5 Beers I Cannot Wait For In California

6 09 2010

The last few weeks have been quiet here at The Thinking Person’s Beer. My fiance and I have been packing up all of our worldly posessions and shipping them across the country. We have moved from DC to the Bay Area. It has been a bit gruelling, both emotionally and physically. And I have not had a lot of time to be posting. But we are in California now and getting settled in. One of the things that got me through the trip was knowing that there are so many great breweries to explore here on the West Coast that we cannot get on the East Coast. Here, I am going to share five breweries I cannot wait to try now that I am here. Tomorrow we will list five more that we will be leaving behind in the East.

5 Beers I Cannot Wait For:

1. Russian River-

With Pliney The Elder and Pliney the Younger, Supplecation and other amazing beers we cannot find on the East Coast, I am really excited to give them all a try. The folks who revolutionized barrel aged beers as well as incorporating souring bugs, are kind of a Holy Grail for beer geeks. A friend brought me a bottle of Supplecation for me a few months ago–soured with Brett and cherries, it was so amazingly deep and thought provoking, I cannot wait to see what else they can do. I have already seen Pliney The Elder on draft at a local brew pub. It blew my mind when I saw it.

2. Full Sail/Session-

We’ve mentioned Full Sail before for their enviromental practices. But I am most excited about their low alcohol “session” lager which comes in these cool 11oz stubbies with Rock Paper Sissors themed bottle caps. A six pack is perfect to split with a friend. Loser (best two out of three) treats the winner to the next six pack. Session may just become my new “go-to” beer for parties and get togethers. Sometimes, there are few things as satisfying and refreshing as a well made session lager.



3. Alaskan Brewing-

Alaskan Brewing:West Coast::Dogfish Head:East Coast. Ubiquitous, off-kilter, solidly brewerd beers that rightfully earn a cult status and a bunch of awards. Their Alderwood Smoked Porter is a thing of legend. And I am definitely looking foward to trying all of these beers.

4. Lost Coast-

Other than Alaskand and New Belgium, this is possibly one of the most sought after “we don’t carry that here” beer in DC. Their Downtown Brown is well balanced, leaning toward an English Brown but never forgetting its American Roots. I am super interested in trying this and its whole line of beers from that capital of mind altering substances–Humbolt County.

5. New Belgium- 

When it comes to New Belgium, I am not a hater. But neither am I an acolyte. I am just not that impressd by Fat Tire. Their version of a Belgian Pale Ale is tasty, but I think there are a bunch out there that are much tastier, including De Konnick and Palm. But I did like Erik’s Ale when I tried it and I am interested in trying some of their other beers, including their Organic Belgian White and their Ranger IPA.

Tomorrow, we will be sharing the 5 beers I will be saying “Goodbye” to for a while as they are not available on the West Coast.


Friday Open Comments: What’s On Your Mind?

6 08 2010

Photo Credit: Zooey_

It’s Friday! Belly up to the bar and tell us what’s on your mind. What are you excited about this weekend? What has you down? Drink any good beers lately? Do you have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Any ideas for future blog posts?

I Bet I “Can”!

4 08 2010

Several times now, we have been praising the lowly beer can. We have become “canvangelists” and promoting beer in a can whenever possible. The benefits are great and the costs are low. The benefits are as follows:

  • They cost less than glass
  • They break less often
  • They weigh less than glass (resulting in less expensive shipping costs and a smaller carbon footprint)
  • No skunking
  • They get colder faster and stay that way longer
  • They are easier to recycle
  • The beer inside stays fresher, longer

People are hesitant about drinking beer from a can. People of an older generation may remember beer cans when they were tin. They remember the tinny, rusty flavors they imparted to the beer. But those days are over. The inside of the beer can is now coated in a plastic epoxy that prevents metallic tastes from entering the can. And even people who never drank beer from the old design may be hesitant as they associate beer in a can with cheap, uninspiring American lagers. But in the short time since Oskar Blues introduced craft beer in a can, the trend has taken off. And I have wagered with several tables a beer that I can name more delicious craft beers in a can than they can name cheap, uninspiring beers in a can. I even offer to let them count malt liquor. I have yet to have any one take me up on that bet. But I am going to prove my point here, today. Let us begin with the bland, cheap, uninspiring beers that most people associate with beer in a can.

