beer

I’m not afraid of the dark!

This weekend I picked up my second beer in the Throwback Brewery Unafraid of the Dark IV program. Every January, Throwback releases a new, unique dark beer every two weeks. Each of these brews are made with one or more local ingredient. This program has two subscription levels, a full growler, or a half-growler (growlette) of each new brew.

I am in the growlette program, so every two weeks, I get my hands on a liter of great beer. The first beer in the series was a stout called Tangled up in Blueberry. This stout was brewed with 60 pounds of New Hampshire grown blueberries, and it was good.

Tangled up in Blueberries StoutUnlike a typical fruit beer, where the fruit flavor is strong and prominent, here the blueberries were a subtle addition, complementing the chocolate flavors in the stout. Or, as the brewer said “resulting in undertones of chocolate covered berries.”

The next beer in the program is a milk stout called The Invisible Yam. This beer is brewed with 50 pounds of cooked sweet potatoes and includes allspice, vanilla and nutmeg. Surprisingly, there was no sweet potato taste in the beer. I was expecting a sweet tasting beer, something like a sweet potato pie. Instead, it was a wonderful, roasted malty flavor, with a hint of spiciness on the finish. All of the ingredients in the brew were of perfect proportion, allowing each to complement the flavor without taking over the beer.

So far both of these stouts have been excellent, and worthy of checking out. Each time I went to pickup my “share”, the brewery had the brew available for general purchase in their tasting room. If you are in the area, I highly recommend you get to the brewery in try the latest batch. However with the quality of these beers, I do not imagine they last long.

 

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ingredients

2015 : A New Year, A New Direction

The original intent of this blog was to explore the state of brewing and distribution within the United States. Over the course of 2013, I sampled beer from each state — in the order the state joined the union — while exploring the history of brewing within the state at its conception. Once that project was completed, the blog went somewhat stagnant as I took a year off and considered what to do next.

We are now in 2015, two years beyond the start of that original project, and it is time for the blog to take a new direction. This year I intend to explore the ingredients that are used in the beer making process. It is not uncommon these days to encounter beer with strange ingredients botrytis infected grapes in Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot, or the Banana and Peanut Butter used in Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut. These ingredients deviated a long way from the original Bavarian Beer Purity Law that required all beer to be made with only barley, hops and water (yeast was added to the law when it was discovered).

I intend to explore some of these unique ingredients and how they effect the character and flavor of the beer, while also learning more about tasting beer to better recognize, distinguish, and enjoy the unique flavors the various ingredients bring to each brew.

I hope you will join along on this years exploration. The first post, which will appear in the next week or two will focus on one of the core ingredients of beer.

 

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beer, product review

The Bottle Opener

In 1892, an Baltimore inventor named William Painter introduced two patents that greatly transformed the beer industry, starting with the invention of the crown cork.

The crown cork, or cap, is something we all known well. Given the name crown because of its jagged crown-like rim, this cap provided a cheap and effective method for creating an air-tight seal on the bottle. And, unlike previous bottle closures (typically cork stoppers), the crown cap promoted more effective storage, was easily removed and most importantly, disposable. All of these benefits added up to an invention that quickly took the world by storm.

In 1892, William Painter filed a patent for the crown cap.

When Painter filed his patent application, he foreshadowed his followup invention:

 It will be obvious that while some special form of opener may be required for detaching caps with the greatest possible convenience any thin-edged tool or a knife may be readily applied to the projecting edge for detaching a cap…

And a year later his next patent was filed for the “Capped-Bottle Opener”.

In mechanical terms, a bottle opener is one of the six classical simple machines known as a lever.  A lever is just a rigid structure that relies on a force and a fulcrum to perform a task. In this case, the task is opening a cold beer. Because of its simplicity, few people ever give thought to the bottle opener, or the success of this invention.

