Breweries "Visited"

Monday, December 31, 2012

Day 387: Alchemy Projects, Mine and Widmer's

I feel the need to check back in exactly one year after writing my closing thoughts on 2011. If you need a refresher, you can find it here.  It's salty and sad with just a bit of hopefulness. It is amazing what 365 days can do for the soul. Putting another year behind me doesn't make me feel older--it makes me feel free and happy and powerful. There's a sense of being able to do anything in my soul and it is a good feeling. And that's what I wish for you all. Take the crap, the stress, the whatever and turn it into hope and happiness. It takes a lot of faith and belief in yourself. But I promise you, that little alchemy project is possible.

Widmer Brothers Brewing has their own alchemy project. It started back in 2010 and is a series of vintage dated beers that can be enjoyed immediately or cellared for years.  I got my hands on the Barrel Aged Brrrbon '11, which means it was cellaring somewhere for the past year. Yay for me!

It poured a rich oak color (opaque) with a thin tan head. The smell is woody, roasted and full of butterscotch. The flavor is caramel, vanilla, pepper and is also very rich. It finishes with an almost rauchbier-like smoked character. It definitely has that warming alcohol burn. 

The Barrel Aged Brrrbon is aged in bourbon barrels. It doesn't have that "wow this tastes like bourbon" thing going on like other barrel aged beers. Instead it reminds me of the characteristics of bourbon. Does that make sense? 

Beer stats 
Style:  Winter warmer
ABV:  9.4%
IBUs:  40
Rating:  Great
Previously reviewed from Widmer Brothers
A review of Brrr after making the leap from Kim Jong-il to persimmon trees and the David Wax Museum
Gary's take on today's beer
Gary's review of Citra Blonde Summer Brew from Year 1

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day 386: Avery Hog Heaven

If you're one of my three loyal blog readers or a Twitter follower, you may have noticed we took our tomfoolery on the road to Texas this past week. It was fantastic and fun and we got to cross another state off the list in our quest to visit every state in the Union. We're at about the midway point in that quest and are looking two knock down another two states in 2013 if all goes according to plan.

All I have to say about Texas--and Austin specifically--is that there is some amazing beer there. We did a lot of bar hopping and brewery visiting during the past four days and I'll regale you with reviews and photos in the coming weeks.  Yes, weeks. We packed a lot into four days.

Funny story from the trip home. Both our outbound and inbound flights were plagued by a series of delays--perhaps that's why I tend to do most of my traveling during more agreeable weather. But as I stood in the security line at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, all that waiting paid off. I could have sworn something kept brushing up against my backside. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed the usual families and random people who make up a security line. Odd. But there it was again. This time I noticed a slightly embarrassed mother pulling her child away. A young girl, maybe four years old. Awkward glances were exchanged and I shuffled forward. But then there was giggling and what was decidedly a small nose in the crack of my ass. Yes, that adorable kiddo had her face in my rump.

More awkward looks and some rather entertaining discipline between mother and child ensued. As did several more instances of inappropriate touching in public between my ass and a child's face. At one point I looked at the woman and before I could even say anything, she admits it is an extremely awkward phase her daughter is going through and apologized profusely. Honestly I was so entertained that I had some wonderfully bizarre material for my next post that the kid could have goosed me and I would have hugged her. And seriously? Who goes through a phase where they like to be extremely close to strangers' backsides?

I can't even begin to find a segue between having my butt face-groped by a toddler and Avery Brewing Company's Hog Heaven. So let's just get to it.

Hog Heaven is a dry-hopped barleywine style ale. The color is dark reddish-apricot and hazy with a medium cream color head. As I drank my way to an empty glass, the lacing was significant. The smell is decidedly hoppy with lots of of pine. Every so often I would get some fruit undertones, but I had to work to get there. The's like a barleywine and a west coast IPA had a baby! There were lots of bitter hops from start to finish. Beneath that is caramel malt goodness and rich, dark fruit. Hog Heaven had a very interesting and unexpected flavor.

Beer stats 
Style: Barleywine (dry hopped)
ABV: 9.2%
IBUs: 102 (crazy high IBUs)
Rating: Good

Previously reviewed from Avery

My thoughts on the White Rascal 
Gary's musings on the Maharaja and Hog Heaven.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Day #385 Woodicus / Freetail Brewing Company, San Antonio, TX
Previously from this brewery: None / New brewery

Today is a hustle day, so I'm keeping this short.  Well, I probably could spend a bit more time spinning colorful yarns, seeing how my flight is already 30 minutes delayed and I don't need to get on a plane for another five hours.  Great, should be a fun day spent sitting in airports.

A quick swing through south Texas isn't complete without a visit to the Freetail Brewing Company in San Antonio.  While there, my first beer up was a glass of Woodicus, a seasonal wild ale.  In the glass, you see a hazy golden amber color with a wispy head.  You find a tart, citrus aroma when you inhale, and when you take a sip you get a ton of tart and sour, with some funk that lingers.  There's a good bit of citrus in here (lemon), along with some oak.  Very well done beer, and I'm always glad to see more wild ales on draft, as they tend to be delicious.
Wood makes it good.
Pro tip: when you're there, try the brisket cheesesteak.  As a resident of the Philadelphia area, I laugh and feel bad when restaurants across the country put a "Philly steak" on their menu.  However, when you use brisket and queso, you get a free pass.  Delicious.

Thing to Think About Today:
I'm going to spend my day stuck in airports, sitting around waiting to get home.  As I sit and wait and wish, I'll let Jack Johnson wrap things up for today.  Keep your fingers crossed, peoples.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Day 384: MacTarnahan's Spine Tingler

Austin is a fascinating place. It is equal parts hipster, cowboy, cool, bizarre and vagrant. I've never seen so many places to eat and drink that didn't include chain restaurants. The beer scene is awesome. The food is amazing. If it weren't so freaking hot for so much of the year, I could really love this place.

