Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Old Dominion Spring Buck

Spring Buck Blonde Ale is the latest release from Old Dominion Brewery in Ashburn, VA. Though the bottles of Old Dominion's Spring release tout a new name and design, and the beer a new recipe, the six-pack carrier they are packaged in bears the "Spring Brew" name and logo from previous years. Since the brewery promotes this as a Spring beer, as with the Tröegs Nugget Nectar mentioned previously, I'll go ahead and claim this is an early harbinger of the approaching Spring. The release party for this brew was held at the brewery on January 9, which also is the bottling date stamped on the bottles I picked up today.

The Old Dominion web site describes Spring Buck as a "full-flavored Blonde Ale has a crisp spiced finish with hints of chamomile and orange." Spring Buck pours a bright amber-gold color with a white head that drops rapidly leaving a ring, but little lacing. The beer is very effervescent, with a never-ending stream of bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass. The aroma is honey, with some faint hints of pepper, clove and banana. There's a slight yeastiness noted as well. The flavor is predominately honey, orange, and a typical Belgian spice flavor palette. The mouthfeel is moderately thick with a creamy feeling, though the visible carbonation isn't felt in the mouth. The aftertaste leaves a lingering but light pepper bite. A Belgian Blond Ale, Old Dominion Spring Buck weighs in at 7.5% ABV.

I totally missed Old Dominion's Winter 2007 release, so I jumped on this one as soon as I saw it. That it showed up in the grocery store so quickly must be a result of Anheuser-Busch becoming the master distributor for Old Dominion in 2007. Old Dominion Spring Buck Blonde Ale is a nice example of the style. There's nothing extreme about it, and given the recent success of Belgian-style beers from the large macro-breweries, this one could be a hit with consumers as well.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bangkok Boulevard, a Fredericksburg Beer Destination

I've mentioned Bangkok Boulevard in the past, they are one of the hosts of the FABTS gatherings, and a great destination for craft beer in the area. On Saturday afternoon Colleen and I stopped in for a quick beer and a snack while we were our running errands. Bangkok Boulevard sports a beer menu of around 150 bottled beers, including large selections from Belgium, England and Germany. There are a few draft selections as well, but it's the bottle listing that draws beer lovers in. The restaurant also has a large selection of glassware and beers are served in the proper glass. It's apparent the management understands and appreciates craft beer.

As the name suggests this is a Thai restaurant. On this visit we were sticking with appetizers. We ordered the Lamb Ping which is grilled lamb on skewers served with a spicy country style hot sauce, and the Kanom Jeeb, steamed pork and crabmeat dumplings with sweet Thai soy sauce. Sitting at the bar one can view the shelves of bottles on display which is easier than scanning the printed menu in my opinion. Colleen paired the food with a Morland Old Speckled Hen. I had decided on Belhaven Scottish Ale, but our server had pulled out a Monkman's Slaughter Ale while going through the beer cooler and I was intrigued by the name, so I opted for that instead.

Monkman's Slaughter Ale is an Extra Special/Strong Bitter. I've started to be intrigued by English Ales after reading a few Michael Jackson books. The beer pours a copper brown with a thin head. The aroma is sweet malt with some apple fruitiness in the background. The taste is bitter hops over a sweet malt backbone. There’s a distinct tartness to this as well. It was mildly shocking at first but after a few sips I rather liked it. I was curious about the tartness, but after reading the reviews on BeerAdvocate, it seems to be par for this ale. The mouthfeel is thin with slight carbonation. My pint went down easily and quickly.

The appetizers were delicious. In fact we spent some time debating whether to have more, or to go ahead and order more beer and stay for dinner. We've had dinner here in the past and the food is excellent. We didn't stay this time, but we'll be back. If you're looking for good food and an impressive beer selection in Fredericksburg, Bangkok Boulevard is the place to go.

Update: Bangkok Boulevard closed in March 2008.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This Day in History - Canned Beer

On January 24, 1935 the first canned beer was offered for sale. From this article at the History Channel web site:
Canned beer makes its debut on this day in 1935. In partnership with the American Can Company, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger's Finest Beer and Krueger's Cream Ale to faithful Krueger drinkers in Richmond, Virginia. Ninety-one percent of the drinkers approved of the canned beer, driving Krueger to give the green light to further production.

By the late 19th century, cans were instrumental in the mass distribution of foodstuffs, but it wasn't until 1909 that the American Can Company made its first attempt to can beer. This was unsuccessful, and the American Can Company would have to wait for the end of Prohibition in the United States before it tried again. Finally in 1933, after two years of research, American Can developed a can that was pressurized and had a special coating to prevent the fizzy beer from chemically reacting with the tin.

For nearly 70 years, canned beer in America remained the province of the macro-breweries. Then in 2002 Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado became the first U.S. craft brewery to brew and can its own beer. The rest, as they say is history. More and more craft brewers are putting their beer in cans. Other craft breweries offering at least some of their beers in cans include Sly Fox Brewing, Surly Brewing, Ska Brewing and New England Brewing. And craft beer drinkers are realizing the benefits of cans as well. Cans keep the beer fresher longer, they are more economical to transport, and they can be taken places where glass containers often are forbidden, such as beaches and parks. Of course, whenever practical the beer should still be poured into proper glassware for consumption.

