The Local Tap – Argilla Brewing’s Five Gallon Fridays

A black wit and pizza at Argilla Brewing

Probably one of the basic truisms in brewing is that, what ever size system you put in, sooner or later you’re going to want a bigger one.  And of course, sooner or later you hope you’re going to NEED a bigger system.  After all, building a thirsty customer base is what it’s all about.

So when Steve Powell dropped a 1.5 barrel system (for those who don’t have all that “conversion stuff” in your head, that means every time Steve brews he only makes 3 half-kegs of beer) into Pietro’s Pizza’s new Kirkwood Highway location and started up Argilla Brewing, he probably hoped that one day, he’d need a bigger system.  And maybe that time has come.  Steve has been so busy brewing at Argilla that he recently brought in some additional fermenters and brewer Bryan Taylor to help out with the load.

But even though Steve appears to be looking towards “bigger”, he’s also focusing on “smaller” through his Five Gallon Fridays.  The concept is simple, every week Steve brews a five gallon batch of beer (equivalent to the size a home brewer would make when first starting out) and then several weeks later taps it at 5:30 on Friday.  The size gives Steve the flexibility to try new ingredients and techniques allowing him to do what amounts to small scale test batches.

Small batch experimental beers aren’t anything new in the brewing world, lots of breweries do them.  But when you stop to think that most brewery’s “small batches” are magnitudes bigger than Steve’s regular output, it’s pretty amazing.

Juice De’Wit, a white ale brewed with the peels and juice of tangelos.

I’ve been stopping into Argilla on regular basis to check out the Five Gallon Friday beers, and I have to say I’ve been very impressed with them.  And so must the rest of his customers considering that the 5 gallon beers tend not to last to long.  The most recent one (Bryan’s first contribution to Argilla), an Oktoberfest, kicked in 1 hour and 15 minutes, beating the previous record held by a Honey Habanero (no lie, no one was more shocked than Steve) by 15 minutes.

An Oktoberfest from a recent Five Gallon Friday.

Of course doing small batches for the sake of small batches is one thing, but the overall goal is to find recipes that Steve can then scale up and offer on a regular basis.  When I asked him how his success has been so far he replied, “Yeah we just brewed up a big Juice [De’ Wit] yesterday. It is our first 5 gallon Friday to make the leap. The Honey Habanero was also a big hit but we’re working on scaling up the proper pepper ratio before we brew a 1.5 barrel batch.”

If you want to check out the exciting things Steve and Bryan are doing, stop on by to Argilla Brewing.  If it’s a Friday, chances are I’ll be there.  You can also check out Argilla Brewing at the  Kennett Brewfest and The Delaware Wine and Beer Festival.

Damn it Jim! I’m a Cask! Not a Randall!

It’s not often I drag out a soap box

Noooooo…

Thank you…and voice some harshness towards something in the beer world that has me scratching my head.  No, I’ve kind of taken a “live and let live” approach as I see the craft beer scene explode with all kinds of fad-type, crazed hysteria that a new boy band would covet.

I believe the craft beer scene has gotten old enough where a generation gap has formed and I’ve likened these trends to the requisite argument most parents have with their children about their taste in music.  Let’s face it, if you’re a father most likely your kid’s music “stinks”, “isn’t music”, and “couldn’t hold a candle to the bands I grew up with”.  And if you’re a kid, your parent’s music is “out dated”, “elevator music”, and “belongs on an oldies station”.  The young beer crowd is jumping into things like overly hopped beers, randalls, beer cocktails, and high ABV, while I believe that a well crafted 4.2% bitter blows all that stuff out of the water.  I’m just not interested in spending the energy to argue the point (and in truth, it’s not ALL bad).

After all if I tell my daughter that the Beatles were WAY better than that Katy Perry stuff she listens to, well it’s hard for her to accept that considering she’s watching Katy break record after record held by the fab four (for the record, my daughter likes the Beatles over Ms Perry).  So if I say that the new beer to hit the scene is unbalanced and doesn’t have the malt to support its hop, but everyone is falling in love with it, who’s right?   Like Jimmy Buffett sang, “I’m just an old man, I’ll probably get sore….”

But something happened this week that caused me to actually go downstairs and pull the soapbox up from the basement.  So if you’ll permit me…

[SOAPBOX] Beer lovers, brewers, and pub denizens, why in the name of God (or whoever) are you insisting on trying turning a cask into a randall!

Cask beer is in my mind one of the greatest achievements in beer.  At its purest, cask beer is unfiltered, unpasteurised ale that gets what carbonation it has from a secondary fermentation in the cask.  As beer is drawn off the cask, air replaces it and comes in contact with the beer unless a blanket of CO2 is entered into the cask to push the air out.  This causes the beer to change over the course of the cask, as more beer gets pulled out and more air goes in.

In England, enjoying the subtle changes in the beer this process creates is part of the real enjoyment of cask, or real, ale.  And indeed, when cask beer first started making its way over to the US, there was a little bit of that, but Americans tend not to stop at their local “pub” as often as the British, so some of that charm was lost over here.  But that didn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy the differences that cask beer offer verse their kegged brethren.  And most people did.  But apparently that wasn’t enough.

Not to long ago the guys over at Two Stones Pub went to Maryland based brewery Heavy Seas to “get a cask”.  Apparently Heavy Seas has a program where you can arrange for a cask of their beer, and they’ll gladly put just about anything in it you want, kinda like ordering oreos, gummy bears and reese’s cup in your Marble Slab Creamery ice cream.  When they posted pictures from their trip, this is what caught me eye:

The Picture was Captioned : Cask Flavors Table

Really?  Cask flavors?  What the hell?  I’ve got fewer ingredients than this in my pantry. Heck, I think there are fewer ingredients than this in the pantry of Food Network’s “Chopped”!   Now I will state as a bit of a back off that I don’t have as much of an issue if you’re going to throw some hops in the beer.  Dry hopping in the cask is not unknown.  But to me, some of this stuff is just off the wall.

