Monday, July 4, 2016

Craft Beer in Visual & Printed Media (The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, & Game of Thrones)

Linked from The Walking Dead.com

Oscar Wilde famously declared that, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life"--a position that has been argued nearly to the point of irrelevance during the century since...at least until now. We are living in the Golden Age of Craft Beer--a period of enlightenment and elevation. Beer is no longer brewed solely for beer's sake but, at times, for artistic expression and even as an act of creation unto itself.

Concurrent with this artistic explosion in the craft realm is the emergence of visual and written media that exemplify Aristotelian mimesis. Diegestic dictations once dominated people's attention--novels with omniscient narrators who explained everything to the reader. In the past few decades though television has replaced literature as the de facto source of American entertainment and, more recently, dramas have emerged as par exemplar of what the medium has to offer. Programs like Mad Men and Game of Thrones compel viewers with their period realism and epic fantasy, respectively but shows like The Walking Dead, LOST, and Breaking Bad take the art of storytelling to new heights. These masterpieces don't merely represent reality but rather create their own utterly believable and engrossing worlds that the viewer experiences almost firsthand; in short, they show rather than tell their tales.

What I find most interesting is the crossover between the worlds of craft beer and visual storytelling. As the craft world has grown in popularity, more examples of craft beer references have begun to appear in some of the most prominent programs on television and in movies. In the season 4 premiere of The Walking Dead, for example--a show that is fiercely loyal to its Georgian filming locations--featured the product placement of no fewer than three different craft brewers: Atlanta's SweetWater, nearby Athens' Terrapin, and Hampton, Georgia's Jailhouse Brewing.

Breaking Bad featured a variety of craft breweries throughout its run (including a season 2 episode prominently featuring New Belgium's Fat Tire Ale) but arguably its greatest homage to the world of beer was the home brewing pursuits of Hank Schrader, one of the show's protagonists and most beloved characters. The hokey irreverence of both Hank and his home brewing hearkens to the fun-loving and lighthearted aspects of craft beer. Corporate sponsorship and carefully manicured public appearances fail to dominate a brewing culture that is driven instead by a desire to create quality and complex products.

Artistic reciprocity clearly exists between the two realms with a slew of brews being created in tribute to many of the most popular television shows. Terrapin's Walking Dead-inspired Blood Orange IPA (pictured at the top of the article) considered the show's milieu in selecting its ingredients as was this Dock Street Brewing Company's beer that was brewed with brains. Albuquerque, New Mexico's Marble Brewing released a pair of beers to represent the double lives of one of Breaking Bad's main characters while simultaneously honoring the show for using the state as its primary filming location. New York's Ommegang Brewery has also had a highly successful line of Game of Thrones beers, all of which were inspired by the critically acclaimed HBO series.

Craft beer is beginning to pop up in the literary realm as well. Dr. Arthur T. Bradley--author of a nationally recognized collection of disaster preparedness guides--has featured a variety of brews both domestic and international in his Survivalist series of novels including Bohemia Obscura from Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, S.A. de C.V. in Finest Hour, the sixth book in the saga. Once again, inspiration flows both ways with beers like Narragansett's Lovecraft Honey Ale and breweries like Denver's Fiction Beer Company whose mission statement is fueled by a love of beer and books.

Whether beer is art in its own right or an imitation of art it's undeniable that it has entered the creative arena, completing the circle of inspiration as it continues to redefine itself. Long gone are the years of fighting for legitimacy among Big Beer and even the world of wine. Craft beer has clearly lodged itself in the public consciousness and appears poised to continue to broaden its horizons.

AMC's The Walking Dead returns this October while the complete series of Breaking Bad is available on DVD at AMC.com.

Dr. Arthur T. Bradley's excellent post-apocalyptic Survivalist fiction as well as his line of Disaster Preparedness non-fiction can be found directly at his website here , at Barnes & Noble, or on Amazon.com. Dark Days, the latest installment in the series,  is available for preorder.


For more information about the breweries mentioned in this entry please visit their respective websites at the following locations:

SweetWater Brewing Company

Terrapin Beer Company

Jailhouse Brewing Company

New Belgium Brewing

Marble Brewery

Narragansett Brewery

Friday, June 24, 2016

Preparing the Perfect Summer Beer Tasting

One beer away from paradise
It's nearly everyone's favorite time of year here in the Northeast: warm days spent soaking rays beneath sunlit cerulean skies. As a kid, summer had a rejuvenating effect, reinvigorating students (and teachers!) after ten months spent indoors; as an adult, the summer is no less miraculous in its restorative ability. It's a time for outdoor recreation, late-night strolls, and the consumption of beloved libations.

