indexIt’s that time of year again–time for the 2015 Motion Picture Academy Awards, the Oscars! And it’s time for the second annual YBN beer and Oscar pairing, wherein I match Best Picture nominees with an appropriate craft beer to drink, and provide a link to the trailer, for your viewing enjoyment. Enjoy the beer with the film, or with the Oscar awards.

The Academy’s nominees this year were not as diverse as last years’, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you paired each one with an American Pale Ale–especially the “Best Leading Actor” category. Of the eight nominees, half were true biopics, and the others were fictional biopics. But each was a very good–and occasionally excellent–film in its own right. Each deserved a thoughtful beer. I selected the drink based on its taste characteristics, how the style complemented the film and, let’s face it, sometimes on the names.

And the nominees are, in alphabetical order:

American Sniper

This is a biopic of Chris Kyle, a legendary Navy Seal sharpshooter. The movie is at its best when portraying the war scenes, but it’s about more than shooting people There is a lot of angst and complexity in the hero, as he deals with PTSD, guilt, family pressures, etc.

We could pair this with a real macho lager in a can to drink with the war scenes, but instead I’ll focus on the angst. We want a beer you don’t guzzle but sip, while you ponder the meaning of life. This definitely calls for a higher alcohol beer, dark, with complexity and flavor.

Raison d’Etre, from Dogfish Head (Delaware) is my first choice.   A deep mahogany, Belgian-style brown ale brewed with beet sugar, raisins and Belgian-style yeast. ABV 8%, IBU 25. And the name works, too.

Abita’s Bourbon Street Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, (Louisiana),10% ABV and IBU20, is another good pick. Strong malt flavor, with a delightful oak barrel finish.

Pliny the Elder, a double IPA from Russian River Brewing Co. in California, ABV 8.0%, and IBU listed only as “high.” A favorite West Coast, extremely hoppy drink.

Birdman

Popular action-hero movie actor wants to prove he has acting talent, and bites off almost more than he can chew, directing and acting in a Broadway drama. Tense, stressful. And great acting all around, including Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.

This guy wants to drink himself to death, and what better way to do it than with a shot and a beer? Any beer will do, as will any whiskey, but this is a man of good taste and a bit of money. So rather than a nondescript lager we’ll stick with a craft lager. In NYC that’s likely to be Sam Adams Boston Lager, or Brooklyn Lager (Brooklyn Brewery). But the real question is, “what whiskey?” For Keaton, I’d skip the traditional Jack (Daniels). Let’s go with a good bourbon. Most people would start with Maker’s Mark, a very good, smooth drink, indeed, but a bit too pedestrian. I’d want something unique, and smoother, too. Woodford Reserve double oaked is fabulous and tasty; Eagle Rare (a single barrel select bourbon from Buffalo Trace). But the best choice is Basil Hayden, a sweet, smooth bourbon with a bit lower alcohol so it won’t burn your throat and ruin your speaking voice.

Boyhood

We watch a boy grow up–literally–in this domestic drama about coming of age and the meaning of life, while his parents struggle with the same questions. The film ends when he goes off to college and leaves the nest.

A movie about leaving the nest? We just had to pair it with Hitachino Nest White Ale. A craft beer from Japan, Hitachino Nest is a brewed as a traditional Belgian-style Weissbier (white wheat beer), ABV 5.5% and IBU 13. A Belgian white. Low in alcohol, easy to drink for the novice (teenage) drinker, with no bitter hop taste, and appealingly flavored with coriander, nutmeg, orange juice and orange peel. Similar picks are Blanche de Bruxelles from Brasserie LeBebvre in Brussels, or Bottom Up Wit from Chicago’s Revolution Brewery.

Selma

The (mostly) true story of one of the great American heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although some liberty is taken with the plot–especially in its portrayal of LBJ– it rings true, and is acted splendidly. MLK’s story is not a story about minorities; it is the great American story. And it should be matched with the great American beer, the IPA. A good IPA is strong, assertive, complex but balanced. Loaded with American hops, sometimes almost too bitter to drink, but always satisfying.

Any good American IPA will do, but some are better than others. My three all-time favorites, from coast to coast:

Harpoon Ale , Harpoon Brewery (Massachusetts), ABV 5.9%, well-balanced, moderately hoppy, the definitive New England-style IPA.

Two-Hearted Ale, Bell’s Brewery (Michigan). This IPA is hopped with only Centennial, with a mild but grapefuity taste, and well-balanced with malts. Probably the best Midwestern IPA, at 7.0%.

Bear Republic Racer-5 . (California). A full bodied West-Coast IPA, ABV 7.5%, heavily hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial to a hefty IBU of 75. You have to love hops to love this beer.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Crazy, nutty, unexpected, slapstick, possibly Wes Anderson’s most entertaining movie. It’s the story of the concierge of a hotel, and the trouble he gets into, accompanied by his young sidekick, the Lobby Boy. The concierge is played deftly by Ralph Fiennes, and loaded with stars like Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Bill Murray.