Then this week it came to my attention that local bar Tyler Fitzgeralds had also gone down to Heavy Seas (apparently they’re big enablers in this trend) and put together a cask.  Here is their Facebook announcement:

They managed to throw everything in there they could. Even a hop variety that to my knowledge doesn’t exist.

Again, what the hell?  That’s almost DFH worthy right there, and I don’t mean that in a good way!  I’m sorry, I don’t get it.  A cask is NOT a randall, and I don’t get why some in the current beer scene seem hell bent in treating it as such.[/SOAPBOX]

Jimmy was right.  I am sore….

Time for another beer.

Some Reflections on National IPA Day

So yesterday was National IPA Day (#IPADay, if you were following on Twitter), a day which was devised to celebrate one of the iconic beer styles in world.  Social media was exploding with anticipation, and in some arenas loathing, as the day crept closer.  I have to admit, I got a little kick surfing through Twitter conversations watching people espouse, debate, and indeed for some, decry, a day that by its very inception was meant to unite craft beer drinkers.

I found it interesting that although the day had it’s detractors (including one Twitter notable who was trying to shout down the day with the fact that it was also National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, calling IPA day “vacuous and shallow self-promotion”) some of the things that I found myself shaking my head at the most were its supporters, who for the most part, didn’t seem to be able to agree on what the actual purpose of IPA Day was.  Let’s look a few points of view I found floating around the Twittersphere.

“IPA Day is a chance for people who don’t normally drink IPAs to enjoy the style.”

In some cases I suppose this could be true, but to be honest I believe the truth of this statement is solidly going to land on why a person doesn’t “normally drink” IPAs.  While it’s true that a person who occasionally drinks an IPA might be more prone to have one on IPA Day, I believe that for the people who don’t drink them because they don’t like them, this day isn’t going to push them over to the hoppy dark side.

A person who doesn’t like hoppy beers, if given the option, will not try an IPA just because it’s IPA Day.  He’s going to order what he normally orders and be done with it.  If someone walked into the bar I was at last night, where all 24 taps and the cask were IPAs, he only had four options.  One, have an IPA.  Two, order a bottled beer of something he liked.  Three, stay but don’t drink beer.  Four, leave.  The choice would depend very much on the person (with possibly a little help from a friendly bartender), but note that three out of four of those options involve NOT drinking an IPA.  So the what is the possibility that someone who doesn’t like IPAs would order one?  The magic eight ball says, “not likely”.

As a matter of fact for some, IPA Day can be an overall deterrent.  Tracey doesn’t particularly like hoppy beers, so she just opted out at last night’s DCBaWL event.  And to flip it, if someone does occasionally like IPAs is it a style that really needs its own day to afford someone the opportunity to have one, after all, it’s not like you DON’T run into IPAs everyday.  National Rauch Bock Day.  Give me a call when that comes around.

“IPA Day is a chance to raise awareness in the non-craft beer community”

I’ll be honest up front, I’m not sure how much awareness days like this spread OUTSIDE the craft beer world.  I’m sure that non-beer people who follow me on Twitter saw my Tweets, but in this age of quick information I’m sure most of them just went on to something they knew and were more interested in (like when the new Doctor Who season is starting?), instead of taking the the time to find out what the hell I was talking about.  No, I believe for most “Joe Six Pack” types, yesterday came and went smoothly with out the letters IPA creeping into their awareness.

This opinion of mine is supported a bit by the fact that some people inside the craft beer world didn’t know it was IPA Day.  I saw a couple of parties walk into the bar last night (you don’t walk into this place and drink bud, miller or coors) and wonder why it was so packed, a quick look of surprise dancing across their face when they were told it was IPA Day.  In fact, I’m going to stop by Stateline on the way home today.  I’ll take an informal poll of its employes and see how many of them knew it was National IPA Day yesterday.  I’ll post the results in the comment section below.

“Encourage non-craft beer drinkers to take a break from their normal beverage routine and join the collective toast on August 2nd.  Set the goal of converting at least one person, if not the whole world of drinkers, into an IPA lover!” – This is directly from the IPAday.org website.

This would seem like a worth while and noble goal but, and this is just my own personal opinion, while I applaud the notion of introducing people to “good beer”, I always caution people that this a process that involves baby steps, rarely sledge hammer type Epiphanies.  And sadly, the current trend in the American craft beer market is actually working against this goal as very few (if  any) of the high alcohol hop bombs that were on tap last night would I consider to be good candidates to hand a bud drinker in the hopes that I could convert them.  Better to leave that for National Amber, Golden, or Pilsner Day.

Something like Miller Lite? Let me see……

“IPA day is a chance for craft beer lovers to celebrate a classic style”

While some might argue (and some did) why we need such a day , this is the reasoning that makes the most sense to me.  Last night I was surrounded by fellow members of the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers (as well has a hoard of other craft beer devotees – the place was PACKED), trying IPAs we’d never had before, revisiting some we truly love and discussing ones we’d had in the past that we enjoyed – and admittedly, some we did not.

Do we really need a National IPA Day to do that?  No.  But we have one, so why not take advantage of it.  With that, regardless of some of my mixed feelings about the day, I’d like to tip my hat to Ashley Routson (@TheBeerWench) and Ryan Ross (@RyanARoss) the co-founders of National IPA day for all their hard work and effort.  And thanks Two Stones Pub for celebrating it with their usual awesomeness (The Stone Ruination, Double Dry Hopped was insane!).