For many, craft beer has become an integral element of their summer rituals. Still, with the craft realm growing every day and a steady stream of newcomers making the leap from the tasteless, faceless macro dictatorship, figuring out what to drink can leave beer lovers scratching their head. We are entering into uncharted territory in terms of the sheer wealth of options available to us and, admittedly, not all of them are particularly palatable. Worse still, with slower turnover on the shelves, a beer that had been intended for late-year, cold weather consumption might still be sweating it out, awaiting the unassuming consumer who is in for a moment of unseasonable disappointment.

As a personal aside, there are two things that I absolutely abhor hearing from fellow craft beer fans: the phrase "palate fatigue" and a declaration that they have to stop drinking a particular beer style because of the season ("No more stouts for me bro--summer's here.") I pride myself on my ability to think for myself and so I choose not to allow the weather to dictate what I drink: if I'm in the mood for a thick, viscous bourbon barrel aged imperial stout and it's 95 degrees out, I'm drinking it.

Now, with that said, I will readily admit that the weather can and does have an impact on the enjoyability of certain brews and the preferability of some styles over others. I drink beer purely for taste so I couldn't care less about how sessionable or thirst-quenching they are but I understand and respect that, for others, those might be the primary factors in deciding upon a beer on a given day. Warmer weather in turn engenders favor for hoppier, lighter-bodied brews whereas the cold climes of winter warrant deeper, darker, even spiced brews.

For our purposes here, we will focus on some beer styles that cater well to summer's sweat-soaked, fun-filled days. These are beers that can be consumed anywhere your warm weather vacation finds you: by a grill, on a boat, at the beach, in the forest, or wherever you choose to spend your hard-earned downtime. To simplify things further, I will focus on the idea of providing a sampling of beers to newcomers by way of a self-assembled flight. Since some of these shares might occur at home or near a grill, I will also include some food pairing suggestions.

With any sampling, less is usually more, so I would recommend limiting yourself to four or five different beers and styles. Beyond that, you'll start to lose appreciation for the individual intricacies of the beers. It's also better to cover a broad swath of beer ground rather than running in circles through the same familiar territory (most likely hoppy brews in this case). For our purposes, we will explore the following broad beer categories to help fashion the perfect summer sampling: Fruit, Hoppy/Bitter, Sour, Light Malty.

FRUIT

For many, fruit beers represent a reprehensible stain upon the craft consciousness; for others, they are the gateway into the realm that we all love. Regardless of your personal stance, it behooves you to include a fruit beer simply because of how perfectly suited the style is to summer quaffing. Many fruit beers fall short in their promise of delicious drinkability but some rise above the rest and warrant the respect of their more renowned brethren.

Another benefit of fruit beers is that they are inoffensive to the palate meaning that they play well with others: you won't have to worry about where you place them in the depth chart. The fact that they can pair well with many foods, particularly salads, means that they serve also as the perfect meal accompaniment or, in certain cases, they can become the dessert centerpiece at the end of a meal. Simply decide upon a fruit and then scan the shelves for available offerings!

Right now, Ballast Point's Watermelon Dorado is trending highly as is their Grapefruit Sculpin--a new mainstay of the fruity IPA culture. Both beers are phenomenal but tend toward the more bitter side so if you're not a fan of that type of beer then you might want to consider something on the sweeter end. Founders' Rubaeus is a personal favorite of mine--a raspberry ales prominent in flavor but far from potent in alcohol content. RJ Rocker's Son of a Peach is excellent as well if you're looking for something a bit sweeter.

If you have a hearty sweet tooth then you can also consider the Samuel Smith line of Organic Fruit beers. They're all solid but are heavy on fruitiness. The Leinenkugel collection of fruit beers are a bit tamer in the fruit department but are decent places to start as well.


HOPPY, BITTER BREWS

Every beer cross section should contain a bitter representative. With a plethora of IPA and Pale Ale options available on every shelf, it's all but impossible to recommend "the best" choice because it varies by distributional and seasonal availability. Founders' All Day IPA is a decent place to start as is Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA. If you can find their Sixty-One, which is the 60 Minute IPA blended with syrah grape must, that might be the best of both worlds and a great segue from or to the fruit beer.

Dale's Pale Ale is an excellent option for those who like a greater malt presence and it's availability is likely higher than some of the other recommendations that I could make. If you're local to New York or New Jersey then you can't beat Kane Brewing's Head High or Carton Brewing's Boat Beer with the latter representing a less bitter, grapefruit-laden alternative to the hoppier and more difficult to obtain former offering from Kane.

Beyond that, your best bet would simply be to go to your local bottle shop and to ask someone there for a recommendation based upon their selection and your individual preferences!


SOUR BEERS

Sour beers represent the tapping out point for many craft beer drinkers. They are so utterly unusual--so vastly different in every aspect--that they are almost impossible to compare to other styles. Fortunately, as with all things in craft beer, there are varying extremes. With sours, arguably the most approachable style is the Gose.

