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.


Brewery Tour: Dogfish Head

9 06 2010

Last month I traveled to Delaware with Christine and some friends. It was a repeat of the trip we made last year that we mentioned in the review of the 120 Minute IPA last year. Unlike last year, however, we did not get lost on the way to the brewery. So we go there before the first tour of the day. Plus, we had a secret weapon. One of the employees at Dogfish Head had come to my restaurant a few weeks before and offered us a private tour.

We couldn’t pass that up. So we got to Delaware as quickly as we could. This is our tour of the Dogfish Head Brewery. In it, you will see some things that are not on the normal tour.

It begins out front. Dogfish Head had recently increased their brewery size including brand new four story tall fermentation tanks.

We walked up the front past the mailbox and to the front door.

Tours begin in the gift shop. Since we were early and had the hookups, our tour guide Josh started us at the end and started pouring us drinks.

My favorite tap handle is over on the far right side. It is kind of Steam Punk inspired to play off of one of Dogfish Head’s themes: Analog Beers in a Digital Age.

Here is a picture of me enjoying a delicious beer from the draft. I do believe it might have been the Wrath of Pecant–a pale ale made with carob, plantains and grains roasted over pecan wood. It was quite tasty.

Here is a picture of our friend Kate. Kate does not really like beer that much. But she enjoyed the Midas Touch.

After we had our samples of beer, Josh took us in the back. We had to wear these quite fashionable safety glasses.

Josh then started showing us around. First we went to the Mashtun. This is where the grains are mixed with water to make a sweet liquid called “liquor”. Here, Josh is telling us about how the spent grains are given to a local cattle rancher who then sells the Dogfish Head grain-fed beef to the brew pub for their burgers.

People who have been to Belgium may recognize this guy. Apparently he actually does work. And that is how they take testing samples of the liquor before sending it to the kettle.

Next, we saw the kettles. Next to the kettle is quite possibly one of the most important tools the Dogfish Head Brewery has. It is called Sofa King Hoppy (Say that three times fast). The Sofa King Hoppy gets filled with hops pellets and over the course of 60, 90 or 120 minutes it continuously sends hops into the beer. Resulting in an extremely smooth, complex and mellow IPA.

Next, we saw the special fermentation tanks. These tanks shown below are made with Palo Santo wood from South America. Palo Santo is the densest wood in the world. It sinks in water and it smells amazing. The brewery uses this tank to condition their Palo Santo brown ale as well as some other specialty ales. Next to the Palo Santo tanks are two American Oak tanks of the same size. Needless to say, this room smelled amazing! It is hard to understand the scale of these tanks. They hold 10,000 gallons and are the largest wooden fermentation tanks built in America after prohibition.

In the same room is the firkin filling station. Nicknamed “Johnny Cask”, this is where all the cask conditioned ales are prepared. Below is a stack of empty firkins.

Josh showed us some other things including the original keg filling machine that Sam Calagione had bought from PBR back in the early days of the brewery. Apparently, the keg fillers had to wear giant trashbags and swim goggles and the machine did not fill kegs as much as shoot beer all over the place. Then Josh took us to the main system that controlled the fermentation tanks outsides. This maze of pipes took the unfermented wort from the kettles into the fermentation tanks.

Also in this room was the dry hopping machine. Called “OOOH…Miso Hoppy” this machine shoots pressurized hop pellets into the fermentation tanks.

Next we saw the bottling line. Before this line started up, the Dogfish Head bottling line was one of the largest employers in the city. But when the new, more efficient bottling line was put in, it only required two people to run. Instead of firing every one, they stayed on as “quality control.” It was not functioning when we came. But it looked pretty cool. Like a bottle roller coaster.

Around here is also the kegging line–a far cry from the original kegging line. This one actually puts beer in the kegs with very little waste. Also, we got to see “Sam’s Secret Stash,” a room filled with aging beer that Sam Calagione gives away to friends, colleagues and at pairing dinners.

Those fermentation tanks outside are not the only ones Dogfish Head has. There is a labyrinth of tanks of various shapes and sizes that they use for smaller batch beers. And for when the big tanks just don’t cut it.

Finally, we got to see the “Dogfish Head Museum” we got to see the original Sir Hops-A-Lot, the bucket that Sam used to make the first 60 Minute IPA and the source of inspiration for Sofa King Hoppy. We also got to the original brewing system Sam used as a home brewer.

