Fordham’s Dilated Pupilz Golden Pils

Dark Eye Glasses Not Required.

I’ve been changing my drinking habits lately. Running around trying to grab every beer that one has never tried is a young man’s game, and I just don’t seem to have the energy for it like I used to. And yes, you can do the logic problem and conclude that I’m not a young man anymore.

Instead, I’ve been grabbing some local beers off the shelf and just kind of hanging out with them. Whether it be a six pack over a long weekend, or a couple (or maybe three) over a period of a couple of weeks (or months). I’ve been just hanging out with the beer, kicking back, relaxing, experiencing it at different times and in different situations, while trying not to let too many other beers distract me.

What is this beer? Does it have a story? Does the story change over time?

Will this improve my reviews? Probably not. But they’ll be changing a bit as well as the wordy intros will probably be whittled down to a few words so that the review is more concise and quicker for you to read.

I also want to use this beer ‘quality time’ to take some photos of the beer and let you all have a peek at what the beer and I are doing in our lives. And the truth is, I’d rather be playing in Lightroom and Photoshop lately than writing long, rambling reviews.

So  with that, let’s check out the first beer in this new format, Fordham Brewing’s Dilated Pupilz.

THEM: From the website – “Dilated Pupilz has a solid malt backbone and well balanced hop character.  This golden pilsner showcases a distinct hop nose and malty flavor up front but finishes with a floral bitterness. A great beer to enjoy any time of the year.”

The grain bill includes Vienna and Caraform malts, while Bravo, Tradition and Saaz hops balance the load. Pupilz clocks in at 5.0%ABV and 38IBU.

THE BUZZ: Ratebeer (no ratings), Beer Advocate (one rating), Untappd (3.4)

DE AVAILABILITY: Most fine beer outlets.

ME: As you can see by the below photos I’ve been drinking this one for a little while now. I’ve found it mostly to be a beer that drinks pretty nice in most situations without demanding too much attention on itself.

When stored in my super turbo beer over-chiller (aka, my fridge) Pupilz has a clean nose and a just apparent malt taste with some classic Pilsner hop flavors. Every now and then the beer tosses me a citrusy/lemon notes towards the end, not sure if that’s really there, or if it’s my palate doing some of that slight-of-hand stuff that it does sometimes. The end is pretty crisp and doesn’t linger.

I wasn’t sure I liked this beer at first, but in the end it really started to grow on me. In fact, once I had everything I needed for this review, I found myself picking up one last six-pack – you know, just for the hell of it.

As always click on a photo to enlarge and cycle through the gallery to read a little comment or two about each photo.

Time for another beer.

Class in a Glass: Flying Dog Dead Rise – Been There, Spit it Out

With out a doubt one of the coolest things about homebrewing revolves around brewing something outside of the box and then having a commercial brewer formulate a similar beer, allowing you to compare your moment of insane madness to something that you can actually purchase off the liquor store shelf.

Back in the day (yes, I’m old enough to have a back in the day) when I was an avid homebrewer I collaborated with two other guys who worked in the same building that I did.  We brewed together, gave each other criticism when it was warranted and drank the shit out of each others beer when it was not.  We popped into the local homebrew club on occasion, went to beer festivals together and spent many hours bouncing ideas off of each other concerning which beers we were going to brew next.

I wish I could tell you that I was the adventurous one in the trio, but no.  I was perfectly content brewing low alcohol English beers like bitters, milds and stouts.  My buddy Rob jumped into the hobby and immediately fell in love with hops, experimenting with different varieties as he brewed beers that were more in line with American pale ales and IPAs.  And then there was Jon, AKA Kal.  Oh yeah, and then there was Kal.

Kal was gifted with that rare (if not scary) combination of creativity, energy and ADD that would allow him to deduce that it was a good idea to paint his house traffic cone orange, and have it halfway finished in the small amount of time it would take you or I to realize that, no, it probably wasn’t the best idea we’d ever had, especially where our neighbors were concerned.  But while in some areas like home decor this would be considered a detriment, in the arena of homebrewing it was plus, for the most part.

Today’s tight rope walking brewers would have loved Kal.  Anything he read or heard of – on ANY level – was immediately translated into “what can I do with that?”  He planted a large plot of wild millet simply on someone’s comment that millet was an ingredient in some styles of beer where wheat was not necessarily the bumper crop that it is here in America.

