Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tomoka Brewery Review


Almost two years ago my family and I took a trip to Ormond Beach, Florida where we first visited the Tomoka Brewing Company. I had searched for nearby breweries and, at the time, it was the only one to come up. As it turned out, the brewery was still awaiting its credentials to sell its own beer and was thusly limited at the time to serving only guest taps. We really enjoyed our experience there and so I wrote a review about Tomoka with the hope that they would get their license and would grow into the excellent place I expected that it would.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago when my family and I found ourselves back in Ormond. I knew that Tomoka had flourished and was excited to make a return trip; what I hadn't anticipated was just how much the beer scene in Volusia County had grown--exploded even--since my last visit there. Where Tomoka had been the sole representative of craft beer back in 2013 a veritable army of breweries popped up on my phone as I repeated my search. We visited nearly every one that was local to the area and there was a single common thread among all of the places that we went to: everyone said that we had to visit the new Tomoka brewpub in Port Orange.

We went to the original Tomoka location on our first night in Ormond and were relieved to see that the only thing that changed really was the beer list, which consisted entirely of beers brewed by the owners. The food (the pizza in particular) was as amazing as it had been the last time but we were concerned about the size of our group (now a party of five). Anthony, the man behind the helm that night, was insanely accommodating despite the fact that they were closing within the hour. He even said that he had told the kitchen to stay open since I had called earlier and said that we would be by a little after eight.

We tried all seven beers that were available and enjoyed them all. The hop-heavy list suited the season perfectly and we were impressed with the diversity between the three IPAs that we had. The Hop Quest was the most hop-forward while the Oceanside White IPA (brewed with a wheat base that provides for a unique malt backdrop) and Float On Session IPA (lighter in abv and body but still packed with flavor) were undeniably different. The brew that we enjoyed the most though was the McCarthy's Red--an American Amber / Red Ale that really blew us away with its delectably sweet malt-goodness. It's rare for me to give an amber ale an A or higher but that's precisely what I gave the McCarthy's.

A few days later we had the pleasure of visiting the brewpub in Port Orange (pictured above). All I can say is WOW. I was floored by how enormous the place is in comparison with the smaller original Ormond location. I was elated for the owners and took pride in how much they had grown from our first encounter. This spot was just as family friendly as the first and the menus for both the beer and the food were, well, exponentially larger and more incredible.

I'm not a terribly rabid seafood fan and will likely get one order of fish for every twenty or thirty burgers that I eat. With that said, I couldn't pass up on the Mahi Sandwich and I'm glad I didn't! Until my visit to the Tomoka Brewpub, the best mahi sandwich I had ever had was at Dan Marino's restaurant in Las Vegas. This one though without question was the best. Perfectly blackened with a great dipping sauce one side...man, it was perfect. And the beer? It's not often that the beer will reach the same empyrean heights as food like this but it did serving not just as a perfect complement for the grub but existing in perfect concert with it. It was like harmony for my palette.

The Port Orange location had the same beers as the Ormond Beach one along with a host of others. We tried everything that was available only there and were impressed straight down the line. To put it into perspective, this was one of the few times that I gave nearly a half dozen A+s in a single sitting. The standouts were the 9 to 5 Brown Porter and Black Drink Coffee (the latter being a Black IPA) that were just off the charts. The Bangin' Blonde was the best or tied for the best American Blonde Ale I've ever had. That's usually a filler style for me--one that I hardly ever seek out and will try simply if it's included in a flight. If they all tasted like the Bangin' Blonde though I'd make it a regular addition to my rotation!

The best beer that I had though was the Tom Yum Thai Gose. I'm definitely a fan of the resurrected style but I've never had one like this. The inclusion of four different kinds of hot peppers brought a theretofore unimagined level of complexity to the style--one that leant itself perfectly to my blackened mahi. Though potentially too spicy for some, the Tom Yum was firing on all cylinders for me and made my tastebuds ecstatic.

GRADING

It's not often that you find a gem of a brewery that's founded by great people and then staffed with folks who are just as amazing but that's certainly the case with both Tomoka locations. Rarer still is the brewpub that can pull off both world class cuisine and unique, delicious beers in a craft beer universe that's becoming flooded with pedestrian, forgettable suds. Tomoka Brewing in Ormond Beach and, even more so, their location in Port Orange, Florida are among the best beer spots I've ever visited and are among my sentimental favorites. It would be a disservice to recommend only one so I am giving them both my highest recommendation and am calling them absolute, can't-miss, must-visit locations. It should be less than a half an hour from one to the other so you shouldn't have any trouble whatsoever double-dipping. Both Tomoka locales have earned an A+--my highest grade. Please go and support Tomoka by visiting their excellent brewpubs in Volusia County, Florida!

BEERS SAMPLED

Ormond Beach
HopQuest IPA
Hazy Sunrise
Mutha Fuggle EPA
Lunar Eclipse Stout
Oceanside White IPA
Float On Session IPA
McCarthy's Red

Port Orange
9 to 5 Brown Porter
Black Drink Coffee
Twist of Cane DIPA
The King - Imperial Elvis
Tom Yum Thai Gose
Blueberry FL Weisse
Imperial Picnic Pils
Jen's Gin Saison
Bangin Blonde

For more information about Tomoka Brewery please visit their website here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Monday, May 18, 2015

Modern Times City Of The Dead

One of the best beers I've ever had

I rarely write reviews about individual beers on The Beer Whisperers electing instead to focus on the breweries that make them and, preferably, ones that I have personally visited. After trying Modern Times' City Of The Dead though I decided to make an exception. Simply put, this is one of the most amazing beers that I have ever had.

Prior to pouring, I took a peek at the back label to see what this beer was all about. After a perfunctory perusal, I saw the words "Guatemalan Coffee" and "Bourbon Barrels" and I stopped reading. It doesn't take much to please me when it comes to beer and few things achieve that more quickly than a coffee/bourbon combination.

With that said--I've been incredibly disappointed by a number of seemingly incredible beers lately. I will never buy another Clown Shoes beer after a string of drain pours (I'm not knocking them because a few of the beers have World Class ratings on Beer Advocate, which says to me that it's likely just my palette and not anything they're doing on their end). These were barrel aged beers that should have bowled me over and instead just left me shaking my head in disgust.

Back to the beer at hand! As soon as I poured it into my glass I knew that I was in for something special. The rich coffee aroma caught me by surprise not in its composition but in its intensity; rarely are coffee stouts so imbued with such redolent roastiness. There was a hint of bourbon too but it wasn't as prominent as I was anticipating. Having had over 150 bourbon-kissed beers, I've found that my nose has become particularly attuned to picking out the sweet vanilla and oaky notes that often accompany the spirit's presence in my glass. This time though something was different.

I took my first sip and my eyes widened. The commingling of coffee flavors and aromas titillated my taste buds and left me in awe. Rarely does a beer manage to combine the smooth, luxurious elements of cold brewed coffee with the rich, roasted burst of dark, hot brewed. City Of The Dead held the perfect blend of both but bore also deeper complexities; these I needed to sort out through additional sips. The bourbon came through mostly towards the end of the swallow but in a way I had never experienced before. I have had beers that proffered only a hint of bourbon sweetness and others that were utterly drenched in it (you can guess which ones I prefer!). Usually the former is a result of a) not enough time in the barrel and/or b) a lack of mastery when it comes to barrel aging beers.

