Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Real Champagne of Beers: Malheur Biere Brut

The Miller Brewing Company of Milwaukee, WI is often fond of saying their flagship brew, Miller High Life is the "Champagne of Beers". While I have a nostalgic fondness and at one time enjoyed Miller High Life, (one of my favorites, in my pre-good beer loving days and when the company was American owned), that statement really is quite silly. Let me introduce you to the real champagne of beers. The beer I speak of is Malheur Biere Brut from the DeLandtsheer Brasserie of Buggenhout, Belgium. Why is this beer the real champagne of beers? Well, why don't I let the brewery explain. From the label:

Malheur Biere Brut is an exclusive and rich beer with an alc. vol. of 11%. After bottling it is bottle conditioned a third time in the 'Champenoise' bottle. We have succeeded in collecting the yeast in the bottle neck where it is frozen and removed with the 'degorgement'. A rare example of a refined and bubbling beer with a strong head and an elegant after taste.

Need I say more? But of course. Yes indeed, this is a beer, that has been treated and aged like a champagne. Malheur Biere Brut is marketed in corked champagne bottles. After brewing, and aging, it is put on champagne racks, where it is riddled. The bottles are tilted and turned, in a traditional, labor intensive method, used to precipitate the yeast to the neck of the bottle. There it then goes through the process of degorgement, where the yeast collected in the neck is frozen, and expelled in a plug of ice. This is what is done with champagne, and now with one amazing beer as well. A beer this special, which comes in a corked 22.45 oz champagne bottle, should be treated as such. I didn't chill this beer in the fridge. I let is sit on ice in an ice bucket like a fine champagne, and served it in a champagne flute as well.

Malheur Biere Brut pours to a beautiful, very bright (clear) deep golden color with a pillowy white head, and a very vibrant carbonation. The nose on this beer is very perfumed, with aromas of lemon rind, peach, and vapors of peppery alcohol. The palate is smooth, refined, and silky, with strong flavors of peach and vanilla on the tongue, with a nice back drop of flowery flavors as well. Malheur Biere Brut finishes with a firm, dry after taste, with just a touch of peppery alcohol.

This beer is stunning. It is rare, unique, and really is as elegant as champagne. For a beer lover? This is better than champagne. Malheur Biere Brut, makes the ultimate aperitif, and would match well with oysters, or any dish you would pair champagne with. This is the perfect beer for a special occasion, and why not ring the New Year in with this one? For more information about this beer, or any other Malheur product visit their site at:

One bourbon, one stout, one beer: District ChopHouse Bourbon Stout

One thing I really miss about working downtown Washington, DC is the number of great places I use to stop in for a beer or two or three before I would jump on the Metro and head home. I used to work in between Chinatown and the Capital, and one place that I would love to stop, and was a regular haunt of mine was the District Chop House and Brewery located downtown Washington, DC just a half a block from the Verizon Center on 7th Street.

This outstanding brewpub, is one in a very small, upscale brewpub chain, owned and operated by the same corporation that runs the national Rock Bottom Brewery chain. There are only three Chop House Brewery locations; Washington, Denver, Cleveland, and a Chop House Tavern(no brewery) in Boulder, CO. The Chop House specializes in aged steaks and chops, and is an outstanding restaurant, with a casual, yet at the same time, very sophisticated atmosphere. Its a classy looking place, designed after a 1940's Era Chop House, with some sensational food, and some of the most delicious craft beer you will ever taste. This was one of my regular DC haunts, and you would often find me bellied up to the bar here for a very special pint of beer.

That beer is the Chop House's Bourbon Stout. This is an incredibly rich, complex, flavorful oatmeal stout, was once aged in Old Grand Dad bourbon barrels for six weeks. They have changed up to Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels, but the results are no less spectacular. It is then cask conditioned, and dispensed by a beer engine or "hand pump" by gravity, and served at cellar temperature, a cool 50-54 degrees. This fantastic oatmeal stout picks up tremendous, complex, aromas and flavors from the bourbon barrel, and the conditioning and serving temperature of this beer, gives the beer lover a true appreciation of how stunning this beer really is. All the aromas and flavors of this beer jump out at you, grab your attention, and just don't let go. This is a serious beer here folks, not for the timid, but for the adventurous.

Bourbon stout is pulled from the hand pump, and pours to a deep brown to black color with a bubbly tan head that fades and a very soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is amazing. Intense aromas of oak and vanilla marry with aromas of dark chocolate, roast,and light hints of smoke. The palate is soft and silky smooth (from oats) on the tongue, but packed with complex layers of flavor. Dark chocolate, coffee, oak,vanilla, toffee, smoke, and notes of bourbon coat the tongue. Bourbon stout finishes with complex malty and bourbon tones up front, then ends with a warming, soothing burn, and lingering bourbon flavors.

Without question one of the most delicious and satisfying beers you would ever taste. This beer is the perfect beer to have as you relax at the bar and would pair well with a good cigar. It also makes an exceptional desert beer, and would go well with any of the decadent deserts offered at the Chop House. But if you want this beer, you will have to come to the District, or other Chop House locations. For more information on this beer, and the District Chop House, visit their web site at:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two skulls are better than one: Popskull

Trends in the beer business come and go, and the latest trend in the beer industry for the last few years has been collaboration beers. What is a collaboration beer? It is a when two or more breweries join up to create a beer and market the beer with said brewers taking the credit for it. Some brewers will do a series, with a beer being brewed at one brewery one year, only to have the other brewery in the collaboration brew it the next.

Popskull is a one off collaboration beer that comes from the Three Floyds Brewing Company of Munster, IN and the Dogfish Head Brewery of Milton, DE. This particular beer was brewed and bottled at Three Floyds in Munster, IN and was brewed in January of 2009. I visited Three Floyds last June and picked up a few 22 oz bottles of this beer. Popskull is based on an Oude Braun or "old brown" which is a Belgian beer style. This version is comes in at a mighty 10% abv, is brewed with "botanicals" and aged on Palo Santo wood. Popskull is slang for moonshine that was produced in the United States during Prohibition. I'm happy to say, you might get a hang over if you drink too much of this one, but its not the rot gut stuff that literally made your skull feel like it was going to pop. This is a complex, strong, rich, flavorful beer meant to sip and savor. With the high alcohol content, it is a beer than you can actually cellar and age. I'm not sure if FFF and DFH are ever going to do this beer again, so the 2009 vintage brewed in Munster, IN just might be it.
Popskull pours to a deep, tawny brown color with a tight, tan head that fades and a moderate to soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is very pleasing. Lots of good spice aromas of cinnamon, pepper, coriander and vanilla pair with some grassy/herbal hop aroma. Hints of chocolate and light coffee notes as well. Really a lot going on here. The palate offers the same, good caramel and chocolate malt flavors pair with hints of cinnamon, vanilla, and coffee and an undertone of estery fruit and orange peel . This beer finishes with more good dark malt and coffee flavor up front, then ends with a touch of fruit and coffee roasty flavor.

Very impressive. Dangerously drinkable as it hides its 10% abv very well. Popskull is well worth buying if you see it, but good luck finding it. I was fortunate to pick some up at the brewery in IN, and am yet so see it anywhere in the markets on the East Coast where Dogfish Head beers are sold. If you can find this one, snap it up, as this one appears to be a one off collaboration beer, and odds are it may never be brewed again.

Seasons in the Sun: Saison Dupont

Now here is a beer that is about as world class, as a beer can get. This very special beer is one of my all time favorite beers on the plant, and comes to us from the beer Nirvana that is Belgium. The beer is a Saison or "Season" by style, which has also been dubbed Belgian Farmhouse Ale. It is meant to be consumed in the summer months, but thankfully, this beer is available year round in select markets in America. The beer I speak of is the legendary Saison Dupont from the Brasserie Dupont of Tourpes, Belgium.