You probably thought I would get off easy by pairing this one with Pilsner Urquel, that quintessential Czechoslovakian beer. But no, that would not work with this film. Too insipid! We need a crazy, surprising, unexpected beer that’s fun to drink. A beer that’s full of flavor and, admittedly, low enough in alcohol to keep drinking as the story gets crazier. The winner?

Well’s Banana Bread Beer. Produced by Wells & Young’s Brewing Company in Bedford, England, this traditional English bitter is a dark golden ale, at only 4.2% ABV — typical of style for a bitter–and made with fair trade bananas! The brewery writes, “Its aroma of banana and wheat may remind you of childhood memories of waking up to the smell of your mother baking this dessert bread. Up front, the banana flavor comes through and is blended with a backdrop of toasted malt for a bread-like taste similar to the baked good it’s named for.”

The runners up:

Magic Hat #9, Magic Hat Brewing Company, Vermont. I recollect that it is with apricots, but the description is: “A beer cloaked in secrecy. An ale whose mysterious and unusual palate will swirl across your tongue and ask more questions than it answers. A sort of dry, crisp, refreshing, not-quite pale ale. #9 is really impossible to describe because there’s never been anything else quite like it.”

Serendipity, New Glarus, Wisconsin. This delightfully cheerful ale is brewed with a mix of Wisconsin fruits (cherries, strawberries, etc.) and aged in oak. At about 4.5% ABV, you can drink lots of it. It’s fun! The trek to Wisconsin is fun, too, because that is the only state where you can buy it. Brewery policy–they don’t distribute out of state.

The Imitation Game

This film is about Alan Turing, considered by many to be the father of the computer. It is set in Cambridge, England, during World War II, as the English desperately race to crack the Enigma code that enabled the Germans to send encrypted radio messages. We watch the team led by Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) achieve success while, at the same time, Turing learns how to become less arrogant and more human, with Kiera Knightly as his teacher. The portrayal of 1940’s England is beautiful and realistic, and we see the group congregating after hours in the English pub, drinking pints of ale.

Of course we pair this one with a pint of English porter, which I like to imagine that Turing and his group were drinking. (Note the dark color of their pints). My recommendation is Fuller’s London porter, very close to the original style. At 5.4% ABV, brewed with brown, crystal and chocolate malts, not hoppy at all. I like this beer a lot, it’s an easy ale to drink without demanding your full attention.

The Theory of Everything

Yet another biopic about a genius Englishman, who has his own set of problems. This one is about Stephen Hawking. As his body declines rapidly due to ALS, his mind continues to reach greater heights. The portrayal of Hawkins by Eddie Redmayne is realistic, and both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Another English ale? Not at all. Stephen Hawking has the greatest mind in the world. And his story should be paired with the greatest beer in the world. It will be a Trappist beer, or course, and my pick is Rochefort Trappist10 ABV 11%, the top product from the Rochefort Trappist brewery (Belgium). Dark color, full and very impressive taste. Strong plum, raisin, and black currant palate, with ascending notes of vinuousness and other complexities.

An alternative is Chimay Red, another fabulous Belgian Trappist beer, that has been brewed to the same recipe since the 1800’s. The yeast contributes an apricot taste, and the overall effect is delightful. A runner up for the best beer in the world. 8% ABV.

Whiplash

This is the story of Andrew (Miles Teller) a young jazz musician who is striving for excellence as a drummer, under the tutelage of Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher is a hard-driving teacher who will stop at nothing to push his students to the edge, and sometimes beyond. It is a story of art, of passion, of cruelty, of heartbreak…and redemption.

There is only one match: Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewery, California. ABV 7.8%. This is a strong ale, very dark, and so full of hops that it goes beyond IPA. Yet it is complex and delightful. Not for the faint of heart.

imagesAlso available from Dr. Westbrook: 

 

{ 0 comments }

oysterWe stopped for a late meal at a local restaurant, Cooper’s, in Pittston, PA, a favorite spot for fresh seafood and, when in season, oysters. Readers familiar with the long-running TV show, The Office, may be familiar with its sister restaurant in Scranton, PA, which is the bar where the office crowd frequently met after work. So it was no surprise that Cooper’s has made an all-out-effort to become a beer destination, offering high quality craft beers on an ever-changing list. Seafood and beer just naturally pair, and I was looking forward to selecting something from the list to go with my oysters, preferably a porter or stout.

I was pleased to find a new draft, Cooper’s Low Tide, which was an honest-to-goodness oyster stout brewed with oysters! I couldn’t wait to try this rare brew. We all know that stouts and oysters go naturally together, with Guinness being the traditional favorite, but most so-called “oyster stouts” are brewed to drink with oysters; it is unusual to find one that is made with oysters! Yet the 3 Guys and a Beer’d Brewery, in Carbondale, PA, brewed this beer in collaboration with Cooper’s using fresh Virginia Salts.

