GABF Results – Delaware

The old adage is Location, Location, Location.  And although that phrase was coined for business real estate, it definitely can be applied to other aspects of life.  And since this is a beer blog (for the most part), I’m sure you can already see where this is going.

If you locked 50 beer lovers from around the country in a room and asked them where is the hub of craft brewing in America you’d likely get 52 different opinions.  That’s the level of debate that can run wild when you get beer lovers together arguing over where the best place to live is if you want to best experience the craft beer revolution.  And most of those people arguing the virtues of their selected area would have valid points.  Let’s face it, when it comes to craft beer there are a lot of amazing cornerstones around the US.  People from Seattle, Portland, Boulder, NY, etc can all easily argue how special their place in the craft beer world is.  That’s why I always get strange looks when I tell people that I feel lucky to be enjoying the craft beer growth from – Delaware.

Yes, Delaware.  Definitely not the first place that jumps into your mind when you think of the craft beer revolution, but I think the thought has merit none the less.  First, I’m only two and a half hours or less from NYC, Baltimore and Washington DC.  Places like Rattle N Hum, Blind Tiger, Max’s Taphouse, and Bier Baron (the former Brickskeller) are just a day trip away.   Also, brew establishments such as Stoudt’s, Sly Fox, Yards, Nodding Head, and Triumph are within a reasonable car drive away.

As far as Delaware itself, well everyone knows Dogfish Head, but we have some other breweries doing some amazing things as well.  The Iron Hill chain, with locations in Newark and at the Wilmington Riverfront (as well of their locations outside Delaware) are pushing the limits of craft beer by allowing the brewers at each location free rein to create beers that they find interesting.  And of course there is Stewart’s who make solid beers and build a clientele that enjoys what they have to offer.

But it’s not just the brewpubs that are doing well.  Brewer’s Twin Lakes showed up a few years ago as well as the new kids on the block Evolution Brewing and 16 Mile Brewing.  All which are brewing beers that are beginning to gain tap room at local bars.  And then there’s Fordham, who when their brewery in Maryland got to small they pulled up stakes and moved to Dover, DE where they’ve flourished quite nicely.

So with that in mind I’d like to salute my state’s metal wins at the 2011 GABF.  Congratulations guys, can’t wait to be at the bar tasting your metal winning beers!  And to all the other GABF winners who are just a day drive away – I’ll be seeing you all sometime soon as well.

Congratulations to the  2011 GABF metal winners from Delaware! :

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant:
Bronze    Vienna Red Lager             Vienna-Style Lager
Bronze    Grand Inquisitor              Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Silver      Russian Imperial Stout    Imperial Stout

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery:
Silver      Chateau Jiahu                     Specialty Beer
Bronze    Midas Touch                       Specialty Honey Beer

Stewart’s Brewing Co.:
Bronze     Maibock                               Bock

Time for another beer!  Maybe a metal winner!

It’s the Great (and not so great) Pumpkin Beers, Charlie Brown!

My pumpking beer round up. Except for ST's PumKing. I don't know what happened to that bottle.

A short time ago one of the people I follow on Twitter challenged us to admit a beer confession.  You know, that deep dark secret about beer you don’t want your other beer geek friends to know about.  Something along the lines of “I think all Victory beers taste bad”.  I thought for a minute and I tweeted back, “I don’t get all this revelry about pumpkin beers.  I’m sorry, I just don’t.”

And I don’t.  My Twitter and Untappd feeds have been swamped with people drinking and espousing upon the greatness of this yearly seasonal beer style. Coming from Delaware, to me, pumpkins only have three uses: Jack O’Lanterns, pumpkin pie, and being shot from an air cannon (yes, Delaware gave you Pumpkin Chunkin but we also gave you Valerie Bertinelli, George Thorogood, VP Joe Biden and nylon –  so I’m willing to call it even if you are).  But pumpkin beer?