The initial patent for the capped-bottle opener

It didn’t take long for the bottle opener to become ubiquitous, and serve multiple purposes. Because of its simple design the bottle opener, one of the most utilitarian items in the beverage world, was, and still is, a cheap and effective method for displaying a logo to market a product. This simple invention in-turn lead to collectors, and books on and about the collection of these openers. These days, a quick Internet search will turn up many antique and novelty bottle openers.

For me, I have some breweriana, mostly stickers and a few bottles, like Zombie Dust. However I never gave much thought about my bottle openers. The ones I have usually came in a package of other kitchen utensils, or were promotional give aways at various events. When I did have to purchase an opener, I would often look for the cheapest one, after all it is just an opener. So when I was asked if I wanted to try out a $28 opener made by a Brooklyn based men’s accessory store called Owen and Fred, I was a bit hesitant. My first thought was about the amount of nice craft beer I could buy for that money, why would I waste it on an opener? Eventually, I decided that I should check it out and see it in action.

A few days after I agreed, a box arrived in the mail containing a 1/2 pound brass bottle opener called the “You Earned It“. My initial concern for this opener was its size. All of my other openers are small and easy to handle. This one, I expected, not so much. Did I mention it is a 1/2 pound of brass? But those concerns quickly went away as soon as I got this thing in my hand. It is impressive, with its polished edges and finely pointed lip for quickly and easily grasping the bottom of the cap to pry it off, it quickly became my go to opener.

The You Earned It Bottle Opener

The You Earned It Bottle Opener

But I really wanted to see how I would like it over time, and to see how others would react to it, so I left it in easy access for the past few weeks and observed. This opener has become the most talked about utensil in my kitchen. Everyone who sees it, grabs it, comments on how cool and impressive it is, and then after using it, they proceed to play with it as long as it is within arms reach. I have often found myself just holding the opener, feeling the smooth cool brass while enjoying a nice beer, something I have never done with any of my other openers.

opener_a

After a few weeks with this thing, I will say it is a keeper. I love having it around, not only is it a conversation piece, it is also an excellent opener. The gap is perfect, allowing for the quick, no slip opening of bottles, unlike some cheap openers I have had in the past. The lip is pointed enough to easily slip under the crown, without being too sharp to cause injury. And the mass, the 1/2 pounds of brass, is just plain fun.

If I have any complaints about the opener it is that it doesn’t have a hole to lock it down, because everyone that holds it, wants it. Before I used the “You Earned It”, I never understood why someone would buy an expensive opener when you could get one for less than a dollar at your local beverage store. But that sentiment has changed, and I recommend that you treat yourself (or someone else) to this impressive product, which you can find here, and tell them we sent you.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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Uncategorized

Hawaii : The Islands of Aloha

On August 21st, 1959, the United States admitted Hawaii to the Union, growing to its present size of 50 states. And with that, we are wrapping up 50 weeks of drinking beer from each of the 50 states.

This week, we close out the project with two brews, a lager and an ale from a Hawaiian brewery, Kona Brewing Company.  One of the goals of this project was to see what beer from each state was available to me, here in New England. And if it wasn’t available, what steps were required to get my hands on beer from the state.

As has been chronicled here, some states required more work than others, and as we discovered over the course of the year, there are still some prohibition era distribution laws in place that prevent wide spread distribution for many brewers. The store in Georgia that can see the Tennessee border from their front window, but can not bring Tennessee beer across the state line springs to mind.

But these laws are not the only issues limiting access to beer. There is also supply and demand issues. Some breweries are small shops with a fervent local customer base. These breweries do not have to bother with getting wide spread distribution. They can focus on making a fresh product that is often picked up right at the brewery. An other issue is distribution costs. It is not cheap to move a product across the country. And that brings us to this weeks selection.

After much thought, I decided to use Kona as the final brewery in the project. Kona Brewery is located in Kailua-Kona and has been in operation for almost 20 years now and produces a nice line of beer. But what makes Kona different from every other beer consumed this year is that our beer was not actually brewed on the Big Island, or on any other Hawaiian island. If fact it was brewed right here in New England, 20 minutes from my house.