The bourbon in City Of The Dead left me confounded: it didn't smack me across the face like some of my favorite barrel aged beers nor was it faded or muted. With each sip, it felt like it was waiting in the wings--playing coy as it slipped between the roast, the chocolate, and the oak layers that were growing ever more varied. With each sip, it was like it whispered to me but when I turned around there was no one there; it was driving me nuts.

I decided finally to read the back label fully and there I found the missing piece of knowledge and understanding. I had skimmed the label and misread it making assumptions based on my experience with scores of other similar beers, mistakenly grouping in City Of The Dead with the familiar. My excitement only grew as I read the label and reread the beginning that said, in full, "GUATEMALAN COFFEE AGED IN BOURBON BARRELS."

Yeah. I'll let that sink in for a minute.

I pieced it together myself just before reading it further along the label: the beer never touched a bourbon barrel; it was the coffee beans that were imbued with magical bourbon superpowers.

Needless to say, I was flipping out. As the beer warmed, it got only better and I grew ever more impressed with what I was drinking. The ONLY negative about the brew was that the mouthfeel was a little thin but I couldn't give less of a shit about that given the flavor explosion occurring with each sip. Seriously--from the first to the very last, it got continually more awesome.

Bourbon barrel aged coffee stouts are phenomenal but this? A beer brewed with barrel-aged coffee beans? It's barrel aging par excellence.

If you love this style of beer then you absolutely have to seek this one out. And if you're interested in their coffee (Modern Times is the first combination brewery/roastery in the world according to their label) you can purchase bags individually of the regular beans or sign up for a monthly subscription that includes barrel aged versions. Here's the link: http://www.moderntimesmerch.com/


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Extreme Beer Fest 2015 Review

Back and front covers of the official pamphlet

I had high hopes and low expectations going into this year's Extreme Beer Fest. My only true festival experience came a few years back and suffice to say it turned me off to the idea of going to another big event. It had started off smoothly enough with manageable lines and a lively environment but within an hour it had turned into an intolerable shit-show filled with beer bros and the requisite Affliction/Tap Out attired crews basically turning a craft beer event into something better suited for the "down for whatever" crowd. Then again, I had attended numerous smaller Dogfish Head events at their brewery in Milton and they were the polar opposite of that god-awful brewfest on Governor's Island: each event was expertly run, the crowds never got out of hand (or too large, for that matter thanks to responsible attendance limits), and the focus was always on the beer and local food; the Extreme Beer Fest, in turn, proved to be exactly the same as the latter.

I purchased tickets for the first session that would run from 6-9:30 pm on Friday. I had loose plans to meet up with a friend of mine who was going to the event as well albeit with a separate group of people. They planned on hitting up some of the local breweries before heading over while I was concerned about the line. I had spent a few nights during the week geeking out as I highlighted my printout of the beer list and plotted out my order of operations based upon the map furnished by BeerAdvocate; as nerdtastic as it seemed, it proved to be a smart move on my end.

Based upon the aforementioned time concern, I showed up at 4:40 on Friday afternoon; I wound up being forty-first in line. With 2,250 tickets sold for each session, I felt incredibly lucky to have gotten there when I did...especially when it started snowing about a half an hour into the wait. My buddy arrived nearly an hour after I did but I never saw him outside: the line had extended so far beyond me that it wrapped around the building completely to the other side.

Sample page from the pamphlet
I had a good deal of time to kill outside so I was thrilled to be given the pamphlet pictured above. It was filled with a ton of information about the fest and the participants along with countless ads for beer-related things. I enjoyed reading about the collaboration beer that Dogfish Head was bringing to the fest--one that they made with BeerAdvocate founders Jason & Todd Alström--as well as scoping out the finalized beer list and map. One of the coolest aspects of the pamphlet though is pictured at right--a breakdown of the number of beers featuring a given set of ingredients. It definitely implies the directional variety many craft brewers are exploring nowadays.

Now, admittedly, I was a little disappointed when I saw the beer list for the 2015 event. I remember poring over a previous year's list with saliva-soaked envy, perusing a seemingly never-ending sequence of monstrously high abv brews as well as others with remarkably innovative or exotic ingredients. That one had featured a handful of beers north of 20% in abv as well as some of the most sought after brews from craft breweries across the country; this year's focus seemed to be more on barrel aged beers and sours. Fortunately for me, these are the two exact styles that I am presently enamored with and thoroughly enjoy exploring.

Before diving into my experience at the event, I want to reiterate how well-run the Extreme Beer Fest was. I waited on line for almost an hour and a half but it was because I elected to get there nearly an hour and a half early! It wasn't long after 6 pm that the line started moving indoors. Aside from that, a swarm of well-prepared volunteers would sporadically make their way down the line first checking IDs and then checking people in and issuing wristbands. This made for a much smoother entry into the event and undoubtedly sped the entire process up exponentially.

Once inside, we were each given a disposable sample cup to use for the fest. I had seen people complaining online about this in reference to previous events but it just straight up works better this way. Giving out glass samplers would be disastrous and distributing souvenir ones to 2,250 attendees wouldn't be cost effective when people would wind up losing them or possibly breaking them depending upon their makeup. As it was, the pours were slated to be limited to two ounces, which rendered this little guy the perfect receptacle at a little over four ounces (plenty of space for the beer and the head to rest nicely).

What ensued following my entrance was far less than the frenetic pandemonium that I was expecting and more just an excited, thrilling drinking atmosphere: no one was running around, making mad dashes for coveted breweries nor were people shouting and arguing. Simply put, it was a civilized, utterly enjoyable event right from the start. Then again, my liver might beg to differ.

In total, I partook in thirty-three different samples to varying degrees. I had a game plan going in and that was simply not to repeat the night of and morning after the 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference where I had thirty samples, twenty-one of which came in a brutal fifteen minute span before heading over to the Boston Beer Company. THIS time, I swore, I would slow-play it and not exceed a total amount of ounces consumed; I was tested almost immediately and am proud to say that I succeeded in my mission.

The biggest challenge with attending an event like this is restraint. You're talking about almost a hundred of the best breweries around bringing some of their most coveted brews and, naturally, you'll want to try them all...but it's impossible to do so. With that said, I had come to the Extreme Beer Fest (nerd alert!) with a color-coded list of the beers and breweries. I highlighted my most desired samples in one color and a secondary collection in another thereby putting an upper limit on what I would feasibly go after. I knew that, once the lines began forming, it would be difficult to adhere to that plan perfectly and so I allowed for the requisite amount of wiggle room. Basically, I wanted to be able to enjoy myself while still ensuring that I wouldn't have an awful night. My wife and kids were waiting for me back at the hotel and the last thing that I wanted was to be a sick, vomiting mess upon returning to them.

