Comfort Beers, Part II – There Should Be an App for That!

I’m usually not much of a “series” guy.  A lot of my posts are stand-alone musings due in part because I don’t try to tackle anything with that much depth to it, but mainly because my brain won’t focus on any one thing long enough to pump out a four-part series.

So the other day when I asked the question about beers that craft-beer lovers had tried making their way to being a regular libation (which after a grueling internet search that I did not perform, I found that the term “comfort beer” isn’t plastered all over the internet yet, so….”, I though I was pretty much done with the topic.  But once I got home I realized that in listing some of my comfort beers, a list I admit I formed off the top of my head, I had missed an opportunity to form the list based on some actual numerical data that was literally at my fingertips.  I’m of course talking about the social media app Untappd.

I shouldn’t really need to go deeply into what Untappd is or does, I think if you’re reading a beer blog chances are you’ve heard of it. One of the many pieces of information you can get from it about your beer drinking is a list of your most checked in beers and how many times you’ve checked each one in.

With that little light bulb illuminating over my head, I decided to log into Untappd and see if it agreed with me about my beliefs about which beers I drink most often, with full awareness going in, that in general, the data it reported wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Why?  Well mainly the age old gremlin that sabotages any well meaning system – garbage in, garbage out.  I don’t check in every one of my comfort beers I drink, because I don’t see the need to track every single beer that touches my lips.

So with that fact firmly in mind, lets look at the top 10 beers I’ve checked-in on Untappd and see if there are any surprises.  The number of check-ins is in parenthesis after each beer.

#10 – Delirium Tremens (5).  I’m actually surprised how far down the list this one is, expect a couple of future check-ins to bump it up the list a bit.  My last check-in? Halloween night of last year.  No surprise there.  However…

#9 – Old Chub (7).  Interesting, as I wouldn’t actually consider this a regular.  Every year we attend the Scottish Highland games, and every year Old Chub is one of the beers that State Line Liquors brings.  I have a running joke that I have been given the power to “declare” the beer “Old Chub”, so every year I raise a plastic cup and say, “by the power invested to me by these games and State Line Liquors, I declare this beer Old Chub!”  I even tweet it out via an Untappd check-in which probably explains why it made my top 10.  But there’s no way this one should be above Delirium, or even only one check-in behind..

#8 – Arrogant Bastard (8).  Hmmm, the fact that two of the three examples I used for comfort beers are gone before we get to #7 worries me.  I think there’s going to be some things on this list I wasn’t expecting, and maybe some things that I wish weren’t on it.  Speaking of the former…

#7 – Victory Headwaters Pale Ale (8).  A pleasant surprise, as I do like this beer, but a regular?  Not really, but with 8 check-ins spread out over a three year period (my last being in April), Untappd would certainly seem to be suggesting that it is.  If there’s a beer out there that’s “on the bubble”, this one would probably be it.  Adding more weight to that conclusion is that it has the same number of check-ins as…

#6 – Raging Bitch (8).  Curiouser and Curiouser.  That ‘bitch’ is not in the top five was a shocking find.  More shocking still is the fact that I haven’t check one in since August of 2012!  For as much as this is a “first beer” at Two Stones, I would have thought I’d be checking-in at least one or two in a year for shits and grins alone.  But the app don’t lie.  Although I wish it was…

#5 – Sixpoint Brewery Resin (9).  Blasphemy.  I’ll be honest, I’m not even a huge fan of Sixpoint.  While I’ve had some good beers from them now that their available here in Delaware (Resin is really not a bad beer), Sixpoint built up a not so good standing with us when Chuck and I had it on draft in NYC on several occasions.  I was never overly impressed.  However, this is an important find for me because it speaks to an issue that Phirx over at Beer in Nashville wrote about a couple weeks ago on how Untappd can effect the drinking habits of its users.  Sixpoint sponsored a Resin badge that was mult-leveled.  Drinking one beer got you the first level then several more got you the next, and since I was “badge happy” during my first years on Untappd, well I had to have it.  The compelling clue that this beer is a badge artifact is that every check-in for it was between Feb 23 and Mar 2 of 2012, and I can promise you that I haven’t had another Resin since.  When I have that many check-ins of a single beer in a short amount of time, you know I’m badging.