Uninspiring Beers (By Brewery):

  • Anheuser-Busch

Bud Light
Bud Ice
Bud Ice Light
Busch Beer
Busch Light
Busch Ice
Hurricane High Gravity
Hurricane Ice
Hurricane Malt Liquor
King Cobra
Natural Light (Natty Light)
Natural Ice (Natty Light)
O’Doul’s N/A
Busch’s N/A

Total: 15

  • F.X. Matt

Utica Club

Total: 1

Photo Credit: Totsie 14 CC

  • Heinekin International Brewers

Heinekin Light
Tecate Light

Total: 4

  • Molson/Miller/Coors Brewing Company

Miller Genuine Draft
Miller High Life
Miller Light
Sharp’s Miller
Coors’ Banquet Beer
Coors’ Light
Keystone Light
Magnum 22 Malt Liquor
Milwaukee’s Best
Milwaukee’s Best Light
Mickey’s Malt Liquor
Olde English “800” Malt Liquor
Red Dog
Steel Reserve 211

Total: 18

  • Pabst Brewing

Colt 45 Malt Liquor
Lone Star
National Bohemian (Natty Bo)
Old Milwaukee
Old Milwaukee Light
Old Milwaukee Ice
Old Style
Pabst Blue Ribbon
Pabst Blue Ribbon Light
Schlitz Malt Liquor

Total: 13

Grand Total: 51

And now we go on to focus on Craft beer and decent corporate beers. (Big, Big, Big Thanks to CraftCans.com for pretty much doing all the work for me.) According to CraftCans.com, there are currently 117 craft brewers in the world who are putting their beers in a can! They have a grand total of 283 individual beers in a can. That is more than 5 times the amount of beers in a can that the Big Boys are doing. And that is not even counting the very tasty beers in a can that corporate giants like A-B and Diagio are doing. If we included Guinness (Diagio), Boddington’s (A-B), Tetley’s, Belhaven Scottish Ale into the list, we are nearly at 290 tasty beers in a can. Let’s even say that my list above is incomplete. Let’s say, I happened to have forgotten or missed some 10 more uninspiring light American lagers, we are still nowhere near the amount of great beers that come in cans.

Still not convinced that great beers come in a can? Here is a list of some excellent breweries that have begun canning their beers.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Avery Brewing
Brooklyn Brewing
Caldera Brewing
Cisco Brewers
Harpoon Brewery
Lancaster Brewing Company
Maui Brewing Company
New Belgium Brewing Company
Oskar Blues Brewery
Pyramid Brewery
Saranac Brewing Company
Ska Brewing Company
Sly Fox Brewing Company
Spoetzel Brewery
Surley Brewing Company

Those are all some rather well known and highly acclaimed beers. Why would a brewery risk its reputation and profits on a beer can if they did not think it would help the bottom line?

Friday Open Comments: What’s On Your Mind?

30 07 2010

Photo Credit: Ana Salopek CC

It’s Friday! Belly up to the bar and tell us what’s on your mind. What are you excited about this weekend? What has you down? Drink any good beers lately? Do you have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Any ideas for future blog posts?

Beer as Conceptual Art

29 07 2010

Conceptionalism is nothing new in the American Craft Brew Scene. Even in the early days, Mendocino was naming all their beers after local birds. Flying Dog names all their beers with dog related puns and hires Ralph Steadman to design their labels. Most brewers in America came from the DIY aesthetic of the homebrew community. The results are nontraditional beers brewerd with nontraditional ingredients and by nontraditional practices. From this we have things like a quadruply dry-hopped Imperial IPA called Pliney the Elder; a pumpkin beer conditioned in a firkin made out of giant pumpkin; and a beer that features ingredients from every continent.