Going into EBF, the two things that I dreaded the most were the lines and the potential assholes who would be populating them. I have a misanthropic streak and an aversion for waiting in excessively long queues--quite possibly the worst combination of traits for someone attending an event such as this. To my utter surprise and delight though neither the lines nor my fellow attendees proved to be problematic. The lines were often long in terms of people but not in terms of time; they moved quickly almost universally. The crowd at large seemed to be far more educated in terms of craft beer than the one at the other festival I had attended--a fact that likely created the fun, lighthearted environment. For the most part, the only clowns I encountered were later in the evening and were, oddly enough, almost exclusively of an older crowd (most were silver-haired folks at least in their fifties who you would think would have known how to handle themselves better!). I did have one asshole make an asinine comment about air conditioning that went over my head at the time. He interrupted a conversation that I was having with a nice couple from D.C. to make his quip and immediately I felt the Brooklyn rising up in me. You would think that people would know better than to antagonize strangers at an alcohol-themed event but fortunately good sense prevailed and I kept my mouth shut. It was only after the fact that I realized that he was probably making some forced attempt at humor about the dual sample glasses I was wielding at the time--a point I will explore shortly.

And here we are: it's not a good idea to walk around with more than one sample glass in your hand. My buddy had wanted to take a picture with a brewer while I wanted to get on another line so I took his sample for him and headed over to wait. It never dawned on me that this could be construed as double-fisting drinks and I was lucky not to get chastised for it; as it turned out, he had gotten reprimanded earlier in the evening as did other attendees. While some would bristle at such admonishment, I think it speaks to how seriously the event hosts take responsible drinking at the fest and it lends itself to reducing the opportunity for people to get out of hand.

Me with Patrick Rue, founder of The Bruery
Overall, I had a total blast at the Extreme Beer Fest and I managed to uphold my promise to myself by sticking mostly to my plan going in. Of the seven beers that I marked as extremely desired, I managed to try four there and found a bottle of another on the way home; the other two, as it turned out, weren't being poured on the first night. I enjoyed two samples of my all-time favorite beer--the 2013 vintage of The Bruery's Black Tuesday, AND I completed my photo-op trifecta thanks to Patrick Rue's generosity and affability. I now have photos with Jim Koch, Sam Calagione, and Patrick Rue--the three men who have arguably shaped my craft beer identity: Jim's Sam Adams line was my gateway into craft beer, Sam's Dogfish Head culture helped me to fall in love with craft beer and the scene as a whole, and Patrick Rue makes what are without question my all-time, top beers (again with Black Tuesday at the pinnacle).

Other highlights included Surly Brewing's Darkness and Abrasive--possibly the best Russian Imperial Stout and easily one of the best DIPAs I've ever had, Avery Brewing's Uncle Jacob's Stout--another absolute beast of a beer at nearly 17% abv, Firestone Walker's Agrestic and Bretta Rosé, everything from The Rare Barrel, Other Half Brewing's Green Diamonds--potentially the best DIPA I've had, and most of the Dogfish Head entries with ExtRemus, ExtRomulus, and Beer For Breakfast standing out as the best among them. I'm bummed that I didn't read more carefully that the 120 Minute IPA being offered was from 2011 but in retrospect it was probably a good thing since most of the 33 samples that I had were already well over 10% abv. I missed out on a number of other great beers and breweries but it was as much a result of the personal limits that I set upon myself as it was the lines. Ironically, the longest queue that I waited on was actually for food--the delectable delicacy called the Green Muenster by Roxy's Grilled Cheese. It really hit the spot as I took a much needed break from the bacchanal.

Ultimately, I felt like this was the best run event of its size that I've ever been to--beer-related or not. Dogfish Head and the Beer Advocate team really had everything well-thought out and created not just a festival filled with great beer but rather an opportunity to savor craft beer in a relaxed, responsible way. The pours really were limited to two ounces or less (at the discretion of the individual pourers for each brewery), there was a solid variety of food available for purchase at a reasonable price (reasonable at least in terms of my expectations for food of similar quality at chic craft beer locations), there was a seemingly unlimited supply of water available at a ridiculously reasonable price (ONE dollar a bottle! More on that in a minute), and there were a slew of cleaning stations that subconsciously discouraged overconsumption as well as the frivolous waste of sample cups (the stations had buckets in which to dump unwanted beer as well as Gatorade tanks filled with water used to rinse out the sampling cups). 

Nothing demonstrated the sponsors' collective respect of beer and their adherence to fostering responsible drinking more to me than those one dollar bottles of water. Given the importance of staying hydrated while drinking, it would have been easy as hell for them to price gouge us but not only didn't they do that--they instead charged essentially a nominal fee leaving little excuse for revelers not to be responsible. Props to Dogfish and Beer Advocate for handling things in such a fashion. That alone makes me trust them with future events and leads me to believe that they truly stand behind the things they say about respecting craft beer.

With all of that said, I'd like to conclude with a few suggestions for having a successful, enjoyable experience at a festival like this. Many of these items are common sense and are covered by Beer Advocate in their survival guide but all of them are worth considering seriously:

I. SET A CONSUMPTION LIMIT GOING IN

Some people are blessed with the inherent ability to pace themselves unconsciously; I am not one of those people. I have a collector's mentality and the thrill of knocking beers off of my list can potentially derail my efforts to take it slowly. As it was, I had almost a third of my samples in the first twenty minutes or so even though I planned to space them out. What really helped was sticking to my "thirty samples or forty ounces" limit. I might've gone slightly over but without that guideline in place I can only imagine how much I would've had.

II. HAVE A GAME PLAN IN PLACE

Knowing what you want to sample before you go in will make for a smoother, far more enjoyable experience than simply winging it. Even still, it'll likely be impossible for things to go exactly as you'd like so be sure to build in some flexibility. Select your half-dozen or so most desired beers and seek those out early; you never know what beers might kick thereby robbing you of an opportunity to try something amazing.

III. UNDERSTAND WHERE THE LONGEST LINES WILL BE

I was lucky enough to have tried Founders' CBS in February and thus had the luxury of not having to wait on the line at EBF for it. It would've been my number one beer though and I would've gone to Founders immediately because I knew that CBS, KBS, and the other Founders entries would all likely draw a monster crowd. Though I wanted to try things from certain breweries, I realized that it would be nearly impossible to do so simply because of their reputation. I didn't want to spend most of the night waiting in lines and so I sacrificed some of the most popular ones for other, less pined-for breweries. The result? A stress-free night filled with exactly the amount of amazing beer I had hoped to enjoy.

IV. MAKE USE OF THE MAP

Though this and the preceding point are essentially just aspects of having a game plan, there's something to be said for visualizing the space you'll be in and planning out a route. In my case, I saw that the Boston Beer Company and Dogfish Head would be at one central spot while Surly Brewing was all the way in the back near the corner. I made a quick pit stop to try the Kosmic Mother Funk and then made a beeline for Surly. From there it was off to Avery, back over to the Lost Abbey, then Shmaltz and the Rare Barrel. I didn't stick to the exact route I had laid out initially but my preparation paid off because I didn't waste much time if any wandering around looking for breweries (something that could become potentially time-consuming as the lines started to fill up making it more difficult to look around).

