Dock Street Walker – A Beer Not Reviewed (leaving that to the real Walking Dead)

About a year ago I wrote a “somewhat sarcastic” and critical post about what I saw as a troubling trend towards craft brewer’s use of more and more outrageous ingredients.  Thankfully, “Howard Stern Meets Craft Brewing. Enter The Era of Shock Brews” appeared to have made a difference.  Apparently the seventeen or so people who read it were the exact seventeen or so that would otherwise have brewed something slightly despicable.  They reconsidered after bowing to the force of my reason and observations.  I saved craft brewing with a few pictures, a string of adjectives, and a wireless keyboard.

And then this happened…..

 

A new low in shock brewing?

A new low in shock brewing?

Apparently that eighteenth reader was the one that got away.  When I first heard about a beer brewed with smoked goat brains I assumed it was a bit of interwebz malarky.  A premature April Fools joke on the craft beer community.  Not so lucky.  This beer actually exists and can seemingly be acquired without having to recite a secret phrase to the craft beer manager at the rear alley loading dock entrance of your favorite bottle shop.  Apparently bull testicles and beard yeast weren’t outlandish enough for Philadelphia’s Dock Street Brewery, and otherwise well-respected and established outfit that’s anything but extreme.  Odd.  Its not as though these City of Brotherly Love Brewers are the American equivalents of the Scottish loons at Brew Dogsinfamous brewers of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, the world’s strongest beer and only one “bottled” in a squirrel carcass (or something like that).

It seems the boys at Dock Street are devotes of AMC’s The Walking Dead and thought up this mind numbing recipe to coincide with the airing of the season finale.  It’s not as though craft beer and pop culture haven’t collaborated before.  Ommegang has already done two brews for HBO’s Game Of Thrones (the current Take The Black Stout is a well crafted, complex but accessible stout that would be worth a pour even if it was associated with H.R. Pufnstuf).  And then there was that Hanson Brothers MMMHop IPA.  Or was there? Did they ever get that off the ground or have they been too focused on training for an eventual invitation to appear on Dancing With The One Hit Wonders?

Maybe its just me but I think brewing with roasted goat brains makes about as much sense as Yul Brynner nailing a series of Taylor Swift hair flips.  And before you go there, I’d say the same thing if they were using candied goat brains. I tried to fight the windmill but, alas, the battle is lost.  Since it appears as though shock and grotesque gimmick brews are here to stay I figured I’d toss out a couple of ideas:

Extreme Brewing Fermenter

Extreme Brewing Fermenter

Staying with the anatomical theme, how about a Surgical Waste Saison fermented in used medical waste buckets?  No need to pitch any yeast.  Plenty of naturally occurring, wild yeast strains already partying in the goo.  Looking for something a little darker to pair with a hearty burger of slab of BBQ ribs?  Can’t beat this:

Those aren't hop sacks

Those aren’t hop sacks

Yes, its finally here.  Diaper Genie Baby Poo Porter.  Chocolate malt entirely optional given the robust deep dark hues imparted by the brewing process.  Variants could be fermented with Gerber Peas, Chicken Mush, Organic Carrots, you name it.  The baby food aisle’s the limit!

Unfortunately, there may be no end to this madness.  Fortunately; however, there’s always Bud Light.  I’d take one of those over brains (in my beer) any day.

Cheers!

Event Review – Fair Food Philly’s 10th Anniversary Brewer’s Plate Event 2014

Reflections of Brewers Plate

Reflections of Brewers Plate

So I’m minding my own business two weeks ago (something I do far more often than many are willing to believe) when G-LO lets me know that he’s been invited to attend Fair Food Philly’s gala 10th Anniversary Brewer’s Plate Event at the Kimmel Center.  He and Limpd attended and raved about it the last two years, but scheduling conflicts prevented either of them from taking advantage of this year’s invitation.  That was about to become a problem for me because I was being asked to pinch hit for the Booze Dancers by attending as a VIP to review the event.  Honored and intrigued by the prospect I gladly accepted the invitation … and the challenge.  You see, the last event of this type I attended was the Atlantic City Craft Beer Festival some years ago with Chef Robert Irvine of Dinner/Restaurant Impossible fame.  Let’s just say that spending a day with him sampling our way through various brewer’s and restaurant’s offerings was hysterical but not something I felt I needed to repeat.

And then there’s that cheese thing.  G-LO and virtually everyone who’s spent more than a few minutes with me is well aware of my issues with cheese (and with more than a handful of other supposedly edible foods – believe me, Rain Man and his eight fish sticks have nothing on me).  I wrote about my fatwa with all things cheese in Full Frontal Fromage so there’s no point in getting into it here other than to acknowledge that my pre-event research revealed that Brewer’s Plate would showcase many local artisinal cheeses.  Never fear.  On occasion, I’m modestly capable of exercising sound judgment in the face of a clear and present gouda and this was one of those times.  I’d enlisted the expert assistance of my lovely wife who, surprisingly, doesn’t share my fear or opinions regarding cheese.  Time to experience the Brewer’s Plate in all of its glory.