This little farm house brewery puts out some amazingly good products, and has earned a stellar reputation in the beer world. A little history from the bottle:

Brewed in one of Europe's last farmhouse breweries, in Hainaut province, Saison Dupont is a 4-star, world classic example of the Belgian Saisons style. This increasingly rare specialty originated before the age of refrigeration as a beer to be brewed in winter for summer drinking. The style required a beer sturdy enough to age in the bottle but refreshing enough to be enjoyed in warm weather. Saison Dupont fits this description perfectly. It has a big, fruity boquet, and dense head. The taste start fruity but ends dry and very clean with a light refreshing body.

Saison Dupont pours to a very bright, hazy, yellow color with a thick, dense pillowy white head, and a very vibrant carbonation. The nose on this beer is fantastic, with zesty, grassy hop aromas, paired with estery citric fruity aromas. The palate is firm with a nice base of biscuity pale malt flavor, paired with more estery fruity flavors, and a refreshing, acidic sour edge. The natural carbonation of this beer gives it such finesse on the tongue, it is just so flavorful and refreshing. Saison Dupont finishes with more good pale malt and tart fruit flavors up front, then ends dry, zesty, and very refreshing as it lingers on thetongue.

This is a phenomenal beer. At 6.5% abv it has enough heft to make a nice aperitif beer, and the perfect beer to rouse the appetite before dinner. It has tremedous cutting power as well, and would be the perfect beer to match with rich and buttery cheeses or strong and sharp cheeses, as well as rich, hearty meat dishes, such as brazed lamb shanks, or prime rib of beef. It is marketed in 750ml bottles, and is a steal for $7-$9 a bottle. If you can find this beer in your market, do yourself a favor by purchase a few. Enjoy a rare, unique beer style, and one of the world's greatest beers. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Friday, February 26, 2010

The One and Only Original: Pilsner Urquell

The Czech Republic for centuries has been one of the world's greatest brewing nations. The Czechs gave the world its first golden colored beer, and that beer is called pilsner. It had to start somewhere and with one beer. That beer is Pilsner Urquell, the Original Pilsner Beer. This golden lager in one form or another, has become the world's most popular beer style. I've had scores of examples, including some real Czech beauties such as Budweiser Budvar(Czechvar), Kozel, Crystal, and Starbrno to name just a few. But Pilsner Urquell, the original, has always been my favorite. This beer is so delicious and drinkable, with a flowery/herbal hop aroma, a soft and crisp malty body, and a wonderfully dry and grassy hop bite.

Pilsner Urquell pours to a beautiful bright, brilliant golden color with a thick, creamy white head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is very fragrant with flowery/herbal hop aromas coming from the classic Czech hop variety, Saaz. The palate on this beer is soft, with lots of good crisp pilsner malt flavors, and just a touch of diacetal, which makes the mouth feel slightly buttery. The body is so round and clean on this beer, making it so, so drinkable. Pilnser Urquell finishes with more of that good malt flavor up front, then ends with a dry, grassy, balancing hop bitterness that slightly lingers.

This is a world class brew, and in my opinion still the bench mark example of Czech pilsner. It is a wonderful beer to drink on draught at a good beer bar, or to match with a variety of dishes, working very well with fish and chicken. Urquell enjoys wide distribution in the US, and for the most part can befound with great ease in a number of bars, restaurants, liquor stores and supermarkets. The only caveat about this beer is that it is marketed in green bottles. Green glass does a horrible job of protecting beer from light, and if exposed too long, the beer will get a skunky smell and flavor. So, try to make sure the bottles of Urquell you purchase are fresh. You won't have this problem with draught Urquell, and that is why I usually drink this one on draught at one of my good beer bars. Bottled or on draught, Urquell is one beer you should seek out and enjoy. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Texas Twist on a German classic: Shiner Bock

The Spoetzl Brewery of Shiner, TX has been giving the people of Texas beers with some regional flavor and a little different from the average main stream lager. This long standing Texas regional brewery, was founded in 1909 by German and Czech immigrants, and continues to be one of America's most successful regional brewers. Shiner's most popular product is their legendary Shiner Bock. This beer has enjoyed a cult following in Texas, and the Southwest for decades. Shiner Bock is based on a traditional German bock beer recipe, but over the decades, it has evolved into its own unique style of bock beer, exclusive to Texas. Because of this, Shiner has been recognized in the beer world as Texas Bock.

Shiner is the bench mark example of this unique Texan style, as it was the first brewery to do this style of bock. Over the years, Shiner has expanded its distribution, and can now be found in about 23 states. Many beer lovers are new to Shiner Bock, they know the legend, and now they can taste the beer. Texas Bock is brewed with corn grits as an adjunct, something you will not find in traditional bock beer. Texas bock is also lighter in sweet malt flavor, lighter in body, and alcohol, than traditional German bock beers. So what you have is a slightly sweet, very smooth, drinkable,tasty, dark lager that is a perfect thirst quencher in scorching Texas heat, and a perfect beer to match with Texas BBQ.

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and other Texas breweries such as Lone Star, and Pearl have brewed up their own versions of Texas bock, styled after Shiner Bock. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, even brewed up, marketed and distributed, a Texas Bock called Ziegenbock, to compete with Shiner in Texas and the Southwest. If you have never had a Texas bock, Shiner the original, is the place to start. This is a very clean, smooth, dark lager, with just enough flavor to please even a craft beer lover like me.

Shiner Bock pours to a light brown/amber color with a soapy white head that fades, and a lively carbonation. Aromas of slight sweet malt, and sweet corn bread aroma flood the nose. The palate on this beer is lean, but with some nice sweet malty, and sweet corn flavors on the tongue. The corn grits flavor in this beer is pleasing, and is what makes Texas bock quite unique. The body is very smooth and round, making it very drinkable. Shiner Bock finishes with more of subtle sweet malt and corn flavors, and just enough hop balance so this beer is not cloyingly sweet, and a fizzy sting of carbonation.

Many beer geeks don't get too excited about Shiner Bock, or Texas bock beers in general. They find it to be bland, and over rated. If you are expecting a tradition German bock beer, don't. Shiner isn't that, nor is it trying to be. As stated, this beer over the decades has evolved into a style on to itself; Texas bock. I happen to like the fact that a beer like this existed in a time when micros were no where to be found, and believe Shiner deserves a little respect for that fact alone. This is a very drinkable beer that makes for a great drinking beer in hot weather, and a great beer to match with a smoked Texas brisket. I've been drinking Shiner Bock for quite a few years now, and I will drink it on draught and in bottles from time to time, especially in the summer months. If Shiner Bock is in your area, seek it out, and give Texas bock a try. For more information visit the brewery at:

Beware of the Dog: Horndog Barleywine Style Ale

Flying Dog Brewery of Frederick, MD once of Denver, CO has brewed a number of beer styles over the years, and have had some pretty impressive results. Flying Dog beers have been in my market for the longest time, but for whatever reason, I don't drink them as often as I should. The pick of the litter for me is their seasonal release, Horn Dog.

This beer is a barleywine by style, and to my tastes is styled after those West Coast examples like Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot, and Rogue's Old Crustacean. There is lots of good sweet and caramel malt flavors in this beer, but that is balanced with lots of good citric PNW hop character as well. These beer are both malty and hoppy, where traditional Engish barleywines and old ales are very malt accented beers to the point of being cloying. Horn Dog has lots of great malt flavor but has that hoppy edge as well.

