Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brewpubs Rock

The Gilded Otter in New Paltz, NY

Brewpubs occupy a small but growing niche in the restaurant business. Competing with TGI Friday's, Chili's, or P.F. Chang's is especially difficult when you don't have access to the same Grade-D meat and industrial grade chicken crushers that really allow a successful restaurant to save pennies on every dollar. How's a small non-franchised restaurant supposed to compete with that? It's simple, brew beer!

With a few notable exceptions*, most Brewpubs are one-of-a-kind (or at most two-of-a-kind.) I personally try and avoid chains as often as possible. They generally have a disinterested staff, poor quality food and even poorer quality beer selections. I realize that the appeal of a $10 steak dinner is something most unenlightened American's can't turn their nose up at, but they're  really choosing to ignore the low quality of the meat, preparation, and freezer burn on most products.

My favorite anecdote about T.G.I. Friday's is the story of when my friend asked if he could have more chips for his spinach and artichoke dip. He still had quite a bit of dip left and wanted to smear the rest directly on his arteries (using some festive colored taco chips.) The reply he received was less that satisfactory and speaks volumes about the modern restaurant business:
"The chips come in a package with the dip, we can't give you any more." Since when were restaurants glorified reheating stations for T.V. dinners?

Man this high horse chafes a bit after a while.

The best thing about brewpubs is that they generally have a seasonal menu, cook the food using regular ingredients, and incorporate their beer into their recipes. Of course, the full gamut of fresh house-made beer also compliments the experience. The really astounding thing is that they often cost little more than the big chains, although you'll have to look elsewhere for Bud Light.

Note*: Rock Bottom are a chain "Brewpub." There may be others, but I have yet find one. Their food is almost exactly like the big chains and the beer pretty much sucks. It's sort of like a brewery themed Friday's. Often, they don't even brew the beer on premises but rather use their collective factory space (spread across all of their locations) to specialize a restaurant to a single variety. I could rant about them and their "award winning" beer for an entire post, but to sum it up: Keep Away.

Have a favorite local brew pub? Drop me a line in the comments below!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pump Up the Jam

Last week I brewed my last beer of my great brewing binge. My final beer for this four week fiasco was a smokey porter that I called the "porky porter." Really no reason for the name, I just needed to come up with something to file it into Beersmith. The beer has been fermenting well, and is ready to transfer to the secondary. It seems that missing my OG has been plaguing me, for I've missed it for my last 4 brews. Right now the only thing I can think about attributing the miss to is an inconsistent sparge water temperature. From my readings, a temperature that is too cold will fail to extract all the sugars that it's supposed to, and the sparge water should be around 168.

The reason why I haven't been monitoring my sparge all lies within my brewing method. Usually, I use the water from my HLT, which starts off at 180. Well then I have to pick the keg up off the burner and place it on my table. The only way I can do this without burning myself (well, burning myself less) is by spraying the outside of the keg with water until it's cool enough to pick up. Things still remain as hairy as bigfoot's Shick ultra, because I'm attempting to hoist probably about 100 lbs of keg & water & hotness from waist height to about head height. Awkward as an adjective doesn't do it justice. I almost throw my back out more often than a French soccer player takes a dive.

To the forums batman! After some scouring I realized that I could probably use my pump to pump the hot water up to my mast tun instead of the heavy lifting. Originally I figured I couldn't use the pump because of the autosparge I use. The autosparge acts like a toilet tank valve, when the sparge water gets too high, it will shut off the flow. But if there's too much pressure behind it, I was afraid it would be forced open. The forums suggested to put a valve on the outlet of the pump so you can throttle it back. Brilliant! Since the pump is externally cooled with a fan, as long as the impeller spins the pump wont overheat. Now I have to get my furry little butt to Lowe's and get myself a valve.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Beereview: Flying Dog - Tire Bite Golden Ale

We're no strangers to Flying Dog here at AToTB. Gene reviewed Snake Dog IPA a few months ago, and in my head I'm sure I must have reviewed Tire Bite Golden Ale by now. As my mind has been known to leak facts like a Sony owned website leaks passwords so I thought I should probably check Google. Either my web research talents are limited to obscure factoids (see: Cashew on wikipedia), or I didn't review this beer.

Gene's post gave a pretty good overview of the brewery and their sense of humor, so I won't repeat that here. Gene alluded to their "weird-A$$ names" but it's much more than names which make them bizarre.What catches my attention is the artwork Flying Dog uses on its bottles.

The best way to describe the bottle artwork on every single thing they brew is disturbingly messy, grotesque, and vaguely sinister. I've shied away from serving this beer to people with weak stomachs purely because of how horrifying the bottles are.