Beers of the Gose style are slightly start, mildly bitter and acidic, and faintly salty--essentially seaside in a bottle. They are refreshing and pair well with salt-laden foods like tortilla chips and salsa as well as blander alternatives like grilled chicken and rice. Think of them as being akin to the perfect Corona sans the lime and the pomp and circumstance of inserting the wedge into the bottle.

Another great sour style is the Beliner Weisse. Due to its remarkably low alcohol content (typically below four percent abv), it's another refreshing, drinkable beer that won't cloud your judgement while scanning the sky beach-side. Unfortunately, it is incredibly tart, which can prove to be off-putting to many. In fact, the traditional way of drinking the beer is with the addition of a fruit syrup, typically raspberry, as pictured at right. Torani makes an excellent raspberry syrup that you can purchase online at Amazon.

Of course there are other sour styles but they aren't for the faint of heart. My favorite is The Bruery's Sour in the Rye--an American Wild Ale that has the perfect amount of funk and bite that makes it an ideal year-round beer. If you can find it then I would definitely recommend trying it out! As far as Gose and Berliner Weisse recommendations go, look for Westbrook Brewing's Gose or Almanac Brewing's Golden Gate Gose as well as Dogfish Head's Festina Pêche, Bell Brewing's Oarsman, or The Bruery's Hottenroth.


LIGHT, MALTY BREWS

Finally, this catchall category covers a wide variety of styles that are all suited for summer. You should include something to serve as the malt anchor for your sampler but you might not want to commit to something that's too roasty or full in the mouthfeel like a stout, porter, or brown ale. Instead, looking at styles like the American Blonde Ale and Hefeweizens might be a better bet. Both offer solid malt backbones but in lighter bodies with excellent supporting flavors.

Sweet but not overly so, ales such as Victory Brewing's Summer Love and Kona Brewing's Big Wave Golden Ale represent a decent set of examples of the style though Narragansett's Summer Ale is a sleeper favorite. Hefeweizen-wise, you can't go wrong with the tried and true such as Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis, and Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, all of which feature excellent fruity esters alongside the traditional banana and clove elements that are inextricably linked to the style.

A new favorite though far more difficult to obtain because of distribution is Lost Forty's Love Honey--a honey bock that is ultra-smooth with the perfect amount of honey sweetness.


All of the above beers and styles pair perfectly with practically anything you could put on your plate. Chicken dishes will work the best but even burgers and hot dogs work either in unison or contrapuntally with the flavors and characteristics of the aforementioned brews. Regardless of what you drink, just make sure you enjoy it and don't be afraid to expand your craft beer horizons. Happy summer, everybody!

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Bruery Arbre Series Review


One of the things that first drew me into the world of craft beer was its inherent inventiveness and creativity. At the time, when I thought of different beers I did so with regards to brands only; the thought that there could be different types of beer was an eye-opening one. Thus was I drawn to the Sam Adams and Dogfish Head lines, rife with variety and innovation.

Now, ten years later, I am still in love with craft beer that's inventive and boundary-pushing...but I'm finding far more novelty brews and far fewer novel ones. At a time when hops dominate the discussion, I find myself growing bored with the endless array of double IPAs dominating the ISO lists and possibly even disenfranchised with craft beer as a whole. Fortunately, there are still breweries out there that continue to redefine beer and who approach brewing as an art form rather than solely a commercial enterprise. While many continue to add more hop varietals and adjuncts to differentiate their beers, some have chosen to reduce the number of components thereby producing brews that are complex rather than merely complicated.

A few months ago I reviewed a line of beers from the Terrapin Brewing Company in Athens, Georgia that highlighted the effect that different types of coffee would have on their beer. They took the same stout and aged it separately on coffee from four different regions. I thought the idea was excellent and so when I heard about something similar from The Bruery, I set about trying to obtain the trio of brews that comprised their experimental collection.

Enter the Arbre series: the same imperial stout aged in oak barrels with differing levels of char. As a whisky fan, I appreciate the importance that the type of wood as well as its preparation have on the resulting product. I loved the concept of changing what for many would be a seemingly insignificant element in the overall brewing scheme. Despite its seemingly infinitesimal importance, the impact that the char level had on the beer was nothing short of astonishing.

I poured all three beers simultaneously so that I could judge them against one another in real time rather than based upon memory. I began by nosing each in the bottle right after opening, figuring that the aroma would be more concentrated and thus more potent. I decided to progress according to char level beginning with the Light Toast and ending with the Alligator Char.