For more reading see the complete History Channel article. Lew Bryson's "You Can Can Craft Beer" article has more on the history of canned craft beer.

Update, Jan 25: According to this article in the DCist, all 29 beers offered at The Red Derby in Washington, DC are canned, craft beers included.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter

After a few nights in the lower 20's, the time is right for another Baltic-style Porter. Previous cool evenings have found us enjoying Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter and Victory Baltic Thunder. This evening I opted for the Gonzo Imperial Porter from Flying Dog Brewery, recently of Maryland.

The beer pours opaque black with a thick dark tan head. The head slowly fades to leave plenty of lacing on the sides of the glass. A strong aroma of dark chocolate initially hits the nose, followed by coffee and light citrus hops. Do I detect a bit of smokiness as well? The flavors are as complex as the aroma with heavy roasted malts, chocolate and expresso flavors coming through. All this is followed by a kick of citrus hoppiness that hangs on through the finish. This comes from dry hopping with Cascade hops. The mouthfeel is thick and creamy, with some sticky sweetness that is not unexpected. At 9.5% ABV, this is one to savor patiently.

Gonzo Imperial Porter is part of the brewery's Canis Major series. I discussed another member of the pack, the Double Dog Pale Ale here. A bottle of their Horn Dog Barley Wine is waiting in my refrigerator, and the brewery plans to add a fourth brew, Kerberos Tripel to the mix this year. If the first two members of this pack are any indication, the next two won't disappoint.

RateBeer Best - 2008

The 2008 RateBeer Best awards have been posted:
As it has been for the last 7 years, RateBeer Best was again the largest beer competition in the world -- over 1.4 million reviews of 76,000 beers from over 8000 brewers worldwide were tallied. A particular emphasis was placed on tastings from the last year's performance. Additionally, brewpubs, bottle shops, restaurants and bars around the world were awarded prizes. Cheers to all the winners and to everyone who keeps the magical world of craft beer growing!

The RateBeer rating scale is based less on strict syle guidelines and more on beer enjoyment. The scoring guidlelines ask the rater to quantify how much they enjoyed all the beer's elements combined as a sensory experience. Was this a standout beer? Were expectations met? Did the beer go well with food? Would they recommend this to a friend? This isn't about how well the beer conformed to its style definition -- it's about a measurement of the rater's own appreciation. While this might irk those used to more strict guidelines, it does make for an interesting and enjoyable rating experience. A beer's scores reflect the fun part of enjoying a beer. And everyone's input counts, so any beer lover can have a say.

From the RateBeer FAQ:
Q. Should I rate a beer to style as a beer judge would?
In short, no. While RateBeer encourages its members to learn as much as they can about beer and beer styles, RateBeer uses a Hedonic Scale to judge a beer according to how much it pleases the nose, eyes and tongue.

and ...

This is the way we like our beer. We don't want it to conform to a mold, we want it to challenge us, intrigue us, surprise us, thrill us, dominate us, introduce us to new ideas... Simply put, we recognize great beer regardless of definitions. So please, learn about classic styles, learn about beer history, learn about the great brewers but when you rate put style aside and tell us how GOOD the beer is.

In addition to beer ratings by styles, brewers and geography, the RateBeer results also provide rankings on the best beer bars, brewpubs, retailers and restaurants. So, open up your favorite beer and spend some time to perusing the results, it's an interesting read. And, for you impatient readers, the Best Overall Beer as rated by RateBeer members is Three Floyds Oak Aged Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Victory Baltic Thunder

Baltic Thunder is the newest release from Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA. The official release of this beer was January 5th so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get hold of some in Fredericksburg so quickly. I do enjoy a good Baltic Porter and have been looking forward to trying this new one from Victory. Its release had been much anticipated on beer forums and blogs. The Baltic Thunder recipe is derived from Perkuno's Hammer from the now defunct Heavyweight Brewing. I never had the opportunity to taste Perkuno's Hammer but it seemed to have an almost mythical reputation and was well-received at BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.

Of course, it's always exciting to try a new beer release. Victory beers have never disappointed and this was no exception. From the 22 oz. bottle, Baltic Thunder pours a mahogany-brown color that is translucent at the edges. A large bubbled, beige head forms and then fades to a thin ring. The aroma is of chocolate and molasses and is somewhat reserved. The taste is chocolate and roasted malt with some lingering sweetness and molasses. The mouthfeel is light and pleasant, though a bit thinner than I had expected. At 8.5% ABV, the alcohol level is well-masked. I didn't detect any alcohol burn.

Baltic Thunder is a blend of several brewing batches that were lagered for different periods of time. You can find more of the story here and here. I suspect the long lagering contributed to the smoothness and drinkability. This is certainly a very smooth beer without any bitterness. Due to the frequent, pre-release association with Perkuno's Hammer, I suspect some enthusiasts may be expecting something different. I'm sure my expectations were influenced, despite never having tried the original. My impression from reading reviews of Perkuno's Hammer is that is was likely more robust, with a more roasted, less sweet flavor.

