Saying “Goodbye” to “The Brick”

18 12 2010

Photo credit:

Today is a sad day for beer drinkers everywhere, especially me. It is the final day of The Brickskeller, that venerable Washington DC institution and mecca for beer lovers everywhere. After more than 54 years, The Brick (as it is lovingly called by its fans) will close its doors for the final time.

The Washington Post has a very good update and interview with its owner, Dave Alexander. It is an especially sad day for me. I worked at The Brickskeller for almost a year. And it is what inspired this blog. I met some of my best friends there (both human and beer alike) and I am so very sad to see it go.

Depending on whether or not you believe the hyperbole, the Brickskeller helped set the tone for modern beer culture. They claim to have been the first to host beer tastings in the late 1980’s and their final tasting was last week. They claim to have given such young upstarts as Sam from Dogfish Head the boost up they needed to become great. And nearly every beer bar on the Eastern Seaboard has at least one alumnus of The Brick on their Staff. Greg Engert of Churchkey DC is one of the most famous of the former Brick employees. His quotes have been in the Washington Post, The New York Times and on NPR. He once said that he respected The Brickskeller for being a “liquid library” teaching him everything he knows about beer. I would agree. After one year working at the Brick, I still had not tasted everything on the menu (the largest in the world according to the Guinness World Records), though I tried my damnedest.

There are a lot of reasons why the Brick went under. And I am sure no one knows exactly why. It would be easy to blame the slow economy. Others would blame mismanagement by the owners. I would like to think the Brick was done-in by its own success. When I moved to Washington DC in 2007, there were very few bars with a quality beer list. You could find some places with a couple good beers on tap. And most liquor stores and corner stores would carry the usual macrobrews. But by the time I left earlier this year, a new restaurant or bar was not taken seriously unless it had at least a dozen beers on tap. And they all had to be quality. Churchkey, with its over 30 beers on tap and six cask ales was hailed for its list. Pizza Paradiso had a beer list longer than their pizza menu. The Black Squirrel has worked to become the third brewpub in DC. The Biergarten on H St. has over a dozen German beers on tap. Meridian Pint only serves American craftbrew. And that doesn’t even count the dozens of new bars and others that have stepped up their game since I have left. Corner stores, liquor stores and grocery stores have all picked up their game as well. It is common now to find Magic Hat, Dogfish Head, and Flying Dog replacing tall boys and 40s in up and coming neighborhoods. All this in less than 3 years. When I first started at The Brick in November of 2009, DC was considered a “beer wasteland” that was starting to “get better” by a visiting brewer. By the time I left in the following Summer, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada said that DC was a “world class beer city”. Greg Koch of Stone concurred by adding “no city in California has the quantity and quality of beer that DC does.”

And so, it is with a heavy heart, I say “goodbye” to the “Brick”. The new owners have promised to keep it as a beer bar with a trimmed down menu and an improved ambiance. But the name stays with the Alexander family. I wish them the best of luck and toast the loss of a good friend.


5 Beers I am Saying “Goodbye” To For A While

9 09 2010

Earlier in the week, I posted 5 beers from the West Coast I am really excited about. You can read about them here. Today, I am sharing 5 beers I am really going to miss. These are beers from the East Coast/Mid-West that are not available here on the West Coast. It really is a bummer. But it gives me all the more reason to make it out East more often. And maybe, a good friend in the East would want to undergo an illicit beer trade with me?

1. Bell’s Beers-

Bell’s beers are amazing. How amazing? They consistently make into our best beers count downs. They almost always make our top five. Bell’s has been mentioned in our top Bocks, IPAs, and Wheats categories. They also have a boat load of other beers we have not yet reviewed. I am not sure how I will be able to tell when Spring has arrived without Oberon. Or how I will survive winter without Expedition Stout. Or how summer will be summer without Two Hearted. Bell’s is just heads and shoulders above so many beers, and I cannot get it here. What a bummer!

2. Founders Brewing

Founders is also one of my all time favorite beers. Last year, their Centennial IPA and Breakfast Stout were my number two and one favorite beers of the year respectively.  Their beers are amazing, innovative, and iconoclastic all at once. They have beautiful bottle art. And they are just well put together. In my mind, Founders can do no wrong. That is why I am so sad to see it go. I will miss you, Founders; particularly you Kentucky Breakfast Stout and your Double Trouble double IPA. Maybe someday, soon, I will make it out to Michigan and make a pilgrimage to you and Bell’s.

3. Heavy Seas-

Heavy Seas is the beer that put the “Charm” in “Charm City”. Their beers are big, playful, and tasty. The best part? The pirates. Definitely the pirates. Each beer is nautically themed (harkening back to the days when the Pirates and Buccaneers ruled the seas and the Eastern Seaboard). Their triple dry-hopped IPA did not make it on our best of Pale Ales and IPAs a few months back. And that was probably a mistake. So chewy and fully of hops, it is a deliciously big IPA. And their Imperial Stout sustained me through the Snowpocolypse a few months back. I am definitely going to miss Heavy Seas and their delicious 22 ounce Pyrate Fleet series with barrel aged barleywines, double and triple IPAs and other crazy concoctions.