It comes in a close second to Portland. Speaking of Portland, I'm digging into my stash of old beer reviews for today's beer. It is the Spine Tingler from Mactarnahan's Brewing Company. This one was consumed on September 8, but instead on that date you got a review of Wild Onion's Jack Stout. Why, you ask? Because MacTarnahan's is brewed by Pyramid Brewing. Boo. But oh well. Life goes on and such.

Spine Tingler is a golden Belgian style triple. It pours a deep golden color with a nice white head. It has a strong candi sugar aroma. It has a thin mouthfeel but doesn't disappoint on the flavor front. It has lots of spice, cloves and nutmeg. It reminds me of roasted plums.

Beer stats
Style: Tripel
ABV: 8.5%
IBUs: 23
Rating: Great

Previously reviewed from Pyramid
My review of their hefeweizen
Gary's review of their Outburst IPA

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vacation Beers

Day #383 Stash IPA / Independence Brewing Company, Austin, TX
Previously from this brewery: None / New brewery

We're in the midst of a mini-vacation, so I'm keeping this oh so short and oh so sweet.

Today's beer is the Stash IPA from Independence Brewing Company in Austin.  I'm drinking this directly out of the bottle, so no comments here on appearance or aroma.  I can, however, comment on the taste, and let me say the taste is very dry, with a ton of hops.  Plenty of pine and citrus (grapefruit, tangerine) on board, and it's bitter the whole way through.  If you like IPAs and happen to find this one near by, it's definitely worth a shot.
Shout out to my people at the Kimber Modern Hotel

Independence has been brewing in South Austin since 2004.  Allow me to share a bit of advice with them (and all breweries): Guys, open a tasting room on site.  People will come visit you.  Trust me on this, I'm a world renowned beer blogger.  Thanks.

Thing to Think About Today:
In the spirit of the Stash IPA, I'm going to have us all think about one of the legendary mustaches of all time - the one found on Burt Reynolds' face.  Yes, the beer name refers to weed, not facial hair, but this is a family blog here.  Therefore, I'll now completely ignore that last sentence about family values, and share with you a great Burt Reynolds moment: the movie Boogie Nights.  Star studded cast, with Mr. Reynolds playing the role of porn impresario Jack Horner.  Enjoy your afternoon, friends.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day 382: House of Shandy Curious Traveler

Today's beer was originally on the docket for #351, but research revealed that it comes to us via a subsidiary of the Boston Beer Company. It is the House of Shandy's Curious Traveler Shandy.

I am a sucker for anything tart. If you've been reading this blog for any of amount of time, you're probably familiar with my love of tart, wild ales or sour beers. Another delightful take on a tart beer is the shandy or radler.

A shandy, or shandygaff, is beer mixed with citrus-flavored soda, carbonated lemonade, ginger beer, ginger ale, or cider. The proportions of the two ingredients are adjusted to taste, normally half-and-half. Nonalcoholic shandies are known as "rock shandies". A shandy containing beer and cider is called a snakebite. Radler is the German version.

In some parts of the United Kingdom, shandy is also used colloquially as a euphemism for alcoholic drink. To say someone "had a few shandies" does not necessarily mean he drank shandies exclusively, or at all. Rather, it is implied that he drank a large quantity of alcohol. So now you know.

My shandy was very hazy--an almost opaque wet straw color and had a loose white head. It smelled of lemon candy. The taste reminded me of a lemon pastry. It was sweet but tart with a good amount of wheat flavor.

Beer stats
Style: Shandy
IBUs: 7
Rating: Good

Previously reviewed from Boston Beer Company
My review of Infinium back at Beer 42
Gary's take on the same one

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Day #381 Barrel Aged Brrrbon '11 / Widmer Brothers Brewing Company, 
Previously from this brewery: Citra Blonde, Brrr Seasonal

After an excellent day yesterday spent visiting family, today we celebrate the holiday by watching movies, drinking beer, and eating Chinese food at home.  It's not that I don't love my family or friends - I just need one day over the holiday to spend doing nothing but sitting and relaxing.  It's been a good day so far, with more movies on deck for the evening.  Whatever your family tradition might be, I do hope the peace and joy of the season found their way to your house - along with a big bag of fun new toys from Santa.  Jolly old St. Nick hooked me up with a new book by David Byrne, which I can't wait to read.  Score!

I'm celebrating the evening with a bottle of Barrel Aged Brrrbon '11 from Widmer Brothers.  A close friend had tried this one and liked it, so it sounded like something I should buy as well.  In the glass, this beer has a bright amber color and no head.  Your nose finds the aroma of sweet malt and stone fruit, and when you take a sip you get a great mix of candi sugar, malt, dark fruit, leather, and some spice, with a good alcohol warmth.  Not quite as complex as a barley wine, yet all of the bourbon barrel aged deliciousness.  A very well done beer which goes great on a cold winter day better spent snuggling than working.  With a potent 9.5% ABV, drinking this may lead you to want a nap.  If so, then go for it - you've earned it.
Bourbon = delicious
As always, if the word "bourbon" is involved, I'm quite sure I'm going to like whatever is happening.  I look forward to future deliveries from Widmer's Alchemy Project, particularly if they involve barrel aging.

Thing to Think About Today:
To celebrate the season, let's all stop and think about the best Christmas movie ever made, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  This clip really needs no introduction, so.... Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

"Can I refill your eggnog for you?  Drive you out the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?"

Monday, December 24, 2012

Day 380: Breckenridge Christmas Ale and Christmas Came Early

I sent Gary out for groceries yesterday and he brought back groceries and a little surprise.
Oh those boys and their toys. Salinger approves.
It's actually not a small surprise at all. I'm the surprised dismayed proud owner of a 46" Samsung blah, blah, numbers, ACRONYMS television.  If I were less three dimensional, I would easily fit into this box.

