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!

Beer Review: A Hurricane’s Hoppy Lining

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

First things first: There’s nothing good about hurricanes.  Whether Sandy, Katrina, Andrew, or ones yet to be formed and named, they kill people, tear apart families, destroy homes, businesses, futures, and hope.  That said, some of the finest examples of human kindness and compassion are often tragedy’s most lasting memories.  First Responders and nameless neighbors risking their own lives at the height of the storm to save people they’ve never met and may never know.  Physically unaffected people from every state in the country and from countries around the world donating their time, resources and money to help crippled communities get back on their feet.  It’s in that spirit that a small craft brewery which recently moved from Cherry Hill, NJ (just a couple miles from my blogging global corporate campus and research facilities) to Somerdale, NJ lent a hand by brewing a special beer with profits donated to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

So THAT's what "FU" stood for all these years...

So THAT’s what “FU” stood for all these years…

Just about everyone in NJ and all along the Northeastern Coast has more than one memory of Hurricane Sandy.  Those of us who live in the area remember all too well where we were when it struck land and forever changed the geography of much of New Jersey’s shoreline.  I was lucky – sort of.  I missed all the excitement because while Sandy was wreaking havoc I was tethered to a hospital bed at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, 12 floors up with so many IVs in me that they must have thought I was an octopus.  Too add insult to professionally planned and executed injury (a.k.a. major open abdominal surgery), none of those IVs delivered craft beer (but one offered up something a little more potent).  Anyway, Sandy hit about 24 hours after I was told I might not survive the night and less than 24 hours after middle of the night trips through deserted corridors into the bowels of the hospital for emergency diagnostic studies.  As I said – I was lucky.  The rest of you aren’t.  I’m still here to pester you with these posts.

While recuperating at home and rebuilding my strength with a diet of matzo ball soup and Han Dynasty Dan Dan Noodles I saw a tweet from my home town craft brewers announcing that they were going to brew a very limited beer with all profits going to Sandy relief efforts.  One reason why the release was going to be very limited was simply the fact that they couldn’t bottle this beer.  It was going to be distributed in kegs only because there was no way they’d get approval for labels.  No F’n way.  Not for a beer called FU Sandy Ale.  “Forever Unloved”, yeah, right.

Flying Fish Brewery did a great thing by donating all of the profits from every keg of FU Sandy to relief efforts but they did something else which has gone largely unnoticed:  They brewed a spectacular beer.  I’ll admit it.  I’m often a critic of local brews, strongly favoring the bolder, brighter beers of the California Coast, especially San Diego’s flagship West Coast IPAs.  As I wrote a few months back in my post on the Converging Coasts of Craft Beer, I checked out many years ago but never left.  When it comes to a bias for West Coast craft beer, I’m guilty as charged.  That said, Flying Fish flat out nailed it with FU Sandy.

I missed this beer when it was initially released, chasing Twitter feed sightings from bar to bar in the Cherry Hill area the day it was tapped.  No luck.  Not until this past Sunday night’s Fathers Day outing to South Jersey’s finest craft beer bar, the Pourhouse.  My buddy and last H.O.P.P.E.R. standing and I were long overdue for what used to be a semi-regular Sunday night research session (work week readjustment therapy session is more like it).  After some well-deserved abuse for having become near strangers for our recent lack of patronage, Marci, their rock startender, said “we have the last keg of FU Sandy on.”  That was all I needed to hear.  No need to read the tap list.  My Fathers Day started with a breakfast in bed treat with the whole family (including the newest editions, Guinea Pygmalians I & II – my manes, not the kids’, they’ve changed names so many times that I honestly don’t know what they are) and it would end with an unexpected craft beer treat.  A Happy & Hoppy Fathers Day!

Flying Fish describes FU Sandy as a hybrid Pale Wheat Ale brewed with an experimental hop variety dubbed ADHA 483. The experiment worked.  Gloriously so.  Big, bright tropical aromas exploded from the glass.  Plenty of fresh mango, guava, and grapefruit.  Those flavors carried through to the flavor, balanced beautifully by the lightly toasted, biscuity notes from the wheat side of this blended style family.  Even though this isn’t an IPA it has all of the hallmarks of an exceptional one – a West Coast profile at that.  Silky mouthfeel and a crisp, moderately dry finish.  A legitimate contender for the best craft beer I’ve had so far this year along with Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12, Three Floyds Zombie Dust, and (512) Pecan Porter.  By far the best beer that’s ever come out of Flying Fish and one worthy of mention along with the best brewed anywhere.  A Heady Topper topper hands down!  Don’t get me wrong, these guys turn out a few other really nice brews including Exit 1, Exit 6, and Exit 16, but this one is in a class all it’s own – a world class.

So while Jersey may best be known for Springsteen, Bon Jovi, The Sopranos, and those horrific tomatoes, I nominate Flying Fish FU Sandy for a spot on the list of Jersey’s icons.  It’s that good and it did some good.

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)