And if you were at all curious about those Dogfish Head grain-fed cows. I can tell you from experience, they are amazing! This one I got with applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and onion rings made with 60 Minute IPA.

Tasting Notes: Sam Adams Summer Styles 2010

6 05 2010

[Vimeo 11480354]

Yesterday, we posted the newest Thinking Persons Beer Video Episode where we reviewed the 2010 Sam Adams Summer Styles. Below are our tasting notes.

First we look at Sam Adams Light
Rate Beer Score: 20 Points (46 for style)

This is a surprising Light beer. The website says they spent two years and everything they knew about beer to make a truly great light beer; not just a watered down Boston Lager. I think they hit the nail right on the head. As far as light beers go, this one is very tasty. The folks at give it only a twenty (out of 100). I think that is a deflated score mostly because the type of people who would go out of their ways to score a beer just would not like any beer labeled “light” no matter who made it. A subdued maltiness is still present with a fair amount of hops. Very tasty and hardly a waste in this pack.

Appearance: Bright marmalade with white head. Large carbonation bubbles.

Aroma: Bread crust and biscuit. Hoppy middle with earthy mint. Faint amount of yeast leads to a slight metalic note.

Taste: Light and crisp. Faint malt with medium hop note. Spicy lager yeast leads to a clean, crisp, back end.

Mouthfeel: Soft and light. Watery and clean. Slight astringency.

Next, we have Sam Adams Boston Lager-
Ratebeer Score: 76 Points (98 for style)

Sam Adams Boston Lager is a classic. Quite possibly every American’s first craft beer. An American twist on the Vienna lager, it is malty with good solid hops. The Boston Brewing Company credits itself as the “savior of the Hallertauer.” I would have to do more research to see why they say that. If it was true, the beer drinking world owes a debt of gratitude to Jim Koch and the good folks at Sam Adams. The Boston Lager is an easy “go-to” beer for any picnic, bbq or party.

Appearance: Dark Orange Marmalade. Tall white head which dissipates quickly.

Aroma: Very clean and well balanced. Nothing stands out. Nice malt balanced with hallertauer earthiness.

Taste: Slight bready maltiness is balanced by a hoppy, dry back end.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a very clean finish. Crisp and dry with strong carbonation.

Number three in the lineup is Sam Adams Pale Ale-
Rate Beer Score: 43 Points (47 for style)

The label says this is an American-style pale ale. I think it is more like a bold British-style pale ale. Nice, sweet bready malts are balanced with a good snoutful of British hops like Fuggles and East Kent Goldings. A very quaffable and enjoyable pale ale. It won’t threaten a new comer. But it won’t bore a fan of American pales. This may just become a new go-to for me. I would agree with a 47 for style from But I think it deserves a few more points from the peanut gallery.

Appearance: Burnt amber with creamy white head. Nice lacing. Sparkling due to large carbonation bubbles.

Aroma: Bready malt with earthy, rich hops. Apple blossom esters.

Taste: A strong malt back bone helps support the earthy and citrusy British hops. A slight fruitiness sneaks itself in.

Mouthfeel: Prickly carbonation remains, helping clean the palate. Clean and dry.

Latitude 48 IPA-
Rate Beer Score: 58 Points (24 for style)

I pretty much bought the box for this beer. Boy was it a disappointment. The idea was great, bring together hops from all the greatest hop growing regions (Germany, England, and the Pacific North West) to make a kicking IPA. But somewhere between conception and execution (the name of my early-1990’s metal band, BTW) some one lost their nerve. This beer lands flat. There is virtually no hop nose to speak of and the bitterness is lacking. This beer is lack luster at best and bland at worst. Plus, I was picking up a slight umami, cheesy note on the back end that makes me question how fresh of hops they could have been.

Appearance: Dull copper with gold highlights. Bright white head with good lacing.

Aroma: Slight salty, umami seaweed and faint ammonia/cat piss. Both hops and malt are surprisingly absent for something called an “IPA.”

Taste: Slight bitterness on the back end. But taste overall reflects aroma.

Mouthfeel: Light and crisp. Very little carbonation.

We quickly move on to the Blackberry Witbier-
Rate Beer Score: 38 Points (63 for Style)

This beer stopped me in my tracks. Just seeing it on the box made me rethink this entire series all together. But I really wanted to try that IPA (Joke’s on me, I guess). People often order this at work. And the moment I open the bottle, I am overpowered by sickingly sweet blackberry. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against fruit in my beer on principle. I really like Belgian witts and fruit lambics. I dig the Dogfish head Aprihop and the Magic Hat #9. And the New Glaris Cherry Stout is an ultimate game changer, in my book. There are plenty of fruit flavored beers I love and cherish. This one is not one of them, though. I cannot count how many nearly full empty bottles of this witbier that I have taken away from tables. But let me get to this point. I do not like this beer.