Chinese-takeout-movie-marathon Christmas Day festivities have definitely been upgraded this year.  Merry Christmas to us!  Whoo-hoo!

There's a reindeer and balls joke
in here somewhere.
What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a Christmas ale. This one comes courtesy of Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado. It's a winter warmer and perfect for today. It pours a crisp, clear shade of deep chestnut with a white head that leaves just a little lacing. It smells of caramel malt and general beer aroma.

The flavor matches the smell nicely. Lots of malt, some light caramel. I'm not getting much in the way of spices. At a 7.4% ABV, it is also a bit boozy.

From the description of a winter warmer on the BeerAdvocate site, it's hitting all the right marks. Winter warmers tend to be malty sweet--big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black.  Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon.

Upon further research, not all winter warmers include spices. Per Breckenridge's description of their Christmas Ale, they went for the caramel and chocolate characteristics. So my assessment of no spice is accurate but I'm also not getting chocolate. Bummer. As my glass warms up a bit, more of the hop profile is coming out. It's just enough bite to balance the sweeter malt flavor.

Beer stats
Style: Winter warmer
ABV: 7.4%
IBUs: 22
Rating: Good

Previously reviewed beers from Breckenridge Brewery 
My assessment of the Vanilla Porter with notes of it being a great complement to cheesy eggs way back on Day 2
Gary's review of one of my favorite tailgate beers, Agave Wheat

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hit and Some Misses

Day #379 471 Small Batch / Breckenridge Brewing Company
Previously from this brewery: Vanilla Porter, Agave Wheat

I'm officially all set and ready to go for tomorrow.  Gifts are purchased, wrapped, and in bags ready to take on our travels, and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, with hopes that someone puts beer in there.

In the spirit of giving, I'm giving out another award tonight - the Biggest Miss of the Year.  Very early in the adventure someone asked me if 366 different breweries even existed in the world.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he's delivered over 1,700 (and rapidly climbing) craft breweries in the U.S. alone.  While we had to do some work and pay attention, finding 366 different breweries wasn't that big of a hurdle.  Sometimes, the hurdle was knowing there are beers out there you want, and figuring out how you could get your hands on them.  Two great examples of wonderful breweries that don't ship to Pennsylvania?  New Glarus and Three Floyds.  While we managed to broker deals to get those coveted beers in hand, there were other great breweries we just couldn't get to along the way.  In the spirit of recognizing we have more work to do as the blog lives on, here the ones that got away:

Odell Brewing- from Fort Collins, CO, this brewery doesn't ship out of the midwest, and I neglected to get my hands on one during our brief trip to the Rockies this past summer.
Wynkoop Brewing - I've been to this Denver, CO brewery previously, just not during the 366 challenge.  Another brewery that doesn't ship anywhere near me. Looking forward to having another St. Charles ESB in the future.
Choc Beer Company - do you know how hard it is to find beer brewed in Oklahoma?  So imagine my disappointment when I was actually in Oklahoma for two days last spring, and couldn't find any Choc on draft, after having it when I was there in the fall of 2011.  Shame on you, Buffalo Wild Wings in Bartlesville, OK.  This is your fault!
Gin and Tonics - my favorite summer drink; I severely reduced my consumption to keep the beers moving. Next summer, I come back with a fury on this refreshing beverage.

And the winner is.... Choc Beer Company!  I'll be in Colorado or Idaho again soon enough.  I could make a gin and tonic tomorrow.  But another trip back to Oklahoma just isn't happening anytime soon.  Sorry, Choc.... can you mail me some?  Please?

Moving right along (and speaking of Colorado), tonight's beer is the 471 Small Batch from Breckenridge Brewing Company.  This double IPA has a dull amber color with a thin wispy head.  There are aromas of citrus with some pine, and the taste has notes of orange and lemon, with plenty of earthy pine, some malt to balance things out, and a good bit of hop bitterness on the finish.  A potent beer at 9.2% ABV, this one was a great choice with the pizza I made for dinner tonight.

For your viewing pleasure, here's a shot I took from a visit to Breckenridge in 2010, from their deck upstairs looking out at the clouds rolling in over the mountains:
Ah, vacation.
Thing to Think About Today:
With Christmas Eve tomorrow night, I'm going to let the Yeah Yeah Yeahs close things out here with their wonderful All I Want for Christmas.  It doesn't appear there's a real video for this song, but at least this will give you quick access to a song that brings me joy and puts a smile on my face.  Good night people... and remember, there's still time for Santa to check his list.  Be nice.

"My only Christmas wish / is for you to be near..."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day 378: Hill Farmstead Arthur

I cannot be trusted around sushi. After an evening of sheer oceanic gluttony last night, I'm going in for Round 2 sushi dinner. Same restaurant. Some of the same people. I'm curling my hair and considering wearing glasses as a disguise. And yes, the food is that good. 

In the spirit of back-to-back sushi nights, I'm reviewing back-to-back beers from Hill Farmstead. As you may recall, just three days ago, I shared my commentary on their brew by the name of Clara. Both were had at TJ's 9th anniversary party a few weekends ago and if I had to pick a winner in a Hill Farmstead battle, I'd go with the Arthur.  
Arthur is a saison or farmhouse ale and is named for the brewer's grandfather's youngest brother. Per the Hill Farmstead description of Arthur, it is a saison crafted from American malted barley, American and European hops, their distinctive farmhouse yeast and water from the farm's well. It is unfiltered and naturally carbonated.

From the picture, you'll see that the Arthur poured a hazy but not cloudy deep gold color. It smells of tart yeast and malt. A fantastic smell that I love in a saison. The flavor was light bread, grass, a little more funk than I expected and a very nice subtle pear. My notes indicated some hesitation between green apple and pear. I wrote down and crossed out both of them multiple times and settled on pear.  

