical teachings for their own purposes. They distort the truth in order to advance their agenda. It is against these organizations that we must be ever-vigilent. I don't want to rehash items I've already covered, but will list a few reminders of the battle we face.

Right here in Virginia, we've seen the battle against the Shooting Creek Brewery in Floyd County. There, so-called Christians fought the opening of a legal business. One of their tactics was to disparage people who would visit the brewery. "We don't need no more drunks out there" according to resident Gloria Underwood. The Nelson County Baptists prohibitionists claim to oppose the brewery "on biblical grounds." How they square that with biblical events such as the Wedding Feast at Cana and the Last Supper is unexplained.

Let's not forget the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). This is the group that led the movement that brought us Prohibition in the first place, and they are still active today. I covered this group previously. Like the group in Nelson County, they base their claims on their personal, and distorted, bible interpretations.

The ever-present Mother Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is America's most visible neo-prohibitionist organization. Organized under a noble purpose, the group has transformed its mission from education about drunk driving into lobbying against any alcohol consumption. They have proven they will go to any length, including emotional terrorism, to promote their agenda.

Not to be forgotten, the Prohibition Party has run a candidate for the presidency of the United States every election year since 1872. Even though the candidates have been ineffective, never garnering more than a quarter of a million votes, they continue to press their agenda. Gene Amondson (warning: auto-play audio) was apparently the Prohibitionist presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008.

Though this next example doesn't apply to the United States, if you need another reminder on how quickly things can change, take a look at a country famous for its fine wines. Thanks to restrictionist influences, the France now faces a ban on online advertising, and even websites that mention alcohol. With that victory under their belt, it would be foolhardy to think the anti-alcohol forces will stop with their campaign with advertising restrictions. Thousands of French drinkers could be held under the thumb of extremists! Yes, the same thing could happen here unless we are vigilant.

How do we counter these attacks? First of all, take away the ammunition from the opponent. Drink responsibly. The drunk driving issue is one of the biggest issues the neo-prohibitonists have going for them. Many of their points are valid, so we need to remove them from the equation. Educate young people. Our youth have been short-changed when it comes to learning how to enjoy alcoholic beverages responsibly. Drink craft beer. The craft beer industry as a whole promotes a more responsible image than the factory beers have historically done. Support your local brewery. Local breweries are often very active in doing good works in their communities.

I'm certainly not trying to be an alarmist. Let's celebrate the repeal of Prohibition and be thankful that we have so many fine craft beers, and other alcoholic beverages to enjoy legally and openly. Just keep in mind that these organizations don't represent ancient history. They are actively working today to take away your freedom to responsibly enjoy alcoholic beverages. On this anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, there will be many celebrations to mark the occasion. And the celebrations are warranted. We should however, take heed at this time to remember that the battle may have been won, but the war continues. By remaining vigilent and active, we can stave off the forces that seek to remove our ability to enjoy good beer.

How will I celebrate this occasion? By sharing a bottle of American craft beer with my wife, in the comfort of my home, and demonstrating to my son that it's an okay thing to do.

Be sure to check the 21st Amendment Brewery website for the summary of all this month's contributions to The Session.

Update, December 9: The Session roundup has been posted here.

Weekend Beer Events

It's full out shopping season, complete with traffic jams and crowded stores. Since you are out anyway, you might as well stop in one of our local retailers and try out some new beers. And pick up something to enjoy at the end of your shopping day.

Friday, December 5 - 5:30 - 7:30pm
Corks and Kegs, Richmond
Beer Tasting:
Breckinridge Christmas Ale, Obovoid Oak Aged Oatmeal Stout, St. Peter's Organic English Ale

Friday, December 5 - 5:30 - 8:30pm
Virginia Wine Experience, Fredericksburg
Beer Tasting:
Rogue Santa's Private Reserve, Pyramid Snowcap, Hebrew Rejewvinator Harvest Ale

Saturday, December 6 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Kybecca, Fredericksburg
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
Eggenberg Pilsner, Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine, plus 1 Customer Choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Delirium Noel, Troëgs Mad Elf, plus 1 Customer Choice