This black hole in my beer world probably stems from my early days of beer discovery.  Except for Buffalo Bill’s brewing, there just weren’t a lot of pumpkin beers out there.  And as their numbers slowly grew, I guess I just never notice, or cared.

Soon after my tweet I found myself at Stateline Liquors deciding what to drink over the weekend.  My tastes were leading me one way when a voice whispered, “Revisit pumpkin beers, and see if your attitude towards them is still warranted.”  I found myself inspired, after all one of these many pumpkin beers that was getting mega-twitted must be worth a taste shouldn’t it?  Craft brewing has evolved by leaps and bounds since the 80s, surely pumpkin beers must have evolved along with it. And aren’t I the one who always tells people, “If you don’t like something try it again every once in awhile.  Sometimes your palate changes”?  So I left Stateline with a pumpkin patch full of beers to try and a mission.  Find a pumpkin beer I could look forward to every year.

First, let me say that I was happy to see that every beer I tried did indeed list pumpkin as an ingredient – no cheating with just spices here!  And in most of the beers I tried, the pumpkin was quite evident.  They also included a blend of spices normally found in pumpkin pie.  In some beers the blend was very balanced, while in others one spice or another was a little more forward than the rest.  In the interest of time, I won’t review every beer I tried.  Most of them were pretty solid beers with notes of pumpkin and spices.  Let’s look at a handful of stand out beers (both good and bad) from my tasting.

Two I didn’t like :

Heavy Seas “The Greater Pumpkin” – If I’d have read the label on this before I bought it I wouldn’t have.  Bourbon barrels are my arch-nemesis in the brewing world because I hate the taste of bourbon.  And this Imperial Pumpkin Ale (9% ABV) just reeked of it.  I couldn’t get past the bourbon taste enough to even figure out where the pumpkin began.  Not my type of beer by a long shot, but if you’re not like me and enjoy the bourbon thing, try it – you’ll probably like it.

Fisherman’s (Cape Ann Brewing) “Pumpkin Stout” – I really liked the sound of this when I bought it, a stout with pumpkin and spices.  I could just imagine how nicely the spices and the stout would play together being brought together nicely by the pumpkin.  That however, didn’t happen.  While the pumpkin was nice, I found the spices and the roasted tones of the stout in conflict with each other.  Instead of working together, they seemed to be battling each other for supremacy on my palate, and I’m still not sure who won.

Two I liked :

Uinta’s “Pumpkin Ale” – This brew benefits from the fact that the spices are subtle.  The pumpkin comes through nicely and after that, you’re not bludgeoned by an onslaught of heavy spices.  This is no doubt a pumpkin beer from top to bottom and delivers it in a very enjoyable way.  I would have no problem buying this one again.

Schalfly’s “Pumpkin Ale” – Sooner or later I figured I’d find a pumpkin beer that spoke to me on a nostalgic level.  The pumpkin is evident as you would expect, but the spice blend is nutmeg forward and thus made it the beer that reminded most of my mom’s pumpkin pie. Because of that I thoroughly enjoyed every sip.  This is the pumpkin beer I’d serve at Thanksgiving while trying hard to fight the urge to put a scoop of whipped cream on the top of it.

One I loved :

Southern Tier’s “Pumking” – This was one of the beers that had been blowing up my twitter feed, and with very good reason.  It is simply amazing.  First, the beer has a solid tone of vanilla to it which just ties all the other flavors together.  The spices are very subtle, and because of this Pumking doesn’t hit you over the head and scream “pumpkin pie!”  Instead, it engages your palate as each sip brings something different to  your nose and tongue.  Several times I got the distinct impression of the flavor of pie crust (or the smell of pie crust as it comes out of the oven).  Other times, the spices peaked through, all dancing in a background of pumpkin and vanilla.

The rest of the line up were all nice beers and if you like pumpkin beers, I encourage you to seek them out.  The other ones that were part of my tasting were : Smuttynose, Dogfish Head, South Hampton, Weyerbacher, Heavy Sea’s regular pumpkin ale, and Elysian.