I understand that Baltic Thunder will be a year-round release from Victory. The smoothness and drinkability should appeal to a wide range of drinkers. I can predict that we'll be enjoying it again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tröegs Nugget Nectar, the Slide Into Spring

Yes, we're only a month into Winter, and we had 3 inches of snow yesterday, but Tröegs Nugget Nectar hit my favorite beer store today. I tend to associate this particular nectar with Spring. Matt let us know this afternoon that it was in stock, and I stopped by for my first batch a short while later.

I was going to try and write my impression of this hoppy brew, but it turns out Lew Bryson over at the Seen Through a Glass blog had just posted his impression:
Mostly, it's hoppier than blazes. It's like grapefruit pith, it's piney, it's...okay, it's got a kind of cat's piss smell that's weirdly appealing. I can't believe I'm going to leave that in, but I am, because it's true. The amazing thing about this beer -- one amazing thing about this beer is how the bitterness doesn't hook into your tongue and linger forever: it's like wasabi, it hits WHAM and you stagger a bit, and it's gone. Which means it's time for another swallow, another mouth-squeezing taste, a blast of lupulin freshness -- hmmm, the cat's piss is gone -- and that's the other amazing thing about this beer: it's bitter, it's jam-packed with flavor, it's ... gone. Way too drinkable, which ain't a bad thing, just something you have to keep your eye on.

Well, that pretty much sums it up. I won't even try to top such eloquence. Read the entire post here. Then, stop reading about it, and go pick some up for yourself!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

This would need to be served extremely cold

A-B takes Clamato Cheladas national is the news over at the RealBeer.com blog:
Anheuser-Busch has taken its Budweiser & Clamato Chelada and Bud Light & Clamato Chelada national.

The name Chelada is a shortened form of the Spanish word michelada which loosely translates to “my cold beer.”

A-B successfully tested the products in several markets, following the heals of the spectacular success of Miller Chill. The drinks blend Bud and Bud Light with Clamato Tomato Cocktail, made by Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages (CSAB).

A press release suggests, “best enjoy Budweiser & Clamato Chelada and Bud Light & Clamato Chelada, gently rotate the chilled can once before pouring. Then, serve cold, or pour over ice, into a traditional goblet-style glass and garnish with a slice of lime or celery stalk. Salting the rim of the glass or adding a dash of hot sauce to the beer allows adults to further customize Chelada. The beers also pair well with traditional Latino dishes such as ceviche, chicken enchiladas and tamales.”
BA's are impressed by neither Budweiser Chelada nor Bud Light Chelada. I'm not a wholesale Anheuser-Busch basher, I'm thankful when I can get a Redhook when all the other selections are "lite" beers, but this is too weird. (Although it obviously sells.)

Update: I came acrosss this post by Lew Bryson. Lew tasted the Bud Light Chelada and had this to say: "Not the kind of thing I'd have often, at all, but with a brunch, or the right meal, or for an early beer (or instead of a Bloody Mary if I wanted something lighter), yeah, this would be okay."

Hmm, I think it's the clam juice I'm having trouble with. In a white sauce over pasta, sure, but in beer?

Enjoy a Proper Pour

Conventional wisdom has long told us that the "perfect pour" is accomplished by decanting the beer into a glass held at an angle, then straightening the glass to finish. This is done to create some head at the top, but still get the entire bottle poured in one motion. Occasionally I'll run into the waiter or waitress who will take this to the extreme and pour an entire beer extremely slowly down the side of a glass to avoid any head what-so-ever.

One problem I frequently encounter with this tilted glass method, especially with an unfamiliar beer, is I'll misjudge how much head the beer will produce and I'll undershoot, ending up with insufficient head at the end of the pour. I prefer to err on the side of too much head and pour harder and wait for the beer to settle before emptying the rest of the bottle. This way I get the full effect and can enjoy the beer in it's proper glory. Recently I've found that I'm not alone in this. (Not that I ever thought I was a trend setter.)

In a recent blog entry entitled "How to drink a bottle of beer", Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing noted:
Pour the beer straight down the middle of the glass, intentionally creating a thick collar of foam, degassing the beer a bit, and releasing the subtle aromatics. You will probably have to let the beer settle for a few minutes before you can fill the glass completely, but such patience will definitely be rewarded when one progresses to the next step – smelling.

Now, as you admire the wonderful frothy presentation you have created, pass your nose deliberately over the glass, and breathe in the delicate nuances of malt and hop the brewer has worked so diligently to provide – making note of the synergy and interplay between the elements.

The proper head on a beer is important to get the full aroma out of the brewer's creation. Our sense of taste is highly influenced by our sense of smell. The carbonation from a hard pour will release greater amounts of aroma particles to your nose.

An Associated Press piece published recently called "Use your head to serve beer" also touches on the less reserved pouring method:
Pour a little, wait a little.

Don't tilt the glass. The idea is to keep the head. Pour some beer into your glass, let the head foam up a bit and settle, then keep pouring. It might take two or three pours. The idea is to keep the head while releasing some of the carbonation that otherwise can leave you feeling bloated.