LIGHT TOAST

The nose in the bottle was redolent with some of my favorite sweets: butterscotch, toasted marshmallow, caramel, and toffee. The taste was exquisite but surprisingly different from what the aroma implied. It was very sweet without becoming cloying, bearing a light, pleasant roasted maltiness along with a subtle smoky characteristic. For a nearly 12% abv beer, it was remarkably drinkable--smooth and sippable, beckoning me back time and time again. Easily if not unexpectedly my favorite of the three.

MEDIUM TOAST

My excitement for this project was validated the moment I inhaled from the Medium Toast bottle. It was so different from the Light Toast--even more than I had anticipated. This one was rich in dark, pitted fruits and burnt brown sugar--far less sweet. If the Light Toast conjured milk stout memories then the Medium brought to mind barleywine and quad qualities. The taste was an even further departure from the bouquet than the Light Toast's had been, having a blended scotch-like smokiness to it that was sultry and delicious. To my surprise, there was little if any of the fruit characteristic that the nose promised.

ALLIGATOR CHAR

Of the three, this one was the most true-to-form in terms of what I anticipated from and expected out of it. The bouquet was burnt like grilled fruits with hints of toasted almond and coconut and heavily roasted. This was the first one to have the taste follow suit, hitting me with wave after wave of deep, rich, roasted malts along with dark, bittersweet chocolate. Actually, the chocolate aspect is what surprised me the most: this was the only one to exhibit any recognizable, dominating chocolate elements. It reminded me of an unhoppy version of Founders' Imperial Stout blended with a coffee-less version of their Breakfast Stout.

All three were phenomenal beers and were well worth the pick up. Interestingly enough, I shared these with my wife and a friend of ours and each of us had a different favorite (my wife loved the Alligator Char, my buddy the Medium Toast, and my clear favorite was the Light Toast). What I liked the most about this line of beers was the fact that they represented a more elegant approach to brewing innovation. It renewed my appreciation for the nuances of the brewing process--how a seemingly minor detail can have the utmost impact on the final product.

It made me think of when I first fell in love with craft beer and learned about Dogfish Head's continuous hopping, which in turn led me to learn more about hops and brewing in general. It still awes me to think that it's not just the type of hops that impacts the beer and its flavor but when it's added in the brewing process and for how long it remains. It gives me hope that breweries will continue to push the boundaries of craft beer, learning more about what makes great beer great in the first place along the way.

You can add all of the silly, gimmicky shit that you want to a pedestrian product and people will still buy it but the greatest breweries will continue to separate themselves with beers that innovate for beer's sake.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Babies, Beasts, and Beer: Where to Draw the Line

A recent thread on the Beer Advocate forum about dogs at breweries sparked a predictably contentious debate among users and inspired me to opine upon the issue here. This is a multifaceted matter that warrants as objective a voice as possible but absolutely necessitates an open-minded listener--something that is all but extinct in these modern United States. With that said, I intend to provide the former while hoping against hope to engender the latter.

First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have kids but no pets and no problem with either. My issue, discussed at length here, lies solely with so-called pet parents. My vitriolic disdain for such people is irrepressible but I believe that it is also utterly irrelevant to the discussion here and I will do my best not to allow it to shade my argument wherever possible.

Now, on to the material matter-at-hand: the presence of children and dogs at beer-related venues. For our purposes here I will limit the locations to breweries, brewpubs, and bars with the requisite exceptions cited as necessary. Where applicable I will differentiate between babies, toddlers, children, and pets though the situation is largely limited to dogs.

It saddens me that I even have to think this let alone write it but there are distinct, incontrovertible differences between human children and animal pets; for some this is a point of umbrage but it is an indisputable fact: pets are not people. I don't care if you think of your dog as your child (or grandchild as I've seen on some bumper stickers and car magnets) it is not a human being and is thus restricted in the rights afforded to it. You might dress it up, you might interpret its behavior in an anthropomorphic manner, and you might refer to it as your child but it is not your offspring nor the offspring of any other human and, because of that sole fact, it does not merit the same treatment in law nor compel the same social responses as a human child.

As unpleasant as that might have been it was a necessary point to make because it begins to define the arena in which this argument will battle--discourse that will begin in earnest momentarily.

I love kids, I love pets, and I love beer. I believe that all three can coexist in various combinations but that doesn't mean that they should. There are certain venues that adults go to with the intention of sharing space with other adults in the pursuit of adult (though not illicit) activities. I believe that the nature of these activities in conjunction with the nature of the environment they take place in should ultimately determine the appropriateness of children and pets.

BARS

Of the three locations listed above I believe that bars are the most adult-centric and thus demand the least amount of leeway when it comes to non-adult presences. Bars are often loud, energetic places with a certain built-in degree of unpredictability coupled with a typically singular purpose for visiting them: adults looking to enjoy adult beverages with other adults. These places are not breweries nor are they brewpubs (at least the ones that I am referring to here) but rather they are dens filled with kindred spirits of all types. Some bars have adult games and other forms of entertainment and are clearly not geared towards children or families.