With great respect and apologies to Mr Schultz

Was my mission a success?  I’d say so.  First, I confirmed that today’s brewers have indeed brought pumpkin beers to a high level.  Real pumpkin.  Fresh spices.  Good stuff.  And considering the level of quality demanded by today’s craft beer lovers, I’m not surprised.

And finally, I’m happy to say that next year I can join the multitudes of beer geeks when the next season of pumpkin beers begins to appear on the shelves with a simple question,  “When are you getting Pumking in?”  Mission accomplished.

What’s your favorite pumpkin beer?

Brew Review – Brew Dog’s Dogma

Some "Dogs" I have enjoyed!

A few days ago I got a tweet from the guys at TheBEERSgoneBAD asking if I’d had Brew Dog’s Dogma and if so, what did I think of it.  I’ve had the pleasure of having many of Brew Dog’s beers, both in Scotland and here in the States and they are one of my favorite breweries. If they hadn’t asked me, I’d have probably gotten around to several of their beers eventually, but under the belief that “there’s no time like the present”, let’s take a look.

Brew Dog created quite a stir in the brewing industry in 2009 when they released the interestingly named Tactical Nuclear Penguin.  Double barrel aged for 14 months and then frozen at a local ice cream factory for 21 days, the beer clocked in at 32% alcohol and was a monster.  Every beer geek I knew wanted a bottle, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one – and it is huge.  Most breweries would stop there, but not these guys!  Next came Sink the Bismark IPA at 41%, followed by End of History at 55% bottled inside a taxidermied squirrel.  Yeah, you read that right – some times when I read these guy’s webpage, I think they’re just playing on big joke on the brewing world.  But a squirrel?  Heck, that’s nothing.  Why don’t we have a beer that’s served from a taxidermied deer head?

Well compared to all that, Dogma is a pretty tame (but still remarkable) beer.  Let’s have a look:

THEM : The grain bill for Dogma consists of Marris Otter Extra Pale, Caramalt, roasted barley, Dark Crystal Malt, and Munich Malts.  Bramiling Cross and Amarillo hops are added as well as poppy, guarana, kola nut and Scottish heather honey.  Target OG is 1072, fermentation leaves it at 7.8% alcohol.  All that is balanced out by 65 IBUs.

ME : Dogma pours clean with a medium fine head.  The color in my glass goes from light to dark copper from bottom to top.  As I raise the glass to take a sip the subtle notes of malt and honey enter my nose.  On the tongue a slight sweetness echoing the malt and honey starts in the front which turns into nice (not overly bitter) hop spiciness in the back.  Bottom line, this is just an easy drinking beer.  The 7.8% alcohol is hidden well, and it goes down as easy as some 4.5% beers I’ve had.  And my 1pint, 6.4oz bottle only ran me about $6.50 so enjoy it more often I will!

The guys at TheBEERSgoneBAD described Dogma as “liquid honey”but I usually reserve that description for Dogfish Head’s 120 minute IPA.  You can see their excellent review here.   Thanks guys for giving me a reason to enjoy it one more time.  It won’t be the last (and hopefully not the last time at Bannerman’s in Edinburgh).  Time for another beer….

You can follow Brew Dog on Twitter HERE

You can follow the guys at TheBEERSgoneBAD on Twitter HERE

What’s your favorite Brew Dog beer?

Brew Review – DuClaw Brewing, Colossus

I enjoy breweries who really love to have fun with their product.  Whether it be a unique name, label or ad campaign, being clever in promoting your product will always get points with me.

Points go to DuClaw Brewing in Maryland.  DuClaw sports several different locations and more than a handful of year round and seasonal brews.  With interesting names like Alchemy, Repent, Misery, Mad Bishop, and Enigma you can tell these guys are thinking out side of the box.

Godzilla has nothing on this beer!

