Thursday, July 21, 2011

Craft Beer and the American Dream

At the risk of sounding a little too deep for a beer blog... I felt like something of this nature needs to be said. Last weekend I spent a FANTASTIC time with some of my closest friends down in the Baltimore/DC area. This all started a few months ago when a few of us were discussing a trip to visit Camden Yards (where the Orioles play) and hit a few breweries along the way. Long story short, we locked up an itinerary and decided that along with the baseball game, we would do some sightseeing in DC and visit both the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware and the Heavy Seas Brewery in Baltimore (formerly Clipper City). Both on my craft beer bucket list.

I love learning about craft beer. Yes, there's the obvious benefits. I mean, come on, It's Beer! You start spending your money (in some cases more than you'd like to!) but nevertheless spending your money on GOOD beer. None of this 'Great taste, Less filling' or 'This is beer' marketing schemes. Speaking of, a few days ago, Beer411 Katie tweeted that Molsen Coors is putting out a line of "Female Beers." [CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY]

Really, really...?

Ok, back to my original thought: Why I love craft beers. There are IPAs, Ales, Porters, Stouts... Bourbon Barrel, Oak Aged, Cask... And each brewer takes their own approach to their product. There's no right or wrong way to make beer.. And even with all of the combinations and collaborations that exist, there are still a limitless amount of new styles yet to be discovered. If you have an idea, you have a new beer. It never ends!! And I love that.

And when you look pass the beer, you start learning about WHERE it's brewed and WHO is the brew-mastermind behind it. And this, THIS I feel is the underlying reasoning why I love not only the idea, but the MOVEMENT of craft beers. Beyond the taste, beyond the quality... is the dream. Most of us have heard a classic tale or two along the lines of our ancestors coming over to seek out a NEW life in America. No certainty, no guarantee, just a chance... A chance to make a difference for their family. Along with some perseverance, hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck, they made their dreams happen.

So now, ask yourself... Look at the similarities. A person has a dream about brewing beer the way THEY want to brew beer. No financial backing, no promises... just a hope and a dream. Take Dogfish for example... we got there on last Thursday (thanks to Big Mama and Kristin for getting our group on the tour!!). Our tour guide Kristin told us about how Brewmaster, Sam Calagione and two other friends worked 14 hour shifts just to get their idea off the ground. They would rotate on and off so if someone wasn't brewing, they were sleeping. Day and Night. And now, Dogfish Head beer is one of the LEADING microbrewers in the US. Then a few days later, I met Hugh Sisson, mastermind and beerly dedicated to the Heavy Seas line (formally known as Clipper City). While I can describe as best I can, you have to see this guy in action to see his passion. Trust me, He Loves Beer. He gives countless tours to group after group... Booooring, right? Not when you are doing something that you LOVE. You would have thought that he was giving his FIRST tour for us. Lively, spirited... It was awesome! Hearing him describe how to simply pour a beer or listening to him describe what goes into making their flagship beer Loose Cannon (Hop Cubed), was a treat. When you see what these people are putting into their beers, you WANT to support the cause.

We drank some exception beers during this trip. The Dogfish brewery tour ended with a tasting of the Shelter Pale Ale, 60 min, 90 min and 120 min... all on draft. (Note: the tap handle for the 120 min was a Pimp cane. Basically because at 18-20% ABV, this beer makes you its... @#$%@#%.) At Heavy Seas we had the Thank You, Thank You Very Much Anniversary Ale (Imperial IPA), Marzen, Loose Cannon and Hang Ten (Weizen Doppelbock) on draft. Hugh was nice enough to hang out with us after the tour and thanked us for making the trip! How cool is that!?

So the next time you're picking up some beer, think twice about WHAT you're buying. Stay away from the big dogs, because there are so many BETTER options our there. And isn't it a good feeling that not only are you going to spend your money smarter, but by simply by purchasing a microbrew, you are also supporting the American Dream.


...(sorry Budweiser), but THAT is beer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

All in the name of Research.

Checking both the Dogfish brewery and brew pub off of my craft beer bucket list.  Special thanks to Big Mama and Kristin for making it happen!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not Hooked on Thomas Hooker’s Watermelon Ale

Style | ABV
American Blonde Ale | 4.50% ABV

My personal opinion: The only time beer and watermelon should play together is when you are enjoying them separately at a picnic.

Thomas, I wanted to like your watermelon ale. You hail from the “Constitution State” and my former residence in good ole’ Connecticut, but I could not get on board with this freshman beverage.

I think this could be a great gateway beer for a first-timer trying to transition off wine coolers and Smirnoff Ices. I say this because it tasted like juice.

I have to ask, “Where’s the BEER?”

I sampled the watermelon ale on draught at Mike’s in Davis Square. Mike’s serves beer in the largest plastic cups I have ever seen. You need two hands and focus to lift these pints and the best part is, they are only $8. If you are on a budget and like to drink and sit outside – go.

I borrowed my friends drink. I was prejudice going into it and didn’t want to commit to a large beer that tastes like candy. I was happy with my decision.

The Thomas Hooker Watermelon Ale had a nice foamy head and held lace to the cup for quite some time. The color is golden and clear. Surprisingly, there was no rosy hue to speak of. The nose is straight up Jolly Rancher, holy sweetness. There was no smell of grains, hops, or malts - nothing beer related at all. Yikes.

Thankfully, the beer was not that sweet to taste, but it wasn’t good either.