Beads of sweat began to form on my furrowed brow and I was starting to form complete thoughts in my mind that ended in prepositions.  A sure sign of an impending panic attack as I waited in line (first in line, actually) to enter the Kimmel Center.  Biej entertained the VIPs, including Epikur’s Writer of the Year, Tara Nurin, with some well executed acoustic tunes to set the mood before the doors opened.  Once inside it was wow at first sight!  The Kimmel Center is a stunning example of design and architecture.  A festival of Mexican hairless dogs and their owners (well some of them) would look great in this space.  Fortunately none of the attendees needed to negotiate any of those hideous canines because Fair Food Philly had something else to showcase. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” is one of the the themes of the Brewer’s Plate and that theme was beautifully showcased throughout the evening.  In Fair Food Philly’s own words:

The Brewer’s Plate is the great-grand-pappy of the beer and food pairing movement in Philadelphia – one of the first to introduce the region’s blossoming throngs of foodies and beer geeks to the concept. And, like most things, we continue to get better with age.  No other annual event maintains an unwavering commitment to “buy fresh, buy local” while bringing together our region’s outstanding chefs, farmers, food artisans, brewers, distillers, and winemakers for the benefit of the most discerning critics, bloggers and guests.  Brewer’s Plate attendees enhance their knowledge of the local food scene by sampling, attending breakout sessions, and directly interacting with vendors and sponsors. Our 10th Anniversary (#BP10) Celebration will be the best yet, jam-packed with celebrity guests, exclusive beers, amazing pairings, and much more – located at one of the best venues in the city!

After three hours of sampling many of the offerings, covering every inch of all three levels, and chatting with like-minded local craft beer geeks, foodies, bloggers, and professional writers, I have to say the Fair Food Philly team nailed it.  Philadelphia has a long and enviable craft beer and fine food culture and many of the brewers, chefs, chocolatiers, and, yes, cheese maker/purveyors who contribute to that reputation were on hand.  Here’s a list of this year’s participants:

EATS

Abbaye, Alla Spina, Amada, Bar Ferdinand, Barren HIll Tavern, Birchrun Hill Farm, Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse, Brauhaus Schmitz, Capogiro Gelato, Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen, Cherry Grove Farm, Choptank Oyster Company, City Tap House, DiBruno Brothers, Distrito, Doe Run Farm, Donna & Company Artisanal Chocolates, El Camino Real, Eclat Chocolate, Epic Pickles, Fair Food Farmstand, Fette Sau, Field House, Franklin Fountain, Garces Catering, Garces Trading Company, Iron Hill Brewery, J.G. Domestic, John & Kira’s, Khyber Pass Pub, London Grill, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, Night Kitchen Bakery, Philly Bread, Rosa Blanca, Russet, South Philly Tap Room, Southwark, The Belgian Cafe, Tinto, Tria, Varga, Victory Brew Pub, Village Whiskey, Weckerly’s Ice Cream, White Dog Cafe & Wild Flour Bakery

DRINKS

Angry Orchard, Barren Hill, Boxcar Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Conshohocken Brewery, Dock Street Brewing ,Dogfish Head Brewery, Earth, Bread & Brewery, Evil Genius, Fegley’s Brew Works, Forest and Main Brewing Company, Frecon’s Cidery, Free Will Brewing, Iron Hill Brewery, Lancaster Brewing Company, Mugshots Coffeehouse, Neshaminy Creek, Nodding Head, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Philadelphia Distilling, Prism Beer, River Horse, Round Guys, Roy Pitz, Sam Adams, Saucony Creek, Shawnee Craft, Sly Fox Brewing Company, Stoudts Brewing Company, Subarashii Kudamono, Susquehanna Brewing Company, Troeg’s Brewing, Vault Brewing Company, Victory Brewing, Weyerbacher Brewing & Yards Brewing

With so many stations to hit and such a wide variety to chose from it was impossible to try and get to all of them but the well thought out layout made it easy to sample a representative cross section.  My wife was impressed with the overall quality of the food and was particularly impressed with the pommes puree by Garces Trading Co. I have to admit, calling mashed potatoes something frenchly exotic makes a difference.  Attempting to list and comment on everything we sampled would be a fool’s errand so I’ll simply note a few favorites.  White Dog Cafe’s BBQ pulled pork sliders were tangy, sweet, and tender and Weckerly’s toasted oat cinnamon Ice Cream float with Dock Street Cinnister Stout was a worthy adults only desert treat.  Speaking of desert treats, you can’t beat Capogiro for flat out world class gelato.  They whipped up several local craft beer flavored gelatos for Brewer’s Plate.  I went with the Weyerbacher Heresy and quickly discovered that heretics can be splendid indeed.  We were; however,  slightly puzzled at the number of items that required two hands to eat.  After all, this is food and craft beer pairing event and pairing is best facilitated by having a bite ready in one hand with a sip ready to go in he other.  Not really a major problem upstairs on the VIP level where there was plenty of room and cocktail tables but managing without a third hand was a bit more challenging elsewhere.

As for the craft brews, I was most impressed with Forest & Main’s Alopex Sour Lemongrass Saison, Brooklyn Brewery’s Swedish Strong Ale, Boxcar Brewing’s 1492 American Pale, andSam Adams Rebel IPA through a Simcoe packed Randall.  Victory Brewing teamed up with Sam Adams for a subtly complex Brewers Plate Stout that was a nice contrast to many of the more intense (though delicious) barrel aged ales performing elsewhere in the Kimmel Center.  Both my wife and I gave the best surprise beer of the night award to Sam Adams for their Spiced Peach Ale.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the Asian Pear Wines being poured by Subarashii Kudamono.  

About those cheeses.  They were abundant and the air was often redolent with their scent but that didn’t seem to bother any of the throngs of people constantly awaiting their turn to graze the spread laid out by DiBruno Brothers.  Again, I don’t get it.  What’s wrong with a display of matzo balls?  That said, my cheese sampling winglady enjoyed all but the Victory Storm King Soaked Cheddar.  Pretty clearly a gross violation and waste of a fine imperial stout but that’s just me.

