Category Archives: Stone Brewery

California Love (Part 1)

Yeah, that’s how we’re starting this week.

I just got back from a vacation visiting my best friend in Los Angeles. Our trip just happened (I swear this is true) to coincide with Stone’s 18th Anniversary Party–my friend’s brother lives near Stone’s location in the Northern part of San Diego County, and we were thinking about going to see the brewery and its vaunted World Bistro and Gardens anyway, so we decided to just go for it.

Rather than simply open the Bistro and have a celebration of all things Stone and only Stone, the Anniversary Party is basically an all-day beer festival split into two sessions; one earlier in the afternoon and one later. Some sixty breweries were featured, with well over 100 beers available for sampling. Tickets weren’t exactly cheap ($45—and yes, I paid for them), but the price ensured a crowd of die-hard craft beer enthusiasts. The crowd was as big as you’d expect considering Stone’s popularity, but not so big that I had any difficulty getting around the San Marcos campus of California State University, where the Party was held. Also, I should compliment everyone involved in setting up and running the Anniversary Party; I can’t remember ever attending such a well-organized beer fest, completely lacking in the B.S. that usually makes me avoid beer fests.

Make no mistake, though: it was a big crowd, and some breweries attracted a lot of attention.

IMG_2061

This was the line to sample what The Bruery brought (their tent is the one straight ahead in the picture)

And the line for Russian River sampling was twice as long, but the pourers worked efficiently and lines progressed smoothly. Overall, very well done.

After the Anniversary Party on Saturday, we were treated to spots in a tour of the Stone brewery on Sunday, along with reservations at the Bistro (those I’ll thank Stone for). The brewery tour itself is…well, it’s a brewery tour—they’re all fairly similar:

“These are tanks!”

“These are tanks!”

 

"MOAR TANKS"

“MOAR TANKS”

“These are other tanks! And pipes!”

“These are other tanks! And pipes!”

This actually was pretty cool to see: these are the small tanks that make up Stone’s ‘pilot’ brewery, where they experiment with recipes to see what works and what doesn’t (I almost made a “rough drafts” joke here).

This actually was pretty cool to see: these are the small tanks that make up Stone’s ‘pilot’ brewery, where they experiment with recipes to see what works and what doesn’t (I almost made a “rough drafts” joke here).

I always enjoy brewery tours though, and at Stone I appreciated not only our knowledgeable and engaging tour guide, but the carefully selected samples poured for those on the tour immediately afterwards in the Stone Company Store. Not to mention the well-stocked refrigerator (note the presence of 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA, the new 18th Anniversary Golden Brown IPA, Enjoy By 9.20.14., sixers of Coffee Milk Stout, and not pictured are the bottles of Bastard In The Rye that I couldn’t stop myself from snagging one of):

"Buy ALL THE THINGS, Nick. DO IT."

“Buy ALL THE THINGS, Nick. DO IT.”

There were a couple noteworthy items during the tour: The first, on the heels of my last ArlNow.com column (about the issues California breweries are having with the state’s ongoing drought) was that Escondido—the North County area in San Diego where Stone is located—was under a boil alert the weekend we were there. Testing that Friday the 15th showed the presence of coliform bacteria, so the first thing we saw when parking at Stone on Sunday was a very large truck outside pumping clean water in. By Monday the 18th, the alert had been lifted for all but around 60 of the reported 6,300 water customers in Escondido. While this issue in Escondido wasn’t drought-related, it was interesting to see how an operation their size had to scramble to handle a temporary water emergency.

The other thing that came up on our tour was the news, released the day before the Anniversary Party, that Stone has narrowed the potential locations for its East Coast brewery to three finalist cities: Richmond, Norfolk, and…Columbus, Ohio? Ok, then—I’m still rooting for Virginia to get the nod (and rumors are flying about large spaces in both Virginia cities that could potentially work for Stone), and it sounds like we won’t have to wait much longer to find out for sure.

 

The Bistro

The Bistro

The Bistro is everything you’ve heard about it: a bit pricey but the food is delicious, with carefully chosen ingredients prepared very well. The draft and bottle beer lists are exceptional, featuring more than a few Bistro exclusives by Stone, along with cool unexpected Belgian selections and brews from Evil Twin and Mikkeller. My advice if you’re visiting? Grab a snack and a couple pints and enjoy a walk around the lovely outdoor area; I can imagine that as a really nice way to spend an afternoon.

Getting back to the Stone 18th Anniversary Party, here are some highlights from the beers I tasted there:

Stone Brewing Company stuff: Of course, there were a lot of Stone beers at the Party. I started the day with their 18th Anniversary Ale, which is just arriving in Virginia this week. A ‘Golden Brown IPA’, the malts make a nice counterpoint to the all El Dorado-hopped IPA. I’m partial to El Dorado right now; it always brings a nice, minty feel of freshness and a restrained amount of the citrusy/piney hop character that can be overdone in too many beers. Something I didn’t expect to see was Enjoy By 9.20.14., but it’s always appreciated. This batch won’t be hitting Virginia or DC, but if you need your fix it is available in Maryland. One I’d never heard of was Tiger Cub, a Saison in this case aged in white wine barrels with sour cherries. As you’d expect, opinions varied but I thought it was lovely. The new Coffee Milk Stout was great; not too strong, not overtly sweet, and if the six-packs ever get out here I’ll be stocking up on it for sure. My wife didn’t like the recently released W00tstout 2.0 as much as last year’s, but I found it to be just as punchy, rich, and enjoyable as before.