Horn Dog Barleywine Style Ale pours to a murky, deep garnet color with a bubbly tan head, and a soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is wonderful, with lots of good sweet malty aromas, some estery fruity aromas of plum, a good smack of citric hop aroma, and just a hint of alcohol strength. The palate is very soft, with a lean body for such a big beer. Lots of good sweet and caramel malt flavors pair with jammy/plummy flavors of esters. Horn Dog finishes with more of those malty and fruity flavors up front, then ends with a nice citric hop burst, and a slightly warming burn.

This is a very well done West Coast style barleywine with lots of good malt and hop character. The brewery says its styled after an English barleywine, but this beer as a little too much hop character, and the beer geek in me has to put it more in the West Coast subset of the style. The beer lover in me does not care what you call it, this is a good beer. This beer is very drinkable, and you could get into some trouble with this one. From its soft and lean body, you would never guess this beer is 10% abv. This dog has a lot of bark, but it also has a lot of bite, so beware of the dog.

I really enjoyed this beer, and loved the funky art work on the bottle that Flying Dog is so famous for. Horn Dog is a crazy looking creature, across between a dog and a dinosaur, with a big horn in the middle of its head. This beer makes the perfect beer to have after a long day at work to sit and relax with, or a beer to sip with reading a book or the paper before bedtime. It is a limited seasonal release that comes in 4 packs(12 oz bottles) which retail for about $6-$8 depending on your market. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blazing Hopfire: Victory Hop Devil IPA

This beer needs no introduction. If you even have the slightest interest in micro brewed beers, you have heard of the mythical Hop Devil India Pale Ale, from the Victory Brewing Company, of Downingtown, PA. I consider myself very fortunate, I have easy access to this beer in bottles and on draught, and it has become a staple beer for me. So much so, that I actually pass it up sometimes, something I never imagined I would ever do when I lived in Hop Deviless Rhode Island. When I lived there, I would literally stock up on cases when I made my treks to PA, and visited the brewery in Downingtown.

Not much of a problem now for those in New England these days, as Hop Devil can now be found in CT and MA. I wish you could find Victory beers where ever you go like Sierra Nevada, Anchor, or even Sam Adams. The day might come when you will, and I suspect Hop Devil will remain Victory's biggest seller. This beer must be born of original sin, as it pretty much seduces anyone and everyone who has ever had the pleasure of tasting it. I have had this beer hundreds of times now, but each time is almost identical to my first. This is one hell of a good beer.

Hop Devil pours to a beautiful deep amber/burnt orange color with a nice white head, and a lively carbonation. The nose is the first thing that draws you in. Very piney/citric waves of zesty and spicy hop aromatics flood the nose. There is a nice underpinning of malt in the nose, but hops take center stage. The palate is very firm, and this is what makes Hop Devil a little different than other American IPA's, and why it is so loved. There is a sea of smooth maltiness on the palate, good biscuity and caramel malt flavors coat the tongue. The finish is what takes you straight to hell. A blistering, long, dry, resinous, piney and citric hop bite tattoos the tongue, and lingers for an eternity.

What more do I need to say? This is an incredible beer from one of America's best breweries. Hop Devil goes very well with spicy fare. I love to match this beer with volcano hot buffalo wings, or with spicy Thai dishes. For more information visit Victory's site at:

Munich Master Piece: Aventinus Dunkle Weizenbock

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if you come to Munich, Germany you will enjoy a breakfast like no other. I had a lot of "beer moments" on a trip to Germany in 2005, but one particular experience was much more than a moment, it was a beer epiphany. If you ever walk the Marienplatz, which is the massive pedestrian walk way in downtown Munich, and you stop at Tal 7, you will find Weisses Brauhaus. This is the Munich outlet for the G.Schneider & Son Brauerei brewers of the world class Schneider Weisse and the beer I am reviewing today, Aventinus Dunkle Weizenbock.

Please allow me to digress. Like all the beer halls I was to visit in Munich, Weisses was, and is, a very special place, with a grand scale, but a very cozy and inviting atmosphere. It was 9AM on a cold Sunday morning, and I was ready for my first beer. I immediately ordered SchneiderWeisse, and waited for our dirndl clad waitress to return with a coffee for my friend, and a beer for me. Beer for breakfast? Yes, beer for breakfast. While this might seem shocking here in the US, it is a normal practice for Bavarians to have beer for breakfast, which they will match with a delicious, mild sausage known as weisswurst. At Weisses Brauhaus, you can only order the weisswurst up until Noon and then they stop serving them. So make no mistake, this is a breakfast sausage, and weiss bier is the beverage of choice to enjoy these white beauties with.

When they finally come out you will be presented two(or more depending how many you want) steaming links of weissewurst. They are served in a silver bowl with a lid, and they will continue to steam in hot water and parsley, until you are ready to dig in. These sausages are white in color, and you actually spit the casing, peel it off, and enjoy the mild flavored veal sausage inside. On the table you will find baskets of fresh baked pretzels, which are without a doubt the best pretzels you will ever taste. The texture of these pretzels are amazing, the inner arms hard and crunchy, the outer rings soft and chewy and salted to perfection. Served up with a sweet and tangy mustard, they are truly to die for, but then it only gets better. Your waitress will quickly return with a fresh glass of beer, in my case Aventinus.

Aventinus is a dunkle weizen bockbier or "dark wheat bock beer" by style. It is one of the most complex and amazing beers that you will ever taste, and beer geeks world wide sing its praises. I have enjoyed this beer countless times here in the US, but to experience this one fresh vom fass at Weisses was an almost spiritual experience. This beer is brewed with up to 60% dark wheat malt, along with a very distinctive ale yeast strain that produces estery aromas and flavors of clove, banana, and apple. Being a bockbier, this beer has strong aromas and flavors of alcohol, and packs quite a punch at over 8% abv. It was a phenomenal beer to match with my breakfast of sausages and pretzels, and one of the most amazing beers to ever pass my lips.

Aventinus pours to a beautiful, murky and opaque, deep caramel color, with a big, tall, rocky white head, and a vibrant carbonation. . The nose on this beer is very complex, and packed with character. Aromas of sweet malt, nutty malty, clove, and aromas of ripe banana flood the nose. This is paired with peppery hints of alcohol. The palate is smooth and round on the tongue, with big sweet and caramel malt flavors, some tart wheat malt flavor, and an underpinning of estery fruit. Aventinus finishes with more complex and delicious, malt and fruit flavors, then ends with a slightly warming, malty and clove spicy finish that lingers.

A true master piece of the brewer's art, this beer fresh vom fass was a truly special beer. If that were not enough, around 10am, a lederhosen clad Ompah band walks in, sets up at a table directly behind where I was seated, and strikes up the music. The combination of the atmosphere, food, music, happy people, and of course beer, was without question one of the most, or perhaps even, the most amazing beer drinking experiences of my life. I was living, breathing, seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, and drinking Germany. Something I just could not experience if all I did was go to my local beer store,and buy a bottle of Aventinus. My friend, a veteran of Munich beer halls, commented to me, "This is not done for tourists you know. Look around you. There are no tourists in here. This is what Bavarians do.". If you ever decided to venture to Germany, a trip to Weisses Brauhaus is a must, and Aventinus is a must try. I enjoyed a few liters of this beer, as well as Schneider Weisse. We had such a great time, we didn't get out of there until about Noon, and to say I left blissful, is an under statement of a life time. For more information about this beer and the brewery visit their website at:

To the Moon or Bust? : Moonshot '69 Premium Beer with Caffeine

When I get up every morning, I need to have a cup of coffee to get me going. I might have another in the day to keep me going. Then I might have a soda, or if I really need a jolt a Red Bull or a Rock Star. What do all these drinks have in common? The obvious, they all have caffeine in them. So why not have a beer with caffeine?