Another of Kal’s personality traits was to take all the interests in his life and weave them together in any way possible, and Kal, well he was a boater and a crabber even more so than a homebrewer.  Few people would shrug off the obvious combination that is crabs and beer, and of course a large part of what makes crabs so tasty is the spice; whether it be Old Bay, Zataran’s or Wye Seasoning, that us crab lovers use to morph a bushel of nasty, bottom scavengers into a picnic table full of steaming, summer goodness.

So of course, at some point when his brain probably should have been doing something more beneficial, he came up with the idea that if beer and crabs are a quintessential pairing in the culinary world, then why can’t the beer share in some of the spice delivery as well?  And as always, before rational thought and common sense could be brought into the picture, Kal had 5 gallons of crab spiced beer fermenting away.

Maybe.  I don’t remember where he actually introduced the spice in the brewing process, but the end result was Kal’s Old Imperial Crabby.  Now I’m also not sure where the “Imperial” came from.  We didn’t have all this “Imperial this” and “Imperial that”, back then that we do today, although I will say that Kal brewed very few things less than 6%ABV, considering low ABV beers well, girly.

So there was Kal, happily telling people of his new zymurgilogical creation, keeping us  updated as to its progress and when we would all be able to sample his latest conception that most assuredly would change the face of homebrewing as we knew it.  A beer with crab spice, served with crabs.  Stories would be written.  And songs would be sung.  Except.

Kal in his usual rush to quickly jump on what he thought was an amazing idea, used commercial crab seasoning in his brew, totally overlooking the fact that commercial crab seasoning has a boat load of  salt in it.  I’ll give you a minute to process that.

It was a fine summer day with Kal and I heading out on a local river hoping to catch at least a enough crabs to warrant firing up a propane cooker.  As usual (and not smartly) we were trading homebrews from our boat coolers and discussed our creations.  After a bit, as we were finishing up baiting the last of the cages, he gave me a sly smile and pulled out a bottle from an up till now unopened cooler that had been sitting off to the side, and handed it to me.  “Old Imperial Crabby,” he said with all the pride he could muster as if handing me his first born child to hold.  “Tell me what you think.”

Have you processed that boat load of salt yet?  Yeah, well it didn’t take my mouth long to process it.  To this day Kal still takes pride that he brewed the only beer he’s ever seen me spit out.  I would try to describe it, but I really don’t think I have too.  You all get the picture.  Big crab seasoning flavor, saltier than the dead sea, undrinkable.  We’re all on the same page, right?  Although in its defense, it did turn out to be a nice ingredient in the pot of crabs we steamed later that day.

So the other day when State Line Liquors posted up a picture showing a case stack of Flying Dog’s Dead Rise, a Summer ale brewed with Old Bay, I of course thought of that fateful morning when I salt rinsed my mouth, and of course, absolutely HAD to try it.

Did the guys at Flying Dog manage to avoid the error that Kal so horribly made with Old Imperial Crabby?  I’m pretty sure that they did, but let’s taste anyway.

THEM: The grain bill for Dead Rise is built on Acidulated, rye and malted white wheat; and balanced with northern brewer (hello!), CTZ (Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus) and cascade hops.  The folks at Flying Dog worked with the folks at Old Bay for six months to get the recipe and balance where they wanted it.  The beer clocks in at 25IBUs and is fermented with a German ale yeast to 5.6%ABV.

From the website, “The name Dead Rise comes from deadrise boats, which are commercial fishing and crabbing vessels designed and built specifically to navigate the unique waterways of the Chesapeake Bay. The bottom near the bow is a V-shape to cut through the often-choppy Bay. Then, it flattens out closer to the stern, making it more navigable in shallow water.

And, “Proceeds from Dead Rise will benefit True Blue, a restaurant certification and consumer awareness program that promotes sustainably harvested Maryland Blue Crab and rewards restaurants that serve Maryland crabmeat.”  Beer and a good cause, you know I’m all about that. But wait?  Acidulated?

Acidulated malt is a variety of malted barley that contains ~1-2% lactic acid which is traditionally used to adjust the pH of the mash.  It’s usually used in small amounts, typically 10% or less of the grain bill.  You can find it commonly used in Berliner weisse and German Gose.

ME: Dead Rise pours a cloudy straw color with a very nice, fluffy white head.  The head actually looks pretty nice, but sadly doesn’t stay around long until it dissipates into into a ring of bubbles circling the glass, but the carbonation continues vigorously long after the beer is poured.  The nose definitely brings back memories of standing over a pot of steaming crabs – heaven to an Eastern Shore descendent like myself.  But that’s not all, dancing about in that spice you’ll find slight hint of citrus (lemons) as well.

