June 30, 2011

Norfolk, VA: O'Connor's El Guapo IPA (with Agave) and Red Nun

I couldn't resist the temptation to try a beer made with agave nectar, so I braved some awful traffic to check out this O'Connor Brewing Company release party last night at Cogan's Pizza in Norfolk, Virginia.  Situated on one of the city's nicer corners, Cogan's is a funky spot with red walls, a gold ceiling, and B-movie art all over.  The place was packed with all kinds of people who had come to check out the local brewery's new concoction, from hipsters with tattoos to young professionals with babies in tow.  Guys were tossing pizza dough non-stop behind the bar.

The El Guapo IPA proved to be a solid brew.  Orange in color, it had a floral aroma, with a hint of lemon.  It tasted just a little sweet - the agave was there, but if you didn't know any better I don't think you'd notice it.  It was a tasty IPA - not over-the-top and just a little smokey.

While I was at it, I tried O'Connor's Red Nun (5.5% ABV, 35 IBUs), an Irish Red somewhat in the vein of Killian's.  The Red Nun had a deep red color with a thick head and a vanilla aroma.  It was more malty and sweet than hoppy, with a creamy feel to it that went down smooth.  There was a hint of smoke and a little orange that made this a pleasantly complex brew.

Maybe it was just the agave talking, but traffic didn't seem as bad on the drive home.

June 28, 2011

NOVA Brew Fest

A beautiful day, beautiful people, and lots of delicious beer.  Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

The Northern Virginia Brew Fest was held this past Saturday and Sunday in Leesburg, VA, about an hour west of Washington, DC.  Roughly 50 breweries were in attendance, plus arts & crafts vendors and some local bands.  I went up to volunteer, but had plenty of time to sample brews before, during, and after the event.

June 24, 2011

5 Reasons to Go Buy a Growler Right Now

A fancy, Euro-style growler.
Wait, what's a growler?  Glad you asked.  A growler is just a big glass jug for taking draft beer to go.  It's debatable where the term comes from -- some say it's from back in the day when a growler was just a pail with a lid and the bucket would growl as carbonation escaped from the top.  Hey, it's what I read somewhere.  I picked up a 64oz growler last night at the Wine Seller in Williamsburg and filled it up with Firestone Walker's Union Jack IPA.  I'm hoping next time I go they'll have some local brews on tap, but this one's pretty tasty.

And now...

5 Reasons to Go Buy a Growler

KegWorks Glass Beer Growler
A simple, screw-top
growler from Kegworks
(click image to buy)
1 - Bring home fresh draft beer from your local microbrewery
2 - It's usually cheaper than buying the same amount of beer at the bar
3 - Prevent glass from having to be recycled or going to the landfill
4 - Makes bottling easier for the homebrewer (less bottles to fill)
5 - Take draft beer to a party or BBQ without having to buy a whole keg

Got a good reason to get a growler?  Leave a comment below...

June 23, 2011

NY Times: It Doesn't Get More Local Than This...

Check out this article on homebrewing on the NY Times website.  This guy has a pretty intense set-up, but you can get started homebrewing for less than $100.  Over time, you'll end up spending less than you do getting your beer at the supermarket.  Not a bad way to save some money during a recession.

Need a Six-Pack? Hit the Basement

June 20, 2011

Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Brewery

Passing through New York City after the American Craft Beer Festival, one of the things I wanted to do was visit the Brooklyn Brewery. I'd just finished the book Beer School by the founders of the brewery, so I was excited to see the results of their efforts.

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge was a feat in itself - it must have been 100 degrees that day - so we were hot and thirsty once we got there. Situated in a very hipster part of Brooklyn called Williamsburg (coincidentally, the name of my hometown), the Brooklyn Brewery wasn't much more than a couple of brick warehouses - at least from the outside.

We were allowed to first wet our beaks on four of Brooklyn's beers. Our tour guide Justin led us through a sampling of their East India Pale Ale, Summer Ale, Local #2, and a Brewmaster's Reserve Concoction based on a cocktail called a Penicillin: scotch with lemon and ginger. They replicated those flavors by using British peat-smoked malt (to get the smokiness of Scotch) as well as lemon and ginger in the brewing of the beer. Prior to this tasting, I'd only had the Lager and Brown Ale, so I was glad to see that Brooklyn had some variety and the guts to push the boundaries a bit.

Now that we were cooled down and loosened up, Justin showed us through the brewhouse, pointing out the fermentation tanks, the canning and kegging lines, where the brewery was planning to expand, and giving us a little history along the way. Cool fact: the guy who designed the iconic I NY trademark, Milton Glaser, also created the logo for the Brooklyn Brewery.

After the tour, we went back to the tasting room and had a few more beers, enjoying the Pilsner, Brown Ale, and another glass of the EIPA.  I can't think of a better remedy for the New York City heat.  Believe it or not, most Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery. So get out there and support your local economy. Check out this website to find a brewery near you.

The Brooklyn Brewery tasting room.
Beer from the Brooklyn Brewery can be found in the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

Internationally, Brooklyn Brewery distributes to Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

Pretty impressive!

June 15, 2011

3 Great Beer Books

Here are some gift ideas for your favorite beer drinker:

Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey

Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer OdysseyIn this easy-to-read road trip book, Brian Yaeger travels across the United States to visit 37 American breweries. As much about beer as the people who make it, he interviews the founders and owners of several of them, starting with the oldest active brewery in the States: D. G. Yuengling & Son in Pennsylvania. His "Beer Odyssey" takes you North to Maine, all the way to the West Coast, across the South, and up the East Coast to Dogfish Head and Brooklyn Brewery. Yaeger revisits the theme of the family business throughout.

