Saturday, March 08, 2014
Steve Frazier —doyen of brewers in Baltimore, brewmaster for The Brewer's Art— appears to be in profound contemplation of the beer in his glass.
As seen at Max's 10th Annual Belgian Beer Fest at Max's Taphouse, in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. The pub was pouring over 160 Belgian beers on draft (including some American Belgian-inspired beers, including Mr. Frazier's), and serving over 200 Belgian beers in bottles.
Stella Artois was not invited.
15 February 2014.
Friday, March 07, 2014
The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community begun in March of 2007 by Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer and Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin.
On the first Friday of every month, one beer blogger hosts The Session: Beer Blogging Friday. He or she chooses a specific, beer-related topic, invites all bloggers to write on it, and posts a roundup of all the responses received.
For more information, view the archive page.
For March 2014, Douglas Smiley —at the blog Baltimore Bistros & Beer— hosted the 85th iteration of The Session. His topic was "Why Do You Drink?"
Let's take the opportunity as a group to tell people why we do drink and how it improves our life for the better. I know the default answer a lot of us fall back on is "it's nice to sit back with a good beer after a stressful day of work", and while that's true, I'm looking for answers that aren't so obvious to people who aren't fans of our hobby. Beer is bigger than a liquid "chill pill" or we wouldn't have gone about setting up a blog and dedicating so much of our time discussing it. So, what is it that compels you to drink and what would your life be missing if beer was no longer an option for you?
Why do I drink, or you? That's a question so intrinsically human that its object, left unstated, is always understood.
Why do I drink ... beer (and other alcoholic beverages)? That's a question so simple, yet whose answer is too often recondite with post hoc reasons, or overwrought with paens and passion.
I have a love affair with beer: not simply with beer's flavors —as delicious, complex, and varied as they may be— but with its history, science, lore, and evolving creation.
—The mission statement of this blog, Yours For Good Fermentables.
Why do I drink beer? Inebriation? Beer is a rather inefficient alcohol delivery system. Liquor is quicker. (Not to deny that there have been times, when ...)
Refreshment? Yes. But so has water, and it, not beer (despite protestations) is essential to all earthly life.
Yes, beer (and alcohol in general) is healthfully beneficial. "Take two beers and see me in the morning." That's a physician's script not scribbled since Prohibition, but most folk don't drink beer for medicinal purposes.
Yes, beer, and other alcoholic beverages, are sometimes called social lubricants of fellowship. Beer's public dispensary, the pub, is a 'third place,' a communal gathering place, in pecking order after the worship-place and the work-place. But one can find fellowship in many places, in many groups, with many hobbies, for many causes. Do I drink because there is a tavern in the town? No, but, unlike at those last two places, at the pub, imbibing is encouraged.
Musing big, I can imagine a kinship with all of humanity when I drink a beer: human history, and the beginnings of civilization itself, are intertwined with the discovery and lust for alcohol. Those may be reasons archaeological, but they fail as bibulous primum mobile.
And, ah, a brewer's palpable pride and joy after creating a sparkling glass of beer. Even with modern scientific comprehension, brewing beer can still appear as a magical alchemy of yeast and enzymes. Yet, that's not the answer, although hinting at one.
So, why do I drink?
In reply, I'll quote a concluding passage from The Great British Beer Book by Roger Protz:
Every lunchtime he would walk all the way across St Albans, passing a dozen of pubs or more, to the one house in the city that sold the Bedford bitter.
His performance never varied.
As he entered the public bar he would raise his finger and Ken the landlord would reach for a pint glass and fill it as David walked to the counter.
He never rushed.
He looked at the pint for a moment or two, waiting for the beer to settle and the head to form. Then he would reach for the glass and fleetingly hold it up to the light, savouring the crystal clarity and tawny colour of the beer.
Then, and only then, would he put the glass to his lips and despatch a good third of its contents. A great explosion of pleasure, a long orgasmic 'Aaaagh!', accompanied the return of the glass to the bar.
David would suck the foam from his moustache and then say to the bar and to the world in general all that needed to be said on the subject of the quality, the pleasure, the unallayed brilliance of his beer:
'Not bad, that.'
I drink beer because I like how it tastes; I like how it makes me feel. Gustation and psychotropics. Pleasure. That, just that, is why I drink beer. All else is froth.
I'll have another, please.
Monday, March 03, 2014
When Charlie Papazian spoke in front of the 2013 Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C., the Brewers Association's president and founder pointedly avoided using the phrase "craft brewery", saying instead, and often, "small and independent brewery". Something was afoot. And, now, we may know what.
Late this past February, the Board of Directors of the Brewers Association (BA) —the advocacy group for 'small' breweries in the U.S.— made a crucial change to its definition of 'craft' brewery. Breweries that brew with the very traditional American ingredient, corn, would no longer be peremptorily excluded from the definition of 'traditional'. And neither would 'small brewery' beers brewed with corn (or rice, or, more precisely, any non-barley fermentables).
Or, as Joe Sixpack, Don Russell, put it: The "Brewers Association rules corn is unevil."
Here's the new definition 1:
An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional.Compare that to the older definition 2:
- Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.
- Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
- Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients [emphasis mine] and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
Now, with the BA's maize about-face, America's oldest and largest American-owned —and family-owned— brewery, Yuengling, has become a 'craft' brewery. Its flagship beer, Yuengling Lager, brewed with a surfeit of corn, has become a 'craft' beer. There are other smaller breweries that brew with corn, which can now join the Association, as well. The BA will welcome them, and their concomitant support, money, and expertise. The old definition was was a self-punishing exclusion. This new one was a long time coming, but, nonetheless, it's a welcome change, and the Association is to be commended for it.
