Monday, April 26, 2010

My trip to Colorado

I stated a couple of weeks ago that I had the opportunity to head to Colorado for a special family occasion. However, while there I was able to visit a couple of breweries just as I always try to do when heading to CO. Instead of writing my traditional: this is what I did, this is where I went etc...I want to take this post in a different direction. I want to discuss the breweries I went to and what I saw, but I want to put it into context as a comparison of what is wrong with Texas law's and how its hurting Texas Breweries, the Texas Economy and yes, even Texas Tourism. The best part? Its an easy fix.
During my visit, I headed up to Boulder to visit some breweries. We hit two that got me thinking about this post, and it's those two that I want to discuss. Both are very different, but very applicable to the Texas brewery scene.
The first Brewery we went to was the great Avery Brewing. Before heading to the tour, we stopped by the tasting room. It was pretty full of customers on a Sunday afternoon. Some seem to be spending the day playing games, drinking one of the many beers on tap, and just hanging out. Others were, like us, there for the tour. It was here that I got a chance to taste Avery's new barrel aged beer Depuceleuse, aged in Zinfandel barrels (I was also able to pick up a few bottles). After a few more tastings and a pint for the road, it was off to the tour. The first stop along the tour was the Mash Tun and Fermenters. I was absolutely shocked by how small Avery brewing is. A single tiny mash tun and not that many fermenters; each much smaller than anything that Saint Arnold's has. When I asked our guide how big Avery was, they replied that they just passed Microbrewery status (15,000 bbls) and are now around 18,000. This is much smaller than I expected Avery to be, but am still pretty happy that we are able to get so many of their great beers in Houston. After the mash tun and fermenters, we headed to the bottling line. Again, this was a pretty small operation and, along with their labeling machine, is run by 2 or 3 people. After the bottling line we headed over to the barrel room. This was absolutely the highlight of the tour. The barrels were floor to ceiling with many different labels. Some originally held Rum, Whiskey (CO local Stranahan's), different types of red wine, and different types of white wines. Many of these barrels had white sheets of paper on the front that carried the history of the barrel and what had been in each one, along with owner, Adam Avery's, thoughts on the beer that was aged in side. It was also in this room that I received the inspiration to write this post. I asked our tour guide about the size of the brewery, and how they planned to expand since they were basically land locked in an industrial complex. The tour guide said that by using the money they make in the tasting room: proceeds from selling bottles, merchandise, samples, and tastings, they were going to be able to buy a place and custom build a brewery in the future.
Compare this situation with that of Houston's own: Saint Arnold's. How were they able to build a new brewery? Obviously not by tasting room sales of beer, but more than likely by their contract brewing agreement with BJ's Brew Pub. This contract has probably allowed Saint Arnold's a much higher in-flow of capital than would otherwise have been possible.
The second brewery we went to was brand new and very tiny: Asher Brewing Company, Colorado's first all organic brewery. Another small brewery tucked into an industrial park, but when I say small, I mean teeny tiny! When you entered the door you came face to face with the bar, a small sitting room to the right, a few taps behind the bar, and then a door leading to the brewery itself. I asked the brewerr, who happened to also be manning the taps, if I could take a step back. I headed through the door. I saw a mash tun and a couple of fermenters among other things, and that was it. No bottling line or anything. I came back to the bar, and ordered a sampler of their beers - A wheat, IPA, DIPA, and Green Monstah (strong Ale). While I wasn't a huge fan of the wheat beer, the other 3 were very good. Extremely hop forward, with the Monstah having a wonderfully balanced maltiness. After ordering a pint of the DIPA, I took a seat at the bar and spoke with the brewer for a little bit. Currently they are keg only, but are using the proceeds from their tasting room and selling to local bars to purchase a bottling line (which they were going to be doing in short order). This brewery is only 3 months old, and already were able to see a huge benefit from their tasting room. While I was there, 5 or 6 people came in to sit at the bar and drink, and a couple of folks came in to fill some growlers to take home.
Now compare this scenario with that of new upstart Austin Area brewery Jester King. These guys are making some killer beer, but to start their brewery up they had to raise tons of money. They couldn't rely on starting as small as Asher brewing and use things like a tasting room to build up funds.
So what simple things could Texas do to help our local breweries?
1) Allow breweries to operate like a bar. They don't have to serve food, but wouldn't it be great to stop by a brewery on the way home from work and have a couple of extremely fresh pints? If they wanted to, they could offer chips and nuts, but you don't need to do much more than that. Neither Avery or Asher did and I would say they were very successful in getting folks in for a pint now and again.
2) Allow breweries to sell their beer on site. Imagine being able to go to a tour of the brewery and pick up a six pack or bomber of special beer to go. This is something that has been in work for many years and hopefully this next attempt it will pass. Not only does this help the breweries, regardless of what you may hear, it doesn't hurt distributors for a couple of reasons: 1) The beer breweries sell is not at a discount. Just like wineries, they do not undersell their sellers. Ask CO, CA, or OR distributors and see if they have been hurt by breweries selling some beer on site. The answer is a resounding NO. 2) By not underselling their beers, the breweries are able to get a higher percentage of profit off of those beers, which increases profit margin.
3) Allow breweries to sell Growlers to go. This works similar to allowing them to sell six packs, but also allows a customer to get something that may be offered keg only. There are some breweries in Texas that are keg only, like Live Oak, that would benefit greatly from this for the same reasons as mentioned above.
By doing these thing's how does it help Texas? States that have a strong microbrewery culture also have a strong culture of beer tourism. By making it easier for craft breweries to succeed, you help the economy and tourism. For example, I can go to the Denver area and hire a Brewery guide that will take me to dozens of area breweries, allowing me to pick up some special beers along the way. The same goes for places like San Diego and Portland. Look at Austin! There are many area breweries and more (like Jester King) on the way. Imagine a beer bus type of touring van that took folks from out of state to local breweries, allowing them to buy some beers, take them back to their home state, and talk about how great Texas Beer is. This brings even more folks back into the state, starting the whole process over. Texas has done an outstanding job of supporting the wine industry, and wine tourism has brought a ton of money into this state. When the economy is hurting, and taxing things left and right isn't the answer, shouldn't the state stand by the craft brewer's and at the same time bringing more money to the state coffers?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Avery Black Tot