Now, I love doing as much as I can and as many different things as I can with my wife and my kids. In the majority of instances I would rather be out doing something with them than nearly anyone else whether there is alcohol involved or not. With that said, I am very uncomfortable bringing my kids to bars of any sort as much out of courtesy to the other patrons as anything else. In my opinion, the people who are there are there because they want to drink and have a good time without having to worry about things that they might encounter at a different establishment. If they chose to go to an adult bar instead of a family friendly local restaurant with a bar so that they don't have to hear screaming kids then why should I infringe upon that by bringing my kids regardless of how well-behaved they might be? Their mere presence alone would be enough to make some uncomfortable, especially in a bar that allows smoking.

As for dogs, well, it amounts to the same thing. There are certain public places that I expect to encounter people and their pets and I'm perfectly fine with that; my presence in those locations is essentially tacit agreement to be exposed to such animals. Most of these if not all are outdoors and thus render the circumstance all the more comfortable for all parties but when you're talking about confined and/or indoor spaces such as a mall, a ballpark, or a bar then I believe that it's best to leave the pets out of the equation.

Picture a local bar. Many times these places are small and cramped, especially on busy nights. Why would you want to subject your own animal to potential mistreatment (i.e. getting its tail stepped on) let alone the irritation of others? It's great that you love your dog but that doesn't mean that a) everyone else needs suddenly to like dogs, b) the desire of others to be amid adults needs to be subjugated to your selfish desire to bring your dog to an adult establishment, and c) that your dog should even be there in the first place.

I understand that some will draw a parallel between the desire for parents to spend time with their children and pet owners to spend time with their pets but there are a few distinct differences between these circumstances that render the point moot. To begin with, a dog owner can legally leave that dog at home alone for an extended period of time (and likely already does during working hours) but a set of parents cannot leave young children unattended for any stretch of time. The likelihood of the average dog defecating or urinating on the floor of a bar is far higher than that of the average child as is the possibility of being bitten by said dog and child respectively. A sudden arousal either by a loud noise or some other stimulus is far less likely to cause a child to engage in particularly violent or destructive behavior than a startled dog regardless of how well you think you know your animal and how it will behave in a given set of circumstances.
 
With that said, if you're an adult couple and you want to go out to a bar for some drinks then why not consider finding a babysitter for the night and afford yourself the opportunity to be two untethered adults? It's even easier for dog owners who can simply leave the dog where it likely already is for just a bit longer.

BREWERIES

To date I have been to nearly 200 different breweries and brewpubs and, since 2010, I've had at least one child with me at many of them. At times this has occurred to the consternation of others particularly those who believe that any situation where alcohol consumed is one that is inappropriate for a child. That is a personal preference or judgment that I will not comment on but I will say that such an assessment has no bearing on the level of enjoyment of others at a given location.

Now, there are some people who simply dislike children and who do not want to deal with their presence at a beer-centered location. For me, there is a point of distinction to be made between children at bars and children at breweries and brewpubs. As noted early, a bar's sole function is to be a place of imbibing and adult entertainment. With a brewery, while this might still be the primary function is it not necessarily the only one, as there are tours and occasionally, in more family-friendly environments, activities designed to entertain children. Because of the latter fact I believe that it is perfectly acceptable to bring a child to a brewery provided that child is watched over diligently and not allowed to run around or to interfere with the operation of the brewery or impinge upon the enjoyment level of the other adults via their behavior--NOT via their presence alone. Small though they might be they are still human children and are thus afforded the same legal rights as human adults.

Pretty much the only instance where I believe it is inadvisable to have children at a brewery is during a busy time when seating is at a premium. I would hate to show up with a few buddies looking to enjoy some pints or flights only to see two of the four available picnic tables filled with two sets of adults and a gaggle of kids. This is more a matter of courtesy than anything else but it's worth mentioning.

As for the dogs, it's less of an issue at a brewery simply because they tend to be more spacious than bars. In contrast to the group mentioned previously, I'm not perturbed merely by the presence of a dog but I do take issue with being bothered by one while I'm trying to enjoy my beer; in this respect it is the same as with children. If a dog is sitting placidly beneath or next its owner while they're drinking then I don't think that's a problem in the slightest. If however the dog (or a child for that matter) wanders unfettered throughout the brewery sniffing and licking at will then I have a major issue with that. Simply put, if you cannot control the life that is under your charge then you should not bring it with you to a brewery otherwise I believe that it is fair game.