Unfortunately, we missed one of the feature events, “Best of the Wurst” sausage showdown but we didn’t miss much else.  With such a large and diverse venue it was difficult to estimate the total attendance.  The main lobby and Locavore Lounge on the second level were crowded but not uncomfortably so.  From a third balcony view, I could occasionally make out small mobs of meerkats (nattily dressed hipsters) bounding from brewer to chef to brewer but always in a well mannered way.  This wasn’t one of those craft beer and food festivals that makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into a real life giant pachinko game.  Every element of the Brewers Plate was well conceived from the selection of the venue to the layout of the participants.  The Hoppin John Orchestra kept everyone pouring and sampling to a great groove and the mix of craft beer and foodie fans provided its own city suave energy.

Happy 10th Anniversary to the Brewers Plate! An all around great event flawlessly executed by great people showcasing some of the best Philadelphia has to offer.

Cheers!

“These Are Not Your Uncle’s Balls”

Over the course of a day I have many opportunities to be wrong. There are plenty of people from federal and state regulators to the occasional staff colleague hoping that I’ll miss something or fail to catch an esoteric issue as they sharpen their career-advancing daggers.  I guess that’s a reasonably good description of stress. Halloween was a particularly fine example (and not because I’d be spending much of the early evening careening about the neighborhood in the company of hideous ghouls and pint-sized Taylor Swifts).  It was my final day of preparation for a deposition (as a witness – the wrong side of the questioning) in a case involving about a quarter billion dollars.  So you could say it was a bit more stressful a day than most.  That said, we were having a few friends over for drinks, pumpkin ales & apps after trick or treating with our kids later on so I took a few minutes to type up a sign to go with the meatballs I concocted for the evening.  The description started with “these are not your uncle’s balls.” It devolved from there, listing the odd culinary Fusion Confusion Collision Cuisine elements it contained from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, and Sweden.  For no good or apparent reason I sent the description to my enabler and wingman in all things culinary, craft beer, spirits, and lunacy, G-Lo of It’s Just The Booze Dancing and he responded with the following annoying line: “that’s a blog post, just say’in.”  I didn’t have time to list all the reasons why it was certainly was NOT a blog post, went back to preparing for the deposition, and ignored him for the rest of the day (while occasionally mentally circling back to why it wasn’t a blog post).     ………..Until it was.

I did my part as the trick or treating craft beer evangelist by dragging around a rolling cooler full of Wachusett Pumpkin and Tuckahoe Holly Beach Pumpkin Ales, handing them out to worthy and thirsty Halloween revelers (after they presented legal proof of age of course – can never be too sure when you might be handing an adult beverage to a freakishly large 14 year old in a skin tight dalmatian suit).  The meatballs went over well and the after party was success but there were no inspiring craft beers and definitely nothing to inspire a craft beer blog post.

Fast forward to that Saturday.  My oldest daughter’s birthday and youth soccer double header.  As I was getting ready to get out of the car at the second soccer field one of these parked next to me:

Your Uncle's Sedan Deville (still a big seller in Canada)

Your Uncle’s Sedan Deville (still a big seller in Canada)

A 1978 Caddy Sedan Deville.  Required wheels for uncles in the Northeast, tricked out with a split front bench seat, color-keyed hub caps and, for the lucky few, a Dolby B 8-Track cassette player for that collection of Lawrence Welk tapes.  Your uncle had one too and if you never saw it, it was because he kept it in the garage of his other family’s house on Long Island.  You never saw them either, but they were there.  Little did I know that a few hours later I’d pour a beer that would relate – in an extremely byzantine way – to the Sedan Deville proving G-Lo correct.  There was a craft beer blog post in them thar balls after all.

Fast forward even further to that much celebrated annual slaughter of homely birds in honor of our cultural slaughter and domination of the indigenous Native Americans and where do I find myself but in the company of uncles.  Lots of them.  Veritable late seventies Caddy showroom lining the street out front.  But before I digress further, there has to be something done about 60+ year old couples shopping together at supermarkets.  It must be outlawed.  When was the last time you didn’t see couples of that age arguing in the soup aisle?  The husband grumbling quietly under his breath while his wife proudly proclaims something that’s almost certainly wrong.  Meanwhile, they left the cart at an angle across the aisle apparently forgetting that they hadn’t rented out the whole place for a private shopping/sniping experience.  From now on, one at a time.  Couples with an aggregate age at or over 120 must not shop together.  Really quite simple.  Better for all of us.

Anyway, while some look forward to turkey, stuffing, and Cowboys football in the lead up to Thanksgiving, I look forward to the arrival of winter and holiday seasonal craft beers.  Always have.  Nothing says holiday season like the first sight of Anchor Christmas Ale.  That’s always been my favorite winter/holiday seasonal and this year’s version is especially good.  That night I poured my first of the season.  The next day I poured something entirely different.  Anchor California Lager.

Not hipster approved

Under-appreciated Craftbeersmanship

First of all, I generally avoid lagers.  Just not enough going on.  They always lack depth and complexity.  The Reader’s Digest of beer styles.  This one was different.  I checked the label a few times as if to expecting it to reveal itself to be something more than a pedestrian lager.  But it was more – though firmly a lager.  It was a a classic example of what true craft brewing is irrespective of style.  Anchor has always held a very special place in my craft beer heart.  Anchor Steam was the beer that started me on the path to becoming a craft beer geek in the first place.  Anchor Liberty Ale is another favorite.  A solid go to pale that’s versatile,  never gets old and never disappoints.  Perhaps the cleanest, driest finish of any beer I’ve ever had.  It even brings out the best in a sun ray or two on a cold East Coast winter day…
IMG_2977