Anything this weird has to have a story behind it -- or lots and lots of drugs. In this case, it's both. Their bottles are designed by Ralph Steadman, best known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson. Ralph is the gonzo artist. If nothing is ringing a bell here, check out "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and crawl out from under that rock.

Without boring you with Art History (you can read Wikipedia and pretend to be smart just as easily as I can,) let's use Tire Bite as an example. The label features a half demon dog biting a spinning tire while gore flies from his angry clenching jaws. He's covered in blood and built like the corpse of a dead wrestler. If that doesn't scream "put me out at a wedding banquet!" I don't know what does.

Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale

This beer is one of the best Golden Ales around. It pours a transparent golden color (duh,) and maintains carbonation for the entire time you drink it. It has a small white head that dissipates but is continually maintained by the fizz. This is definitely not a dark beer; there's no coffee flavors or overt bitterness here. It's just sweet, cold, and clear. At 5.1%, it's pretty much in the mid to low range for ABV.

The smell is sweet honey with just a touch of citrus hops. It's an extremely clean smelling beer with none of the usual breadiness. The hops become more pronounced the more you sniff and if you're a hop hound like me it makes your mouth water. The taste is sweet and clean with a very pleasant mouth-feel. It hits you with a cool burst of sweetness that quickly fades into a vaguely hoppy and oat-like flavor. It almost reminds me of a very toned down version of honey nut cheerios in ice cold milk, minus the dairy and breakfast implications.

The most notable thing about this beer (and why it's one of my favorites) is that it's extremely cooling and refreshing. There's nothing I'd want more on a hot day, it's clear and crisp but doesn't sacrifice flavor for "liteness." Forget corona, this is a beach beer. Next time you're mowing the lawn, look no further (and make sure you have a dead-man switch.)

Have you ever turned down a beer because of the label? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Beereview: Napa Smith Brewery Organic IPA

I had a pleasant surprise the other day. I don't know how many of you know the world of engineering, or office life in general. If you aren't familiar consider yourself lucky. Carpeted walls appeal to two people, engineers and the mentally disturbed. I digress. But if you're familiar with that world you know that when lunchtime comes around, the offices empty, and the workers spread like vultures to pray on the local eaterys.

Well I was out with some of my fellow vultures the other day. Coming out of the burger joint I noticed a sign saying "craft beer sale." Craft beer? Sale? I'm all over that like a chick on Coach. I walked into a little place called "Wine Styles." Truth be told I usually avoid wino's. They tend to fall into the same category as your standard Beer Snob. Well after I walked around clueless for a minute, I was able to chat it up with one of the winos, Lynzie (nope, that's spelled right). The selection of craft beer is small, but diverse. And Lynzie, unlike your typical wino, is extremely friendly and is just as willing to learn about things as she is to share information. In asking about the selection of craft beer she informed me that she's always ordering different stuff, so keep on checking in. I couldn't help but shamelessly promote my blog, and handed her a card. She was very excited about the card and told me how she couldn't wait to check it out. Lynzie, if you think complements will work on me, you are absolutely correct. Flattery gets you everywhere in this world.

Which brings me to my first beer review purchased from this store! Napa Smith Brewery: Organic IPA. From Napa, California (what a guess), this IPA weighs in at a hardy 7.1%ABV, which is hovering at the upper end of the style guidelines. Comes in a thick brown glass bottle, with label artwork much alike wino's artwork... conservative. Which is fine, but certainly doesn't make some of the crazy statements like Flying Dog does. And it's organic! Organic is always good. Let's rock.

The beer pours an almost opaque sandy brown color. If this beer is supposed to be filtered, someone better call the mechanic. A golden layer of head with great retention floats above the beer. A potent aroma of hops is present, which fills the nose and remains even while I finish writing this sentence. First sip smacks you in the mouth much like a good hoppy beer tends to. Probably a variety of good ol' American hops, but light on the cascade. Honestly, Cascade is really the only one I'm good at recognizing, oh well. After a few consecutive sips and swirls, the IPA certainly has some subtle fruity backgrounds, mostly citrus (could be from hops or actual fruit). The mixture of hops and citrus is very long lasting, and may even last just as long as the buzz from the 7.1%. A good beer with some unique tastes to it. Definitely come back to this one.

Anyone out there have this? What do you think? Post a comment!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beereview: Beck's Bier

I can't believe it's Wednesday already. We've been so busy on the weekends that I have not found the time to brew another batch (although where that time went is a complete mystery.) I still plan on making my new wort chiller and buying another kit, but we have a rather ambitious vacation schedule. These are all just excuses of course, the fact of the matter is that brewing inside my small condo just sucks. It's hard to get the motivation to spend 4 hours bent over my bathtub trying to make dirty things less dirty unless it's "me" and the shower is broken.

