Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cool Yule #10! Beer Books for 2011: Evaluating Beer

Cool Yule! #10

Cool Yule! 12 Beer Books for 2011

Not a list of the dozen best-of-the-best books about beer of 2011, but, rather, my list of a dozen choices, some personal delights, others of unique or deserved merit. Some of the books were published this year, while others are worthy chestnuts.

Between 20 November and the Winter Solstice, I'll reveal my recommendations. On Christmas Day, put your feet up, pour yourself a good beer, and read a good book. Or, better yet, give a friend the gift of a beer and a book. December 22nd may be too late to arrange shipping by Christmas (unless the book is available as an e-book), but it's time sufficient to pay a visit to your local brick and mortar —and book— store.


And, so ... cue ten lords, a-leaping.

Cool Yule Beer Book for 2011: #10

Evaluating Beer

Evaluating Beer
various authors
Brewers Publications, US: 1998
ISBN: 0937381373

Several years ago, a friend of mine, who had been in the in the business of selling beer and wine for over a quarter of a century, was struck by a moving vehicle. He suffered a fractured skull and spine. Over an 18 month period, he recovered his health and most of his mobility. Other than the pain of physical therapy, what vexed him most, he told me, was his loss of his sense of smell.

Here he was, in the business of beer and wine, and he was unable to taste the very things he was describing to his customers. The few aromas he could sense were inappropriate to the beverages. He knew what Bordeaux wines should taste like; yet, when he sipped them now, they tasted like liquid plastic bandages. He knew that American IPAs were hoppy; when he tasted them now, they smelled like, ahem, fecal matter. But over the course of his recovery — knowing from 25 years years professional experience what things were supposed to taste like— he was able to figuratively re-train his mind to recognize flavors as they should be. He is 99.9% back to normal. A Beautiful Nose, if you will.

Under 'normal' circumstances, I believe most people have good palates, that is, the ability to sense taste and aromas. What they need is the vocabulary to describe those sensations. A book such as Evaluating Beer can help begin that development.

The book is a series of short essays by numerous experts in the fields of beer, brewing, and flavor complied by the Brewers Publications, an arm of the Brewers Association (a lobbying and advocacy organization for U.S. breweries producing fewer than six million barrel of beer annually). As homebrew guru (and BA founder) Charlie Papazian puts it in the first chapter, "beer tasting is a learned skill." The 17 chapters go on to discuss flavor profiles, sensory evaluation, training methods for tasting, sources of flavors, identifying flavors in a real-time brewing environment, etc.

Three chapters were written by instructors at the Siebel Institute of Technology, in Chicago, Illinois Flavor Profiles by Ilse Shelton Origins of Normal and Abnormal Flavor by Ted Konis: '101' classes in the flavors that should or shouldn't be in beer. Ron Siebel's chapter is a how-to on creating taste panels for evaluating beers for quality, rather than for style.

I was fortunate enough to have studied under them in the early 1990s (and still have voluminous notes). Ron Siebel, and his brother Bill, are great-grandsons of the German brewer who founded the school in the 19th century. They have since sold the school.

Two chapter are contributions by food and brewing scientist Morton Meilegard, the lead creator of the famous Beer Flavor Wheel. One of those is a very useful primer on setting up consumer tasting panels.

Charlie Papazian ties it all together and discusses the 50-point scale that is used by the American Homebrewers Association (and the Brewers Association) to judge beers according to style designation.

I recommend Evaluating Beer to anyone who wants to increase their enjoyment of beer, or who wants to sell or make beer —for fun or profit, or both. It's a valuable introductory reference with a useful list of other source materials. Although some chemical and biochemical terms are used, none of the chapters are too technical in scope for a non-scientific layman.

The next step would be to apply the discussed principles while actually tasting beer. More than that, one could take courses on beer flavors offered by various beer schools and educational institutions. One such is the Siebel Institute, which I mentioned earlier [pronounced SEE bull]. Others include the zymurgy department at Cal-Davis and the American Brewers Guild. Online coursework is available.

Another route would be through the Cicerone Certification Program [pronounced SIS sir rone], run by Ray Daniels, as beer server training and accreditation. The syllabus includes the study of beer flavor: 'normal' flavors —and their derivation— and 'off' flavors —what they are, how they occur, and how to prevent them.

Evaluating, while drinking. Tough studies, wouldn't you say?

Cool Yule 2011: so far.
  • #11: Windows on The World
  • #12: The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent
  • For on-line purchasing, I link to the Brewers Association book store, or to the marvelous resource, When not available there, or if published as an ebook, I link to
  • The 12 Books for Christmas 2009: here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Click a photo of beer. Submit. Receive acclaim. Win schwag.

Ah, the ignominy of a mass email!

Alan McLeod —he, of A Good Beer Blog, indeed a good beer blog, one that I read quite frequently, as Alan posts, in fine fashion, quite frequently— has sent an email, addressed to me and many others, chastising us, gently, for inaction.

Dear Past Beer Blog Xmas Photo Contest Prize Winners ... Just letting you know that the 2011 contest is on:

Please consider entering again this year. Happy to have repeat winners.

So, it's the the Yuletide/Christmas Beer Photo Contest of 2011. Just to be clear: it's a Christmas contest, but only because that is the season in which it's held.

The rules are simple and few: the photo must be of beer, it must NOT be of beer-and-food nor a drunken photo, so to speak. Entries must be limited to eight. The contest began on 18 November and continues until Sunday, 10 December, at noon, EST. Send photos to

Soft spile fobbing

For the record, I won an honorable mention a few years ago with the above photo. I haven't been as lucky since, but you could. Click and submit!

Here are just a few of the prizes for victory (and there will be several awarded, including consolation and "crappiest"):
  • Jeff Alworth of Beervana: a bottle of Westvleteren 12 and glass.
  • Adrian Tierney-Jones and CAMRA have offered two copies of Great British Pubs.
  • Martyn Cornell: a copy of his book Amber Gold and Black.
  • Creemore Springs Brewery: brewery schwag.
  • All About Beer magazine.
  • TAPS The Beer Magazine.
  • Ron Pattinson, beer historian: copy of one of his books.
... the list grows.