I brace myself and sip.  Yeah, of course these guys wouldn’t make the same mistake Kal made.  The flavor is happily saltless, with flavors reminiscent of crab seasoning (pepper, paprika, etc) as well as more citrus and the ever so slight inkling of malt. The finish has a nice peppery bite to it, along with a cheek bite.  This isn’t a big beer, which you’d expect from a Summer thirst quencher, instead what we have here is a beer you could drink all day, if you’re the type of person that passes up regular chips on the ACME shelf for the Old Bay flavored ones in the silver bag.

Would it go good with crabs, or a low country boil?  I’m not sure how it could not.  Some might think the spiced beer might be overly redundant, but I don’t think so.  I bought a six-pack wondering if I was going to be able to drink the whole thing and had no problem polishing it off over the weekend.  Heck, even Tracey liked it.

So what ever happened to our trio of happy brewers?  Well, after some time our building was shut down and we were scattered across our company and for different reasons, we all eventually dropped out of homebrewing;  Rob just because he didn’t have anyone to bounce things off of anymore, Kal because he feel in love with the idea of making herbal wines instead, and me, well I’m the sad cliche “had kids.”  Last time I talked to both of them they sadly admitted that their homebrew days were long behind them.

Me however, I’m not ready to accept that I’ve brewed my last batch of beer just yet.  But that’s another post.

Time for another beer.

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The Final Sip:  Dead Rise isn’t Flying Dog’s first Old Bay infused beer.  In 2012, they released a draft only Brewhouse Rarity beer that was a German Gose that had a portion of the mash soured by lactobacillus for a minimum of 36  hours.  Salt, coriander and Old Bay were also added to the brew.

 

Brew Review: Elysian Brewing’s Mortis (Sour Persimmon Ale), The Adventure Continues

Mortis

[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventurer, he had just found the tenth seal OMEN.  But now the search for the eleventh seal proves daunting, and he finds himself about to cross paths with a living legend.]

I’d almost lost track of how long I’d been traipsing through the Peruvian jungle.  I didn’t even know what day it was.  I truly wasn’t even sure what month it was.  The one thing I did know was that many days back the people who had employed me became aware that I was not coming back in as I had indicated.  The incident at Angel Falls had proven that they somehow had an indication of my whereabouts, especially when the cigarette man commented “we have our ways” when I questioned how he’d known I was there.  With that little piece of information I stripped down to just the bare essentials for this trip, which included leaving everything they’d supplied me, especially the cell phone, back at a cheap, one room apartment in Merida, Mexico.

If my suspicions were correct someone, most likely a goon with a huge jaw, had broken down the door of that apartment, only to find a pile of my former belongings on a table in the center of the room.   Well, not everything on the table had been mine.  I couldn’t resist leaving the cell phone that I was positive they’d chipped in some way, sitting on top of a carton of Morley’s.  After all, I was sure that chain smoking bastard was going to be chewing a lot of those while he tried to explain to his “superiors” how he had let me just walk out of that jeep.

But I couldn’t gloat over that now.  I’d been lucky so far, most of the previous seal’s hiding places had been discovered and were well known, but this place apparently wasn’t.  The clue had indicated a temple dedicated to Cum Hau, a very different god then the one whose temple I’d just left in the Yucatan.  Cum Hau was an underworld God or as one of my old archeology teachers, who had a annoying over fondness for the Latin language would have said, “MORTIS“, meaning “of death”.   But most of the temples dedicated to Cum Hau had been found deep within a certain region of the Amazon jungle.  All had been highly excavated.  And none had been found to contain a bottle of magical liquid.  No, this particular temple was probably yet undiscovered.  And it was proving to be my arduous task to find it.

But after a long search of the surrounding jungle, and talking to numerous local tribes, I’d finally found an over grown cave opening that lead into a tunnel that had obviously been carved out of the surrounding hillside.  I was certain that I’d finally found the right cave when not far past the opening, I found two stone mosaics of Chaac, one on each wall, just like in Kabah.  But a little further down the tunnel I found something that I hadn’t expected.

The  floor disappeared, for a distance of about nine feet, for the entire width of the tunnel.  I couldn’t see the bottom of this “pit”, even with my flashlight, but that’s not what had captured my curiosity.  No, what held that was the object that hung from one of the beams that transversed the ceiling of the tunnel over the top of the pit.  It took me a bit to convince myself, that yes, it was a bullwhip.  Obviously I was not alone.