I was surprised after the first sip. It’s a light, well carbonated beer and mouth feel is crisp and refreshing. I didn’t dislike it right away.

I stole a few more sips from my friend’s beer to really get a handle on the taste. I found that it’s slightly tart and the artificial watermelon flavor and sweetness hits your tongue all in the front. After that it’s watery and finishes like a bud light. By the fifth sip I had enough. I could drink this beer if I had to, but I wouldn’t be excited about it.

For me it was a flop. Grade: D

My friend however, who has a much sweeter palate than me, was overjoyed with the beer and ordered another one so, to each her own!

Has anyone had a watermelon ale they like? I would love suggestions.
Cheers everyone – Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red, White, and Smashed Blueberry

"...And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!"

Shipyard Smashed Blueberry (Pugsley's Signature Series)
Brewery: Shipyard (Portland, ME)
Style: Fruit / Porter / Scotch Ale
ABV: 9.0%

Nothing says "Happy Birthday America" than a cold beer on a hot day. So when I heard my sister was coming down to visit with her family, I asked her if she could bring some Smashed Blueberry, the latest offering from Shipyard Brewery. I've been looking all over the place around here... everyone is sold out. "Can't keep it on the shelves!" they tell me.

So my sister Care walks in the door and says, "They were sold out at the local packy up there..." Apparently, THEY can't keep it on the shelves either! (But she did bring down some excellent local summer brews up there... Geary's and Gritty's!)

Ok, now my interest is PEAKED. Granted, I understand that it was a limited release, but not being able to get it only 20 minutes outside of Portland?!

Then, totally unsuspecting, my girlfriend and I walked into a package store down in Danbury, which had a good selection of bombers... and VOILA! There it is, SMASHED BLUEBERRY!!! Two bottles please and thank you.

On the eve of the 4th, we opened up the highly sought-after bottle. We were instantly reminded that this ain't your normal blueberry summer brew... in fact, I can't really put it in the summer brew category if it wasn't for the blueberry. Coming straight out of the Porter family, this beer is DARK with about a finger and a half of khaki colored head. Interestingly enough, when you held the beer up to the light, the darkness had a purple/red hue to it... like a blueberry skin. Getting my nose in there, I got dark chocolate, bitter coffee, roastiness and a very very slight hint of blueberry. The taste followed suit... My girlfriend, Michelle said it reminded her of eating dark-chocolate covered blueberries... I got some black licorice notes in there as well, with more of the bittersweet chocolate hints.

The mouthfeel follows the characteristics of a solid porter... nice malt qualities, as you can see by the good head retention along the sides of the glass. Decent carbonation and subtle booziness. The scotch ale is most present here if you ask me. The finish had a dry bitter-hoppiness to it, which I do enjoy. But overall it didn't really stick with you.

Overall: B+

It was good, not great. But I think back to the first Smashed Pumpkin I had from Shipyard about two years ago. Heavy alcohol and almost a medicinal taste to it. But with some tweaks in the recipe, it has slowly become one of my FAVORITE pumpkin ales to date. So, I applaud the "outside the box" approach from the Shipyard brewers. Who would even think to combine a Porter, a Scotch Ale, and a Blueberry Ale?? (Sounds like the beginning of a joke...) This is a good start. But as difficult as it was to find, and $10 for the bomber, I won't be getting it again this season.

Happy 4th EVERYONE!!

NEW LAYOUT!!! I'm so excited to release our new Beer411 format. In addition to our Beer411 community that continues to grow, I encourage you to share your favorite blog entries on facebook, twitter, and other social media sites! I've also added our twitter accounts on the right had side of the page... and if you want email updates on WHEN we post, feel free to submit your email too!! Great things are happening at Beer411 and its all because of you guys!! Lastly, we would LOVE to hear from you... so if you have a post that you'd like to share, LET US KNOW!! And as always, thanks for stopping by Beer411!!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sugar, Oh’ honey, honey ….

Rapscallion Honey Wheat
Style | ABV
American Pale Ale (APA) | 4.50% ABV

This is my new favorite go-to-brew and it has replaced Magic Hat #9 in my heart.

The best part about this beer is that since it’s is brewed in Holyoke, Mass., I can find it on tap at almost any decent beer bar in the city and it’s not seasonal, so I can drink it year round. That said, I think this sud is PERFECT for the summer.

This is the only offering I have had from Rapscallion and I am looking to get my hands on their other beers soon.

I was out at Stoddards Fine Food & Ale in the theatre district to celebrate Drink Craft Beer’s 5th anniversary. The bash brought together, what seemed like more than 200 beer lovers to raise money for cancer through PINTS for prostates. The free apps were flowing and so was the beer.

While Stoddards is a great place to get your hands on something new and exciting, the bar was jammed and it just so happened that the tap right in front of me was my new standby – I took it as fate and I ordered it.

She pours slightly hazy golden with little to no head. This beer is so well carbonated that the bubbles don’t allow for much of a froth. The nose is wildflowers, sweet honey and a little grassy. Don’t let the ‘honey’ in the name fool you – this beer is not overly sweet.

The mouthfeel is crisp and fizzy. The bubbles get all over your mouth like seltzer water and zests up to your nose. This pale ale has the right balance of hops for my palate with a fresh taste of wheat, honey, tea and a fruity finish. It is very drinkable and refreshing and pairs well with most pub food. At 4.50 % ABV, it’s ok to order more than just one.

Grade: A

Try it this weekend.
Have a happy and safe 4th everyone - salud!