4 Hands Prussia Passion Fruit: I’d heard next to nothing about St. Louis’ 4 Hands Brewing before going to San Diego, but now I’m obsessed and it’s solely because of this Berlinerweisse with passion fruit added to it. It’s 3.5% ABV, tart as all get out, and the passion fruit just worked so well in the style. I must have it.

Russian River Compunction: Sure, most folks were waiting in the absurd Russian River line for Pliny The Elder, but many of us were intrigued by Compunction, a Sour Ale of theirs that I personally wasn’t familiar with at all. Turns out to be a Sour Blonde with pluots (a plum/apricot hybrid). I was looking for more fruit character, but Compunction does not disappoint—it’s a Russian River Sour, after all.

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin: Sculpin is about as perfectly-made as West Coast IPAs get; this variant with grapefruit added is just a little more perfect. If we don’t get bottles (or cans? Please?) of this in Virginia it’ll be a travesty. Ok, that’s a bit strong, but I really would like to have some to sell. In the meantime, I’ve heard of bottles popping up in DC, so keep an eye out.

The Lost Abbey Fuzzy Angel’s Share: I’ve only had Angel’s Share once or twice, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but this was wonderful. This version of Angel’s Share was made especially for the 18th Anniversary Party, adding black tea and stone fruit to the 12.5% ABV Brandy-barrel Strong Ale. Heady (especially as it was my last beer of the party), but so complex and just packed with flavor.

Modern Times Black House: Tasty Oatmeal Stout, under 6% ABV, in a can? Yes, please. Clean, smooth on the palate, delightful beer.

Beechwood Alpha Master Pale Ale: “Simcoe, Centennial, and Columbus hops in the kettle. It’s then generously dry hopped for two weeks with Simcoe and Centennial…” yeah yeah yeah, I know, another over-hopped West Coast beer–but wait. This is a 5.6% ABV Pale Ale, clocking in at 80 IBU but not enamel-shredding by nature. The kind of beer I wish more West Coast breweries aimed to make (more on that in a couple weeks).

Port Brewing ChronicAle: This wasn’t at the Anniversary Party (at least I didn’t see it there), but I picked this up the night we landed in L.A. during a BevMo run. ChronicAle, in its canned form, is a 4.9% ABV hoppy Amber Ale that can function as a hoppy Session Beer. The malt works really well here, shouldering the burden of the hops to carry the beer, and adding to the ‘Sessionable’ feel. The best part? ChronicAle comes in six-packs of tallboys, and cost $9.99 at BevMo. This was the first moment I thought to myself “Nick, have we landed in The Promised Land? Yes, Other Nick, we sure have.”

More travelogue next week, along with an awesome visit to The Bruery. See you then!

ArlNow.com Column 6.20.14. (Beer Advertising) Supplemental

(Note: I’m going to start doing these occasionally when there’s a train of thought or a set of ideas that don’t fit into what I’ve written for a particular week’s Your Beermonger column for ArlNow.com. –Nick)

–Stone’ Greg Koch can continue to rail against everything from breweries advertising on TV to ketchup (I swear I’m not making that up); he’s an intelligent, eloquent voice speaking out for those of us who want to take The Man down. Despite Stone’s anti-corporate stance, though, it is undeniably a big business whose beers increasingly are popping up on the shelves of Big Box chain stores and groceries. While Stone continues to rage against the machine, Schlafly’s getting one of those ‘faceless multinationals’ to promote its brewery without the expense of its own national TV campaign. Just something to think about.–

That’s a pretty close approximation of how this week’s ArlNow column was originally going to wrap up. As I was writing, I thought it was needlessly antagonistic toward Stone and Greg Koch personally (who I’m a gigantic fan of), so I scrapped it. But there is a deeper issue for those of us who work with beer and who love beer, and I’d like to delve into that for a moment.

I think Greg speaks for a lot of us with his self-described “screeds”; some of us want our small breweries to take a stand against the corporations whose first commitment isn’t to making the best beer possible, but to increasing the value of its stock. I may take some issue to seeing chains like Total Wine or Whole Foods being allocated so much of Stone’s special releases in light of Koch’s philosopy, or feel an odd ping trying to reconcile Stone’s own corporate ethos and its beers becoming increasingly available in groceries like Giant, Safeway, etc., but there are two important factors to keep in mind here:

1.That beer is being sold by distributors, not Stone. Once the beer is sold to a distributor, breweries have varying degrees of influence as to how its products are sold or to whom they are sold.

2. The beer business is a business. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there are real-world issues at play here, and one of them is that Stone is an incredibly popular national name in the beer industry. Any brewers worth a damn is going to want their beers featured in as many supportive markets and retailers withing those markets as possible. There’s a certain extent to which we all need to grow up a little about this.

The achievements of Stone and other top 10 craft brewers (Bell’s, Lagunitas, etc) are remarkable because of the lack of major national ad campaigns involved in their growth. Stone stands out for essentially having a policy of not spending money on advertising. It’s not like Stone doesn’t get into marketing in any way, of course, but it’s still pretty incredible to have the 10th largest craft beer sales by volume without a penny’s worth of bought advertising.

There is room enough in beer for many ideas and approaches, all of which can be correct and all of which can work to the benefit of those implementing them. Even if you’re not politically minded, your decisions as a consumer are inherently political ones: you do in fact vote with your wallet. I do it in my role as a buyer–there are breweries whose items I don’t have an interest in stocking because I don’t want to support their business models. There are brands I won’t carry because I don’t like the imagery of their packaging. That’s my decision to make, just as it’s your decision to think I’m a haughty douchebag for making it, or thinking Greg Koch is an insufferable hipster asshat for not offering you ketchup at the Stone World Bistro and Gardens.

