Friday, December 18, 2009

Year End Round Up

Its hard to believe that the end of the year is just a few short days away, and with that I thought I'd join many folks in taking a quick look back at the year that was (don't worry no top 10 lists here). Looking back at the beer world in general, and this blog and Texas specifically it was a huge year seeing a ton of positives, and luckily only a few negatives.
- Currently 162 entries this year, my most productive yet. I was blessed enough to focus not only on a ton of beer postings, but news, beer dinners, and book and restaurant reviews.
- This year saw a growing list of establishments highlighting craft beer: Block 7, Anvil, The Drinkery, House of Taps, and many more. It seems all of these are packed, showing that Houston does have a great craft beer culture.
- Some big anniversaries hit Houston Institutions this year: Saint Arnold's 15th, Flying Saucer's 9th, Petrol Station's 4th.
- Speaking of Saint Arnold's they moved into their big new brewery not to long ago and maybe, just maybe this weekend they'll be able to support tours.
- While we are on Saint Arnold's some bad news: Another loss in trying to allow TX breweries the ability to sell their beer's directly from their breweries occurred. We can only hope that enough support is growing and next time it will pass.
- While we can't seem to get local beer's direct from the breweries, Texas is getting more beer than ever from breweries new to TX: Ska, Twisted Pine, Mikkeller, Moylan's, Harpoon, Otter Creek, and many others came into our great state. Many other's expanded like Brooklyn. A great year to be a beer lover to be sure.
- As many times as I've complained about it, there were more beer dinners this year. From small relatively inexpensive events like this one at Gingerman, to more expensive ones like Saint Arnold's one at Brennan's Steakhouse it's wonderful to see these occur.
- A little outside of Houston over towards Austin, we saw Real Ale not only celebrate their 13th Anniversary, but saw them start bottling more beer's beginning with their Coffee Porter.
- Our brewery up north in Conroe is growing as well, introducing their Pro-Am Saison, and hopefully at the beginning of next year their Buried Hatchet Stout in cans.
- Nationally, beer was in the news most notably by the "Beer Summit"
- We also saw a nationally distributed documentary on beer this year: Beer Wars.

Its been a pretty good year for beer. So what does next year bring? Well besides more posts from me? More beer books to be sure, although there were several good ones that came out this year. As much as things improved this year, I'm hoping for even more beer dinners and beer pairings from local restaurants and bars. I also think we'll see even more new beers to this state. Which ones I don't know but if history is any key, they'll be good. Some new things from our local breweries. More bottled beers from Real Ale, more anniversary beers from them as well, also it will be interesting to see how/if Saint Arnold's changes now that they are in the new brewery: What will their next Divine Reserve be? Some special release ales? Will we see more TX breweries join in on the trend of barrel aging their beers? These are just some of the questions I have heading into next year. What are yours?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Boulevard BBQ

It's BBQ time. From Kansas City no less. Nope not talking the meat kind, the beer kind, specifically Boulevard's Bourbon Barrel Quad. BBQ is based off of their well liked Quad, but only loosely based. They took the base recipe of the quad aged it on cherries and in multiple different bourbon barrels for various lengths of time. They then took the all the different beer from all the different bourbon barrels and blended them into the final bottled product. Sounds interesting right?
The Beer: This one weighs in at 11.8% and pours a dark orangish color with a thick off white head of dense foam. The nose is tart cherries, vanilla, toffee, and wood. The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, lots of effervescence. Initial impact is that of tartness and sourness from the cherries, then sweet vanilla, before finishing with some oaky dryness. Some flavors of charred wood, bourbon, and toffee show up as the beer warms, as does some boozyness. Even with that boozyness it sure doesn't taste like an almost 12% beer, its very drinkable, although this one is best sipped slowly. Its very good complex beer, getting new flavors with every sip. This one gets an A- from me. Here's what the folks at BA had to say.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Gifts for your Beer Lover