"By doing it that way, it knocks a little gas out of the beer. It makes it taste smoother, less harsh," [beer consultant Randy] Mosher said.

"It's nice to have a thick head on beer. It feels good on the lips. It's all about those details."

Both authors also cover serving temperature, a subject that I've touched on several times in the past, including here and here. Hugh Sisson notes:
... one must begin by removing the bottle of fine malt beverage from one’s refrigerator at least 20 minutes before consumption (this is not advisable with light beer!) This allows the beer to warm ever so slightly, permitting the delicate nuances of flavor to be released from their cold thermal captors and present themselves more effectively to your anxious palate.

And from the Associated Press piece:
Assuming you don't have multiple refrigerators or beer coolors, keep them in your regular refrigerator. Before drinking, let the beer sit on the counter for about 15 minutes. This should get it to a better temperature.

Mosher does urge leaving the frozen beer glasses for only the lightest American industrial beers, such as Bud, Miller or Coors.

"You never want to put a really good beer in a frozen glass. It's a waste of money," he says. "The aromas just can't get out. They get locked into the liquid. So at slightly warmer temperatures, they have the ability to jump out of the glass and get into your nose."

In both of these articles, the indication is that only "light" or "American industrial beers" should be served very cold. The unwritten conclusion here is that these beers have no flavor to be loss in the first place. I highly recommend reading both of these articles in their entirety as they both make excellent arguments for paying close attention to all aspects of enjoying a beer; temperature, the pour, the glassware, and of course the beer itself.

More on Starr Hill Brewing

Over at Yours For Good Fermentables, Thomas Cizauskas points out an article in today's Washington Post (free registration required) featuring Mark Thompson and Starr Hill Brewing.

As noted previously, Starr Hill Brewing recently signed a distribution agreement with Anheuser-Busch to broaden the brewery's reach. Mark has the lofty goal to make Starr Hill a "national craft brand, like Samuel Adams or Sierra Nevada." Given his fervor for his beers, along with the twelve medals his beers have won in the past 6 years, one could give him a good chance at meeting that goal.

See "A Brewer With Hope in the Hereafter" for the complete article.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

End of the Celebration (Ale)

We finished off the last of the 2007 Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale this weekend. We drank some last night and there was one bottle left in the fridge today. Colleen enjoyed it with the Chicken Peanut Satay dish she prepared for dinner while I had a Kashmir IPA from Highland brewing. These two IPA's went extremely well with both the main dish and the homemade fudge we had for dessert. I've noticed on several occasions recently that the spicy hop flavor of an IPA will compliment the sweetness of a good chocolate quite nicely.

It's one of the the sad truths we have to accept with seasonal beers, eventually you will drink the last one. The good news is there's always another seasonal beer coming along to take its place!

New Wine and Tapas Bar Coming to Fredericksburg

I was reminded of this news from last week's Free Lance-Star when reading the recent news about Capital Ale House. The owners of Kybecca have plans to open a Wine and Tapas bar in downtown Fredericksburg. Kybecca currently has two stores in the area offering small-batch wines, craft beers and cheeses. The Plank Road store is also one of the meeting locations for the FABTS group. From the Free Lance-Star article:
Customers will be able to buy wine and beer from the shop and drink it at the bar for a service charge. The Snyders will also offer about 50 wines by the glass. There'll be a selection of tapas, which are small dishes and appetizers. There may at times be live music.

and . . .

Kyle Snyder said he hopes the wine and tapas bar will be open by the summer. The hours could be limited at first, but he said they'll eventually be open for lunch and through the evening.

Tapas are typically small appetizer-sized dishes served on small plates. Tapa means "lid" or "cover" in Spanish so the food name comes from the small plates of food being set on top of the drinks. This makes the food easy to eat while standing. Typically Tapas restaurants serve the dishes paired with wine. I am of the opinion, as are I suspect most readers of this blog, that good beer presents a much more satisfying pairing option. Tapas dishes are varied; beef, pork, chicken, seafood, cheeses, vegetables, breads. The wide range of styles and flavors offered by craft beer presents many options for pairing. Many of the standard tapas dishes are very spicy also making them more suited to pairing with beer than wine. This article at beerpairing.com offers numerous examples of tapas and beer combinations.

Although the beverage focus would appear to be on wine, Kybecca does offer an impressive array of craft beers in both of their shops. The article mentions being able to buy beer from the shop to have at the tapas bar. I'd be willing to bet that some good beers will make it to the bar menu as well. A few spicy tapas dishes with a couple of good craft beers on the outdoor patio seems a pleasant way to pass a Summer afternoon.

Update, Jan 16: Construction progress can be followed at the Kybecca blog.

