Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Art of the Anniversary Ale

Kane Brewing Company's anniversary beers

Here in the United States, we love holidays and celebrations. Whether it's the whimsical and inane or the somber and sentimental, it is in our nature to observe important moments with rites and rituals. Among our most cherished of these are our anniversaries--the annual remembrance and acknowledgement of some momentous event in our lives. We celebrate wedding anniversaries, work anniversaries, and especially birthdays, which, by their definition, honor the anniversary of our respective arrivals onto this plane of existence.

Breweries too perpetuate the tradition in their own special ways. Some host fetes in their own honor while others seek to add to their growing legacy with a limited addition to their lineups. As small businesses in their own rights, making it through another year, particularly in difficult economic times, truly is something worth lauding...and what better way to do so than with a special beer?

For an anniversary beer not just any brew will do. Extra care and attention must be paid to their crafting so as to elevate them to an exalted, evanescent status; they should be looked back upon fondly and stand out as a special, one-off occurrence. As such, they should serve to define the very image of the brewery they come from.

To me, there is artistry involved in the development of an anniversary beer. Some places like Westbrook in South Carolina and Stone Brewing in California choose to put new spins on familiar styles--ones that are often inextricably linked to their respective breweries. Westbrook is renowned for its stouts and so its anniversary beers are often inventive takes like their 4th Anniversary Chocolate Coconut Almond Imperial Stout and their 5th Anniversary Chocolate Raspberry Imperial Stout. Stone, in turn, is closely affiliated with monstrous IPAs and so the vast majority of their recent anniversary offerings revolve around that particular style.

Other breweries like Avery in Boulder, Colorado and Weyerbacher in Easton, Pennsylvania elect instead to focus on variety. Each of their anniversary offerings represent innovative spins on a multitude of styles. Avery, in particular, has run the gamut, making two Double / Imperial IPAs, two Saisons / Farmhouse Ales, a Weizenbock, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, a Schwarzbier, a Rye Saison, a Tripel, a Brown Ale, and several American Wild Ales over the past dozen or so years. Weyerbacher, too, has kept things fresh with an even more motley assortment that included a Double / Imperial IPA, an American Barleywine, several Imperial Stouts, a Saison alongside some more obscurer entries like a Wheatwine, a Braggot, a Weizenbock, an American Pale Wheat Ale, and a Belgian Strong Dark Ale.

I have had many of these anniversary beers and most if not all of them have been excellent. For my money though I feel like the blended brew is the purest anniversary art form. I view anniversaries as opportunities for contemplation--chances to look back upon the year and to consider the meaning and value of that moment in the present and in relation to the past. I feel like my wedding was the moment my life truly began and so on my wedding anniversary I naturally look back upon that specific date but I also reflect upon how I have changed since then; that initial instance is merely a single moment in the narrative of my life.

Breweries like Kane Brewing in Ocean, New Jersey and The Bruery out in California are absolute masters of the anniversary ale. Each of those breweries takes a beer brewed during their nascent years and blends it with newer iterations of the same beer or other complementary ones. These bastions of barrel aging create complexity and depth that are otherwise impossible to accrue by the inclusion of older batches. More importantly, there is something poetic about the fact that these inimitable brews are comprised, in part, of their breweries' respective pasts; each bottle is a biography offering a snapshot in time of a place that is perpetually in flux. It forces us to sit and to consider the longstanding history of these places and the narratives that their beers have weaved.

Mike Kane and Patrick Rue are both masters of barrel aging and it is thusly appropriate that their anniversary beers make use of their gifts. Barreled spirits obtain their identities not simply through the passage of time but the actions that occur whilst in the barrel. Leave a whiskey in a steel vat for years on end and you'll wind up with the same crystal clear liquid that went in; place that whiskey in a barrel and allow time and the elements to do their work and you wind up with amber nectar--pure potable perfection.