In the end, none of that is as important as recognizing that we can all be right and that when we attack the approaches of well-meaning small breweries, we do the Big Guy’s jobs for them. I don’t get pissed off because Stone, Dogfish, Bell’s, Lagunitas and the like are available at the Giant across the street from me–them being there means we’re winning; that consumers are choosing well-made, interesting, high-quality beer over the stuff that’s been sold to them for decades by, among other methods, gigantic TV ad campaigns.

I’m increasingly becoming fed-up with the term ‘craft beer’, because the point is that there’s nothing ‘special’ about using the highest-quality ingredients to make flavorful, interesting beers–it’s simply doing things the way they should be done. Continuing to say ‘craft beer’ sets us all up to be categorized as just another trend; something for SABInBevMillerCoors to laugh about at their stockholder’s meeting 20 years from now: “Hey remember ‘craft beer’? (everyone erupts in laughter while lighting cigars with Cease & Desist letters and defaulted-upon bank notes)”

History is written by the winners, folks, and as strong as ‘craft beer’ is becoming, it can very easily in-fight itself into ‘passing trend’ status. Stay focused. As the Bard himself said so well:

 

There endeth the lesson.

The Beermonger Review: Saison du BUFF (Updated w/all 3 versions)

Yeah, I know…where the hell have I been?

Well, it’s been a little bit hectic in ‘Mongerland lately. I recently changed jobs somewhat unexpectedly in June, followed by (1 week later in fact) moving to a new place. So to say I’ve been busy is a way of putting it. Adjusting to the new job has been good and I’m enjoying it a lot but it does take some time, hence the extended absence. Apologies.

I’ve got a bit of a backlog of beers that I’ve had over the past couple of months and some things I’m excited to write about. I’ll be trying to get to these over the next few weeks. For now, I’m kicking back watching the Redskins first preseason game and trying out Dogfish Head’s version of the ‘Mother of all Collaboration’ special beer Saison du BUFF.

A bit of background: Saison du BUFF started with an alliance of three of the baddest beer-brewing mofos in America back in 2003, as Stone Brewing Co boss Greg Koch, Dogfish Head madman Sam Calagione and Victory badass Bill Covaleski formed the Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor (BUFF) alliance. The point was not just to increase promotion of honest, outstanding craft beer to us dirty, unwashed masses yearning to drink free of multimillion dollar bullshit and fizzy yellow beer, but to ensure fair treatment and respect for small craft brewers from distributors and proper placement for those beers in retailers, bars and restaurants everywhere.

Earlier this year, the boys met up at Stone’s North County San Diego brewery to create a special beer as a thanks to all of us unworthy Bastards. The concept is simple: One beer to be brewed at all three breweries, using the same recipe and ingredients. The end product is a Saison clocking in at 6% ABV, brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

I tried a bottle of the Stone version a few weeks back (during my hiatus) and am currently drinking the Dogfish version. I’m going to crack my second bottle of the Stone (forgot it was in there!) to get a fresh impression and compare.

What’s that you say? How can there be a comparison? It’s the same beer, with the same recipe and ingredients! Well, you have a point. But it’s not quite that simple. Let’s get to it:

Saison du BUFF Comparo, Part 1, or: Identical Cousins, Two of a Kind!

Stone Saison du BUFF

We’re gonna call this v.1. Poured with a quick to rise, quick to fall foamy head. The aroma is sharp, with herbal notes and a hint of citrus character that you’d normally see in a Hefeweizen. First impression on the palate is bright herbs and some hoppy acidity. The combination of herbs used almost makes v.1 seem like a Pale Ale with some dry-hopped character. Drinkable but complex; Saison du BUFF takes you for a bit of a ride leading to a finish with lingering ‘hop’ flavor and a subtle building heat, almost like a good red table wine (Chianti, a proper Merlot, Cotes du Rhone). I could see some great seafood pasta dished playing well with this, or a nice shaved turkey on rye or kickass veggie sandwich. Wish I had more.

Dogfish Saison du BUFF

The first impression came from merely opening the bottle. The cap gave way with a decidedly loud POP. As I poured the last of the bottle, it seemed to develop a foaming head that just wanted to run right out of the top of the glass. I described it on Twitter as being ‘active’; it had playful, hyperactive bubbles and a nose that seemed hoppier, hotter and all-around less subtle than the Stone.

The palate is where I really started noticing some differences. To me, the Dogfish version (from here on referred to as v.2) presented itself as more of a traditional Saison with its round feel and slightly grainier, yeastier character. It’s very drinkable, like v.1, but I think more so because of how the herbs seem to be more integrated.

On my palate the difference seems to be almost like using fresh versus dried herbs. The dry stuff is sharp, intense and uncompromising in pureness of its character. Fresh herbs are muted, earthy and easier on the nose and tongue. Try eating a basil leaf sometime, then try eating a pinch of dried basil. You’ll see what I mean.

The point being (I hope) that v.1 is much more the ‘dried herb’ take on Saison du Buff, where v.2 has the lusher, more subtle ‘fresh herb’ notes. Which of course is odd, since they’re the same beer made with the same ingredients. The only difference is where they’re made. It’s fascinating to me that they show like this, but if I paint with some broad strokes it makes some sense: You’d expect a West Coast beer to have a sharper palate and some lingering heat. The herbs in v.1 give a simulation of a lingering lupulin ‘burn’, which is very cool. By the same token, it makes total sense to see something from the East Coast being earthier and rounder.