Rhonda Kallman the founder of the New Century Brewing Company, of Hingham, MA is trying to answer that question. Kallman is no stranger to the beer business. She helped establish a little Boston based brewery 25 years ago called The Boston Beer Company. They brew a beer called Samuel Adams, and I don't think I need to go any further. Kallman is a proven success in the beer world. She left BBC to strike out on her own in 1999. Her first solo venture into the beer world was in 2001 with a light beer called Edison Light which has enjoyed some moderate success is some markets. Light beer at one time was a new beer, and a trend, and is now the most popular beer style in the United States.

Kallman is banking on a beer with caffeine to be the next big thing in the beer world. The story goes the idea came to her when she was dancing at a concert, was drinking beer, but switched up to a caffeine drink for a boost. It dawned on her why did she have to switch ? What the beer world was lacking is a beer with caffeine. Moonshot is a "light bodied" pilsner by style with powdered caffeine added. Kallan also saw the success of Starbucks coffee and Red Bull, and it all came back to one thing, caffeine. Why would this not work with beer?

Trends come and go, but can a caffeinated beer stand the test of time, or just being a passing fancy? The jury is still out on this one. New Century is a contract brewery and this beer is currently being produced at the FX Matt Brewing Company, of Utica, NY. It is currently only available in New York City, and Boston, but Kallman's goal is the keep the brand growing and reach more markets. I recently watch the documentary film Beer Wars which features Kallman and her struggle to get the finances to take Moonshot to the next level.

I'm a bit skeptical about this one. I have enjoyed beers with coffee in them, such as stouts and porters, but I'm not sure I necessarily want a beer with caffeine. Especially so when I hear Kallman stating things like a beer that is "refreshing" and one for when you want a "boost". I don't hear her mention flavor, and for me I want flavor even in a "light bodied" pilsner. At best I see this being a niche beer in a niche segment of the craft beer market. Kallman seems to be going after the bar/club scene with this beer, and I believe she might indeed find some success there. I just don't see the average main stream beer drinker, or even the craft beer drinker reaching for this one too often. I would be willing to give it a try, and who knows. Good luck Rhonda. You did a great job with Samuel Adams, lets see if Moonshot can take you into the stratosphere. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Best Drinking Music?: Polka is right up there

Beer and polka. Go great together. I have always been partial to traditional Irish music, but polka is right up there. Great stuff to listen to and dance to when you are drinking a lot of beer. Bring on the beer and krupnik!!

Go on and have a ball: 2010 Brewers Ball

The 2010 Brewers Ball to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Metropolitan Washington, DC Chapter is quickly approaching. This is the 6th year for this annual event, and it will be held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC on March 6th, 2010.

Tickets are $115.00 and will feature unlimited samples of beer from 17 area breweries, 10 different food stations, live entertainment, and an auction. Proceeds are to raise money and awareness to for cystic fibrosis research. Sounds like a good cause to me and I can get behind drinking beers from:

Capital City Brewing Company

Clipper City Brewing Company

Fordham Brewing Company

Old Dominion Brewing Company

Dogfish Head Brewing Company

Flying Dog Brewery

Front Street Brewery

Gordon Biersch Brewery

Holy Brew Company

Hook & Ladder Brewing Company

Hops Grill & Brewery

ICS Group-Capital Eagle

Rust Belt Brewing Company

Starr Hill Brewing Company

Tuppers's Brewing Company

Vintage 50

Williamsburg Ale Works

For general and ticket information visit:

Beer Memories: Frog 'N Hound

Looking at this label reminds me what a great thing local beer is. Sadly, not everyone gets it, and a brewery producing a quality product will ultimately fail without support at its grass roots. Sadly this was the case with the Olde Wyndham Brewery of Willimantic, CT.

Established in 1997, Olde Wyndham was a small microbrewey that was located in an old mill complex on Main Street in downtown Willimantic. This brewery had such promise, and initially they looked to have a bright and promising future. They produced two flagship beers, Frog 'N Hound Pub Ale and Frog 'N Hound Cream Ale. These two beers were staples for me. I would always have either the Pub Ale or the Cream Ale in my refrigerator. I would buy cases upon cases of these beers, and would always order them on draught at my favorite brewpub The Willimantic Brewing Company and Main Street Cafe.

The Pub Ale was a Scottish ale by style, which was a deep brown, hearty, yet very drinkable malt accented beer with lots of good toffee flavors balanced with mild hop bitterness. It was the type of beer you could drain pint after pint of, went well with all types of food, and was just an all around great beer. The Cream Ale, was an American Cream Ale by style. Pale golden in color, with crisp pale malt flavors, a touch of sourness, this beer was thirst quenching and delicious, with a snappy hop bite that had you wanting more. I toured the brewery only once, and remember the owner and brewer giving me and my friend a sample of the Cream Ale right off the bright tank where it was still conditioning.

Olde Wyndham also contract brewed some beers for other breweries, most notably the legendary Grim Reaper Barleywine. They were doing seasonals as well. I remember drinking their Pumpkin Ale and India Pale Ale on draught and being very impressed. They were present at beer festivals as well. Looking back, I am glad I purchased a pint glass with the Frog 'N Hound logo on it. Little did I know that this brewery would be out of business but a few years later.

Sadly in 2000, Olde Wyndham closed its doors. I believe the biggest problem they had was their beers were just not visible enough in a market flooded with craft breweries. Their beers were awesome, but they some how got lost on the shelf. I don't believe they had enough draught accounts in enough bars in enough cities in CT to make the brewery profitable. Had the brand been marketed better and was more visable? Who knows, we could still be drinking Frog 'N Hound beers today. A sad ending to a great brewery that brewed outstanding beer. I'll always remember Olde Wyndham and Frog 'N Hound beers with great fondness.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Proud to be a Knothead: Diamond Knot IPA

I have been very fortunate as a beer lover to have had the opportunity to visit a number of brewpubs and breweries across the United States. My mantra has always been “go to the source” if and when you can, and it is a credo that has served me well. While I enjoy drinking bottled beer at home, for me beer has always been much better in a social setting, enjoyed on draught with family or friends. It is these first hand experiences with the beer, breweries, and people behind the breweries that have made the joy of drinking beer all the more satisfying for me.

Some brewpubs and breweries you instantly fall and love with, and such was the case for me when I made the trek to Mukilteo, WA and visited the Diamond Knot Brewery. When I first visited Diamond Knot a few years back I was able to sample all their beers at the source on a beer trip that had me visiting 15 brewpubs and breweries in Washington and Oregon. Diamond Knot was without question a very special visit. For beer geeks, Diamond Knot needs no introduction.

This tiny brewery established in 1993, has made quite a name for itself in the US craft brewing world for being on the cutting edge of the PNW beer scene, and one of the best craft breweries in Washington State. I first enjoyed this brewery’s beer in the mid 1990’s when I sampled their IPA at the legendary beer and BBQ joint Redbones, in Boston, MA during one of their annual PNW beer festivals. Right then and there, I knew Diamond Knot was a brewery that I just had to visit one day. When I finally did, it surpassed my expectations, and has become one of my favorite breweries of all times. This charming, cozy little brewpub/brewery is about a 20 mile drive outside of Seattle, WA and is located right by the ferry landing on the Mukilto waterfront, in a building that once was a bus garage.

Needless to say I was impressed with all the beers I tasted at Diamond Knot, but since this is the Pacific Northwest, I just had to review their phenomenal Diamond Knot IPA. IPA or India Pale Ale is the signature beer of the Pacific Northwest. These days, it is pretty easy to find an American IPA or pale ale any where in the US. But it is here in the heart of the hop growing region of the US, where brewers really have perfected this style, and bring out not only the aroma and bitterness of the hop, but manage to squeeze out the fullness of hop flavor. A great IPA is not all about mouth puckering bitterness, it is about hop synergy. I’ve had stellar IPA’s all over the US, but no where have I found more stellar examples than the PNW.