Time for another beer….one lightly hopped.

Brew Review (?) – Mott’s Real Lemon Shandy

So late Saturday night my editor and I engaged in the following conversation.  Ok, the conversation may have only been in my head due in no small  part to this:

But the out come was the same none the less.

EDITOR: Alright, you’ve enjoyed a nice little break blogger boy, but it’s time to get back to the keyboard.  You need to have a post up on Monday.

ME: I know, I know.  I’ve got 5 or 6 things in my head with pictures to support them.  We’re good.

E: Great, but I think you should start off with a beer review.

M: Eh, I don’t want to do a beer review.  I’m just enjoying some nice, drinkable summer beers right now.  I’ll get back to doing reviews later.

E: Duffus, you do a beer blog.  You have to do reviews, it’s expected.  You haven’t done one in awhile.  It’s like a movie blogger taking off during the summer movie season to sit home and watch the same movie he’s seen 12 times.  Speaking of which, is that JJ Abram’s “Star Trek” you’re watching?

M: Yeah.

E: Arggggg, my point EXACTLY, how many times have you seen it?  Twenty?  Now get up, go downstairs, open your beer fridge, reach in and review the first thing you pull out.

M: If I do, will you leave me alone to watch my movie?

E: Yes…..go…..now……

Mott’s Real Lemon “Shandy”

ME: Mott’s Real Lemon pours with a yellow color with green highlights.  There’s really no carbonation to speak of, either initially or after the pour.  In the nose the lemon really comes through strong, reminiscent of lemon pledge, sadly to the exclusion of everything else.  The flavor is more of the same, tangy lemon with a slight acidic bite towards the back end.  The mouth feel is syrupy, with little hint of any alcohol.  Interestingly enough, Mott’s doesn’t put the %ABV on the bottle at all, but I would believe this beverage to be “sessionable”.

I believe that Real Lemon would fall into the style of this “shandy” I’ve been hearing so much about.  Well if this is truly a representative example of the style than I can say with all certainty that it’s not my cup of lemon juice.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a good fruit beer, but I feel that Real Lemon is just poorly balanced, the lemon over powering whatever malt and hops may be in it.  I wasn’t able to drink more than a couple of sips.  Truthfully, I would have enjoyed this more if it had been diluted with sugar water and sold to me by a little girl out of a stand down the block.  Maybe with some ice.

Now back to my movie……

[Editor’s note: You………..are a complete……..and utter …… ass]

Shhhhhh….Star Trek…….

Coming up: A Day in New Hope, Troeg’s Two Stones tap take over, a friend gets a make over, and real reviews return….

No Regrets

Up, up, up.  Time to get up.  What time is it?  I wasn’t sure.  It had to be late, I was alone which meant Tracey was already up and had started her day.  I grabbed my cell  phone, 9:10am.  Temperature? Already 85o.  Ug.

I had some things I needed to get done today.  Not a lot, do some more work on the smoker, put things back in the reconstructed shed, clean up the deck.  Nothing earth shattering, but I wanted to get a jump on them early.

I’m not one to usually bag things I need to do just because it’s hot. I’ve always felt that if the grass needed mowing, than the fact that it’s 90o doesn’t matter.  But today is different.  At 85o, the temperature was already beginning it’s steep climb to a high today that would finish at some where between OMG! and WTF?!?  I needed to get out there and get started.  No regrets.

After the usual Saturday morning rituals I decided to also go out and pick up a few more things at The Home Depot and Pathmark.  I wasn’t really looking forward to it.  Then I decided a quick stop at the liquor store was in order.  I weighted my options.  I took the day into consideration.

The first thing I had to do was get a coat of paint on the smoker.  The high temperature paint I bought said not to apply it if the temperature exceeded 90o.  That struck me as funny.  I only had a 5o window remaining.

It was already hot outside.  The kind of hot that tells you it’s only going to get worse.  I quickly went to my task, covering the firebox with flat black goodness.  Had I ever sweat before from just spray painting?  This wasn’t fun.  After I had used up my one can of paint, I hopped in the shower to clean off.

Off to the stores.  The truck is hot as hell.  The thermometer in it says 93o.  Lovely.  Once I picked up more paint and a few other supplies I headed back home via the local liquor store.  As I walked in, I was greeted with the usual chorus of hellos.  I stayed focused.  I firmly walked back to the coolers as so many times I’d done before.  But this time I followed them down farther than I normally go.  To a section I rarely visit.  No regrets.

As I carried my selection up to the counter I couldn’t help being over come by a wave of uneasiness.  Much like the feeling I’m sure some people get walking out of the curtained back room at a video store with the sign declaring “ADULTS ONLY” over the curtained threshold.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Notice how Ed is trying to write this analogy in a way that leads you to believe he’s never done that before. LOL]

I quickly push the feeling aside.  Tall, confident and with a purpose I walk to the counter. I make firm eye contact with the clerk as he rings me up.  I show no sign of embarrassment.  No sign of faltering.  No regrets.

On the drive home the black bag sat in the passenger seat like the proverbial 400lb gorilla.  My usually loyal truck anti-theft system seem to sense some thing was up.  And he eyed me questionably.

Whatcha got in this bag, Ed?

Once home I withdrew my purchase and popped it into the freezer.  Again I found myself outside finishing up on the grill just as the weather app on my phone hit 98o.  I turned my attention to the deck, cleaning up the remnants of some projects I’d done while also getting stuff put back in the shed.

All things totaled it took me a little over an hour and soon I was back inside the house.  I’ve always wondered why you really notice the sweat more when you walk into a cool room.  Outside it hadn’t seemed all that bad, but now standing in the kitchen I was drenched as if my skin was pushing out every drop of moisture in my body.  There’s probably some reason.  But I’m a chemist, not a dermatologist, Jim.