Where the collaboration comes through for me, then, is in the aromas. The v.2 nose is so intense and hot which you might expect from, say, an intensely hoppy beer from Stone. V.1 more subtle but still complex; something that screamed Dogfish Head to me.

If I had to pick one, I’d go for v.2. I think the Saison character and earthiness play beautifully here. But honestly they’re both amazing beers, more than worth your time and attention. Track them down if you can.

Before anyone points it out: Yes, I know I haven’t mentioned Victory. I’m waiting for their version to come out. When it does, I’ll sit down and we’ll see how v.3 compares to 1 and 2. I can’t wait to pick all three of these apart and see what I find.

Until next time!

Beermonger

Update! Victory Saison du BUFF:


So now that I’ve had the Victory version of the beer (let’s call it V.3), let’s wrap this up and call it a full set.

If I had to sum it up as succinctly as possible, I’d say V.3 is ‘just right’. It’s not as dramatic as the Stone or Dogfish beers but it strikes a great balance that makes it the most drinkable of the bunch. Remarkably the last bottle I had, having been in the fridge for a few days, presented itself as being very Pils-like while still very cold. All that herbal element at a very cold temperature makes for a very focused but subtle hop-like note. As it warmed up a bit the basil-ness of the beer came out like it did on the first two. V.3 is the one of the three I’d give to an uninitiated craft beer drinker if they were curious about the beer; it’s so balanced and easy going that I can see almost anyone enjoying it.

So did I have a favorite? I don’t think I do. I really did dig all three. Each had something that made it stand out, yet they all shared a unique recipe that combined the absurd with the comforting with the sublime. I say if you can get a hold of any Saison du BUFF, get on it.

The Beer Geek’s Manifesto

I need to preface this a bit…

…I’m a dork.

No, it’s ok. You can say it too, if you’ve met me—it’s not as if my dorkiness is something that’s buried deep. I hold Union cards in the orders of the Beer Geeks, the Comic Book Geeks, the TV Geeks, Movie Geeks, Video Game Geeks, Guitar Player Geeks and definitely the Car Geeks.

So I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past couple of weekends playing Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. Yes, I am one of those guys: The faithful long-suffering GT game fans who will give the crew at Polyphony a few more months after waiting five goddamn years for a new game if it means the new SLS AMG will sound a little more life-like or that kickass ’05 Subie WRX rally car hits its apexes just a little more like the real deal. As if I’d know the difference.

I think my love for Gran Turismo has its roots in my childhood when I didn’t seem to want anything for my adult life but to operate something that went obscenely fast. I had cardboard tubes filled with posters and glossy defense contractor pinups of all the latest and greatest military aircraft. NASA stuff? Man, I got a copy of Alan Shepard’s book handed to me autographed! How hot is that? Then there was the car porn: The framed pic of a C4 Corvette that hung on my wall for years; the model kits of Bill Elliott’s Coors-sponsored Ford and the 80′s Ferrari Testarossa; the little red diecast 250 GTO that sat atop my bookshelf into my 20′s; the bigass ’67 Camaro poster that looked so much like the one my folks used to drive.  As a child of the 80′s I’d watch the Space Shuttle launch and dream of being an astronaut. Growing up near DC and Andrews Air Force Base I’d go to the air show with my dad and spend the next weeks daydreaming of piloting A-10′s, A-4′s, F-15′s, 16′s—and the SR71 Blackbird. Don’t ever get me started on the Blackbird: That thing is the sex even now. Back then, to the 5-6-7-year-old Beermonger that plane was a crack rock rolled in pure sugar dipped in chocolate wrapped in bacon and then deep fried.

But it always came back to cars for me. That ’67 Camaro I mentioned before was the first ‘family car’ I can remember. As a 4 year old boy, not a lot could beat hauling ass out in the country with no soundtrack but the roar of the old Chevy’s dual exhausts, or running errands with my folks around town in the baddest machine I’d ever touched in my young life. I’m an only child and I invested a lot of emotion in that car without ever realizing it: I didn’t feel right after my dad plastered a deer with it and the Camaro had to go into the shop for a while. I remember my dad calling the house my folks used to drop me at (there was a neighbor of my Grandmother’s who watched kids for everyone in the ‘hood) and telling me he had a surprise for me. My thoughts went to toys, sweets—maybe even a trip to that ice cream place with the tabletop Frogger machine! Instead, he pulled up in the fresh-out-of-the-shop Camaro. I couldn’t have hugged that car more if it was my brother; it legitimately made me happier to see that car than any of those other things would have.

That car was the Good Days. Soon enough my folks would split up and I’d end up living with my Mom who was driving the by-now breaking and in need of an engine Camaro. Rather than replace the engine, she traded it in for a silver Subaru wagon with gray interior. Things changed; it’s hard to say for the better or worse but everything worked out in the end. Letting go of that car, though, ended that carefree part of my childhood. The lesson was “Things fall apart. There’s no fixing what you love”.

You get older and you live and learn but damn if some things just never let you go. I still want that car. Not the Camaro, mind you; I mean that car that lets you let loose every once in a while and feel something. That car that makes you feel the ‘simple’ act of driving for the wonder and marvel that it really is. I’ve come to realize that I’ve measured my whole existence by how close I could be to driving a car I truly loved. As of now I can barely afford to keep my beat up Ford Ranger breathing, so when I have a spare hour or so I fire up the PS3 and play GT5 Prologue, because it’s as close to driving any of those cars as I’ll ever get in this life. It’s the only place I’ll punish a Z4 the way I’d want to in real life.