You'll learn about brewing history in America, including the first breweries opened by early immigrants, how the industry struggled through Prohibition, and the latest of what's happening in craft brewing today.

The Complete Handbook of Beers and Brewing: The Beer Lover's Guide to the World

The Complete Handbook of Beers and Brewing: The Beer Lover's Guide to the WorldThis was the first beer book I ever bought and partly what got me into homebrewing and craft beer. A world atlas of beer, the book is divided into two sections. The first part covers the history of the beverage and the process of making beer. It briefly discusses the origins of beer, how it has changed over the centuries, and what ingredients are used to make beer.

The second part of the book, my favorite, is a 'World Tour' of brands and styles. Jumping from continent to continent, breweries and types of beers are listed for each country or region with interesting anecdotes scattered throughout. Though its a few years out of date at this point, you can get a used copy on Amazon for less than a dollar.

Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery

Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn BreweryThis is a great read for anyone interested in starting a business. Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, the founders of the Brooklyn Brewery, take us through their experience of starting a business from the ground up. From how their idea came about, to where they found their investment capital, to the many bumps along the way, Hindy and Potter hold nothing back. They share their experience of dealing with the mob, getting robbed at gunpoint, and how they almost lost their business in the dot com bust.

For a book about business, this was fascinating. Keep an eye out for my next post about visiting the Brooklyn Brewery.

June 12, 2011

Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Brewing Company's Collaborative Groove #1

Inside the CBC tasting room.
As a thank you gift to volunteers, the American Craft Beer Festival organizers treated us to a 'Beer-unch' at Cambridge Brewing Company, located just outside of Boston near the campus of MIT.  CBC joined forces with another brewery and an urban winery from San Francisco to create their 'Collaborative Groove #1.'  The teamwork paid off and produced something unlike I'd ever had before.

This was a pale ale made with Citra hops and gruit, a term for a mixture of herbs that was used for flavoring beer before the common use of hops.  It had a peachy aroma, cloudy orange color, not much head, and a slight piney taste of hops.  There was also something very familiar about this beer, but it took several sips to realize that it tasted like sangria.  Sure enough, this beer was aged in wine barrels to give it a very unique flavor.

A couple of CBC's specialty brews, La Saisonniere
and the Charles River Porter.
More and more, craft breweries are expanding the definition of beer.  While the Germans have a law requiring them to stick exclusively to water, grains, hops, and yeast, it has become common in the States to see beers made with just about everything under the sun (Dogfish Head is a pioneer in this respect).  Aging beer in wine or liquor barrels is also becoming popular.  Of course it's a hotly debated topic among brewers, but as far as I'm concerned, if you can do it as well as Cambridge Brewing Company does, I'm all for it.

June 10, 2011

The American Craft Beer Festival

This Saturday I had the pleasure of volunteering at the American Craft Beer Festival in Boston, Massachusetts. With over 100 breweries serving over 500 different beers, this was a beer-lover's smorgasbord. I volunteered at two sessions and in return received a free ticket to the event - food included.  Most of the breweries were from the New England area, but they had a few from as far away as North Carolina, Colorado, California, and even the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Just one row of brewers from the American
Craft Beer Festival
I was able to sample 25 different beers, from milk stouts to hefeweizens, chocolate porters to barleywines. Here I was thinking I had a more or less complete understanding of beer styles, but I came across several new concoctions, some new to me, some just plain out of control. A Berliner Weiss, I discovered, is a wheat beer, but unlike a hefeweizen, this one is tart with strong hints of lemon. I sampled a bacon beer, which unfortunately was not as good as it sounded. One of my favorites was the Mango Pale Ale from St. Johns Brewery in the Virgin Islands. The beer that blew me away the most: the North Carolina-based Duck Rabbit Brewery's End of Reason, a strong Baltic Porter that tasted very much like chocolate and raspberries.

All in all it was a very educational experience. I got to speak with several brewers and sales reps. What's more, was just the general impression I got of how big this craft beer movement has grown. The American Craft Beer Festival had three sessions with around 5,000 attendees each, at $45 a ticket, you do the math...

Thanks to BeerAdvocate.com and Harpoon Brewery for putting on a great fest!

June 3, 2011

Richmond, VA: Legend's Brown Ale

OK so I actually had this beer in Williamsburg, but Richmond's just an hour away so I think it counts as local.  Hey, it's better than having it shipped from California or Europe, right?

Anyways I ordered an 'imperial pint' of this stuff at a great restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg called Berret's Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill.  I wasn't sure how Legend's Brown Ale would do with seafood, but I knew the beer was good so I went with it.  This beer had a red-brown color and a very prominent caramel aroma, which carried through on the taste as well with a sweet, but not too sweet, flavor.  Not much hops taste on this one.  What blew me away was how well this beer went with our seafood - and not just the Legend Brown Ale Battered Shrimp, either (which were excellent).  This beer actually served pretty well as a palate cleanser as I went from pesto calamari and crab cakes to my sole and scallops baked in parchment paper with sun-dried tomato and spinach pasta.  Let's just say my stomach was quite happy at the end of this meal!

Icing on the cake?  Virginia Peanut Pie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate granache.  Mmmmmm...

Next time you're in Williamsburg and want a really good meal - go to Berret's.