I walked over to the freezer and withdrew my purchase.  It was cold.  Inviting.  I went to the glass cabinet and absentmindedly pulled out a glass.  I laughed.  I’ve written in the past how I didn’t think glassware really matters that much when it comes to beer, and in this case it certainly didn’t.  I didn’t want to waste time selecting another glass, they were all stacked in the cabinet requiring to much effort to liberate a better one.  I needed relief.

I poured the beer into glass and let the head settle before taking that first long sip.  Heaven.  At that VERY moment it was the best beer I’d ever tasted.  So refreshing, so what I needed.  I thought of my blog.  Maybe I should do a review?

THEM: They say it’s beer.

ME: It’s ice cold.

There.  Covered.

As I greedily finished the first glass and poured my second I thought about beer and the many ways it can enhance our enjoyment of life.  Every beer has a purpose.  Even if for some beers it’s simply to wash a scorching summer day from your mouth.  Any beer.  You just have to have no trepidations , no prejudices and most importantly,

Time for another beer…

Some Thoughts on Beer Glasses.

Plenty to spare! And yet I still feel slightly heartbroken when one of them breaks.

I’m starting to form a contrary opinion to something I’m starting to hear put forth quite frequently and I’d like to see what others out there think.  Collecting glassware seems to be a natural extension of our hobby.  I’m sure most of us have glasses we’ve acquired from breweries, gift boxes, etc; that we enjoy using when we drink out beers.

And due to form and function, I’m sure many of us have certain glasses that we gravitate towards depending on the style of beer that we’re about to enjoy.  After all, I’m not going to suggest for one minute that an imperial stout doesn’t look a tad bit silly in a thin pilsner glass, or that pouring a heady weizen is problematic in a small snifter.  But the opinion I’m starting to see tossed around is that a beer TASTES better depending on the glass it’s being drunk from.

To grasp where the under lying current of this belief is coming in from, I believe we have to look to  a group of people where it may have all begun – wine lovers.

“Why?”,  I hear you ask.  Why not?  We haven’t blamed them for anything in awhile.   Somewhere back in the 80’s or 90’s a company called Riedel began selling a series of wine glasses that were specific to a variety of wine.  Soon it was possible to have a specific glass from which to drink a Chardonnay, a Zinfandel or a Merlot.  The company kept expanding this series, with each glass carefully describing how its shape and opening better enhanced the aspects of the wine it was made for.   Soon a small group of consumers believed that if you dared pour a Cabernet into a Chardonnay glass, the glass police were going to come, arrest you, and toss you in a jail cell next to the people who dare pull off that tag off the mattresses that says “DO NOT REMOVE”.  And from here (at least to a small degree) I believe the seed of this opinion was planted into the drinking community, where it would (years later) begin to slowly creep into the subconscious of the craft beer world.  After all, watch the craft beer world and you’ll see that (although some don’t like to admit it) some people really are trying to send it down the same path as wine;  beer tastings, beer and food pairings, aging beer, vintage beers.  So why would it be surprising that this concept of a certain glass for a certain wine also slowly begin to spread through out the craft beer world?

But does this assertion which Riedel is making money off of really make any sense?  I’ll get more into some of the physiology questions I have when I switch back to beer but I find myself asking several questions.  First, if the type of glass is really THAT important to get the most out of a certain wine, then why do jury glasses (used to judge wine) all come in the same shape and size independent of the wine style in question?  And why did sommeliers historical use silver tastevins of the same standard shape when they were evaluating wines?  And finally, why have I spent so much time in commercial wine cellars watching wine makers evaluate barrel samples using the same type of glass regardless of the type of wine that’s in the barrel?  To be honest, to me, it appears that the importance of the type of glass when it comes to tasting wine is only being pushed out to the consumer, mostly from the companies that make a profit off the glassware.

So back to beer.  Along comes the craft beer scene and for the most part what you had was the standard 16oz “Libby” sleeve.  But after awhile different beer glasses started to show up.  Pilsner glasses were already pretty common, being the only type of glass that adorned the bar at my father’s house when I was growing up.  But soon glasses from England, Belgian and German began to hit the scene.  And then the “gift set” (bottles of beer coupled with a glass) started to appear.  Suddenly one could buy bottles of Chimay with the chalice like glass that would make a consumer assume that it obviously was the type of glass it was meant to be drunk from.  Craft beer bars started serving different beers in different style glasses.  Heck, Samuel Adams developed a glass whose sole purpose was to optimize the experience of drinking their lager.   So again the end user has no choice but to believe that the glass has to matter.  Doesn’t it?

But my noise and mouth come with over a hundred thousand years of evolutionary development to pick out and discern different scents and tastes.  The nose has the ability to detect some compounds at the parts-per-million (and some compounds like mercaptan which gives natural gas its odor at the parts-per-billion) level and the mouth is equally skilled at detecting flavors at low levels in food and drink.  So I ask, if I’m about to take a whiff or sip of a beer (basically getting my nose right up in it, I’m not asking the aromas to travel more than a couple of centimeters) will the fact that the glass has a lip or more of a bowl shape on it really make me smell the hops better?  Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m not really getting the hops in this Deviant Dale’s, maybe I need to put it in a different glass”?

Touche’

“But”, I can hear some people ask “if the glass doesn’t matter, then why do so many styles have particular glasses?  Why did that Chimay gift pack come with a chalice?”  Far question.  Maybe, just maybe, that just happened to be the style of glass in use in the region.  I could believe that Pilsner glasses were simply just made that way at the time beer became popular in the Czech republic.  I could also believe that style of glass would come across the Atlantic as emigrants from that area and Germany came to America.  And I would not be surprised to find out that all that happened, without anyone really thinking if the shape of the glass was showcasing the best qualities (taste wise) of the beer they were drinking.  Just as I would not be surprised that a Trappist brewery located in an Abby would use gift glasses that look like chalices.