Beer stats
Style: Saison / Farmhouse ale
ABV: 6%
IBUs: Unknown
Rating: Excellent

Previously reviewed beers from Hill Farmstead 
My review of George
Gary's review of Harlan
My very recent review of Clara

Friday, December 21, 2012

High on the Hog

Day #377 Hog Heaven / Avery Brewing, Boulder, CO
Previously from this brewery: The Maharaja, White Rascal

It gives me great pleasure to report that I am done working for the year.  Well, technically I'm in the office on New Year's Eve, but that's more of a social call than anything.  Feels nice, as I haven't had time off at year end in a number of years.  I will use some of the down time to keep working through my awards list for the year.  Beer of the year, brewery of the year.... all the heavy hitters still to come.

So far, the Mayans seemed to have missed on the apocalypse thing (although the night is young - they didn't pick an hour), much to no one's surprise.  However, on the odd chance that this was the end of the road, I was preparing myself by getting closer to heaven.  No, not the mythological awesome place in the sky - a bottle of Hog Heaven from Avery Brewing.  This barley wine is a bright, dark amber color (apologies for the bright/dark paradox there), almost like the color of tea.  The picture below doesn't do this beer justice, so I apologize for that.  The aroma is light, with plenty of hops and citrus.  The taste is dry, with pine, tons of caramel, and a honey sweetness.  More hops than your typical barley wine, which is just fine in my book. The beer got better as it warmed a bit in my glass, but regardless of the temperature it was straight up delicious.  I mentioned when I reviewed The Maharaja that I intended to add more Avery to my line-up, and Hog Heaven definitely reinforces that opinion.  Find it and drink it, you won't be disappointed.
Hog wild!
This brewery started brewing in 1993, and their increasing popularity has led to a number of expansions since then.  Of particularly interest to me, Avery has been barrel aging beers since 2003.

Thing to Think About Today:
If I think about Hog Heaven... then clearly I'm thinking about Pigs In Space, an always classic skit on The Muppet Show.  You can never have too much Muppet Show, quite frankly.  And to tie up everything today with a nice, neat bow?  This episode is about.... the end of the universe!  Oh, you silly Mayans.  Better luck next time, fellows.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Day #376 HopWired / 8 Wired Brewing Company, Blenheim, New Zealand
Previously from this brewery: N/A; new brewery

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're by now well aware the world is ending tomorrow.  If you were living under a rock, great job in resurfacing just in time to die tomorrow!  Sorry I can't nail down a specific time things are going to head south tomorrow, but maybe it's better if the end of the world just sneaks up on you.  I guess people will always try to predict the end of days - eventually, someone is going to be right.  All kidding aside, this talk of the Mayans and their lack of desire to keep printing calendar pages 1,000 years in the future does raise the question: what would you do if you knew today was the last day ever?  Personally, I'd gather up my friends and throw the biggest, wildest, craziest, most out of control tailgate of all time.  If possible, I'd try to coordinate this in State College, PA, as that's the town that's always felt most like home to me, despite only living there four years.  Should things get crazy tomorrow... call me.  I'll have the beers cold and the grill hot.

To get ready for the big day tomorrow, I'm reviewing HayWired, an IPA from 8 Wired Brewing Company in New Zealand.  This one was on draft at TJ's, where they continue to roll out new breweries even though they no longer are required to (by me, anyway).  In the glass, this beer is an apricot color, with a lingering white head.  There's a floral, grapefruit aroma, and the taste has notes of grass, green pepper (or is that green apple?  It's definitely green), pine, and citrus, with a mild bitter finish.  This is a very interesting, not like many other IPAs.  Well worth a sample if you find this one on draft or in a bottle shop near you.
G'Day! Or, whatever the catch
phrase greeting from New Zealand might be.

Curious brewery name, right?  True.  The name comes from No. 8 gauge wire, which is commonly used in New Zealand for electric fencing and serves as a symbol of the ingenuity and resourcefulness prevalent in their culture.  Now you know.

Thing to Think About Today:
Hey, if the Mayans are right and it all goes to shit tomorrow, I want you all to know it's been fun.  Glad you guys have been along for the ride.  And if the Mayans are wrong?  Man, I got some catching up at work to do.  We close with the obligatory song for the end of days, R.E.M. singing It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).  Good luck on the other side, friends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day 375: Hill Farmstead Clara

Is this week whipping by for anyone else? All week I've had the "Holy crap! It's 4:45 p.m.!" panic. I imagine this will continue the remainder of the week at which point, I'll just run away from all the work I didn't get done this week. New year. New start.

Another creepy hand photo.

Today's beer is from Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont. Hill Farmstead is a great family story that starts with a great-great-great-grandfather who was a tavern owner and continues through today with some phenomenal beers with great family connections. I encourage you to read more about them here.

This particular beer is the Clara--named for the brewer's grandfather’s sister. The brewery rests upon the land that was once home to her and her 13 siblings! This Clara is a grisette, which is a style of beer I've come to enjoy thanks to my beer adventure. 

It is to coal miners what a saison is to farmers.  It also may be served by French prostitutes. So there's that...

Clara poured a hazy wet straw color with a small white head.  There was plenty of lacing left behind as I enjoyed this one.  The smell is mellow fruit and fruity hops.  The taste is pepper and grass and very bright.  At 4% ABV, it was quite sessionable.

Beer stats
Style: Grisette 
ABV: 4%
IBUs: unknown
Rating: Good

Previously reviewed beers from Hill Farmstead 
My review of George
Gary's review of Harlan

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day 374: Ommegang Three Philosophers

I love giving gifts. Like head-over-heels, madly in love with gift giving. I want to marry it and have its babies, and then give those babies gifts, I love it so. I guess it goes without saying that holiday shopping season is like crack for me. I get such a rush finding the perfect gift or assembling a gift basket. And the wrapping! The wrapping! God, I even love wrapping gifts. I'm going to need rehab come January.
I work for beer in case you want to hire me!
If you're shopping for a gift for a beer lover, you should consider something from Brewery Ommegang. Typically I can't pass up a brew from Ommegang, they're that good.  Today we're going with the Three Philosophers. This was the first beer I drank once I knew I had the final beers for the blog covered back on November 28. If anyone was paying attention to me at TJ's that night, they may have wondered why I was giggling delightedly while I drank it. Now you know.