There's still time left folks. If you are still looking for a gift for someone who is a lover of craft beer there is still time to get them a wonderful beer related gift.
For the Beer Reader:
You can go one of two ways here: Magazine Subscription or Book. There is a growing list of beer magazines out there and I've had a subscription to two of them and have regularly picked up 2 or 3 more. Of those there are two that I would highly recommend:
All About Beer: This is one of the original Beer Magazines and has a lot of respectable beer writers, including Rick Lyke, Charlie Papazian, Jay Brooks, Stan Hieronymus. Delivered every other month, yr subscription (6 issues) is $19.99
Beer Advocate: A relative new comer to the magazine scene, the website of course has been around for many years and has helped spread the word of good craft beer life few others have. A lot of the newer generation of beer writers show up here from time to time. Monthly magazine, 12 issues for $29.99
There are also a ton of beer books out there. One of the best this year that I have read and is easily accesible is Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer available at most books stores for 16.95.
Other book's to look out for are Garrett Oliver's Brewmaster's table, a must for any beer and food lover, and Dogfish's Sam Caglione's He Said Beer, She Said Wine is another wonderful food related beer book.

For the Home Brewer:
I am not a homebrewer really, although I have dabbled here and there, but I have seen some pretty neat gifts for them. One of the coolest are tap handles made of chalkboard material. Easy to install and great for the homebrewer to label their brews. These can be purchased from home brew shops, websites like Keg Works and even

For the Beer Drinker:
Well I guess that's all of us but it also could be for that person that you want to get into craft beer. one of the best ways to do this is to create a beer gift basket. Many stores have these already built, or you can build your own. Central Market, Spec's, Whole Foods, and Hubbel and Hudson all do beer gift baskets. Various prices, but check with customer service.
Beer of the Month club - I've never participated in one, but I do know there are quite a few out there, with many different options. Some have a West Coast only option, or Belgian Only, or American Craft Beer option. An easy way to customize the type of beer you want to give. Here are a few that I have looked into, but again I can't speak on how well the service works:
Microbrew Club from Amazing Clubs
From Clubs of America the Microbrew Club
International Beer Club

Or if all else fails seeking out that special beer that you know someone loves is always a perfect gift.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beer Camp: Excursion #1