“Well my craft beer bar serves beers in certain glasses.  Obviously they must know something,” some people would continue. Yes, but what they know is how much the beer you’re asking for costs them to tap as well as its ABV.  A beer that is costly to them per keg is going to get served in a smaller glass.  A smaller glass means more servings per keg which means more money made off the keg to offset the higher cost of the keg.  So in all likely hood a high ABV barleywine like 21st Amendment’s Lower da Boom, or a high dollar  keg like DFH’s Saison du Buff, are both going to be served in the same small glass (as in my case the other night when both were served to me in an 8oz brandy snifter).

Does my swing to this opinion mean that I will be dragging all my drinking glasses out to the recycling bin, and that you should too?  Hell no!  Keep them!  Enjoy them!  Some I’m sure look awesome with certain beers in them.  Some I’m sure have memories attached to them if you’ve picked them up on a trip to a brewery.  And some, well some you just love.   That’s just part of being a craft beer lover.  Making the experience better, absolutely.  Making the beer taste better…?  Let me know what you think.

Time for another beer…

Five Television Shows I Watch and What I’d Drink With Them

I’m stuck with a dead laptop at home this week, so I’m relegated to dredging up some drafts I’ve had laying around that I can shine up and post at lunch during work.  Of course, there’s probably a reason why some of them have been banished to the depths of my draft folder all this time.   Here’s an amazingly innovative (boring) and unique (done to death) topic on TV shows I like to watch!  Don’t kick yourself because you didn’t think of it first guys, we can’t ALL be on the cutting edge.

To keep anyone from reading this and getting all grumpy….be warned, beyond this sentence, there be… SPOILERS!

GAME OF THRONES

The Best Thing About It: Peter Dinklage’s character Tyrion (for which Peter won Best Supporting actor at both the Emmy’s and the Golden Globes) is possibly one of the best characters on TV right now.

The Quickie:  When the king of the Seven Kingdoms dies in a hunting accident, claimants to the throne start coming out of the woodwork.  Prince Joffery takes the throne believing himself to be the rightful successor, but in reality he’s not the king’s son, but the son of his mother the queen and her brother – yep, I’m not going to lie (I’m lying) this show is deep with wholesome family values.  As war breaks out across the kingdoms everyone turns a blind eye to a greater problem – winter is coming, someone has stolen the dragons, it appears the White Walkers are on the move again after thousands of years, and everyone seems to have forgotten about the naked man they tied behind a horse in episode 6.

Why I Watch:  Smartly written and beautifully filmed.  The story constantly takes twists you would not expect.

Example: Producers would not consider going forward with the show unless they were able to get veteran actor Sean Bean to agree to play Ned Stark, friend of and later Hand of the King.  Most shows would have been thrill to have an actor of Bean’s caliber on the show for it’s entire run.  But instead the producers hired Bean to play a character who is beheaded by Joffery ¾ of the way into season 1.

How It Has Impacted My Life:  Composer Ramin Djawadi’s (Iron Man, Person of Interest) theme constantly gets stuck in my head and I routinely finding myself rooting for wolves.

What I Would Drink With It:  As a good amount of action takes place in the North, or is geared around the coming of Winter, any Winter Warmer or Winter style ale should do.  Or find one of these:

Disclaimer: The above labels are not real.  Any time wasted by you looking for these beers is strictly a sign of wishful thinking.

THE WALKING DEAD

The Best Thing About It: Zombies!

The Quickie:  Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up in the hospital after being shot to  discover the horror of not only having to remove his own catheter, but that the dead are returning as flesh-eating zombies.   Soon he finds himself leading a small group of survivors who don’t like or trust each other.   And to make matters worse, the zombies are not always the most dangerous things in this new world.

Why I Watch: Did I mention zombies?  Do I really have to say anything else?  Plus you never know who’s going to get eaten next.

Example:  Rick’s partner Shane and a farmer’s son Otis sneak into town for some supplies.  When they get hopelessly over run by “walkers”, Shane shoots Otis in the leg in a classic example of “I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to out run you.”

How It Has Impacted My Life:

My Plan: Get to a Walmart with a Liquor Store Next Door.

What I Would Drink With It: Either Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust or Hop Zombie from Epic Beer in New Zealand.

THE BIG BANG THEORY

The Best Thing About It: Intelligent “nerdy” humor.

The Quickie:  Four brilliant Caltech scientists fumble their way through everyday ordinary life.  While one of them (Leonard) tries to have a normal relationship with the woman who lives across the hall he must put up with the fact they all live outside of the normal world.

Why I Watch:  I get all the “nerd” jokes: comic books, sci-fi, science stuff.  Yeah, I was one of those guys (except on the opposite end of the IQ scale).  Plus I’m not going to lie (this time I’m not lying) Kaley Cuoco is just a cutie.

Example:  This cracks me up every time I see it.

Click for YouTube video

How It Has Impacted My Life: Yelling “Bazinga” whenever someone takes something stupid I say at face value, knowing way to much about Schrödinger’s cat, and confirming my opinion that yes, Aquaman does indeed “suck”.

What I’d Drink With It:  With much of the humor laced with matters of science and space I’d recommend either a Singularity Russian Imperial Stout from Driftwood Brewing, Dark Matter from Hoyne Brewing or The Physics by Brewdog.

DOCTOR WHO

The Best Thing About It: Just about everything – but at the moment, Matt Smith.

The Quickie:  A 1000+ year-old Time Lord travels through time and space in a time machine that’s stuck in the shape of a 1960s English police box.