But it was their recent release of Colossus that really caught my eye.  The brewery did a spirited social media run on its Facebook page proclaiming wild accusations such as “That’s not vomiting. Colossus is just bored being inside you” and “Steroids once tested positive for Colossus”.  And recently after a 5.9 magnitude earthquake shook a large portion of the east coast, DuClaw was quick to post the reason why “A keg of Colossus fell. Sorry about that”.

But quick wit alone does not a great brew make.  While catchy sayings and cute names are fun, it IS about the beer.  So does Colossus live up to its name?  Let’s find out.

THEM : The grain bill for Colossus consists of pale, crystal and dark crystal malts. DuClaw uses chinook and nugget hops targeting the IBUs at 70.  Gravity is 40 plato, with final ABV finishing at 21% which they claim is achieved totally by fermentation – wow.

ME : Colossus pours cloudy with little to no head retention.  In my glass the color starts at the bottom as a dark amber and moves up to a dark brown.  The nose and flavor are very much in sync.  Hints of apple, cinnamon and honey dance across your tongue from front to back ending in a noticeable alcohol bite.  After tasting, I was please when I read the label and saw that those flavors were very much expected from the beer. Colossus is very much truth in advertising, a big beer with notes of apple, cinnamon and honey.  If that sounds good to you, then you’ll like this beer very much.

But Colossus?  Well at 21% ABV who am I to argue.  This definitely isn’t a session beer, so keep that in mind while you’re enjoying it.  And it does have the backbone to support the alcohol content.  It’s a very tasty, solid beer.  Sadly however Colossus lives up to its name in price as well.  My 22oz bottle cost $25+ which puts it outside of my “beers that I’ll normally have in my beer fridge” category.  But every now and then as a treat (or if I’m lucky enough to catch it on draft) I’ll definitely revisit this beer.

Have you had colossus?  What did you think?

Pentence and the Cooler of Surpises….

Forgive me father for I have sinned.   It’s been over a month since my last blog post.  I have to admit that I have a new found appreciation for all the bloggers out there.  Even if it’s a labor of love, although they make it look easy – it’s not!  I find that finding time is my biggest issue.  There always seems to be something that I should be doing more than typing away at a keyboard.  Anyway, with a new found appreciation and some retooled goals let’s get this going again….

A couple of years back I did something that’s slowly becoming a tradition, the “cooler of surprises”.  I first did it for a fourth of July party a friend of mine was throwing.  The usual “bring side dishes” requests were nixed and it was simply a BYOB event.  Well, being one of those people who hate to come empty handed and like to do a little something-something to aid the party, I came up with the cooler of surprises.

Assembling the cooler is easy.  Take your standard “goes to parties” cooler and fill it with whatever odd assortment of beers you can find.  Having a local beer store with an awesome selection makes this process easy.  I like to fill mine with 22oz (bomber) bottles, you’ll see why in a moment.  Add lots of ice.  And party.

Once at the party I always inform those interested of the rules for the cooler of surprises.  They’re only two, and easy to follow:

Rule 1 : No rummaging in the cooler of surprises.  Open lid, reach in, pull out.

Rule 2 : You must share (this is where the 22oz bottles come in handy).

I recently did this for a work buddy’s Labor Day BBQ.  He enjoys trying different beers and he was tossing down some seriously great food, so I felt obligated to bring something I knew he’d enjoy and have fun with.  The great thing about doing this is that you always make new friends.  Once a bottle or two has been cracked and passed around, craft beer lovers will catch wind quickly, and come over to see what’s going on.  Once you have beer lovers standing around talking about beer, well that’s a party right there.

When picking beer for the cooler I generally try to zen it.  I might pick one or two things I’ve tried that I think people will enjoy, but for the most part I try to stock it with things I haven’t had as well.  I also try to keep the party situation in mind.  My buddy’s BBQ was in the middle of August, so I passed on beers like heavy stouts.