#4 – Sorachi Ace (11).  No surprise there.  Although I’m a little shocked that it’s been over a year since I checked one in.  But 11 isn’t a bad number, all though this one is a little better…

#3 – Blithering Idiot (15).  Same as Sorachi Ace pretty much.  Over a year since my last check-in, but with 15 already recorded, I probably just got it in my mind that I didn’t need to do it anymore.  Well, maybe just THREE more…

#2 – Milwaukee’s Best Ice (17).  Spare me your poisonous barbs, Major! (And if you don’t get that reference, I shun you)  This is another badge artifact.  When I started on Untappd, I realized that, because of the very nature of the way I tend to drink, there were a lot of badges I just simply would never get – like “The Usual”, 15 of the same beer in one month.  Who does that?  There’s only a handful of beers I have more than 15 of in a whole year!  So I devised a plan.  On a nice July night in 2011, I decided to do an all night brisket smoke and knock off as many of these pesky badges as possible that require a lot of the same beers.  Why Beast Ice?  It’s harmless, goes down like soda, it’s pretty inexpensive and really doesn’t do much to me except make me want to pee. Over the night I picked up six badges (Drinking Your Paycheck, Sixpack, Brewery Loyalist, The Usual, Power Month and Take it Easy), and that was the last time I ever checked any in. Irritated that my #2 beer is an American adjunct lager? I suppose I should be, but I did it, so I own it, but if I’d been patient, I could have gotten all these badges in March by checking-in all the Guinness I drink.  Which brings us to…

#1 – Guinness Draught (20).  My only surprise here is that it is only 20. I drink 20+ Guinnesses during a seven day period around St Paddy’s every year – easily. GRR Martin may have popularized “The Wall”, but I was building mine long before he wrote about his.  I was surprised to see however, that I have not checked one in for over two years.  That’s two Saint Patrick’s days with nary a Guinness check-in. That’s borderline criminal.

And that’s the list. While many were givens, there were a few surprises on it.  But like I said, this ranking is skewed by so many factors that I wouldn’t call it definitive by any means.

Any surprises in your top 10?

"All in all you're just another can in the wall..."
“All in all you’re just a ‘nother can in the wall…”

 

The Local Tap – Two Stones Pub Namaans Opening and my 500th Beer

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, I don’t need to tell you anything about Two Stones.  There are articles about beer events held there written all over this blog.  Michael Stiglitz and Ben Gumbo opened their beer temple at the old Piece of Ireland location and they’ve been serving the craft beer community well ever since.  So well in fact that just about a year and a half after opening the first location, the guys went out and opened up a second Two Stones Pub on the corner of Foulk and Namaans road.  Knowing that this was going to be an event, I of course drove up for the  opening.

If you’ve been to the original Two Stones, than a lot of things will be familiar at the new location.  The food menu and specials are pretty much the same (hey, if it works, don’t fuss with it) as is the dedication to serving a great diversity of craft beers.  Heck, even some of the faces will be the familiar as some of the staff from the original Two Stones have made the transition up north (I’m going miss Patrick, Kevin and Jill).  Heck, you still have to walk through a hallway full of kegs to get to the bathroom.

The decor of the new location, which tends toward a dark, industrial look with it’s metal cage enclosed lights and its metal accents makes it look very different from the original location.   I think that was a good call by the guys because I’m not a fan of “cookie cutter” establishments.  The beer board has been upgraded, evolving from the standard chalkboard at the original location to a video screen at the new location.  The nondescript black taps are concealed behind box like structures, which gives the bar a nice clean look.  Although I hope after the commotion of this week they start using standard tap handles again.  What can I say?  I love the look of a long row of colorful tap handles.   The new place has added a second beer engine over the single one the Newark location has but sadly, there wasn’t anything on cask that first night while I was there.

L – The crowd waiting for the doors to open.  R – The opening day crowd at the bar.
L – Jill pours a beer with a smile.  R – A table gets their food plus some Stone Brewing swag.
The New Beer Board
L – One of these is the Budda who looks over Two Stones, and the other is the Co-Owner.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.     R – Not in the mood for a beer? That’s fine, Two Stones has great cocktails as well as kick ass bloody marys for Sunday Brunch.
L – It wouldn’t be a Two Stones pub location if you didn’t have to walk through a hall of kegs to get to the bathroom.  R – Congrats guys!!

To celebrate the opening week, the guys decided to do a tap take over every day, with the opening day being Stones Brewery (Ommegang, Allagash, Evolution, Troegs, Victory, Yards and Dogfish Head, were to follow).  I was second in line, and when the doors opened, I walked into the new place with more than just the excitement of the opening on my mind.

It just happened that as the opening of Two Stones Namaans drew near, I also was closing in on a milestone of sorts.  I was only a few beers away from my 500th unique check-in on Untappd, so I timed it to get it at the opening.  And since it was a Stone tap take over, I couldn’t think of a better beer to do it with than Stones’ 16th Anniversary.

Stone’s 16th Anniversary and my 500th check-in

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve found Stone’s Anniversary beers pretty hit and miss in the past.  But the 16th I thought was pretty decent.  Nice tropical fruits notes with plenty of lemon in both the nose and the palette, leading up to a nice crisp finish.  I’ll probably pick a bottle up for review later, at that moment I was just enjoying a nice beer at a great beer bar.