UPDATE: "For capturing ye olde pub in a modern setting," my photo below has been awarded second place: one of 22 placing second, that is, out of 291 entered.

Afternoon Tipplers (1) Afternoon Tipplers


Monday, November 28, 2011

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Week 47, 2011.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Week 47
20 November - 27 November 2011

  • 2011.11.27
    New 'nano-brewery' to open in Loudoun County, Virginia, in 2013. Adroit Theory Brewing to brew "ridiculously hoppy," barrel-aged, and sour beers.

  • 2011.11.26
    Support small (and local) businesses everday, not only on #SmallBusinessSaturday. Learn more at 3/50 Project.

  • 2011.11.26
    Christmas gift? NBA owners, players reach tentative deal to start the 2011/12 season on Dec. 25th. Via The Huffington Post

  • 2011.11.26
    Charles Mingus jazz documentary, "Mingus On Mingus," to be funded by small contributions at the Kickstarter Project. Read more at Elements Of Jazz.

  • 2011.11.26
    Tom Wicker, journalist and author, dies at 85. Via New York Times.

  • 2011.11.25
    A controversy about #FridayReads recommendations on Twitter raises issues of paid promos and transparency. Via the Washington Post.

    Thanksgiving meal 2011 (Vegetarian)

  • 2011.11.24
    Happy Thanksgiving! Correcting the record on Benjamin Franklin, and the Pilgrims.

  • 2011.11.23
    Sour beers "are the easiest beers for sommeliers to sell, because they’re so used to talking about acidity and its interplay with food." A description and review of 'sour' beers, via Eric Asimov in the New York Times.

    Coming Soon! Rhino Chasers

  • 2011.11.23
    Contract brewer Holy Brew invests in Virgina brewery Lost Rhino, to produce its 'Belgian' inspired beers. Details via

  • 2011.11.23
    'Session Beer' defined as beers of alcoholic strength below 4.5% alcohol-by-volume, by beer writer Lew Bryson.

  • 2011.11.23
    Composer & 'free' drummer, Paul Motian, has died at 80. Played with Bill Evans, and fronted his own groups. Via Yahoo! News.

    Portner Brewing Historical Plaque (03)

  • 2011.11.21
    Portner Brewery, hailing back to 1869, to be reopened as a brewpub, in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2014, by great-great-granddaughter of founder. Via


  • Clamps and Gaskets is a weekly wrap-up of stories  not posted at Yours For Good Most deal with beer (or wine, or whisky); some do not. But all are brief, and many are re-posts from:
  • The Clamps and Gaskets graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cool Yule #11! Beer Books for 2011: Windows on the World

Cool Yule #11

Cool Yule! 12 Beer Books for 2011

Not a list of the dozen best-of-the-best books about beer of 2011, but, rather, my list of 12, some personal delights, others of unique or deserved merit. Some of the books have been published this year, while others are worthy chestnuts.

Between 20 November and the Winter Solstice, I'll reveal my selections.

Then, on Christmas Day: put your feet up, pour yourself a good beer, and read a good book. Or, better yet: give a friend the gift of a beer and a book. December 22nd may be too late to arrange shipping by Christmas (unless available as an e-book), but it's time sufficient to pay a visit to your local brick and mortar —and book— store.

So ... cue eleven pipers piping.

Cool Yule Beer Book for 2011:

Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 25th Anniversary Edition
Kevin Zraly
Sterling Publishing, US: 2009
ISBN: 1402767676

Well, okay, this isn't a book about beer. But for a determined beer lover to pretend that things other than grains cannot be fermented to good effect would be self-delusional. For flavor, history, sales and economic impact, and influence, that 'other' good fermentable would be wine. Fermented grapes.

A lot of beer folk seem to have a love/hate relationship with wine. They say they don't like wine, or its perceived haughtiness, yet they often compare their beers, falsely, to it. Better to understand wine —its flavors, processes, fermentation science, and marketing— and take what you can from it. Or, try it, and actually like it.

Sommelier Marne Old and Sam Calagione, charismatic owner of Dogfish Head Brewery, have a book out called He Said Beer, She Said Wine. It's a breezy set of arguments about pairing beer and wine with food that reads almost like ad copy. Cal-Davis beer professor Charles Bamforth's Grape vs. Grain is a much more informative comparison between the two beverages.

But for a real introduction to what wine is, and isn't, choose Windows on the World. The nearly 350 page book is a tremendously useful and educational introduction to the flavors, regions, styles, grapes, traditions, wineries, and, yes, brands of wine. It's told in a bullet-point manner but without bullet-points, with full sentences and paragraphs. A reader could do much worse than Kevin Zraly, the author, as his wine instructor.

Zraly was the wine director for the Windows on the World Restaurant for 25 years until 11 September 2001, when the restaurant, on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, was destroyed when terrorists brought down the building and its twin, murdering thousands. Zraly was not at work that day; many employees and breakfast patrons were. He pays tribute to them in his book and at the wine school of the same name, which he re-opened elsewhere. In May of 2011, Zraly was awarded a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award.

The chapter on the Physiology of Tasting Wine ("You smell more than you think!") is one that anyone —cork-dork, Epicurean, or beer geek— can learn from and apply. It moves from specific to poetic.

No two people are alike in either how they smell or the smells they perceive. It is deeply personal and experiential. Wendy [Dubit of The Senses Bureau] says Puligny to herself, simply because she loves the word nearly as much as the wine. It serves as homing signal that brings her to self and center —to a time and place and a wine she loves, and to the kind of bonds that endure.

Kevin goes out on his porch with a glass of some favorite special vintage and looks into the night sky. Embodied in every sip is all that he treasures and honors about Windows on the World, and a reason to look up at stars.

Sounds like beer, sounds like life, doesn't it?