Boulder based brewing company Avery Brewing is widely known for producing outstanding beers. Not only do they have a solid line of beers available in six packs, but there big bottle series like the Reverend, Salvation, Hog Heaven, Czar, as well as their great beer they collaborated with Russian River on: Collaboration Not Litigation, are all top notch beers. In the last year they have developed a barrel aging program, releasing small batch beers, of differing styles aged in different types of barrels. Some of these barrels contained rum, zinfandel wine or whiskey. The first release of this series was the funky Brabant No 1, followed a few months afterward by Sui Generis. The next release was this ale dubbed the Black Tot, an Imperial Oatmeal stout aged in Giddings Rum casks (they've since released a 4th barrel aged beer).

The Beer: This one weighs in at 10.0% and pours a pitch black with a thick head of dense dark tan colored foam. The nose is of oats, molasses, chocolate, coffee, figs, and raisins. The mouthfeel is medium bodied, slightly thinner than expected. Notes of chocolate, coffee, espresso, some acidity at the finish. Vanilla, a light oakiness and some licorice notes. A very complex ale that starts to show some slight funky tanginess brought forth from residual bacteria growing the rum casks. This tanginess gives the beer a presence of sour cherries covered in dark chocolate. This is a wonderful beer, and might be my favorite of Avery's barrel aged line of brews. This one gets an A- from me. Here's what the folks at BA think.

Deschuttes Jubel 2010

Many brewer's these days put out special once a year ales. Most of these are anniversary beers like Shiner's 100, or 101 beers, others are special cult like ales that folks stand in line for hours to obtain (like Three Floyd's Dark Lord). However Oregon brewer has taken this a step further and has brewed a beer that is released in bottles once a decade. This ale dubbed Jubel has been made just twice, once in 2000, and now it has been released once again. However unlike many other special beers, this one while not easy to find, you didn't have to sell your soul to get. So whats so special about this beer you ask? Well Deschuttes takes their winter seasonal Jubelale, a dark strong ale that has some hops at 60 IBU's and weighs in at 6.7%. Above I mentioned that Jubel is bottled once a decade, however it is available on draft at Deschuttes brew pubs. To create this beer, they've brewed a stronger version of their Christmas ale and aged it in Oregon oak Pinot Noir Barrels.