Gene chose a pretty lousy beer (Red Stripe) to review last week but I feel he didn't do it justice. There are a lot of flavors in a cheap beer (some good but most bad.) I loved Red Stripe in college for only one reason: it comes in a silly medicine bottle. There's just something amusing about drinking something from a bottle that looks like it contains snake oil, hydrogen peroxide, or vitamins. Sometimes the packaging is all that's important when the beer is served ice cold. If you're eating it with a bowl of mouth numbing chili, who cares what it tastes like?

Novelty Beer

The market is full of what I would refer to as novelty beer. I could try and derive some kind of long winded explanation of this concept, but it's really best described as beer you buy because of the bottle even though you know it tastes bad. Lots of beer falls into this category, for example:

  • Sapporo: the funny can is huge and shiny, a winning combination in beer or Winnebagos.
  • Stella Artois: you can feel like a pretentious jerk drinking it even when you make a mess of all the paper around the top.
  • Bud Light: it comes in a cooler case because they know it tastes like donkey-mouth.
  • Heineken: it comes in can shaped like a mini-keg. If you're one of those people who like miniature things, this beer is for you.

The bottom line is, if they sold beer in a boot people would buy it because it's in a boot. The taste really doesn't matter. For me, Beck's is one of those beers. It reminds me of playing Wing Commander with Eugene when we were both 11, but that's nostalgia not novelty. It meets my criteria for being a novelty beer because it has a fancy foil label and screams German quality at American prices.

Review: Beck's Bier

This beer is my cheap stand-by. It tastes like a good Heineken or an almost as good but cheaper St. Pauli Girl. The flavor is best described as generic lager with a pretty sour aftertaste. It should really be consumed ice cold. The aroma is somewhere between hot cereal and plain spaghetti.

What makes this a good novelty beer is that it doesn't taste bad and still costs somewhere around $1.50 a bottle. It's an import and nobody will turn their nose up at it (unlike Heineken or Foster's which some people seem to hate.) It doesn't have much of a taste (other than "beer") but it is on the dry side. It's sort of like dry white wine but a bit heavier.

Overall, it's a good standby. You could do much worse for more money, at least Beck's adheres to the German Beer Purity laws (American Budweiser I'm looking at you.)

What's your standby? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, June 13, 2011

F-ing Peacocks

I'm back! And Jamaica was fantastic. I was excited to see that they actually talk and say "Ya mon" like they do in the movies. The truth is, they actually say it more frequently. Now you may say, yeah but they probably pay them to do it for the tourists. My thoughts exactly, but I kept an eye out, and even outside the compound o' luxury the natives were using "ya mon" like it was going out of style. The beaches were beautiful. Food and booze was bountiful. Best of all, it was all included. I'd include a picture but this is a beer blog.

Which is why I want to say F PEACOCKS. Apparently they're in Jamaica, which is great and all. My wife and I were equally impressed when we saw peacocks everywhere like pigeons in New York City (ok maybe not that many). Yeah, they're beautiful birds. But when the sun sets they turn into little howling demons from the 7th circle of hell. A bird a quarter mile away sounds like it's next door. Birds on the other side of the resort were easily heard. The cry they make sounds like some twisted Hitler experiment mix between a dying cat and a screaming baby. Now I see peacocks and I want to wring their shiny little necks. Be glad the US does not have peacocks.

Whew. Now that I have that off my chest, an informal beer review. The only beer they have in Jamaica (at the Sandals resort) is Red Stripe. Jamaaaaaaican for beer mon! I do like the commercials, and they do have some alternate varieties (lite and bold), neither of which I tried. Unfortunately, and I'm being nice, it tastes like a Budweiser knockoff. Not being nice, it tastes like a skunky Budweiser knockoff. I'm all about supporting the local beer (if it is in fact, local). And it was free. If gasoline had alcohol in it and was free... well I'd put it in my car, but not after drinking a bit.

Had a good foreign beer experience? A bad one? Share! Post below!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Beereview: Full Sail Imperial Porter

There are two things my mind has in common with a colander. It's roughly shaped like half a sphere and most of what goes it in leaks out the bottom. A while ago a reader may or may not have left a comment on a post which I can't remember recommending that I review something from Full Sail brewery. Since this possibly imaginary recommendation is about as good as the real thing, you can't say I don't do requests (even if they come from voices in my head.)