If you are an oyster lover, as I am, you may know that Virginia Salts (also called Olde Salts and Chincoteague Salts) are a species of the native American oyster, Crassostrea viriginica, which are traditionally harvested from the ocean side of Chincoteague Island. Because of this, they are saltier, and some would say plumper and cleaner, than oysters that are harvested from the warmer and less saline waters of river estuaries. I have had many of these tasty creatures, which are often used in oyster shooters, in which a fresh oyster is added to a fresh pint. But brewed into a beer? That was new for me. I had to try one.

Flying-Dog-Pearl-Necklace-Oyster-Stout-570x280Oyster stout is not a common beer style, and if you can succeed in finding one, the chances are it is not brewed with oysters. A few are brewed with oyster shell added to the mash. But beers which have whole oysters or oyster meat added to the mash are harder to find — in addition to Cooper’s Low Tide, the only one I have been able to find with regional distribution is Flying Dog’s Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout, brewed in Maryland with whole oysters from the Rappahannock River (a percentage of sales goes to support the Oyster Recovery Project). But do not get the idea that brewing with live oysters is just another crazy idea thought up by craft brewers just to be different–though I’ll admit that 3Guys and a Beer’d is a crazy bunch of brewers. Brewing with oysters is a bona fide tradition with a long and rich history.

oyster & beer festSo let’s taste this wonderful brew. It was delightful. In addition to the oysters, it was made using a combo of roasted barley, black patent malt, chocolate malt and 2 row along, with a mild hop back bone of Warrior and Willamette. The IBU was low at around 18, and the Alcohol 5.5% Not only was it a good oatmeal stout, with a nice tan head and mahogany color, but it was possibly the sweetest dark beer I have ever tasted, with absolutely no bitter or burnt taste. A very sweet finish, I would call it butter-toffee. 3Guys attributes it to the oatmeal; I would offer that it is a result of the alkalinity due to the addition of the shells to the brew, since they add whole oysters to the mash.

I wanted to learn more about oyster stouts, and did some searching. The late Michael Jackson (not the pop star), one of the most prolific writers about beer, wine and spirits, wrote a comprehensive article in his Beerhunter blog in 2001, which details the history of this storied beer in England, its home. Mr. Jackson admits that he hadn’t ever tasted an oyster stout at the time, but he did his research. He points out that oysters and stouts (or porter) were a natural pair in England since they were both plentiful and inexpensive in the days of Dickens and Thackery and consumed daily by many individuals. As he writes,

“Despite the intensity of stout and porter, and the delicacy of oysters, their marriage turned out to have been made in heaven.”

The earliest Oyster stout, he believes, was Oyster Feast Stout, made in Colchester, England, around 1900 by the Colchester Brewing company to celebrate the annual oyster harvest on the river Colne. It probably did not have oysters added. The brewery changed hands a few times, but they continued to make a stout under this name until at least 1940.

abita-oystersSome brewers used oyster shells as finings, and as an adjunct to alkalinize and sweeten the beer, since they are a natural antacid. Some oyster stouts are still made this way, using only shells without oysters. Jackson refers to a colleague who tracked down a retired brewer, Mr. Harold Read, who worked as a brewer at Hammerton of Stockwell, London. Read remembered trials with an oyster stout in 1938, in which they used oyster concentrate from New Zealand, adding it to their Oatmeal Stout. It was believed to have a “nourishing” quality. The trial went well, but apparently they had one batch with contained a faulty can of oysters, and the smell was “so appalling that we cancelled everything and dropped the idea,” he was quoted. Later JJ Young Brewery of Portsmouth, England, used the same concentrate and brewed an oyster stout, which they continued to market until the war.

I thought that Oyster stouts were the only beer which uses animal matter in the brewing process. Of course bacon beers are made with bacon, though it is not added to the mash, it is used as a “dry hop” or flavor adjunct after brewing is complete. There is, however, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout by Wynkoop Brewing Company in Colorado, which is brewed with steer parts–the less said the better.

I contacted Johnny “The Beard” Waering, from 3Guys and a Beer’d, about the beer. He told me this is the second year they are producing it, and this year’s offering is much better. He said, “last year we added a lot more oysters and it ended up a little briny, so this year we cut back a bit and it came out great!”

He said they will probably make Low Tide an annual offering, but have no plans to bottle it. I inquired about the brewing process, and he elaborated,

pyster & Beer“Shells and all go right into the mash tun! Not even shucked, the heat of the mash opens them up throughout the process. Then we eat the oysters after! Quite delicious! ”

I predict that we are going to see more of this beer style from craft breweries throughout the country, especially those near the coasts, where fresh oysters are available. An oyster stout seems to be as much fun to brew as it is to drink. This should be incentive for any brewery to give it a go.

Epilogue:

Last night I had the opportunity to try another stout brewed with Oysters.  Flying Fish’s Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout.
This was a very nice, and again a very sweet stout.  This one is not an oatmeal stout, but brewed with English chocolate and roasted malts. Irish ale yeast adds a bit of fruitiness and a dry crispness.   ABV 7.5%

imagesAlso available from Dr. Westbrook: 

{ 0 comments }

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! HAPPY CHANUKAH!!! HAPPY KWANZAA… AND ANY OTHER APPLICABLE  SEASONAL NOD!!!