In the 15 brewpub/breweries I visited, every IPA/pale ale I tasted was exceptional. Diamond Knot IPA just might be the best of the best in the PNW, if not the entire US. This beer is brewed with four malts and three hops and is a true bench mark of what an American IPA should be.

Diamond Knot IPA pours to a beautiful, murky, copper color with a thick and creamy white head, and a vibrant carbonation. Diamond Knot beers are unfiltered and unpasteurized, making them extremely fresh and delicious, especially at their source. The nose on this beer just explodes with vibrant, zesty, citric hop aromas that food the nostrils in a big way. The smell of this beer alone will floor you, but you are in for so much more when you raise the glass to your lips. When you do, you will find that this IPA isn’t one dimensional hop juice, as it is built upon a rock solid base of pale, carapils, crystal, and Munich malts, This gives the beer a good buiscuty/sweet malt flavor which shares the stage with a very apparent citrus/grapefruit hop flavor under tones, that hit the back of the tongue. Diamond Knot IPA finishes with more malty/citric flavors up front, then ends with a very vibrant, zesty explosion of citric/piney hop bitterness that tattoos the back of the throat and lingers for what seems and an eternity.

A phenomenal example of IPA, one of the best I have ever tasted in all my years of drinking beer. This is the type of beer that you really must experience at the source and as close to the source as possible. Precious few barrels of this beer make it to other markets, so a trip to Diamond Knot is one a beer lover just must make. If you do, you will not be disappointed as the atmosphere, food, and of course the beers at Diamond Knot are all truly special. This beer lives and breathes hops. For more information about this beer and the brewery,visit the brewery’s website at

Something: Unibroue Quelque Chose

The hunt for new beers is a wild and endless journey, and is what makes being a beer lover so fun. I'm a big fan of many styles, but there are always a few styles that I find very special. One of them is a very rarely produced Belgian beer style, called gluhkreik or "glow kreik". Gluhkriek is a strong, warming brew that is traditionally based on a Belgian brown ale, and is brewed with cherries. What makes gluhkriek so interesting is the beer is meant to be consumed hot, not cold.

Hot beer? It is not as crazy as you think, gluhkriek follows the tradition of mulled ciders and wines, making this style, an amazingly good winter warmer. I have only had two examples in all my years as a beer drinker. One being a Belgian example called Liefman's Gluhkriek, and the beer I am reviewing here, Unibroue Quelque Chose. I was lucky enough to sample this beer from the ground floor, when it first hit the back in the late 90's. I'm happy to say I can still get a limited supply of years later.

The true beauty of this beer style, is the fact you can enjoy it a number of ways. In the summer months you could drink it cold as a cocktail or aperitif. You could enjoy it at room temperature and experience it as a kriek or fruit beer, but to really enjoy this beer, it should be served hot, the authentic way. It is first and foremost a winter warmer, and one of the most delicious ones you will ever taste. Coming in at 8% abv, and brewed with lots of pale malt, and cherries, Quelque Chose should be heated to "sipping" warm from the use of a double boiler, or 45 to 60 seconds in the microwave.

Quelque Chose pours to a beautiful, bright ruby color with a slight white head that fades and a soft carbonation. The nose of this beer is amazingly good with vapors of hard candy cherry aroma and waves of alcohol. The palate is lush and full with wonderful flavors of ripe cherry, with touches of cherry sourness, that play against a soft malty base. This beer finishes with more of that wonderful warming cherry character and alcohol heat, as it slides down hot, and warms the belly.

This beer is the ultimate winter warmer. It is the perfect beer to have after a cold day of shoveling snow, or as a beer to sit and relax with next to a roaring fire with a good book or movie. It is marketed in corked 500ml brown bottles and retails for $8-$9. It is a bit pricey, but I say a style like this is well worth the money. Available in only select markets for the Winter, this beer can be a bit hard to find, but well worth seeking out. For more information about this beer and the brewery visit their site at:

Beer Sommelier or Beer Douche? Round 2: Women get into the act

Can you believe this gal? Is this deja vu or what? She calls herself the Beer Chick and that her occupation is a Beer Sommelier. According to her beer blog, she was recently named "Best Beer Sommelier" in Los Angles Magazine's "Best of" issue. Impressive. Or maybe not. I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I think the number of "beer sommeliers" found in city of Los Angles could probably be counted on your finger tips. Odds are being "the best sommelier" in LA is probably a dubious title at best.

Ladies do not get a pass on this. She might be a lot easier on the eyes than her male counterpart but the truth of the matter? All this women has done is high jack the title of a trained and certified wine steward and made it meaningless by putting "beer" in front of it. When you have to be trained, tested and certified? You have earned a title. Managing a beer bar, co-authored a book about beer, and consulting (anyone can call themselves a consultant) about beer are all well and good. It makes you a very informed beer geek, not a sommelier.

Like her male counterpart, she has parlayed her love affair with beer into a business. I wish her the best of luck, but she really is selling her clients or would be clients a false bill of goods. Restaurateurs hire real sommeliers for a reason. They know at the very least, they hired a person with some sort of formal training, that was tested, and to claim the title, should be certified. I guess if they want to do it on the cheap, they hire a "beer sommelier" and I'm sure they pay accordingly. Real sommeliers don't come cheap, and that is the crux of the argument for me. If anyone can just claim a title because they feel they are good at it too, so therefore that makes them so? Not good enough I'm afraid. It makes a title earned pretty pointless and meaningless in my opinion. You would hope the pilot who is flying your plane and calls himself a pilot actually went to flight school. Call me crazy, but that is just me I guess.

I do not doubt this lady's love and passion for beer. I don't doubt when she managed a beer bar she learned a lot about beer, and how to serve it. I have read her stuff and I like what she has to say. I like the fact that she is educating and introducing women to the wonders of beer. I get it, she is a chick yet she likes and knows good beer just like a guy beer geek. That might have been novel 10 years ago, but frankly that shtick is tiresome. You are a little late to the party miss. I knew gals drinking great beers 15 years ago. There are more chicks out there today drinking more good beer than you think. You should give them a little more credit.

I think this young lady would probably make a great cicerone someday. I would suggest to her what I suggested to the other "beer sommlier". Put away the phony beer credentials and made up titles, and become a real cicerone, the beer world's answer to a sommelier. As I stated last time around, sign up for the Cicerone Certification Program. Being certified from an independent body that appears to be doing this certification to better serve to food/beverage business would be more credible than a silly, self proclaimed title.

Sorry but like the other "beer sommelier"? This gal? Beer douche.

Drinking a slice of pizza: Mamma Mia Pizza Beer

I know what you are thinking. Pizza beer has to be a gimmick right? Beer goes great with pizza, but pizza ingredients in beer just can not work. Guess again. As crazy as this may sound to a lot of people, herbs like oregano, and basil do indeed work in a beer, giving the beer some good aromatics, and flavors.

I remember trying a beer brewed with basil years back and was amazed with the pungent basil aromas, and really fantastic basil flavors the beer had. So when I tried Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer I really was not all that skeptical for two reasons. Over the years I have had beers brewed with a variety of herbs and spices and know for the most part, they have worked in the beers and they have been good drinking experiences. I also am very familiar with the brewery that contract brews this beer for the Pizza Beer Company, and that is the Sprecher Brewing Company of Glendale, WI.

Sprecher brews a number of beers styles and they do them all very well. This contract brewed pizza beer is no exception. This is a delicious, very flavorful, and drinkable beer with lots of great aromas, flavors, and a very nice finish. This beer really does smell and taste like a pizza.

Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer pours to a bright, deep golden color, with a tall, and rocky white head, and a lively carbonation. The nose on this beer is really impressive. Really good herbal aromas of basil and oregano pair with some bready pale malt aroma and aromas of fresh garlic. The herbs and garlic in this beer are very aromatic. The palate is firm, with good malty flavors of fresh bread paired with a surprising tangy flavor of sun dried tomato that complements the malt flavor. This beer finishes with some more good malt and tomato flavors up front, then ends with a wonderful herbal bite of basil and oregano and some garlic bitterness that lingers.

No gimmick here, this is a good beer. I really enjoyed the aromas and flavors of this, and what else can you say but it really is like drinking a slice of pizza. Its a no brainer that this beer would go with pizza and Italian food. This is also a great beer to cook with and use as an ingredient. I don't think this is the kind of beer you would want to drink a lot of, it is what it is, and I like it. Well worth trying and if you see it, don't hesitate to try it at least once. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An American Chili Parlor: Hard Times Cafe

The Hard Times Cafe is a very successful regional restaurant chain in the DC Metro Area, with 15 locations in Virginia, Maryland, and one in Washington, DC. These places are very popular in the DC Metro area, and for good reason. Hard Times offers its customers a relaxed and casual atmosphere, with great service, good portions, lots of beer, and great prices. The Hard Times Cafe and Cue locations offer pool tables and darts as well.

Founded in Alexandria, VA in 1980, Hard Times Cafe is a throw back to days gone by, and is fashioned after a Southwest Depression Era American Chili Parlor, popular in the 1930's. The decor is a simple, but very welcoming, comfortable, atmosphere, with polished red oak, terra cotta tiles, and Western art work covering the walls. The food at Hard Times Cafe is served in generous portions, and at very fair and reasonable prices. You will find a menu that will range from appetizers, to salads, to burgers, to steaks, but the star on the Hard Times menu is their 4 styles of chili.

First time visitors to Hard Times are offered a free chili sampler, to decide what chili they like best. The 4 styles of chili featured at Hard Times are:

Texas Chili: The Hard Times Cafe Original Chili-A 100 year old family recipe.

Cincinnati Chili: From 1922 Geek Immigrants

Vegetarian Chili: Textured Soy Protein Chili-Fresh veggies with a soy protein flake and special spices.

Terlingua Red Chili: Hard Times Cafe Exclusive Championship Chili-A tomato based Texas chili with a competition spice blend. Created by competition chili cook and Hard Times Co-Founder, Jim Parker.

I have sampled all the chili styles at Hard Times Cafe, and I find them all to be quite excellent. The Cincinnati Chili is my personal favorite, it is more like a meat sauce, that is sweet and spicy from the addition of cinnamon. I usually get it served "3 Ways"which is with cheddar cheese over spaghetti. You can chose a number of ways to have your chili served to you at Hard Times, from a bowl, to frito pie, to chilimac (spaghetti), to chili burgers and chili dogs. But Hard Times isn't all about chili.

They have an excellent grill, and have a good selection of burgers, steaks, and sandwiches to choose from. You will also find a nice range of appetizers and deserts at Hard Times. Try the Southwestern egg rolls as a starter, they are stuffed with chicken, salsa, pepper jack cheese, and served with a spicy dipping sauce. Their chili lime wings are awesome as well. Hard Times has a $5 lunch/dinner special they run daily. A heaping bowl of chili with free (all you can eat) corn bread will cost about $6, chili mac will cost about $8, and the portion is enough to feed two people.
You could enjoy a full meal here for under $15, just over $20, for a couple. A kids menu is also available, prices on kids items are good as well. Hard Times also offers free refills on all sodas. The service in my experience, has always been fast and friendly.
What really makes Hard Times special for me, and for any beer lover, is the fact that Hard Times Cafe is a multi-tap or beer bar. You will find an average of 25-30 taps pouring a variety of beer styles, $3-$6 a pint, depending on what style you chose. From regional domestics like Yuengling and Shiner, to micro brews such as Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams,to seasonal specialities, to rare imports, there is always something new and exciting for a beer lover to find on tap. From imported German schwarzbiers like Kostritzer, to California Red Ales like Moylan's, to Belgian Krieks like Kasteel, to local favorites like Dogfish Head, you will find it at Hard Times. Hard Times even has their own beer, called Hard Times Select Lager, which is a Dortmunder by style, brewed for them.

Not going overboard on the tap selection, a mistake many multi-taps make insures that the beer is always fresh, always moving, and isn't old and stale beer that has sat too long. Hard Times Cafes are known in the beer world for being outstanding beer bars,with select locations hosting beer tastings. Great chili, great beer, and great prices? What more could one ask for? Hard Times Cafe is the perfect place out for a day or night of casual dining, or just a great place to hang out, have a bowl of chili and a beer.

Hard Times is also a very family friendly place,so don't hesitate to bring the kids along to the restaurant. My experience with the VA locations I have visited (Woodbridge, Alexandria, Manassass, Clarendon, Fredericksburg)have been very good. For more information visit Hard Times web site at

There is a God: Beer Cheese Soup

Beer. Cheese. Does it get any better? Throw in sausage of some kind and indeed it does. This time of year there is nothing more welcome that an delicious, and warming bowl of soup. A soup made with beer and cheddar cheese is that more welcoming, at least to me it is. There are literally hundreds of different recipes for beer cheese soup, and I love to try different recipes, this one is pretty straight forward. Simple, quality ingredients make this one well worth trying, and it is easy to make. The beauty here is you can always adjust according to your tastes. Enjoy with a nice crusty bread, and of course a nice cold beer.

Beer Cheese Soup

1/2 cup of butter

1 medium sized onion chopped or minced

1-2 cloves of garlic minced

1/2 cup chopped or diced carrot

1/2 cup chopped or diced celery

1 cup all purpose flour

2 cups chicken or beef stock (broth)

12 to 16 ozs of beer (pale ale works nice, but what ever beer you like)

7 oz sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)

7 oz Swiss cheese (shredded)

2 cups of half and half or heavy cream

1/2 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of dry mustard

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 lb smoked sausage (bratwurst, andoullie, or kielbasa all work well)

Tabasco sauce to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste


Melt butter in stock pot over medium heat. Saute onion, garlic, carrot, celery until softened. Add flour. Cook for 5 minutes, stir frequently. Add chicken or beef stock and beer. Let simmer until it comes to boil and slowly whisk in shredded cheddar and Swiss cheese until consistency is smooth. Lower heat to slow simmer. Add half and half, salt, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and pepper. Reduce heat to low until soup thickens. In separate pan cut smoked sausage into 1/2 pieces and saute over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Add sausage to soup and continue to heat on low. Serve hot.

America's Shrine to Beer: The Brickskeller

Do you love beer? If you do, and are looking for the ultimate beer bar, there really is only one place to go in the United States. The Brickskellar Dining House and Down Home Saloon located in Washington, DC, needs no introduction to those of us who are passionate about beer. Established in 1957, The Brickskellar has earned the reputation of being a true Mecca for beer lovers, and is without question, one of the world's greatest beer bars. A visit to the Brick, is a pilgrimage a true beer lover will make at least once in his or her lifetime, and only then will a beer lover see why the Brick has rightfully earned its legendary status.