Saturday, December 6 - 1:00 - 4:00pm
Total Wine, Fredericksburg
Anheuser-Busch Tasting:
Red Hook Winter Hook, Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale, Budweiser American Ale

Saturday, December 6 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Rick's Wine, Alexandria
Beer Tasting:
North Coast (CA) Red Seal Ale, Wild Goose (MD) Snow Goose Winter Ale, Scaldis (Belgium) Noel, Dogfish Head (DE) Chicory Stout, Lagunitas (CA) Ruben and the Jets, Eggenberg (Austria) Samichlaus Bier

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

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Event schedules subject to change. Call ahead before traveling.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Budweiser Clydesdales Make a Local Appearance

I was driving by the Spotsylvania Towne Centre this afternoon when I spotted three Budweiser trucks in the parking lot. That could only mean one thing, the Budweiser Clydesdales were making an appearance. I remember visiting Grant's Farm in St. Louis as a child and seeing these majestic animals. Even today I am still impressed at the sight. And judging by the crowd that had gathered, I am not the only one.

More photos are here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Last Event at Old Dominion?

With the word of the closing of Old Dominion Brewery came laments about the loss of the monthly "Taste of the Tanks" events. At these first Wednesday gatherings, visitors were treated to brewery tours and early tastes of upcoming Old Dominion releases. Duane Carr who frequently attended the gatherings posted this to the DC-Beer mailing list.
From what I was told by the brewers out in Ashburn in November, this WEDNESDAY - Dec. 3 - will be the FINAL Open House at the soon to be shuttered brewery out in Ashburn,VA. The brewers have promised to bring out all of their one off/single batch/experimental beers that have been aging in the warehouse in bourbon barrels, casks, etc. They promised around 10 different casks/barrels in addition to the line-up of drafts ( last time, they had the Baltic Porter, an oaked aged barrel Millennuim, the new pale ale, and a few others ). With the brewery in Ashburn closing up by the end of the FIRST QUARTER of 2009, this will be the final opportunity for touring, tasting, and lifting a few glasses to the Old Dominion brewery in Virginia that will soon be just a memory. So, before the brewers stop brewing and before Coastal/Fordham pulls all of the tanks to Delaware, let us join one more time in the back of the brewery to share in the fellowship, good beer and good memories that Old Dominion has provided out in Ashburn for almost 20 years. The event begins around 6pm or so...maybe a little later.....and goes until????????

It's likely just two more seasonals will be released from the Ashburn facility, Millennium this Winter and Spring Buck in the early Spring. If you can get to Ashburn on Wednesday evening (that's tonight), you'll be part of an historic event.

Update, December 4: Tom Cizauskas (Yours For Good Fermentables) attended the event and has posted a photo essay.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December Giveaway

We've got another fun prize lined up for the December Giveaway. This month's prize is provided by Awesomedeals911, providers of cool gifts, including many beer-related items. They are donating an Officially Licensed Brooklyn Brewery Bar Stool.

To enter, simply contribute a comment to any post on this blog throughout the month of December and you will be entered into a drawing for the Brooklyn Brewery Bar Stool. I'll select one entry at random at the end of the month. Each accepted and published comment in December will be counted as an entry in the drawing.* It's that simple. Awesomedeal911 will ship the bar stool directly to the winner. Enjoy, and good luck.

Update, January 1: and the winner is ...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Absurd and Pointless DUI Legislation

I've written previously of my support for responsible alcohol use, and my support for looking at ways to encourage responsible consumption. We know that whenever the neo-prohibitionists plea their cause, they often bring up the drunk driving issue. You'll get no argument from me that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with severely and definitively. However, a 2008 bill being resubmitted to the 2009 Virginia Assembly session is a prime example of the sort of weak action we don't need. HB 1287 states in part:
Any person convicted a third or subsequent time of a violation of §18.2-266 who has a motor vehicle registered in his name in the Commonwealth shall display, on any and all such registered motor vehicles, license plates with red numerals and letters on a yellow background, issued by the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Such license plates shall be displayed for five years following the restoration of the person's driving privilege. If a person is convicted of a subsequent offense during the time when he is already required to display such license plates, the display periods shall run consecutively. The court shall require the person, upon conviction, to surrender to the court the license plates of any and all vehicles registered in his name.