  • #12: The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent
  • For on-line purchasing, I link to the Brewers Association book store, or to the marvelous resource, When not available there, or if published as an ebook, I link to
  • The 12 Books for Christmas 2009: here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pic(k) of the Week: Happy Man

Happy Man

This fellow was feeling quite gleeful after attending an East Coast beer Dinner at Summits Wayside Tavern in
Cumming, Georgia, in February of 2007. Maybe his glee was the result of all the liquid 'schwag' he was absconding with (with permission).

Yesterday saw quite a few hits at this photo, as posted at Flickr. Why, all of a sudden, after nearly 5 years, I don't know, but enough for me to 're-notice' it as this week's Pic(k) of the Week.

Might be worthy enough for transmittal to A Good Beer Blog's 2011 Xmas Beer Photo Contest?

Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, usually posted on a Saturday, and often with a 'good fermentable' as subject. Commercial use requires explicit permission, as per Creative Commons.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Small BREWERY Saturday

Small Business Saturday

Yes, it's ironic that a very big company —American Express— is sponsoring Small Business Saturday, tomorrow. Nonetheless, if one 'buys' the set of statistics that —

for every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures, whereas if spent in a national chain, as so many are doing today on so-called Black Friday, only $43 remains locally, and if on-line, probably nothing

—supporting your neighbors would seem to be a mutually beneficial cause.

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses of less than 500 employees account for around half the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product) and more than half of the employment in the U.S. More than 75% percent of those small businesses have fewer than 10 employees.

But why stop there?

Why not, tomorrow, on Small Business Saturday, support your LOCAL BREWERY, be that at the brewery (if it has an open house) or at a brewpub, or at an independently-owned beer shop, or at a locally-owned restaurant or pub that itself supports local beers. According to the Brewers Association, 90% of the more than 1,600 breweries in the U.S. are small and independent. Their retail dollar value in 2010 was an estimated $7.6 billion.

The buy-local-food movement (often unfortunately affixed with the ugly portmanteau of locavore ) is strong and growing stronger, if still relatively small. As strange as it may sound, I wish I could say the same for the buy-local-beer movement.

The 'craft beer' industry began about 30 years go, in part, as a reaction against the lack of choice of local beer. If it's not available, we'll make it, said those pioneers. Now, however, a lot of love seems to go to beers of scarcity and, shall we say, elsewhereness. If it's made here, it's not so special. I'm damning with a broad brush, and there are many exceptions, but, to a not insubstantial degree, this is, unfortunately, a truism. And, it's an ironic one, since, again, as the Brewers Association points out, every American alive in 2011 lives within 10 miles of a brewery.

"But, what if the local beer isn't good," I hear. With all the choices available, I find that a weak argument. And, even if it were so, a consumer living in the same community as a small brewery does have influence. Importune the owner: tell him/her what's wrong (or what's right). You can't do that with an international conglomerate. Likewise, if the choices are limited at your local shop or restaurant, ask the owner why —since you're supporting him/her, a local business person —he/she isn't supporting local breweries. Or, if they are, thank them.

Beer that is local won't have come from hundreds or thousands of miles away. That, indeed, makes a huge difference: carbon-wise, employment-wise, and tax-wise. And flavor-wise, the beer will be fresh.

Tomorrow may be Small Business Saturday. But, don't stop there. Make tomorrow the first day of a long commitment. Continue to buy local, to support local, to drink fresh, to drink local. Locally-owned breweries, independent beer shops, and restaurants may not always offer the absolute cheapest prices for their products, but their success is vital to the vigor of your community.

Don't misconstrue my intent to be a diatribe against imports and other 'craft' beers. Far from it: the beer world is a marvelous universe. It is, however, a plea to support the home brewery first. That matters.

There are several on-line resources for finding local breweries, brewpubs, and beer shops and restaurants which support local and 'craft' beer. One of these is the Brewing News chain of bi-monthly newspapers —yes, old-line media, which has finally carved a niche on the web.

Here are its listings for breweries and good beer shops in the mid-Atlantic area:
For some more good-beer resources, consult the links in the sidebar of this blog.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Simple pleasures

Sometimes, we take the simple pleasures in life for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving

Helen in car

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

VeggieDag Thursday (Wednesday edition): What's a vegetarian to do tomorrow?

It's a special 'Wednesday edition' of VeggieDag Thursday: What is a vegetarian to do, tomorrow, when the turkey is brought to the table?

VeggieDag Thursday
VeggieDag is an occasional Thursday post on an animal-free diet and its issues.

  • The Washington Post has reviewed several faux meats for the Thanksgiving table: here and here.

  • Great Sage Restaurant in Clarksville, Maryland, asks:
    Are you preparing for a vegan Thanksgiving? Our blog would love to represent some of the delicious dishes you make. Send a photo and description of a dish (or more!) and we will feature you in a story devoted to Thanksgiving delights! Feel like writing an entire post? Even better, and you just may find yourself with a dessert on us!

  • The Washington Post's Going Out Gurus have a short list of restaurants open on Thanksgiving, serving vegan meals.

  • Beer book author Stephen Beaumont, Blogging at World of Beer, writes, "All You Need to Know About Beer for Thanksgiving" ... is "dry, tart, sparkling gueuze."

  • Rob Kasper of The Baltimore Sun was Talking Turkey and Beer for the Holiday, in 2003.

  • I offer my choice for beer at Thanksgving - saison- while Talking Turkey and Beer, also from 2003.

  • Again, from the Washington Post, wine reviewer Dave McIntyre, refutes several myths about Thanksgiving and wine, when he asks: What do you pair with baloney?

  • The New York Times' WELL blog has run a series of posts on vegetarian cooking for Thanksgiving.

  • Tom Philpott, at Mother Jones, writes:
    Here on the farm, we have a gorgeous crop of winter squashes in storage, and are still harvesting delightful hearty greens like kale and collards. I've been saying it for weeks now, and it's still true: leafy greens are at their utter peak now, as morning frosts concentrates their sugars and make them sweeter.

  • From 2007, here's my Thanksgiving vegetarian menu, and, from 2009, my recipe for Veggie Beastloaf. Well, actually, that's seitan loaf with wild mushroom gravy.