This past weekend was the first ever Beer Camp (well at least the first in Houston). What's Beer Camp you ask? It was run by a non-profit group called Live It Big an organization that helps charities raise money. This event specifically was for Friday Harbor, a charity that helps house cancer patients and their relatives when they come to Houston for treatment. For this event, the folks at Beer Camp asked Kevin Floyd of Anvil Bar and Refuge to host and moderate the beer tasting. The tasting consisted of 20 beers, 70% of them were not available in Houston. Most of these are pretty hard to find, highly rated brews that make a beer nerd like me giddy. So of course I went and it was a really wonderful time. The beers we tasted are below with some very brief tasting notes (after that many big beers, my palate started to fail).
Ommegang Hennepin - A 7.7% Saison from Cooperstown, NY. Cloudy hazy yellow, citrus notes, specifically lemon, white pepper, citrus peel, a little alcohol, very dry crisp finish. A wonderful example of the style
Lost Abbey Red Barn - A 6.7% Saison from San Diego, CA, Not Available in Houston. Much darker golden color than the Hennepin, clearer not nearly the haze. Citrusy, breadier, slightly sweeter. Very effervescent.
Lost Abbey Devotion - A 6.25% Belgian Pale Ale, again not available in Houston. Golden color with just a bit of hazyness. Sticky and floral, a little fruity. Hoppy up front, much hoppier than the nose. Smooth finish, very drinkable.
Southampton Grand Cru - A 9.5% Belgian Strong Ale, although we do have some Southampton brews in Houston, this isn't one of them. Almost an orange color, cloudy with bits of yeast in the glass. Syrupy smell, alcohol, concentrated fruits, almost smells like an orange liquor. Full syrupy mouthfeel, spicy, some alcohol boozy notes, caramel, candied sugar.
Ommegang Three Philosophers - A 9.8% Quadrupel with Cherry Lambic. Caramel colored, notes of candied sugar, sour tart cherries, caramel, dark fruits, hides the alcohol relatively well. Surprisingly well balanced. I've always enjoyed this beer.
Ithaca Excelsior Brute - A 6.5% American Wild/Sour Ale from New York. Not available in Houston. A pale hazy straw color. The nose is funky, tart, horse blankety, yeasty, grape. The mouth is more of the same, with a startlingly dry finish due to the champagne yeast used in the beer. This is a good sour ale, but there is not much complexity, it hits you with a wave of sour and funk, the just finishes bluntly and crisply.
Weyerbarcher Riserva - A 11.5% American Wild ale with Raspberries from Pennsylvania. Not available in Houston. Pours a ruby color with notes of sour and tartness, funky notes. Slightly sweet, fruity, syrupy, very effervescent, almost like pop rocks.
Ommegang Rare Vos - A 6.5% Belgian Dark Ale. A burnished copper color with a nose full of residual sugar, caramel, dark fruits, raisins, figs. The mouthfeel is more of the same, candied brown sugar, slightly sweet, plums, very good.
Stone Vertical Epic 09.09.09 - A 8.9% Belgian Strong Ale. Has been available on tap, but not in bottles. Syrupy black with a thick tan head. Roasted malts, dark fruits, plums, raisins, coffee, and caramel. Thick and tongue coating, bitter malts, candied sugar. Very good and surprisingly smooth, want to try this again on 12.12.12.
Dogfish Head/Three Floyds PopSkull - A colloborative 10% American Brown Ale, not available in Houston. An old bruin aged in Palo Santo with Botanicals. I was really looking forward to this beer, but not only myself but most of the folks in the room, couldn't tell the difference between this beer and Palo Santo Marron, still a good beer.
Dogfish Head Burton Baton - A 10% IPA aged in Oak. Pours an orangy copper color with thick tan head. Orange peels, bourbon-y, hoppy grapefruit. Very nice, I love this beer.
Stone 13th Anniversary - A 9.5% American Strong Brown Ale. Chestnut rich brown color. Very hoppy, with notes of hazelnuts, roasted malts, almost syrupy. Very hop forward brown ale. Again I've enjoyed this on in the past, very good.
Alesmith 2004 Old Numbskull - A 11% aged barleywine from San Diego. Not available in Houston. Pours a burnished copper with a good sized off white head. Brandy notes, caramel, toffee, treacle. S mooth and rich mouthfeel, very malty, caramel, sweet, but not cloyingly. Wineish notes as well. Really liked this one, huge fan of Alesmith, was happy to try this beer especially an older vintage.
Mayflower Porter - A 5.5% Porter, not available in Houston. A nice reprieve from the higher alcohol beers. Poured a dark brown with ruby colored highlights. Coffee, robust roasted malts, good bitterness from the hops. Good beer.
Troeg's Java Head - A 7.5% coffee Stout, not available in Houston. Thick black syrupy. Some coffee notes on the nose, but it underwhelmed a bit on the taste. Good roasted malts, a really good export stout, but not a great coffee stout.
Southern Tier Moka - A 11% American Imperial Coffee Chocolate Stout from New York not available in Houston. I have to say this was probably my favorite beer. Poured a dark rich brown with ruby highlights, chocolatey and coffee on the nose. The mouth was like chocolate milk. Just an amazingly tasty, scary drinkable beer for 11%.
Southern Tier Iniquity - A 9% Black IPA not available in Houston. Very black beer, that didn't have a lot of roasted bitterness. There was some maltyness to the beer, but not burnt malts like the color would indicate. Good hoppy brew, but not overly so, and not as much as I would have expected from the alcohol and it being an IPA.
Smuttynose Russian Imperial Stout - A 10% RIS from New Hampshire, not available in Houston. Pitch black with a thick dense head of glass coating foam. Alcohol, roasted malts, dark fruits, raisins, notes of coffee. Tongue coating, some acidity, burnt malts, toffee. Very good RIS.
2003 Alesmith Speedway Stout - A 12% Imperial Stout, not available in Houston. This may have been a little past its prime. Its dark rich black, syrupy, concentrated, a little off.
Three Floyds Dark Lord - A 13% Russian Imperial Stout. This was the one I was waiting for, for those that don't know this one is incredibly hard to find, and is most definitely not available in Houston. It has a huge cult following and is one of the higher rated beers on sites like Beer Advocate. Its released once a year with the full expectation to age well over a long long time. It pours a very dark black almost like oil. Big huge nose of roasted malts, and syrup, toffee, coffee. The mouthfeel is very syrupy and thick, highly viscous, with lots of residual sugar almost cloyingly sweet. Lots of alcohol. There's a lot going on here, toffee, coffee, burnt malts, alcohol, dark dark rich concentrated fruits. Its definitely a sipper and honestly a bit over the top. Its a beer that right now I wouldn't rate that high, but one that I would have great expectations for in a few years.