Suddenly I was reminded of the deposition I attended up in Manhattan the week before.  Eight hours of testimony on asset-backed securities and swap terminations is enough to drive the purest Mormon to drink.  Fortunately I’m not Mormon (and never have been despite my Bob Dylan-esque temporary departure from the balls of my People – matzo, that is) and I’m far from pure – though generally pretty good.  So I’m on my way back to Penn Station when I “just happen” upon Rattle N Hum in Midtown.  I’ll review the bar another time but, suffice it to say, it has a very Philadelphia craft beer bar scene vibe.  That’s a good thing.  I figured I could squeeze a pint of craft beer research in  before I had to hit the train so I grabbed a stool.  Few things surprise me in a craft beer bar but I was taken aback at the tap list scrawled on the chalk board.  40 Sierra Nevada brews.  These were not your uncle’s Sierra Nevada Pales (though it was on the lines).  Everything from Torpedo to one-off barrel aged stouts.  Familiar to anything but.  Most of your uncles only know SN Pale (especially the ones who confuse volume with insightful comment) but the cool one has had most, if not all, of the brews on the tap takeover list that day.  By that standard I guess I’m kind of cool because the only one I hadn’t had was the Barrel Aged Maple Stout with Coffee (until there was one in front of me on the bar).

As watched the Soprano’s neighborhoods of North Jersey fade in the distance during the train ride home I couldn’t help but think of how underrappreciated Anchor and Sierra Nevada seem to be these days.  Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of cutting edge, aggressive craft brews.  Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra and New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Coconut Curry Hefeweizen being prime examples.  But with Dogfish Head, Brew Dogs, Surly, and so many others vying for shelf space and attention, the stable longboard surfers – the ones who first taught us that you could ride waves in the first place – are often left too far out of mind.  There’s something to be said for stability, authenticity, and tradition.  Kind of like a ride in the center front seat of your uncle’s ’78 Caddy.

Then I arrived home and after a quick dinner and check of the kid’s homework I went to the chilled craft beer research locker and gazed upon a shelf full of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales.  Coincidence? Nope.

Happy Hoppy Holidays!

The Darkest Side of Craft Beer Geekdom

 I really like the many faces of my craft beer dark side

I really like the many faces of my craft beer dark side

OK, there are a few of them.  Maybe not enough to keep Sybil occupied during a cross-continental flight  but there are more than I’d initially recognized in the 20 or so seconds it took me to formulate the basis for this rant earlier today.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to ignore most of the obvious ones but I’ll list them here just for good measure (let me know which ones I forgot):

  • Enough excess calories to make Sanz-A-Belt slacks seem downright appealing, if not absolutely necessary

  • A financial drain that makes the Congressional debt ceiling debates hit a bit too close for comfort (even when wearing the Limited Edition Sunday Brunch Buffet Sanz-A-Belts)

  • Having to “fib” when answering that invasive question on patient forms regarding your weekly intake of alcoholic beverages – and grumbling under your breath about the need for a sub-section for “beverages consumed for research purposes” (because, you know, those would be exempt)

  • Having to come up with creative ways to convince your significant other that a visit to that bottle shop or craft beer bar in Hanalei is a natural part of any romantic Hawaiian getaway.  Who needs another rainbow or spectacular sunset anyway?  HINT: There are no plausible ways to explain a craft beer detour out there so once you try and fail, be prepared to shell out $400+ for a sunset catamaran cruise or dolphin encounter – just for suggesting it – so you might as well grab a Maui Big Swell IPA for your troubles.  And you thought Westy XII was an expensive brew

  • The whole Instagram thing.  Yes, I know that isn’t a sentence and it didn’t make any sense just like taking pictures of beer doesn’t make any sense.  Last time I checked, Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon didn’t prowl the aisles of BevMo for their subjects but that hasn’t stopped me from making a complete ass out of myself by setting up and taking “interesting” pictures of beer, knowing full well the mocking expressions my wife and children are giving me from the family room.  Meanwhile, I wear my Beertography competition award shirt proudly.  Like I said, dark side.

  • Homebrewing.  Need I say more? Probably, but I won’t.  Well, not now anyway.

So those are just some of the dark sides that I’m choosing to ignore here (see? I bet you didn’t even notice them and have no idea what I’m talking about).  The one I’m wrestling with now has elements of most of the above but is far more sinister (not quite Olestra side effect anal leakage sinister, but pervasive nonetheless) and goes something like this….

Its time for lunch but thanks to bullet point number 1 up there I’m on the zero calorie lunch plan so I decide to drive 8-9 minutes to one of my favorite bottle shops/liquor stores only intending to check out and maybe pick up a bottle of bourbon or American whiskey.  No intention of buying any craft beer and I even toyed with the concept of not even walking near the craft beer aisles.  As it is, there’s still most of a mixed case of great brews from State Line Liquors in Elkton, MD awaiting study next to the tasting room fridge so I really don’t need anything else.  Not yet.

Your run of the mill granola brew

Your run of the mill granola brew

Then it happened.  From about 20 feet away I cast a decidedly unengaged glance towards the end cap where they usually display new and interesting bombers.  Completely safe – after all I was also at a pretty extreme angle so it wasn’t as though I could get a good view of anything as that end cap faded from sight.  Then through some evil and mystical means far beyond my understanding I found myself standing right in front of those bombers while holding one in my hand.  The words “God Dammit!” formed reflexively under my breath and right then and then this post was born (sorry about that).

