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!

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!

Magic Hat shows their Heart of Darkness is more than just a beer.

Somehow I managed to find a few minutes yesterday to catch up on Facebook posts in hopes of temporarily suspending or at least slowing the scroll.  Believe it or not, I really do like almost all of my old friends and try to stay connected to what they’re up to and how many times they’ve shopped at Costco for vastly underrated steaks.  As you might suspect, one or two of them share my interest in craft beer so I wasn’t surprised to see my old Audi TT buddy, Jason, post a status update involving Magic Hat.  They’ve never impressed me as anything more than modestly mediocre and after selling out to what’s now a South American conglomerate they’ve lost their identity but I thought I’d give Jason’s link a shot anyway.  Having read the recap of a lawsuit brought by Magic Hat against West Sixth, a small craft brewery in Kentucky, I became more firmly convinced that Magic Hat has lost more than it’s identity, it’s lost any semblance of the character of shared spirit and cooperation that’s been the hallmark of the craft brewing industry.  More importantly, I was left wondering if this is perhaps an example or glimpse of the inevitable types of bigger business corporate behavior that the craft brewing industry’s success was bound to generate.  Are we reaching an important tipping point in an ever more crowded landscape or this merely the result of an international bully breaking the unwritten rules?

Inverted Object or Perverted Logic? (photo courtesy of BeerAdvocate.com)

Inverted Object or Perverted Logic? (photo courtesy of BeerAdvocate.com)

So here’s the skinny: newly sold and foreign conglomerate owned Magic Hat claims that tiny independent Kentucky newbie, West Sixth copied (stole) their #9 logo.  You can read more about the suit and allegations of “enormous financial damage” here.  Before I go too much further a bit of a disclaimer is in order.  I like craft beer.  I “research”, write about, and evangelize the wonders of well-crafted ales to all who may and to some who absolutely don’t care to hear about it.  That said, my love of craft beer doesn’t pay the bills.  Never has and never will.  The bills are paid by something I don’t love – not these days anyway.  I’m a recovering litigator.  I spent over 20 years in courtrooms as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and civil litigator.  I’ve handled over 100 jury trials from murder, rape, child abuse, drug distribution and robbery to construction and roofing defects, commercial manufacturing disputes, products liability, and copyright/trademark infringement.  I’ve put murderers in prison for the rest of their lives and defended companies against disastrous, multi-million dollar lawsuits.  In other words, when it comes the subject matter of one brewery suing another, I know a little something (from every angle).

So what’s really going on here?  Is Magic Hat (or whoever they really are) flexing their deep corporate pockets by filing a frivolous suit betting that a small southern start-up brewery will meekly submit or do they have a legitimate, if unpopular point?  Well, the recovering litigator in me can’t help but conclude that it’s a little bit of both.  There are always many more than two sides to a story.  Don’t get too far ahead of me here.  Yes, I genuinely believe that there is some merit to part of Magic Hat’s claims but whatever merit exists is soundly overwhelmed by simple common sense and good craft beer citizenship.  When it comes to that, Magic Hat is failing miserably.

Are the logos similar?  Well, maybe a bit.  By definition a 6 is an inverted 9 but, all due respect to the legal mind that thought that argument up, it’s ridiculous.  The fonts share some style cues and they each have a special character adjacent to the number but aside from that, they aren’t easily confused except by Cirque de Soleil trainees between two-a-day tryout sessions (and that’s mostly because of their Frenchness).  “Irreperable harm” and “enormous financial damage?” I think not.  I know not.  Not now anyway.  That said, these types of suits are generally brought to protect the owner’s mark from future damage.  West Sixth certainly isn’t planning to expand into Vermont anytime soon but Magic Hat can’t know that and they’re statutorily required to aggressively protect their mark and corporate image at this stage or risk being precluded from protecting it tomorrow.  And there’s the rub.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  West Sixth has made what appear to be legitimate offers to resolve this thing like grown craft beer men – not unlike what Adam Avery and Vinnie Cilurzo did when they realized that both Avery and Russian River had a Salvation in their lineups.  The result was Collaboration Not Litigation Ale.  That’s the way craft brewers have dealt with one another (for the most part) throughout the last decade of the industry’s monumental growth.  Even the truly big boys like Sierra Nevada have gone out of their way to support the local, smaller brewers in North Carolina when they announced their new brewery near Asheville.  Sniping amongst and between craft brewers as the landscape becomes that much more saturated may be somewhat inevitable but doesn’t have to be ugly – not Magic Hat ugly in any event (I imagine I’ve just become a target of one of their cease and desist letters because I used social media to call them ugly).