[Emphasis added]

I understand what the sponsors hope to accomplish, but is this really a meaningful action? The absurdity of the penalty struck me right away. Convicted a third or subsequent time? Where is the backbone of our justice system? The bill calls for a mandatory 90 day jail sentence after three DUI offenses within a 10-year period. But once the repeat offender is back on the road, and is re-issued his driver's license again, we'll flag his car with a special alert. Of course, that only applies to a vehicle actually registered to the offender. Forgiveness and sympathy aside, we need to protect against the loss of innocent life. After three or more DUI convictions, it should be pretty obvious that this person, willfully or not, has little regard for his or her own safety, or the safety of family, neighbors, or anyone else on the road. When a drunk driver is headed down the wrong side of the road directly at you, will you feel better seeing the red and yellow license tag warning you, as your car is crumpled around your body?

Maybe the fear of public humiliation could act as a deterrent in some cases. But face it, after three convictions it's probably safe to say the person doesn't really care. Let's put in place serious intervention, and keep repeat offenders off the road. Stop wasting time and money on feel good legislation. Real action on this front, especially action involving education, will remove the DUI argument from the neo-prohibitionist arsenal.

In an ironic twist, it appears that even MADD does not support this legislation.

November Giveaway Winner

The winner of the Flying Dog t-shirt in the November Giveaway is Tamre, "The Big Tee". She blogs at Short Change. The pen name of this month's randomly selected winner is purely coincidence. There were a total of 70 comments left at Musings Over a Pint in November, from 39 participants. Thanks to all who submitted comments.

I want to extend a hearty Thank You to Flying Dog Brewery for providing the prize for this contest. Not only does Flying Dog make really good beer, they are also an active supporter of the craft beer community.

I have another exciting prize lined up for December. I'll post that in the next few days, but you can start commenting now to be entered in this month's drawing.

Attention brewers, writers, craft beer promoters: Do you want to sponsor a monthly drawing on the Musings? Contact me.

Update: December contest info is now posted here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dominion Baltic Porter

Dominion Baltic Porter is the new Winter release from Old Dominion Brewery, still of Ashburn, Virginia.

Dominion Baltic Porter pours a dark cola-like color. The beer is not opaque, and shows some red around the edges. There's a thick beige head that slowly drops to a thin persistent ring. The aroma is fairly mild, consisting mostly of lightly roasted malt and coffee. There's a faint alcohol presence coming through in the aroma. The taste is roasted coffee balanced with lightly sweet malt. Hop bitterness is reserved. A mild licorice flavor is also noted. The roasted malt flavors linger in the finish. Mouthfeel is light, with an oily finish and low carbonation. The flavor profile is not extreme, but presents a nice balance that should appeal to many people.

I paired my glass of Dominion Baltic Porter with a plate of mixed cheeses. I had some Dubliner, Sharp Cheddar, and Chipotle pepper cheeses, along with some rye and wheat crackers. The combination made for an enjoyable evening meal. The 7.0% alcohol level in the beer is well-masked and beer goes down quite easily, dangerously so in fact.

I continue to be impressed with the seasonal releases coming out of Old Dominion, and the Baltic Porter was no exception. There's been a lot of angst from local fans due to the recent changes at Old Dominion. This new beer shows that the brewers there are still producing good beer. It was interesting to see a bottling date of 11/20/08 stamped on the bottle. I first saw the beer on retail shelves just six days after that. I'm sure some places had it even sooner. That the beer is distributed so rapidly is a testament to the advantages of being a local brewery. Whether or not we'll still see that sort of distribution system once Old Dominion moves brewing operations to Delaware remains to be seen. Even more importantly, I hope the beers coming out of the new brewery location continue in the fine tradition we've come to expect from Old Dominion Brewing Company.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Weekend Beer Events

I only have a few tasting events to list for this weekend. If you are out braving the holiday sale crowds, take a break and stop in at one of these local tastings. You might find a new beer to serve your holiday party guests.