V. IF YOU GO WITH FRIENDS KEEP YOUR LIMIT IN MIND

I attended EBF basically by myself (I bumped into my buddy twice during the night but was alone for the rest of it) and, for me, it was a very good thing. I didn't realize it until later but if I had gone with a friend (or, worse, a group) I would've been bombarded with multiple samples to try all at once. There's no way I would've been able to resist the temptation to overconsume and would've blown past my limit less than an hour in. If you're going with friends who are willing to share their samples with you then just be aware of how much you're drinking and how quickly.

VI. HYDRATE WAY MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED TO

I can't emphasize this one enough. I was at the event from 6 o'clock until 8:30 and I polished off FIVE 12 ounce bottles of water while I was there. I then downed a 32 ounce Gatorade and another bottle of water back at the hotel before going to sleep. I was basically good this morning but just to be sure I downed a bottle of coconut water. The end result? Absolutely no hangover after a monster night of drinking.

VII. EAT AT LEAST ONCE MIDWAY THROUGH AND BEFOREHAND

A full stomach will slow the effect of the alcohol and will help your body to process it better in the long run. I ate a big lunch around 3 o'clock and then had a bagel with cream cheese while I was waiting on line at 5. I took advantage of the food stands and rocked a grilled cheese at 7 before finishing the night with some gross, greasy, (but helpful!) fast food at 9 o'clock. This one's more about helping you the next day more so than the night of!

VIII. BE WILLING TO DUMP BEER/ASK FOR SMALL POURS

I know that it's sacrilegious to say but at events like this you really have to be comfortable with dumping some beer IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO SAMPLE A WIDE SELECTION. If you're interested in sticking to only a few breweries and beers then by all means drink away BUT if you're going for variety and quantity then it's almost a necessity that you pour some for your homies along the way. I placed a higher value on the number of beers that I tried and thus knew that in order to come nearest to my 30 beers/40 ounces mark that I would have to forgo some of my samples. I asked for small pours and many of the pourers honored my request. Some didn't though and so I was forced to toss the excess when I wasn't a fan of what was in my cup. Thus the cleaning stations/dump buckets! I was able to have 33 samples in total and consumed the maximum amount for only my favorite ones. Simply put, if you drink everything that's put into your cup, you're in for a long night and an even longer day after.

IX. KNOW WHEN TO CALL IT QUITS

This final point might just be commonsense but it goes a long way to ensuring that you have the best night and next day possible. Just because the event lasts three and a half hours doesn't mean you have to be there drinking throughout that entire time. I left voluntarily an hour early because I had people I wanted to get back to and a weekend ahead that I wanted to enjoy without paying homage to the porcelain god.

Know yourself, your tendencies, your limits, and, most importantly, know when it's time to go home.

Cheers!

Matt

Monday, March 9, 2015

Chasing Whales


What is it about whales that makes us chase after them and are we crazy for doing so? I find myself asking this question time and time again without ever really making progress understanding the answer. The first obvious response is that it's about drinking really good, difficult-to-find beer. The next is often that it's the thrill of the chase. Pursuant to that, I suppose, is the unspoken of level of ego involved in being able to drink something that the vast majority of people either haven't or potentially won't ever get to try.

With that said, I've been fortunate over the past few years to have knocked off nearly all of my bucket-list beers. In fact, as the calendar changed to 2015, I found myself really with only two: Founders' CBS and Russian River's Pliny the Younger. The former attained legendary status with its bottle release in 2011 (it had already been the stuff of local lore for awhile by that point). Founders managed to take an already incredible, longed for brew in KBS and transcend it with a similar stout aged with maple syrup. One simple ingredient and limited release later, a whale was born.

I lusted for CBS more for its description and its rating on Beer Advocate than for the hype associated with it. I had long since resigned myself to the fact that I would never try it...until a local spot announced that they would be hosting a Founders event with CBS as the star. Instantly the intensity of that desire grew exponentially and I was filled with that heart-pounding excitement that comes with the chase. In short, I couldn't wait to try this bad boy out.

Pliny the Younger, on the other hand, has intrigued me almost exclusively on the grounds of its hype. This beer is so difficult to try that people often spend not just hours waiting to try it but the better portion of entire days. Folks have flown across the country simply for a California release event only to wait a third of a day and miss out. At one point the Younger was available for growler fills (which mitigated its unattainability) but after the Cilurzos got wind of their resale and subsequent price gouging, they did away with said pours. Now, in order to try the legendary IPA, one would have to attend a release event.

The coveted Founders CBS
And so, a few days before the end of February, there I was heading to my local bar at 4:30 on a Thursday for a 7 o'clock tapping of Founders' CBS. I was meeting a few friends there one of who, like me, had rearranged his entire afternoon and evening solely for the chance to try this beer. We were both afraid of showing up early and finding a line down the block so we sat down and sussed out a game plan that included an inordinate amount of hypothetical scenarios and how they played out. I take the blame for this because I can be obsessive and want to make sure that I cover every angle or possibility when there's a situation with something great at stake--in this case to knock off one of my two remaining whales.

I rolled into the bar and was shocked to find that it was mostly dead. I made eye contact with a few patrons scattered throughout and it was as if we were sizing each other up--attempting to figure out if we were there for the same purpose (in most of the cases, we were). I sat down at the table my buddy had procured for us and the wait began. Twenty minutes later, the bar started filling up; shortly after five it was packed. We watched the hostess' station with pensive, eagle-eyes making sure that they would not begin dispersing the tickets early and ensuring that no one would try to one-up us; the obsession had begun.

The bar's approach was to tap a slew of Founders beers at 5 p.m., to hand out the tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at 6 p.m., and then to tap the CBS at 7 p.m. By 5:30 it was almost impossible to walk into the bar and then, shortly after, someone shouted out that people were lining up for the tickets. That simple utterance created a scene of organized chaos. Within seconds, we were smushed in a thrush of people waiting by the door for absolutely no reason; no one had given the command to get in line nor was anyone preparing to hand out the tickets. Instead, like a group of maniacs on a hair-trigger, we had jumped and were now standing asshole to elbow based on the speculation that the tickets would be handed out any minute.

That's the first part of the whale hunting issue: the fear. All logic and reason disappear in the instant that it seems like we might miss out on the opportunity to try one of these beers. Fortunately, things never got out of hand (Hunahpu day anyone?) but there we were damn near panicked by the fact that we might not be among the 100 folks to get a ticket. About a half an hour later, though, there we were returning to our table with tickets in tow; thus began the second part of the wait.

I realized that, at this point, the nature of the wait has changed. The fear is greatly lessened but the tension still remains. You've managed to get a ticket, which in theory guarantees you a pour but until that beer is in a glass right in front of you, you can take nothing for granted. And so we waited for over an hour for our beloved brew to make its appearance.

