Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pic(k) of the Week: Beer & Cliffs

Beer & cliffs

Now, this was how to enjoy a good beer.

First, there was a quarter-sized-hailing thunderstorm. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the maelstrom had passed. The time seemed right for an IPA, at the Palisade Brewing Company, in the courtyard, in the-afternoon sun, no hint of hail, with the Book Cliffs as backdrop.

Palisade, Colorado.
22 May 2015.

Palisades' population is 2,300. That Friday afternoon, maybe 2% of the entire town was there, and more, if those folks sitting, inside and out, at the across-the-block winery and distillery (and, ahem, dispensary), were included in the happy count.
Off Belay IPA

This is our India Pale Ale standard. A light body that allows three American hop varieties to demand your attention — a three pronged hop profile with bitter, floral and citrus notes. Off Belay is a perfect introduction for a newcomer to the world of the IPA, as well as a gold standard for the hop enthusiast.

7% ABV
64 IBU
Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe
2-row pale, dextrin, crystal

"How long has the brewery been here," I asked the bartender. "Over nine years," she told me, "but back then, it was called the Palisade Brewery." "What's it called now, I asked." "Palisade Brewing Company."

I'm relieved that was cleared up.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

'Craft' beer's pandemic of quality un-control?

An instructor at the Siebel Institute once told me that there were two types of breweries: ones that had had an infection and ones that would have an infection. As 'craft' breweries proliferate like blooms in spring, beers gone bad will proliferate like weeds on the lawn. It's an inevitability, simply by the sheer number of brewery openings.

How a brewery handles that instance is a sure measure of its integrity and competence. Hide it? Go public? Mouth platitudes like, "we brew the best beers," or recommit to quality control and laboratory procedures?

A Richmond, Virginia, brewery recently found a problem in a beer and destroyed it, and went Facebooky public about it.

Here are two more 'craft' breweries' whose beers recently have 'gone off', but, in response, have done the right thing. Three Stars Brewing is a brewery in Washington, D.C.

3 Stars Brewing Company is issuing a voluntary recall of their 750ml bottles of Pandemic Porter due to an unintentional development of flavors in the final product.

“We take great pride in all of our beers, and Pandemic is certainly one of our favorites. Once in bottles, this batch developed some unintended flavors. We do not find that that this batch lives up to the quality that you, our valued customers, deserve. While there is no risk of harm from consumption, we feel that this batch of bottles falls short of our standards.”

An accidental sour can do more harm than merely leaving a bad taste in your mouth. The bottle might explode. Here's how Intuition Ale Works, a brewery in Jacksonville, Florida, dealt with a lactobacillus-infection in a beer.

Intuition Ale Works is announcing a total recall of our 2015 Underdark barrel-aged stout. We have found through testing that the 2015 batch contains lactobacillus that is causing unwanted sour flavors to develop in the beer.

Lactobacillus is commonly used to deliberately sour beers like lambics, Flanders reds and other Belgian styles, and our staff has enjoyed tasting the way this year’s Underdark has developed. We traced it back to one of the older bourbon barrels that we used for the 2015 batch of Underdark.

However, we realize that a sour stout was not the intended style of this year’s Underdark, and it is not what you purchased. We are therefore offering a full refund to anyone who chooses to return their unopened 2015 bottles.

In the meantime, please store bottles of 2015 Underdark in a cool place before returning them. We are concerned that the beer will continue to ferment in the bottle which will cause excessive pressure and the bottles could potentially explode, especially if they are stored in a warm environment. Avoid transporting bottles of 2015 Underdark in your car if it will be left unattended in the heat for an extended period of time. To be extra cautious we recommend storing and transporting bottles in a box.

Paul Gatza, Director of the (U.S.) Brewers Association (BA) went all macho-tough at the recent Craft Brewers Conference on the topic of quality. He told the assembled brewers:

Many people in this room have spent a lot of time and dedicated a good portion of their lives to building this community that we have today. So, seriously, don’t [mess] it up.

This could easily be read as an attack by big 'craft' on small 'craft.' The former has the wherewithal to conduct extensive and expensive laboratory analyses. And big 'craft' breweries have more to lose if drinkers have bad experiences with beers from smaller breweries. A customer might broad brush all 'craft' as problematic.

Small breweries might not have the funds to build and staff state-of-the-art labs, but even small steps toward quality control are better than no steps. Gatza guessed at a 10% figure of 'craft' breweries as producing poor-quality beer of some sort. Ten percent of the U.S. total of 3,418 'craft' breweries is 341 breweries. That would be a lot of bad beer.

The BA is right on this aspect of the quality of beer: if a beer tastes bad, a brewery will lose customers. The proliferation of 'bad' beers —and, anecdotally, I have heard of not just a few examples— isn't just a numbers thing. There are 'craft' breweries who fail to be proactive.