  • Isa Chandra Moskowitz —one of my favorite vegan cookbook authors— has posted her recipe for a Seitan Loaf, but with a leek and shitake mushroom stuffing.

  • Even the breweries are joining the feast. Heavy Seas Brewing, of Baltimore, Maryland, has posted a few recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes. All but one are vegetarian, and all have beer as an ingredient. (Tip from Sandy Mitchell at The Original BeerinBaltimore blog.)
Whatever you'll be enjoying tomorrow at table, don't forget the cranberries!


  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virgina— I sell the beers of Heavy Seas.
  • VeggieDag is an occasional Thursday post on vegetarian issues. Why the name? Here. All prior VeggieDag Thursday posts: here.
  • Suggestions and submissions from chefs and homecooks welcomed!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve Tradition Continues (with an assist)

Thanksgiving Eve is one of the busier bar nights of the year. The folks who are leaving town have left. The folks who have stayed put —finished with work, shopping, and cooking— go out to play.

That's how I set the scene, five years ago, in 2007, when the Evening Star Cafe, a restaurant and pub in the cozy Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, served its first-ever cask-conditioned ale on the night before Thanksgiving.

Loose Cannon firkin

The cask was a firkin (10.8 gallons) of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale.

The brewery —Heavy Seas, of Baltimore, Maryland— describes the Loose Cannon as a thrice-hopped American IPA (India Pale Ale). I describe it —especially served still fermenting, fresh, from a cask— as aromatic, juicy, fruity (think melons and citrus), and well-structured.

The tapping was a success. So much so, that the pub has continued the tradition each Thanksgiving Eve since. But, alas, this year, Evening Star has closed, temporarily, for renovations, re-opening in December.

So, for this Thanksgiving Eve, the five-year Del Ray, Alexandria, tradition moves a block up Mount Vernon Avenue, to ...

... Del Ray Pizzeria: a good-beer bar and, of course, pizzeria.

Like the Evening Star, Del Ray Pizzeria is a newbie to cask-conditioned ales. So, I and Jonathan Mcintire —the local representative of Heavy Seas— will be on-hand at 5pm this Wednesday to lend a hand, and a mallet, to tap the Loose Cannon.

Loose Cannon firkin, resting

And, it's a special cask of Loose Cannon for Del Ray. Heavy Seas' cellarman has dry-hopped it with U.S. west coast Simcoe hops, which were flown to the brewery within days of being harvested. Additionally, he's infused the beer with hand-toasted chips of Red Maple, White Oak, and Birch.

There is no overall fee for admittance ... simply pay for the the pints you order. A cask contains 86 U.S.-sized pints, give or take.

  • UPDATE: Photos from Del Ray Pizzeria: here.
  • The past tradition (at Evening Star Cafe)
  • Dry-hopping is the addition of hops to beer AFTER fermentation, such as directly into a cask. The process infuses beer with fresh hop aromatics, which would be otherwise lost during a kettle boil. Wet-hopping, on the other hand, is a term denoting the use of just-picked hops. The cask above was dry-hopped with wet-hops. Learn more about cask-conditioned beer at CaskAleUSA.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virgina— I sell the beers of Heavy Seas.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Week 46, 2011.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Week 46
13 November - 19 November 2011

  • 2011.11.19
    Devils Backbone's new production brewery in Rockbridge County, Virginia, nears completion. Video tour, via Musings Over A Pint.

  • 2011.11.19
    What's bad, what's good, with "The Oxford Companion to Beer." Wait for the 2nd edition, says this Glasgow beer blogger.

  • 2011.11.19
    An update on the Small BREW Act: the Congressional proposal to reduce the federal excise tax on small breweries. From a North Carolina point of view.

  • 2011.11.19
    On this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.


  • 2011.11.19
    Beer author Lew Bryson proposes video series on craft beer. "American Beer Blogger" to be funded by small investors via

  • 2011.11.19
    For the first time, foreign hackers have targeted AND successfully damaged a US water plant in an apparent malicious cyber attack. Via Washington Post.

  • 2011.11.19
    A second experiment confirms faster-than-light neutrinos, in apparent contradiction to one of Einstein's postulates. Via Washington Post.

  • 2011.11.19
    The cloud music services of iTunes vs. Google vs. Amazon. A review from

  • 2011.11.18
    Another study shows that beer, consumed in moderation, has health benfits similar to those of wine. Via Huffington Post.

    Rachel pours the beers

  • 2011.11.17
    Anecdotal evidence that more women are drinking craft beer. According to Tuscarora Mill, in Leesburg, Virginia, more than 70% of their beer dinners are filled by women.

  • 2011.11.17
    Congress declares pizza a vegetable. Via Notions Capitol.

    Sisson expounds (01)

  • 2011.11.17
    It's full circle for Hugh Sisson, owner of Heavy Seas Brewing Company. The Heavy Seas Ale House to debut in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, in spring 2012. Via Beer in

  • 2011.11.16
    NPR’s word-game program, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," to make TV debut in December. Via Washington Post.

  • 2011.11.16
    Doyle Bramhall Sr., Stevie Ray Vaughan collaborator and drummer, has died at age 62. Via AOL Music.

  • 2011.11.16
    Alan Mcleod at A Good Beer Blog announces The 2011 Xmas Photo Contest. Submit your photos by 10 December.


  • Clamps and Gaskets is a weekly wrap-up of stories  not posted at Yours For Good Most deal with beer (or wine, or whisky); some do not. But all are brief, and many are re-posts from:
  • The Clamps and Gaskets graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cool Yule #12! Beer Books for 2011: The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent

Cool Yule! #12

Around this time of year in 2009, I compiled a list of 12 Beer Books for Christmas. Here's how I described the project:

This is not a Top 12 list. It is my list of 12 beer books, personal delights. On Christmas Day: put your feet up, pour yourself a good beer, and read a good book. Better yet: give a friend the gift of a beer and a book.