According to my Untappd log, this was the content of the Labor day cooler:

S.O.B Special Old Bitter Ale by Atlantic Brewing Company
Coney Island Sword Swallower by Shmaltz Brewing Company (He’Brew)
Fish Paralyzer by RJ Rockers Brewing Co.
Ozzy by The Brewer’s Art
Bete Blanche by Elysian Brewing Company
Lord Wimsey’s by Baying Hound Aleworks
Super Cru (Lips of Faith) by New Belgium Brewing Company
Dogma by BrewDog
Fat Tire by New Belgium Brewing Company
Black Lightning by DuClaw Brewing Company
Life and Limb by Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada

The Cooler of Surprises ready to go. The large space is to accomidate my girlfriend's Hoegaarten. Gotta keep her happy!

Once things got rolling, one bottle, then another got selected, open and pass around.  Like I said, you can always find craft beer lovers at a party.  The Fish Paralyzer got raves from the small crowd we had.  The Bete Blanche was the first thing I’ve ever had from Elysian Brewing before and I really liked it so I’ll be looking for more stuff from them.  And one drinker said of the Fat Tire, “DAMN!”

So next time you’re invited to a party, put together your own “cooler of surprises” and make some new friends!

Do you have any beer traditions for parties or get togethers?

Brisket, Beer and Badges

Several years ago, my girlfriend cemented her position in my life by giving me a Brinkmann vertical smoker.  I’m not sure how she knew I wanted one.  Maybe it was all the times I sat transfixed in front of the TV with the Food Network on watching guys pull huge hunks of meat from smoking metal contraptions whispering, “man I’d love to try that.”  Or maybe it was her deep, in-tune womanly psyche which in touch with the basic needs of her man.  Nah, it was probably the whispering.

The goal (and the result) - brisket sandwich with onion and horseradish; with a tomato, corn and basil salad.

Well of course I dove right in.  I read everything I could on the internet.  Subscribed to a couple of Enewsletters.  Even bought a couple of books.  Soon I was smoking chickens, sausage and pork shoulders (more on that in a later post) but the mountain I kept hearing I had to climb was brisket.  Brisket is a piece of meat from the belly region, and it can not be cooked anyway but low and slow in order to break down all the fat and connective tissue.  If you try to cook this like a steak, well you might as well dine on your dog’s favorite rubber chew toy.  So I dove in one day and tried it, I think I did fairly well but obviously I still have things to learn.

First it all starts with the rub – the dry rub.  Even if you’re a casual Food TV watcher you’re probably aware the roll that this spice blend has in BBQ.  Spice shelves at supermarkets are full of them, but part of the fun of BBQ is coming up with  your own blends of rubs and sauces.  Mine started as basic creole type blend that I got from a famous Food Network chef.  You can find it here.  Over the years though I’ve changed things either to suit my taste or simply because I found something neat I wanted to add to it.  My recipe this year is below.  I make a big batch every spring and if it lasts the season, I’m lucky. I started with a 4-5lb brisket, liberally applied the rub, wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. My rub recipe:

  • 1 part Smoked Paprika
  • 1 1/2 parts Spanish Paprika
  • 2  parts Kosher Salt
  • 1 part Roasted Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Black Pepper
  • 1 part Onion Powder
  • 1 part Dry Chipolte Powder
  • 1 part Dry Oregano
  • 1 part Dry Thyme

Because you have to cook it low and slow, brisket is not something you can just pop in the smoker at noon and eat at 6.  So I planned to cook it by starting it early in the morning and keeping it warm in the oven until my guests arrived.  Since I like to multi-task when I’m smoking I figured I’d take this opportunity to rack up some Untappd badges that I normally wouldn’t get.  I normally (read rarely) drink the same beer twice in a row, and I count on one hand the number of times I buy a case of something in a year – and most of them are Guinness at St Patty’s day.  So I bought a case of cheap beer (cheap beer is essential when you’re BBQing, it can be used in brines, marinades, sauces) and set the alarm clock to 2am!