FABTS January Meeting

On Saturday, fourteen local craft beer enthusiasts met at Bangkok Boulevard for the monthly meeting of the Fredericksburg Brewing and Tasting Society. The theme for this month was Stouts, all styles except Imperial Stouts. Imperial Stouts were tasted at the September and November gatherings. In all 22 stouts and 2 non-stout home brews were sampled. (Home brews are welcome at all meetings, regardless of style.) Stout styles reviewed included Dry, Sweet, Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American, and Russian Imperial (for comparison.) There was a nice variety of beers donated, although several folks mentioned a dearth of stout offerings to be found at retailers. Bankok Boulevard filled in some of the holes with offerings from their menu. The preliminary listing for the meeting is posted beforehand at the FABTS web site.

Many of the stouts sampled were designed to be easy-drinking session beers. The flavors are not over the top, but very easy on the palate. The alcohol levels are generally on the lower side, in the 4-6% ABV range. The style guidelines allow for higher ABVs for Foreign Extra Stouts, such as the 8% in the Lion Stout we sampled.

The afternoon started with a proper Irish slant as we tasted Guinness Draught Stout, Beamish Stout, Murphy's Stout, and O'hara's Celtic Stout. These Dry Stouts are quite suitable for enjoying at a relaxing afternoon at the neighborhood pub. The Shipyard Brewing Bluefin Stout we tried was an exceptional example of an American Dry Stout.

On a local note, Oak Barrel Stout from Dominion Brewing was among the beers sampled. This has been a long-time favorite of mine, and also of others in the group. It was the opinion of many that this beer as undergone a disappointing change. I found the vanilla flavoring in the beer to be much too strong and over powered any other flavors in the beer. I have some other bottles of this with the same bottling date as the ones sampled and I plan to both re-sample and to watch for another bottling run at my retailer. If this flavor change turns out to not be fluke, it will indeed be unfortunate.

In the Sweet Stout category, Mackeson's XXX Stout was a stand out. At 4.9% ABV, it would be easy to spend an afternoon throwing back pints of this smooth ale. We also sampled Young's Double Chocolate Stout. This stout is made with actual chocolate. I've had this beer from a bottle in the past and found the chocolate flavor very pleasant. Saturday's sample was packaged in cans and presented a much higher chocolate flavor. "Yoo-Hoo beer" was one description offered. I think I'll stick with the bottles. Another chocolate-flavored Stout tried was Bison Organic Chocolate Stout. This one had a subtle cocoa flavor and was much easier to drink than the canned Young's.

In the Oatmeal Stout category, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout was among the beers enjoyed. This is a classic example of the sub-style. Those in attendance were pleased that this beer is finally being bottled in dark brown bottles rather than the clear glass in which it was found for so many years.

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout was one of the American Stouts tasted. The Chicory Stout has mild hints of coffee, chicory and licorice. This is the second time recently that I've had a sample of this offering from Dogfish but have never gotten to enjoy a full round. I must pick up a couple of bottles soon and try it in-depth.

Both home brews we had were from Dave F. He brought along his smoked pumpkin ale that we tasted at the December meeting to solicit opinions on how the beer is holding up over time. As he did last month, Dave received many accolades from the group.

For about three hours we tasted and engaged in lively discussions of the beers. It's always interesting to hear the varying opinions on the beers from the members. The group consists of folks with a wide variety of backgrounds; home brewers, professional brewers, non-brewers, beer judges, and both long-time and new craft beer enthusiasts. I do encourage any craft beer enthusiasts in the area to come out to these meetings. It's a great way to meet other folks with the same interest, and to experience a wide-range of beer styles and flavors. After each meeting I come away with new knowledge or appreciation of a beer I had not tried before. Check out the FABTS web page and be sure to join the mailing list to be alerted to upcoming activities. The next gathering will be held at Kybecca on February 9. Hope to see you there.

Many thanks to Chad at Bangkok Boulevard for offering his restaurant for our meeting this month, and for donating a number of the beers reviewed. Chad is a very gracious host and even acted as official bottle opener for a spell.

Update, Jan. 20: The theme beer for the February meeting will be Strong Ales.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Virginia Brewing Company Update

I posted recently on progress being made at the new Virginia Brewing Company in Winchester. Today I received an update from owner Jim Justice that highlighted some recent developments:
We have identified our head brewer and will soon be able to announce who it is. A local guy who has worked a big regional Boston brewery the last several years. We are awaiting arrival of two 40 bbl fermenters and once we get them in the house and stood upright we can start to button up the brewery and finalize permits. Labor of love ;-)

We are trying to get permitted and operational with the brewery by end of April to launch for the Apple Blossom festival here. We hope to add "Beer" to the event..a big deal here locally. We may go ahead and conduct an invitational beer festival and bring in other breweries....this idea is getting tossed around here at the moment. If we go for it, marketing for that will begin very soon.

From the sound of it, Jim and company are in for a busy few months. I wish them success as they work towards the long-waited opening. I certainly like the idea of another area beer festival!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Capital Ale House, Fredericksburg, VA

I just saw this posted at BeerAdvocate.com...

Just want to let you know we have just signed a lease for a space in the Historic Distric of Fredericksburg, Va. It's an 11,000 square foot space at 917 East Caroline Street. The space resembles the Downtown Richmond location in that its 25' wide by 267' long.