Friday, November 28 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Rick's Wine, Alexandria
Beer Tasting:
Kona Pipeline Porter, Abita Christmas Ale, Brooklyn Winter Ale, Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale

Saturday, November 29 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Kybecca, Fredericksburg
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
Bell's Christmas Ale, Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, plus 1 Customer Choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Bell's Christmas Ale, Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, plus 1 Customer Choice

Saturday, November 29 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Rick's Wine, Alexandria
Beer Tasting:
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock Rauchbier, Blue & Gray Spiced Winter Ale

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

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Event schedules subject to change. Call ahead before traveling.

Thanksgiving Day and A Growler Assortment

As noted previously, the wife and mother of our happy home is spending the week in Montana, assisting her parents after her Dad's recent heart surgery. My son and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving Day at the home of some dear, and generous, friends. We started our day with morning Mass, then headed out mid-day to enjoy Thanksgiving at my buddy Frank's home.

While the boys alternated between video games inside and basketball outside, Frank, Michelle, and I enjoyed good conversation while nibbling on dips and cheeses. Frank had recently returned from a trip to Tennessee, and as he often does when traveling, brought back several growlers of the local beer. So while we watched some unexciting football on TV we sampled three beers from The Blackhorse Pub & Brewery in Clarksville, TN.

First up was the Barnstormer Red. This Amber Ale pours a copper-red color with a very thin head. The aroma is caramel malt. The taste is also creamy caramel malt. Other than a faint citrus note, there is little hop profile. Barnstormer Red is a pretty basic session beer, and I would imagine it's a foundation beer at the brewpub.

Next we had the brewery's seasonal Nut Brown Ale. When Frank poured a couple of glasses I was immediately struck by how dark the beer was. In the aroma I picked up bitter chocolate and some nuttiness. The flavor was that of bitter chocolate, along with some roasted malt flavors. I didn't get as much sweet malt as I had expected in a brown ale. In fact, Frank and I initially wondered if the beers were mixed up and we were perhaps tasting a porter or stout. Despite the slightly unexpected flavor profile, this is a nice beer and one I enjoyed quite a bit.

The third growler contained the Coalminer's Stout. This beer poured very dark, with a thin beige head. The aroma is dark coffee and chocolate. The flavor is roasted coffee with some bitter hops that linger in the finish. I was somewhat reminded of an oatmeal stout. The mouthfeel is creamy with a moderately dry finish. Nothing too bitter or heavy, but a nice dry stout.

It's always fun to try out new beers, and it's certainly hard to beat fresh beer. While enjoying the Blackhorse beers I was thinking about the hundreds of small brewpubs around the country that are putting out fun beers. Beers that are probably known only to the local population. Trying a few of them out was certainly a fitting activity for the holiday celebration.

Oh, in case you're wondering, I brought along some Ommegang Hennepin Saison to drink with the traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and vegetables. At home, later in the evening I enjoyed a relaxing glass of Tröegs Mad Elf Holiday Ale. I hope your Thanksgiving Day was filled with family, good friends, and good beer.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I hope everyone, no matter where they live, will take a few moments to consider all they have to be thankful for. There's plenty to complain about in today's world, but for today, let's focus on the positive.

As for me, I'm thankful for a loving family, a roof over my head, and the freedom to worship as I believe. I'm also thankful for the many friendships I enjoy. This year, Colleen is away for the week and not home with us for Thanksgiving. She is with her parents in Montana, helping them out while her father recovers from heart surgery. My son and I have had at least 4 invitations to celebrate Thanksgiving with other families. I am truly blessed to have so many generous and thoughtful friends. In fact, all week friends have made offers of assistance, from getting our son to his sports events, to dinner invitations. I've hardly had a chance to prove that I am capable of cooking!

I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving. I also hope you have the pleasure of sharing good beer with family and friends.