Black Magic Hat's Prototype Logo

Black Magic Hat’s Prototype Logo

I don’t know – that new logo concept isn’t all that ugly.  Not Mona Lisa or a Pontiac Aztec ugly anyway.  It kind of captures the spirit of the new regime.

Magic Hat's new brew cauldron

Magic Hat’s new brew cauldron

Their nifty new brew kettles fit the image nicely as well.  Looks like a batch of Odd Notion or Roxy Rolles ready for the lauter tun.

Oh, one more thing Magic Hat: don’t forget to mention in your cease and desist letter that my refusal to purchase one or two six packs of your mediocre beer this year will inflict enormous financial damage.

Cheers! (and don’t forget to chime in)

Austin SXSW – Music, Interactive, Craft Beer (well it should be)

Wasn’t long ago that Austin was known mostly for these guys:

One of nature's most freakishly astounding shows

Congress Ave Bats

I’ve stood on that bridge at dusk under the million or so bats as they flutter, dive, and swirl about before heading off into the night sky.  Sinewy tendrils of winged death.  It’s a wonder a few dozen onlookers don’t stroke out at the sight of them every sunset.  Fortunately for a few bat fans in the know, there’s a world class craft beer bar just a few blocks from that bridge.  An easy walk for even those still jittery  from the hellishly Hitchcockian yet spectacular display.

I’m a strong believer in the separation of Church and State.  I’m also a strong believer in really illogical segues and that was a particularly fine example.  Anyway, I believe that separation should extend beyond religion and politics to include work and play.  I practice what I preach by carrying an iPhone and a BlackBerry – one for work, one for play.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one’s for which.  On rare occasions though, work and play intersect.  I’m fortunate to speak at an annual national conference in Austin where Higher Education, Health Care, and other industry executives come to hear me discuss topics from the BlackBerry side of the divide.  There, I gave it away.

So the first time I visited about the only things I knew about Austin were those bats and the Bell Tower on the campus of the University of Texas.  34 years after the Boomtown Rats song I still don’t like Mondays.  Unless its a Monday night in Austin at the Ginger Man.

Liquid Gold & Hammered Copper

Every Handle Offers a Worthy Brew

I’d heard of this bar only in passing and knew there were a few of them in Texas.  I’d targeted it for a visit the Saturday I arrived for the conference in 2009.  The first session wan’t until the following morning so I had the afternoon for some Texas craft beer research.  After a nearly mile long walk in 102 degree heat in search of a Radio Shack for a new laptop charger to replace the one comfortably resting in NJ (being an industry expert doesn’t mean I’m not also a knucklehead – the two aren’t mutually exclusive), I finally hit the Ginger Man.  I might have happily accepted a Bud Light Lime after the hike (not really) but once I saw the hammered copper wall with 50-something taps I knew I wouldn’t have to settle for anything.  Just about every handle was devoted to craft beer.  Quite a few local offerings as well.  I settled in with a Live Oak Hefewiezen and my love affair with Texas craft beer began.  I’ve been back to the Ginger Man a few times since then and can honestly say it’s one of my top 5 favorite craft beer bars anywhere.  My beers are constantly getting hit on there.  Seems that almost everyone that walks in is tied to craft beer in some way.  It’s a hangout for local brewers and craft beer fans from far and near.  The bartenders are all knowledgable, friendly, and attentive.

So I developed a real respect for Texas craft beer during my first visit to the Ginger Man in ’09 but it wasn’t until the next year that I recognized just how vibrant the Austin craft beer culture was.  Understandable to a degree because so few Austin breweries distribute outside of the local region (none of them make it out to Jersey – yet another knock).  These guys are turning out some legitimate world class brews:

  • (512) Brewing – their Pecan Porter is outstanding
  • Live Oak – nobody brews a better Hefewiezen (seriously)
  • Jester King
  • Austin Beerworks
  • South Austin Brewing
  • Independence Brewing
  • Circle Brewing

The Ginger Man was very close to our conference hotel up until 2011 when it moved to the new conference center on the UT campus.  Nice place.  Just down the street from the Bell Tower but not from my top 5 research spot.  Thanks to the play phone and the magic of Google Maps, I located a potential target just 4 or 5 blocks away.  Mind you, those 4-5 blocks would be uphill and its still 102 degrees and humid so it better be worth the trip.  Duck & Dog Pub.  First thought: stupid name.  Probably not worth the trip.  Nothing else nearby and I don’t have car so I’m pretty much stuck with it.  About a block away I spotted the sign and approached what appeared to be a not-too-well maintained large dark shack behind it.  Second thought: this place is a dump.  Not going in.  After all, I’m Jewish and I’m in Texas.  Not a good combination to begin with.  Then I went in.