Three Philosophers poured a hazy mahogany color with a dense off-white head.  I can usually find differences between the smell and taste of a beer, but all my notes indicate that they matched up perfectly.  Lots of earthy and rich scents and tastes. Dark fruit, molasses and chocolate. It's sweet but not overly so. It's super smooth without any hop bite. There's lots of malt goodness. 

What I didn't know or at least read and instantly forgot is that Three Philosophers is blended with a small amount (2%) of Liefmans Kriek, an authentic cherry ale from Belgium. I guess cherry is in that  dark fruit flavor that I noted, but I didn't discern cherry in particular.

Beer stats
Style: Quadrupel ale
ABV: 9.7%
IBUs: 19
Rating: Excellent 

Links to prior reviews for Ommegang
My review of Aphrodite, a raspberry and pear ale
Gary's thoughts on Three Philosophers and the possibility of pirate dogs

Monday, December 17, 2012

Shopping? DONE.

Day #373 Christmas Ale / Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland, OH
Previously from this brewery: Dortmunder Gold

I think (I think) that we're finally done with Christmas shopping for another year.  Now, to wrap them.... or just hand them out without wrapping.  Either way, right?  Thought that counts, right?

Before we get to the beer of the day, I want to get back into the awards tour and hand out a prize for Best Brewery Visit.  I've been on many brewery tours in my time, and in thinking about this category, I realized I didn't do a single brewery tour this year.  I know how beer is made in theory, and if you've seen one you've sort of seen them all.  However, I'm always partial to businesses I can visit in person and see first hand.  I feel more of a connection when I get a chance to meet the people directly associated with my beers, really.  While I didn't take any brewery tours this year, I did visit a number of breweries in person - and greatly enjoyed their tasting rooms.  The best of the best?  Sure....

The nominees:
Victory Brewing Company
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Green Flash Brewing Company
Deschutes Brewery
Cascade Brewing Barrel House
Ballast Point Brewing Company

And your winner?  A round of applause, please, for Green Flash Brewing Company!  Located in what appears to be more of a corporate office than a brewery, Green Flash has a great new tasting room, all of their beers on tap, an outdoor seating area (huge plus when you have San Diego weather), and food trucks that pull up to cater to the crowd drinking and socializing.  Congrats, Green Flash -  I wish I could visit you in person tomorrow.  And every other day, too  Every single day.

To get in the holiday spirit to celebrate being done buying gifts, tonight's beer is the Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewing.  In the glass, this beer is a bright amber color, and the aroma has notes of spice and malt.  The flavor is mellow, with nutmeg, malt, cinnamon, caramel, and some bitterness on the finish.  Very well done, and would go well at any holiday celebration.
Hey, Great.
Great Lakes has been brewing since 1988 in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood.  In 1998, they moved into a larger brewing facility formerly occupied by the Schlather Brewery.  Now you know.

Thing to Think About Today:
Christmas beer?  That calls for a Christmas song.  And what says holiday spirit like Twisted Sister signing O Come All Ye Faithful?  Nothing really.  Enjoy, dear friends.  Enjoy.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Day 372: Mikkeller Red White Christmas

Today's beer is the Red White Christmas from Mikkeller, a gypsy brewer based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Red White Christmas was billed as an American strong dark ale at Teresa's Next Door, but further research lists it as an herbed or spiced beer and a hybrid red ale/wit bier. I'm going with the latter as it makes the most sense given the name of the beer.

The Red White pours a hazy chestnut color with a loose cream color head. It smells of citrus hops with a light caramel undertone.

It is hop forward and backward with interesting buttery notes. It has a rich mouth feel. There's a breadlines to it along with savory, not quite pepper spice. Overall quite interesting and very enjoyable.

Mikkeller makes some amazing beer. As a gypsy brewer, he's free to experiment and also to collaborate on a whim and has done so with some great results. The challenge is to find repeats once you like something or simply to get your grubby paws on one. Especially if you live in the very backward state of Pennsylvania.

Beer stats
Style: Hybrid red ale and wit bier
ABV: 8%
IBUs: Unknown
Rating: Great

Previously reviewed from Mikkeller
Mikkeller / Stillwater collaboration, Our Side from Gary
And one from Marci
Mikkeller / de Struisse collaboration, Elliot Brew

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beer, Broadway, and Big Winners

Day #371 Grisette / Sly Fox Brewing Company, Phoenixville, PA 
Previously from this brewery: Phoenix Pale Ale, Ichor

Our first award for the past year was the Worst Label Art category, so let's put a more positive spin on things and present an award for the Best Label Art.

The Nominees:
21st Amendment - Hell or High Watermelon
Breckenridge Brewery - Agave Wheat
Brouwerij Verhaege - Duchess du Bourgogne
Brasserei Fantome - Fantome Saison
Hop City - Barking Squirrel
John Smith's - Extra Smooth
Rust Belt - Coke Oven Stout
Brasserie La Choulette - Sans Culottes
Spring House - Seven Gates

And your winner?  A round of applause, please, for Brasserie Fantome!
I tend to gravitate toward designs that are clean, classic, and noticeable in a crowd.  Fantome definitely hits those marks with their simple, but effective and fun ghost logo.  I realize this category is unfair, as I wasn't considering any of the breweries or beers we had on draft, just those we had in a bottle.  Hey, life isn't fair.