I would still recommend any of those books, but I have created a new list this year, with different choices (including a guest blogger's selection). Some of the books have been published this year, while others are worthy chestnuts. I'll announce my choice for this year's #1 Cool Yule Beer Book on the Winter Solstice, 22 December 2011. That's time too brief to arrange shipping by Christmas (unless available as an e-book), but time sufficient to pay a visit to your local brick and mortar, and book, store.

And, so, to begin ... cue 12 drummers, drumming.


Cool Yule! 12 Beer Books for 2011: #12

The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent

The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent
Roger Protz
The History Press, UK: 2011
ISBN: 0752460633

When beer writer Michael Jackson was still with us, his fellow countryman Roger Protz was often thought of as 'that other' British beer writer, prolific and well-spoken, not really an historian but more of a reporter. He's taken some bashing recently for misstatements of beer history, which were the result of repeating stories from non-original source materials. Something we all do, from time-to-time.

The story of brewing in the small Midland, England, town of Burton-on-Trent truly is in the water. From the time of St. Modwen, who noticed the curative aspect of the waters and would later save the future Alfred the Great from scurvy, to the time of Pale Ales for India —ales of pale color, great hop-infused flavor, and clarity— the town of Burton-on-Trent, Protz writes, was known for its water, rich in dissolved sulfates.

He tells the story of the town's rise to a brewing metropolis in the 19th century, small in population, but giant in industrial influence, to its demise, in the 20th century as a brewing behemoth, and finally, to the 21st century, when a few remnants of its brewing heritage are thriving and a small-scale revival has begun.

At Marston's, they call the union rooms
["nothing to do with trade unions"], with due reverence, the 'Cathedrals of Brewing'. It's the last brewery to use a system that singled out Burton in the nineteenth century as the citadel of pale ale. The unions cleanse fermenting beers of yeast but, along with the Trent Valley's singular waters, also help create a unique aroma and flavour: a powerful waft of sulfur that gives way to a complex palate of biscuity malt, spicy hops, and a hint of tart fruit. While Bass' old union sets now languish in a car park alongside the National Brewery Centre, Marston's remains true to a method of fermentation that it believes is critical to producing true Burton pale ale. The unions survive at Marston's not for reasons of nostalgia —they are expensive to maintain, requiring top-quality oak and resident coopers to repair the casks— but because they create fine beer and give the brewery its now iconic status.

Protz repeats some tropes, but generally adheres to recent beer-history scholarship. As one example of error: hops are not grown in the US Pacific northwest because the climate is wet, as Protz writes, but because it is dry, providing an inhospitable environment for hop-hurting micro-pests.

But, these are only quibbles. Protz writes in a straight-forward, non breathless manner, telling a good story. Re-read his paragraph above on Marston's in Burton. It gives you history and description. As good beer writing should do, it makes you thirsty for the beer.

Cool Yule 2011: the full list.

  • For on-line purchasing, I link to the Brewers Association book store, or to the marvelous resource, When not available there, or if published as an ebook, I link to
  • The 12 Books for Christmas 2009: here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pic(k) of the Week: Fog at National Airport

Fog at National Airport (01)

Drizzle and mist enshroud Washington National Airport. The photo was taken looking north from Daingerfield Island (which is not an island), in Alexandria, Virginia. Note the raindrops on the camera lens.

16 November 2011.

  • I prefer to refer to the airport by its earlier, less unwieldy name.
  • Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, often posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as subject. Commercial use requires explicit permission,as per Creative Commons.

Friday, November 18, 2011

No longer a secret: Heavy Seas Ale House to open in spring of 2012.

Hugh Sisson can sure keep a secret.

Sisson makes another point

Sisson is a loquacious fellow, the founder and managing partner of brewery Heavy Seas, in Baltimore, Maryland. I sat next to him Wednesday evening, as he hosted a Heavy Seas beer dinner at Wildfire Restaurant, in Tyson's Corner, Virginia ... but he dropped not one hint about his big news. A theater major in college, Sisson delivered a hilarious oration of "Our Beer, who art in heaven." But, not one clue about his upcoming announcement.

It was not until the following morning, that I would read this press release, as reported by Brad Klipner at his Beer in Baltimore blog:

A new and unique restaurant is on the Baltimore dining horizon, the Heavy Seas Ale House. The 4,900 sq. ft. space is located at The Tack Factory, 1300 Bank Street, convenient to Harbor East, Little Italy, Fells Point, and the Inner Harbor.

Heavy Seas Ale House

Heavy Seas Ale House will allow patrons to tap into the Heavy Seas Beer experience in a brick and mortar extension of the pyratical brand. Developed by Patrick Dahlgren, a Baltimore City restaurateur and stepson of Hugh Sisson, the concept is a natural extension of the Heavy Seas locally brewed beer. Hugh Sisson is the owner of Clipper City Brewing Company (the brewer of Heavy Seas Beer) and former owner of the much beloved Federal Hill institution, Sisson’s, which was also Maryland’s first brewpub.

Other points of interest: a 40 foot bar, 8 taps (and a cask line), a full kitchen for lunch and dinner (including a raw bar), and an outdoor beer garden. The projected opening is early spring 2012. Read the rest of the press release here.

It's a full circle for Sisson. He got into the beer business at his family's eponymous Baltimore, Maryland, restaurant, in the early 1980s, after graduating from college.

Sisson's exterior (02)

He recounts the story of how, on only his first day at the pub, his father, Al, tossed him the keys at the end of the evening, and said: "It's your baby, now, Hugh. Don't f*%^$ it up!"

A few years later, after successfully lobbying the Maryland legislature to change the law forbidding brewing in restaurants, he would add brewing equipment, establishing Sisson's as the first brewpub to operate in Maryland (and, in fact, preceding any in Virginia or Washington, D.C.). In 1995, he would sell his stake back to his family, and open Clipper City Brewing (now known as Heavy Seas).