The Beer: This one weighs in at 10.0% and pours a rich dark brown with ruby highlights and a thin line of taupe colored head. The nose is of rich malts, cherry, raisins, figs, plums, and coco. The mouthfeel is thick and chewy. Strong notes of alcohol. Dark Russian bread, fig compote, raisins, prunes, notes of coco, candied sugar, christmas bread, vanilla and oak all show up in the flavor profile. It's an incredibly flavorful beer, with concentrated dried dark fruits as it warms, sticky toffee. This beer is strong, tastes much more than the 10% it is. Alcohol becomes even more prevelent as it warms. Looking at the bottle there is a "best after" date. The date is next year. Glad I got a couple more bottles becuase this one should age wonderfully well.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Port Brewing Shark Attack

Back home after a few days in Denver visiting the in-laws (details and other thoughts on my visit in an upcoming entry, I promise). As always I picked up a stash of brew and if you follow my twitter feed there were even pictures! Last night after I returned home I cracked open a bottle that I had brought back. This one from San Diego brewer Port Brewing. Shark Attack is Port's Imperial Red ale.
The Beer: This one weighs in at 9.0% and pours a cloudy brown beige color with a thick dense head of slightly off white foam. The nose is hops, hops, and more hops, grapefruit peel, pine tree sap. The mouthfeel is medium bodied and much maltier than the nose. Creamy without a lot of carbonation. Malty up front, notes of caramel, toffee, biscuits, then it finishes with a hammer of hops across the tongue. Citrus pith, tongue saturating hoppiness. White pepper spice. Very good beer well balanced with hops and strong malt characteristics up front. This one gets an A- from me. Here's what the folks at BA had to say.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Boulevard Harvest Dance

It seems like a long time since I've picked up a brew from Kansas City brewer Boulevard, and what better way to get reacquainted then grabbing a beer from their Smokestack series. This Harvest Dance is a Wheat Wine. Now some of you may be going a what? I've heard for a barleywine, but what is this Wheat Wine you speak of? Well glad you asked.
Like a barleywine, Wheat Wines are strong ales, however they are relatively new to the beer scene where as barleywines have been around for a long time. However they also mix in the complexity of a Wheat beer with many of these wheat wines having upwards of 50% of their malt bill being wheat. I've never had a wheat wine, so this is something that I've been wanting to try for some time.
The Beer: This one weighs in at 9.10% abv and pours an orange copper with an absolutely ginormous pillowy slightly off white head. The nose is full of fruity esters, banana, cloves, bubble gum, spice, just like a great hefeweizen should. The first sips give the impression of a very full mouthfeel, alcohol, winish quality. Then those things part and you start to get the impression of a "heavier" wheat beer. Bananas, spices, cloves, then white grapes, honey suckle-ish quality. A dryness that reminds me of a trippel. Some astringency notes. As the beer warms one can get a "wheat-y" taste that's quite nice. Also much lighter in the mouthfeel than a barleywine is which is very nice. A bit boozy. If I had to sum it up in a sentence it would be like taking a Belgian Trippel mixed with a good Bavarian Hefe. An interesting beer that makes me want to delve deeper into this style. This gets a B+ from me. Here's what folks at BA had to say.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Magazine Review: Beer Connoisseur