Plenty more awards to come over the next few days, so stay tuned.  I'll go ahead and shift gears to today's beer, the Grisette from local brewery Sly Fox, which was on draft at Teresa's Next Door.  In the glass, this beer has a cloudy, hazy straw color with a fluffy white head.  There are aromas of citrus and yeast, and when you take a sip you find more yeast, with grain, grass, and lemon, with a touch of peppery spice.  This beer is really well done - dry and light, with a manageable 5.6% ABV.  I could (and at some point probably will) drink this beer all day.
Tastes as good as it looks
If you aren't familiar with grisette, you will be in the future as more breweries are turning out their version of a traditional Belgian ale.  A Grisette is similar to a saison, and takes its name from the the French working class women who wore plain gray dresses and handed beers to workers as they would leave the mines (and were sort of also prostitutes).  The grisette is a popular figure in art and literature, and features prominently in the popular show Les Misérables, as the character Fantine is considered a grisette.  Although, I think I would like Les Mis more if they handed out beer, like back in the old days.  Just saying.

Thing to Think About Today:
Okay, so I'm dropping Les Mis references into my beer write up today.  Yeah, I try to pretend that I'm all cultured, but in reality, I don't terribly enjoy Broadway musicals.  I'm sorry, they're just not my thing.  We see shows every now and again, and I can certainly appreciate the immense talent those performers have, but it's not my preferred form of entertainment.  UNLESS.....

Unless, of course, that Broadway show features extremely profane puppets, such as the delightful Avenue Q.  The tale of a young puppet who moves to New York after graduating college and learns lessons about life, love, lowered expectations, porn, racism, Gary Coleman, and the reality that life sometimes just isn't all that that great.  This show is without a doubt one of the funniest things I've ever seen in my adult life, and if you've never seen it, you need to think about getting tickets to the next possible show.  For a preview, check out this wonderful rendition of It Sucks to Be Me.  I highly recommend listening to this whenever you have a bad day - guaranteed to make you feel better about yourself!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 370: The Bruery Oude Tart

Everything I wanted to write about feels so utterly frivolous today. As I sit here staring at a blank screen, an unknown number of families are dealing with the aftermath of a senseless act of violence. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (Connecticut) is the latest scene of a mass murder committed by an armed gunman. It comes on the heels of the mall shooting in Portland. And that came on the heels of another shooting. And that came on the heels of yet another shooting. See a pattern here?

What the fuck, America?

Seriously. What is wrong with people? My twitter feed has exploded with numerous people extolling their views on gun controls. Guns for everyone. Guns for no one. Bigger guns. Smaller guns. Knives. Nunchucks. Trebuchets! While I certainly find value in a challenging and honest conversation about gun control, perhaps there are other conversations that need to be had. Mental healthcare, anyone?

And for everyone who opts to stick their head in the ground and declare now not the appropriate time to talk gun control, maybe they should watch CNN's video of a 3rd grader who was in class at the time of the shooting. Then tell her that despite how scared she was and how being in that situation made her classmates' bellies hurt that we have to wait for a better time to talk about how to prevent it from happening to other little kids. Because honestly anyone who takes that angle is a spineless, soulless coward. Also CNN should be ashamed of themselves for INTERVIEWING A 3RD GRADER WHO WAS JUST PART OF A NATIONAL TRAGEDY. But I digress. 

There are giant, terrifying problems facing our country. I don't know how to begin thinking about it. I feel overwhelmed and helpless. How do you fix a system and a country that is so broken? Our country is broken.  The answer lies in better education. Willingness to compromise. Reducing big business in government. Healthcare that is not privilege. Basic human kindness.

I want everyone reading this -- yes, all three of you -- to be kind to those you encounter. Maybe those people will be kind to the next people they encounter. I am a firm believer that you get out of the universe exactly what you put into it. This morning was a startling reminder that we need to put more good out there. Get on that!

And because at the end of the day this is a beer blog, I'm now going to write about beer albeit with a heavy heart. 

My hand is enormous!

For starters, excuse that ridiculous photograph. This was taken at TJ's 9th anniversary party last weekend and there were like 4,000 people crammed in the bar, which made for difficult picture taking.  It's the Oude Tart from The Bruery in California.  It looked like a brown ale with ruby highlights. It had a thin head that was slightly off-white.  The aroma was light balsamic vinegar but the flavor was a much stronger. Lots of dark fruit and tart vinegar with hints of malt.  It was thin but immensely flavorful.

The Oude Tart is aged in wine barrels for 18 months, proving that good things come to those who wait. Is this why my mother always told me that patience is a virtue?

Beer stats
Style: Flemish-style red ale
ABV: 7.5%
IBUs:  15
Rating: Excellent

Previous reviews of The Bruery
Gary's review of the Tart of Darkness
My review of Hottenroth

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let the Awards Begin!

Day #369 The Angel's Share / The Lost Abbey, San Marcos, CA
Previously from this brewery: Avant Garde Ale

I promised some awards, and I'm starting out with one of the landslide winners - but not in a good way.  First award for the 366 challenge is: Worst Label Art.

Really, from the minute I spotted this beer, it was only a question of who was going to finish in second place.  There are no other nominees in this category, in fact.  As craft beer continues to explode in popularity, branding is becoming an increasingly important aspect.  If you think about it, as shelves get more crowded with different beers and breweries, what a beer looks like is certainly going to be important to catch a buyer's eye.  I freely admit I buy wine primarily based on the label, so I'm sure people do this with beer.

With this in mind..... (drum roll please)... the title of Worst Label Art goes to: Laverstoke Park FarmTheir creepy, cartoon, drawn by a drunken seven year old label is without a doubt the worst thing I saw all year.  Shame, too, as I thought the beer was decent.  Note to craft brewers: if you drew your beer label in MS Paint, you did something tragically wrong.
Soooo not good.
With our first award taken care of, let's move on to tonight's beer, the Angel's Share from The Lost Abbey.  I had this one on draft at TJ's now mildly famous 9th anniversary party.  This of course means I was standing most of the day and gabbing with friends, so there's a reason why my notes consisted entirely of: "Chocolate, bourbon warmth, plum, fig, leather, delicious, spice, must have more."  I love bourbon, so anything aged in bourbon barrels is probably going to be right up my alley.  Despite my lack of notes, please just understand that if you see something from The Lost Abbey, just go ahead and buy it because I guarantee it's going to be good.
Couldn't find a table to put this on for a picture.
The name of this beer comes from the bourbon distilling process.  You see, the bourbon that evaporates in the barrel as the spirit ages is called "the angel's share."  Mmmm... bourbon.

