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!

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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!

Howard Stern Meets Craft Brewing. Enter The Era of Shock Brews

A few weeks ago I was reading about that Finnish brewery that’s recreating a beer salvaged from a 200 year old shipwreck.  Dogfish Head has been doing that kind of thing with much, much older historical brews – the Ancient Ales Series  – for years, so the Finn’s brew concept seemed downright tame.  Move on.  So I did, soon landing on the description of an upcoming brew from a nanobrewery in Iceland.  I figured this would be good.  Any country that produced Björk could probably turn out an avant guard brew.

The brewery was Egill Skallagrimsson (probably not on ABInBev’s acquisition list) and the beer, to my only slight amazement, was Björk Stork Special Lager.  Seriously? First of all, she’s a first class loon.  A modern day Yoko Ono but without the politically-laced soft porn with John Lennon side project.  Makes Lady Gaga look like Taylor Swift during the infatuation phase with a new boyfriend.  Her fans are certified wackadoos and if the country that celebrates her as a national hero wasn’t already physically detached from every other country in the world, we’d figure out how to make it so.  Anyway, here’s what Egill Skallagrimsson said about their upcoming brew:

Magnús Per Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Magnús Ver Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Brewed in honor of our beloved Björk with all of the essence and wonder of her angelic thunder.  Aged 18 weeks atop shavings of footwear worn during her 2011 Biophilia World Tour for a unique flavor experience.  The clarity of this finest lager comes from the waters of revered Vatnajökull Glacier.  A grand lager to quench the thirst of a thousand Magnús Ver Magnússons.  In the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull we bring you Iceland’s most prideful premium lagers.

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

I won’t be pestering my local craft beer shops to stock this stuff and won’t try to track down those 2 art students down the hall in our dorm who I was convinced were from Iceland due to the mannequins in their….never mind.  Actually, I won’t be trying to get this beer because nobody can.  Harder to get than Westy XII because it doesn’t exist.  But one day it might.  It might because there are already some outrageous brews out there.  The goose-wrapped freak up there would probably pair Icelandic Hákarl (cured shark) with one of them.  So? What would Björk drink?

In other words, what tremendously stupid craft beers are actually being brewed, bought, poured, and…*clears throat…enjoyed right now?  Two ridiculous examples immediately come to mind (excuse the horrific pun – you’ll understand in a minute unless you save yourself and stop reading right now).  Both turned out by otherwise legitimate, respected, award winning craft breweries who apparently thought it might be fun to put on the idiot caps and design the following brews:

Exibit 1:  Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

To make matters worse, they recently started canning and packaging it in two packs.  I wish I was kidding.  Brilliant marketing or idiocy on a grand scale? You know the Bud Light Lime crowd is howling at this one.

Exhibit 2:  Rogue Beard Beer

a,k,a, Shark Jump Beer

a.k.a. Shark Jump Beer

I didn’t believe this one either until I had no choice.  Well, I have a choice not to go anywhere near it.  I don’t know what they were thinking aside from the fact that they weren’t.  Perhaps a cry for attention from Rogue Nation.  Maybe they felt as though they were being left in the dust by more adventurous craft brewers.  This is their way of saying “Hey! Look at us now! We can be morons too!” Meanwhile, fully aware of my own opinions on this beer, I bought a bottle of their new VooDoo Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale earlier today AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE THE COMBINATION OF PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA! So who’s the moron?

There are others.  These are just the two that annoyed me the most.  I assume this trend of shock brews is just in its infancy.  The gauntlet’s been brewed and bottled.  What’s your take? Should I just chill out with a sedate Ruination or am I somewhat justified?  Let me know what you think.

Cheers!

Craft Beer’s Mt. Rushmore

The Inspiration for Mt. Hopmore

The Inspiration for Mt. Hopmore

President’s Day is a time for honoring all of our past Presidents but somehow the guys that managed to get themselves chiseled into that mountain seem to be the only ones that actually get honored.  Not sure what Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, or Warren Harding did to miss the cut up there but perhaps there was a remarkable likeness of their faces molded into the mud beneath the pines after a storm one Thursday afternoon.  Or not.