BREWPUBS

I think of brewpubs as restaurants first and breweries secondarily. Though I am always there to try the beer in nearly every instance I'm also there because of the food. If a brewpub is a restaurant at its heart then this one is a done deal: kids are always fine while dogs never are. I don't want dog hair or pet dander getting into my food nor do I find the thought of the various hangers-on that hitch rides on dogs (i.e. ticks, fleas, bed bugs, etc.) particularly appetizing. I would make an exception for outdoor seating but only if that dog stays put beneath the table and even then I would exercise my preference to dine and drink inside or at least somewhere away from the dog.

In summation, I think that it's fair game to bring kids to breweries and brewpubs but not optimal to have them at bars. With dogs, I don't think it's in anyone's interest to have them at any of the three locations or at most indoor places including but not limited to supermarkets, libraries, shopping malls, department stores, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, sports arenas, and concert venues among others. Do what one BA user suggested and take them out to go hiking or to a park where they can run around and do dog things in an environment that's far more conducive and enjoyable to dogs.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where many people are easily offended and who equate their wants as rights. Worse, they elevate their selfish desires above the collective interest of others who are inhabiting the same shared space. The genetic egalitarianess that these people ascribe to their pets is troubling at the more liberal end of the spectrum and downright infuriating at the other. Worse, such behavior and purviews are now endemic in our attention-starved, me-driven society where people believe that the simple act of wanting something is reason enough for it to be so. They cannot handle being told no and imbue utterly inane aspects of their lives with what little self-esteem they hold thus reacting in an irrational fashion when faced with seeming logical, ordinary conclusions; the pets at a bar/brewery argument is not only indicative of this fact but microcosmic of the aforementioned pandemic of petulance embodied by a soft, spoiled populace who shove their fingers in their ears, shut their eyes tightly shut, and shake their heads violently to and fro while shouting "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA" at the tops of their lungs when confronted with this one simple, inviolable truth:

Pets are not people. Dogs might be man's best friend and they might fill a void in your heart or provide you with unconditional love and affection but they sure as hell won't be picking up the tab any time soon. Why not do the right thing--not just for yourself but for everyone else at that bar, brewery, or brewpub?

Just leave the dogs at home, folks. And if you can't control your kids--or they're in a screaming/screeching phase--then they don't belong there either.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Terrapin Single Origin Coffee Stout Review


Recently I castigated craft beer for promoting the prevalence of gimmicks in lieu of progressive creativity. Dire as the state of affairs might be, there are a number of breweries who are driving craft beer forward with ingenious, elucidative exploration. These noble vanguards of the next wave of innovation are breathing new life into what has recently become a realm choked with farcical inanity. Among them are The Bruery and the Terrapin Beer Company--both of which are taking novel approaches to often overlooked adjuncts and brewing process elements.

With regards to Terrapin's offering, they have released a line of brews called the Terrapin Single Origin Coffee Stouts. As with any good experiment, this one has both a control and a variable...and therein lies the elegant beauty of the beer. The stout in each of the four variants is exactly the same--the only difference between them is the type of coffee that is used. It's a brilliant approach that enables brewers to highlight a particular ingredient or aspect--something that's been done with hops for years but is only recently beginning to expand to other areas.

As for the beers themselves, they feature coffee from around the world. The first one that I sampled was the Hawaii Kona followed by the Guatemala Huehuetenango, the Ethiopia Hambela, and finally the Sumatra Wahana Natural. The beers all clock in at a quaffable 5.70% and forgiving 30 IBUs, which is important because that means neither the potency nor the bitterness interfere with the adjunct's ability to shine through. Each bottle features notes about the coffee as does the four pack holder.

For my tasting I decided to sample all four beers concurrently as that would provide for greater understanding about their differentiating qualities and would allow me to form a stronger opinion about each in relation to the others. I eschewed the coffee notes at first electing instead to do a blind nosing and tasting. I chose to nose the beers in the bottle first right after I removed the cap so that I could explore that first fresh burst of java-laden goodness. I jotted down my notes, poured the beers, then nosed them again in the glasses. There was a subtle if not significant change in discernible characteristics and a reduction in aromatic intensity in nearly all of the beers. Following the bouquet exploration, I took my first sips and continued my note-taking; at THAT point I finally glanced at the coffee notes for each.

While craft beer is my favorite drink to explore, coffee is certainly on the list as well. I've had Kona coffee at the source on the Big Island of Hawai'i and have had several iterations of hot Guatemalan, Ethiopian, and Sumatran brews. I would hardly consider myself an amateur coffee critic but I am able to pick up on some of the nuances between the beans as it were. With that said, I still had two clear favorites among the quartet.