In Prologue you extremely accurate virtual recreations of real cars through various racing challenges earning credits that you get to spend on cars for your ‘garage’. The game is smartly designed so that you start small, hone your driving skills so that by the time you can afford to drive some of the big boys you might have half a thimble’s worth of an idea of what you’re doing. I’m at the point now where my garage is starting to look like a Sheik’s.

It all started with the Nissan GT-R. I’m a bit obsessed with the GT-R, and jumped to buy one the first chance I got. Tackling races with it, I enjoyed it thoroughly except I couldn’t seem to get the lap times I’d expected from it. Frustrated, I decided I needed to up the firepower and bought a Ferrari F430. The Italian Supercar would bring me to the promised land of the speed gods, right? Well, it took some getting used to and is an amazing car no doubt, but now I was out of control. I saved up damn near half a million credits for a Ferrari F40. The F40 was Ferrari’s early 90′s attempt at building a ‘street legal Formula 1 car’.

The F40 didn’t win me any races. The way the car handled, shifted and turned was unlike anything I’d driven so far. I gave the F40 lap after lap and gradually something started happening: I still wasn’t winning, but the way I drove the car became more natural, my racing instincts sharpened and I realized that this car was simply making me better. I hopped back in the F430 for the hell of it and drove the race of my life. Something was still lacking, though; so next time I fire up the game I hopped back in…the GT-R. I’d come full circle and found the right vehicle to take my imaginary joyrides in.

In a room full of Car Geeks I’d have one guy agreeing with me completely, one guy telling me what a fool I was not to stick with the F40, one guy scoffing at all of us with tales of just how much of our asses a Lamborghini Reventon would kick and one guy would prefer an SLR, but see where I was coming from.

Sound familiar? In my years of working retail, writing and generally being a Beer Geek I’ve had hundreds of conversations just like the one in that last paragraph. I’ve had customers I needed to keep away from other customers because of how inflexible their opinions were. I’ve had people coming to me for advice and suggestions scoff at my list of favorite beers, usually because most of them are readily available. I’ve had people make faces at labels, or styles, or places a beer was from. I’m not trying to write a “Beer Geeks are zealots who keep craft beer from expanding” sermon. I’m saying I understand and if you don’t, you need to.

I guess what I’m trying to come around to saying here is that there are styles of beer we don’t prefer, and some beers we just don’t like—which is fine; we all have different tastes and they’re all going to react differently. What I think we all need to do is keep more of an open mind to re-trying beers we previous may not have enjoyed. I couldn’t get into Belgian beers for a long time; every now and then I’d get a draft of Delirium Tremens at Dr. Dremo’s and know that it was good, but think it just wasn’t for me. One night, though, it just clicked. I got it. Same with Flemish Sours and Rauchbier.

I think the moral of the story is: Just like it was with my video game GTR, you gotta crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. If super-hoppy IPA’s turn you off, well, maybe you’re just not there yet. Don’t discount Stouts because someone handed you a Stone IRS once when all you knew of beer was Yeungling or Sam Adams. You never know when somethings going to be your thing.

So onto the real reason I’m writing this:

At the core of Geekdom is an intense interest and joy we find in that which we are a geek for. Notice I say the “core” and not the heart. The heart of a Geek of any type is a damaged thing that we constantly try to patch back together with one more beer we’ve tried, one more track driven, one more bird watched, one higher level in WOW (or in my wife and I’s case, Final Fantasy). Because it’s so personal to us, we lose perspective (that many of us never had to begin with) and alienate those just finding out about our interests. Deep down, we don’t want more members of the club. So we go online or meet up and talk shit about noobs, or kids with flames and rear spoilers on otherwise stock Honda Civics, or Bud drinkers. Too many of us do this, and far too many think it’s ok. But I understand.

It comes down to the mix of ‘sin’ and genuine love that makes us all human. As not to hurt or offend I’ll use myself as the example:

I want a GT-R. Not in the game—I want to step outside tomorrow morning and see a Godzilla in Gun Metallic in the parking lot. I want it with a craven greedy lust that shames me to think about. I want to look at people driving Ford Rangers and feel sorry for them because they’re not having the experience that I am in my GT-R. I also know that most of the reason I feel that way is that I equate a marvel of an automobile like this to regaining something I lost when I was 5 years old. Something I know isn’t coming back because things fall apart and there’s no fixing the things you love. But I’m grown up just enough now not to be bitter that I’ll never own a GT-R, or to lord my opinion over someone who happens to prefer an M6, or even an R8 (which I love almost as much as the GTR).

For all of you out there who love beer the way I do and those just discovering the vast wonderful world of breweries and styles, follow some rules. Dare I say it? Yeah, what the hell:

The Beer Geek’s  Manifesto

1. It’s Not Boy Scouts

Rare beers arent merit badges and just because you’ve had them doesnt make you a better or even a more knowledgeable beer drinker. Don’t get in someone’s face about Westy 12 being the greatest thing on the planet unless you can rationally explain to them why. I’m glad you’ve had a chance to try it. I haven’t. I’m sure I will at some point and look forward to it. But when you run your trap about it being so amazing simply because it’s rare and you want to lord it over everyone that you’ve tried it, we know that’s why you’re doing it. And we all think you’re a dick who doesn’t know jack shit about beer because of it.