Garnering the nerve to swing across the gap in the floor using the whip took great effort, but I did it.  When I’d gathered myself I continued on down the tunnel that I was sure would open up into a larger room that I hoped would contain what I was looking for.  A room that I was positive I wouldn’t be alone in.

When I turned into the main chamber, the one thing I’d feared greeted me.  Standing on a raised section of the floor in front of what was apparently some kind of altar was a man in a leather jacket and a fedora, both of which looked a little worse for wear.  I quietly made my way around the edge of the wall a few feet until I could see that he was poised in front of the alter facing a familiar looking box, with what looked like a bag in one hand, and the empty fingers of his other hand waving in the air in anticipation.

I watched for a minute as he brought his hands closer to the box, his gaze intense as he glanced back and forth between it and the bag in his hand.  Realizing what he was about to do, I figured my best chance of walking out of the temple with the box was to not let this guy get his hands on it first.  So, throwing caution to the wind I yelled out.  But I was too late.  The “Wait” barely got from my throat when the man quickly grabbed the box from the altar and placed the bag where it had been.

The man, as if oblivious of me, stared at the altar for a brief time as if waiting for something to happen, and apparently satisfied that nothing was going to, finally turned to me with a smug grin on his face.  “Don’t worry, Sonny.  I know what I’m doing.”

Sonny? Who the hell was this guy?  I raise my finger in a confrontational gesture to ask that very question when suddenly an odd sound emanated from the altar.  The sound put me in the mind of machinery moving, but the tone was  more like stone moving against stone than metal against metal.

Apparently this was not a good thing, as the man’s grin evaporated and was replaced with a look of concern.  He turned slowly back at the altar, and it was at that moment that I noticed the whole alter was slowly lowering to the floor.  That might have been the most ominous thing in the room if not for the fact that several seconds later, chunks of rock and dirt from the ceiling began to rain down all around us.

The man yelled “run!”, but he didn’t need to.  I was already out the cavern door and a good 20 steps in front of him.  It didn’t take me long to reach the pit in the floor, but in that brief time it was obvious that the noise from behind me was getting louder.  What do people say?  If I didn’t know better I’d swear the whole temple was about to collapse down on top of us.  Well I knew.

In one scared act of desperation I leaped across the darkness on the floor in front of me, grabbing the hanging whip as I did.  I didn’t so much swing across the gap in the floor as hurled across it, my body being yanked hard as I reached as far as the whip would allow me, my ribs screaming in pain as I crashed violently to the floor on the other side.

I wanted to lay there for a while.  To rest.  To let my ribs stop aching.  But the noise in my ear was growing louder, and with everything I could muster I sprang to my feet.  It was then that I noticed what had happened.  The beam that the whip had been attached to had broken under my weight.  It was then that I noticed something else.  I was still holding the whip in my hand.

I had very little time to assess the situation when the other man came skidding to a stop on the other side of the pit.  Looking the situation over quickly, he put his hand out in front of him, “Throw me the whip!”

I had to think fast.  Obviously leaving this guy to be crushed wasn’t the kind of karma I wanted to walk away with, but I had to get that box from him as soon as possible.  And now seemed like the appropriate time.  “Throw me the box, and I’ll throw you the whip.”

The man gave me a look of incredulousness at what I thought was a pretty straightforward, fair offer.  “No way Sonny!  I’ve heard that one before!”

Who was this guy?  And why in the hell does he keep calling me Sonny?  “Look,” I said very aware that we didn’t have time for a prolonged argument.  “We don’t have time for this.  But I can’t leave here without that box and what’s inside of it.  I’m sorry, but I can’t.  So you’ll have to trust me.  Throw me the box and I’ll throw you the whip.”

The man surveyed his surroundings as if looking for an alternative to my proposal.  What?  Was he really considering not doing it?  Then suddenly with a look of determination, his other arm swung forward and the box flew end over end towards me.  I caught it in front of me with a sigh of relief just as a loud crash drew our attention towards the direction of the altar cavern.  As dust began to billow down the tunnel he turned his head back to me, spreading his arms in pleading manner.

Placing the box next to me on the dirt floor, I coiled the whip up as tightly as I could and with what I hoped was my best aim (I’d never actually thrown a whip before) tossed it over to him.  The man caught it and in one fluid motion flicked it behind him letting the leather cord extend to its full length.  I saw the blur of his arm and heard the crack, but I was unable to follow what had actually happen with my eyes.  Before I knew it he was swinging across the pit, having obviously been able to wrap the end of the whip around another beam.