Again, it is not merely time that transforms these liquids but rather their ebb and flow into and out of the barrel that infuses them with complex characteristics. The wood breathes the whiskey (and beer) in, giving freely of itself, metamorphosing the liquid and elevating it to places it could not otherwise go, before exhaling it back to mix with the rest of its batch. Every frigid winter chill and scathing summer heat wave finds its way into that whiskey and beer and, ultimately, into your glass.

By blending the finished products into an even newer one each year, these brewers are in turn telling a tale--one that we get to enjoy one sip at a time. Some batches are better than others but each contributes its own unique part that serves to create the whole. We are all a result of our respective collection of experiences and so, in a way, each of these anniversary beers represents us--humanity in a bottle.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vault Brewing Company Review

Vault Brewing

My youngest son recently turned two and, with an Elmo and Cookie Monster themed birthday, it seemed only natural that we take a family trip to Sesame Place. As we drove through Trenton, New Jersey en route to the theme park, I recalled my buddy mentioning a bottle shop that was nearby and a great brewery in the vicinity as well. I looked into it and, as it turned out, Vault Brewing Company was a mere five miles away. We decided to head there after we finished up at Sesame Place; needless to say, it was one of the best decisions of my beer drinking life!

The drive there was, in a word, lovely. It took us into and through the quaint town of Yardley, Pennsylvania. While the craft beer fan in me pined for the suds to come, the photographer in me salivated at the many bucolic photographic opportunities that surrounded me. I almost drove right past the brewery in part because of the scenery but also because of the appearance of the building itself. I mistook it initially for a bank but, as it turned out, my first impression wasn't that far off of the mark!

The Vault
After parking in a nearby lot, my family and I made our way over to the brewery. It wasn't until we reached the street that I had my first moment of hesitation. I've documented my hot take on having kids at breweries but it wasn't my children that gave me pause but rather our attire. I hate being under-dressed at fancier locales but for the most part I'm not terribly self-conscious about what I wear. I say for the most part because there are inevitably exceptions...

...like rolling into a brewery five deep with matching Sesame Street character t-shirts. My wife and I each sported a different character as did all three children; this worked perfectly at Sesame Place but transformed us into a sight to behold at a brewery. I hoped that the relative proximity of the brewpub to the theme park would dampen the novelty of our appearance and so we headed inside.

My first impression as soon as we stepped in was that it was going to be awkward as hell. The decor, the soft music, and the overall ambiance of the place screamed upscale and I had a flashback to my nightmare experience in Princeton. I snuck a glance at the menu and cringed seeing what appeared to be overly expensive appetizers; thankfully, my initial misgivings couldn't have been more misplaced.

Our hostess offered us several seating options and ultimately led us to an area with low tables. She took us right over to a booth in the corner and set us up without any indication of exasperation. In fact, her hospitality immediately put me at ease as I took in the unique aesthetic of the dining area. Moments later, our waitress, Heather, arrived and greeted us not only with a warm smile but with an entire round of waters--two large glasses for the adults and three smaller glasses already with lids and straws affixed.

I cannot overstate how incredible that seemingly trivial detail is and just how impressed I was by that. Vault was the 127th different brewery that we've visited and that was the first time that has ever happened. We've felt comfortable at different breweries and brewpubs before with the kids but we've never felt that welcomed. It was a simple act--one that Heather might not have even thought twice about--but it put Vault instantly into a category of its own.

After taking a second to peruse the menus, we decided to get a flight of all six beers that were on tap as well as a pair of sandwiches. The pricing was a little on the higher end (my Cuban Sandwich was $13 while my wife's Chicken Sandwich was $12) but it wasn't egregious. We also ordered a pair of craft sodas made onsite--one hibiscus and one celery. We didn't wait long for anything but I took advantage of the time to explore the building a bit and to snap some pictures.