Our Kona beer is contract brewed. A quick search of the web will produce many articles (pro and con) about contract brewing. I would recommend starting here to learn more. Basically, contract brewing allows brewers to find a regional brewery that can produce, package and distribute their product, using the original recipe. For Kona, getting their product across the mainland is a daunting task without a system like contract brewing. By hiring a few regional breweries to make their product, they can reduce their costs while attaining a wider distribution market. My opinion is that this is a good thing.

Hawaii Craft Beer

Longboard Island Lager from Kona Brewing Company

The first beer we hand from Kona was the Longboard Island Lager. This beer had island all over it. From its light color and body, it was a beer that needed to be drank on a sunny beach, not in snowy New England. The first comment on this beer was that it tasted like Pilsner Urquell. Which was interesting, because this beer is a lager and not a pilsner. This brew did not have the big over the top flavors we came to expect over the course of the year. Instead, this was a fun, grab a six pack and hit the beach beer. Everyone enjoyed it.

Hawaii Craft Beer

Big Wave Golden Lager from Kona Brewing Company

The next beer we tried was actually the first beer brewed by Kona back in 1995. This Beer was a golden ale called Big Wave. Unlike the Longboard, this beer had more of a nose,  emitting a nice fruity smell. This beer was also slightly darker in the glass than the longboard. This was my favorite beer of the two, but I would not turn down either beer.

Would the beer have tasted different if it was brewed with Hawaiian water? Maybe. Could there have been something in the Hawaiian air that changed the flavor and characteristics of these beers? Do they lack Terroir? Possibly. These are debates that will rage on, but in the meantime, grab yourself a Kona and enjoy the day. To better locate Kona at your local hangouts, study their tap handles at this cool beer tap handle blog.

Thanks for joining this adventure. It is hard to believe 50 weeks have come and gone. Drinking a beer from each state over the course of 50 weeks was an interesting task, and I learned plenty. Over the course of the next 2-3 weeks, I am going to work on a summary post, so keep your eyes out for that, and have a happy New Year.

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beer, History

Alaska : North to the Future

From Alaska, we were able to get our hands on 3 different brews, all from Anchorage Brewing Company, and each of these brews were unique in their own way.

Alaska Craft Beer

Bitter Monk, Belgian Style IPA from Anchorage Brewing Company

The first beer we had from Alaska was called a Belgian IPA called Bitter Monk. This was the first IPA we had that was brewed with Brettanomyces, and it was amazing. This beer started with a huge citrus smell, like a glass of grapefruit juice, and it tasted amazing. At first I was worried. Between the Brettanomyces, the Belgian-style IPA and its aging in Chardonnay barrels, there were many places for this beer to go wrong, but it never did. Instead, it was an incredibly unique beer that I will not forget anytime soon.

Moving on from the Bitter Monk, we opened another bomber from Anchorage Brewing. This one an Imperial Stout called Darkest Hour. This is another beer that appears to have had the kitchen sink thrown at it.

Alaska Craft Beer

Darkest Hour Imperial Stout from Anchorage Brewing

Triple fermented, aged in two different barrels, first a Pinot Noir barrel, then a Rye whiskey barrel, and finally bottle conditioned with a wine yeast. Again, like the Bitter Monk, this beer had plenty of opportunities to go wrong, and just like the Bitter Monk it never did.

From the bottle to the glass, this beer poured like syrup. It was dark in color and smelled of chocolate and coffee, with hints of rye and pinot noir from the barrels. With its strong chocolate and coffee flavors, this beer is clearly a coffee beer. It was very sweet tasting, with a slight grainy mouthfeel reminiscent of Mexican chocolate. The character of this beer was amazing, and the flavors were complex. The only issue we kept coming back to was the smell. There was something strange with the mixture of all that was going on that interfered with everything else, keeping us from truly loving this brew. Still, it was one of the best beers of the year.