The soon-to-open Heavy Seas Ale House is not a franchise. Although headed by Sisson's stepson, it is a wholly independent operation, separate from the brewery, but granted a license to use the Heavy Seas logo and branding. This is similar to the Dogfish Head Alehouses, licensed to use the name by the brewery, but owned and operated separately.

Maryland law prohibits Sisson from owning a retail operation because of his large stake in Heavy Seas Brewing Co., previously known as Clipper City Brewing Co. But he said licensing his brand will enable him to have the retail operation to help better brand his beers.

“I have for years wanted to have some sort of retail branding platform, many breweries do,” Sisson said. His company will sell beer to Heavy Seas Ale House. “They don’t get any additional perks,” he said. Sisson said he could expand the licensing of his brand if it’s successful.

Baltimore Business Journal


Thursday, November 17, 2011

VeggieDag Thursday: Waiter, there's NO animal in my beer.

VeggieDag Thursday
VeggieDag is an occasional Thursday post on an animal-free diet and its issues.

A Washington, D.C. restaurant recently announced that they would present a "five course vegan dinner paired with five vegan craft beers." [emphasis mine] A dietary vegan consumes no animal flesh, or food derived from an animal. Is beer vegan?

Beer, at its essence, is brewed simply from four things: water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. Barley malt is a cereal grain that has been sprouted and dried. Water, well, it's a ubiquitous liquid. A hop is an herb. Yeast is a unicellular fungus. There's no animal in that recipe. Occasionally other things make their way into beer: cereal grains, such as rice, corn, wheat, sorghum, etc.: sugars; fruits; vegetables; spices. But, even so: there is no animal in beer. It is, indeed, vegan. The restaurant's promotion appears to have been redundant ballyhoo.

Local Beer 1: American Craft Beer Week

Or was it?

Animals can, at times, slither into a beer, but only during the processing of the beer. Fining agents are ingredients used to assist in the clarification of beer. Three common finings are gelatin, isinglass, and polyvinylpolypyrrolidone. The last, PVPP for short, is a nylon-type powdered plastic that bonds to haze-forming compounds. Not an animal!

Gelatin and isinglass are, however, animal derived: gelatin, usually from pigs' hooves, and isinglass, from the swim bladders of various fish, usually sturgeon. Both are positively charged, yeast is negatively charged. The collagen 'attracts' yeast which sticks to it. Then by the 'dust-bunny' principle (otherwise known as Stokes' Law), the clumps get larger and larger, and fall to the bottom of the vessel, pulling along haze-forming proteins for the rid, clarifying the beer. The beer is racked (transferred) from over the sediment, and then, often, filtered. Thus, finished beer contains NO ANIMAL product.

Furthermore, the use of gelatin is very rare these days, and isinglass, increasingly so. Most small breweries rely instead on gravity and filtration, or only the former, while larger breweries employ centrifuges.


There is one, major, exception. From Ian Ward, in The Oxford Companion to Beer:

With the advances in centrifugation and filtration technologies, the use of isinglass
[and gelatin] has declined and today it is largely confined to cask-conditioned ales, although some American craft brewers also use it to clarify beer without the use of filtration.

So there you have it. Beer is vegan. Except in unfiltered cask-conditioned real ale. Or, is it?

In August 2011, ten brewers from Washington, D.C, Maryland, and northern Virginia brought cask ales to the District Chophouse, in Washington, D.C. for Cask Night, a festivity that was part of DC Beer Week. That confluence gave me the opportunity to ask many brewers the same two questions. Are your beers vegan? Are your cask beers vegan?

The breweries present were:
  • Capital City Brewing Company, of Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia.
  • District Chophouse, of Washington, D.C.
  • Du Claw Brewing, of Bel Air, Maryland, etc.
  • Franklin's Restaurant & Brewery, of Hyattsville, Maryland.
  • Gordon-Biersch Brewery & Restaurant, of Rockville, Maryland.
  • Heavy Seas Brewing, of Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Lost Rhino Brewing, of Ashburn, Virginia.
  • Mad Fox Brewing Company, of Falls Church, Virginia.
  • Oliver Ales, at the Pratt Street Alehouse, in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant, in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • Sweetwater Tavern, of Centreville and Merifield, Virginia.
Brewers from all except one confirmed that they use NO isinglass (or gelatin, or any other animal-derived product) during the brewing and fermenting of their beer. And, all, except two, use NO isinglass (or any other animal-derived product) in their cask-conditioned beer.

The exceptions?

Mad Fox Brewing —a brewpub in Falls Church, Virginia— does fine its cask ales with isinglass. But, brewer Charlie Buettner told me, the brewery uses NO insinglass in its non-cask-conditioned beers.

Steve Jones —brewer for Oliver Ales at the Pratt Street Alehouse in Baltimore, Maryland— couldn't be present at the event, but a cask of his ridiculously delicious Strongman Pale Ale was. On a different occasion, he told me that he does, indeed, proudly, use isinglass in both the brewery and in his casks. Proudly, because Jones is a British ex-pat, and the use of isinglass has a long tradition in British brewing and cask ales.

Firkin 5/11: Strongman Pale Ale
In an ironic twist, Steve Jones is a vegetarian. Does he drink his cask ale, clarified with isinglass? "Of course," he replied. "We all draw our lines somewhere, but I don't draw that line to exclude cask ale."

So, drink assured, vegans! Beer is a vegan beverage ... most of the time. Do brewers proffer a sacrificial lamb before each brew to propitiate Nikasi and the other gods of beer? No!


  • The sample size of this survey is of course quite small. Unfortunately, neither the Brewers Association —a trade association for US-owned breweries of less than 2 million barrels annual production— nor any other entity keeps statistics on cask ale and such things.
  • Other animals have been used in beer.
    • "Cock ale, popular in 17th and 18th-century England, was an ale whose recipe consisted of normal ale brewed inside a container, to which was later added a bag stuffed with a parboiled, skinned and gutted cock." [rooster].
    • Oyster Stout can simply be a strong dark ale which a brewery will recommend to be drunk while eating raw oysters, or less frequently, be a stout actually brewed with the mollusk. These days, the former is no longer brewed (!), while the latter is occasionally seen.
  • VeggieDag is an occasional Thursday post on vegetarian issues. Why the name? Here.
  • Suggestions and submissions from chefs and homecooks welcomed! Here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More than half way there!