Shortly after seven, I finally managed to put my lips to a glass of CBS...and in that moment, all of the intensity, all of the ravenous fury with which I pined for this beer melted away leaving me to feel like a dope for having gotten so worked up in the first place. That's the next part of the issue: the afterglow. It's a great moment filled with a thrilling sense of accomplishment when you finally get to taste the beer. Shortly thereafter though, the euphoria fades and, depending upon how crazed you were or what specifically you did to obtain the beer, you're left feeling either ridiculous or rueful over what just happened.

For me, the CBS euphoria never really dissipated into a cloud of shame. I had gone to a local bar a few hours early, hung out with some great people, enjoyed a few excellent beers and a solid meal, all before even tasting the delicious elixir. No harm, no foul on this one. The CBS lived up to the hype but, for me, it failed to awe me the way I've been wowed by other beers. Part of it is the sheer number of predecessors it had to contend with (nearly 2,700 other different beers). It was amazing but, even though I was accused by others of not allowing it to warm up enough, I found that it was on par with Kane's Sunday Brunch. I liked the CBS better but I found myself wondering if a bourbon barrel aged iteration of the aforementioned SB would stand toe-to-toe with the Founders beer or perhaps even surpass it in quality.

Total time devoted to trying CBS: three hours--a paltry sum when compared with what others have endured. The sad part though is that one of the guys who showed up had not only tried it before but had had it six times...that week! He had gotten wind of a few local releases and showed up managing to have not simply samples of the beer but full glasses. It didn't matter to me at the time since all I cared about was trying the beer but at the same time I couldn't believe how crazed I had gotten while this guy literally was just walking into the right places at the right time and consuming it to his heart's content.

"Never again!" I said to getting so worked up about a beer.

Not five minutes after uttering that oath, I had already agreed to go to Philly two weeks later for a Pliny the Younger event. Once again I was consumed by the excitement of the chase as well as the potential to knock my last most-sought-after-beer from my list. My buddy and I knew that this one was going to be a little bit more complicated and risky to obtain than the CBS and so we hatched an even more convoluted plot to seek it out.

Thus, there I was, standing outside in the dark at 4:30 in the morning (5:30 thanks to Daylight Savings) asking myself just what the hell was wrong with me as my buddy pulled up. We talked for nearly the entire 90 minutes it took us to get to the spot, mostly out of nerves, and then arrived. We were anticipating insane lines and were terrified of driving all the way down to Philly only to arrive too late. The bar was advertising exactly 65 pours--sixty five--and we wanted to be among that select group. And so there we were bounding up the stairs with bated breath more than four hours ahead of the proposed tapping time only to find a handful of people there; we had made it.





Once again, the wait began. We lucked out big time with this event though because we stood outside for around ninety minutes and were treated to an amazing tap list, great food, and some great company. Still, there we were drinking beer before ten on a Sunday morning with empty stomachs and excited hearts. We wound up being given an amazing artisan doughnut that we each scarfed down and then ate a little bit later all the while biding our time until we could exchange our small raffle ticket for the golden one pictured above.

On my buddy's suggestion, I held onto a sample of the Blind Pig and Pliny the Elder to do a single, double, "triple" IPA vertical. The Younger blew the others out of the water and is among the best IPAs I've ever had if not number one. Was it worth trying? Absolutely, even with the wait. Would I ever do this again for a beer? I say no...but I question how much I mean that.


This time, we drove an hour and a half into another state to stand outside in the cold for almost two hours to drink a slew of brews before noon. At first, I felt like we were lunatics--a pair of guys caught up in whale hunting, throwing good sense to the wayside...but then I took a look around us. We were surrounded by other like-minded folks who, like us, were having an incredibly good time. Sure the wait sucked but you know what? I had a blast being there with my friend, making new friends, and enjoying great beer and food in an awesome environment; that's when my thinking changed.

Looking back, the best part of the CBS and Pliny the Younger events was obviously getting to try the beers but what enhanced the entire experience was getting to share it with friends. I still get nuts about going and picking up a sought-after beer at a local shop but the first thing that I do when I get it is let my beer friends know about it. Craft beer is its own community comprising myriad sub-communities; to me, that's the best part.

I've been fortunate never to feel persecuted for my beer beliefs, mostly because I've surrounded myself with open-minded individuals who either love beer as much as I do or who are at least curious enough to take part in my passion. There are a lot of people who don't drink craft beer who probably think we are insane for doing the things that we do for what we love...but at its core, isn't craft beer essentially a hobby? Why should it be deemed ludicrous or unacceptable to wait eight hours on line to try a beer when people do it all the time in the pursuit of autographs from favorite athletes, musicians, or celebrities? Why are we looked down upon for spending twenty dollars on a single bottle of beer when there are collectors out there shelling out ten times as much for some inane inanimate object?

And therein lies the answer to my initial question. Some of us chase down whales simply for the thrill of it; others do so to enjoy great beer; others still for bragging rights. Whatever the reason though, this is one of the more thrilling elements of our shared interest--the passion that drives us and leaves us filling fulfilled. It's something that is at once personal and social: the arena through which we meet other like-minded folks who share in our fervor, who can teach or be taught about this great world and culture of craft beer, and who just might wind up becoming great friends in the process.

Are we crazy for the things we do to try a single beer? Maybe, but I know that I'm not alone in my pursuit and there's safety in numbers.



Saturday, February 28, 2015

Forgotten Boardwalk Review

A gradual shift in the draconian New Jersey beer laws has given birth to an influx of new breweries. This sudden surfeit of available options is great for fans of craft beer variety but it also creates the potential for a watering down of the market: too many places making average beer will ultimately detract from the overall quality of the beer scene as a whole. Despite this, a few gems have popped up that are sure to stand the test of time with their delicious, innovative brews.

Forgotten Boardwalk in Cherry Hill opened less than five months ago on October 11th, 2014 but they have already made a name for themselves among craft beer fans in central Jersey and the nearby shore communities. The shore and its history, in fact, serve as the backdrop for the brewery's decor and, in some ways, helps to shape the beer styles the brewery produces. The tasting room has the feel of a boardwalk carnival but not in a kitschy way; instead, it serves as homage to bygone days and simpler times when the shore was the place to be with friends and family.

I had the pleasure of visiting the brewery in January and was impressed with the location, the people, and, of course, the beer. My buddy and I split a pair of flights to try everything that they had on tap. I was surprised to find that there wasn't a single dark beer to be had. I'm not sure if this was merely anomalistic or if it is tied somehow to Forgotten Boardwalk's beer mission statement. Still, the lack of high-value SRM brews was quickly forgotten in the face of the delectable treats before us.

Arguably the best and most renowned beer Forgotten Boardwalk produces is its Funnel Cake cream ale. Its trademark is a smooth, drinkable body with light hints of vanilla sweetness--both telltale characteristics of the style. An easy drinking beer, the Funnel Cake is both easy on the palette and the liver--certainly sessionable at a modest 5.5% abv. The nitro version ratchets up the creaminess and makes for a dangerously quaffable brew.