His motion, unlike mine had been, was graceful and effortless – that is until he came up obviously short of the other side.  He was able to get one foot on the ground, but the beam the whip was attached to was closer to the far side, so in order to keep hold of the whip, he’d left himself precariously stretched out over the lip of the hole in the floor, his center of gravity getting very close to the point of no return.

I quickly stepped up and grabbed the man by his jacket and tried to keep him from falling.  He looked at me with an expression of surprise as if he couldn’t believe I was actually helping him.  “Let go and I’ll pull you back.”

“My favorite whip,” he said through his teeth as he continued his attempts to release it from the beam.

With a couple more tries, and the leather of his jacket starting to slip through my fingers, the whip finally came loose from the beam and as soon as it did, I pulled back with everything my ribs would allow, their reward for their effort being another hard crash to the cavern floor.  “Thanks,” I heard a voice say from along side of me.  “But you really need to be less demanding.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, trying to get my lungs to breath properly again.  “And you really need to be more trusting.”

Unfortunately our little bonding session was cut short by a  thunderous crash that caused me to snap my head in the direction we’d just come from.   Through the dust I saw a huge boulder roll out of a tunnel from over top of the alter chamber and come crashing down into the tunnel we were in.  Unfortunately, its drop didn’t slow down its forward progress any, and it was quickly obvious that we didn’t have much time.

Again the stranger sensed the need to tell me to run, and again I was way ahead of him as I had already grabbed the box and was scrambling to my feet.  I didn’t look back.  Hell I didn’t even look to see if he was nearby, I just ran down the tunnel as fast as I could until I was greeted by the possible life saving sight of sunlight gleaming into the cave opening.

I hit the opening and jumped, landing on the embankment in front of the cave and, clutching the box as hard as I could, rolled down to the bottom.  When I finally came to a stop, I quickly looked up at the cave just in time to see the huge boulder slam into the smaller opening , sending dirt, stone and vegetation spraying down over me and the embankment.

I lay there for a minute eying the now sealed cave, and marveling at my narrow escape when a voice came from behind me.  “One of these days I’m going to get the hang of those counterweight traps,” the man said, punctuating the sentence with an embarrassed laugh.

I turned my head to see the stranger sitting several feet away from me, likewise covered with debris.  “Who the hell ARE  you?”

“Jones,” he said brushing the dust of his fedora and placed it back on his head with a slight tip,  “Henry Jones,” he paused as if the next word was significantly more important than the previous ones, “Junior.”

That rang a bell with me.  Something I had heard recently.  What was it?  I closed my eyes and let my mind drift backwards through the previous several months of memories.  Suddenly I snapped open my eyes.  The amateur!  The one that had found the sixth seal!  He was following notes from a journal of a Doctor Jones.  I hadn’t thought about it much at time, but now everything started to fit together.  Including somethings I’d read and heard from my early days at school.  “Doctor Jones?” I asked, not believing that this could actually be the same guy.  “India…”

“Oh no,” he held up a hand and cut me off.  “I haven’t gone by that in a very long time.  It’s Henry now.  Junior to my friends.”

“But that’s impossible,” I said as I did the math in my head.  “I remember hearing stories about you and the Nazis when I was just starting out in archeology.  You’d have to be…”

“Older than I appear,” he said in a assuring voice.  “It’s a bit of a long story.”

“Yeah?” I questioned as I opened the box that had landed next to me and pulled out the cold, quartz-like bottle that was inside it.  Only recently I’d have balked at sharing the liquid with someone else, considering that I’d been specifically instructed not to, but at this point I wasn’t really concerned about my former employer’s disapproval.  “Care to share stories over a drink.”  I pulled out a couple of glasses from my backpack and set them down in front of me and when I was ready, opened the seal.

“No!”  Jones yelled letting the word trail off into a face of disappointment.  “That should have been in a museum.  Unopened.”

“Believe me.  This was never heading to a museum.  To be honest,” I poured the liquid from the bottle into each of the glasses, “I don’t know where it was heading.”  Once the two glasses were full, I picked one up and handed it over to Jones.  ” A story?”

He looked at me uncertain for a bit and then one corner of his mouth turned up in a grin as he reached out for the glass.  “Why not.”