Schmaltz Brewing makes two very popular concept lines: the Jewish themed He’Brew and the Coney Island line of lagers: all named after acts in the freak show. At least two breweries have pirate theme lines. Dogfish Head, along with making the above mentioned Pangaea ale also makes a line of ancient beers and has made a beer dedicated to Miles Davis. This particular beer joins other beers dedicated to Thelonious Monk and other musicians like Frank Zappa.

With this long tradition of high concept beers, it should come to no great surprise that a brewer has used their beer as a forum for meta commentary on the current state of brewing. Brew Dog’s owners call themselves the Brew Punks and they wear the mantle well. Adopting a Devil-may-care attitude and an aesthetic of the anarchic, DIY, underground punk scene, their beers are joyfully irreverent. Their original line of beers were simple but with a daring edge. Their 3 A.M. Saint is a deliciously hoppy red ale. But they began to gain people’s attention when their 13% Imperial Stout called “Tokyo*” (dedicated to the 1980’s video game Space Invaders) was banned for having to much alcohol in England. Their response was a 1% ABV beer called “Nanny State”. The twist: this non-alcoholic beer has over 100 IBUs- A blindingly bitter FU! to the British Government.

As the eyes of the beer world trained in on them, Brew Dog’s follow up was 32% ABV Icebeer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin. They stepped into the extreme challenge by topping Sam Adam’s Utopias which previously held the record at 27%. In the video below, one can see the process in which they made the penguin. It also begins to show the formulation of the Beer Punk aesthetic: Giant Penguin costumes, nudity, and a healthy dose of irreverence.

This beer won them fame and a lucrative distribution contract to the States. By the time Mainstream America heard about Brew Dog, there was already backlash. Some considered their work as silly. While others thought the Brew Punks were opportunistic.

Love them or hate them, Brew Dog has left its mark on the beer world. When a German brewery threatened to steal their title, they responded with Sink the Bismark; a 41% Ice beer that referenced England’s chilly history with Germany.

For many, this seemed like the last straw. Even this editor fell into the backlash. As more and more people clamored for these ridiculously strong beers, terms like “over-hyped”, “fadish” and “self-promoting’ were thrown around. Until this week…

Brew Dog has released their Coup d’Etat with the The End of History. They have announced their final blow in the extreme beer wars. At 110 Proof (55% ABV), the beer rivals whiskey in strength. Not quite beer. Not quite a spirit. They have made their own hybrid. Just as Yves Klein designed and trademarked his own shade of blue, Brew Dog has perfected their own form of alcohol. This bleeding edge beer doesn’t come in just any bottle. This beer comes in a taxidermy rodent. Yes, that is right. This beer comes in road kill. And that is exactly what won me back to the side of Brew Dog. In a sweeping blow to the establishment, they have made their own liquor and served it up in a dead animal. All this for a price tag of $700!

In a day in age, where beer has become trendy and people collect bottles and trade them and sell them on-line, Brew Dog simultaneously created a collectible bottle and made a commentary on the ridiculousness of collecting bottles. Reading the comments on news stories and the End of History webpage, one gets the distinct impression that many people just don’t get it. There are talks of Brew Dog “Jumping the Shark” or “not being fair.” The haters are back, saying this beer is “gimmicky” or that they are “out for a quick buck.” But there is nothing “gimmicky” about well executed conceptual art.

Using organic matter for modern art has been used before. The famous DaDa artist Piero Manzoni submitted his own canned feces as an art piece. Joseph Beuys often incorporated animal pelts in his work. In 1965, he performed a piece called “How to Explain Pictures of a Dead Hare” in which he locked himself in an art gallery, covered his face with honey and cradled a dead hare.  In 1974, he even donned animal skins and locked himself in a room with a wild coyote. A few years back, there was a famous conflict in New York over a painting of the Virgin Mary made out of a collage of pornographic images and elephant dung. And Sam Pompas has begun selling jars of jam made from Lady Dianna’s hair.