4. Duck Rabbit-

They do things a little differently in the South. And for that reason, no one should be surprised by the work the Duck Rabbit brewey has been doing in North Carolina. Not quite English style ales and not quite American style ales, the malt forward but strongly hoppy beers are as enigmatic as the duck rabbit on their logo. Their Milk Stout is big, thick and black with a firm white head on its shoulders. And their brown ale has a large ammount of maple and nut but with a distinct hoppy twang of mint, spruce and citrus. All around a very interesting brewery taking charge of what they like and never apologizing for it.

5. D.G. Yuengling & Son-

Ok, So Yuengling may not be the best beer around. But it is the oldest. The Yuengling brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania is the oldest continiously running brewery in the United States. Their success relies on decent beer sold for dirt cheap. Go to any party east of the Appalachians and there is a really good bet that there will be a twelve pack of Yuengling there. Go to a show or a bar and Yuengling will be the cheapest beer there, competing against PBR for the attention of people who want cheap beer. Its not that I am going to be wanting a Yuengling, per se. Its just that sometimes, when one wants a cheap beer that does not taste like water, yuengling is the way to go.

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.

‘Tis The Season: Pale Ales and India Pale Ales

8 07 2010

There is no denying it: summer is here in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are long and hot. And the nights are short and warm. It is the ideal weather for picnics, cook outs, sitting on a porch or cafe patio and for drinking beer. Every one has their favorite beer styles for the summer. But for me, in early summer, I love pale ales and IPAs. We have already gone over the history of pale ales (both English and American) and IPAs before so we won’t go into that deep of details here. But here are three reasons why I think they can be perfect for a long, hot summer day.

Photo Credit: sashafatcat CC

1. Hops, Hops, Hops-

Since I grew up in California, it should come to no great surprise that I am a bit of a hop head. While I am less and less impressed by those monotonous hop bombs, I do love a good slap you in the face IPA. Lately, however, I have become much more impressed with a very interesting and complex IPA that has citrus, pineapple, cedar, pine, moss, spruce and other aromatics. A good, crisp pale ale with strong bubbles and a complex hop profile can be so incredibly refreshing on a hot day. And the maltiness of a well balanced pale ale can be so very satisfying.

2. Sessionable. Or not…-

American Pale Ales and IPAs tend to lean toward the low end of alcohol. Ranging from 4-8% ABV, you can have have a few and maybe a few more and still feel alright the next morning. We always advocate responsible drinking at The Thinking Persons Beer and we believe pale ales and IPAs are perfect for sense-able drinking. One can drink a few until the palate is tired and then be done. Or, if you feel so inclined, you can have some Double IPAs or Imperial IPAs. At 10-12% ABV, you can feel the buzz pretty quickly and enjoy the rest of the night that way.

3. Food Parings

Photo Credt: Sonnett CC

With the scrubbing bubbles and spicy, citrusy hops, pale ales and IPAs are nearly perfect for pairing with picnic and cook out foods. Spicy hops help balance the spice of BBQ sauce or chips and salsa. The scrubbing bubbles help cleanse the pallet from fats like potato salad, juicy hamburgers or fried chicken. Maybe you are wanting to sit on the patio of a cafe, pale ales go very well with fresh salads dressed in vinaigrette and fresh goat cheese. A grilled veggie sandwich on freshly baked sourdough toast would be perfect with a good pale ale as well. And while it may sound crazy, a bold Double IPA is a better partner for a slice of New York cheese cake as the citrus matches the vanilla of the cheese and the crispness cleanses the palate of the fattiness of the cheese.

This weekend, we will be sharing some of the best pale ales and IPAs of the year along with food parings for the summer. Which is your favorite 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

New Videocast is Up!

5 05 2010

April’s Edition is finally up. We look at the Sam Adams Summer Styles.

In it, we look at:

Sam Adams Light
Sam Adams Boston Lager
Sam Adams Pale Ale
Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA
Sam Adams Blackberry Witbier
Sam Adams Summer Ale

Tasting notes to come later in the week.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 14- India Pale Ales

4 05 2010

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, technology of the 17th century allowed for cleaner roasting processes and lighter colored malts. The pale ales, known as “bitters,” became all the rage. By the 18th century, it was considered a symbol of status to be drinking the more expensive and cleaner tasting bitters. It was also around this time that “The Sun Never Set on the British Empire.” Soldiers around the world required beer to consume as much of the water and sanitary conditions were below the standards of English gentlemen soldiers. Quickly, the British military learned that beer had a difficult time traveling the many months to the far flung colonies of England. For much of the time, the beer was in casks, on boats, in tropical regions. They attempted to make breweries in the colonies. But the tropical temperatures in India, Africa and the Caribbean were too hot to make beer in a time before refrigeration.

