Category Archives: Bell’s Brewery

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.

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The Beermonger Review: Van Twee, Life & Limb

‘Collaboration’ is the word. It’s a word that honestly bothers the hell out of me, mostly from overuse. Ever since the 90’s, people have been popping up on each others records and calling it collaboration when really it’s just a joint promotional play between two media entities. If Mary J. sings the hook on your record, that’s not a collaboration. She’s just singing the hook on your record. Sting and Dire Straits didn’t ‘collaborate’ on Money for Nothing. He just sang a background part as a favor for a friend.  Let me drive this home before I go on a real rant….

NOT a collaboration: Close, but no. You just had dudes lay down new tracks in the background for a song that was already a hit. Congrats, you made Diet Cherry Vanilla Coke:

Technically collaboration: All bands are collaborations, but these guys (Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones) are well known outside of this project (by the way get this album now!!!):

THE collaboration, also one of the best rock songs ever written:

So, collaboration demands a certain level of recognition and prestige of the parties involved. It’s a rare thing in these days where everyone is an expert in every field (just ask me or any of the thousands of beer and wine bloggers out there). There aren’t many opportunities for true collaboration in an era where most industries and arts are devoid of masters. Except, it seems, for the wonderful world of craft beer. It’s become de rigueur for brewery folks to come together, hang out, talk shop and then release a special beer they thought up together.

Not that this is anything I’m complaining about. Some of the most interesting beers of the past few years have come from this phenomenon. The Brooklyn and Schneider breweries practically rewrote the book on Hefeweizen with their dual efforts. Bel Proximus was the culmination of years of study for the Brett Pack and a signpost of American craft brewing’s coming of age through it’s understanding of Belgian brewing techniques. It’s this Belgian/American link that we’ll be exploring first today.

I hadn’t heard of Dirk Naudts until about a year and a half ago, when the beers of his De Proef (Dirk’s nickname, ‘The Prof) brewery arrived in Northern Virginia. It turns out that Dirk is something of a legend over in Belgium; one of the most renowned brewmasters in the whole country. I’m still trying to find out how many recipes from how many breweries are Dirk’s. If you’re enough into beer to be reading this blog, you’ve probably had something Dirk came up with, even if you don’t know it. Well, Dirk eventually came to open De Proef as his own brewery, a small super-precise computer-monitored place that turns out the magic potions that this sorcerer comes up with. My first experience with De Proef was with their excellent Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale, which is just about the most intensely Bretty thing I’ve ever seen. It had great balance and flavor, though, and I knew I’d found a new brewery to be a fan of.

Not all of Dirk’s beers are his alone, however. Not long after first carrying his beers, we received the first in a series of collaborations he was doing. This first one was made with Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. It was a beer with a Brett level approaching the Reinaert but hopped like an American DIPA. The result was tropical, rich, smooth goodness that found a surprisingly large following. When I finally made it out to Cali earlier this year and visited San Francisco’s world-class Toranado, the first draft I had was the Port/De Proef Ale.

Now we have the release of Van Twee (‘from two’), made with John Mallett of Michigan’s legendary Bell’s brewery. I had heard whispers about this one for about a year, but had no idea it was coming in. I happened to notice it on the shelf where I bought it (no I’m not telling—I want to try to get another bottle or two) and immediately grabbed it. The back label describes it ‘broadly’ as a mix of the Porter and Dubbel styles, using Belgian candi sugar and the dark, sour cherries that Michigan is known for as well as some of that cherry juice. The sugar used for bottle conditioning came from Michigan sugar beets and it was finished with a Brett addition and the Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand (!). Even the ingredients are in the spirit of collaboration.

Van Twee pours a dark brown hue; in certain light you can detect a hint of red but I really had to look to find it. It looks like a Belgian Stout more than a Dubbel, but the viscosity is consistent with Porter and Dubbel. The nose was doubly tart with the cherry and Brett. Anyone familiar with Bell’s Cherry Stout knows what I’m talking about when I say that I knew there was a malty beer under the cherry aroma, but it’s almost too much work to get past the intensity of the fruit. I feel like it worked a little better in the context of the Belgian beer; perhaps there’s a familiarity we have with sour Lambic beers that makes it a little easier to handle such a sharp cherry smell. Either way, I couldn’t glean much of the beer’s character from the nose, so I dove in.