Surprised to see this one pop up here

Alaskan IPA at Duck & Dog Pub (complete with Aurora Borealis)

Next thought: what is a British pub doing in the middle of Texas and why are there Alaskan Brewing tap handles over there?  That last question was pretty easy – they were attached to kegs of Alaskan IPA and Alaskan Summer Ale.  The only other place I’d ever seen Alaskan brews on tap was at a bar in SeaTac Airport.  That made sense.  Alaskans in Austin? Not so much.  But the beers were excellent.  The atmosphere ridiculously casual and the fried pickles spectacularly addictive (though not nearly as good as the Wicked Pickles at Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona, AZ).  You’d never confuse this place with the Ginger Man.  Not nearly as many taps but still plenty of good local and not so local offerings.  Final thought: I was wrong.

Austin may still be known for its bats, SXSW, Austin City Limits, 6th Street (and that W Daughter’s exploits), but it’s solidly on the craft beer radar and the ping is growing louder and hoppier.  Oh, and its still got this:

All things considered its really not all that wierd

The Shirt Says it All

Cheers!

What did I miss?  Who did I offend?  Let me know in the comments……

He’Brew Jewbelation Sweet Sixteen – The Tribe Has Spoken

Haven't seen much of Long lately

Long Duck Dong in 16 Candles

I know what you’re thinking (which is even more impressive than it seems because I don’t even have a clue how I’m going to end this sentence).  What is Long Duck Dong doing as a lead photo for a beer review?  Simple.  This isn’t a traditional beer review.  There are plenty of great craft beer review sites and blogs that focus on reviews but this isn’t one of them.  Its not that I don’t like them – I do – and I have plenty of them right here on Ratebeer (go ahead, take a peek but come back for the good stuff).  I’ll get to my impressions of the beer in a bit but there are a few other things about Shmaltz Brewing and The Chosen Beer folks I want to get to before then.

I feel a certain connection to the Shmaltz Brewery.  Their beers are brewed and bottled (some of them) in Brooklyn.  I was brewed and swaddled in Brooklyn.  They moved to California (in partnership with Mendocino Brewing) for a while.  I moved to California for a while.  They’re Jewish – I guess.  I’m Jewish – again (long story – short first marriage).  They’re irreverent.  I have a PhD in Irreverent Communications and Sarcasm.  So its only fitting that I say a few words about HeBrew Jewbelation Sweet Sixteen.

This brew is not your Bubbie’s Manischewitz.  That stuff is fowl.  If you like Manischewitz wines, I don’t want to hear from you.  Your judgment is flawed.  Our people aren’t wine makers.  Not in our skill set.  We’re really good at comedy, running Hollywood studios, swimming, the occasional whopper white collar crime, and endodontics but we don’t have what it takes to make great wine.  Must have something to do with that grape stomping thing – a little too close to manual labor.

So wine making is out but what about brewing craft beer?  Shmaltz has been at it a while with some respectable success.  What’s truly surprising is that they don’t have a physical brewery.  Their beers are brewed under contract through a partnership with Mendocino Brewing.  The Jewbelation Series is their version of anniversary brews and that’s where Sweet Sixteen comes in to play (or out to play).  The concept is simple: celebrating 16 years of brewing by releasing a beer with 16 malt varieties, 16 hop varieties, and coming in at 16% ABV.   Like I said, simple concept.  Simple but screwy.  Right off the bat I’m a little leery of a craft beer that’s tied to a gimmicky theme and this one’s got classic Jewish schtick all over it.  Would anyone notice if they swapped out the Palisade hops for Nelson Sauvin?  I don’t think so.  So the whole 16 malts/16 hops is nonsense (though I’m thrilled they used flaked quinoa – checked that off the craft beer bucket list).

Here’s something that makes more sense in relation to Jewish beer than 16 hop varieties, 16 Jew varieties:

OK, 17 if you count Simon & Garfunkel as 2 but they were Bar Mitzvad together so I’m counting them as 1.  I’m not so sure the 16 malts and 16 hops would safely navigate the Hora, but once that 16% ABV kicks in any of them still spinning would soon need the services of a doctor (fortunately there’ll be plenty to chose from at any Jewish party).

He'Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16

He’Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16

Is it a good beer?  Well… I don’t love it but it does some things right.  It’s an impressive looking brew.  A ribbon of liquid obsidian pours into the glass with just the faintest glints of deep ruby highlights.  It’s got a thin, creamy dark tan head and plenty of thick lacing.  Intense aroma of coffee and bittersweet chocolate with a touch of white pepper that hints at the parting blow to come.  With all those malt and hop varieties I expected the flavors to mimic a combination of Hava Nagila & the Harlem Shake but, surprisingly, they were closer to the Hustle.  And while we’re on the subject of organized dances, here’s why we only attach ourselves to one another and go in circles:

Why we only dance the Hora

Why we only dance the Hora

Anyway, back to the brew.  Pretty straightforward imperial stout profile with robust coffee, cocoa bitterness, dark fruits (plum, cherry, raisin), molasses, and a bit of rye.  The mouthfeel seemed at times chewy yet also a bit thin.  The finish was long and sweet with a parting punch of alcohol – almost bourbony.