I was looking around the store for something to review and Full Sail Imperial Porter seemed to jump out at me. It didn't have the flashiest label, the best placement, or the least amount of dust on the bottle; What it did have was "five bucks" appeal. What's "five bucks" appeal? If you remember your Ren & Stimpy, everything cost five bucks; this fact was terribly exciting to the disgusting duo, but they did seem to have a point.

"Five Bucks" Appeal

Five bucks won't buy you a whole lot these days. In the 1990s you could get a super sized extra value meal at McDonald's and still get change. Now, you can get diabetes at McDonald's (but no change.) Your five bucks can get you 5 songs on iTunes, around 5 Apples on sale, or a small bud light at TGI Fridays. Besides the apples, none of that is very exciting.

Most of the nicer beers we review on this site are in the $7.50 - $12 per 24 oz. bottle range. Seeing something that was arguably a recommendation from a valued reader priced at the magical five bucks mark was too hard to pass up. Additionally, their Hop Pursuit was similarly priced and positioned. Why buy one when you can buy two for twice as much?

Full Sail Imperial Porter

This porter pours a very dark chocolate color which is almost totally opaque. It has a thick and creamy head which lasts for a very long time. The sweet hoppy smell is similar to Young's Double Chocolate Stout but seems to have a slight grapefruit aroma.

The first impression I got from tasting this beer was that it was very thick, dry, and smokey. It was almost buttery, sort of like milk but not sweet -- it kind of slides off the tongue and leaves a lingering hoppy aftertaste. The closest comparisons I could make for flavor are Stone Smoked Porter or Keegan Ales Mother's Milk but this beer is quite a bit thicker.

The dominant flavor is almost like burnt toast. It's not unpleasant considering how dry and hoppy this beer is supposed to be. It left me craving Fish & Chips with a side of malt vinegar. At 7.5% this is a little on the strong side, but not excessive.

If you pick this beer up, I highly recommend pairing it with something fried and a steak or hamburger. For the price, it's an excellent Imperial Stout (but you need to like bitter flavors.)

Did you recommend Full Sail? Have you had this beer? Drop me a line in the comments below!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gene's Day Off

Gene's "lying on the beach, drink in hand, soaking up the sunlight, a la Kenny Chesney song." I can only image he's referring to the song "She Think's my Tractor's Sexy," so I'm as confused as you are. They plant corn on the beach? Anyway, I'll be posting a new review on Wednesday so stay tuned (or bookmarked, subscribed, hopped up on goof-balls or whatever the kids call it nowadays.)

See you then!

Edit, 6/8/11: Thought I'd be able to post today but work wiped me out. I'll be a bit fresher tomorrow, which should hopefully lead to a better post.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Make Your Next Vacation a Beer Vacation!

It's just about Summer here in New Jersey and that means vacations. While I've had my fair share of "beer on vacation," I never purposely set out on a Beer Vacation. You may be wondering, "What's a Beer Vacation?" Unlike a Three Martini Lunch (where the lunch is a "martini or three") a beer vacation is more like a school field trip (only instead of dinosaurs and rusty junk there's brew tanks and beer.)

Recently, my mom sent me a link to the 10 Best Craft Beer Vacation Destinations post from The Daily Freeman. A list containing more than seven things already sounds intimidating to my media-over-saturated brain-parts unless it deals with 80's pop culture, weapons to fight zombies with, or unusual ice cream flavors but I did manage to read through the whole thing. The article brings up the following points:
  • Touring Breweries is a Fun Activity
  • There are Breweries All Over the Place
  • Lots of Breweries Give Free or Cheap Tours
  • There is Usually Beer Involved
The article does this by listing breweries as if they were exotic tourist destinations, but honestly I don't think that's the point. I'm not going to hop on a plane to go to Oregon just to visit Full Sail brewery. In fact, I can only think of one occasion that I would ever hop on a plane to Oregon and it involves fleeing federal marshals, zombies, dinosaurs, and killer clowns. It's a pretty elaborate occasion; basically, I'll never go there.

It's far more likely that you have several breweries within a few hours of your house that are worth your time to tour. They might not be famous or large but you might be surprised at the quality that can be achieved. Rather than taking a "Beer Vacation," just take the time to see if a brewery tour can be incorporated into a regular vacation.

In the past couple years I've toured Shawnee Craft Brewery in PA, LoneRider in NC, Keegan Ales (sorta) in NY, St. Arnolds Brewery in TX, Beaver Street Brewing in AZ, and tons of brewpubs. I never went out of my way to visit any of these places, but the beer was always great, the people were interesting, and I highly recommend it. At LoneRider I even met one of the Imagineers from Disney who programmed the "Soarin'" ride. You meet all kinds of people.

Have you been on a brewery tour? What was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!