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."
-- G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Two BAC Calculators for the iPhone

Notice: The applications reviewed below are for entertainment purposes only. I do not condone irresponsible drinking, nor do I suggest using these tools to determine your ability to drive, or even to be socially acceptable.

I've been looking at a few of the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) calculators I found in the iPhone App Store. There are half a dozen or so similar applications listed in the store. For this review I picked two that seemed fairly full featured.

Last Call is a free application from Avvo, Inc. Interestingly, Avvo is an attorney rating and profiling service. To use the application you first must enter your weight and sex in the preferences. As you consume alcoholic beverages you add them to the drink log. The drink selection menu is divided into Beer, Wine, Shot, Cooler, and Cocktail categories. Using Beer as an example, the selection is further divided into generic styles, with predetermined alcohol levels ranging from Low Alcohol Beer (2.7%) to Barley Wine (10%). It may be necessary to pick a percentage that is close, rather than exact. After selecting the beer type, you then pick the serving size. Serving sizes are also fixed, and range from Small Glass (8 oz) to Pitcher (48 oz). After selecting the serving size, you are returned to the main screen. The main screen shows the drinks you've entered so far, and your BAC level. There is also a graph that shows the trend, and where you fall in relation to the .08 legal intoxication level.

When you first add a drink to Last Call, the calculations do not immediately reflect the added alcohol. There appears to be a time lag, which I assume is meant to indicate the rate of absorption into the blood stream. After adding a drink, the reflected alcohol will rise with time. After a while, when new drinks are no longer added, the alcohol level will slowly drop. The updating display gives an interesting visual prediction of when the alcohol level in your body will be reduced or negated. As a stark reminder of the dangers of over-indulgence, there is also a button labeled "Intoxicated." Selecting this presents you with an option, tied to Google Maps, to locate a taxi service. A second option is labeled "Find Nearby DUI Lawyers." I strongly urge you to avoid needing that option.

Cheers! is a similar application, but with a small $2.99 price tag. The interface is a little more complicated than the previous application, but provides a greater level of granularity. To begin you set your weight, sex, and the legal BAC limit. The main screen shows the drink log, and also provides data on the total ounces of actual alcohol consumed. The drink selection menu is divided into Beer, Wine, and Liquor categories. In each of these sections, you enter the serving size in half ounce increments, and the alcohol percentage in 1% increments. There is also a quantity selection. I guess that might be useful if you are really throwing back the drinks.

The status tab shows the current BAC percentage to a somewhat excessive 8 decimal places, along with a clear indication of where that is in relation to the legal limit you entered in the preferences. Hitting the refresh button will recalculate the percentage. Like Last Call, this application also provides a link to Google Maps in order to find a local taxi should you find yourself in that situation. There is also a drink log screen that shows all the entries in the session. In contrast to Last Call, as a drink is added the application assumes the alcohol is already absorbed into your blood stream.

Both of these applications provide similar results. When entering the same data into both applications, the reported BAC level is higher initially in Cheers!. However, both applications eventually synchronize, and the rate at which the level drops appears to be about the same. Cheers! offers more granular drink entry options, for both serving size and alcohol content. I found the display of the BAC trend to be an interesting feature of Last Call. Both applications can record drinks for just one user. It might be fun to be able enter data for a drinking partner at the same time.

To repeat what was noted at the top of this post, I consider both of these apps, and similar ones offered in the iPhone App store, to be for entertainment purposes only. There are additional factors that affect the rate of absorption of alcohol into your body that cannot be taken into account by these applications. Everyone's metabolism rate is different. To properly determine BAC requires a breathalyzer or a blood test. Responsible drinkers will know, and respect their limits.

Download Last Call on iTunes here.
Download Cheers! on iTunes here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Winter Beer Trinity

While deciding what I wanted to drink on a recent cold evening, my decision was essentially focused on three options. It was the same three beers that I find myself going back to over and over in the Winter months. I dubbed it my Winter Beer Trinity. (We Catholics are naturally inclined to group in sets of three. :-)

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout - I picked up a case of the Brooklyn Brewery Winter release on the day it arrived at the local retailer. Black Chocolate Stout is my choice for a late evening repast. Though frequently served with a dark chocolate dessert, I most often enjoy this one from a snifter, sipping slowly as I unwind from a busy day.