This is going to be a very fLuid (yeah, I know) piece as we try some of the brews below throughout the evening and the next day or two. As we have observations, we’ll edit them in and let you know via facebook and Twitter. But let’s get to it… cut to the chase, as it were.

Chase Cutting

Chase Cutting

Thought I’d share what, going into Christmas Eve, is in the YBN beer fridge! As many of you know, I’m not big on super spiced/infused seasonals. I’ve found a couple Fall pumpkin based ales that are lovely, because they don’t make me feel like I’m drinking a liquid pumpkin pie, but there’s a narrow tightrope being walked on that subject, if for no other reason than a lot of folks LIKE that kind of brew.
I’ve had a couple Christmas brews over the years that I’ve liked, but I still go with brews that might better reflect the season in terms of weather, temperature, the type of foods that might be devoured… less looking for Egg Nog Ale here.

So, this is what we just bought to get us through the holidays:
index6) North Peak Blitzen Festivus Ales
We have very much liked a couple of North Peak’s IPAs in the past, so figured it was a benign enough name we could give it a try. Beyond benign by miles. Dark, sweet, hoppy wonderfulness. These guys simply know beer!

1) Fort Collins Chocolate Stout
Tried this while a visitor was trying one of the Festivus Ales, so I could compare a little. It was darker, drier, and less bitter. The chocolate melding with the traditionally edgy toasted grain flavor we come to associate with many stouts made for a delicious beverage. Fort Collins rocks it.

1) McChouffe Artisinal Belgian Brown
1) Houblon Chouff Dobbelen IPA Tripel
index
Tried their brown stuff before and enjoyed it. The eyebrow clearly raised over the belgian IPA business, a fave of mine. Flavorfull, floral, spiced, with a bite. Just started with the Brown, a big (8%) Strong, and it’s every bit as good as remembered, spicy, stewed raisin, brown, caramely… delicious. 8% ABV, so will likely not be reporting on another until after dinner.

1) Southern Tier Dark Robust Porter

1) Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout
1) New Holland Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout
I’ve had pretty bad things to say about Altech’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. But first, this is a stout. Second, an old friend is now running things down in Lexington, and he’s a guy who knows his stuff, so we’ll do a comparison between his and the New Holland… which was more expensive, so it better be good, right? Yeah, sure.

Having happily run through a 12 of Goose Island’s seasonal Red IPA, this is what’s left from the Turkey Day holiday:

1) Hop Crisis Imperial IPA
2) Full Pint’s Night o the Living Stouts
1) Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale
1) Great Lakes Elliot Ness Amber Lager

 And you….?

{ 0 comments }

1 HersheyWhen you hear “Hershey” you may think “chocolate” but I think “beer.” Tröegs beer, that is.

I found myself in Hershey PA a couple of months ago for a meeting, and as soon as I had a chance I made a beeline for Tröegs Brewery, conveniently within a mile or two of Hershey Park. I was anxious to taste what’s on draft, get some dinner, and share a pleasant, relaxing evening with other craft beer lovers.

I usually feel rather awkward as an unaccompanied woman in a bar, but that’s not the case in a craft brewpub. I may walk in alone, but when I leave I’ve made friends with whomever I happen to be sitting next to at the bar. We may have nothing else in common, but we all have a love of craft beer– enough love to make us go out of our way to a find the brewery’s home base, so we can try the drafts that may only be available on site, or for limited time. On my left, a biker who did construction work and rode 20 miles to get here; on my right, an IT guy from even farther afield. We talked, tasted, and compared, while each enjoyed a snack or dinner.

2 Food TroegsFirst, a word about dinner. Pennsylvania laws require bars to offer food as well as spirits, so you can always get a good meal at pub. Most brewpubs take as much pride in their menu as in their drafts, and Tröegs was outstanding in this regard. Their snack bar covers the range from small snacks to large platters and dessert, and they even have a good kids’ menu. What I liked is their insistence on fresh, local meat, and produce from independent farms, all of which are listed on the menu. And you can’t go wrong in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country. This posed a problem for me, as there were too many choices and I over-ordered so I would have a chance to try some of the superb craft cheese with designer pickles, as well as the beef marrow bones with house-made fermented horseradish. Not shown is the salad with fall greens, figs, pistachio & blue cheese, dressed with barrel-aged Mad Elf vinaigrette. All of which paired extremely well with my selection of hoppy beers.

3 TroegsAs with the food at Tröegs, there were too many choices on draft beer, too, so I settled for a selection of small pour samplers. Tröegs is well known for a couple of its year round beers, most of which are available in bottles in my local deli; their HopBack Amber Ale, and Perpetual IPA are two favorites, both on draft that evening. But I was interested in their “scratch beers,” or experimental single batches that may or may not go on to become standards. The theme appeared to be fresh hops and new hops.