Why I Watch: It seems like I’ve always been watching it.  The franchise will be celebrating it’s 50th year anniversary in 2013 and I hopped on sometime in the early 70s.  Because I was greatly into the show in its US hay day of the 80’s I went to a few conventions and really formed a bond to the show’s past, which stays with me to this day.

Example:  I’ve personally met Patrick Troughton, John Pertwee and Colin Baker; all of which have played the Doctor.  I’ve also met companions John Levene, Louise Jameson, Lalla Ward, Sarah Sutton, Mark Strickson, Janet Fielding, Nicola Bryant, Carol Ann Ford, and Bonnie Langford; along with Anthony Ainley who played the Doctor’s archenemy, The Master.

How It Has Impacted My Life:  Thinking “Would you like a Jelly Baby?” is a great pick up line, believing that bow ties are indeed cool, and answering “spoilers!” when my manager asks me how I’m going to get my report done in time for European submission.  And most importantly – giving me something else to be besides a Star Trek nerd.

What I Would Drink With It: Anything, but I wish they actually made this….

But you can get the T-Shirt!

ONCE UPON A TIME

The Best Thing About It: Jennifer Morrison (House, Star Trek)

The Quickie:  The Evil Queen from the fairy tales casts a curse on everyone, trapping well-known fairy tale characters in this world in a town called Storybrooke.  As the fairy tale characters go about their normal lives, one boy tries to convince his mother that she’s the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and as such is the only one who can break the Queen’s curse.

Why I Watch:  Creative retelling of well known fairy tale characters.   The weaving of the stories in the fairy tale world and the real world are very well done. 

Example:  The Evil Queen convinces a man named Jefferson to use his magic hat to take her to Wonderland despite his reluctance to go and leave his daughter home alone.  Once there, the evil queen rescues her father, who the Queen of Hearts had imprisoned.  But that causes a problem.  As Jefferson had cautioned earlier, since two people entered Wonderland, only two people can leave.  The queen returns to the fairy tale world with her father, leaving Jefferson to be captured by the Queen of Hearts.  When the Queen asks him how he got to Wonderland, she commands him to make another magic hat.  The last scene is Jefferson in a room full of hundreds of hats, slowly going mad trying to create another one with the magic to return him to his world and his daughter.

How It Has Impacted My Life: Replacing Fox’s “Animation Domination” in my Sunday night TV line-up.   I didn’t think anything would ever do that.  But let’s face it, The Simpson’s have been running on empty for awhile (except for the opening sequences), and the Cleveland show is hit or miss.

What I Would Drink With It: Suntory Brewing’s Snow White from Japan, Mad Hatter IPA from New Holland Brewing, or Jamieson’s Raspberry Ale from Australian whose ad, much like this show, had a different take on the Snow White story:

No, as a matter of fact Disney was NOT happy.

Time for another beer…..

Letting it Go…..

As tends to happen most Tuesdays, I was displaced from my spot on the couch so that the XX’s in my house could watch Glee.  Don’t get me wrong,  nothing wrong with Glee but I don’t watch it unless the musical theme appeals to me and Tuesday’s theme was music from the album Saturday Night Fever.  Well I had a polyester suit and danced to it in the 70s, so I feel I’ve done my time. So I grabbed an acid cigar and a beer and went outside.

The beer I grabbed was Victory’s Headwaters pale ale.  I had bought a six of it the night before because I was just looking for something to enjoy.  I’d had it on tap about 11 months ago, and I kinda remembered liking it so I thought I’d revisit it.  The night was cool and clear.  Venus was bright in the sky.  It was perfect.

It’s probably a common trap for anyone who writes at any level to sometimes forget that it’s the subject they love, if not so much the actual writing.  In the case of myself writing a beer blog, every trip to the liquor store runs the risk of being just about the next series of beer reviews.  A trip to a new bar or pub turns into the next blog post.    So easy is it to lose sight as to  why you started to write about your chosen subject to begin with.  Sometimes you just have to step back.  Sometimes you just have to let it go….

That night as I stood on my dark deck watching Venus silently slide down to the horizon it all just clicked.  The night, the beer, the cigar – it all came together in one of those moments that I’m sure every beer lover has enjoyed.  A moment when the beer just made the moment so much better.  Oh, I’m not going to lie, you can’t just turn it off.  I analyzed that beer.  The grapefruit scented hops that reminded me so much of the ones we’ve written about lately.  The spicy, peppery finish that made me wonder what other hop variety (if any) they may have used.  How the cool malt of the beer helped to calm the hot smoke of the cigar.  How the spiciness of the finish in the beer was playing well with the spices that Acid uses to age their cigars in.  Yes, I analyzed the F’ out of the beer!  For about 15 seconds….and then I let it go…

I have a fridge of beers ready to go for what I hope will be a my next round of beer reviews.  But tonight, I’ve got a couple of Headwaters left over and another cigar.  I think I’m going back out on my deck later and remind myself again why it is I do this.  Why I love beer.  And just let it go…

And yes my sharp eye readers, I did just write a blog post about it not always being about a blog post.  David Copperfield ain’t got sh*t on me.

In Defense of Guinness

It's the nuts that will make a squirrel fat, not the Guinness

Yeah, I know, “Oh no!  Not one of those posts again!”  Yeah forgive me, but with Saint Patrick’s Day coming up me and my friends have been discussing plans, which of course include lots of Guinness.  And of course with non-beer drinkers, or mass swill beer drinkers standing around the statements come flying at you like mosquitoes in summer time.  And of course you’re then forced (if you wish to even take up the fight) to deflect the on coming misinformation bullets like Wonder Woman (or Neo from the Matrix which ever outfit you think you rock best).