I had already set up my smoker so that it was ready to go when the alarm went off.  The water tray was filled, and my charcoal starter was set up with a combination of briquets and lump charcoal.  All I had to do when I walked out on the deck was light a match.  When the coals were ready I poured them into firebox and waited for the  internal temp of the smoker to hit 225.  When it was ready I unwrapped the brisket and placed it in the smoker box and added some water soaked hickory chunks to my fire. Then I cracked a beer.  Yeah, at 2am – I’m a professional, don’t try this at home.

Let me just take a moment to editorialize here – sunrise, with the smoker going is heaven.  Ok, back to it…

At 7:30 the temperature of the brisket was 135.  At 140 meat doesn’t take a lot of smoke any more so I let it creep up to 145, removed it from the smoker, wrapped in aluminum foil and placed it in the oven which was set at 225 – and took a power nap.

The brisket - sliced and ready to serve.

When the digital thermometer read 195, I turned the oven off and left the brisket in it until it was time to serve.  When I sliced the meat it was moist and tender, but  not as moist as I’ve had at some smoke houses.  The flavor was amazing and a friend of mine who does BBQ parties on the side really liked it.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any experience with brisket so he couldn’t help with why it was a little drier that I’ve had from other places.

So BBQ fanatics, what am I missing in my brisket prep?  Do I need to mop on occasion?  Put some liquid in when I wrap it in the foil?  What’s you’re trick for making that amazingly moist brisket?

Oh the beers?  I won’t say how many I had throughout the day but here’s a list of Untappd badges I got :

Take it Easy, The Usual, Power Month, Six Pack, Drinking your Paycheck and Brewery Loyalist.  I wanted the Top of the Morning (5 beers before noon), but I didn’t get it.  But I did the next weekend.  Time for another beer – something different.

Brew Review – Victory Brewing, “Baltic Thunder”

Victory Brewing's Baltic Thunder

Have you ever lost a loved one?  I mean a beer.  A beer you loved?  A beer you told all your friends about?  A beer you’d take home to your mother? And then one day, it’s gone.  You read it in a newspaper or got a tweet from a friend.  Gone.  Never to be seen again.

The reasons why beers disappear are varied.  Sometimes the breweries just aren’t that good.  Sometimes it’s location.  Sometimes it’s business.  But whatever the reason, breweries and brewpubs close down.  And every now and then, a great beer goes down with them.

Such is the case (in my opinion) with Heavyweight  Brewery’s Perkuno’s Hammer Imperial Porter.  Heavyweight, in Ocean Township NJ, closed in 2006 and sadly took this awesome beer (and many of the other great beers they brewed) with it.  But sometimes, good people won’t let good beers die.  Cue the people from Victory Brewing.  After realizing that Hammer’s disappearance from the shelves left a huge empty hole  that needed to be filled they put their heads together with Tom Baker (Heavyweight Owner/Brewer – he was last seen  here) and Lew Bryson (well known Author of Mid-Atlantic breweries)  and came up with their own tribute to the style – Baltic Thunder in 2008.

*SNIFF* Heavyweight's long gone beer.

Them : Baltic (Imperial) porters are similiar to IPA’s in that they were born due to a need for beer to survive being shipped a great distance.  Introduced to the Russian’s, the dark beer was brewed with a higher level of alcohol to survive the trip.  The grain bill  for Baltic consists of imported German 2 row and roasted malts.  An interesting addition to the grain bill is black-eyed peas which substitutes for the Roman Beans (Tom’s research showed they were a traditional ingredient in the style) found in the original beer. The beer clocks in at 8.5% ABV and can usually be found in 22oz bottles and on rare occasions draft.

Me : Baltic Thunder pours  with a small head the dissipates into a thin ring that circles the entire edge of the glass.  The color is black from top to bottom – no light getting through this baby.  The nose has tones of malt, mocha and chocolate.  Some people I know would probably dial coffee in there as well – it all depends on what your palette reference is built from.  In the mouth Baltic Thunder continues along the same theme. It starts in the front with a malty (dare I say sweetness – perhaps molasses) that finishes in the back with a dry roastiness.  And then all that lingers in the after taste, along with slight stickiness.