Now, I could sit here and draft some long-winded paean about the beauty of the place but I believe the proprietors are far more succinct and effective than I could be at describing Vault's interior:

"Upon arriving and walking through our “faux vault entryway,” you’ll notice that the entire brewery and wood-fired kitchen oven are completely open to view. The brewery sits directly behind the bar and the kitchen is adjacent to the dining tables. The décor is a combination of regal bank, stark industrial, old-world, and modern.  For images of the interior, click here.
You may notice that we have no TVs, non-traditional menu items, and no pop/rock music. These are all by design. We opted for a stunning interior and conversation starters rather than TVs; unique gastro-pub dishes rather than wings-and-fries; and recorded/live jazz and funk rather than radio music and DJs. We strive to create an experience where couples and friends can enjoy themselves in an upscale, relaxed environment."

The interior is indeed stunning and the soft warble of the reggae funk served as the perfect sonic backdrop for our afternoon repast. Though we didn't spend much time by the bar it struck me as a classy, classic cocktail-sipping location from New York City--a great spot to work your way through a few quiet pints with friends. Indeed the entirety of the location lends itself to ample conversation and subdued symposium as opposed to the frenetic frat house activities engendered by other more lowbrow establishments.

Cuban Sandwich with Sweet Potato Chips
For as impressive as Vault's aesthetic is, its food and beer is even better. Simply put, the sandwiches my wife and I ordered were among not just the best things we've eaten at a brewpub or brewery but among the literal best things we've eaten anywhere. Mine was an interesting spin on a Cuban made with the requisite slow roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, and dill pickle but also spanish chorizo and stone ground mustard all set upon a butter pressed ciabatta roll.

My wife's chicken sandwich vaulted into my top ten all time sandwich list. The sourdough bread was perfectly thick and chewy with just the right amount of girth and give. Speaking again to Vault's attention to detail, what truly elevated this sandwich to stratospheric heights was the use of charred onions and bacon, a divine combination of smoked gouda and cheddar cheeses, and a unique marriage in the barbeque honey mustard sauce that adorned it; the inclusion of bitter, peppery arugula instead of traditional lettuce cut through the palatable panoply of unctuous flavors and provided the perfect balance.

A half dozen heavenly brews
The only way to make the food even better was to pair it with an equally impressive array of beers; fortunately, we had six right in front of us as we ate. I'm always impressed with a brewpub that isn't afraid of branching out in terms of its offerings rather than playing it safe with the typical assortment of brews. At first blush, one might dismiss Vault's seemingly pedestrian collection since it included a blonde, a hefeweizen, a pale ale, a pair of IPAs, and a stout; once again, though, the proprietors' penchant for perfection shined brightly elevating the benign to empyrean heights.

I started with the New Zealand IPA--intrigued by its promise of big tropical flavors and dry white wine elements; I was not disappointed. The inclusion of nelson sauvin, waimea, and rakau hops provided not only an incredible bouquet for this sip of summery perfection but also a follow-through on its initial advertisement. At 7.00% abv, it packed just enough punch and was backed up by a great body and mouthfeel.

Jumping back into order, I began making my way along the color spectrum continuing with the Blanc Blonde and Bavarian Hefewiezen. With nearly 3,500 different beers under my belt, it takes a lot to wow me, particularly with the more mundane styles but these two bowled me over. The brightness of the blonde as well as the bubble gum and vanilla sweetness of the hefeweizen made both stand out as ideal iterations of their respective styles. The English Pale was great but I'm admittedly not a terribly huge fan of so-called "real ales" that are casked and served properly. I did pick up on the toffee and biscuit notes but had a hard time looking past the inherent flatness and warmth. Again, this is not a knock on the beer it's just not a style that I prefer.

The Pi IPA was a pleasant surprise, mirroring the trove of tropical flavors and aromas as its New Zealand brethren. This one was super juicy with a different assortment of fruity notes due in part to the inclusion of mosaic hops. My favorite beer though was the Crystal Stout--a simple summer stout redolent with roasted chocolate notes and a soupçon of herbal bitterness that made it unique. For the "I don't drink stouts when the temperature gets above 70 degrees" crowd, THIS beer is evidence of why you're missing out with such arbitrary, restrictive limitations.