A slew of hoppy brews including their 1916 IPA, On The Waterfront session IPA, and Round Trip hoppy aison added some lupulin-laced variety to the lineup. The Tilt-A-Swirl saison was a surprise as it was aged on vanilla and cocoa nibs--two ingredients I rarely if ever associate with the style. It certainly worked and was definitely a dark horse among their offerings. My favorite brew by far though was the Spice of Life--an IPA brewed with amarillo hops (the staple hop used by Dogfish Head) and, of all things, local habanero honey. I love spicy foods and thought that the heat was muted enough so as not to detract from the flavor of the beer; my buddy disagreed but we both felt like a ghost pepper beer we tried later in the day was way, way hotter.

There's a lot to see while you're at the tasting room including old newspapers, decorations from the first half of the twentieth century, and even some entertainment items like skee-ball machines. The venue was family friendly and, though extremely active at the time we were there, it never felt cramped; this is a spot that you could enjoy a few samples with your kids in tow or one where you could kick back and enjoy a few pints with some friends. Either way, it's definitely worth the visit.

GRADING

As a fan of the burgeoning New Jersey craft beer scene, I'm thrilled to see spots like Forgotten Boardwalk setting up shop in nearby locales. The beers were very good, the facility was awesome, and the tour has gotten solid reviews. I'm excited to see where they're going with their arsenal of beers and hope to see some other styles eventually be represented in the array. I give Forgotten Boardwalk an A- and definitely recommend going to visit. Even better, you can string together a number of great breweries in a relatively short drive--something I will explore in upcoming entries.

BEERS SAMPLED

1916 Shore Shiver (IPA)
What The Butler Saw (Witbier)
Funnel Cake (Cream Ale)
Funnel Cake Nitro (Cream Ale)
Tilt-A-Swirl (Saison)
On The Waterfront (APA)
Round Trip (Saison)
Spice of Life (IPA)

For more information about the Forgotten Boardwalk brewery please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

Matt

Friday, January 9, 2015

Matt's Top 100 Beers Of 2014

Call me...IshMatt
2014, simply put, was one of the greatest years of my life. It was a year filled with challenges and accomplishments--goals set and achieved--as well as personal growth on a monumental scale. I endured and enjoyed a humbling variety of changes as I sought both to simplify and to downsize my life, focusing on the things and the people that mattered the most to me. I also tackled lifelong dreams by training for and completing not just my first century bike ride (110.26 miles) but a century run of sorts as well (10.69 miles in 102 minutes--my first time going over the 80 minute mark). I finished writing my third novel drawing ever closer to the pursuit of my dream of publication. Most important of all though is the fact that I lost more than forty pounds by finally getting my shit together and recognizing that I was making not just lazy and unhealthy decisions when it came to food and drinking but selfish and self-destructive ones.

Amid all of this change though there were a few constants not the least of which was the purpose of this blog and its entries: beer. Despite cutting back on drinking and managing to lose the weight of a four year old human being, I still notched 427 new beers--my third most prolific beer year. Truth be told, the amount of beer that I consumed might have been second only to 2011 when I tried 725 different brews given the duplicate beers that I enjoyed revisiting in 2014 as well as the size of each entry (there were more full glasses this year than possibly any other year).

Though the quantity of beers failed to awe the quality of the beers I enjoyed in 2014 certainly did; I doubt I will ever have a year filled with so many beers of such a high caliber. Nearly all of these beers were enjoyed because of the generosity and camaraderie of a truly great group of guys. Without my good friend DS none of that would have been possible so a big thank you goes out to him for his magnanimity, both in terms of beer and social networking.

2014 was certainly the Year of the Whale given the sheer volume of epic brews I took down (again, mostly courtesy of DS) but in the end my white whale (and the best beer I have ever had) wound up being black. I could argue that the theme of the year was big beers but I don't feel like that captures the most important element of 2014. Given that 92 out of the 427 new beers that I had in 2014 (almost one in every four!) were aged in some type of wood cask, it could certainly be considered the year of the barrel aged beer...but that still would overlook the most enjoyable aspect (though those barrel aged beers were undeniably decadent!).

No, the theme of the 2014 beer year was this: Kindred Spirits. I drank more amazing beer because of and with other people (fellow whisperers in their own rights!) there's just no way I could look back on the year with anything other than awed appreciation for the generous folks that I got to share some drinks with. DS was at the heart of it all but Joe was the host and provider of an insane amount of truly unforgettable beer. Simply put, I was humbled by Joe's generosity; it was truly a transforming experience for me. For the first time I stopped thinking selfishly about the beer I had and how I went about enjoying it. I got caught up in his spirit of sharing and am grateful for the opportunities that I had to drink with him and everyone else who was there (including Matt who contributed not only some great beer on his own but my first taste of Pappy Van Winkle! Thanks dude!).

With regards to the beer itself, I added only a handful of new breweries and brewpubs visited--the consequence of nearly exhausting the most local options! The most notable aspects (aside from surpassing the 2,500 mark) really were the variety of barrel aged brews and the overall quantity of high abv beers. While the overwhelming majority of the barrel aged beers were aged in bourbon barrels, this year featured brews that spent time in brandy, cognac, rum, rye, tequila, and whiskey casks as well as wines like pinot noir. An impressive 242 out of the 427 beers--56.67%--were 7.00% abv or higher with an absurd 111 being above 10.00%! I still can't believe that I managed to find let alone drink 28 beers that fell between 13.00% and 27.00% abv...but I did and they were AWESOME.

There were a number of interesting encounters during 2014 as well. I had my first Brett IPA (which was incredible) and my second weakest alcoholic beer at 2.70%. I also explored a number of previously unfamiliar styles finding a new favorite in the Gose. I deepened my appreciation for sours and fear that I will fall as hard for them as I have bourbon barrel aged beers (though it's a fear filled with excited anticipation as well!). I added a few new counties, states, and styles leaving me at the time of this writing only one New York City local county to go (Nassau), six states shy of a full 50, and, based upon Beer Advocate's list of beer styles, only TWO styles to go (English Pale Mild Ale and Happoshu though obviously BA isn't the authority on beer styles, there are numerous old styles that are no longer made, and new ones being created frequently. I'm just a completist when it comes to lists and, well, that's the list I've been going by!). I also enjoyed a newfound respect for coffee as an ingredient particularly in terms of the styles it can be featured in (Carton Brewing Company produced a cream ale and an IPA that both featured local coffee; both were phenomenal.)

I expect to experience another seismic shift in my drinking in 2015. As I pursue loftier goals both professionally and personal fitness-wise, I see my consumption reducing considerably. I also intend to revisit some of the truly great beer that I've enjoyed in the past few years while still seeking out new and exciting brews. Consequently, this will slow down my pursuit of the 3,000 different beers threshold but if I'm drinking less and enjoying what I drink more then that seems like a win to me.

A quick note before I get to the list. I faced a quandary in paring down my selections: so many of the top 100 beers based upon score were variations on a theme--tweaked versions of other base beers (many of which, too, were represented in their standard iterations) or adaptations of beers that I had tried in previous years. It didn't seem fair or logical to rehash previously trod-upon ground--not with so many new and different beers and breweries vying for a spot in the century--so I have decided to expand the Honorable Mentions section to include the beers and breweries that were without question among the best I encountered in 2014 but that needed also not to be included so as to make way for other, equally worthy brews.