Well that's it. It was a lot of beer and of course a lot of fun. It's always nice to drink for charity and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend. The next event will probably be in March. Special thanks go to Kevin who did an outstanding job discussing the beers and answering any questions the attendees had.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Brooklyn Monster Ale

Brooklyn Brewery is known for making great traditional style beers. Brewmaster Garret Oliver strives to make old world style beers. From their East India Pale ale, to their Weiss beer, they represent great examples of traditional styles. Well this is not only true of their standard styles, but their seasonal beers as well, like this barleywine.
The Beer: This is Brooklyn's barleywine and weighs in at 11.0%. It pours a burnish copper color with a thin off white head that quickly dissipates into a thin line. The nose is malty, caramel, a little bit of alcohol, fruity. The mouthfeel is full and malty, with some alcohol notes. Caramel, raisins, apricots, brandy-ish. There are some metallic notes, something almost brackish to the beer. Not sure what it but its off putting. There are some strong alcohol notes here, that I hope will settle out as this beer ages. Right now this one gets a B- from me. Here's what the folks at BA think.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Anchor Our Special Ale 2004

I'm a known and unapologetic homer for Christmas beers. I love them for their diversity, complexity, flavor and although it may not be cold here in Houston, they always make me want to be next to fireplace. One of the best out there, year after year is the always slightly different Anchor Our Special Ale. Beyond being a great beer, it ages incredibly well, inspiring many to age them for years and then throw together a monumental vertical tasting. Well no vertical tasting, but due to graciousness of a fellow beer lover I did get my hands on a 2004 beer. Now some folks that are used to drinking Bud won't believe drinking a 5 year old beer, but I'm here to tell you, great beer, ages greatly.
The Beer: It pours a rich brown color with a thick dense head of chestnut colored foam. The nose is full of spices, ginger, cinnamon, malts, figs, spruce trees. The mouthfeel is full and creamy, molasses, figs, spiced bread cake, rich and nutty, toffee. It just reminds one of Christmas. Time has been kind to this beer, and surprisingly left the spices in this beer in tact and still quite powerful, but balanced well with the maltiness of the beer. This was my desert beer last night, paired with a wonderfully made ginger bread cake, made with fresh ginger and the current vintage of Anchor OSA. Truly a match made in heaven.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Van Steenberge Withches Brew

I was up in the Ft. Worth area for Thanksgiving and while wondering around one day came upon this beer, one of the few beers that I saw that we didn't have down here in Houston (I know there's more, but this was the only random one I saw). It's from Van Steenberge in Belgium, makers of Gulden Draak.
The Beer: The beer is a Strong Belgian Tripel ale weighin at yes a strong 9.3%. It pours a hazy golden color with a thick frothy white head. The nose is floral, notes of honey suckle, noble hops, and yeast. THe mouthfeel is crisp and slightly sweet. Notes of honey, crystallized sugar, citrus fruit. Floral notes, some earthy hop bitterness, white pepper spice, peaches. THere is a slight astringency in the finish that is slighty off putting. A good beer, not a great one. It gets a B- from me. Here's what the folks at BA had to say.