Clipper City Winter Storm - This ESB from Clipper City is my usual go-to beer, with meals or by itself, during the Winter. I'll stock up on enough to be able to still enjoy it occasionally during the summer months. This beer combines sweet malt with bitter hops for a balanced treat at any time of the year.

Sierra Nevada Celebration - The brewers at Sierra Nevada take a slightly different approach to Winter beer. Neither a dark beer, nor high in alcohol (relatively speaking), Celebration is a rich, hoppy treat. The enticing hop aroma and flavor make this one easy to enjoy at anytime.

All of these beers get frequent mention on the Musings. Their frequent mention is one of the things that earned them a place in my Winter Trinity. There are numerous Winter releases that we enjoy and look forward to each year. But these three are staples in the house for as long as they are available. What is your Winter Beer Trinity? You can share your picks in the comments.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Brewpub Kid Cups

There was a recent thread on DC-Beer discussing kid-friendly pubs in Maryland. I thought it was an interesting topic. For beer to become more mainstream, it needs to foster a family-friendly image as part of the change in common perceptions. The other day I grabbed a plastic cup from the kitchen cabinet and noticed it was from Outer Banks Brewing in North Carolina. The cup was collected during a family dinner at the brewpub this summer, when our son enjoyed a lemonade while Colleen and I sampled the house beers. We actually have another cup from the same brewpub. That one is from a few years back, before Outer Banks Brewing put up its windmill.

Granted, this brewery is located in a beach town, so plastic cups are handy for other purposes. In this particular case, it might not technically qualify as a kid-cup. However, if any pub goes to the expense of printing cups for kid drinks, it's probably a good indication of family-friendliness. What do you think?

Sharing Good Beer For A Good Cause

The annual auction gala for our son's school was held this weekend. This is always a fun event and helps to raise much needed funds for the school. The auctioneer is the 2006-2007 International Auctioneer’s Championship winner and he is quite adept at getting the crowd excited. It's a good time for school parents to dress up, leave the kids at home, and have some fun for a good cause. This year's auction raised about $50,000 for the school. Historically, there are usually one or two wine dinners to be auctioned off. Last year, Colleen and I decided to donate beer tasting. The beer tasting was well-received and we were asked to repeat the donation for this year's auction.

The beer tasting is an event for 6 people, in the winner's home, that includes 6-8 different beers. We provide food pairings for each beer, along with some (hopefully) informed narrative. This year our donation includes a couple of glasses and a copy of "Ultimate Beer" by Michael Jackson. We also threw in a bottle of Delirium Noël for the winner to enjoy now. Although the offer states 6-8 beers, last year we ended up including 11 different beer and food pairings. You can read the beer menu from that event here.

The bidding for the beer tasting this year was very lively. In the end, the couple who won the tasting event last year walked away with the highest bid. They had been telling us they had such a good time that they would be fighting hard to win this year. And they did just that. Their winning bid was $850. That's $500 more than last year! Needless to say, Colleen and I are quite pleased. It's a thrill to be able to help raise money for the school, and at the same time do something we enjoy very much. I look forward to "paying up" on this donation.

BTW, this year Colleen and I successfully bid on a six course wine dinner. It's a gourmet dinner to be held lakeside in the Spring. I look forward to it as well.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Devils Backbone Now Open

Friday marked the opening of the long-awaited Devils Backbone brewpub in Nelson County. Family commitments conflicted with the opening day, but I'll be visiting soon. Meanwhile I'll enjoy the reports from folks who did make the trip. 

Brewer Jason Oliver created an impressive array of brews in time for the opening. Wintergreen Weiss, Ale of Fergus Scottish 60 Schilling, Eight Point IPA, Spike Pale Ale, and Black Rock Oatmeal Stout were reported to be available on Friday. Still in the tanks and ready soon are a Vienna Lager, a Helles lager and a Saison. Jason's descriptions of these beers can be read in this earlier post.