He began his story as I took my first whiff of this new liquid.  It was light, with a touch of fruit and a certain Belgian beer like quality.  I marveled for a moment at  the carbonation.  The liquid was cloudy, but I could still see the fountain of rushing bubbles that were emanating from the bottom of my glass.

The tale he was spinning was fantastic to say the least, but it certainly wasn’t any more outlandish than the ones Lara had told me when she’d had one to many glasses of wine.  Rat filled caverns under the city of Venice.  A traitorous Austrian blonde temptress (and a fellow archeologist to boot).  Chases and escapes from the Nazis involving motorbikes, Zeppelins and bi-planes.  Getting Adolph Hitler’s autograph.  I listened intently as I drank the liquid in  my glass, enjoying the  light nuances of grapefruit, tropical fruits, and maybe even a touch of honey, that comprised the flavor.

I listened quietly to his story as I tried to figure out if there was a touch of spice in the mix as well.  It wasn’t until a 700 year old knight and the cup of Christ popped into his story that I interrupted him, “Wait, you want me to believe that you actually found THEE Holy Grail.”

“Sure did, ” he beamed and then, as if he couldn’t resist the urge to show off he leaned towards me a bit. “The Ark of the Covenant too.  But that’s a story for another time.”  And he continued where he’d left off as if my interruption hadn’t even happened.  At this point my glass was almost empty, and I was starting to feel the familiar warmth of the liquid course through my body.  Some of my minor aches were already starting to dissolve away, although as usual there didn’t seem enough potency to quell the pain in my ribs.

At this point I was starting to really enjoy the finish of this liquid.  It was really clean, with a little malty after taste and a touch of bite from the carbonation, but not as much as I’d expected.  There was also a mild sourness about the liquid that was some what thirst quenching, which was quite welcome in the hot, steamy jungle.

Soon he was finishing his story and his glass, ” The knight told us that the Grail’s gift of immortality wouldn’t go past the seal at the entrance of the temple.  And while that was obviously the case, I believe there was enough power within it to slow things down a bit if you will.  At least that’s what I believe.”  He shrugged almost apologetically.  “After all, I’m still here.”

“And your father?”

“Passed away.  Some time ago.”

“But you said he’d drank from the Grail as well.”

“True.  But most of its healing power was probably used up on his wound.  There wasn’t much left in him.  If that makes any sense.”

I nodded, although he probably didn’t think I truly understood, thanks to my recent adventures I too knew a thing or two about liquids with unusual healing properties.

“Your turn,” Doctor Jones said as he passed me his empty glass.

“Well, I’m afraid mine’s not as interesting and sadly,” I tilted the bottle up-side-down, “we’re empty.  So if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell my story while we walk.  To be honest I don’t know how long I’ve been in this jungle and I’m pretty tired of staring at vegetation all day.  I wouldn’t mind a city bar with Arrogant Bastard on draft right about now.”

“Fair enough,” Doctor Jones said as he got to his feet.  Once there he bounced a bit on the balls of his feet and crossed his arms back and forth across his chest.  “Hmmmm, this old body feels surprisingly good considering what it’s just been through.”

“Ah, well let’s just say that you have my story to thank for that,” I shot him a wink as I placed the box in my backpack and tossed it over my shoulder.  “I’ll explain as we walk.  Lead on.”

As we walked away from the cave I thought back to how this whole journey had begun and everything that had happened to me along the way.  And here I was walking in the jungles of Peru with a legend, and only one step away from finding the final seal and completing the journey I started many months before.  I had to admit, although it wouldn’t rival finding the Holy Grail, it was an interesting story that deserved to be told.

“Well Doctor Jones, my name is Doctor Micheal Hunter, and it all started when I was approached…,” but I never finished the sentence.  A hand rested on my shoulder so carefully that its presence didn’t even cause me to break my gate.

“I thought I told you, Micheal.  My friends call me Junior.”

[Coming up next – Our Adventure’s tale comes to an end as he comes face-to-face with the mastermind behind his quest.]

Brew Review – Stillwater Artisanal, “Cellar Door”

Stillwater's Cellar Door

 

[NOTE:  I wrote this review not long after I started the blog and have been saving it for a day when the world won’t let me near the computer.  As I just read through it I had to laugh.  I’m trying to be SO series here.  BAH!  That didn’t last long…. Anyway, I decided to post it as written just for sh*ts and grins.  Also, since the time I wrote this, Stillwater has become one of my favorite breweries.]