In any event, images of Mt. Rushmore got me thinking about which craft beer pioneers I would want to see carved into a mountain.  Who belongs on craft beer’s Mt. Hopmore?  I started with a list of 7 or 8 names (ok, exactly 8).  Naturally, my target number was 4.  After all, the real thing has 4 and it looks really good under those fireworks at night.  Coming up with exactly 4 craft beer luminaries for Mt. Hopmore was; however, almost impossible.  Then it hit me – it’s my concept.  My mountain – my rules.  That was easy.  So my Mt. Hopmore has 5 giants of craft beer.  In all honesty, the first 3 seem to me absolute givens.  The last 2 were just too hard to differentiate between one another.  Both clearly worthy and both identical in one important respect.  Anyway, here they are:

Fritz Maytag - Anchor Brewing

Fritz Maytag – Anchor Brewing

First of all, doesn’t this guy look the part? Swap him out today for Teddy Roosevelt and almost nobody would notice the difference.  Hard to argue against including the guy who took over a failing second-rate brewery and turned it into, arguably, the flagship craft brewery that lead the way for all the others to follow.  A true craft beer icon.

Ken Grossman - Sierra Nevada

Ken Grossman – Sierra Nevada

It’s often said that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the one – the Neo of craft beer.  OK, I just said it and I’ll repeat it a bunch of times (though not here – there’s a limit to how much I really want to torture you) so it’ll eventually be often said.  Ken Grossman opened minds and palates to hoppy, flavorful ales and even though Sierra Nevada Pale pales in comparison to today’s hop bombs, many of them would never have been brewed if not for his vision and determination.

Jim Koch - Boston Beer

Jim Koch – Boston Beer

How can you ignore the guy who brought Samual Adams, an American patriot, to the masses by brewing it to them?  Too many good reasons to carve him into a mountain even if Boston Beer is, well, very large (and advertises – a rarity in the craft beer industry).  He’s been a huge supporter of small, independent craft brewers.

Sam Calgione - Dogfish Head

Sam Calgione – Dogfish Head

You knew he had to show up.  As outspoken as anyone in the industry today and a formidable foe to Big Beer.  The Godfather of extreme brewing, he’s come up some outrageous brews.  Love him or hate him, if you’re a craft beer fan you have a strong opinion one way or the other.  He’s elevated the debate surrounding beer vs. wine as a companion to fine food and he gets extra credit for pissing off Big Beer with his short-lived Brewmasters series.

Greg Koch - Stone Brewing

Greg Koch – Stone Brewing

Full disclose: I have a Stone Brewing addiction.  If my wife would have allowed it, our first child might have been named Arrogance.  That said, he founded Stone and the mountain is made of the stuff,  Aside from that, he’s turned craft brewing up to 11, pioneers sustainable industry and pokes a hoppy finger in the eye of Big Beer with every Ruination poured.  Oh, another thing: he’s made gargoyles very, very cool.

So that’s my Mt. Hopmore.  Agree? Disagree?  Take the poll and vote!

The Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Ask me almost anything about beer and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll know the answer.  “What’s the difference between dry hopping and continuous hopping?”  I know that. “Does chocolate malt really contain chocolate?”  I know that too, and – no, it doesn’t.  “What’s Fritz Maytag’s claim to brewing fame?”  Yeah, I know that and it doesn’t have anything to do with inventing a combination Maytag dishwasher/brew kettle.   “Who brews Pliny the Elder Ale and what styles of beer pair well with Thai food or Texas BBQ?  Yes, I can tackle those as well.  The list goes on and has gone on at beer tastings and other events for a while now.  I’ve been a proud bearer of the beer geek tag for a good 8 years.  I’ve hosted countless beer tastings, reviewed hundreds of beers, sampled hundreds more, brewed my own beer, given purchasing advice to a handful of owners, buyers and beer managers at local liquor stores and designed flights for some local craft beer bars but one question has evaded even a poor answer despite many attempts:  “when did you become a beer geek (or beer nut as the question is usually posed)?”  For far too long, the best and most honest answer I could come up with has been, “I don’t really know.”  Absurd, how could I not even know enough to take a weak stab at such a basic and obvious question?  Well, never one to be comfortable with not knowing the answer (especially to something so seemingly simple), I sat down with a contemplative pint or two of Great Divide Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Stout and determined to come up with something better than “I don’t really know.”

When it came to beer in the first place I was late to the tap handle, not having my first one until midway through my second semester of sophomore year at Syracuse University.  A self-imposed goodie two shoes I can honestly say that I never had a drink at a high school party and I didn’t even thought about sneaking a little something from my parents bar.  Throughout Freshman Year I never uncapped one of the Haffenreffer’s my future roommate, John Chawner, and his future wife, Cathy, were so quizzically partial to.  When I did start to accompany my college buddies to the bars adjacent to campus I tended to stay away from beer completely – just hated the taste of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would drink it.  Embarrassingly, I would usually be caught with a vodka Collins in those days but that’s another story.

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