2. The More, the Merrier.

Don’t roll your eyes at people who don’t know what IPA stands for yet. All you’re doing is taking money out of the pockets of your favorite breweries, the farmers/suppliers/distributors they work with and the stores and bars you get your super-rare limited-production brews from. No one likes a snob, especially beer drinkers—so cut that shit out.

3. There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Style of Beer.

People have been giving me shit for years because I have the temerity to be a huge fan of Abita’s Strawberry Lager. Most of these people giving me aforementioned shit have never tried this beer, and likely never will because “fruit beers suck” or they “stick to real beer”. Let me tell you asshats something: It’s not a 5,000 IBU Bourbon Barrel aged brett monster with wild yeasts floating around the bottle like sea monkeys, but it’s not a goddamn smoothie either. It’s a well made, exceptionally drinkable and refreshing beer that doesn’t make me feel like I have a brick in my gut when I’ve had 6 or 7 while BBQing. It’s a pleasant thing to have around for the month or so it’s available every year.

What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t like, let’s say, Saisons; there are two and only two reasons why. You either A) Haven’t had the right Saison yet, or B) You’ve decided you’re not going to ever like Saison beers and they can all kick rocks. If the answer is B, you need to find another hobby because being into beer is all about trying new things and keeping an open mind. Oh, and you’re an asshole who just wants to be right all the time. BTW, before anyone says “MacroLager”, we all have one we roll with. Don’t act like you don’t. Mine is Tecate.

4. A Rising Tide Lift All Ships

Don’t get in someone’s business because they don’t like your favorite brewery. Don’t refuse to try something because it doesn’t have a specific label on it. The more we support craft beer the more we’ll see of it. When I go bowling, I get pitchers of Sam Adams. Why? Well, there’s two (or five) more pitchers of Bud or Miller that their not selling. If enough of us did that everywhere, we’d have more options. The Northern VA area is a prime example. We’re seeing four or five new craft beer featuring restaurants and bars opening up this year, if not more. Don’t get pissy ’cause your friends brought you to a bar with Miller Lite, Bud, Bud Light, Heineken and Guinness on tap. Drink the damn Guinness and ask a barback if they’ve ever thought to try something new. Maybe suggest a beer or two. We’re all in the boat together.

5. Never Forget…

Abita Strawberry Lager rules and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know a thing about limited production beer and needs to go back to their Party Ball of Coors Light with Cletus and the boys.

Just kidding: I actually wanted to see if I could encapsulate all of the things we do wrong into one sentence. I think that one works.

Actually, #5 is this: Every pint, bottle or can is not only a chance to spread the word about craft beer and all the good things that come along with it, but a chance to make a friend. What all of us geeks really need in our lives is friendship. It’s the only thing that really helps us salve whatever it was that made us how we are. We all need more friends, and more opportunities to be friendly. Take advantage.

I think we can all figure it out from here. Don’t be a snob, don’t assume others are snobs, keep opinions and tastes in perspective and have a good time. Don’t assume to know where someone’s coming from anymore than you’d have them assume about you. Let’s all have a glass or 10 and rejoice in the growing community of the Beer Geeks.

‘Til All Are One

Cheers,

Beermonger

PS: This is also being published on the 2nd Anniversary of this here Blog. I just want to say thanks to everyone out there who’s taken a moment to swing by and check it out, comment or follow me on Twitter. I am humbled everyday that anyone on the planet might give a damn what I think. So thank you.

The Beermonger Review: Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

One of the joys of my first wine store job, aside from learning about wines and delevoping my palate, was being given control of our small (but mighty) beer ‘department’. It was a small little corner of the store, but I had a nice walk-in cooler stocked by the previous beer guy (a big beer geek) with all kinds of stuff  that I’ve never seen since. Stuff like 750mL Dogfish Head 60 and 90 Minute, Hair of the Dog beers that I haven’t seen in VA for years and a thourough collection of Belgian beers, including most of the Cantillon lineup.


I took to the Cantillon stuff almost immediately. I have an issue with many Lambic beers that comes up with many sparkling wines as well: I love the feel and the flavors but the first sip often starts a white hot fire in my esophagus. Over the years I’ve managed to build up a list of Champagnes and sparklers that don’t do this to me, but the Lambic ‘safe list’ is still dreadfully short. Not that it stops me from drinking them. What made Cantillon stand out to me was how smooth the beers were. For all the sour that they had, they didn’t set off the reaction that I expected. Little did I know at the time, the Cantillon that was in that cooler was going to be the last I’d see for a good 3 years…


Fast-forward to my taking the Beer Guy job at Rick’s. As I discovered the joys of my new access to rare and low-production beers, I kept asking about Cantillon. Where was it? Why could’nt we get any? Well, I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere so I gave up save for the occasional request that went nowhere. Then, one magical week, Cantillon Kriek happened to be in stock. Seemingly out of nowhere. The only person happier than me was my Stone rep at the time, who’s a crazy Cantillon freak (hey Scott!). For the rest of my stay at Rick’s I happily stocked the Kriek, keeping an eye out for the day when I’d be able to get more of the line back in. Sadly, that day never came.


Better late than never, though. Recently I popped into the old shop and what did I see? The wonder that is Cantillon’s Rose de Gambrinus. I swiped one and during a quiet evening at home, cracked it open. The aromas were what you’d expect from a Framboise except more elegant, complex, subtle. This didn’t have the intense sharpness on the nose that a lot of Lambic styles carry.