How Many Beers?

265 Beers. What does that number mean? Its the combined number of beers that two, yes two brewing companies own in part or whole. Beer writer Jay Brooks has put together a list of beers that are either owned or have distribution deals with ABINBEV and MillerCoors. The scary thing is, this list may not be complete. Jay is working diligently to update and correct this list. Also as take overs and mergers continue to happen this list will only grow. Why publish this list? Is it to knock all of these breweries? No, its for education. All of us should be aware of what we are buying and who we are buying from, these things should be and need to be transparent.
There are multiple reasons that people like me get into craft beer. For most it begins and ends with wanting something that tastes good, that's complex, that goes well beyond the industrial lager that not only this country but the majority of the beer drinking world is inundated with. However there is a small group of beer lovers like me that love craft beer not only for what it is (something delicious) but for what it isn't (owned by huge industrial companies of questionable business ethics). I won't get preachy, as that's not my purpose here, only to say, its good to support local, and in my mind its good to support small hand crafted goods over large industrially made ones. Its why I point out this list as I think consumers of all products (but hey this IS a beer blog) should know where their goods are coming from.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Saint Arnold: Divine Reserve 9

Over the course of the last few days we've had Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and yesterday finally Beer Tuesday. What's Beer Tuesday you ask? The day Saint Arnold's released their latest in the Divine Reserve Series #9. Just like shoppers did last Friday, folks around the city headed out early yesterday morning and began standing in lines, most congregating at the downtown Spec's, some arriving as early as 8:30 am (remember Spec's opens at 10 am). As time went on the line grew and grew, stretching around the building to other street. Me? I arrived at 9:15 am and found about 40 people already in line. For some pictures of the scene checkout Ronnie Crocker's blog Beer, TX. Finally once the store opened I was able to grab my 2 six only concern being: "Is it worth it?" Well before answering that question we have to answer what type of beer is it. Its an imperial pumkin stout. Yes you read that correctly. It was brewed with a ton of pumpkin (mostly if not all canned) and a bunch of spices.
The Beer: This one is definitely Imperial weighing in at 11%. It pours a rich dark brown almost black with ruby streaks throughout. Capped by a cafe colored head, dense with foam. Very aromatic, I could smell the pumpkin well before holding it before my nose. Wow, its pumpkin pie, there is nothing shy about this beer it is in your face. Pie spices of nutmeg, Cinnamon. Notes of coco show up as well. The mouthfeel is full, my first impression is of pumpkin pie, luscious creamy pie with all of grandmom spices. A malty chewiness is my second impression. Very strongly spiced, the back palate has more rich malts then the front of pumpkin. Surprisingly I don't get a lot of alcohol, which makes this easy to drink.
As it warms the flavors meld together: chocolate, pumpkin, spices all coming together wonderfully. Also surprisingly with all the pumpkin and chocolate notes, this beer is not overly sweet, its balanced in this respect very well.
There are some rough edges to this beer, at times the spices can be over the top and too much conflicting with the chocolateyness of the stout. This unbalance can create a harshness to the beer that can be unpleasant. With the alcohol hidden it has the potential to be easy drinking, but this harshness conflicts with that at certain points. It's an incredibly filling rich beer as well. I don't see myself drinking multiple pints of this in one sitting it would just be too much. I do believe that this beer will do amazingly well cellared and I'm glad that I have enough to do so. I want to try it in six months and then again next year for Thanksgiving.
Taking all this, both the positive and the negative I have to say that I am incredibly pleased with what Saint Arnold has done with this beer, and it may be one of the best beers they have ever made. Now it gets an A- from me, but stay tuned as it ages my grade may change going even higher. The folks at BA are already rating and here's what they are thinking.