The palate is full-bodied and very smooth. It’s a great balance of rich malty flavors and the tartness of the cherries. The sugars and Brett are used more for texture, for evenness of flavor, with neither having a heavy influence on the flavor. What they do, though, is add elements that seem to come from nowhere: The sugar on the front palate makes you think immediately of a Belgian Dubbel or Stout, and the Brett combines with the cherry on the finish in a way that made me think for an instant of Rodenbach’s Grand Cru. I love Rodenbach Grand Cru. All in all, an interesting one-0f-a-kind brew that you should seek out. Highly recommended.

The collaboration everyone was talking about in ’09, though, was Life & Limb, the long-awaited beer from Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. Beer Geeks everywhere got all tingly when this was announced, and the speed with which the bottles flew off shelves here in NoVA spoke volumes about how big the craft beer scene has become here. I managed to snag one for myself (only one, unfortunately) for a review.

Life & Limb is a strong dark Ale (10% ABV) made with Chico estate-grown barley and maple syrup from Dogfish boss-guy Sam Calagione’s family’s farm in Massachusetts. The brew is bottle-conditioned and naturally carbonated with Alaskan birch syrup (!). I cracked my bottle and dove in…

The first thing I noticed was the color. Life & Limb pours a deep nutty brown, with a fine but firm head. It looks more like a potion or elixir than a beer, like I should take one of its 24 oz bottles with me into a Legend of Zelda-like dungeon. I got a lot of the maple and birch syrup on the nose, with a hint of that classic unmistakable Sierra Nevada yeast strain (more on this in a second). I lingered on the nose for a bit, because I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I was intrigued for sure, but I didn’t quite get it yet.

After the first sip, I got it. Not nearly as heavy as it looked, not very hoppy at all (even though it clocks in around 50 IBU). Sweet maple syrup and birch notes are kept in check by the richness of the grains. The feel, thanks to the birch syrup, is almost soda-like. I’m a HUGE root beer/birch beer fan, and this was a revelation for me. In a master stroke, the house yeast strains of BOTH breweries was used, avoiding a common knock I’ve heard many people throw at Sierra Nevada beers: That their yeast strain is so neutral and easily accessible as to be a bit dull. I agree that the SN yeast is distinctive and very approachable. Personally, I think that’s where its brilliance lies: In the early days of SN, wouldn’t you want to develop a strain that appealed to as many people as possible? It’s the common thread that lets you know no matter what the style, you’re drinking a Sierra Nevada beer. However, for Life & Limb, the SN strain alone would’ve simply been overwhelmed and even if it wasn’t, it would’ve been a shame not to take advantage of the mad science going on in Delaware. The combination makes this unique Ale drinkable to the Beer Geek and novice alike, and adds an edge to the palate that keeps the whole experience from being cloying and too rich. Variety of notes and flavors as well as its uniquely ‘big tent’ feel for such a robust beer lead to food pairings that are almost endless. This beer could be an ambassador for craft beer if it stays in production.

In the end, I found Life & Limb to be maybe the best collaboration I’ve come across yet. It’s a true melding of styles and philosophies yet is more than elements of the different breweries. This is an independent beer with a life of its own. Something new and alive and undeniable. In fact Life & Limb has its own website, as well it should. I don’t know what the situation is as far as bottles are concerned, but I’ve been seeing bars and restaurants in DC having events and putting Life & Limb on tap, so good luck with that.

And good luck to everyone reading for a happy, healthy, beery 2010! Thanks for taking the time to stop by.


Next time: If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!

Beermonger



The Beermonger Review: Bell’s Rye Stout

So, I won’t be going into a long tanget today. This was a review I promised on the Twitter and so it shall be delivered.

ryestout

I can’t explain it but sometimes I don’t like being surprised; when I don’t know something’s coming I feel as if I’ve failed in some way. It’s like if Bruce Wayne is walking down the street and he sees the Riddler running around—he’d be like ‘How’d that guy get out? And why did no one tell me?‘. It doesn’t happen all the time, in fact I found a couple of beers yesterday that I had no idea were coming and had no problem at all (reviews coming soon). But when I walked into one of my local beer haunts a couple (or 3 or 4) weeks back and saw this somber looking face on a Bell’s six-pack, I was secrectly furious. How darethey sneak one by me?


From what I’ve been able to find out about it (not that the Bell’s website is any help—god forbid…) Rye Stout hasn’t been released in something like 3 or 4 years. I’m a big fan of all things with the words ‘Bell’s’ and ‘Stout’ in them, so this was a no-brainer. First impressions are of the sad face and complete lack of description on the label. Evocative, if not helpful. I actually kinda like it.