Most of the building is pre-civil war and plans are to renovate it to the look and feel of our other locations, add 75 taps, 250+ in the bottle and we're planning on a 300 square foot temperature controlled beer cellar under the bar.

Hope to see everyone there for a beer later this year.

I know everyone's at the "we'll believe it when we see it" stage with the Midlothian location, but the signs are on the building there and things are starting to roll. It will be open soon.



Capital Ale House has two locations currently in the Richmond area with a third scheduled to open soon. This new, fourth, venue in Fredericksburg would be a significant addition to the craft beer scene in this area. The two current Capital Ale Houses have been rated among the top beer bars in America by BeerAdvocate. I'll post more information on the Fredericksburg opening as it becomes available.

Update, Jan 12: The Free Lance-Star has an article in today's Business section about the new restaurant. The author incorrectly calls Capital Ale House a "brew pub".

Read all Capital Ale House updates here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Classy Beer Ad

I found this posted on the realbeer.com forums. This ad for Victoria Bitter with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is very well done and fun to watch. It's a refreshing change from the usual drunken frat boy / pinup girl commercials brewers so often resort to. Hope you enjoy it too.

Direct Link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=D21EHpWVKXQ

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Bit of Beer Evangelism

We had our annual Epiphany Open House on Sunday. Colleen prepares a veritable feast of foods, savory and sweet, and folks come and go all day. In past years I've put out a wide variety of beers. That often led to a lot of time spent explaining the selections. This year I picked just three beers to serve, Brooklyn Lager, Clipper City Winter Storm and Sierra Nevada Celebration. I figured the Brooklyn Lager would appeal to even those who say they don't like "those weird beers." I would offer it as an example of what American beers tasted like before the big breweries watered down our beer. Give the guests a flavorful beer that wasn't over the top. The Celebration was there for those who were willing to take a chance on something with some hop kick to it, but again, not too extreme. The Clipper City selection was the "a little stronger" selection. (Truth be told, it was for me.)

We put out a bunch of shaker pints for folks to use, and I did offer a glass to all. I didn't want to put folks off with by getting too fancy with glassware. A few folks opted just for the bottle, and I opted not to push the cause.

With one exception, all of the beers were new to everyone who came. Most folks opted for the Brooklyn Lager and everyone who tried it remarked, often with some surprise, how good it was. In fact, we ran out as the evening progressed and I did end up putting out some random lagers from the fridge. The Brooklyn offering was a good stepping stone to the other beers and more than one person went on to try some of the other selections. It occurred to me later that this was the only one of the beers that folks could get around here year-round. Perhaps in the future I'll stick with beers with greater availability. I would hate it if someone discovered a new taste in beer and then let that go by the way because they couldn't go out and get more of it.

A number of folks went on to try the Celebration Ale. I didn't find any half-empty glasses around so that took that as a good sign. I think a number of people realized that a hoppy beer wasn't necessarily a bad thing. One guest, who had grabbed a Celebration without knowing what to expect, turned as he was leaving the party later and remarked with a smile, "That was a good beer." A convert perhaps.

Often the last to be tried by those who ventured past their first selection was the Winter Storm. Some interest was generated since it was the beer I was drinking. A number of people decided to split bottles so they could have a taste of it. I'm not sure if any of those went back for more, but a number seemed shocked that it wasn't so bad. We had some panettone out and, per my previous post, I remarked how well the Winter Storm and the bread paired. That led to a discussion of the benefits of beer and food together.

I had also set out a bottle of Bunratty Mead that I had purchased a while back. I'd never tried it nor really knew what to expect. I'm not sure if anyone who came by was familiar with meade, but many people were interested in trying a small taste. Most found it interesting, and a few had a bit more. The label states that the meade is believed to have "powers of virility and fertility" and this generated a bit of jovial discussion. The Bunratty is more of a wine than a beer. I don't think I'll be a fan of this either, but it's always fun to try something new.

I think sometimes in our eagerness to share our love of good beer with others, we scare folks off. All three of the beers served were extremely flavorful and great examples of craft beers. However I think none of them would be described as extreme. I know a number of folks left with a better understanding of what craft beer is all about. Of course, that wasn't the purpose of our celebration, but a nice side benefit.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Clipper City Winter Storm "Category 5" Ale

Every now and then one rediscovers a beer that had been forgotten. On the quest to try new and different beers, the ones that are easy to find are often easy to over look. Clipper City Winter Storm "Category 5" Ale is one such beer, but one that I've been enjoying quite a lot recently. Not too long ago I mentioned finding a bottle of Winter Storm in the refrigerator that had been left from last Winter and longing for yet another. I recently had the pleasure of trying a cask conditioned version at a Winter Beer Tasting. For the past couple of weeks, this Winter release has been my go to beer. On a number of occasions I've gone to the fridge to grab something else, saw the Winter Storm and grabbed it instead.