There were two fresh hop ales. Scratch #162 was brewed with wet whole flower Mosaic hops from the Yakima Valley; at 7.6% ABV and 62 IBU, with that wonderful Mosaic pine-citrus flavor really coming through. Very similar was Scratch #161, brewed with wet whole flower Cascade and Chinook hops from Maryland, with added local PA honey. At 8.1% ABV and 79 IBU it was a delightful drink, similar to #162, hoppier, but perhaps a bit smoother due to the honey, though honestly I didn’t taste honey at all. Perpetual IPA, 7.5% ABV and 85 IBU, is the hoppiest of the Tröegs beers, while their Sunshine Pils, at 4.5% ABV and 45 IBU was a bit unbalanced to me–too hoppy for this low alcohol.

There were two beers featuring a new hop, designated as “871” by the American Dwarf Hop Association, ADHA. The ADHA is an organization of hop growers in the northwest committed to improving new hop production techniques that are more environmental friendly, including being easier to harvest. Dwarf hops are varieties that grow on low trellis systems, unlike the standard 18-foot high vines, which require specialized equipment and high labor to harvest, as I described in At the Hop (Harvest), YBN October 28, 2014. Since these are new varieties, they don’t always taste like the old standards, but every so often they hit a winner, as when “369” was christened “Mosaic” and really took off.   Since 871 is mellower and not as piney as the classic IPA hops, but carries a lot of bittering, the brewers chose to use it in a pale ale, Scratch #163. It was a nice, rather bland IPA, at 4.5% ABV and 54 IBU, a very good session beer which paired well with food. The real knockout for me was Scratch #160, a Belgian Style Saison: a farmhouse ale brewed with rye, wheat, French saison yeast, and ADHA 871. It was about as good a Belgian saison as I have ever had (6.7% ABV and 20 IBU). ADHA 871 may have found its niche.

4 mad-elf-picNow to The Mad Elf. I was disappointed The Mad Elf was not available on draft at the brewpub when I visited; it was still in production and was scheduled to be released later in the month. I was looking forward to trying this beer, which is a holiday tradition with Tröegs. It is a Belgian Strong Ale, brewed with PA honey and West Coast cherries. It is brewed with traditional noble hops, Saaz and Hallertau, using a grain mix that combines with the cherry, producing rich red color, just right for the holidays.

I finally had a chance to try The Mad Elf on draft at a local bar in Wilkes-Barre, where the bartender poured me a standard 16 oz. draft. (Most bartenders would have poured this in a smaller tulip-shaped glass). I hadn’t done my homework, and didn’t realize that the ABV of Mad Elf is 11%.   Needless to say, it was the ONLY beer I had that night. For an 11% beer, one draft = two drafts of 5.5% beer. Get the picture?

So enjoy a draft of Tröegs during the holiday season, but beware The Mad Elf!

imagesAlso available from Dr. Westbrook: 

{ 0 comments }

So a new trip to the south. The difference this time, is that, as opposed to a one stop straight shot to our beloved but isolated burg of Okeechobee Florida, this tour had more stops and, thus, more opportunities to try some brewage.

First up, Winston-Salem North Carolina. We revisited a watering hole we’ve reported on before, First Street Draught House. Nice people, interesting selections on the board, tastes freely offered, and a nice terrace on which to sip, talk, and relax.

Boxcarr

Boxcarr

My first draught was Boxcarr, a pumpkin porter, from Starr Hill brewery out of Charlottesville, Virginia. As we all know, I’m not big on pumpkin seasonals that inspire one to run to the fridge for Cool Whip, and I made that position clear to the bartender before going with it. Turns out, this is, first and foremost, a tasty English style porter that happens to be brewed with pumpkin and spice. The nose was definitely sweet, a little floral and, yes, spicey. No head to speak of, with decent lacing, the dominant impression from the sip was a sweet malt taste, almost milk sugary, over that trademark English toasted malt edge. At a very British 4.7% ABV, a good choice as the first beer supped after dinner. I’ve tried a number of beers from Starr Hill, all of them respectable, none of them standing out from the crowd, but Boxcarr broke the mold. This is a lovely, highly drinkable brew with real personality and style. Gets me to thinking, sometimes maybe it isn’t the brew, but maybe it’s me at a moment in time. As a result of my experience with Boxcarr, I’ll revisit some Starr Hill offerings sooner rather than later.

photo credit : beer47.com

photo credit : beer47.com

Inspired by the kind of sweetness and mouthfeel I got from the Boxcarr, I then ordered up a Milk Stout from Duck-Rabbit, about 175 miles east of us in Farmville, NC. Also an excellent choice. The award winning best seller for Duck-Rabbit, this offered up similar impressions as had from Boxcarr, but in a much different beer. I have no info to confirm that Boxcarr used any lactose, though the sweetness inspired by the spices suggested it. Duck-Rabbit definitely uses said milk sugars in their stout. There was a sweetness and a full bodied mouthfeel over… again… that great toasty , almost burnt malt flavor, giving it depth and edge. Also distinguishing this stout was a fruitiness that joined all the other flavor notes as it warmed a bit. No wonder it’s won “best in show” multiple times. At 5.7% ABV, I was able to head back to the wonderful Summit Street Inns happy, and with a clear head.