So in the end I can’t say I was blown away by the beer but I wasn’t disappointed either.  It has a place.  I’d proudly bring it to my next Shiva call.  After all, it’s a perfect brew for cutting through the somber emotions and horrific fish tray aromas at those things.  Its Big, Bold & Boozy.  In a newly coined and appropriately Jewish word: its “Babsy.”

Would you have preferred a picture of Mandy Patinkin?

Barbra Streisand (Hebrew but NOT a He’Brew celebrity endorser)

L’Chaim!

The Converging Coasts of Craft Beer

If you’re reading this you’re either a craft beer fan, a friend forced to visit the blog under penalty of fatwa or you landed here after misspelling the topic you intended to search on Google (understandable given the fact they cram so many keys on these keyboards).  If you’re here by accident please don’t leave – you’ll probably add more more to the conversation than everyone else (and if you do leave I’ll add you to the fatwa list).  Those of you who are craft beer fans have plenty of other interests too.  I’m also a big college basketball fan.  Big East born (sort of) and bred.  My freshman year at Syracuse was also the inaugural year of the Big East Basketball Conference.  So I’m watching ESPN last Fall and see that the Big East is welcoming a few new schools including San Diego State and Boise State.  Wait…what?

Last time I checked San Diego was in California and Boise was in Idaho and neither of them are east of much of anything.  Despite the geographic anomaly, those schools are moving east.  They’re not the only things moving east.  Over the past year, no less than five craft brewers have announced plans to build or have already begun building breweries far from their western homes.  Most in the craft beer community welcome the expansion.  I’m not so sure I’m on board.  Not yet anyway.

Green Flash (Nature's Version)

Green Flash (Nature’s Version)

That’s a picture of the mythical green flash and I spent many a sunset on various Southern California beaches in San Diego, Malibu and points in between hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive phenomenon.  I don’t know if I ever saw it.  If I did, I’m sure Will Smith walked up soon after and slipped on those sunglasses.  In any event, when I think of Green Flash I think of the green flash and that takes me back to California (yes, the Eagles were right.  I checked out many years ago but I still haven’t left).  So my perspective on the eastern migration of west coast craft brewers is greatly influenced by my years out there. In that respect, my opinions may be very different than most.

As of last count, three California craft brewers are opening new eastern breweries and two Colorado brewers are doing the same.  Specifically:

  • Green Flash (San Diego) to Asheville, NC
  • Sierra Nevada (Chico) to Asheville, NC
  • Lagunitas (Petaluma) to Chicago
  • New Belgium (Ft. Collins) to Asheville, NC
  • Oscar Blues (Lyons) to Asheville, NC

Granted, there are plenty of great reasons for these guys to open major brewing operations in the Southeast.  Asheville is a worthy craft beer destinations these days.  I get it.  The economics just make too much sense.  Green Flash and the rest of the reverse geographic pioneers almost have to have a presence out here if they want to increase market share and production while greatly reducing distribution costs and all the logistical nightmares that come with trying to get fresh craft beer onto shelves 3000+ miles away.  Distribution up and down the eastern seaboard out of NC is certainly more advantageous than doing it from San Diego.

Which Coast IPA

Which Coast IPA?

Craft beer fans (myself included) will have plenty to raise a glass to once the fermenters and bright tanks are up and running in the shadow of the Biltmore Estate:

  • Availability – No more empty shelves in Philly.  When Lagunitas sucks we’ll all get plenty to cheer about.
  • Variety – California (or Colorado) only limited brews may see the light of an Atlantic sunrise.
  • Freshness – There will always be challenges (individual retailers won’t be off the hook) but it stands to reason that it will be much easier to keep fresh brews on the shelves when it’s brewed closer to home.

All great reasons to applaud and look forward to the days when the new breweries are up and running but I’m only clapping with one hand.  For me there will be something missing.  Authenticity.  When I pour a Green Flash West Coast IPA I want it be just that – a legitimate west coast IPA from the the real San Diego.  I’m sure they’re going to do it right.  The brews coming out of NC will probably be indistinguishable from the ones brewed in CA.  That said, it’ll just feel a bit like I’m buying a label – buying a brand.  That’s not a good thing IMO.  That’s not why I check out from the craft beer shop any time I want and leave with California in the 4 pack.