If a brewer could figure out how to solve this problem, he would be rich. From the time of Hildegaard of Bingen, brewers knew that hops had a preservative effect and helped beer from spoiling. George Hodgen had a beer called “October Beer” that often was aged for two years. He hypothesized that if he gave an extra dosing of hops to his October Beer, the increased alcohol and hops would help the beer survive the trip. He was correct and was soon sending casks of this October beer to thirsty soldiers in India.

Other breweries followed suit. Samuel Smith’s Brewery also began brewing exportable Pale Ales. The water source actually turned out to be perfect for the style. The hard water they received from their well and the river Burton-Upon-Trent helped accentuate the sharpness of the hops. Many breweries attempted to capitalize on the phenomenon by adding mineral salts in order to “burtonize” their water. Burtonizing is still a practice used today by brewers.

After the soldiers came home from the colonies, the clamored for the hoppy, sweet beers they were accustomed to. Hodgen and Smith both decided to brew a domestic version and began advertising them as India Pale Ales. Samuel Smith’s still refers to theirs as the original name they used, the “India Ale.” For a while, India Pale Ales )or IPAs) were all the rage in England. But by the early twentieth century, the fad had all but died out. After the fall of the British Empire and two very difficult wars that had taken their toll on England and its brewers, no one had a taste for the hoppy ales.

In the 1970’s the Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) helped resurrect many old, endangered styles. Porters, Cask Conditioned Ales and IPAs all received a big boost by this movement. As England brought back these old styles, Americans were just starting to gain a taste for things a bit more “unusual.” American brewers began bringing IPAs over to this side of the Pond. As is the case with most every beer the American’s get their hands on, they put the style on steroids and saw just how big they could go. Whereas the English had lightly increased their hopping schedule to create a sharper and stronger beer, the Americans pushed the limit by throwing as much hops into the kettle as possible.

American IPAs were bigger, stronger, and bolder. Americans began to come to like the taste of hops. By the late 1990’s to today, we saw the growth of the “hop head” those legions of beer drinkers who crave the hop. They judge the beer by the amount of IBUs and look for interesting new varieties of hops. We see the growth of double IPAs, Imperial IPAs, Double Imperial IPAs. Brewers have begun experimenting with “Dry hopping” where they put dried hops into the fermenter in order to add more hop flavor and aroma. And recently, wet hopping, where the brewers add fresh hops to the fermenter. They just keep getting bigger and bigger. And there is no sign of when or where it is going to stop.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 14- IPAs

Subcategories: English IPA, American IPA, Imperial IPA

Aroma: IPAs tend to be hop forward with a floral, spicey or citrusy note. English IPAs, due to their smaller hopping schedule and use of English hops, tend to be more floral and spicey. American and Imperial IPAs, due to their increased hopping schedule and use of American hops, tend to be more citrusy. A light biscuit or toasty maltiness is common. No yeast or diacytl should be present.

Appearance: Dark pale to copper is most common. Occasionally, an IPA may even verge on the red end. A lovely, firm white to tan head should be persistent, often with excellent lacing. Carbonation should be medium to high. Very clean and clear. Although some brewers who dry or wet hop may not filter their beers, thus leaving a slight haze to it.

Flavor: Hop forward with a pronounced bitterness and sharpness. English IPAs will have a spicy, grassy, rosy quality to them. American IPAs will have a citrusy character with hints of lemon, orange, grapefruit, and/or pineapple. They may also have a spicy character of rose, spruce, pine, or sassafras. A good, strong malt back bone should help balance the hops with toasted bread, biscuit, or sweet malt. The use of hard water helps keep the beer crisp and light without letting it fall flat. And the yeast should be very clean. A slight booziness can help clean the palate. Oak can be present in an English IPA.

Mouthfeel: Very clean, crisp and sharp. There should be a drying or astringent quality to the end. And the large carbonation should help clean the palate and leave a prickle to the tongue.

Ingredients: Pale ales with some lighter specialty malts. English hops for English IPAs and American hops for American IPAs. Burton salts to harden the water are appropriate. A clean ale yeast.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.010-1.012
SRM (Malt Color): 6-15
IBUs: 40-120

Commercial Examples:
English IPA:
Meantime India Pale Ale, Freeminer Trafalgar IPA, Fuller’s IPA, Ridgeway Bad Elf, Summit India Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s India Ale, Hampshire Pride of Romsey IPA, Burton Bridge Empire IPA,Middle Ages ImPailed Ale, Goose Island IPA, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale
American IPA: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, AleSmith IPA, Russian River Blind Pig IPA, Stone IPA, Three Floyds Alpha King, Great Divide Titan IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Victory Hop Devil, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Founder’s Centennial IPA, Anchor Liberty Ale, Harpoon IPA, Avery IPA
Imperial IPA: Russian River Pliny the Elder, Three Floyd’s Dreadnaught, Avery Majaraja, Bell’s Hop Slam, Stone Ruination IPA, Great Divide Hercules Double IPA, Surly Furious, Rogue I2PA, Moylan’s Hopsickle Imperial India Pale Ale, Stoudt’s Double IPA, Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA, Victory Hop Wallop