Thirty days hath November, the month also known to some as NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. The idea is to post at least once per day, substantively.

I attempted the feat last year, but survived only through Day 15. With this post today (admittedly, somewhat of a place-holder), I'm one day further along than I was in 2010. Fourteen posts remain. As I wrote: There's beer yet to be drunk, stories to be told.

Cluttered office

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In the U.S., toasting Belgian Beer Royalty today

Today is the King's Feast ...

the country of Belgium celebrates its King, the monarchy and the sovereign. This holiday was first established in 1866, roughly 35 years after achieving independence from Holland, the last of the 13 overlords that dominated the country. Even though they were ruled by so many other countries, they never absorbed into them and were able to hold onto things that were culturally important, one of them being beer.

Celebrate here in the U.S., today, with an organized coast-coast toast.

Well, actually it's a virtual toast with Wendy Littlefield and Don Feinberg, but you might easily consider them beer royalty. Thirty years ago, the duo founded Vanberg & DeWulf to import Belgian beers. Try to remember a thirsty time without much Begian beer in the US, and 30 years ago would be just about right. Before Wendy and Don, there was no Duvel here, no Scaldis, no Saison Dupont.

Sunlit archway

Since then, Wendy and Don have been enthusiastic proponents of biere vivant, of good living with beer. Check their website for cooking with beer, for example. They were the original importers of the gorgeous sour red ale Rodenbach. And, they were the founders and original owners of Ommegang, a beautiful farmhouse brewery in Cooperstown, New York, one of the first breweries in U.S. to exclusively brew Belgian-style ales.

Nearly 400 restaurants, bars, and beer shops across the U.S. are participating. Go here for the list. (Be sure to click on "more" at the bottom of the page.) Follow on Twitter at @belgianexpert, and on Facebook.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Week 45, 2011.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Week 45
6 November - 12 November 2011

  • 2011.11.11
    Veterans Day proclamation and observances. Via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • 2011.11.11
    Major League Baseball Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos freed from kidnappers in Venezuela. Via TIME.

    Tom Flores

  • 2011.11.11
    Frederick, Maryland's Brewers Alley opens new 20,000-bbl production brewery: Monocacy Brewing.

  • 2011.11.11
    Baltimore, Maryland's National Premium beer to be revived -again. New owner looking for local brewery to brew it. Via Baltimore Sun.

  • 2011.11.11
    Craft beer volume grows in 2100, but slightly slower than 2011, due to higher pricing (based on supermarket sales). Via Brewers Association.

  • 2011.11.11
    Evolution Brewery to open in Salisbury, Maryland, in 2012. The restaurant to open in January; brewing to start in February.

  • 2011.11.10
    Scandal continues. Joe Paterno fired as head coach of Penn State football team. Via ESPN.

  • 2011.11.10
    Wet weather in Canada to drought in UK: malting barley prices to rise as harvest hopes wane. Via Agrimoney.

    Devils' veggie burger

  • 2011.11.10
    Steak or Veggie Burger: Which is Greener? Via Mother Jones

  • 2011.11.09
    National Emergency Alert System does not perform well in first test. Via Mashable.

  • 2011.11.08
    British beer writer Roger Protz reviews "The Oxford Companion to Beer" as "hard to put down."

  • 2011.11.08
    Farmers and 'farm-breweries' attempting to revive hop industry, beer 'terroir,' in upstate New York. Via New York Times.

  • 2011.11.08
    Fire put out at Colorado's New Belgium Brewery in old grain silo. No injuries.

  • 2011.11.08
    "The problem with guides to beer drinking is that there just aren't enough." The Atlantic reviews "The Oxford Companion to Beer".

  • 2011.11.07
    Rare Belgian Trappiste Abbey beer, Westvleteren, coming to the US in April 2012. Via Brewbound.

  • 2011.11.06
    New signs that Maryland wine is being taken seriously. Via Washington Post.
  • Clamps and Gaskets is a weekly wrap-up of stories  not posted at Yours For Good Most deal with beer (or wine, or whisky); some do not. But all are brief, and many are re-posts from:
  • The Clamps and Gaskets graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fresh-hopped is not Nouveau

Fresh hop beers —sometimes called wet hop beers— are named for their liberal infusion with just-picked hops, still wet from the fields, rushed to the brewery. Those U.S. breweries close to hop fields —such as in Oregon and Washington— can arrange timely pickup and delivery. Those further afield will pay the postage.

Homegrown hops

In an essay posted at, here's how Andy Sparhawk describes them:

Fresh hop beer (FHB) comprises a loose category of beers that utilize "green" hops of the yearly harvest. Adding fresh hops to a recipe produces a character in beer that cannot be duplicated at any time other than during the hop harvest. Often the freshly picked hops go into the brewing process within a few short hours, depending on the source of these hops.

Fresh-hopped beers show a juicy grassy 'greeness' that is quite striking. Beers brewed with 'standard' hops —cured for storage and shipping stability— have less that and more a spicy and floral tone (and citrusy, in the case of US hops).

Some farmers and 'farm-breweries' are attempting to revive small-scale hop-growing in areas where it has become moribund, such as the mid-Atlantic and upstate New York. Fresh-hop beers there will be true harvest ales, rather than expected commodities, Sparhawk points out.

Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

So far, so good.

But then, Sparhawk pulls out a nonsensical trope. Maybe, it's not his fault: I've heard other 'beer' people do the same. He equates the rush of hops from field to brewery to the rush of Beaujolais Nouveau wine from wineries in Burgundy, France, to wine shops here and elsewhere.

Like the Beaujolais Nouveaux, fresh hop beers are best experienced fresh, the brewing process itself though, depends on the brewer.

The beer, yes; the wine, no!