Next up, Savannah, Georgia. Last time there we wrote about Moon River Brewery. We planned on returning, but they’ve expanded with a impressive outdoor beer garden and were just too busy when we went by. Instead, we had dinner at Churchills Pub and Restaurant, where we learned a couple fun bartender tricks. Sitting upstairs in the intimate open air roof bar of this sprawling pub, restaurant, and catering venue, the food was fine but the drink was delightful. I started with a Churchill’s Ultimate Bloody Mary : “Cucumber Vodka, Zing Zang bloody Mary mix and a few secret ingredients rimmed with cajun spices.” I requested additional horseradish. I’m not normally a mix guy, and prefer my BMs thick. This was quite opaque and yet extraordinarily delicious.

The wife had their Old Fashion Savannah Style, consisting of Savannah 88 Bourbon, muddled orange, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, angostura bitters, club soda and ginger ale. This is not my drink, but it should be noted she loved it.

Experience the Magic: Jameson's and Pickle Juice

Experience the Magic: Jameson’s and Pickle Juice

As we conversed with our server/bartender, we learned the interesting factoid that more Irish Whiskey is consumed in Savannah than anywhere else in the country. I can’t confirm this but I have learned there are a LOT of Irish Pubs in Savannah. As we expanded on this conversation, he asked if we knew about Irish and pickle juice, which we, in fact, did not. The idea is that if you follow a shot of Irish immediately with a shot of pickle juice, there’s no evidence on your breath of whiskey. In a festive mood after my two previous drinks and, of course, driven by journalistic fervor, I gave it a go. Absolutely true. A little brine on the breath but that was it. I figure this was, first and foremost, a trick to be used by your wiley alcoholic, stopping by the pub for a couple on the way home from work, in order to go totally undetected by the spouse… or the boss, I would venture to guess, after a quick duck out at lunch.
Also a great moment of salesmanship by the bartender. First you buy a shot to try the trick. Stuck with the taste of pickle juice on the tongue, you then have to buy another shot to rid yourself of THAT! Genius, I tellya!

The other bit of magic he offered up appealed to the Missus. Her favorite breakfast comes in the form of pancakes or waffles. She likes to say she enjoys having some flour with her sugar. Well this cute combo was a shot made up of half Irish and half Butter Shot schnapps immediately followed (preferably without taking a breath) by a shot of orange juice. The end result should be the mouth tasting pancakes. This, miraculously, worked as well. The downside for the bar was that my wife loved this flavor and didn’t require the purchase of anything further to change things.

The next night in Savannah was dedicated to food, pecans, pralines and iced tea.

Myrtle Beach, our next stop, offered up a lovely beach, nice folks, and at least 75 pancake houses and another 47 Calabash Seafood buffets per 1/10th mile. The good news, of course, is that Spring Breakers will NOT go hungry here. Had wonderful Italian at Villa Romano, a throwback big, noisy, red sauce, cloth linens indulgence.

Audrey Junior?

Audrey Junior?

Moving on to Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington, NC, we met up with an old school chum, a newspaper writer who has been in the are a for decades.  First stop was Flytrap Brewing, a cute little out of the way place located in the Brooklyn Art District. With friendly faces and an interesting selection, my first round was the Flytrap Hoppy Tripel. I love a good, hoppy IPA, and I love a good Belgian, so it’s nice to enjoy the big hops with the yet greater variation in flavor notes brought about by distinctive yeast and spice recipes used in Belgian concoctions. At 8.2%, a “real” beer, yet not too heavy, sporting a nice hop aroma with a little sweet bread thrown in, refreshing and flavorful with a proper back end bitter. I finished up my wife’s Flytrap Belgian Blond, a nice “craft session” beer (5.9% ABV) with that layer of sweet flavor that distinguishes the Blonds from their, to me, less interesting German Weissbier counterparts. Picnic tables out back, named after the Venus Flytrap (remember “Little Shop of Horrors”?), which, amazingly – I did not know this – ONLY lives in the greater Wilmington N.C. area, a great place for a pre-dinner drink. Mike Barles, the brewmaster there, has mad chops, to be sure.

bacon-swansonOur little gang then moved on to downtown Wilmington for more beer and some eats, hitting the Front Street Brewery, a two (or three) level, clearly popular eatery in town. I went with a mug of their 80 Shilling, a Scottish style ale, a little bigger and leaning more towards the chocolate/coffee malt flavors prevalent in the American craft lexicon, than the dryer, toastier malt tastes found in the traditional Scottish Heavies. Yet at 5.1% ABV, a terrific, flavorful quencher and accompaniment to our dinner. We started with appetizers in the form a of a plate full of fried green tomatoes (which I don’t eat, but everyone else loved) and the famous “Mug of Bacon,” which I, of course, ordered. This made no bones about it. It was a clear glass mug stuffed with tasty bacon. No dusting of scallions or dipping sauces. It was a real “Parks & Recreation” Ron Swanson offering. I followed it with a Crawfish Po’ Boy while Miss Dolli went with the brisket and melted smoked gouda on grilled sourdough. Everything was plentiful and delicious, and the 80 Shilling did the trick on all fronts.