When you head down the short flight of stairs that will lead you into the softly lit, catacomb like atmosphere of the Brickskellar, you will come upon the bar, and will be in awe. For behind it, you will find what appears to be a massive wall of glass. That massive wall, is actually row upon row of refrigerator units, which cold store, literally over a thousand different beers(bottles and cans) to try. The Brickskellar claims they have The World's Largest Selection of Beer and over the course of its history, the Brick has featured over 5,000 different beers on its menu. Some of those beers have been rare and special imports, or legendary American craft brews. Beers such as New Albion (America's 1st microbrewery), rare vintages of John Courage Imperial Stout from England, North American debuts of cask conditioned Scottish ales, or local favorites have all been served at the Brick.
A handful of beer bars have made the claim of having the largest beer selection of any bar in the world, but there can be only one. The Brick's only real challenge to the claim, comes from a few beer bars in Belgium. So, the Brickskellar has decided to set the record straight, and make it official. The owners of the Brickskellar have contacted The Guinness Book of World Records and submitted the 1,104(and growing) number of choices at the Brick, as evidence, that the Brickskellar's claim is true, and be officially recognized, as having the largest selection of beer of any bar in the world.
The amount of beer choices at the Brickskellar are staggering. You will find a beer menu that looks like a novella, and lists beers according to country. You will find dozen upon dozen of beer styles, from dozens of countries. Name a beer style, name a brand, and odds are are, you will find it at the Brickskellar. Pilsners, stouts, lambics, Trappist ales, porters ,dopple bocks, sassions, barleywines, Flemish red ales, hefeweizens, American India Pale Ales, rauchbiers, fruit beers, are just a few examples of the endless choices. This is paradise for a beer lover, you will find beers here, that you will not find in any other beer bar in North America. But for a beer lover, the Brick offers much more.
The Brickskellar has been host to hundreds of beer events over the years, including monthly lectures and tastings, and has featured the elite of the beer world, including The Beer Hunter himself, the late Michael Jackson. It is during special events such as this, that the upstairs party room is utilized, and rare and special draught beers, as well as bottled ones are poured. Events like this occur often at the Brick, so you will always find something rare and special pouring.
I'm fortunate. I live in the DC Metro Area, so the Brickskellar had become a semi-regular haunt of mine, though I don't get there these days as often as I would like. When I do visit it is for an obvious reason, the quality and variety of beer offered..
You don't have to be fanatical about beer to enjoy the Brickskellar, its a great place to go for lunch or dinner, in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. The menu at the Brickskellar has a variety of dishes to chose from, at some very friendly prices for DC. You will find anything from grilled burgers, salads, baby back ribs, crab cakes, to their famous Buffalo steaks. You find lots of good appetizers, such as pierogies (pasta dumplings filled with cheese and potatoes) Buffalo stew, and mussels steamed in pale ale to name a few. The Brick also offers daily specials, and the food is very reasonably priced ranging from $15-$30.
I have always found the quality of the food at the Brickstellar to be good, never too flashy, just good, stick to your ribs kind of comfort food. The service is fast and friendly for the most part, but at times can be shaky. The Brickskellar gets very busy on the weekends, so the service can be somewhat slow and under staffed during peak hours. The Brickskellar first and for most is a beer bar, so beer is the star here. Everything else is , so keep that in mind if you are expecting to be blown away by the food and atmosphere.
The Brick has that classic bar feel, and it is a great place to enjoy a few beers and hang out. My only real complaint is many of the beers that are listed on the menu will not be in stock. With so many choices, it is not that big of a deal, because you will find a beer you like, but don't be surprised to order a beer listed you are dying to try only to have the waitress tell you they are out of that beer. It is the beer that has given the Brickskellar its legendary reputation, and it is the beer that keeps beer lovers coming back for more. So if you love beer, some good comfort food, and a relaxed and casual atmosphere, you will like it here. If you are a beer lover, need I say more? For more information visit their site at:

Born in the U.S.A. : Anchor Steam Beer

The Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco, CA, and its owner Fritz Maytag, are legends in the beer world. Fritz Maytag is pioneer in the craft beer industry, brewing craft beer in a time and era when little craft beer could be found. The story goes that Fritz, on learning that the local Anchor Steam Brewery was going to close its doors for good, sold his shares in his family's washer machine business, and saved the brewery in 1965. There had been an Anchor Steam Brewery in San Francisco for over 100 years, but it literally was on its last legs. Fritz took it over, put them back in the black, and the rest is history. A rich, unique, and American history.

See, steam beer is a beer style that originated on the West Coast of the United States. Before the days of refrigeration, West Coast brewers brewed beer with a lager yeast, but had to work with temperatures more suited for ales. So to cool the brew it was fermented in abnormally shallow vessels, but conditioned at warmer ale temperatures. So much natural carbonation would build up when the beer conditioned in wooden kegs that the beer was said to "steam" when tapped.

So what is steam beer? It is a hybrid beer, some where between an ale and a lager, taking the best of both worlds. It has the fruity esters of an ale, yet the smoothness of a lager. Anchor Steam is a world class beer, and the classic example of this unique style.

Anchor Steam pours to a beautiful, bright, amber color, with a thick white head, and a very lively carbonation. The nose is wonderful. Aromas of hops, malt, and fruity esters flood the nose. The palate is firm, some good pale malt and sweet malt flavors, and touches of fruity esters coat the tongue. The body is very round and smooth, making Anchor Steam a very drinkable beer. This beer finishes with more esters up front, and then dries with a pleasing hop bitterness that slightly lingers.

This beer is exceptional. It is a great beer to match with food, and a nice beer to drink more than a few of. I visited the brewery in San Francisco a few years back, and actually saw this beer fermenting away in those shallow fermenters. Anchor actually trade marked the term "steam beer" so other examples that you see of this unique style will not be called steam beer but California Common. For more information on this beer and the brewery, visit their site at:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blast From the Past: Dinner with The Beer Hunter

In the world of beer, there is one man who has probably done more for the promotion of beer and the respect for the craft in the past 30 years. That man is the late, great Michael Jackson, The Beer Hunter. Jackson was the world's leading authority on beer and had penned over the years dozens of books on the subject. Sadly, Jackson passed away in 2007 at the age of 65. He was a true legend, someone who comes along once in a life time. The beer world has never recovered from his loss, and he just can not and will not be replaced. The beer world will never see the likes of him again.

As a beer lover, I was very fortunate to have met Michael Jackson on a few occasions. To beer lovers and beer geeks, Jackson had celebrity status, he was the beer world's equivalent to a rock star. I would attend Jackson's annual beer tasting and lecture held at The National Geographic Society in Washington, DC. This event was always sold out, and Jackson without fail left the audience in awe.

The most memorable occasion I ever had with The Beer Hunter was the first time I ever met him. It was in 1996 at a small event held in Orange, CT at a restaurant called Jacob Marley's. This was a beer dinner which was featuring all German beers imported to the United States by a company called Beverage United. A beer dinner is usually a multiple course dinner that features beer as an ingredient in each course, and is served with a beer for each course. I have been to a number of beer dinners over the years, but this clearly was the most memorable I have ever attended. The food, the beer, and Jackson as the guest speaker and giving a tutored tasting of the beers? It does not get much better than this:
Hors d'oueveres:
Brick oven gourmet pizzas
Andouille sausage stuffed clams
Petite fillet Mignon
Beer: Schneider Weiss and Schneider Aventinus (hefeweizen, weizenbockbier)
First course:
Duck brazed in Whitebread Ale served over mescalin greens
Beer: Shlenkerla Rauchbier (smoked beer)
Second course:
Pork tenderloin with rye stuffing
Beer: Schierlinger Roggen (rye beer)
Desert course:
Chocolate cake made with Guinness Stout
Beer: Richelbrau Eisbock (ice bock beer)
Total cost? $85. Trust me, it was a steal for that price. The food was sensational, the beers phenomenal, and the star of the show, The Beer Hunter. After the dinner Jackson took questions from the audience, and basically it ended.
What made this dinner so memorable for me was the fact venue happened to be so small. My beer drinking buddy and I got there early. We went to the bar and had a beer, and Jackson appeared when we were basically the only ones there. He was setting up for the book signing, so we got to speak with him, and bought a few of his books that he autographed. That was pretty cool, and I would have been happy with that, but it got better.
After the dinner ended, only a handful of people stuck around. Some pain in the ass homebrewer and his obnoxious wife, pushed their homebrew on Jackson, and was graciously reviewed by him. After Jackson finished with that, my friend and I pulled up a chair next to Jackson and just sat and chatted with him for a while. We were still drinking beer, Jackson had moved on to scotch. Jackson was really down to earth guy, he was interested in what you had to say, and had some questions of his own about what was going on locally at the time. He was a very gracious guy, and a decent guy who had no problems staying a little longer, which was appreciated. It was a great night, and to this day is one of my fondest beer memories.