Thing to Think About Today:
In the spirit of all things angelic, we're wrapping up Friday night with some Juice Newton and the always great tailgate song, Angel of the Morning.  What, you don't play Juice Newton at your tailgate?  Well....that means you're doing it wrong.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day 368: Life's Soundtrack and 4 Hands Pyrus

Is there a band that speaks to you no matter what song, no matter what situation you're in?  That would be R.E.M. for me. News of their break-up last September was like a punch in the gut. How could they give up after being the soundtrack to my life for thirty years? Why? Why me???  

OK, it wasn't nearly that dramatic but I was pretty bummed at the thought of no new R.E.M. songs to play me through the rest of my life. OK, maybe there is cause for drama.  Of course, one does not live on R.E.M. alone and there have been other bands who have played pivotal roles in my soundtrack.

10,000 Maniacs aided R.E.M. in defining high school for me. I listened to Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend on repeat for pretty much all of 1993-1994. The first thing I did after being given an iPod for my birthday was recreate the soundtrack to the summer of 1997 -- known affectionately around Blog Named Brew Manor as The Greatest Summer Ever.  Sublime, Cornershop, Sugar Ray, Puff Daddy, Chumbawamba. I have them all now.  The summer of 2011 will forever be defined by Young the Giant. The soundtrack of this tailgate season is Ke$ha's Die Young. I'm not proud of that fact...actually yes, I am. I have an eclectic interest in music and I am proud of it. It makes life more interesting.

So I ask you? What's the soundtrack of your life? Can you define this year in a song? 

Speaking (writing?) of about a pear saison for eclectic?  Evidently this is a thing and it's brewed by 4 Hands Brewing Company and it's known as  Pyrus.  It poured a hazy blonde color with a loose white head. There was some lacing.  It tastes like a saison with a light pear finish. It is very interesting.  The flavor is peppery and is very green in taste. Herbal? Spicy? I can't quite put my finger on it. It also had a lingering hop finish. 

I'm off to listen to Nightswimming on repeat. Cheers!

Beer stats
Style: Saison
ABV: 6.2%
IBUs:  Unknown
Rating: Good

Previous reviews of 4 Hands

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don't Call It a Comeback!

Caldera IPA / Caldera Brewing Company, Ashland, OR
Previously from this brewery: Lawnmower Lager

...and on the 367th day, instead of resting I wrote another blog post.  In our new plan to continue posting on alternating days, I drew the first watch.  I've also been tallying the final votes, and starting with my post on Thursday I'll be running down the best and worst of the past year.  Yes, I'm handing out 'Worst Of' awards, because I didn't grow up in the generation where every kid got a trophy just for showing up.  Back in the day, you got a trophy for winning.  Don't worry, losing builds character, so I'm actually helping the 'Worst Of' candidates, when you think about it.  I'm good like that!

First beer up in the new era is the Caldera IPA from Caldera Brewing Company.  Despite what my acid trip-esque photo shows below, this beer has a clear dark copper color, with a lingering white head.  There is a pleasant grapefruit aroma, and the taste is light, with pine and lemon, and a moderate bitterness that builds and increases in the finish.  Really nice IPA, and well worth your effort.
In a year of posting, this might be the
worst camera phone picture yet
Caldera started up their operations in 1996, with their first beers going on sale in 1997.  They have also been canning their beers since 2005, because who doesn't like it in the can?

Thing to Think About Today:
Back in the saddle as Blog Named Brew marches into Year Two.  The first year was a big party, and there's no reason to think the next one (or more) won't be a giant celebration as well.  Therefore, to keep the party rolling and highlight Year Two, I'm letting MC Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock kick off the next phase of our journey with the classic It Takes Two.  Thanks for sticking with us!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The End. Or...?

Beer/Brewery #366 Lava / Ölvisholt Brugghús, Selfoss, Iceland
Beers to go: 0

There you have it folks, we have officially come to the end of this journey.  During the past 366 days, Marci and I have each drank 366 different beers from 366 different craft breweries.  Bazinga!
Please, hold your applause.
Before we wrap things up, I'd like to thank a few people who have helped in ways great and small.  First, the great restaurants, bars, and bottle shops in my area who make it their mission to make fantastic beers readily available to the public.  Without these fine businesses, there is NO way our blog would have made it this far.  Looking at you, Teresa's Next Door in Wayne, TJ's Everyday in Paoli, Wegmans in Malvern, Whole Foods in Devon, and The Beer Shoppe in Ardmore.  I'd also like to thank our friends who either donated or traded some really interesting beers, so a tip of the hat to Pat C., Mike T., Dr. Liz T., Mike B. and Casey E., and Nathan A., along with anyone else I might be missing here.  Couldn't have done it without you.  It certainly goes without saying that I would like to thank Marci, as I just couldn't imagine how this would have worked without her being along for the ride.  It's nice to have a partner in crime!

Lastly, I'd like to thank you, the readers of this website.  Mostly you're my friends, but there have been an increasing number of people reading this site who I'll never meet in "real life."  We've had hits to this website from around the globe, which always makes me wonder how you found us - although I'm always thankful that you did.  You guys are the best.