The beer pours a toffee brown color, with a very fizzy appearance to the carbonation. It looks a lot like a glass of coke or root beer; whatever you prefer. As long as it’s root beer.


My glass had a faint aroma of slightly sweet malts. I’ll admit to not expecting to be blown away. Rye Stout is very smooth and light on the palate. At 6.7% ABV (according to Beer Advocate, anyway) it’s no Imperial for sure. That being said, Bell’s Rye Stout is the most drinkable Stout I’ve had in a long time. The dominant flavor is of a malted milkshake, robust and filling while staying smooth and light. The Rye nature really comes through on the finish, giving a grainy bitterness that balances all that rich malt and keeps the whole experience from being too ‘soft’, if that makes sense.


I’ll admit to not thinking much of Rye Stout before the first sip or two, but I came to be blown away by how not ‘Hammer of the Gods’ it is. This beer harkens back to a time of Stouts that didn’t sit like a stone after half a pint or knock you on your ass if you had the temerity to drink a whole bottle. It’s a Stout made with an interesting ingredient that keeps a sense of tradition. Those who seek the Big Beer once-per-year Event experience may find dissapointment here, but I will recommend this beer wholeheartedly. With two caveats:

1. Bell’s needs to put this out year-round. I would totally put this in regular rotation in my fridge if I could.

2. Put the word out a bit. Maybe mention the beer on your site.


And next time, somebody tell me it’s coming. Yeah, I guess that’s three but that one really only matters to me, right?


Next time: Why Cantillon rocks my socks and if you don’t agree you’re wrong.

Beermonger

Harvest Time

So, it’s Fall already. Hell, it’s not far off from winter. I just wanted to give a quick rundown of some of my favorite seasonal beers from this Autumn:

Sierra Nevada Fall Harvest & Chico Estate Harvest: My first taste of the Estate Harvest, which I had only heard about until this year. The Fall Harvest was pleasant as always, finding a great balance between the intensity of the wet hop and that classic Sierra Nevada smoothness. The Estate was more robust with fruit notes and earthiness, but still managed to restrain itself from being ‘one-note’.


Bell’s Oktoberfest: This has been my favorite Octoberfest beer for the past 3 years now, and no one is stepping up this year to change my mind. Awesome fall beer; maybe not entirely traditional, but it works for me. A bit more malty and structured than you may expect from the style, which makes it perfect for a session. Now, if we’re at an Octoberfest celebration and I’m about to put down brats by the pair and beers by the stein, give me something lighter…


Founder’s Harvest Ale: A strong showing. We just started seeing the Founder’s beers in VA earlier this year, but they are making their presence felt quickly. From the very cool Red’s Rye IPA to Breakfast Stout to this wonderful wet-hop ale, I haven’t been let down yet. Sharp, resiny hop flavors are supported by an appropriate amount of bitterness. Like stumbling into a pine tree in a morning-after stupor: Alerting yet comforting.


Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale: We have a special place for the pumpkin beers here in our home, this one in particular. It’s my wife and I’s favorite and we look forward to seeing those 4-packs every fall like little kids at Christmas. What that says about us I’m not willing to think about right now, but I’ll tell you that no beer combines the spirit of strong American craft brewing with the rich flavors and spices of pumpkin ales in better harmony than the Weyerbacher.


Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale: My #1-A pumpkin beer. Always a treat, especially when my wife talks about how ‘meh’ it was last year before asking me to bring home 4-packs of it (happens every year, BTW). To clear the air, the recipe is pretty much consistent year-to-year now, so no year should be better than another. Back in 2004 or so, I don’t know for sure. I think it wasn’t until about 2006 or ’07 that the Punkin’ was carved in stone, so to speak. Either way, grab one if you see one—they seemed to have finally brewed enough to make everyone happy but it still won’t last all that long.


Southern Tier Pumking: The Monster. The Prince of Pumpkin flavor, the Sultan of Spices, the Chairman of the Gourd. People, I try a lot off stuff and I’m not bragging when I say something has to really work to make an impression on me. Like I used to say to vendors and brewers alike, “I only have so much room on my shelves—you have to earn your spot”. So for me to immediately recall every nuance of aroma and flavor in a beer on command tells you something about the experience. My not being able to handle a bottle of it myself (even if it’s a bomber) says something too. Their Creme Brulee I can put down alone; give me a snifter or a tulip glass and I’m in. Pumking is too much goodness for one human being. I split the bomber I got with the Mrs., and the smaller portion allowed both of us to enjoy the dead-on pumpkin pie impression Southern Tier pulls off here. It’s not a drinker, it’s an experience. One worth having.