If you’re in the North Wilmington area and haven’t stopped in yet, there’s still time to catch some opening week events.  Check their website or Facebook page.  And even if you don’t make it for the opening, stop in sometime soon and check out what’s going on.  You won’t regret it.

Drinking Socially – For One Year.

In all the rigga-ma-roll that’s been going on lately I totally missed a post I intended to do which was one for my one year anniversary on Untappd.  For those of you who aren’t using Untappd you can find a basic break down here.  I’m not going to do any big intro, but I will say that one thing that’s scary about Untappd is that it will show you exactly how much you’re drinking.  So don’t be timid.  Let’s run it down by the numbers.

3 – May 3rd, 2011.  I joined Untappd.  My first check-in was Gordon Biersch’s Maibock.  I liked this beer, although everything I’ve had from them since hasn’t been as good.

18 – My largest number of check-ins for a single beer, Guinness.  I did it of course over Saint Patty’s Day weekend.  It could have been higher.  I built a wall that weekend out of the empties, ~30 in all, but got lazy about checking them in.  It’s a tradition I do every year, but I think I’m done.  I’m not as young as I used to be.

1 – Places I hold the top number of check-ins.  Apparently I’m the only person who’s ever used Untappd at Cantwell’s Tavern.  My 3 check-in’s are the highest for that bar.

83 – Badges earned.  Untappd awards badges for beers you drink, venues you check-in to and occasional special badges.  The badge I’m most proud of – I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days and to be honest, I can’t pick one .   But I do lean towards the “venue” badges because it tells me I’m getting out in the world with my fellow craft beer lovers.  The badge I’m least proud of – “All American”.  I had to choke down a bunch of swill beer for that one.  Badge that keeps eluding me – “Brew Crawl”.  You have to check-in a beer at three different bars in one night.  I don’t bar hop much, and when I have I have either forgotten to check in a beer at one of the places, or Foursquare doesn’t denote one of the places as a “bar”.

382 – Unique check-ins.  In one year I’ve checked in 382 unique beers.  At my current pace (which I will not be keeping up over the summer) I should have my “Legen…..(wait for it)……dary” badge (500 unique beers) by September.  I should probably have something special, but not sure what yet.

1 – Beers on my wish list.  Victory’s Old Horizontal.  Victory decided not to brew it this year because of their lack of capacity.  It’s a constant reminder how much I hate them right now, LOL.  But they’re opening a new brewery so I can think of no better beer to test the equipment out with then Old Horizontal.  Just sayin’.

20 – Beer style with the highest number of check-ins, Double IPA.  I was actually surprised when I saw this because I can name three to four other beer styles that I like more.  But as a wise football coach said one day, “You are what your record says you are!”

Top Drinkers at Two Stones Pub

77 – Most check-ins at a venue.  I’m currently second at Two Stones Pub for the most check-ins.  I was first for a long time, until some guy named Paul W ousted me.  He currently has me by one check in.

196 – Friends on Untappd.  Like Facebook, Untappd allows you to “friend” people.  This give you the ability to see and comment on what their drinking, thus bringing the “social” into “drinking socially”.  Like friends on Facebook, mine on Untappt can be broken down into groups.  Some are people I’ll never meet, people who I friended or they friended me because we saw each other on other friend’s friends list (that’s a lot of “friend” in one sentence).  Some I’ve been lucky enough to meet in my travels over the past year, people like Trisha, Brandon, Dana and Jay.  Others are fellow bloggers such as John (Beer Review), Megan (Meganvsbeer), Patrick (Beer Delaware), Michelle (Stouts and Stilettos), Logan (Blog About Beer), Zack (Beer Is My Church) and G-Lo (It’s Just the Booze Dancing).

2 – Number of beers I hold the greatest number of check-ins for.  You wouldn’t think it would be possible with all the beer drinkers out there that you could hold the greatest number of check-ins for a beer, but someone has to.  I currently hold the most check-ins for Blithering Idiot (14) and Milwaukee’s Best Ice (17).  Yeah the second one I’m not to proud of but like I said, this app will tell you things about your drinking that you may not want to know.

500 – Total beers checked in.  As I type this I’ve checked in to 500 beers in Untappd.  Some badges require you have to check-in multiples of one beer, and even so you’re allowed to check-in a specific beer as many times as you want.  Although I have 382 unique check-ins, I’ve checked in 500 total beers.  If we assume $6 a beer that’s $3000 in beer.  Some people may cringe at that, but hey I know people who spend WAY more than that on their hobbies!

Time for another beer…..and another year of drinking socially….

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.