Brew Dog may be silly and irreverent, but they do it with wit and intelligence. Just the name: The End of History references a political theory book about the transition of power from royalty to the people. If history is the recording of political structure, then democracy, in its purest form, is the end of history. If this beer has moved out of the realm of beer into some sort of non-beer, then this is the end of beer history. They could have named it something silly, but instead, they named it something with nuance and hidden meaning that the average person would not understand.

Many artists and performers have used irreverence as the medium for their message. And in these cases, the medium is the message. In the 1970’s, glam rockers like David Bowie and Elton John brought the debate over gender and sexuality to a whole new level by blurring and blending genders and sexuality into a melange of ambiguity. Lady Gaga is reminding a new generation of the need to question gender paradigms. Frank Zappa pioneered pre-punk by blending jazz, rock and avant-garde into something totally unheard of; sparking other genres of music.

Many brewers have brought their beers to a level of fine art, rivaling some of the finest wines and liquors. But we finally have the conceptual artists on the fringe reminding us not to take things so seriously. We need more “bad boys of brewing” who will remind us: hey, its just beer! Don’t take yourselves too seriously. And if you don’t have $700 to spend on beer that comes in a squirrel, its no big deal. Because, honestly, the joke is on the people who do.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 19- Strong Ales

27 07 2010

Better Know Your Beer Style had taken a month long hiatus precisely for one reason: it has been very hot here and the idea of even writing about strong ales grossed me out. But tonight is relatively cool and we are on the home stretch, so today we present Category 19 of the BJCP: Strong Ales.

Strong Ales seem relatively generic of a term, especially as it comes hot on the heels of Belgium Strong Ales. In modern terms, strong ales refer to the strongest ales a brewery makes. However, in these days of Imperial Russian Stouts and Double IPAs, a strong ale needs to come from a specific tradition in order to count. In this case, it is English Old Ales: beers designed to be aged.

These beers tend to be higher in gravity (both alcohol and sugars are increased) and will often show some signs of aging–Brett, oxidation and/or earthy, leather-like notes. The increased gravity makes these beers ideal for aging (much like a fine wine).

In England, the term “old ale” is quite common. But in the United States, the term “Winter Warmer” is much more common. These beers are often seasonally available–particularly in the late autumn to late winter. The late Beer Hunter Michael Jackson once described old ales as “… a warming beer of the type that is best drunk in half pints by a warm fire on a cold winter’s night”.

There is some debate as to whether or not the distinction between “old ale” and “barleywine” is true and fast or if the terms can be interchangeable. While the BJCP shows that a barleywine has a higher ABV and higher gravity, Martyn Cornell says that distinction is relatively recent. Traditionally, these strong ales were brewed in English manors by the wealthy aristocracy. The story as to why barleywines were created is a bit fuzzy (possibly because of an attempt to place historical significance to a modern term). Perhaps the English aristocrats, wishing to be more like their French counterparts ordered their butlers to make a wine from local barley to rival that of any French Bordeaux. Or possibly it came out of the English aristocrats wanting to show their disdain for their French counterparts and refusing to drink any French wines at all. Either way, nearly every manor butler had their own recipe for a wine made out of grains.

As is the case with most American attempts at English styles, American brewers began brewing their barleywines with local ingredients. The result is a barleywine that is rich in hoppiness throughout. A distinction has been made between English style barleywines and American barleywine-style ales. It may not be a legal appellation. But it is pretty darn close.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 19- Strong Ales

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad

Sub-Categories: Old Ales, English Barleywines, American Barleywine-style Ales.

Aroma: Malt forward with notes of caramel, dried fruit, grape, nuts, toffee, some warm booziness resembling port or sherry is appropriate. Low to no buttery esters. Often the aroma mellows with age.

Appearance: Light honey to dark russet in color. Carbonation so low, it almost appears still. Slight, dissociating head. May keep “legs” instead of lacing due to high sugar content.