By the time we made it back down to our old, usually relatively beer bereft haunt of Okeechobee, I just concentrated on the 160 proof Hooch, with oak chips and rose petals in the jar, whipped up by my personal mash chef, only (to protect the …um… guilty) known here as “Boo”

unnamedThis was a great trip. Many dear friends and, really, family. Some great Fall weather in the south. I even took this pic on Wrightsville Beach!

Epilogue: As I proof read this to my wife, when I came to “…prefer my BMs thick,” she completely lost control and came very close to laughing herself into one herself, giggling “who doesn’t like their…” as she headed off into another paroxysm of laughter and strangled coughing.

{ 0 comments }

Chase Cutting

Chase Cutting

These bottles have just been sitting here. Let’s cut to the chase!

Left to right:

Yes, definitely!
Night of the Living Stout, from  Full Pint Brewing

NO, NO, NO!!! Argh!!!
Cranberry Stout from Meantime Brewing

You Betcha!
Hop Ryot Rye IPA from Jackie O’s

Woo Hoo!!!!
D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer from Hoppin’ Frog

 

QUESTIONS?

unnamed

{ 0 comments }

Figure 1 handfulHops, hops, and more hops! It is a dream come true for a hophead like me. I was thrilled to participate in the hop harvest in Leelanau Co, Michigan this fall. Picture me on a lovely autumn morning, sitting in a tractor, harvesting hops, and later sharing a draft of delicious, locally brewed Michigan IPA.

Here is how you harvest hops. You may recall from an earlier post  that hops grow as vines trained on 18-foot tall strings, strung in parallel rows, each of which is secured to permanent overhead wire tracks. Fig 2 TractorThe rows are spaced just right to enable the specialized tractor, which looks like a preying mantis, to grasp the top of the vine, clip the cord from the wire, and gently deposit the vine into a bin.

When the bin is full, it is driven to the end of the field and the vines are loaded into the Hopfenpfluckmaschine (literally, hop plucking machine).

The Hopfenpfluckmaschine!!

The Hopfenpfluckmaschine!!

A master of wheels, pulleys, and German mechanical ingenuity, the Hopfenpfluckmaschine strips the vine from the string, separates the ripe hop cones from the vine, spits out mulched green vine, and pours the hops into a bin. The bin fills with green gold — fresh hops.

Some of these hops will be rushed to a brewery to make their fresh-hopped harvest ales; some will be dried as whole hops, and the rest will be dried and made into pellet hops, sealed into vacuum packs and refrigerated.

Dan Wiesen and a LOT of hops!

Dan Wiesen and a LOT of hops!

I was riding the tractor with Dan Wiesen, harvesting Cascade hops in this 9-acre field; the field also had Glacier hops and Vojdovina hops, but not yet ripe for harvest. Dan, a handsome man in his late 50’s, owns or manages almost 120 acres of hops in Leelanau County, Michigan. He is increasing his facilities and equipment so he can harvest and process hops for other growers as well, because the demand for Michigan hops is growing, and so is the acreage devoted to it.

Dan and his partners are responsible for bringing commercial hop farming to this part of Michigan. They established Empire Hop Farms in 2008, at about the time hop prices were skyrocketing due to a warehouse fire in Yakima, Wash, that destroyed a significant portion of the harvest–the Pacific Northwest grows most of the commercial hops in the US. Dan reasoned that hops might do well in Leelanau County because, like Yakima, it is at the 45th parallel, and it has a climate suitable for growing fruit trees. (I can also attest to the fact that these features are also shared with Tettnang, Bavaria, one of the major hop-growing regions of Germany, which is also noted for its apple orchards.)

Interestingly, Dan’s true passion is apples, and he considers himself first and foremost a fruit grower. Long before hops, Empire Orchards was noted for its abundant apples and cherries. Dan was not born into a farming family, but his passion for fruit cultivations led him to study agriculture, and he has always been intrigued by applying the latest and newest ideas in fruit production. Visit one of his apple orchards and you will see carefully pruned and trellised trees, bearing huge, perfect fruit, which would make any German apple grower proud. Dan used the same approach in hop farming; rather than being intimidated by the unusual growing pattern and harvesting needs of hops, he merely took a workshop with MSU (Michigan State University) and jumped right in. The farm now grows an extensive variety of hops, including Nuggett, Fuggles, Brewer’s Gold, Simcoe, Magnum, Osiris, Empire, Williamette, Cascade, Crystal, Centennial and Vojdovina. Business has been growing exponentially.

Dan’s 29 year old son Alex Wiesen has taken up the challenge and now has a major role in the farm. Alex clearly knows his craft, and his craft beer. (I can attest to this, having shared a few pints with him in Glen Arbor.) Although Michigan will never produce the volume of hops that the Yakima valley does, the goal of Empire and other growers is to meet the needs of the microbreweries in their area, who appreciate locally grown hops that are fresher and more readily available. It is not unusual to see the brewery trucks waiting for bins of fresh hops as they come off the Hopfenpfluckmaschine! Both New Holland’s Hopivore and Founder’s Harvest Ale use Empire’s fresh hops. Other breweries that rely on them include Shorts, North Peak, Right Brain, Perrin Brewing, and Saugatuck.