According to Cantillon’s website, artist Raymond Coumans (who painted the beer’s label) noted that “It has the colour of onion skin” while in the copper buckets used to empty the barrels. In the glass it’s not as deep a hue as that, falling somewhere between the skin of a shallot and that of a raspberry.  It was also Coumans’ idea to call the beer a Rose, to convey the sense of elegance that set’s this beer apart from other Framboise Lambics in the world.


The palate is slightly tart upfront, growing rounder in the mid-palate. The fruit and sugars come through at this point, but this is no sweet Lambic. The finish is long with the fruity and sour aspects of the beer fading in unison. It is the structure of the beer, if nothing else, that earns this the tag of Rose. It is very wine-like. Structure; balance; smoothness on the palate; an elegant, ponderous statement of a finish—it really does out-wine many wines out there. Really; try getting all of that from a glass of Yellowtail. I’ll save you the time (and the unpleasantness): you won’t.


On top of all that, I could’ve sat outside all night drinking bottle after bottle never once stopping to lament the reflux that it was causing—because it wasn’t. I literally could not ask for anything more than this beer was giving me. I know there are some out there for whom Lambic is not their thing. They’ve tried it and they just cannot find their way into it. No worries; we all have preferences and won’t be huge fans of everything. But if you’re one of those people who sees anything with fruit and thinks ‘Zima’, or that Belgian beers are ‘weird’ or that everything in this world made with fruit also comes with a ton of high-fructose corn syrup in it—take a chance. There is literally a whole world of beer out there, and to miss out on something as sublime as Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus due to timidity is a sin.


Next: Bell’s goes to Belgium, takes produce with them to DeProef. The results? Not as outlandish as you might think…

Beermonger


Epic Fail?

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About a week ago, I woke up and noticed a text message on my phone. It was from a friend and fellow Beer Geek, and it simply said:

“090909 is not good.”

“What is it?” I shot back.

“Oak aged belgian styled porter with tangerine and vanilla. Yuck.”

This was not encouraging. I’m a huge Stone fan and have always enjoyed the Vertical Epic series of beers. For those unfamiliar, starting in 2002 Stone has released one special beer per year made outside of their normal recipes. The first release was 02.02.02, the next 03.03.03. and so on. The series will come to an end with the 12.12.12. beer, with the idea being to hold all of them and have a big party with your friends and open them all for an epic vertical tasting.

Epic is one of the most eagerly anticipated beers of the year. In fact, back when I worked retail, I used to get these calls frequently:

2008:

Me: “This is Nick. How can I help you?”

Caller: “Hey, is Vertical Epic in yet?”

Me: “No, sir. It’s March.”

Caller: “Yeah? So?”

Me: “08.08.08. Should be available around then.”

Caller: “Not sooner? I heard sooner…”

Me: “I could see it being maybe a week or so early, but I don’t think they’ll release a beer scheduled for early August in the spring…”

Caller: “Well, here’s my number (gives number). Call me if it shows early. My buddy in (NY/CA/PA/MD/FL) said he’s gonna get some soon, though…”

Me: “Sure.”

end scene

Every year. Anyhoo, since almost no one has any of the 2002, almost no one buys these with the intent of aging them for years. Myself included. I do have a couple 2008′s on hand, and maybe even an ’06 or ’07 (have to check the collection), but I’m never going to have the full collection and if I did I don’t have the proper storage for such an undertaking.

Getting back on track: The Epic beers are always one of my favorite specials of the year, so getting the message I got was a bit worrying. I swung by Rick’s only to find them sold out. Of the seven cases they got. In under 24 hours. That’s how it used to go, so I’ve got no one to blame but myself there. Talking to Jon (Rick’s convivial Beermudgeon), he told me he hadn’t tried it yet either. He very cordially offered to sell me the bottle he hadn’t taken home yet, but I couldn’t do that. Luckily I had a tasting the next night at a shop where they actually had some in stock so I picked up a couple bottles and brought them home to see what was really going on…

Stone Vertical Epic Ale 09.09.09

Poured into Duvel tulip glass

Served cold but not too cold (2-3 hours in open cooler)

Enjoyed outside and alone

Belgian Porter made with dark candi sugar, chocolate malt, tangerine peel, vanilla bean, Belgian yeast and aged on French Oak

The beer had been hanging out in a cheese cooler for a couple hours, so it was cold but not too cold. The first fill of my Duvel glass poured very dark brown, with a surprisingly active head. I think the temperature had some influence, but my first note on this years Epic is that the head is dark and presents in ‘stiff peaks’, for those of us who enjoy the beating of eggs now and then. This got my attention immediately, especially as the head yielded in fairly short order, leaving a thick lace that resembled fractal art.

The back label of Epic ’09 explains that the inspiration was choclates with Orange in them. They wanted to find a way to recreate that in a beverage, hence the Tangerine peel, chocolate malt and vanilla. My first impression from the nose was heavy with the Belgian yeast and chocolate malts. Citrusy notes were subtle and rode the back of the vanilla, which kinda caught me off guard. From what I’d heard, I guess I was expecting Quik mixed with Grand Marnier. This was not that at all.

First sip was very smooth; rich but not too heavy. There wasn’t a great deal happening on the palate. The action seemed to be all happening on the finish, which was some kind of ride: Rich chocolate and vanilla popped up immediately, giving way to the tangerine and a mocha-like flavor. The finish developed quickly, but lingered for some time. This is something I don’t see that often in beers, even special brews like these, so I allowed myself a few minutes of leisurely sipping and exploring the elements of this wonderful, odd idea.