There won’t be anything new in this post for my normal readers, most (if not all) of the information you’ve read a hundred times before.  So why am I doing this.  Self imposed therapy?  Lazy writing because I have a ton of other things to do to get ready for this weekend?  Maybe it’s just self serving.  Next time the bullets fly I’ll just ask, “Have you read my blog? You should.” (Hint: I have a lot to do this week)

For sake of discussion, all references to Guinness in this post pertain to the Guinness we’re served over here in the US.  Guinness is brewed to different ABV% depending on the country it’s being sold in.  And since I just had my first Australian to stop by my blog the other day, I need to keep things clear for my *ahem* international audience.

Guinness is strong.

Of all the beliefs about Guinness from those who don’t know, busting this misconception is probably what shocks people the most.  While it is true that you can get Guinness Extra Stout which clocks in at 5.0% and Guinness Foreign at 7.5%, draft Guinness contains a non-threatening 4.2% ABV.  In comparison Bud, MGD , and Coors Original each contain 5.0% ABV.  If you spin the math, you find out that if you drink a 16oz pint of Guinness verse a 12oz glass of any of the others, you’d be getting less than 0.1oz more alcohol from the Guinness.

Guinness is fattening.

Perhaps it is its reputation for being “a meal in a glass”, but some people believe that just being in the presence of someone drinking a Guinness will toss their diet into a complete tailspin.  But what does the data say?  Is his secret love for Guinness the reason Richard Simmons spends so much time sweating to the oldies?  Well, if we again look at the big three (Bud, MGD, Coors) we see that in a typical 12oz serving they all contain about 143 calories.  For a 12oz serving of Guinness? 125!  Want to up that to a pint?  No problem 167, a whopping 24 more calories.  And for those of you out there who are inclined to keep an eye on your carbs, you’ll be happy to know that a 12oz portion of Guinness will only run you 10.0 where the other three will cost you 10.6, 13.1, and 11.3 respectively.  So next time you have an order of wings and a belly buster burger don’t blame the fact that your pants are too tight on the Guinness you had with them.

Guinness is heavy/bitter (taste).

It’s hard to empirically argue this one away. American lagers usually clock in at 5-15 IBUs (International Bittering Unit) with most falling at the low end.  Dry stouts usually fall within 30-35 so yes they are more bitter, but an American lager has nothing to balance its IBUs against, where a stout should have a nice creamy mouth feel along with some roasted malt profile.  It should be balanced with a slight bite, but not bitter in the way unsweetened chocolate is bitter. To me, if you can drink coffee then Guinness should not be a problem for you. As for having a heavy taste, again I can’t toss out any magic numbers for this one but give me a day to expose you to some of the stouts that are coming out of the craft beer world today and I’ll change your mind on that, trust.

I don’t drink black beer.

Good!  Because Guinness isn’t black, it’s actually a dark ruby red.  Nope, not making it up.  You can hold it up to a very bright light and see for yourself.  Or if you don’t trust your eyes you can go to Guinness’ official FAQ, third question down from the top.

McGregor was a better Obi-Wan than Guinness

Ok, now you’re just fishing.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day Everyone!

Top 10 Myths From DING – and My Thoughts on Them

One of the fun things about beer blogging is reading blogs written by other craft beer fanatics.  You quickly learn that there are many different perspectives on beer, brought on by a  myriad of experiences and backgrounds from the bloggers themselves.  Probably one of the more interesting perspectives you can come across are the citizens of Great Britain who for whatever reason, find themselves transplanted into our country.

One such blog that I come across often is DINGSBEERBLOG.  An English citizen currently “marooned in the beer culture desert that is ‘The South’ of the USA”, he brings an interesting perspective to what can obviously seem like a beer scene running out of control due to American excess.  Back in December he posted an article entitled, ‘Top 10′ myths that the US craft beer fad has perpetuated amongst the newbs, and (most disappointingly), even…amongst those that should know better.  I found his list an interesting summation of current (and sometimes misguided) trends in the craft beer scene and thought I’d add some of my own (unsolicited) thoughts to it.

Let’s start.

10. All craft (non-macro) beer is good, and all local beer is good.

HIM: “Simply put, it isn’t. This of course comes partly out of the general, green mantra surrounding ‘local is always better’ (and as such is not confined to beer), but it is something the newish beer crowd has latched on to and won’t let go.”

ME : I have to agree.  The quality of beer  has no bearing on its proximity to your location.  And as awesome as it is to have a local brewery that you can call your own, don’t automatically assume that beer coming out of it is good.  One of the best examples by me was the now defunct Brandywine Brewing.  Area beer peeps would beam with pride about this brewery.  But their beer sometimes didn’t taste any better than bad malt extract home brew, and when you went to the brewery there would be more people drinking cocktails than beer. tDoB TRUISM #7 – if there are more martini glasses than beer glasses on the bar at  your local brewery, it’s probably not making good beer.

9. It’s wonderful to have more beer in cans.

HIM  :”In short, the container should not overrule the contents – it seems as though too often recently that’s exactly what happens, as people settle for lesser beer simply because it’s canned.”

ME: Disagree.  It IS wonderful to have more beer in cans.  In my mind, Oskar Blues. 21st Amendment, Sierra Nevada and others have greatly increased the availability of GOOD beer in cans.  If people out there are choosing a “lesser beer” just because it’s canned that’s the fault of the people picking the beer, not the canning movement.  Let them pick a better beer, which they can probably still find – in a can.

8. It’s limited, it must be great!

HIM: “Obviously this has been going on for years, but I believe it’s now totally out of control. Hype has reached new levels for countless numbers of beers, that can be replicated and bettered, by simply walking down to your local store and taking something comparable off the shelf.”