Empire-Hops-FestivalOn October 4, 2014, Empire held its first Hops Festival. The festival featured live music, local food, and of course local beer made with Empire hops. In spite of the weather, it was attended by over 1000 patrons! I hope to be able to attend next year’s festival, which should prove to be even bigger. It looks like Michigan hops are coming into their own.

{ 1 comment }

by Jaime Jurado

Jaimi Jurado

Jaimi Jurado

Ed: Contributor Jaime Jurado is Director of Brewing Operations at Abita Brewing Co.
We’ve asked Mr. Jurado to contribute based on his vast knowledge and  insights into
the making of beer and the industry. Your Beer Network receives no money or incentives
from Abita, and are grateful for Mr. Jurato’s contributions.

When you visit breweries, ask for a taste of the water used to make the beer. It’s no different
from asking for a taste of the base malt used in the company’s brews in that it lends a little
character of what makes the beer. You’ll enjoy the experience as you next appreciate the fresh
beers.

What makes Abita beer special is the water of our brewery wells, from where it’s brewed. We
enjoy a proliferation of local springs and the centuries’ old tradition of pristine water here.
Abita Springs was treasured by the Choctaw. It’s easy to appreciate our local history of the
purity and beauty of our water when you visit….starting at the bronze Abita Princess statue at
the Abita Springs trailhead of the Tammany Trace, and end at the brewery visitor center. The
statue captures the Choctaw maiden poised to drink from the bubbling spring. The reputation
of the waters had spread and the Choctaws settled near-by so that the princess could drink
from the spring and be healed. The Choctaw named their settlement Abetab Okla Chitto which
means ‘large settlement near the fountain ’and later settlers followed and anglicized the name
to ‘Abita’. We don’t add or remove anything from our well water. We put it through a simple
stainless steel filter to remove any tiny pebbles, and that’s all.

It’s the character of a brewery’s water source that is particularly important to the beers it
produces. Water also affects the perceived bitterness and hop utilization of finished beer. It adds
flavor directly to the beer itself – as water is the largest single component in finished beer, and it
provides micronutrients as it dissolves the milled malts and takes the ‘mash’ through temperature
rests we brewers dictate. The effect of brewing water on beer can be characterized by six main
water ions: Carbonate, Sodium, Chloride, Sulfate, Calcium and Magnesium. But this is not the
right place for a technical treatise on brewing water.

If you look at Plzn, Burton-on-Trent and Dublin, you see native waters that are extremely
divergent….with Plzn being truly ‘soft’ and Burton being very ‘hard’ and Dublin being roughly
in between both brewing waters. In the US, one can find close native water approximations:
Portland, OR and Durham, NC are quite close to what Plzn offers. Shiner, TX reminds me of
what Dublin offers. I don’t really know of any local American brewing waters that are close
to Burton…even in Europe the closest might be Vienna…yet even that falls short with sulfates.
Adding calcium carbonate or calcium chloride to get water with key parameters close to Burton-
on-Trent is called, “Burtonizing” and there are distinct attributes that such brews have.

IMG_3107Throughout the history of American brewing, breweries respond to pressures we experience,
and now from our local sources of water. We have states in the midst of extended droughts, and
breweries within these areas work with a laser-focus to reduce the amount of water consumed
to make a barrel of beer. Breweries relying on city-supplied tap water invest in activated carbon
and other treatment to remove chlorine compounds used in civic water distribution in order to
provide bacteria-free drinking water. Breweries with their own wells, a minority by all accounts,
take care and prudence to get samples analyzed and scrutinize the data to know what’s in their
wells.

Beer in the future, in some places, may have to integrate aggressive policies such as using
reverse osmosis to purify brackish waters. While I know of no brewery actively pursing the
utilization of what is described in the recent link, the exploration and publicity comes as little
surprise:

http://www.opb.org/news/article/purified-sewer-water-is-the-secret-ingredient-in-hillsboro-homebrew-competition/

The comprehensive water footprint of making beer starts at the water used growing of its raw
materials, grains such as barley and wheat, and hops. Our farmers are working increasingly at
quantifying and optimizing water consumption in crops which may augment natural rains.

With all the attention that hops and malt enjoy, it’s always good to remember that water is the
 heart of beer.

{ 1 comment }

BEER CLINIC SPECIAL :: Why the Doctor Gives His Patients Schlitz Beer

by Dr. Carol Westbrook 10.03.2014

From the Good Doctor Westbrook…

Read the full article/watch the video →

BEER CLINIC :: A Fruit Basket of Beer

by Dr. Carol Westbrook 09.30.2014

Part 1: Fresh from the market Summer has come to an end, and it is time to enjoy the bounty of the land. Farmers’ Markets are in full swing, homegrown tomatoes are everywhere, and local apples are appearing in the supermarket. The season is beginning for Octoberfest and pumpkin beers, but first let’s take the […]

Read the full article/watch the video →