Clipper City Winter Storm "Category 5" Ale is an Imperial ESB which pours a dark, orange-tinted brown color with a moderately thick head that soon fades to a thin ring. The aroma is very pleasant and stronger than you might expect to find in an ESB, but the beer does bear the "Imperial" designation. The crisp hops in the aroma are backed by a bit of caramel maltiness. There are plenty of hops in the flavor as well. The malt backbone is substantial but both pine and citrus hops hold their own. Some dark fruits come in to play too. There's a nice flavor that stays with you in the aftertaste and the mouth feel is very smooth. It seems to me the cask smooths out the hop flavors in the beer, though I think I prefer the bottled product. It's quite quaffable either on cask or bottled. This is a very enjoyable beer and the 7.50% ABV is well masked. It's not a session beer but I could easily drink several of these. Winter Storm is a well-balanced beer that gives you the pleasure of the piney and floral hops without burning out your taste buds. According to brewer Hugh Sisson, the recipe is tweaked a bit each year.

As can be deduced from previous posts, we're as much fans of food around here as we are of beer. It's always a treat when we run into a nice food and beer pairing. Last night I enjoyed a bit of panettone with my Winter Storm. We usually have this traditional Italian Christmas bread on hand around the holidays. The light, sweet bread with various fruits and nuts practically melts in your mouth. Colleen says if cotton candy were bread, it would be panettone. The hoppiness along with the sweet malt flavors in the beer was a nice match to the fruits and sweetness of the bread. As usual with a good pairings, I finished both too quickly. I'm sure I'll be enjoying more of each before the Winter is over.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Another Virginia Brewery to Open This Spring?

I've been watching the web site of the new Virginia Brewing Company for some time, hoping for news of a new brewery in nearby Winchester, VA. Recently owner Jim Justice responded to a post on the DC-Beer list and gave a pointer to this article in the Winchester Star. According to the article, the brewing equipment arrived onsite in December. The former apple and fruit processing plant will house a mix of businesses. The Engine Room Theater and the Virginia Coffee Company are about ready to open. In addition to the brewery, plans call for a mix of small businesses, restaurants, a fine arts school, art galleries, and possibly a youth center and skateboard park. A Spring opening is anticipated for the brewery, theatre and coffee company. I'll try to plan a trip to Winchester in the near future to check out the progress.

The Session #11: Illuminator

This month's Session is hosted by Jay Wilson at the brewvana blog. Jay selected "Illuminator" as the theme and the discussions revolve around the Doppelbock style. The title "Illuminator" title is a play on the "-ator" suffix typically found on Doppelbock beers.

The Paulist monks founded a monastery in Munich in 1627 and started a brewery a few years later. The monks are credited with creating the rich doppelbock (Double Bock) style a as a means of sustaining themselves during their twice a year fasts. Their special beer was made available to the public in 1780 labeled Paulaner Salvator, meaning "Savior", and was well-received. Over the years other breweries started brewing this style and picked up on the "-ator" suffix, so many doppelbocks today carry that moniker. There's more history of the Doppelbock style on the German Beer Institute's site.

My choice for this Session, Flying Dog Collaborator Doppelbock, was among the beers included in the package I received from the brewery. Only 5000 bottles of this release were to be available to the public so I didn't expect to be able to try this on the East Coast. Of course, with the move of Flying Dog production to Maryland, we'll be likely to see more of these special releases around these parts. Collaborator is the latest in Flying Dog's Wild Dog series and is the result of the Open Source Beer Project.

In announcing this project last May, Flying Dog wrote:
Denver’s Flying Dog Brewery today announced plans to release what is believed to be the first “open source” beer to hit the market in the U.S. “Open source” is a term most commonly used in the software industry and refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. In this case, Flying Dog’s Open Source Beer Project will allow beer drinkers and homebrewers to create and recommend changes and modifications to the recipe.

The Open Source Beer Project will start as a Dopplebock but the style may evolve as participants offer ideas and tweak the recipe. “We are encouraging input on every part of the recipe, down to how what variety of hops we should use, how much we should use and when we should add them,” said Flying Dog Head Brewer, Matt Brophy.

Flying Dog’s Director of Marketing, Neal Stewart says that this is a unique way for consumers to participate in the creation of a new beer. “The Open Source Beer is a truly collaborative project and gives our loyal fans the opportunity to buy a beer that they actually played a major role in creating.”

Indeed, the complete recipe and printable labels are available online at the Open Source Beer Project web site. Anyone is free to brew and tweak the recipe as they desire. Now, on to the beer...

We opened the heavy, green, corked and caged champagne-style bottle early on New Year's Eve. Collaborator pours a clear reddish-copper color with a thick beige head. Pouring into tall pilsener glasses showed a very attractive beer with an appetizing appearance. The head fades fairly rapidly. The initial aroma is that of sweet malt. Some light apple-like fruitiness comes through as well. The flavor is rich in maltiness with some citrus hops added. Rather than being a pure malt bomb, there's a nice balance to this dopplebock. As the beer warms it brings on a slightly sweet alcohol flavor that's almost sherry-like. The mouth feel is somewhat sticky but not unpleasant. The aftertaste is sweet with just a bit of pleasing bitterness. At 8.3% ABV, Flying Dog Collaborator Dopplebock doesn't qualify as a session beer, but it is remarkably easy to drink.