Flavor: Strong malt forwardness although American ales will often have an apparent hop bitterness. Old ales may have an aged quality of Brett as well as some apparent, but not hot, booziness. Taste should be an echo of the nose with notes of nuts, toffee, caramel, dried fruit and medium hop bitterness. All of this mellows with age.

Mouthfeel: Chewy and sticky. Light carbonation to help balance the sweetness. But overall very full-bodied and rich.

Ingredients: Generous amounts of grain. Many of which may be specialty grains. Adjuncts, particularly sugar, are often used to help up ABV. In the case of English barleywines, English and Continental hops are used. While Americans use high alpha American hops. A characterful yeast (usually English or American) is used–preferably one that can withstand high ABV.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.015-1.030
SRM (Malt Color): 8-22
IBUs: 3-120
ABV: 6-12%

Commercial Examples:
Old Ales:
Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Burton Bridge Olde Expensive, Marston Owd Roger, Greene King Olde Suffolk Ale , J.W. Lees Moonraker, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale, Theakston Old Peculier (peculiar at OG 1.057), Young’s Winter Warmer, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, Fuller’s 1845, Fuller’s Old Winter Ale, Great Divide Hibernation Ale, Founders Curmudgeon, Cooperstown Pride of Milford Special Ale, Coniston Old Man Ale, Avery Old Jubilation

English Barleywines: Thomas Hardy’s Ale, Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes Old Ale, J.W. Lee’s Vintage Harvest Ale, Robinson’s Old Tom, Fuller’s Golden Pride, AleSmith Old Numbskull, Young’s Old Nick (unusual in its 7.2% ABV), Whitbread Gold Label, Old Dominion Millenium, North Coast Old Stock Ale (when aged), Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot

American Barleywine-Style Ales: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Great Divide Old Ruffian, Victory Old Horizontal, Rogue Old Crustacean, Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine, Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale, Anchor Old Foghorn, Three Floyds Behemoth, Stone Old Guardian, Bridgeport Old Knucklehead, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, Lagunitas Olde GnarleyWine, Smuttynose Barleywine, Flying Dog Horn Dog

Monday Beer News Round-Up

26 07 2010

Austin, TX- A company that specializes in bottling equipment has announced the first ever silicone bottle cap. The caps are reusable and act as a way to keep carbon dioxide in and dirt out. Patent is currently pending and they retail for $12.99 for 6. They fit all standard sized beer bottles and are dishwasher safe.

Washington, DC- The Beer Institute, whose members are brewers, retailers and distributors, doubled their Q2 lobbying spending from the quarter before to a $250,000. Money was spent to promote new laws on Federal Excise taxes (the tax brewers pay on their final product) as well as labeling standards and commerce policies. New laws proposed this quarter could explain the rise in lobbying as well as the annual brewers convention in Washington DC in June.

Chicago, IL- A month ago, we mentioned that President Obama fulfilled his beer bet with the UK’s Prime Minister over the U.S. v. England World Cup Match with a bottle of Goose Island 312. Apparently, that Presidential shout-out has helped increase the sales of “the Urban Wheat”. A spokesperson said that sales for 312 have grown to become the most popular beer Goose Island has. When the Prime Minister was asked how he liked the beer, he responded by saying while he enjoys his beers at a warmer temperature, he took the President’s advice to drink it cold. He enjoyed it so much, the Prime Minister apparently cheered for Germany during their game against Argentina.

Fraserburgh, Scotland- The fellas at Brew Dog have put an end to the extreme ABV challenge with their newest beer “The End of History.” Clocking in at an outrageous 55% (110 proof), this Ice-frozen Belgian Blonde made with Juniper berries and Scottish Highlands grasses is now the world record holder for the strongest beer in the world. Brew Dog made only 11 bottles that have all been sold for more than $700 a piece. On top of that, each bottle is decorated with a reconstructed taxidermy road killed rodent (some wearing clothing). Named after a Japanese post-modern political text about democracy and anarchy, this beer is a mini-treatise on the state of brewing.