If you remember, in 2010, the BA also changed its definition of small, making it a lot less small. It upgraded the size limit for breweries from annual production of 2 million barrels or less ... to 6 million barrels. In other words, as the BA put it, it stopped penalizing member success. Or, in other words, it no longer had to worry about losing the advocacy and financial support of its largest member, the Boston Beer Company, who, at that point, was right at the 2-million barrel threshold.
In the new definition, the BA has kept this larger size, but has appended a strange, self-defensive, parenthetical comment, noting that 6 million barrels is only 3% of the total beer produced in the U.S. annually. Okay. But why is 3% the magic number? Why not 2% or 5%? Well, anyway: problem solved.
The Board also made some alterations to the Brewers Association's purpose, mission statement, and core values. The first is now stated as: " To promote and protect American craft brewers, their beers, and the community of brewing enthusiasts."
Very striking was its change to the BA's mission statement, which now elucidates, with several bullet points, a bold goal: "By 2020, America's craft brewers will have more than 20 percent market share."
According to the BA, 'craft' beer sales in 2012 were 6.5% by volume of all beer sold, or 10.2% by dollars ($11.9 billion) 3. So, 20 in 20. That's a big jump and that's only six years from now. But, we can drink to that. And, now, America's oldest and largest brewery will be right there, alongside us.
Saturday, March 01, 2014
A snapshot of a good-sized chunk of the current (and past) craft beer brewer community of the greater Washington, D.C. area.
- Allen Young —in the mid 1980s, a brewer for Virginia's original microbrewery, Chesbay; presently, a representative for BSG;
- Jason Oliver —brewmaster for Devils Backbone;
- Mike McCarthy (kneeling, in front) —long-time excutive brewer for Capitol City Brewing; now, brewer for DC Brau;
- Favio Garcia —brewmaster/co-owner of Lost Rhino Brewing;
- Jonathan Reeves —brewmaster for Port City Brewing;
- Nick Funnell —guest of honor; past brewmaster for Sweetwater Taverns;
- Charlie Beuttner —host for the evening; head brewer at Mad Fox Brewing Company;
- Barrett Lauer (kneeling, in front with trophy) —long-time brewmaster at District Chophouse;
- Joe Schineller —new brewer for Sweetwater Tavern Centreville;
- Steve Gerloff —representative of Madison Chemical;
- Thomas Cizauskas —of Yours For Good Fermentables.com;
- Bill Madden —host for the evening; brewmaster/owner of Mad Fox Brewing Company;
- Bob Tupper (and Ellie Tupper, partially obscured) —emcee for evening; long-time beer festival host and raconteur; owners of Tuppers Beers.
30 January 2014.
Falls Church, Virginia.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Once in awhile, you take a first drink of beer that just makes you stop and think "wow". Or maybe you accidentally shout it out loud, much to the concerned surprise of other bar-mates, and to your own personal embarrassment. At Three Notch'd Brewing recently, it was the former, I hope.
Three Notch'd Brewing is a start-up production brewery, dead-centered in Virginia, in the town of Charlottesville. The brewer is Dave Warwick, who most recently was brewer at the Rock Bottom in Ballston, Virginia (where he toiled under the hipster misconception that no good beer could be brewed in a mall). Well, look at him, now!
The Three Notch'd taproom was busy on a recent cold Saturday afternoon, and the crowd included some young families and their kids. (That's a bug-a-boo of some 'Yelp-ers- writing on other breweries, but I think it a lovely thing. Moms and Dads can quietly enjoy an adult beverage apiece, without suffering the ruckus of certain child-themed restaurant-thunderdomes.)
The cause of my exultation was the brewery's Session 42 English-style Session Ale.
So-called 'session beers' have become the rage these days. Some U.S. 'craft' breweries are producing crazy-unbalanced hop-bombs of less than 6% abv, and slapping the session moniker on them. I don't know what alcohol-level makes a beer a session beer, but 6% ain't it, and neither is 5%. And, a beer, of whatever strength, that's stuffed with a zoo of unbalanced flavors, hops or otherwise? Well, no. That's not a session beer, either.
Think of a session beer as one that's fit for a drinking session of a couple/three pints without inducing an alcoholic haze, and, as a beer that is flavorful, but not obstreperously so. Paraphrasing a Supreme Court justice, I may not be able to precisely define a session beer, but I know one when I taste one.
For another good starting definition, try that of beer/whisk(e)y writer Lew Bryson. Or, head down (or up, or over) to Charlottesville, and order a Three Notch'd Session 42. It's draft-only; it's only at the brewery; it's dangerously delicious. Here's how the brewery styles it:
Brewed with the former president of our local homebrew association, blogger Alistair Reece (www.fuggled.net), this Best Bitter is a very sessionable ale and a great example of what you might find in your typical English pub. Made with only three ingredients [other than yeast and water!], the base of this brew comes from 2-row malt; Victory malt provides bready/biscuity flavor and aroma; complimented by the earthy/spicy flavors of U.S. Goldings hops. 4.0% abv [alcohol by volume]; 38 IBUs [International Bitterness Units].
I'll add that the beer has a soft graham-cracker maltiness (with even a touch of toasted S'mores), and a spicy/woodsy hop-derived aroma and finish.
The day I was there, I liked my pint so much, I asked for a growler fill. I paid for it, and headed for the door. I opened the door, and, there, on the other side of the doorway, coming in —in a moment of beer-zen serendipity— was the recipe-creator, Alistair Reece, beer blogger at Fuggled. I turned around, went back to the bar, and had a second pint with him. It was a session beer, after all.
As we drank our pints, Reece told me that he had helped brew the beer at the brewery, on the invitation of Warwick. A great experience, after only brewing prior on a small home-brew scale. And, then sotto voce, he confided, "I'd love to try this cask-conditioned. Maybe, soon."