Thanks Victory for saving one of my favorite beers.  Now if you could bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000, that would be awesome!

What beer have you lost that you wish someone would bring back?

Brew Review – Flying Dog and The Brewer’s Art “Table for Two”

Flying Dog and The Brewer's Art - Table for Two, Belgian table beer

There’s an old saying that “Too many cooks spoil the soup”, but if you look around the brewing industry that doesn’t seem to be deterring to many of the “cooks” out there.  Collaboration brews are running wild.  Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada had their Life and Limb/Limb and Life beers.  Dogfish Head also teamed up with Three Floyds on Poppa Skull.  And if you think two brewers aren’t “too many” – Stone Brewing has kicked it up.  Their collaboration series of beers are always the product of three different brewers. They’ve worked with the likes of Dogfish Head, Victory, 21st Amendment, Maui Brewing, Brew Dog from Scotland and Mikkeller from Denmark.  You can check out their impressive list of collaboration beers here.  For this review I’m going to look at a pairing of cooks in my nearby area, Flying Dog Brewing from Frederick, MD and The Brewer’s Art from Baltimore, MD.  Their soup?  Table for Two.

Table for Two is listed as a Belgian table beer.  Table beers are typically low alcohol (1% ABV is not uncommon) that were traditionally enjoyed by adults and children at meal time.  You can find the Brewer’s Association description of a Belgian table beer on page 19 of this PDF.

Them : The grain bill for this beer consists of French Pilsner, cara-vienna, and biscuit malts along with some rye added in.  The hops used are brewers gold and styrian goldings.  Wildflower honey rounds out the beer.  The beer clocks in at 5.0% ABV which is a little more than a traditional table beer, but since we don’t let our children drink beer I’m good with it.

Me : My bottles of Table for Two seemed lightly carbonated, the head is a thin lace of bubbles which seems to suit this style of beer.  In the tasting glass the color starts as a light golden and goes up to a light copper. The flavor starts up front with a malty/honey sweetness that turns into a spiciness (that I get as a light clove) in the middle.  The finish is a quick crispness that soon leaves my mouth watering a bit.  The honey is subtle throughout, a nice component that gives whole beer a nice balance.  This beer is very drinkable and, as its style suggests, could complement a wide array of dishes that might find their way to your meal time table.

To many cooks?  Not from where I’m sitting.  So next time you’re out with some friends sitting at a table for six, order some Table for Two.  People enjoying great beer is something there can never be to many of.

What’s your favorite collaboration beer?

Ed this is Randall, Randall this is Ed. You two should get along…

Last night I had the pleasure of hanging out with some friends (along with the co-founder of tDoB, Chuck!) at Two Stones Pub in Newark, Delaware for what has become a Wednesday night tradition.  The place was packed (nice business for a Wed) and the beer choices were excellent as usual.  But that’s not what brought us in – it was Randall.

Now Randall isn’t the cook, the beer buyer or the pretty bartender with the sweet smile (but if she was that would be funny), no randall is a little contraption dreamt up by the boys at Dogfish Head.   This little device allows you to infuse any beer from your tap system with anything you want.  And I do mean anything. If you can get it into the first chamber it’s fair game!  From what I have read and  heard the unit started from humble enough beginnings as a way to put an extra hop kick into a beer as it was being poured into the glass.  But beer drinkers being the creative bunch that they are, it wasn’t long before other things began to sneak their way into it.

The system itself seems simple enough (although since you’re dealing with liquid under pressure I’m sure it’s not), the first chamber holds what ever you wish to infuse into your beer while the second chamber gives the infused beer time to settle to reduce foaming when poured.  A cylinder around the second chamber allows ice to be added to keep the beer in it chilled until it is dispensed.  And there’s a filter between to the two chambers – no floaties please!