ME: I call these “buzz beers”,  beers that create an instant buzz among craft beer drinkers when the brewer announces a release date.  And none of the ones I’ve had have ever really blown me away because let’s face it, at the end of the day, it’s just a beer.  The machine runs well because its got two drive chains behind the hype: the select few who get to gloat that they got one of these beers, and the hoards who are jealous that they did not.  Let the trading begin.

7. Session beer is now gaining popularity in the USA.

HIM: “Errrrrrr, no it isn’t. There’s STILL virtually no, 4% and under beer that you can buy on a regular basis in the USA.”

ME: As I’ve said in comments on other blogs, I’m a little shocked at the recent “war” this topic has started.  CAMRA defines a session beer as anything with an ABV of 4% and under [EDIT: Read DING’s comment below and his post on his thoughts on the definition of session beer].  And (probably sadly) here in America we’re going the “bigger is better” route with our beers.  Lew Bryson in his SessionBeerProject wants to redefine session beers in America as anything with 4.5% or less.   Muddying the issue further is the GABF who, in an act that I believe is pure stupidity, actually defined “session beers” as a beer style – with a top ABV of 5%!  America seems more interested in changing the definition of beer terms rather than brewing good beers that fit within the already existing ones.

6. More is always better (number of breweries and number of beers).

HIM: “The level of growth in the craft industry in the US is simply unsustainable. It’s flooding the market with mediocre and poor beer and shelf space is at a premium more than ever.”

ME: I want to disagree.  I want to. I want to. I want to.  I dream of a world where craft beer owns 95% of the market share.  Where every city, town, and village has a brewery they can call “their own”.  And I wanted a pony for Christmas one year.  And I didn’t get that either.  The only thing I’ll argue with in the above statement is that it’s not poor or mediocre beer that’s making shelf space limited where I shop.  It’s all these people that prefer alcohol lemonades, ice teas, juices and waters.

5. More is always better (taps in bars).

HIM: “Sure, if you want low turnover, and indiscriminate selections. Another old myth that is hanging on, and really says as much about the US psyche of ‘more is always better’ as it says about the beer scene here.”

ME:  It says “always” so I have to agree but let’s focus the blame where it belongs – at the people who run the bars. One of my favorite bars, Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore has 100+ taps and I’ve never had a bad beer there.  That’s because they take their beer very seriously.  Lines are frequently cleaned and if a beer has been on the line too long, they either special it to move it, or remove it if they can’t.   And if they can do it there’s no excuse for a bar with 25 taps not to be able to do the same, especially in the craft beer scene where many beers come in 1/6 kegs, so slow turnover should not be a problem.  Indiscriminate selections?  Again, let’s blame the guy stocking the cellar not the number of taps.

4. Imperial and highly hopped = better.

HIM: “An old, old, old myth in US beer circles that just won’t go away.”

ME:  God I hate the whole “Imperial” crap.  I recently had an Imperial Helles that tasted like hop tea.  No depth, no nuance, just hops.  If in fact it is the brewers who are selling this notion to beer drinkers is far more a testament to their marketing skills, not their brewing skills.  However, having said that I sometimes wonder which tail is wagging which dog.  Are brewers pitching that highly hopped beers are better, or just responding to craft beer drinkers demand for hoppier beers?

3. British beer is undergoing a massive revolution inspired by American brewers.

HIM: “the overwhelming majority of magnificent beer drunk in the UK is traditional in its style, ABV and brewed by low-key brewers that still put substance over style.”

ME : From this side of the pond it must be easy to see a brewery like Brewdog and think, “Man, breweries like that must be popping up all over the UK!”  In truth, on a recent trip to Scotland I only recall Brewdog being predominantly featured in one pub.  In the rest, I found the normal array of traditional beers brewed by traditional breweries like Caledonian and Belhaven; along with well known smaller breweries like Harviestoun.

2. If it’s from a country with a (relatively) new brewing tradition, it MUST be great.

HIM: “First it was Italy, then it was the Scandinavian countries now it’s New Zealand. The fawning over incredibly expensive, ordinary beer is a really only a symptom of the lack of discrimination mentioned above.”

ME: ????  What is this  you speak of?  I guess I’ve fallen out of the foreign beer loop because I’m totally unaware of this.  New Zealand?  Really?  I got nothing….

1. You can put ANY beer in a cask and get a good result.

HIM: “No, no, no, no. NO! The whole POINT of cask presentation is to accentuate the subtle, gentle nuances that occur over a 1, 2 or 3 day period. This relies upon beers being low-hopped, malt forward and relatively low ABV. If you put a 10% Imperial IPA in a cask, you’re missing the WHOLE point.”

ME: I love cask beer.  And I’ve had some nice ones here in America, several of which I’m sure DING would say do NOT belong in a cask.  But, have they been cask beers like you can get in England – no.  And I would say, few people in American who have not traveled outside the states have experienced the awesomeness of true cask beer.  The closest thing I’ve ever had was at the now defunct Highlander Brewery in Manhattan.  When the city told them they couldn’t put brewing equipment in the old building they purchased, they got their beer from Middle Ages Brewing.  They had three beers on cask, a bitter, an OSB and a brown ale.  The bitter just took me back across the pond.  The best example of cask beer I’ve had in America, and most probably as DING points out, because it was a beer who’s profile allows it to work well in a cask. That all being said, Dogfish Head’s 75 Minute IPA is  something I love on cask, and that isn’t going to change.

Well that’s it.  Just some thoughts on another man’s thoughts.  I find DING’s perspective on the American beer scene interesting.  I encourage you to seek out him and other beer bloggers (especially if they’ve come from other countries) to gain a better perspective on how others view the US world of craft beer.

Time for another beer….