A new magazine has joined the ever growing ranks of Beer publications. There is of course the great All About Beer (one that I have subscribed and can heartily recommend), Beer Advocate (the magazine version of the on-line community), DRAFT (I've heard problems about their subscription, but I've enjoyed picking it up at the news stands) and Beer (a beer magazine for the Maxim crowd). Well now there is Beer Connoisseur magazine one that is released quarterly. But how does it compare, and how does it make it self different than the others?
The first thing you notice when you see it on the newsstand is it's size. This is a large format magazine (think Wine Spectator, the old LIFE, etc) and it grabs your attention. The cursive type of Beer, the big block letting of Connoisseur, the beautiful photography on the cover it speaks to you. It was this that made me pick it up for the firs time a few months back. Now that they have released their second issue, I wanted to write my thoughts and tell my avid readers (I know there's a few out there....I hope I'm not just talking to myself) if it's worth a pick up. The first thing I did was see who was contributing to it. Its different than DRAFT or All about beer, both of which seem to share many writers and frankly many features. Some of the contributors include Stephen Beaumont, Shawn Connely (of Beer, Martyn Cornell, Evan Rail, Lisa Morrison (aka the Beer Goddess). All of these have a pretty large following on the on-line beer community and many have written wonderful beer related books so seeing them contributing to this magazine gives it some credibility. The next thing I look for is the different features. One thing that they don't have is a "Whats going on in beer" feature. In AAB, DRAFT, or BA mags this the feature that goes over news in the industry, mergers, technology, etc. However, in this day and age of on line news, it seems unnecessary, so I have no issue with it not being in this mag. Its other normal features do include a Style Guideline section where Shawn Connely introduces readers to different styles each issue. These are usually informative, and includes info that you can also find on The other features include a Travel piece (This month on Czech Republic), an interview (called the Innovator Series, this month with Garrett Oliver), Food and Beer, and of course Reviews. There are other things of course, this month has a very interesting piece on Green brewing and the Accidental Connoisseur discussing things outside of beer (thinks Scotch, Whiskey, etc).
Over all the features are all very well done, well laid out, very well photographed and well written for the most part. The beer and food section is probably the best of any beer magazine I've seen, with great recipe's, great photography, and really utilizes either beer (something more than Guinness or pilsner that many other beer magazines use) in the recipe or as pairings with the food.
The Beer Review section is done very well also and done a little differently than other magazines. For example they do not group beer styles or even state it within the review the style of the beer. I would like at least the latter (my personal favorite method for beer reviews is AAB). But each food pairing comes with a Food Recommendation both a complimentary and contrasting pairing which I think is a great idea. Each review pictures the beer poured into a brewery glass, the reviews are well written and in two issues I haven't found one that I strongly disagree with.
Another thing that separates this magazine from others is that it focuses much more on the south. While I feel that AAB and BA specifically tend to focus a lot of their attention on either the West Coast or north east, this magazine does have southern, and specifically south eastern influence going so far as to do a separate "Southeast Beer Review". Additionally Beer Connoisseur has a wonderful companion website that one can search for food & beer pairings, brewpubs, travel tips, etc, along with an excellent beer forum.
This review has been pretty positive so far, however there are some issues that I have. One is that there is a lot of space taken up by advertisements, honestly no more than other magazines, but its not something I'm a huge fan of (yes I understand you have to pay the bills). Secondly I do wonder if they are being too hoity-toity with the term Beer Connoisseur. Its a fine line between getting folks to respect beer and understanding that it deserves the same respect and place at the table that wine does, and trying to make beer an elitist beverage. I'm not saying that BC Magazine does this, but that they are walking a fine line, it will be interesting to see how they evolve over time. Lastly and maybe most importantly is the price for subscription. This is a quarterly magazine, so 4 issues a year and it costs $21.00, compare this to BA (12 issues/yr for $29.99) or All About Beer (6 issues/yr for $20.99). You can see that this magazine is probably way more expensive than it should be and honestly I think to really sell its going to have to lower prices.
There are a few other things I would love to see in this magazine. 1) Something that has not been done in any "national" beer magazine (but is done in other magazines), is to create a regional review section separate from the main review. So the south eastern US would keep the Southeast Beer section, but other regions would have Southern Beer, Mountain Region, Northwest, Northeast, West Coast, etc (and if they needed someone to review the Southern beer's I'd be more than happy to help!). There is precedence to this, for example Sports Illustrated does have some regional features especially for subscribers. Another thing I'd like to see is styles mentioned in the beer review section. You can see a beer reviewed and have no idea what style it is supposed to be. I think this is important when you also look at their outstanding section on Beer Styles. Lastly and I've mentioned before, they have to lower their subscription price. For only 4 issues the yearly subscription is just too high.
Now to answer the question? Is it worth picking up? Let me preface with this magazine is absolutely a wonderful addition to the line up of Beer related magazines, and along with their website a great addition to the on-line beer community. Taking into consideration it has the best photography of any beer magazine, great contributors, good reviews, good features, I will absolutely pick this magazine up on the newsstand. Will I get a subscription? Not yet, I need to see how this magazine grows, and as I've stated a couple of times already I think the price is just too high.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Lost Abbey Inferno

I've been extremely lucky as of late to try as many Lost Abbey beers as I've been able to due to my travels to Denver. I know that some in the past have had carbonation or other quality issues, but I have never experienced those and in fact been more than pleased with everything I've had from the. As with most brews Lost Abbey makes this one is another Belgian style ale, specifically a Belgian Strong Pale Ale (think Duvel).
The Beer: This one weighs in at 8.5% and pours a pale golden color with a thick head of bright white foam. The nose is of pale malts, noble hops, small grassy notes. Medium to full mouthfeel Crisp dry, grassy, pale malts, an earthy hop ting, minerally. Very dry. There is some sweetness up front, but as stated the finish is pretty dry. Good level of carbonation. Maybe a note of honey, strawy, hay, grassy, yeasty notes. Great food beer (as is Duvel). This one gets a B+ from me. Here's what the folks at BA think.