Appearance: Hazy yellow/orange with an off white head. Head is thick but dissipates quickly.

Aroma: Monotonous blackberry. Artificial blackberry. Smells chemically, like cough syrup.

Taste: See Aroma above.

Mouthfeel: Creamy and smooth. Surprisingly not cloying with a clean end.

We end on a high note with Sam Adams Summer Ale-
Rate Beer Score: 46 Points (83 for Style)

This is a pretty standard Belgian-style witt. It has the orange peel. It has the coriander. It also has Grains of Paradise; an African spice used in some wheat beers. It adds a lovely spicy quality to the beer that is otherwise very creamy and smooth. This beer would be very refreshing for a hot summer day when one wants something light and spicy. An excellent introduction into the world of wheat beers that knocks the socks off of some other wheat beers brewed by larger breweries.

Appearance: Golden and bright. Surprisingly clear for a wheat ale. Strong head dissipates quickly.

Aroma: Malty with a spicy top note of citrus and Grains of Paradise.

Taste: A refreshing wheat maltiness with a slight bready sweetness. Citrus peel and Grains of Paradise help make the wheat more complex.

Mouthfeel: Silky, wheaty and smooth. With a sparkly back end.

That is all for the Sam Adams Summer Styles. There are some hits and some misses. It is worth taking to a party or cookout because it is cheap and there are a lot of things in there for different people. But if just buying for yourself and a loved one, you can move on to something a little bit more interesting; like next month’s video blog: Flying Dog Variety Pack!

Photo Credit: adamr.stone CC

Better Know A Beer Mag: Brew Your Own Magazine

18 03 2010

Brew Your Own Magazine

Brew Your Own: The How-To Homebrew Beer Magazine
March/April 2010 Edition
Independently Published

Overall Feel: I have been brewing for almost as long as I have been drinking beer. And I have been reading this magazine off-and-on for almost as long as that. This magazine is definitely not for the feint of heart. Nor is it for the run of the mill beer drinker. This is for that strange and wonderous member of the beer consumption community: the homebrewer. This month’s cover looks innocent enough. There is a pretty woman on a bike with a beer in her hand. And a headline: “6 Great Bicycle Themed  Beers Cloned”. To clone a beer is to attempt to recreate a commercially brewed beer at home. It takes great skill, creativity and a almost fanatical appreciation of ingredients. It is almost like saying, “Prego spaghetti sauce is good. I wonder if I could recreate it myself.” There are also articles called “Master Dry Hopping”: the practice of fermenting in hops. And “Build Your Own Tap Handle”. Unless you want to brew, there may be little here for you. But for brewers, it is nothing short of heaven.

Articles: There is a monthly feature where brewers send in pictures of their brewery set ups. Shiny pots, pans, copper tubing, Bunson burners, turkey fryers, keg-a-rators, all lovingly and painstakingly welded and tied together. There is an in depth conversation on the Lovibond Scale–The rating of toasting that malts receive. There is a question on how one brewer can refine his potato-based beer. As well as the articles mentioned on the cover, there is a look at how to improve head retention that goes down to the molecular level and includes physics equations. A homebrewer apprentices at his local brewery to find out, exactly, what he is missing from the Big Show (the answer: a lot more hard work, math, and precision). There is also a very convincing article encouraging brewers to become certified beer judges through the BJCP. (Ed. Note: The BJCP is where we get all the information for our Better Know Your Beer Style column). Unlike other beer magazines, no one can claim this magazine does not go deep enough.

Pictures: This magazine is made by home brewers for home brewers. For that reason, the pictures are not stellar. Most of them are done by amateur photographers with their digital cameras. There are no “sexy” bottle shots are sweat speckled pints. Instead, it is earnest shots of brew pots, mash tuns, grain mills, and fermenters. Now, if you are into that sort of thing, you will find it great. But for the average beer drinker, a pot is a pot. And there is no difference between one that boils beer and one that boils soup.

Highlights: In this case, “Highlights” is a relative term. As this blog is dedicated to the average thinking person, we will focus on things any one can get behind.