Ever stumble upon an idea that was so amazing that not only does it seem to resonate down into the basic roots of your soul, but you wonder why more people are not doing it?  That’s  how Brian Straumke must feel every day.  He is one of the world’s few “gypsy brewers”, a group of people that have no real home (or brewery) to call their own.  Stillwater Artisanal is listed as being in Baltimore, MD but honestly, that’s probably just to satisfy some federal business regulation.  After all, a company has to be somewhere for tax purposes doesn’t it?  But instead of planting roots there, he wanders the landscape and like a modern troubadour sings the virtues of craft beer.  And when he finds someone who shares his love and vision on the craft, well he sits a spell and brews a beer.  But this isn’t contracting – no sir.  This is a guy who is arms deep in every beer he brews, he just brews where ever he can find like minded brewers and idle equipment.   Hell, he doesn’t even have a fancy web page as far as I can tell, just this nice blog which seems to fit well into the whole “non-grounded” attitude he approaches business with.  Brewing great beer, while wandering around searching out other great brewers AND using their equipment!  Brilliant! And more than slightly romantic.

My first experience with Stillwater was in 2010, when at Max’s Belgian Beer Fest they proudly debuted their Stateside Saison (in cask no less) and so I kept my eye on this up and coming brewery.  The following year at the BBF, Stillwater greeted everyone at the door with their As Follows, poured from 9L bottles.  I haven’t reviewed one of their beers for my blog, and it’s time to correct that oversight.

The Background : Cellar Door is a Farmhouse Ale, brewed and bottled by Dog Brewing, Westminster, Maryland.  Farmhouse ales were brewed mainly in the French speaking region of Belgium.  As their name implies, they were beers brewed by farmers with whatever they happened to have on hand.  They’re meant to be refreshing summer time beers that were brewed in the winter, probably to take advantage of the cooler temperatures.  Farmhouse ales don’t have a style guideline in themselves but float nebulously within the Belgian Saison and the French Biere de Garde styles.

Them : Cellar Door is built on German Wheat and Pale Malts.  Sterling and Citra (used in Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo) hops are used.  The beer is finished with white sage and sits on top of 6.6% ABV.

Me : Cellar Door starts like any door,  with the opening.  As the cap came off I got a nice eruption of CO2 and foam that told me this beer was alive and ready.  The beer poured with a medium head and was cloudy (it’s bottle conditioned) in the glass.  The color flipped from a yellow/orange at the bottom to a orange/yellow at the top of the glass.  The nose contains a nice sage note with hints of citrus from the hops.

The beer starts in the front with a not unsuspected bite from the carbonation as well as herbal and pepper tones from the hops/sage.  This gives way in the middle just long enough to get a hint of the malt/wheat foundation before ending with a peppery/spicy finish.  A very enjoyable beer.  And one that encourages me to seek out the other beers they offer.

So next time you spot a Stillwater Artisanal beer grab it and raise a toast to these “gypsy” brewers who are doing things a little differently and bringing amazing craft beer to the forefront. Like Jimmy Buffett sings, “We’re Gypsies in the palace and we got it all tonight.”

Time for another beer…

Brew Review : The Bruery’s Four Calling Birds, And Why that Name is Wrong.

HA! He thinks he's getting some of my beer!

One brewery that’s fast becoming one of my favorites is The Bruery.  The Orange County craft brewery is doing some interesting things both with their beer and their approach.  Brewing largely Belgian influenced beers they pride themselves on the use of unusual ingredients (check out their Autumn Maple which is brewed with yams), sometimes in place of ones more commonly used in a particular style of beer.  Another aspect of The Bruery’s approach to beer is that they do not filter or pasteurize their beers.  In fact all of their bottle beers gain their carbonation through bottle conditioning.  This is when the bottle is sealed and the carbonation is allowed to develop through a second fermentation.

But one of their most interesting endeavors is their 12 days/years of Christmas series.  Starting in the winter of 2008/9 with A Partridge in a Pear Tree,  a Belgian style strong ale, this series consists of a different style of beer every year.  Next came 2 Turtle Doves, and inspired by turtle candy they brewed a beer with cocoa nibs, pecans and caramelized sugar.  For last year’s entry, 3 French Hens, they took 25% of the produced beer and aged it in French oak barrels and blended it back into the rest of the beer.  Which brings us to this winter’s offering – 4 Calling Birds.  Let’s taste.

THEM :  4 Calling Birds in a strong ale brewed with gingerbread spices.