I had picked up Dogfish Head’s American Beauty.   The latest edition of their Music Series Ales.  I’ve had all of the previous installments and aside from Bitches’ Brew, their ode to Miles Davis, none were remarkable.  What annoyed and confounded me most about holding the American Beauty was the fact that I had little interest in its concept when I read about it several months ago and had no intentions of buying it, period.  I never liked the Greatful Dead or their 7 or 4 fingered lead guru (and for the record I don’t like their 90’s remake, Phish, either).  Not sure which is more frightening, a gaggle of pale, stick thin, cannibus mind-addled, 3:00 a.m. Taco Bell-craving Dead Heads, or a street full of even paler, Thriller wannabe, undead zombies shuffling towards an all-they-can-eat surgical waste buffet.  Never mind not knowing what’s worse, I’m not so sure there’s much of a difference.

take all the rotting kidneys you want but eat all you take

take all the rotting kidneys you want but eat all you take

The bottom line is that I had no intentions of buying any beer, period, let alone a beer that I had no interest in ever buying.  Yet there I was, seemingly compelled by unseen forces contemplating the purchase of American Beauty.  The darkest side of craft beer geekdom was perched on my right shoulder demanding that I buy a beer I didn’t want and didn’t need.  That sounds better than admitting that I suffer some form of OCCBAD (Obsessive Compulsive Craft Beer Acquisition Disorder).  Somehow I mustered the strength (a.k.a. common sense) to face down that demon and put down the Greatful Brew…..after I saw the Stone Suede collaboration.  All bets were off at that point.  The battle was lost.  Fortunately I’m a gracious loser (and I had a few new craft beers in the cart that I didn’t need with which to toast the victor – my dark side).

Cheers!

Beer Review – Dogfish Head 61 Pushes Boundaries by Bridging Them

We’re all busy. I get it.  Twitter, push notifications, and news scrolls have reprogrammed the way we go about getting information.  Soon enough, books may go the way of 8 track tapes or laser discs of the Director’s Cut of Young Einstein.  With that in mind and for those of you whose attention span becomes challenged over 144 characters (let alone 144 complete words) I’ll toss out a bold prediction right off the bat:

Bold Prediction for the Twitter Character Limit Attention Span People:

Sam Calgione will open a winery before the end of 2015

You could stop reading here and continue surfing for deals on plush giant microbes (the Ebola virus was a big hit with our kids) or soup tureens etched with Despicable Me Minions by the expert artisans at the Franklin Mint but you’d miss what could be an interesting review of Dogfish Head 61.  Remember how empty and out of touch you felt the day after Sharknado when you were the only one left out of the loop because you missed it? Don’t let that happen again.  Your Dunkin Donuts gift card is almost tapped out anyway and you don’t need the large Mocha Coolatta you’ll inevitably drown your sorrows in when you realize that you’ve been left out again because the rest of the world is all abuzz about this post.  By the way, it’ll only take 2 minutes to read.  I timed it.  Well, not yet because I don’t know what I’m actually going to write but I will.  Promise. (I kept my promise – it might take 3)

THIS JUST IN:  The editorial board reviewed the final draft and decided to move the review up in order to catch some readers who might already be suffering Google/Twitter Withdrawal DTs

photo-3

A picture says a thousand words but so does a number.  60, 75, 90, 120, 61.  One of those numbers is not like the others (OK, maybe two are but one is more not like the others – kind of like Hemmingway’s six-toed cats).  Knowing that Dogfish’s stock in trade is pushing boundaries and crafting unusual ales I figured I was in for something modestly challenging and potentially horrific, a.k.a., their ill-fated Au Courant.  I’m happy to report that my fears were the only things ill-fated.  61 is a really nice, complex, yet accessible craft beer.

Right off the bat you’ve got a crystal clear, effervescent ruby pour with small, quickly dissipating white head that throws off a bouquet of intrigue and inviting aromas

Yahtzee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yahtzee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

dominated by sour cherry/grape, mild citrus and earthy yeast notes.  You know those beers that practically make you want to drop everything (except the glass) and belt out the Portuguese version of Strawberry Letter 23?  Well, this is one of those.  It’s also perfect for those times when you have visions of Christiane Amanpour battling Treat Williams in the Yahtzee Thunder Dome while she lip-synchs Pee Wee Hermann’s version of Surfin’ Bird.  I know what you’re thinking… not another one of those beers.  I began to think that way too as the syrah must in this brew worked its magic alongside modestly sweet summer cherries and tart nectarine.  No real malt backbone or serious hoppy punch.  Instead, the flavors are strands suspended between delicate, yet sturdy spiral rails of malt and hops.  A veritable DNA Double Helix of craft beer.

The texture is both silky and light with lots of prickly carbonation that harkens back to that Yahtzee death match but this time the Thunder Dome is ringed by a second level where Attila The Hun impersonators (I assume they’re merely impersonators) sit behind vintage manual crank deli meat slicers slowly carving Boar’s Head Honey Smoked Turkey like a precision drill team.  Yes, yes, plenty of those beers too, I know.  Believe me, this really is a very different brew despite the common images it evokes.  For instance, its bi-polar finish is a thing of brewing artistry.  Crisp, abrasive, and dry, but with thin ribbons of velvety sweetness enticing another sip.  You suddenly find yourself departing the party in a conga line lead by Willem Defoe while singing the chorus of Nights On Broadway AND Juice Newton’s Queen Of Hearts at the same time.  Yep, it’s that beer.

Hybrid anythings are always sketchy.  Look at killer bees.  For a spectacularly funny write-up of the trouble with hybrids take a look at this great post by Beerbeque.  One of the funniest things I’ve read all year.  Dogfish Head 61 is a brazen and unabashed beer/wine hybrid that pulls it off seamlessly yet begs the question:  Is Sam trying to tell us something?  Is he going to start making wine or will he be content to play yenta between the wine and craft beer families.

So let’s see if I have this straight:

1.  Sam Calgione founds Dogfish Head Brewing in 1995 to brew interesting, bold beers unlike the bland industrial pale lagers that dominated (still do but to a lesser extent) American brewing.  “Off-centered ales for off-centered people™” was and remains their motto.

2.  Over time, Dogfish Head turns out an impressive, growing, and unconventional lineup of brews, including their Ancient Ales and Music Themed series.