Quite frankly, writing this blog has been a tremendously enjoyable activity for me.  I originally went into this endeavor thinking that we'd turn the blog into a best selling book, which would then get turned into a blockbuster movie.  Yeah, so.... about that.  Fame and fortune hasn't happened (yet!), but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.  It wasn't all seashells and balloons, as there were some days where I felt like I had nothing to say, some days where I couldn't quite find the right way to say what I was thinking, and some days where I thought my post was going to be amazing, only to look back and realize it was a small scale dumpster fire.  I guess I'm saying that I've learned I'm not exactly Hemingway when it comes to writing.  Regardless, through it all I've had fun.  Therefore, as Marci has mentioned in her wrap-up post, this blog will continue in the future!!!!  NO, we are NOT doing any further 365 day challenges, but we will continue to use this space to write about craft beer, travel, restaurants, music, sports, dogs, the highs and lows of life, and whatever else seems relevant each day.  One of the challenges of this blog was that in focusing on a new beer from a new brewery each day, we missed many great beers along the way.  Therefore, we'll be going back to try some of the beers we didn't get to, while still searching for new breweries as well.  I hope you continue reading as time goes on, because I'll be terribly sad if you don't.

Today isn't officially in the books until we review beer #366, so let's get on with the show.  We're both closing things out tonight with a bottle of Lava, an imperial stout from Ölvisholt Brugghús, a brewery in Iceland.  Iceland?  Yeah, that's how I roll.  I drink beers from Iceland.   In the glass, this beer dark black color with a sparse tan head.  You get an aroma filled with smoked, toasted malt, and when you take a sip you find a smoky, malt heavy beer.  Sort of a smoked meat kind of flavor happening.  There's some cocoa in there as well, and it has a clean, dry finish.  Not the style I typically choose, but definitely a decent beer.  If you see one on the shelves, pick one up.
Ice(land), Ice(land), baby....
This brewery was founded in 2007, and they currently ship beer to most of Scandinavia, along with the U.S. and Canada.  You may be wondering why this beer is called Lava.  Of course you are.  It's because from the brewery, you can see Hekla, an active volcano, which has erupted as recently as 2000.  Europeans in the Middle Ages called this volcano, "Gateway to Hell."  Not exactly a tourist friendly moniker, I suppose, although the volcano does figure prominently in literature and art, as it has been referenced by writers such as William Blake and Herman Melville.

Thing to Think About Today:
Lots of people have done '365 beers in 365 days' challenges.  Hit Google and you'll find countless variations, some successful, many not.  However, I don't know of any doing 365 beers from 365 different breweries, and I certainly don't know of any married couples out there trying to each accomplish this goal.  Therefore, I can think no better way to close out this phase of the journey than to let Queen wrap up tonight in style with We Are the Champions.  Because we are!

Good night friends, thank you for coming, and please do come back in the future.  Free hugs and cookies if you do!

"No time for losers, 'cause we are the champions.... of the (craft beer blogging) world"

Beer 366: The Finish Line and Icelandic Lava

Here we are. 366 days later. 282 empty beer bottles later.

One would presume another 84 draft beers later. More for both those counts if you count the “Oops, I already drank this brewery’s sister operation’s beer” beers. There were enough of those that I stopped counting them.

We covered 6,771 miles during the great beer-cation of 2012. There have been countless trips to TJ’s in Paoli and Teresa’s Next Door in Wayne at roughly 6 miles a pop round trip. The one number I don’t know is how much we spent on beer this year. Some things are best left untallied. Let’s just say that I’ve made an economic impact.

There have been quite a few beers from Belgium, Germany and England. But we also covered Australia, Norway, Czech Republic, Peru and in a few sentences…Iceland. We hit 37 U.S. states. California and Pennsylvania were most popular. Some truly amazing beer has been discovered. I did my best to create a Top 25 list, but that fell apart as I fell in love with new styles of beer. My Top 30 list and some honorable mentions are here in this post. Some truly awful beer has been uncovered as well. I’m looking at you, St. Cloud.

But some of the awful ones were macro-brews from exotic lands. How often do you drink beer from Thailand or Peru? I get to say that now, although I won’t be seeking those beers out again.

There was a beer with a label that creeped me out. Yes, Rosee, that’s you.

There was a beer that I bought solely because I geeked out on the typeface on the label. And then I geeked out about it being a good beer. Birra Rossa, check it out.

There was beer that I thought I hated, but realized that I had to have been drinking from skanky taps. Because when Gary had one recently, it was quite good. Westmalle, if you're curious.

This blog started out as a way to channel my energy after the death of my mother. It helped guide me through the loss of a great coach. It helped me deal with the loss of the greatest dog in the world. (Sorry, Sal and Picasso. You guys are a very close second.) It helped me celebrate milestones – amazing achievements at work, a Penn State football team that would not quit. It let me celebrate my friends and the greatest husband in the world. It let me be me and I can’t let that go.

This is a very longwinded way to write that there is life after this 366 day journey. There will be a year two. Mr. Blog Named Brew and I have been debating the rules, because we like rules. OK, because I like rules and he knows to agree with me sometimes.

Year Two Rules:
1. Either Mr. or Mrs. posts every day.
2. Breweries are up for grabs again if we encounter a new beer from them. We’ll even try to keep it organized and link to other posts about that brewery.
3. Finding new breweries will always be our goal.
4. Have fun, travel and see the world. We have big things planned for this one. I can’t wait.

And now, with great satisfaction, I give you Beer 366:

Hailing from Olvisholt Brugghus in Iceland, tonight's beer is the Lava. It is a smoked imperial stout with an ABV of 9.4%. The brewery has an active volcano visible from its front door. They even put an artist's rendering on the label.

It pours pitch black with a dark tan head. It smells very tannic and smoky. This is where I claim it smells like meat and all my meat eating friends roll their eyes. But I swear it smells and even tastes a little meaty. It's chocolatey and malty. There's a lingering smokiness at the finish and just enough bitterness to slow you down to savor it.

This is exactly the kind of crazy-ass beer that should finish out Year One. Unique. Delicious. Excellent.