It sounds as if everyone had a good time. Some folks also visited nearby Starr Hill and Blue Mountain breweries. The Virginia Beer Trail is coming into fruition, one brewery at a time.

Thanks to Chuck Triplett for the use of the Devils Backbone photo.

100 Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire

I came across this recently at Art of Drink. Entitled Imbibers One Hundred, the author has compiled a list of 100 drinks that he believes everyone should try, at least once. He writes:
Remember, this is just a list of things you should try, not the "best of the world" list. The list is about contrast and variation of flavour. I’m sure a few scotch addict’s, vodkaphiles and beeroholics will recommend a particular brand, but in most cases, this list is style specific, instead of brand specific. But please feel free to make recommendations.
Anyone is welcome to play along. I've only hit 43, that I can remember. (Hey, I'm a beer guy.) But it gives me something to aim for anyway.

1) Copy this list into your blog, with instructions.
2) Bold all the drinks you’ve imbibed.
3) Cross out any items that you won’t touch
4) Post a comment at Art of Drink and link to your results.
If you don’t have a blog, just count the ones you’ve tried and post the number in the comments section.

List of Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire
  1. Manhattan Cocktail

  2. Kopi Luwak (Weasle Coffee)

  3. French / Swiss Absinthe

  4. Rootbeer

  5. Gin Martini

  6. Sauternes

  7. Whole Milk

  8. Tequila (100% Agave)

  9. XO Cognac

  10. Espresso

  11. Spring Water (directly from the spring)

  12. Gin & Tonic

  13. Mead

  14. Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap) Trappist Ale

  15. Chateau d’Yquem

  16. Budweiser

  17. Maraschino Liqueur

  18. Mojito

  19. Orgeat

  20. Grand Marnier

  21. Mai Tai (original)

  22. Ice Wine (Canadian)

  23. Red Bull

  24. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice

  25. Bubble Tea

  26. Tokaji

  27. Chicory

  28. Islay Scotch

  29. Pusser’s Navy Rum

  30. Fernet Branca

  31. Fresh Pressed Apple Cider

  32. Bourbon

  33. Australian Shiraz

  34. Buckley’s Cough Syrup

  35. Orange Bitters

  36. Margarita (classic recipe)

  37. Molasses & Milk

  38. Chimay Blue

  39. Wine of Pines (Tepache)

  40. Green Tea

  41. Daiginjo Sake

  42. Chai Tea

  43. Vodka (chilled, straight)

  44. Coca-Cola

  45. Zombie (Beachcomber recipe)

  46. Barley Wine

  47. Brewed Choclate (Xocolatl)

  48. Pisco Sour

  49. Lemonade

  50. Speyside Single Malt

  51. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee

  52. Champagne (Vintage)

  53. Rosé (French)

  54. Bellini

  55. Caipirinha

  56. White Zinfandel (Blush)

  57. Coconut Water

  58. Cerveza

  59. Cafe au Lait

  60. Ice Tea

  61. Pedro Ximenez Sherry

  62. Vintage Port

  63. Hot Chocolate

  64. German Riesling

  65. Pina Colada

  66. El Dorado 15 Year Rum

  67. Chartreuse

  68. Greek Wine

  69. Negroni

  70. Jägermeister

  71. Chicha

  72. Guiness

  73. Rhum Agricole

  74. Palm Wine

  75. Soju

  76. Ceylon Tea (High Grown)

  77. Belgian Lambic

  78. Mongolian Airag

  79. Doogh, Lassi or Ayran

  80. Sugarcane Juice

  81. Ramos Gin Fizz

  82. Singapore Sling

  83. Mint Julep

  84. Old Fashioned

  85. Perique

  86. Jenever (Holland Gin)

  87. Chocolate Milkshake

  88. Traditional Italian Barolo

  89. Pulque

  90. Natural Sparkling Water

  91. Cuban Rum

  92. Asti Spumante

  93. Irish Whiskey

  94. Château Margaux

  95. Two Buck Chuck

  96. Screech

  97. Akvavit

  98. Rye Whisky

  99. German Weissbier

  100. Daiquiri (classic)