Alaska Craft Beer

Anadromous Black Sour Ale from Anchorage Brewing

The final beer from Anchorage brewing was a Black Sour Ale called Anadromous. Wow, this was yet another amazing beer from Anchorage. I loved the sour taste, and the complex fruit flavors.

This week, we got our hands on three different brews from Anchorage, and they were all special. There is clearly something amazing going on up in Alaska.

One more post, and 50 states have been covered. Next up Hawaii.

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beer, History

Arizona: The Grand Canyon State

Arizona was the 48th state of the United States, attaining statehood in 1912, and just 3 years later, a state-wide prohibition was in effect. As if brewing in the desert wasn’t hard enough. Ed Sipos explains in his book Brewing Arizona, that early Arizona brewers had to overcome many obstacles, such as poor water quality, lack of proper ingredients and temperatures not conducive to brewing. Now add to that, a fast growing temperance movement and it is easy to see that the early Arizona brewers were fighting an up hill battle from the start.

Luckily for us, there were people in Arizona that persisted and fought the good fight to keep brewing alive. While none of those early brewers are around today, there are a few micro-brewers operating in the state today, and we were fortunate to get our hands on some.

Arizona Craft Beer

Grand Canyon Brewery

The first, and arguably only beer we had from Arizona was from Grand Canyon Brewing, located on historic Route 66 in Williams Arizona. Grand Canyon lists 13 different styles of beer in their stable, including a Pale Ale that features the cattle skull that symbolizes Arizona on its tap handle.

The beer we had from Grand Canyon was, you guessed it, an IPA, making it the 45th IPA of this project — Almost 1 IPA per state!

The Black Iron IPA was another sweet IPA. Starting from the initial pour, the sweetness was apparent, and that sweetness carried through in the flavor, giving it a more malty, than hoppy taste. Not my favorite trait in an IPA.

The next beer was a Novelty Beer, and is typically the case with novelty items, quality is

Arizona Craft Beer

Arizona Novelty Beer

always an after thought. This beer is such a novelty, that I can not even find a reference to it online. The novelty is that the labels, which contain photos of 1980s era women with big hair and lots of makeup, have a opaque scratch-off over their breasts. This beer was, hands down the worst beer of this project, and after one sip, quickly found itself unscratched in the recycling bin.

That concludes Arizona. Next up, we head northward to the state of Alaska.

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beer, History

New Mexico : Red or Green

This is the second week in a row that we only had one beer to represent the state. But one is better than none! We are now 47 weeks into the project, and we are drinking beer from the 47th state of the union, New Mexico.

New Mexico Craft Beer

IPA from Marble Brewery

Our beer from New Mexico was an IPA from Marble Brewery. Marble is located in Albuquerque, the largest city in the state of New Mexico. Opened in 2008, Marble provided Albuquerque with a beer garden and on-site tasting room just blocks from the historic Southwestern Brewery. Now defunct, the Southwestern Brewery was once the one of the largest employers of the Albuquerque, and a provider of beer through out the soiuthwest. Southwestern suffered the fate of many other early brewers, with the onset of Prohibition, their business model was decimated. While they survived through the sale of ice during that period, they never retained their status in the beer world. However their original building still stands today as one of the only 19th century commercial buildings in the city.

Marble is keeping the tradition alive in the downtown area, and we were lucky enough to get to try one of their brews. This beer, an IPA,  was really cloudy in the glass and had a distinct citrus fruity smell. It had a mild carbonation that was complimented with a smooth taste that made this a really drinkable beer. This was an enjoyable IPA, however the IPA category is a broad and deep, requiring something special to really stand out. While I recall not disliking this beer, it is hard for me to recall specific characteristics at this point to help it stand out from the many others I have tried over the year.

Thats all for New Mexico, next up is Arizona.

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