Boulder Brewing Cold Hop: Not necessarily a Fall seasonal, but this is when it gets released so I’m including it. My favorite Boulder beer by far, Cold Hop is a clever blend of American IPA hoppiness with a traditional English-style Pale Ale (recipe courtesy Charlie Papazian). The result is literally the best of both worlds. It’s like Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and St. Peter’s English Ale made sweet love and had a baby. A delicious, wonderfully drinkable baby.


Ok, that’s the quick rundown of beers off the top of my head. Honestly this was going to be a longform review of the Sierra Nevadas, but this was also supposed to be written about 3 weeks ago, so there.

Next time (and this will be soon, as I am tasting and taking notes tonight): A surprise from Bell’s? Stay tuned, hop fans—same Beermonger time (whenever), same Beermonger channel.

Don’t forget to follow your friendly neighborhood Beermonger on Twitter for my thoughts on what I’m drinking, news as it breaks and pretty random observations usually relating to the NFL, comic books and TV.


Beermonger

Beer Geek Alert

Just received two cases (make that one and a half, actually) of Dogfish Head Theobroma. If anyone wants in call Rick’s and I’ll set some aside for you. This stuff won’t make it to the weekend, so don’t wait.

Because of the limited amount available, I’m limiting everyone to a maximum of two bottles. Review coming later tonight or tomorrow.

Also, Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale is in. This is based on a Dark Belgian Ale and has some interesting coffee notes and kinda reminded me of Aventinus when I tried it yesterday, except without some of the banana clove feel.

Beermonger

Who Wants to Be A Beermonger?

Sorry for being out for so long: I’ve been a little busy at the store (we’ve had some staff issues–more on this in a bit). It’s been an eventful past few weeks. We’ve seen a bunch of cool arrivals at the store–Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is in, as is Bell’s Octoberfest, Double Cream Stout and Best Brown Ale. Lots of cool Southern Tier stuff around right now, with more to come (more on that later this week).

While I’m at it, I want to give a big shoutout to international BeerMinion Mike and his lady Dana for checking in from Amsterdam the other day. I’m sure they’re having a much better time there than I am here, but for once I won’t hold that against someone.

So–who wants to be a Beermonger?

Recently, one of our staff members at Rick’s had to move and her leaving puts us in a bit of a bind heading into the holiday season. Basically, I’m putting out a call here on the blog to anyone who is looking for a full-time job and is interested in taking over the beer department here at Rick’s. This is a position that will have you overseeing a selection of over 400 beers, not to mention special orders and weekly beer tastings. I can tell you first-hand that this can be a fantastic learning experience and can introduce you to many people in the craft beer business. It’s a lot of hard work, but then again it should be.

So, you may ask, why is Nick looking for a beer person? Well, as some of you know I actually have more experience as a wine sales guy. I went into my first wine job a few years ago (has it been that long? Yes, it has…) with a fair knowledge of beer, but knowing nothing about wine. This was a part-time position, stocking and keeping the store organized. My bosses offered to teach me whatever it was I’d like to know about wine and about three or four months later I was a full-time wine salesman. In fact, when I interviewed for the job here at Rick’s, I thought I was interviewing for a wine job up until the moment that Caroline told me they needed someone to run beer. I figured ‘Hey, I can do that…’ and that’s how I became the Beermonger you all know and love. Right now, though, I feel like I can be of greater service to the store on the wine side, hence looking for a beer person.

If you are looking for an ‘in’ into the beer industry; if you’re looking for a great job in a business that is tough but rewarding; if beer is a hobby that you think you could make a career call or write or come by Rick’s Wine & Gourmet and we’ll see what we can get going.

Regardless, I will continue to write on the blog here. I know I’m not the most consistent blogger on the planet, but I do have a job to do and cherish my time off. Anyway, I do have fun writing here so I’ll keep it up. You may see some ‘Winemonger’ columns on the horizon, though…

Ok, then. Write in or come by for my job. Do it. Back tomorrow or Wednesday with some very cool arrivals to tell you about. Until then,

Cheers,

Beermonger