I hear often: "Oh, yeah we'll build a lab at some point after we get open." That's parsimonious procrastination, and risky. Understanding the processes at work —and they are microbiological— is as much a part of "we make the best beers," as sweating over a mash tun. Mean what you say.

The three breweries, above, identified problems, and say they are investigating the reasons for them.

Otherwise, an accidental sour can be a dangerous thing.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Tale of three breweries: one open, two soon to be.

I celebrated American Craft Beer Week, in part, by visiting three American 'craft' breweries: one in Virginia, and just opened, and two in Maryland, soon to open.

Caboose Brewing (Virginia)

Bike to Caboose!

Caboose Brewing is a brewpub in Vienna, Virginia (a suburb of Washington, D.C.). After two years of construction, it officially opened last week. I visited on Friday afternoon. The W&OD bicycle trail is mere feet from the brewpub, and many bicycles, and their owners, were present.

Pictured is brewer Chris Mallon, looking proud. More photos: here.

Proud Brewer Mallon

Oliver Brewing(Maryland)

Oliver Brewing is Maryland's oldest continuously operating brewery; since 1993, it has been housed in the basement of the Pratt Street Alehouse (then called the Wharf Rat) in downtown Baltimore. It's new production facility, in the Clifton Park neighborhood of Baltimore, has been under construction for about a year. Brewing commences in June. Pictured is the new 5-vessel 20-barrel brewhouse.

Brewhouse at Oliver Brewing

Key Brewing(Maryland)

Key Brewing has been a 5-year project of long-time Baltimore, Maryland, brewer Mike McDonald and restaurant-consultant Spike Owen. Now, the endgame (or more properly, the beginning!) is near. Located in Dundalk, Maryland (just outside of Baltimore), the new brewery should be operational this summer. Pictured is the 40-barrel brewhouse.

Key Brewing: under construction

I talked with the principals of all three breweries. Those interviews, and more photos, to come.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pic(k) of the Week: Iris, unfurled

Iris unfurled (02)

Planted forty-five years ago,
Purple majesty returns.

Fairfax, Virginia.
9 May 2015.


Monday, May 11, 2015

1976 - 2015: Celebrating American 'Craft' Beer, this week.

Today is the 70th birthday of Jack McAuliffe. Thirty-nine years ago, in 1976, McAuliffe opened New Albion Brewing, in Sonoma, California. It would be the nation's first-ever 'craft' brewery. 1

“In my opinion, Jack started the most important failed brewery,” said Maureen Ogle, a historian and author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer. “He demonstrated that the new brewing model could work and despite the fact that it didn’t last long and failed spectacularly, his influence played a significant role for the first successful batch of microbrewers.”

Thus it's fitting that today marks the first day of the 10th annual American Craft Beer Week, which runs through Sunday, 11-17 May, organized by the (U.S.) Brewers Association.

American Craft Beer Week 2015
“American Craft Beer Week has provided independent beer fans across the country a chance to support their local breweries since 2006,” said Julia Herz, publisher of and craft beer program director at the Brewers Association. “With celebrations happening in all 50 states, this is truly an annual national event that recognizes all those involved in making craft beer from small breweries in the U.S. such a success.”

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as "small, independent, and traditional," 2 and these are heady times indeed for the non-profit advocacy group and its members. At the close of 2014, there were 3,418 'craft' breweries in the U.S., producing 22 million barrels of beer worth $19.6 billion dollars, accounting for 11% of all beer sold in the U.S.

In contrast to this U.S. beer-bunting, let's backtrack, and look to Great Britain, in 1933. That year, in the face of industrial unrest and poor declining beer sales (was that cause or effect?), its Brewers' Society launched a marketing campaign to highlight beer's benefit and social value to the nation.

The campaign had to raise the status of the product, so that it was important that "drawings of family groups should not depict a lower social order than that of a middle class family." The ads were signed off with the line, "Beer is Best". But surely the best posters, the ones that dais everything that ever needed to be said, were those that ran with a different three-word slogan of genius: "Beer. It's lovely!"
Pete Brown. Man Walks into a Pub. 2004

A simple phrase, and, well, so lovely. So to the point. No patting-on-the-back selfie. Just the promise of beautiful bubbles at the end of the day. 3

But we have what we have. And it's American Craft Beer Week.4

Beginning on a Monday rather than a Sunday (European-like), it's a true seven-day week of celebration, unlike many of the city-only beer weeks that run, Ringo Starr-like, eight days a week, and often longer.

Choose this week to reflect upon the thirty-nine years of achievements of the 'craft beer' business since 1976: not for fomenting a beer revolution, but for the hard work, ingenuity, and, often, tasty results of the brewers, then and now.

Support the week by supporting an American 'craft brewery', however you may define it. Buy an American 'craft' beer.