GRADING

I will admit, I have been suffering through some craft beer ennui for most of the year but my experience at Vault has revitalized me and reminded me of why I fell in love with craft beer in the first place. The owners' mission statement cited above encapsulates what every brewer should strive for: perfection in every aspect of the patron's drinking and dining experience. Heather was a phenomenal waitress who made us feel perfectly at home in our silly Sesame Street shirts despite the upscale environment. She was attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, and made an already awesome experience that much better.

The food was indescribably good and the beer served as the perfect complement. Whether you're rolling solo or as a couple, with a group of friends or an entire family, you will have a great time at Vault. I live an hour away and will most definitely be returning multiple times; it's worth the drive at four times the distance. In short, it's one of the top five places I've ever visited and it receives an A+, my highest rating. If you're in eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, New York City, or anywhere in New Jersey, you absolutely have to make the trip to Vault in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

BEERS SAMPLED

New Zealand IPA (A+/96)
Blanc Blonde (A/95)
Bavarian Hefeweizen (A/95)
English Pale (A/93)
Pi IPA (A+/96)
Crystal Stout (A+/97)
 
For more information about the Vault Brewing Company please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

Matt

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ole Shed Brewing Company Review


Tennessee is known for many things: two of the greatest musical cities in the world, national parks and natural wonders of unrivaled beauty, and, of course, whiskey. Only recently though has craft beer begun to grow in notoriety in The Volunteer State. For the better part of a decade, Yazoo Brewing out of Nashville was the de facto source of suds in the state; now, however, smaller breweries like Ole Shed are making their names known.

The relationship between alcohol and the state of Tennessee is a convoluted, contentious one. As far back as the 1800s, temperance movements sought to abridge the presence and proliferation of distilleries and breweries. Even today Blue Laws still persist preventing the sale of alcohol on Sundays and dry counties exist including Moore County where Jack Daniel's Sour Mash Tennessee Whiskey is distilled. In a way, producing any alcoholic beverage at all in Tennessee is nothing short of a miracle.

For their part, Ole Shed Brewing serves as exemplar of the new wave of craft culture. It's a family friendly location that maintains its brews as its focal point, providing a gorgeous setting to enjoy a few brews with your buddies or even with your kids in tow. We enjoyed some excellent complimentary popcorn with our flights while watching television in the taproom.

Located in Tullahoma, Ole Shed sits in a prime position for travelers visiting both the Jack Daniel's Distillery in adjacent Lynchburg (a mere 13 miles away) and the George A. Dickel Distillery in town in Tullahoma less than 7 miles off. Nearby Jackson Street has nearly every conceivable thing a traveler could need including excellent lodging (we are partial to the Quality Inn) and a panoply of restaurants to choose from. Such a central location renders it a must-visit site for travelers along I-24 and I-65 as well as visitors to Nashville just over an hour northwest.

As for the beer, Ole Shed offers a steady line of solid mainstays while also featuring several seasonal brews. We sampled their renowned Southern Pale Ale as well as their Potbelly Porter, Honey Do Golden, Haystack IPA, Crazy Cow Milk Stout, and their delicious Smokehouse Stout. All of them earned solid scores of 90 or better from both me and my wife and are all brews we would gladly drink again.

GRADING

Ole Shed offers nearly everything on my list of what makes for a great brewery: well-crafted brews, a welcoming, comfortable drinking environment, and a staff of friendly, knowledgeable people who are proud of their local roots. Given its proximity to my own personal Disney World in Lynchburg as well as its accessibility to travelers heading in many directions in conjunction with the aforementioned features, I give the Ole Shed Brewery a grade of A and highly recommend it to anyone traveling nearby; it's an absolute must-visit location for anyone heading to the Jack Daniel's Distillery.

BEERS SAMPLED

Southern Pale Ale
Potbelly Porter
Honey Do Golden
Haystack IPA
Crazy Cow Milk Stout
Smokehouse Stout

For more information about the Ole Shed Brewing Company please visit their website here.

Cheers!

Matt


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.