ME : 4 Calling Birds pours black from top to bottom with a very light head which dissipates in to a lace ring around the glass.  When ever you smell or taste a beer or wine,  your first smell or taste is usually the most important.  Your senses are used to what they’ve had up to that moment, so the introduction of something new really stands out.  In this case what comes through is banana bread.  And I mean smack you in the nose banana bread.  In the mouth it starts with a touch of sweetness that moves back into a mixture of molasses, chocolate and spices.  It finishes with a very mild bitterness with some chocolate notes as well as a bit of fruit (plum?).  As it stands right now, 4 Calling Birds is a very good beer with a nice profile of flavors in the mix.  However, The Bruery is attempting to do something that’s very hard when it comes to beer.  They’re attempting to make their Christmas series drinkable at the moment you buy it, but also make them so they age well until the final beer in the series, 12 Drummers Drumming is released.  Will it last that long?  Not sure, but there are plenty of flavors here to come together and meld over the years.  All I know is that I have a bottle in the fridge awaiting 2018. 

But why is the name wrong?  Well it’s not really wrong since that is the line we sing today, but apparently somewhere in the song’s travels from 16th century English language to the English language we speak today, the fourth line got corrupted.  The line as it was originally sung was “four colly (or collie) birds”.  What’s a colly bird?  Well, a colliery was the name for a coal mine in England and these birds, who were black as coal, became known to the English as collies – blackbirds.  Why would someone give a lover 4 black birds?  Well for food actually.  Blackbirds were commonly eaten back then,  after all you remember that “4 and 20 blackbirds were baked in a pie” don’t you?

But regardless of how the name has come about, I urge you to seek out 4 Calling Birds and give it a try.  Will it go good with blackbird pie?  I’ll leave that for you to determine.

Time for another beer……

Brew Review – DuClaw’s H.E.R.O. Chocolate and Peanut Butter Porter.

DuClaw's H.E.R.O. Peanut Butter and Chocolate Porter.

A long time ago a candy company spent millions of dollars in advertising to convince people of one idea: that chocolate and peanut butter were “two great tastes that taste great together”.  And while people couldn’t decide if someone got peanut butter in someone’s chocolate or visa versa, they had no problem agreeing that indeed, they make an awesome combination.

Fast forward to today and that belief still holds true.  Peanut butter and chocolate do make a great tandem.  And since chocolate is a very common flavor in certain beers, it was only a matter of time before some adventurous brewer pulled a jar of Skippy out of the kitchen cabinet one morning and thought “Hey, I wonder……”  Searching the internet shows that peanut butter and beer is not a unique concept, plenty of breweries have tried it.  But when I caught wind that the guys at DuClaw were brewing one, well I kept my eye open on the beer shelves.  And when one day recently I did indeed find it sitting on Stateline’s shelf, well as my buddy Chuck would say, “Ya Gotsta!”  Let’s taste.

THEM : HERO CaPBP starts with an impressive grain bill of pale, crystal, brown, chocolate and black malts.  Roasted barley and peanut butter are also added.  Fuggles and Golding hops are used with the IBUs coming in at 53.  The ABV finishes about 6.5% according to the spec sheet (although my bottle simply said 6%), from an original gravity of 16 plato.

ME : HERO CaPBP pours, with a nice creamy head which dissipates into a solid thin lace across the glass.  The nose  carries a roastiness with a hint of coffee. The flavor up front is actually clean,  I wasn’t  getting a lot there.  Then it turns into a slight creaminess in the middle that at first doesn’t really taste like anything, but after a few sips the peanut butter starts to become apparent. Hero finishes with touch of chocolate with a hint of roasted grain.

As the beer warmed up, and I had a few more sips, the peanut butter started to become more apparent in both the nose and flavor.  I would recommend not serving this beer to cold.  It’s an amazing symphony of subtle flavors and aromas  and to over chill this beer would be to do it a huge injustice.  This is a beer that at a bar I’d order two, and drink one while the second warmed up to really show off all that it has to offer.

The beer is a product of DuClaw’s H.E.R.O. homebrew contest.  The winning recipe came from Tony Huckestein and Doug DeLeo (congrats guys!) and all the proceeds go to the  Cool Kids Campaign to aid the creation of their Learning Center for children battling cancer.  As I’ve said before, great beer and helping a great cause – you can’t go wrong!

So next time you see a commercial that gets you in the mood for a little PB & C, hop in your car – but drive past the candy store.  Pick a bottle of this awesome beer up and you won’t care who got the peanut butter in the chocolate, you’ll just be glad they did.

Time for another beer!

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?