Honorable Mentions

The Belgians

I greatly expanded my palette for Belgian beers in 2014 and among the best that I tried--ones that likely would have made the cut in any other year--helped me to grow and to learn. The best of these were:

Brasserie d'Achouffe's La Chouffe
Brasserie de Rochefort's Trappistes Rochefort 6 and Trappistes Rochefort 10
Brouwerij Westmalle's Westmalle Trappist Tripel 

The Americans

It's great to have so many reliable breweries that constantly innovate while staying true to what they do best. Among these are the following:

Finch's Beer Co. Secret Stache Stout
Long Trail Brewing Co. Culimation Chocolate Porter (Brush & Barrel Series)
Shmaltz Brewing Company Coney Island Freaktoberfest Big Ol' Pumpkin Ale W/ Espresso Beans
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Narwhal Imperial Stout - Barrel Aged
Stone Brewing Company Go To IPA
Thirsty Dog Brewing Company Siberian Night Imperial Stout

New Zealand!

I had the pleasure of enjoying the Moa Brewing Company's delicious Moa Imperial Stout aged in Pinot Noir barrels. If you come across it in the store don't sleep on it!

Vintages

Some things get better with age, particularly certain higher abv beers. Others are just as good fresh and are worth looking forward to throughout the beer year. The following are beers that I have had previous vintages of and/or ones that I enjoyed older versions of this year:

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Parabola (2014)
Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Velvet Merkin (2014)
Goose Island Beer Co. Bourbon County Brand Stout (2013)
The Bruery White Oak (2013)
The Lost Abbey The Angel's Share (2013)
The Lost Abbey Deliverance Ale (2013)


Specialty Variants/Revisited Favorites In New Forms


Some of the cream of this year's crop were variations brewed either for specific events or locations. They were all mind blowing but given their ephemeral nature and, in some cases, their similarity to their base beer, I was unable to include them all fairly on the list.

The Bruery Chocolate Rain (2011)
Carton Brewing Company 077xx-47 (07747) (Dry Hopped Galaxy)
Dogfish Head Craft Beer
120 Minute IPA, Olde School Barleywine, Raison d'Extra
Kane Brewing Company
A Night To End All Dawns (2014)
A Night To End All Dawns (Nitro)
A Night To End All Dawns (Vanilla)
A Night To End All Dawns Cacao (2014)
A Night To End All Dawns Coffee (2014)
A Night To End All Dawns Vanilla (2014)
Barrel Aged Port Omna
Bourbon Barrel Aged 365 (2014)
Bourbon Barrel Aged Seven Hundred Thirty (2014)
Creamsicle Port Omna
Double Dry-Hopped Head High (Citra & Columbus)
Drift Line Mole
Pineapple Mango Head High
Silent Nights (Nitro)
Vengeful Heart

(Clearly I enjoyed A LOT of incredible Kane beers this year!)

Now, without further ado, I'd like to present my Top 100 Beers of 2014:


#100-91

100 Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. Seeking Alpha
99 Avery Brewing Company Maharaja
98 Maine Beer Company Another One
97 New Belgium Brewing Lips Of Faith - La Folie (2014)
96 Abbey Brewing Co. Father Theodore's Imperial Stout
95 Unibroue Don De Dieu
94 Unibroue La Terrible
93 Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company Punkless Dunkel (2014)
92 Tired Hands Brewing Company HopHands
91 Maine Beer Company Red Wheelbarrow



#90-81

90 Founders Brewing Company Founders Harvest Ale (2014)
89 Westbrook Brewing Co. Gose
88 Kane Brewing Company DDH Hop Lab
87 Mill House Brewing Company Kilt Spinner
86 Evil Twin Brewing Evil Twin Yang
85 Victory Brewing Company Old Horizontal
84 Evil Twin Brewing Evil Twin Bikini Beer
83 Kane Brewing Company Simplicity
82 Founders Brewing Company Founders Dissenter Imperial India Pale Lager
81 Kane Brewing Company White Cooper (Bourbon)



#80-71

80 The Brew Kettle Taproom & Smokehouse / Production Works White Rajah
79 Smuttynose Brewing Company Smuttynose Wheat Wine (Big Beer Series)
78 Southern Tier Brewing Company Rum Barrel Aged Pumking (2014)
77 Founders Brewing Company Smoked Porter (Backstage Series)
76 Peekskill Brewery Soft Pour Corn
75 Peekskill Brewery Tiger Mom
74 Peekskill Brewery Maltballs
73 Peekskill Brewery Simple Sour
72 Green Flash Brewing Co. Green Flash Palate Wrecker
71 Fat Heads Brewery & Saloon Texas Brown Ale



#70-61

70 Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Black OPS (2012)
69 Kane Brewing Company Nom De Plume
68 Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Puncheon (2014)
67 Fanø Bryghus Fanø / Hoppin' Frog Natasha Rocks Denmark
66 Heavy Seas Beer The Great'er Pumpkin (2013) Bourbon Barrel Aged
65 Bolero Snort Brewery Happy Buck'n Anniversary
64 Lervig Aktiebryggeri AS Konrads Stout Russian Imperial Stout
63 Evil Twin Brewing Aviary One - Plantation Rum
62 Avery Brewing Company Mephistopheles' Stout (2013)
61 Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Bomb!



#60-51

60 Lakefront Brewery, Inc. Brandy Barrel-Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)
59 Rogue Ales New Crustacean (2014)
58 Kane Brewing Company Verger de Pechers
57 Carton Brewing Company SS 2014 Yirgacheffe (Coffee IPA)
56 The Lost Abbey Box Set Track #8 - Number Of The Beast
55 Avery Brewing Company Samael's Ale (2014)
54 Carton Brewing Company Ship Wreck Porter (2014)
53 The Bruery 7 Swans-A-Swimming
52 Avery Brewing Company The Beast Grand Cru (2014)
51 Peekskill Brewery Vaporizer



#50-41

50 Crux Fermentation Project Tough Love (Banished Series)
49 Three Floyds Brewing Co. / Brewery & Pub Zombie Dust
48 Cigar City Brewing Big Sound Scotch Ale - Bourbon Barrel Aged (2014)
47 Bell's Brewery, Inc. Bell's Hopslam Ale
46 Kane Brewing Company Vengeful Heart Rum Oak
45 Evil Twin Brewing Evil Twin Lil' B
44 Three Floyds Brewing Co. / Brewery & Pub Suebi Doo
43 Thirsty Dog Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Aged Siberian Night Imperial Stout (2014)
42 Otter Creek Brewing / Wolaver's Otter Creek Brewing / Lawson's Double Dose IPA
41 Fat Heads Brewery & Saloon Hop JuJu Imperial IPA



#40-31

40 Terrapin Beer Company White Chocolate Moo-Hoo Milk Stout (2013)
39 Carton Brewing Company Regular Coffee
38 The Bruery Mash (2014)
37 Kane Brewing Company Drift Wood
36 Stone Brewing Co. Stone / Beachwood / Heretic - Unapologetic IPA
35 LoverBeer Beerbera (Barbera Grape Wild Ale)
34 Hoppin' Frog Brewery Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. Oatmeal Imperial Stout
33 Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Opal - Proprietor's Reserve (2014)
32 Kane Brewing Company Fall Saints
31 Avery Brewing Company Rumpkin (2014)