Randall "the enamel animal" set up at Two Stones Pub

I watched the bartender from my envious vantage point of  “right in front of it” pour several glasses throughout the night and I can tell you that those baristas who make your coffee in the morning had nothing on this guy.  He was working the system like a champ and the rewards were excellent.

Last night was Dogfish Head’s Theobroma (a beer brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and nibs, honey, chilies and annatto) over strawberries, shaved chocolate and vanilla beans creating what Two Stones called “a napoleon” after the popular ice cream trio.  The shaved chocolate really popped the already chocolate tones in the Theobroma and the vanilla seemed to pull everything together.  The strawberries were subtle but there, possibly over powered a bit by the already big brew.  One of the interesting things about the randall is, depending on what you put into it and how well or how quickly it infuses into the beer – the beer can change throughout the night.  The beer you get at 9pm might be completely different from the one you had at 7. Or if your timing is right, order the beer before it is installed and then save it (tough, I know) to compare with the beer coming out of the randall.

Past randall nights at Two Stones have seen:

  • 21st Amendment Hop Crisis over Hawaiian Pinapple and Tahitian Vanilla Beans
  • Victory Brewing Old Horizontal over brandied figs and dates.
  • Dogfish Head Festina Peche over local peaches and (yes, no kidding) Sour Patch Kids.
  • Victory Brewing Golden Monkey over bananas and walnuts.

As you can see you’re only limited by the beer you have on tap, and your own imagination.  So next time you’re  on a pub run, keep an eye out for my buddy randall hanging out around the bar.  And if he’s there forget all that nonsense the commercials used to try and tell you about “not fruiting your beer” and give him a try.  Maybe if you’re lucky after a few beers he’ll tell you how he got his nickname “the enamel animal”.  Oh, and tell him I’ll see him next Wednesday will you? Thanks.

Have you had a beer through a randall before?  And if so, what’s your favorite beer/randall combination?

Brew Review – Shmaltz Brewing Co’s Coney Island Human Blockhead

Shmaltz Brewing's Human Blockhead IAB

So it’s a beautiful summer day and you find yourself on the boardwalk at Coney Island.  The smell of the water lingers lazily across the beach being broken every now and then by the alluring aroma from a near by venue of a Nathan’s hot dog cooking.  And if you’re going to eat a Coney Island hot dog, what would be better than a Coney Island beer to go with it?

The Shmaltz Brewing Co (He’Brew) has you covered.  Their Coney Island series pays homage to its well know freak show attraction, each beer being named after a noted performer in the show.  In this review I taste their Human Blockhead Imperial American Bock.

Them : Their Human Blockhead is not a simple beer.  The grain bill consists of specialty 2-Row, Munich, Vienna, Pale Crystal and Crystal malts.  Also added to the mash are wheat, rye, rye ale and flaked oaks.  This is a well constructed beer.   The hops are not skimpy either.  Added to the kettle are Warrior, Tettenang, Crystal, Liberty and Cascade.  At 10% ABV it’s probably a little too strong for a ballpark beer.  It was awarded Grand Champion Alternative Lager at the World Beer Championship.

Me : Human Blockhead pours with a medium head that reduces down to a fine, glass clinging lace.  In my tasting glass the color graduates from a light copper to a dark, almost brownish hue.  The noise contains a nice combination of deep malt with some twinges of caramel.  In the mouth, the beers starts malty in the front and transitions into a crisp bitter finish in the back.   The aftertaste is a slight lingering malt.  All this balances the 10.0% alcohol pretty well.  It has all the malt backbone for a Bock (minus the -ator suffix that most Bock beers get) and the hops and alcohol to earn it’s Imperial name (which I’ll address in an up coming post).

An awesome aspect of the Coney Island brands is the fact that proceeds from them help Coney Island USA(TM), a none profit organization dedicated to helping keep Coney Island, well, Coney Island.

A Nathan’s dog with onions, a Coney Island beer AND I get to help a cause?  I’ll sign  up for that any day.

Have you tried any of the Coney Island beers?  What did you think of them?

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