Social Drinking in a Social Media Age

Let’s be honest, drinking is a social event.  Oh I won’t lie, I enjoy drinking a nice beer in quiet solitude (well as much solitude as you can have with a girlfriend, two kids and two dogs) but if you look through history, drinking has been an activity that brings people together.  Whether it’s a bottle of wine at dinner, some mead shared by vikings around the campfire, or guys at the local bar cheering on their favorite baseball team. Whatever the occasion, people enjoy drinking together.

So it’s no small wonder in this age of social media that a few people have taken up the task to broaden the scope of social drinking, and to my thinking it was inevitable.

One such group are the guys from Untappd, the designers of a social media application that allows you to enjoy beers with your friends, even if they’re seven states away.  The concept is easy enough (if you do Facebook or Twitter you’re 3/4 of the way there) and in my mind the execution is flawless.

To start, point the browser of you computer to the Untappd website.  I always recommend registering and setting up new accounts on a computer – it just seems easier.  Once you’ve answered a few easy questions and roamed around the site you’re ready to go.  Now here comes the easy part, go drink a beer.  See?  Fun isn’t it?  While you’re sipping, point the browser on you phone to return to the Untappd web application. Yes, I hear you “what? no app?”  No, at the moment Untapped runs off of a web browser based app so you’ll need a  phone with internet capability to get the most at out it, but don’t panic!  The app is tight and straight forward and you’ll have no problems running it.

Once you’ve logged onto the Untappd web app, the fun begins.  By clicking a button at the upper right of the screen that says “drink up” you’ll be taken to the check in screen.  Checking in is easy.  First, in the field for your beer, type the name or a few key words of your beer and hit the search button.  Untappd will then search through it’s extensive beer database and find the beer it thinks you’re drinking.  Didn’t find it?  Don’t worry, Untappd gives you the ability to add it – but to be honest, I think you’ll rarely have to do this.  Once you’ve entered your beer next is the location where you are enjoying it.  Untappd gives you the ability (you can opt not to do this if you wish) to use your phone’s built in GPS to find your location and give you options in the surrounding area as to where you might be enjoying your beer.  Again, not there?  Add it!  It’s easy.

After location you have the ability to leave a comment.  Untappd gives you plenty of space to do this.  If you don’t leave a  comment  your check in will have some little notation like : TheDogsOfBeer are sipping a Summer Love from @Victorybeers at @2stonespub.  However, bear in mind that if you do add a comment, that comment will be displayed in your Twitter feed (more below) and since you have only so many letters on Twitter, the above message will be displayed as a link back to Untappd.  So if you want to comment make sure you include the name of your beer (at the very least) and the location so people can easily see them.

Now that the basics are in the next part is one of my favorite things about this app.  You can connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts to Untappd so that your activity is uploaded from Untappd (do this when  you register) when you check in. However every time you check in, Untappd gives you the option of whether or not you want to upload your activity to these accounts.  A few clicks on some radio buttons and you’re all set.  Now is the big moment.  Click the “Confirm Your Brew” button and POW! you’ve checked in your first beer.

While the check in process is the spine of Untappd, it offers a lot of other fun features as well.  First, Untappd will recommend new beers for you to try based on the ones you have input.  Also, like facebook (friends) or twitter (follow) Untappd allows you to “friend” others in the Untappd community.  A screen in the app will show you what your friends have been drinking

One of the coolest things about Untappd is that it rewards you for  your beers in the way of badges.  Badges can be earned based on the beers you enter, and there are some cool ones.  Badges are separated into three categories, the first, BEERS is pretty straight forward.  You get badges at certain numbers of unique beers (1, 25, 50…500) you check in.  You can also get badges for drinking beers in a certain style like mexican, IPAs or irish.  Drink 5 beers in a sitting and earn your “Drinking Your Paycheck” badge.

The next catagory is venue. Interesting badges like Ahoy Matey!, The Layover, Hitting The Slopes and Bowl-a-Rama wait for you beer lovers that tend to enjoy your brews in interesting places.

Finally, the really cool ones, the “Special” badges.  Some of these are limited to within a certain time frame.  For instance, you needed to check in during American Craft Beer Week to earn that badge.  Now you’ll have to wait till next year.  Some of the badges however are a collaboration between Untappd and other beer minded people.  Dogfish Head Brewery has a badge for anyone that drinks three beers in their Ancient Ales category.  The guys from Hop Cast have just jumped on, drinking beers that they feature on their webcast  show will get you a badge. And don’t over look one of my favorites, “New Beer Thursday”.  Check in with a new beer three Thursdays in a row and get your badge.  Got it?  Well keep going!  The badge has levels.

There are other apps out there for connecting to your beer friends.  I encourage you to seek them out, find one that works for you and start checking in.  After all, drinking is a social event.  And it no longer matters if the person you’re drinking with is 4 time zones away!  Time for a beer, I want that July 4th badge!

What’s your favorite app for beer?  Have you used Untappd?  How do you like it?

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