3.   More and more of their beers are sold in large format, corked, wine style bottles.

A hybrid of a different kind

A hybrid of a different kind

4.   Professor Calgione launches a well publicized and successful “beer vs. wine” food pairing campaign featuring tasting dinners pairing various beer and wine styles with each course to highlight the versatility of craft beer.  During those dinners, Sam champions craft beer while his guest nemesis for the evening takes up the cause for wine.  A veritable Matalin versus Carville battle royale.

5.   In spite of the widening adoption of canning within the craft beer industry, Sam Calgione steadfastly and without hesitation has proclaimed that Dogfish Head beers will not be distributed in cans because it runs counter to Dogfish’s efforts to elevate craft beer by presenting it in large format bottles.  Can you say “up-market” or “wineification?”

6.  Dogfish begins to brew beer with elements, processes, and ingredients borrowed from wine makers such as Red & White, Noble Rot, and finally….. Sixty-One.

Is he wavering in his commitment and passion to craft beer or merely pushing the brewing envelope yet again into uncharted territory? Blaspheming apostate or brilliant mad scientist.  Hell, in Medieval Europe brilliant scientists were often branded as apostates (just dust off the Ouija Board and ask Galileo) so the distinction may not be all that easily defined.

Regardless of his intentions, DH61 is an interesting, well-crafted, refreshing, and versatile craft beer that pushes boundaries by bridging them.

Cheers!

Secret Swillionaires Summit Reveals Big Beer Plans

What with all the hubbub surrounding the NSA leaker Snowden and his impersonation of a refuse barge adrift at sea with no taker or safe harbor I thought it might be good time to publish some equally sensitive and potentially embarrassing information regarding a couple of Big Beer’s black bag projects.  I’ve known about them for a few months but been hesitant to reveal anything for fear of reprisals from the corporate goons of ABInBev and MillerCoors.  But before I expose their plans and enter the craft beer bloggers protection program I want to get back to this Snowden idiot for a second.  How screwed is this guy?  He’s being hunted by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies and even Putin, Chaves, and Kim Jong-un won’t grant him refuge.  Unless Jason Bourne is his BFF, he’s going to end up living out whatever days he has left hiding in some remote shack in the Andes hoping not to be eaten by descendants of the Uruguayan soccer team that crashed in 1972.

Impressive show but the real action was in the shadows

Impressive show but the real action was in the shadows

So, back to the Big Beer secret projects.  Not long ago, MillerCoors held their annual distributors convention in Orlando.  As you’d expect, lots of glitz, glamour, showmanship, charts, and puffery (i.e. lies) regarding how well the business is doing and confident predictions of a bright future.  Nothing salacious, exciting, or remotely interesting there.  Kind of like their beer.  Anyway, it seems the real action was taking place behind the curtain.  Late on the second day of the convention there were rumors of Carlos Brito sightings throughout Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  Odd.  Why would ABInBev’s CEO be anywhere near a major convention held by his chief rival?  The rumors had to be simple cases of mistaken identity.  After all, he does bear a striking resemblance to Maleficent, Disney’s reigning queen of evil deeds (in action, that is).  Well, the rumors turned out to be true.  Carlos Brito really was there and so was his CFO and a handful of other top ABInBev marketing and operations execs.  Something was up.

ABInBev's CEO & CFO before heading to the secret summit

ABInBev’s CEO & CFO before heading to the secret summit

A warren of interconnecting tunnels and underground facilities – practically an entire subterranean metropolis – underlies Disney World.  A perfect setting for alighting well concealed spies to discover all manner of planned and nefarious subterfuge.  Just a quick scan of the event schedule revealed an odd reservation.  A private Disney character breakfast had been reserved in the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace for 3:00 in the afternoon of the second day of the convention.  A late afternoon breakfast was strange enough but stranger still was the fact that the parties on the reservation were blocked.  The guest notation only revealed that 24 would attend.  Nothing else on the schedule looked out of the ordinary so it seemed as if something special, something unpublicized and unspoken might take place over late afternoon home fries, bacon, and pancakes with Cinderella and her princess clique.

What better way to infiltrate the breakfast and gather intelligence than to plant a listening device and what better listening device than something with huge ears that doesn’t stand out?  Something like this:

A Fish out of water at Disney

A Fish out of water at Disney

Not that! This:

NSA's Echelon has nothing on this listening device

NSA’s Echelon has nothing on this listening device

That’s it.  A hidden Mickey.  They appear in all sizes, textures, and colors down there and are far more ubiquitous than Abe Vigoda.  Micky Mouse himself might have done a fine job but the princesses tend to get a bit skittish around rodents, especially extremely large ones like these:

 Mickey and Minnie better take the day off or take cover if Cary Elwes ever walks through the gates of the Magic Kingdom.  Anyway, with a little help from Ariel, a listening device in the shape of a hidden Mickey was planted near the desert table in the Crystal Palace just before the group was

Now THAT's what I call an effective spy

Now THAT’s what I call an effective spy

scheduled to arrive. Soon enough, she relayed via text that the players were streaming in and it was, indeed, a cast of Big Beer characters rivaling the gown-festooned starlets clearing their plates and refilling their glasses.  A who’s who of global ABInBev & MillerCoors execs from the C Suites including marketing and R & D honchos.  Arch rivals breaking bread and tonging bacon? After an hour or so of small talk and one up-manship regarding the size of bribes one another handed out to secure prime spots at the front of every line in the park they got down to the business that brought them together for this secret summit.  Not surprisingly, craft beer was very much on all of their minds.  A full transcript of the meeting would be too lengthy to post here (anyway, Julian Asange might take exception to my doing that and I don’t want to risk his exposing my recipes for Unholy Hand Grenades or Schlomo Kameamea’s Sliders so I’m only going to publish an excerpt here.  If I pass under his radar I’ll post more excerpts later on).  Because Ariel and the rest of the princesses were asked to leave the room before they got to the serious stuff it’s impossible to always identify who’s talking so speakers are often only identified by company where possible.