I should note that my personal tasting notes hardly overlapped with the notes offered by Terrapin--something that I again chalk up to my limited coffee palate. I was surprised to find that of the four I liked the Guatemala Huehuetenango and Hawaii Kona the least but I was impressed by the fact that my opinion was consistent across the board: each beer maintained the same ranking across each of my three tests (bottle bouquet, glass bouquet, and taste). In the bottle, the Guatemala bore a roasty, nutty, almond-like character that remained relatively the same once poured; if anything the aroma grew sweeter and more mild. The taste was disappointing as the mouthfeel was remarkably thin and the coffee aspect was far less prominent than the nose alleged. There was a faint peppery aspect to it that was pleasant but not powerful enough to muster any real excitement on my part.

The Hawaii Kona came in third with more roasty sweetness in the nose, this time conjuring up macadamia nut memories in the bottle. In the glass I found the bouquet to be exceedingly malty and lacking the exotic coffee aromas that I expected; instead, it smelled like a stout with cold brewed coffee dumped in. Once again the mouthfeel was thin with the roast of the coffee battling the roast of the beer for dominance. Evanescent honey sweetness hung in the background with nothing truly of note rising to the surface.

Then came the other two. What a difference between the Ethiopian and Sumatran coffees and their American (both North and South) counterparts! The Ethiopia Hambela was my second favorite of the bunch with a bouquet redolent with almost bourbon-like roast in the bottle and then rich, dark fruits in the glass. The body itself seemed to thicken upon first taste as compared with its previous brethren with dark toffee-like nuances and light vanilla coating the tongue. It was decadent but not overwhelmingly so.

The Sumatra Wahana edged out the Ethiopia Hambela as my favorite because it took the best aspects of the Ethiopian and elevated them. The nose was richer, deeper, but also brighter and the bourbon was far more pronounced. The body was more moderate and the roast fainter with elements of pineapple, sweet sugar, and barely-there cinnamon clinging to the palate. Regardless of which one I preferred, the Sumatra and Ethiopia were far superior than the Hawaii and Guatemala in my opinion.

I loved the experience of sampling four distinctly different coffees that used beer as their vessel. I'm hoping to get my hands on The Bruery's Arbre series so that I can learn more about the influence of the wood on a stout but for now I'm content to have tried Terrapin's offering. I give the Hawaii and Guatemala iterations grades of A- (91) and the Ethopia and Sumatra grades of A+ (96). Kudos to Terrapin for the interesting take on the tried-and-true coffee stout!

Cheers!

Matt

Monday, March 14, 2016

Craft Beer Innovation Versus Idiocy


Part of what sets craft beer apart from its corporate competition is its adherence to combining quality and innovation in equal parts. Some breweries focus more on the former producing classic styles with little variation but of the highest caliber while others go out of their way to dive into the deep end of creativity. A decade ago, this spirit of exploration was endemic to only a small group of larger-scale microbreweries with Dogfish Head, Rogue, and Stone helming the ship of off-centered brews. Since then, the torch has been passed on to countless newcomers each offering its own eclectic spin.

At present though it feels like we are dealing more with mad scientists who are more enamored with "keeping craft beer weird" than they are with producing worthwhile beers. I'm all for experimentation especially when it comes to adjuncts but I fear that we're getting to the point of borderline lunacy. It's no longer creativity for the art of brewing's sake but something that's more akin to "let's find the craziest shit we can throw into a beer." In short, the marriage of creativity and quality seems to be on rocky footing.

There was a time when adding fruit or aging a beer in spirits casks was considered taboo. Now, though, we found ourselves facing a deluge of gimmicks. When it was confined to a handful of breweries who were known for their extraordinary inclusions it was one thing but now it appears to have landed amid the craft beer mainstream; in essence, we're facing too much of a good thing. It makes me think of Cam Newton's Dab celebration: it was one thing to watch him do it in a game but then all of a sudden you saw everyone doing it. It ruined whatever special quality it had (if any) and cheapened the celebration to a point of irrelevance; it lost its panache.

This, I fear, is what's happening in craft beer at the moment. Attention to detail and a degree of restraint are seeming to be replaced with a fuck-it-all mentality that had me first scratching my head and now simply shaking it in resigned disbelief. Don't get me wrong--I'm always excited to try something new and innovative but when it comes across as a cheap marketing ploy it renders the beer an utter turn off.

More than half a decade ago, BrewDog released End of History--what was briefly the world's strongest beer. The beer itself wasn't necessarily unique but its price point (almost $1,000) and its packaging (each bottle came in a taxidermied stoat) were. BrewDog has built its reputation by rattling the cage a bit so that latest iteration came as no surprise. Since that moment though it feels as if things have gone steadily downhill.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are undoubtedly some beers brewed based upon crazy concepts. Ten years even before End of History there were beers being brewed with glacier water and beers brewed on Mt. Everest. As recently as last year, we've seen beers brewed in space and beers designed to be consumed specifically in space.