Well, that's it for this Session. Be sure to check the brewvana blog to see all the contributions.

Update: Jay has posted a summary of all the contributions.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2007 Beer Tally

Yes, I'm compulsive enough to have kept a spreadsheet of the beers I tried last year. I tried 205 new-to-me beers in 2007. That number doesn't include numerous brewery samples and FABTS meeting tastings. Unless I have what I consider a full serving of a beer it doesn't get counted. My records actually go back to 2006 but don't include the first half or so of 2006. Although I've been enjoying craft beer for a number of years, it was in mid-2006 that the interest morphed into a passion.

I tried new beers covering 61 different styles in 2007. The style classifications are taken from the entries on beeradvocate.com. The leader was American Pale Ale with 17 different beers on the list. I tried 16 American IPA's, along with 11 each of the Märzen / Oktoberfest and Double IPA styles.

The list includes beers from 90 different breweries. The Matt Brewing Company, the makers of Saranac beers, provided the most new beers for me last year with 10 on the list. This number is influenced by the six beers in the Saranac Twelve Beers of Winter I reviewed for Session #10 - Winter Seasonal Beers. Nine beers from Boston Brewing made the list. There were also 7 from Sierra Nevada, along with 6 each from Great Divide, Victory, Brooklyn, and Boulder Beer.

Twelve countries are represented. The leader obviously is the United States with 168 entries. There are 10 beers from Germany on the list and 8 from England. Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Scotland and Turkey all added beers for me to try as well.

190 of the new beers I tried in 2007 were served from bottles and the other 15 were had on draft. All of the growler fills I picked up in 2007 were beers I'd had previously.

These numbers are not large compared to many folks in the craft beer world. However, I did enjoy keeping the tally and seeing a picture of my craft beer adventure last year. I look forward to seeing what 2008 will bring.

Beer Price Increases - A Recurring Theme

There's been a rash of articles in the popular press lately regarding the anticipated, and very real, price increases in craft and mega-beers. Three recent articles in area papers do a good job of bringing the point home.

On Friday, Don Russell, AKA "Joe Sixpack", mentioned the issue in his weekly Philadelphia Daily News column.
Beer money isn't just pocket change anymore, and I'm not talking just about those pricey bottles of premium craft brews.
In '07, brewers around the world suddenly faced big increases in the cost of raw materials: glass for bottles, fuel for delivery trucks, malt for the suds and even paper for labels. The price of hops alone jumped 500 percent. A case of Bud is closing in on the $20 mark.

Both the wallet and the palate took a hit. Many small brewers found hops were unavailable at any price, forcing some to halt production of some of their hugely popular bitter ales, like imperial India pale ale. 2008 outlook: Victory HopDevil Lite.

On Monday there was an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer that placed the blame squarely on the increased demand for ethanol.
Ethanol one reason beer price is hopping

Have you noticed that the price of beer is going up?
The simple explanation is that supplies of hops and barley, two key ingredients in brew-making, are shrinking while demand for beer is increasing.

Bad harvests and low prices for these commodities bear some of the blame, but another major factor is the nation's poorly fashioned energy policy.

Thanks to government subsidies to promote ethanol production, more and more farmers are abandoning a variety of crops - including barley and hops - and switching to corn.

Not just the price of beer is at stake here. Surely you've also noticed the higher prices for a box of cereal and a gallon of milk.

Now all of this would not be so bad if corn-derived ethanol held any real promise. But, by some calculations, the cost of the fossil fuels burned to produce a gallon of ethanol are greater than any savings it provides.

Hardest hit by the hop and barley shortages are the craft brewers. Not only do they use more hops per batch than the big commercial brewers to flavor their beers, they do not have the buying power of Anheuser-Busch or Coors.

But even the big beer names are bound to feel the pinch eventually. That's when Joe Sixpacks everywhere will join the throng wondering if subsidizing corn crops as a source for alternative fuels is really worth it.

The reference to "Joe Sixpacks" points to your average beer drinker, not the Don Russell quoted above. Both these articles raise an interesting point though. Much of the previous chatter on the price increases focused on craft beer rather than the big breweries and the average beer drinker. A Google search will produce more reading on how the increased, and perhaps misguided, ethanol subsidies have affected beer prices.

This morning's Washington Post has an interesting article from Greg Kitsock entitled Brewers See Higher Prices Ahead. Greg makes reference to a perfect storm.
Will 2008 be frothy or flat for beer drinkers? Unfortunately, the new year brings portents of major price increases. Hang out with some brewers and you'll hear the phrase "perfect storm" tossed around a lot. A convergence of factors -- bad harvests, reduced acreage, burgeoning demand for beer in China -- is driving the price of barley and hops skyward.

"Malt is up as much as 100 percent," reports Julia Herz, craft beer marketing director for the Colorado-based Brewers Association, "and I've seen increases as high as 300 to 400 percent on certain hop varieties."

The increased demand for beer in China is an issue I had not read much about previously. The editorial goes on to talk with some local brewers about the problems they are facing. It's an interesting read so be sure to see the whole article.

I made a previous post on the prices increases here and the effect on one local brewer here.