#30-21

30 Avery Brewing Company Pump[KY]n (2014)
29 Ballast Point Brewing Company Grapefruit Sculpin IPA
28 The Lost Abbey Agave Maria (2014)
27 Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest Anbai Ale With Sour Plum
26 Cigar City Brewing Hunahpu's Imperial Stout (2014)
25 Stone Brewing Co. Stone / Farking / Wheaton W00tstout (2013)
24 Great South Bay Brewery Lethal Cupcake Imperial Chocolate Porter
23 Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXVI (26th Birthday Reserve) (Bourbon Barrel Aged)
22 Tröegs Brewing Company Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock (Bourbon Barrel Aged) (2014)
21 Sixpoint Brewery Otis (Nitro)



#20-11

20 The Bruery Smokey And The Bois (Rare Beer Collaboration) (2014)
19 Three Floyds Brewing Co. / Brewery & Pub Arctic Panzer Wolf
18 Thirsty Dog Brewing Company Wulver (2013)
17 Almanac Beer Co. Golden Gate Gose
16 Almanac Beer Co. Tequila Barrel Noir
15 Evil Twin Brewing Evil Twin Even More Jesus (2014)
14 The Bruery Sucré (2014)
13 Other Half Brewing Co. Hop'deded
12 Stone Brewing Co. Chris Banker / Insurgente / Stone Xocoveza Mocha Stout (2014)
11 Evil Twin Brewing Imperial Doughnut Break (2014)



#10-1

10 Founders Brewing Company Founders Sweet Repute (2013)
9 Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Stickee Monkee (2014)
8 The Bruery White Chocolate (2012)
7 Kane Brewing Company Sunday Brunch
6 Brouwerij Westvleteren (Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren) Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII) (2013)
5 Evil Twin Brewing Imperial Biscotti Break Bourbon Barrel Aged (2014)
4 Olde Hickory Brewery The Event Horizon (2014)
3 Kane Brewing Company Third Anniversary -One Thousand Ninety-Five (2014)
2 Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Firestone 17 - Anniversary Ale
1 The Bruery Black Tuesday (2013)


This year featured a whopping 52 different breweries with Kane Brewing Company in Ocean, New Jersey leading the pack with 10 of the 100 entries including 2 of the Top 10 and 5 of the Top 50. Evil Twin had 7 entries while Avery and The Bruery had 6 apiece. There were 22 IPAs/Pale Ales in the Top 100 and 29 Stouts/Porters. Of the Top 20 beers 12 were barrel aged with bourbon representing the most frequent spirit cask featured. Hands down the best quality beer I've ever had in 2014 especially including the repeat beers that topped previous years' lists!

Cheers!

--Matt






Monday, November 10, 2014

The Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery Review

Some restaurants and brewpubs strive to attain an antique feel to their decor--an air of history; few manage to exist in a place of actual historical significance. The Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery in Flossmoor, Illinois, is located in an actual station built by the Illinois Central Railroad more than one hundred years ago. The station served to develop the surrounding area (then barely a burgeoning 'burb in Chicagoland) and to transform it into a truly lovely environ. There is also a renovated authentic caboose that houses seasonal fare.

I did not know what to expect upon entering the establishment but the aesthetic was both unexpected and appealing. We were seated in a dining area away from the bar in a separate room that was not quite as nice but was still a great place to have a bite to eat and a few beers. It was early in the afternoon and we were on our way to a White Sox game--the last baseball stadium of our road trip. The thing that surprised us most was the number of kids eating there after school. I'm used to seeing kids at breweries and brewpubs being toted along with their parents but this was the first time that it was a slew of unattended teens and tweens enjoying a post-school snack. Definitely gave the place a more homely, local vibe to it rendering it more restaurant than brewpub.

The food we ordered was really good but the beer absolutely blew it out of the water. We had already been to a number of really great places so far on the trip so the bar was set pretty high; Flossmoor's lineup of stellar brews managed to raise it even higher. Out of the eleven beers that I sampled, I gave only one B-, two Bs, and two B+s; everything else was an A or A+ save for a lone A-. I'm happy to encounter one A beer at a given location but I came away with six A- or better. You can't ask for more than that!

The selection was fairly varied but not remarkably exotic. Most of the brews would appeal to the average palette ranging from the ubiquitous American Blonde Ale, American Pale Wheat Ale, and American Amber / Red Ale along with the requisite Fruit Beer and hoppier brews. I found most of these to be serviceable but not transcendent; only the Panama Limited Red Ale really struck me as being spectacular. It was honey sweet in its malt profile without becoming cloying and it was deceptively smooth.

The beers that truly wowed me included their FSBC IPA, Iron Horse Stout, and Saison and Garfunkel Farmhouse Ale. Each was solid respective to its style and should easily be considered as examples of well-made IPAs, stouts, and saisons. The two best beers that I had though were the Dean's Beans Coffee Stout and the Pullman Brown Ale--quite possibly the best brown ale I've ever had. The Coffee Stout was ideal: smooth, cool, rich coffee blanketed within the rich, creamy decadence of a drinkable, low-abv stout. The Pullman embodied everything that a brown ale should be: sweet, malty, nutty, light toffee characteristics. It's one of those beers that calls for multiple rounds--something I do not say lightly as I often tire quickly of the same beer or style during a given drinking session.

GRADING

Any place that offers eleven beers none of which was below average is a home run in my book. The locale is interesting and a great place to eat and knock back some beers either at a table with your family or the bar with your buddies. The beers are all top notch and are worth exploring throughout the year--something that I wish I was able to do more readily. Based on these factors and the fact that one of their brews still remains exemplar of its style, I give the Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery a grade of A and highly, highly recommend checking it out.

BEERS SAMPLED

Beer List
Beer Name Beer Type City State Country ABV BA Grade My Grade
Zephyr Golden Ale American Blonde Ale Flossmoor Illinois United States
B- B
Station Master Wheat Ale American Pale Wheat Ale Flossmoor Illinois United States 4.60% B- B
Gandy Dancer Honey Ale American Pale Ale Flossmoor Illinois United States 5.80% B+ B+
Roundhouse Raspberry Wheat Ale Fruit / Vegetable Beer Flossmoor Illinois United States 4.50% C+ B-
Panama Limited Red Ale American Amber / Red Ale Flossmoor Illinois United States
B+ A
Pullman Brown Ale American Brown Ale Flossmoor Illinois United States 6.00% A- A+
FSBC IPA American India Pale Ale Flossmoor Illinois United States 7.50%
A
Iron Horse Stout American Stout Flossmoor Illinois United States 5.00% B A
Saison and Garfunkel Saison / Farmhouse Ale Flossmoor Illinois United States 8.50% A- A-
Stammitsch Altbier Altbier Flossmoor Illinois United States 5.00%
B+
Dean's Beans Coffee Stout American Stout Flossmoor Illinois United States 5.30% B A

For more information about Flossmoor Station please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

Matt