Gimmicks abound amid Sriracha beers (which sounds appealing) and beers brewed with beard yeast (which sounds appalling). Both of those, in their defense, have good ratings on BeerAdvocate but that hardly scratches the surface of what's out there. I've had Wynkoop's Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, which is brewed with bull's testicles, but I draw the line at beers brewed with semen. As a fan of The Walking Dead I'd consider a TWD-themed beer brewed with brains but would have to pass on a beer brewed with coffee beans harvested from elephant dung.

No comment on the Icelandic beer brewed with whale testicles that are smoked with sheep dung.

As recently as last week I saw an Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Stout with actual pieces of cereal adhered to the wax on the bottle as well as a beer brewed with freeze dried ice cream. I'm not saying that there's anything inherently wrong with these beers but rather the trend that they implicate. I'd like to see as much attention paid to the principle as the premise of a beer. If the beer is good then there's some level of redemption but how long will it be before we have beer brewed with rocks and dirt from outside of the brewery or a New York City Marathon beer made with sweat-soaked sneakers and socks?

Shelf space remains relatively unchanged despite the sudden surfeit of craft beer offerings. With so many incredible beers vying for that coveted space I'm concerned that some truly awesome brews will never make it to our glasses because the aisles are becoming overrun with self-indulgent novelties. When there's more of an emphasis on marketability over drinkability then there's a problem.

I can't help but wonder if ten years from now we will look back and wish for simpler times when our choices weren't choked with too much of a good thing.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dark City Brewing Review


In just the last five years the state of New Jersey has seen an explosion in quality craft beer breweries. Revered mainstays like Flying Fish, Climax Brewing, and Cricket Hill have had to make room at the table for powerhouses like Atlantic Highlands' Carton Brewing and Ocean's Kane Brewing each of whom are enjoying cult followings that span from coast to coast despite their limited geographic distribution. Newcomers like Belford Brewing, Rinn Duin, Spellbound Brewing, and Forgotten Boardwalk are making names for themselves as well with innovative beers and clearly established identities.

Dark City Brewing, which opened in January of 2016, is the latest brewery to make a splash in the ever-crowding craft beer pool. Located on a nondescript street corner in the heart of Asbury Park, New Jersey, the brewery's exterior belies a hip, modern interior with an open, welcoming vibe. A perfect medley of metal, wood, and glass--Dark City's decor offers a secretive elegance to the brewery--one that would feel otherwise out of place amid an area victimized by economic downturn. Indeed, the sense that Dark City would be equally at home somewhere near Union Square or as a chic rooftop bar in Midtown speaks to the loyalty and pride that its founders have in their New Jersey roots.

As pictured above, the beer menu is hosted upon a screen that also features a real-time Untappd feed offering patrons the opportunity to read others' thoughts about the beers they are about to enjoy. I was thrilled finally to get to visit the brewery--one that came highly recommended from a trusted friend. I took the chance to sample nearly everything they had to offer and was impressed instantly with the consistency of the beers despite the eclectic cross-section of styles. The Bond Street Brownie is a delicious brown ale whose coconut variant served only to enhance the sweet malty backbone. The Charrette stood out as a solid Belgian IPA with an interesting Strawberry Banana variant that is certainly among the more unique beers that I've tasted. A string of American Pale Ales, American Porters, and an American Double / Imperial Stout rounded out the menu--all of which were delicious.

Also on draft was cold brew coffee from the Asbury Park Roastery next door. It was wild to have coffee served from the tap...and it was phenomenal. I loved the camaraderie that was evident in such an offering and the local loyalty that Dark City is already embodying even in its nascent days. I'm sure that, as summer approaches, their business and their reputation will boom as the shore draws its requisite people traffic amid sun-soaked afternoons and warm, windy nights.

GRADING

Dark City Brewing reminds me a lot of Belford Brewing in that they both hit the ground running with a stellar lineup of brews amid a family-friendly, welcoming environment. I believe that the upcoming shore season will push Dark City to new heights--ones that I am sure they will meet with aplomb. I give Dark City Brewing an A and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the New Jersey craft beer scene. It's an absolute must for anyone visiting the Jersey Shore as well!

And in the spirit of promoting other local ventures, I'd recommend starting out at Dark City for a flight or two and some cold brewed coffee and then making your way over to Maurizio's Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant in Neptune City before finishing up at Kane Brewing in Ocean--both of which are less than 3 miles from Dark City!

BEERS SAMPLED

Bond Street Brownie
Populous
City Limits
Charrette
One Way Street (El Dorado)
Bond Street Brownie (Coconut)
Urban Decay
Charrette (Strawberry Banana)

For more information about Dark City Brewing please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

Matt