The second fill of the Duvel glass saw this beer really come out of its shell. The citrus notes from the Tangerine finally asserted themselves struck a healthy balance with the sugar, vanilla and oak. I gave up on notes and simply drank the rest of the bottle happily. My thoughts turned to my buddy’s text from the previous morning. This friend of mine is, as I’ve noted, a Beer Geek like you and me. He’s younger than me and still finding his wine palate, but knows how to identify what it is he enjoys and why. I wasn’t wondering why he didn’t like it, though–I was wondering why I did.

I could easily see where someone wouldn’t enjoy this beer. With all of the odd ingredients and the inspiration behind it, this is definitely not a beer for everyone. It’s like a clever deconstruction of a dish at a restaurant, or concept art: It’s clever, self-reverential and serves no practical use. As an impression of an orange-flavored chocolate, it’s outstanding. It gives you enough to identify the source but at heart it’s still a beer. I found myself almost surprised to say this is a great beer, but it is. It does come with a proper warning (the back label goes into great detail about the series and this specific beer), so what’s the problem?Then it hit me. Forgive me for a slight detour….

I’ve spent some time over the past couple months putting the bulk of my CD collection onto iTunes. Doing this I rediscovered a ton of albums that I haven’t really spent much time with over the years. One of these is from a group called Jazz is Dead. Basically, it’s a group of Jazz badasses who get together and jam on Grateful Dead tunes. I’m not much of a Dead fan myself, but I have a huge man-crush on drummer Jeff Sipe, and he’s on this record, so I picked it up.

You could imagine, me not being a Dead fan and all, that I don’t listen to this album all that much–and you’d be right. But there are a couple of cuts that I’ve grown attached to over time. And every now and then, it’s exactly what I want to hear.

Getting back to the point, I caught an earworm while sitting outside enjoying my Vertical Epic. It was the Jazz is Dead take on Weather Report Suite Part 2: Let it Grow. It’s my favorite track on the record; there’s a turnaround into a chours that is just beautifully structured and I can listen to it over and over. I realized that I was outside enjoying beer inspired by Orange chocolates and had a Dead song in my head being played by some of the finest Jazz players out there. These were two brilliant answers to questions no one in their right mind was asking. Folks at the top of their game making High Art of what is usually considered ‘high’ art.

There’s a certain perspective of mirth that you need in this life occasionally. Sometimes we have to enjoy something without taking it too seriously. Sometimes we need to hear that chord change in the chours over and over. Maybe not all the time, but every once in a while. With it’s odd ingredients and style, this is not a beer for everyday. But the Oak, vanilla and chocolate malt find balance with the citrus and alcohol to create something truly new, different, clever and fun.

Like I said, every once in a while…

Local Kicks Column, Weekend Preview….and The Beermonger Mini-Review: Stone Vertical Epic 8.8.08

Hey Hey,

Local Kicks Column here. Kind of past-due now that I’ve had a chance to try this year’s Vertical, but oh well.

Friday Tasting at Rick’s Wine & Gourmet:

-Victory Festbier

-Paulaner Oktoberfest

-Ayinger Oktoberfest

-Just for the hell of it, I’m tasting out Allagash Four. I’m very curious to try it, and it’s my beer department so that’s what we’re going to do.

Saturday Beer Tasting at Rick’s Wine & Gourmet:

-Allagash Fluxus. Tried this tonight. Very cool beer. Ginger is very much the big flavor here, and it drinks so much bigger than the average Belgian White. This is the beer for your friends who give you shit for drinking White Rascal or Southampton Double White. You show ‘em.

-Lagunitas We’re Only In It For The Money. Surprise! The boys in Petaluma weren’t going to send this one out (didn’t want to deal with the state’s label approval bullshit—understandable) but apparently changed their foggy little blessed minds. I’ve heard it’s a Belgian-style Tripel.

-Stone Vertical Epic 8.8.08 (More info below)

-Rogue Brewers Ale 2008. Bigass ceramic bottle. Bigass amber hoppy beer. What else do you need to know?

-Weyerbacher XIII. Trying this out tomorrow. Sounds like an absolute monster. A 13.6% ABV Belgian-style (notice a pattern here?) Stout. I’ll be bringing some serious beer food to handle this beast.

So, Vertical Epic…Always a highlight of the Beer Year for me (it’s like Advent, except not). The ’08 version is a Belgian IPA, and boy is it. It really is San Diego by way of Ghent. I’ll give a shout out to thebeersnob who mentioned mango and banana notes in it. Those are there—the yeasts are very specific in flavor and are huge even for the style. The story here is the hoppiness, which is a ballsy lupulin smack that I don’t think the Belgians have quite nailed yet. Even the biggest of the Belgian IPA’s are finesse; nothing too crazy, hoppy but never leaving your mouth slightly numb. This isn’t a Belgian IPA, per se: It’s an IPA-Tripel.

I think the fruity flavors are great in the beer, though it will be interesting to see how it develops over time. I think in about 8-12 months this is going to be a shockingly refreshing Belgian Strong Pale Ale. Almost like some of the De Dolle stuff, but more exaggerated.

Overall, 8.8.08 is kick-ass. Impressive in all kinds of new ways, as the guys at Stone (who don’t spend a lot of focus on Belgian-style ales, thought that seems to be changing) keep upping their game. Good on ya, gargoyle. See you Saturday if you can make it out.

Beermonger