A Sad loss for Richmond, VA: Richbrau Brewing closes

Sad news for beer lovers in the city of Richmond, VA. The Richmond Times Dispatch has reported that the Richbrau Brewing Company established in Shockeo Slip area of Richmond in 1993, has closed its doors. Any loss of a brewpub/brewery that provided local beer is sad news indeed. Business had been spotty at Richbrau for the past few years, and this brewpub is yet another victim of the times. I had visited Richbrau a few years back and enjoyed my visit and the beer styles I sampled at the brewpub. I would also see Richbrau at local beer fests, and would always sample their beers. They brewed a range of beer styles, and I remember their beers being well made with some examples being outstanding. Thanks for the memories Richbrau, and thank you for the beer.

One of a kind: Hair of the Dog Adam

Some breweries and their beers are truly unique, and truly special. Beers so good, you would be willing to travel thousands of miles just to get to taste them. Profit is always a motivation with any business but for many of these small, local, craft breweries it really is about a true love of the craft of brewing.

The Hair Of The Dog Brewing Company of Portland, OR established in 1993 is once such brewery. This is a very small brewery that is a legend in the U.S. craft beer world. HOTD is dedicated to brewing "bottle conditioned" beer styles. This beers are high in alcohol by nature, and most HOTD beers range from 10-12% abv. These are that can be laid down and cellared for a few years, and will actually improve with age like wine. These beers are brewed in small numbered batches, and are expensive to produce. While HOTD products can be found on draught at select locations, these beers are brewed to be bottled. Each bottle is sedimented with yeast so further conditioning will actually take place in the bottle.

Their flagship brew is a beer they simply call Adam. What makes Adam so unique and one of a kind is the fact that it is the only existing example of an extinct beer style called Adambier that is commercially produced. Simply put, no other brewery in the world is brewing this beer style.

What exactly is Adambier? It is a very strong, dark, sour ale that originated in Dortmund, Germany. The style was expense to produce, and eventually lost favor with the people of Dortmund with the arrival of golden colored lagers such as pilsner, and the golden lager that started being produced in Dortmund, and became known as the style Dortmunder.

HOTD Adam comes in at 10% abv and 50 IBU (bitterness units). It is brewed with dark malts, and unlike the original versions of Adambier does not have any sour notes. HOTD Adams is strong, rich, complex, delicious ale that is the perfect match with deserts, dark chocolates, or even a good cigar. I dispense with all that and enjoy the bottles of Adam I have tried alone. This is a warming and delicious beer to sip and relax with. It is a perfect beer in the colder months to enjoy and one you will want to drink slowly.

Adam pours to a beautiful deep garnet to brown color, with a thick, off white head, and a soft to moderate carbonation. The nose on this beer is fantastic, with lots of big aromas of dark chocolate, light roast, piney hops, and peppery alcohol. The palate is rich and full on the tongue with big flavors of sweet malt, dark chocolate, and light roasty flavor. Adam finishes with more really delicious sweet malt flavors, more dark chocolate and roast, then ends with a burst of piney hop bitterness and peppery alcohol.

There is a lot going on in this beer. Adam has become very hard to find over the years, and the distribution of this beer can be hit or miss. I have seen this beer in East Coast markets only to dissapear for a few years and then return. If you ever see Adam or any HOTD beer in your market, it is well worth trying. I would suggest you buy a few bottles, as Adam will age like wine, and will actually improve and those big, bold flavors will mellow and meld over time. For more information on this amazing beer and brewery visit their site at:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pure Beer: The Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law of 1516

What is pure beer? To the Germans it means one thing, and one thing only. Beer brewed with malt, hops, water, and nothing else. When the kingdom of Bavaria joined the German Empire one stipulation the Bavarians insisted upon was the implementation of the Reinheitsgebot or Beer Purity Law of 1516. It was to be enforced not only in Bavaria but the whole of Germany. The Reinheitsgebot was an regulation put in place for German brewers and was really one of the very first consumer protection laws ever enacted.

German brewers no longer have to abide by the strict standards of the Reinheitsgebot. It was replaced in 1993 by the Vorläufiges Deutsches Biergesetz or Provisional German Beer Law which allows adjunct such as wheat malt and cane sugar in the brewing of beer that the Reinheitsgebot forbade. It is interesting to note that yeast is not mentioned for the simple fact yeast was not understood at the time. Also, malted wheat, was only allowed to be used by royal brewers and was actually forbidden by the Reinheitsgebot.

Many German brewers to this day still pay strict adherence to the Reinheitsgebot. Many other breweries world wide have followed suit brewing a product the Germans like to call solid and clean. Here is an English translation:

"We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

"From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1,069] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

"From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller usually one-half Pfennig].

"If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

"Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Maass.

"Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities' confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

"Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Maass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley (also considering that the times of harvest differ, due to location), WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned."

Sounds right to me.

Real Australian for Beer: Cooper's Sparkling Ale

When people think of Australian beer, one name comes to mind: Fosters. That is understandable, as Fosters at one point in time was Australia's most popular export beer, and it enjoys worldwide distribution. But did you know that the Fosters we drink here in America, does not come from Australia? It is actually brewed in Canada for the North American market, and really isn't a remarkable beer. There is another Australian beer however, that is actually exported from Australia, its brewed in Australia, and is a world class beer from Australia.

That beer is Coopers Sparkling Ale brewed in the South Australian city of Adelaide. The Coopers Brewery is the sole remaining family owned brewery in Australia, and has been in the Cooper family since it was founded by English immigrant Thomas Cooper in 1862.

The brewery does a number of beer styles, and have been doing bottled conditioned ales and stout since those early colony days. That is amazing in an Australian beer market, that has been washed away in bland lager for decades. The fact that Coopers has survived so long is a testament to what a great brewery it really is.

The Sparkling Ale is a world class beer, that is bottle conditioned and brewed with the same ale yeast strain the brewery has been using for the past 90 years. "Cloudy but fine" is how they market this beer, and fine is very much an understatement.

Coopers Sparkling Ale pours to a very cloudy, opaque, pale blond color, with a dense white head, and a very vibrant and lively carbonation. Like with a good German hefeweizen, you want to roust the yeast and pour it in this beer. The nose on this beer is very inviting with zesty, lemony, sherbet like hops aromas, paired with fresh bready and yeasty aromas. The palate is firm with lots of crisp, tart, malt flavors, and flavors of fresh bread, that dance with some estery fruit on the tongue. Coopers Sparkling Ale finishes with more crisp and tart flavors up front, then ends with some nice grapefruit/lemony hop bitterness, that buzz on the tongue with a sting of carbonation.

This is such a refreshing and delicious beer. I love this beer, and this very unique Australia beer style. Coopers Sparkling Ale is a beer that should not be over looked, and one that all serious beer lovers should try. This beer works exceptionally well with grilled fish such as sword fish, salmon or tuna steaks. Coopers beers are widely available in a number of markets, and all their products are well worth seeking out. This is real Australian for beer. For more information visit their website at:

David vs Goliath: Beer Wars

Just recently released to dvd is a documentary called Beer Wars. I have been waiting to see this one but have not watched it as of yet. An outstanding review of this documentary can be found over at the legendary Bruguru's website:
Worth checking out to give a you good idea what this film is all about and what goes on in the brewing industry.