Transcript of the Swillionaires Summit

Unidentified MillerCoors Exec (MC):  Good luck with that.  I saw you strike out with Aurora and Jasmin.  Your Adam Sandler schtick is priceless – and dateless.

Carlos Brito (Brito):  Alright. Enough of that.  We need to deal with this craft bullshit once and for all.  We like our Shock Top numbers and Black Crown is right there but I know they’re crap and I think we all see the same thing.  Your Third Shift and Batch 15 imposter (cut off)

MC: Batch Nineteen!

Brito: Whatever.  It’s crap – they’re all crap and we have to acknowledge that too many beer drinkers outside of this room know it too.  More and more every day.  We’re not fooling them anymore with the glitzy packaging, knock-off craft labels and nonsense commercials.

MC:  Agreed.  I guess we knew the party had to end.  We’ve crammed so much cheap shit into our top line beers that they might as well all be Natty Light.  We thought we’d regain some market share with our punch top can but the high school kids would rather jam a pen into a can of Keystone and get the same effect for less money.  Probably smarter than all of us because it tastes just as bad anyway.

Unidentified ABInBev Exec (AB):  Our bowtie can is iconic and masterful.  You guys went in the wrong direction with yours.

Brito:  Let’s not not go there.  We were way over budget with that fool’s errand and it’ll do little more than slow the obvious trend.  Look.  We’re losing.  The craft segment has gained steadily and impressively every year since at least ’02 and we have to change course or end up remembered as the brewing equivalents of Ratt or Winger.

MC:  Or Haircut 100

Unidentified: What’s wrong with them?

AB:  Seriously?

Brito:  We’ve tried everything.  Worked the Statehouses and DC, choked micro distribution and shelf space, bought into some of crafts, acquired Goose Island, and launched a more aggressive knock-off campaign

MC: The craft segment calls it “crafty”.  Kind of works

Brito:  Well it doesn’t f’n kind of work for our bottom line or your’s either!  You’ve seen the same numbers and focus data we have.  They want real flavor – good flavor.  They don’t want bland factory beer anymore.  We’ve lost the narrative and we’re going to lose more than that.  We’re here to brainstorm new, bold ideas so let’s hear them!

MC:  OK, we’ve had a small group in Promotions looking at potential co-sponsorship opportunities,  Strategic alliances between brands and external consumer goods and services.  Through relational database analysis we’ve identified a strong correlation between our bargain brand drinkers and arrests.  We think a potential value proposition for that customer would be to offer discount bail bond coupons with every volume format purchase like our 30 pack.  Perhaps a punch card which could be presented at checkout allowing buyers to accumulate points towards a bail coupon.  Something like the free latte customer cards at Starbucks.

AB:  (unintelligable)…. I can only imaging the legal and regulatory BS that kind of concept would entail.  The revenue limiting divisions … compliance and legal and governmental relations will have a field day.  We’re greasing the pols but not richly enough to make that kind of thing fly.

MC (possibly CEO Tom Long or high ranking exec):  We’re among friends…for now…so I’ll tell you what we’ve had in R&D for several months.  We’ve been trying to mimic them for years with our knock-off lines while we should be mimicking their model.

Brito:  We’re both much too big for that and you know it.

MC:  Yes but here’s where we use our size and resources to finally beat them at their own game.  They love to pal around with one another and do these ridiculous collaboration brews.  Seems they don’t understand the concept of competition.  If we combined forces we could brew a collaboration beer to end all beers.

AB:  (unintelligible murmurs)…. and that’s exactly what it might do to both of us.  What are you suggesting?  We brew something that combines the cheap beer factory flavors already leading to our huge losses? Insanity.

MC:  No. We mimic another of their pet brewing concepts and brew something that will revolutionize not just a beer style but will change the way consumers shop for beer in the retail stores while diverting their attention away from all of the craft competition.

Brito:  We thought we did that with Strawb-A-Rita.  Go on.

MC:  Even more elegant.  We brew a “tripel imperial light beer.”  The craft segment would bottle imperial water – a wetter version – if they could.  Why not take a page out of their pet project books and brew a beer so light…so massively light…that it actually floats?!

AB:  What the f… are you talking about? Do you have one of those on-line degree diplomas tacked to your cubicle particle board?

MC:  Hear me out.  We’ve done some preliminary due diligence and we’re moving along with a proof of concept.  It can be done.  The beer will be light enough to make the cans float to the ceilings of the retail outlets.  Imagine going to the local Costco or BevMo to shop for your beer with a long net or grappling hook?  The hell with those shelves of craft beer – nobody will be looking at them.  They’ll all be staring straight up.  The promotional opportunities are endless.

Unidentified:  Um…  outside events…picnics whatever….airplanes….mylar balloons get the Greenpeace PETA activists all worked up as it is.  Pretty sure stray six packs in the glide paths of a few planes won’t go unnoticed.

AB:  What about thick lead cans or even lead pellets?  We could set up Chinese factories to brew and can it.

MC:  That defeats the whole purpose!  Anyway, we’ve got the brewery angle covered too.  Even our (and your) best and biggest beer factories aren’t capable of creating something like this.  Only one facility in the world can do it.  The large  hadron super collider at Cern.  It’s off line for a couple years now anyhow so we offer to lease it. They need the money.  There’s no market for God particles these days anyway.  Straightforward process.  We load Miller light into one end and Bud Light into the other and flip the switch.  They collide at near light speed and Eureka! Higgs-Boson Light!!

Brito:  You’re right.  It’ll be a beer to end all beers….and everything else!