  • BYO recognizes the existence of women beer brewers and drinkers. They attempt us gender neutral language whenever possible. And interview some women brewers. The woman on the front cover looks like she is legitimately enjoying her beer, instead of being a prop to attract men readers.
  • Even for non-brewers, the 6 cloned bicycle themed beers is pretty cool. To be able to see all the different details that goes into a New  Belgium Fat Tire is pretty interesting. Even if you don’t know the difference between Munich Malt and Carapils Malt.
  • The article on becoming a brewer’s intern is sweet. And any one who appreciates good beer will come away with a new appreciation on how difficult it can be to make it.


  • The only main low point is the fact that this magazine is not for every one. Unless you brew, it is very difficult to get excited about stainless steel kettles and gas lines. Likewise, do you really want to read three pages on how to improve head retention if you are only going to see the end point?

Who is the Magazine Good For?: It should seem obvious by now. This magazine is not for any one. It is for the brewer who wants to step up their game to the next level and enjoys reading about their hobby.

Rating: 4 out of 5. Fun read for the right target. For a free issue of BYO, please visit.

Brewery Tour: Yazoo Brewing Company

3 02 2010

For Christmas, I went down to Nashville, Tennessee with Christine to visit my family. While we were there, we went on the brewery tour at Nashville’s own Yazoo Brewing Company. It was a great time!

Founded in 2003 by Linus and Lila Hall, Yazoo Brewing is one of Nashville’s best. The small brewery sits in the old Marathon car factory on the southwest side of the city. Linus is the brewmaster and holds a degree in brewing from American Craftbrewers Guild and held an internship at the Brooklyn Brewery where he apprenticed under one of my heroes, Garret Oliver.

Brewery tours are are on Saturday afternoons. They begin in the taproom. Here you can grab a pint, have a growler filled or have a beer sampler. My folks, Chrisitne and I shared a sampler and compared our favorites. Linus welcomes the participants and invites them into the brewery.The tour begins with Linus explaining what beer is. He grabs a growler full of beer and begins pouring beer into everybody’s pint glasses that come with the tour.

Yazoo’s flagship beer is the Dos Perros Ale, a Vienna lager inspired ale. It has a sweet malty front end with rich biscuity and deep amber middle finished with a crisp, hop-dryness, this beer is incredibly well rounded. Linus then grabs a big handful of the Munich malt that makes the base of the grain bill. He invites every one to grab some grain and chew on it until it becomes sweet. He then encourages every one to take a sip of the Dos Perros while tasting the malt. One can really place the Munich malt in the beer after chewing on the malt.

Linus then takes every one over to the mash tun and kettle where he explains about hops. When Yazoo first started, it was just a few years before the great hops shortage of ’07. Without having a concrete relationship with hops growers and producers, Linus had to deal with what he could find. Having an inconsistent supply of hops along with a homebrewer’s background and a young brewery gave Linus a certain amount of freedom in his hoppier beers. That is when Linus came up with the IPA project. Each batch of IPA is different from the previous batch. And with the added benefit of having a small group of  die hard group of fans, Linus gets real, honest feedback on how each batch fairs. Now that the hop shortage is over, Linus is able to tinker and tool around and really have fun trying new things out for his fans.

After passing around samples of Hop Project 25, Linus passed around a pint glass filled with the same hops used in the beer. Here is a picture of Christine smelling the hops.

After every one smells the hops, Linus takes the tour to the fermenting tanks where he talks about yeast and Yazoo’s GABF Gold Metal Winning hefeweizen. Bright, light, and golden, the hefeweizen has a distinct orange and clover aroma to it, almost like a fresh orange honey. The creamy head has a slight iron

The tanks are big! They are about 12 feet tall. They hold about 150 gallons total. For a lot of breweries, that is not a lot. But from my homebrewer’s standpoint, they were massive. Linus told us that the original Yazoo site is being handed over to a local microstill. The folks who are taking over the location will be distilling small batches of whiskey and other spirits. Yazoo will be moving to a new, larger location downtown. The distillery will be using the same fermenters that Yazoo uses now. Linus then takes the tour past the kegging station where beer gets packaged for local brew pubs, bars and restaurants.

The tour concludes at the bottling station. This is where the beer gets bottled and labeled for local beer stores and grocery stores. It is a short tour. But it is intimate. And it is really neat that the owner and brewer takes time out of his busy schedule to show people around. Next time you are in Nashville, take an afternoon to visit Yazoo Brewing Company and check out their tour.