MC:  Wait…wait.  Think of the myriad of revenue opportunities aside from the beer itself.  That Cern place is HUGE!  We could fit out a section of it as a hotel – a Beer & Breakfast.  Multiple lounges and themed bars.  The Americans come to Germany in droves to see their Bimmers and Benzes being built and take delivery.  We can offer them the same thrilling experience!!

Brito:  Let’s break.  This is outrageous.  I need a beer right now.  Someone tell Cinderella to go off site and get me something.  There are no decent beers in Disney….

(transcript ends)

Not a silhouette.  These people actually look like this

Not a silhouette. These people actually look like this

Seems Big Beer has big plans for a very big brewery.  The next Bud branded floating thing you see up there might not be this thing:

Light enough to float one of their blimps (blood funnel at foreground)

Light enough to float one of their blimps (blood funnel at foreground)

Cheers! (now I’m off to the Snowden Circuit)……

Senile Implant

There are no still ponds in memory's pool

No still ponds in memory’s pool

I’m absolutely certain that at least one of my buddies loves that title (and not because he’s a urologist, plastic surgeon, or collector of John Wayne Bobbitt memorabilia). In fact, I’ll predict that he texted me his approval of it before even reading to the end of this sentence.  It’s catchy, playfully annoying, and hard to pin down (no pun intended, really).  Problem is, I’m not so sure how relevant it will actually be to the content of the this post.  That’s primarily because I’m not entirely sure where this post is going to go or even how much craft beer content will wind its way in.

I do know this: I’m calling my next home brew Senile Implant and while the recipe isn’t close to the drawing board, it’ll amlost certainly be a big, high ABV imperial oatmeal stout.  Something dark and contemplative that promotes thoughtful recollection brewed with the usual suspects of deeply roasted barley and oats, layered with earthy hops, and fermented with a classic American Ale yeast.  The most important ingredients; however, won’t be in the brew kettle, primary, or secondary fermentor.  They won’t fit in a carboy and wouldn’t do well in boiling wort or fermenting beer. Mirrors, prisms, and the catalytic haze of people, places, and days gone by have to be added long after the brewing process is complete, usually after the third or fourth pour.

A glass of rear view clarity at Stone Rose, Scottsdale Princess

A glass of rear view clarity at Stone Rose, Scottsdale Princess

Ironically, the inspiration for this post didn’t develop during a craft beer research session (though I did enjoy a spectacularly fresh Four Peaks Hop Knot IPA at the brewpub just a few hours earlier that day.  More on that another time).  It was early March of 2012 – March 2nd to be exact – and I was on my ninth trip to Scottsdale, my safe “tree” from life’s game of tag.  I’d make a tenth visit just 6 weeks later.  More than simply a beautiful place to visit, Scottsdale had become a virtual time machine.  The sun had been down about an hour and I was just a few sips into a second Partida Reposado at the outside bar of Stone Rose at the Scottsdale Princess (recently re-branded the Plaza Bar) when I noticed two guys at the other side of the square bar involved in an animated and joyous conversation about their round at the TPC Stadium Course.  One reached the 15th’s island green in two while the other fell miserably short.  They looked to be about 30 and were obviously good friends – maybe best friends.  They were me…20 years ago.

Their gestures and laughter reminded me of my first drinks there (it was called Cazadores back then) with my best friend almost exactly 20 years before to the day.  We turned 30 one week apart and that trip was our pre-midlife crisis golf vacation.  Seemed like a good idea.  Travel to a gorgeous, warm, interesting place to play golf every day and have a few drinks every night.  This was still several years before I even knew I was loosely on the path to becoming a craft beer geek so the evening golf recaps were accompanied with Tanqueray & Tonics as opposed to Stone Ruinations or Firestone Walker Wookey Jacks.  The guys across the bar appeared to be drinking either vodka or gin & tonics and for all I knew they were Northeasterners on a golf trip – maybe their pre-midlife crisis vacation – just like my buddy and I were two decades before.

Then one of them made eye contact with me and to this day I have a frighteningly clear recollection of glancing away as if instinctively and reflexively pulling my hand from an open flame.  Retreating from some undefined danger.  Music and conversation at Stone Rose’s outside bar is never too loud and didn’t drown out the muted clink of ice against glass as I raised the tequila for another sip.  At that moment I wondered what they saw in me from the other side of the bar.  After all, they’re me so they had to notice the same parallels.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize that if they noticed me at all they surely didn’t see themselves in me.  They didn’t see a reasonably fit, carefree 30 year old prosecutor that first visited Scottsdale and they certainly didn’t see the very, VERY fit 40 year old version that came extremely close to being on the cast of Survivor II – Australian Outback (yep, I still have the video to prove it).  They didn’t see those versions because they only exist in that virtual time machine I mentioned earlier.  The version sitting at the bar that night was overweight, balding (I’m OK with that), and drinking alone (I’m OK with that too, sometimes).  If those guys had projected out 20 years into their futures and seen themselves in me, they’d have been the ones reflexively retreating from the open flame.  They saw what I couldn’t, not with my mirror obscured by the blinding memories being thrown off by that prism.

Their girlfriends joined them as I finished that second tequila.  Another few rounds of laughter and they all headed of to dinner and to their next 20 years.  I stayed for one more.  The time machine might have been temporarily tarnished but I still had plenty of great memories to drink with.  Though ironically, they’d probably best be forgotten.

As I finished I noticed an older gentleman had taken up a spot at one of the corners.  He was at least 15 years older than me, alone, and drinking a Coors Light from the bottle.  I only hoped that wasn’t a glimpse of my future.  If senility does overtake me, I pray my silver alert doesn’t include the silver bullet.

There.  I forced this thing back to some modest, if forced, relevance to that catchy title.