To be clear: Beaujolais (without the 'Nouveau' appendage) is a red wine fermented from the Gamay grape, fully matured in fermenter or barrel. It is a wine of bright acidity with hints of dark cherries in flavor. From good Crus, it can be a wine of great character and depth.

Beaujolais Nouveau —literally translated as "new Beaujolais"— is wine that is rushed, immature, just barely fermented, with little maturation, and often sourced from inferior grapes from lesser vineyards. It is thin and acidic, and without much flavor, depth, or complexity. It is a pressing of grapes for a quick Euro, a marketing gimmick, albeit a successful one (if less so, recently). To make any comparison between fresh-hopped beers and Beaujolais Nouveau is imply that the rush of freshly picked hops to breweries is a similar attempt to make a quick buck.

To even seem to imply an equivalence between marvelously aromatic and complex fresh-hopped beers and insipid Beaujolais Nouveau is, at best, silly. At worst, it is wine envy.

Coming as it does from Andy Sparhawk —who is the (U.S.) Brewers Association's Craft Beer Program Coordinator, a Certified Cicerone®, and a BJCP Beer Judge— it is distressing.

Stop it!

  • Sparhawk does go on to nicely review several commercial fresh-hopped ales, and interview brewers about the process.
  • In my neighborhood, northern Virginia brewpub Mad Fox brewed an IPA of 7% alcohol by volume (abv), they called 2 Hemispheres. They purchased freshly-picked Australian Galaxy hops through their hop merchant, paying a premium cost for them. For the 'second' hemisphere, they purchased freshly picked Oregon Citra hops, and paid the freight themselves. The hops cost $825; the shipping almost double that at $1500.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pic(k) of the Week: 3 Lions Lass

The heraldic 3 Lions is:

1) The Royal Coat of Arms of England.
2) The standard of the England national football team.

or ...

3) The name of a brown ale brewed by Oliver Ales at the Pratt Street Alehouse of Baltimore, Maryland: 7.5% abv, brewed with British pale, crystal and roasted malts, and British Bramling, First Gold, and Challenger hops.

All three.

3 Lions lass

Above, at the Pratt Street Alehouse, a representative for Cortez Cigars, exhibits her Oliver Ales 3 Lions Brown Ale temporary tattoo.

Baltimore, Maryland.
8 October 2011.

  • Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, often posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as a subject.
  • Photo courtesy Derek Davis —the assistant brewer for Oliver Ales at Pratt Street— who applied the tattoo with a steady hand.
  • See more 'beer' tattoos: here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 barley harvest down; 2012 beer prices up?

There's bad news for brewers worldwide, and beer drinkers. From (a website for agricultural business and commodities news):

Malting barley is expanding its premium over wheat amid waning hopes for world supplies, with wet weather holding up Canada's sowings and drought denting prospects in Europe, where the UK set for its weakest harvest in more than 40 years.

The UK's Home Grown Cereals Authority has forecast that, even with benign growing conditions from now on, "overall malting barley availability is likely to be tight in 2011-12".

Contrary to often overwrought hang-wringing over hop availability and its effect on beer pricing, it is barley —specifically barley for malting, which, at lower yields, costs more than 'feed' barley— that, with water, is the primary ingredient cost of beer.

Devils' malt (01)

According to Agrimony, whereas Scotland had a bumper barley crop (most of which will go to its native whisky distilling business), most of the rest of the world did not. Including the UK and Canada (the principal supplier to the US brewing industry), harvests were low in Australia (a major barley exporter, but where many farmers have switched to wheat), Russia and Ukraine (a late spring sowing season), and France (drought). Exports may increase from Argentina, but will not be enough to offset the worldwide harvest deficits.

Whenever the price for malting barley increases, it's the smaller breweries that pay much more than the conglomerates, lacking the latter's purchasing power. If the bleak predictions hold true, scarcity will increase pricing and, it follows, decrease availability.

On Twitter, Massachusetts Notch Brewing noted that its English malt supplier has announced that Maris Otter malt will not be available per se, but blended with Spring barley, and at a higher cost. Maris Otter is an 'heirloom' variety of 'winter' malting barley, often floor-malted, and regarded by traditionalists (including me) as one if the best malts for its flavor and low nitrogen levels (less haze in cask beers). Even without a bad growing season, Maris Otter is already low-yielding, and not grown by many farmers.

The price for 'craft' beer at the consumer level has continued to increase (2.64% already this year, according to the Brewers Association), despite the ongoing economic downturn. Anticipate a bigger jump in 2012.

Most breweries adjust their pricing in January or February. Buy those 'imperials' and barleywines ... now.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

VeggieDag Thursday: Beer dinner review (and the fare was vegetarian).

VeggieDag Thursday

It's been 2 months, 17 days, but who's counting? Well, I suppose I just did.

Back on August 24th, 2011, Mad Fox, a one-year old brewpub in Falls Church, Virginia, hosted its first ever vegetarian beer dinner. As a post for VeggieDag Thursday —my occasional look at an animal-free diet and its issues— here's my review.

Mad menu (01)

AS the evening began, Mad Fox's side Stammtisch room was quickly filled to capacity. The more than 40 attendees comprised the largest crowd for any of the four (three, carnivore) beer dinners the pub had held. Welcome and introductions aside, executive brewer and co-owner Bill Madden would describe the beers while executive chef Russel Cunningham would describe the meals. Both would discuss the 'pairing' of flavors.

Cunningham & Wellington

The first beer was a Kölsch, a style of 'lagered' ale that Madden told us he has been brewing, here and at other breweries in the northern Virginia area, for over 15 years. He has won several awards for it. Madden imports a yeast from Weihenstephan in Germany, specific to the style. The beer was golden in hue, 4.8% alcohol by volume (abv), with a soft floral hop presence, and a slightly grain-sweet flavor. It finished dry with a floral aftertaste.

Course #1: Kolsch

With the Kölsch, Chef Cunningham served a Chilled Fruit Soup of cantaloupe, papaya, ginger (a lot!), a non-dairy yogurt made from coconut, and a lecithin foam of grapefruit and pineapple.

Chilled Fruit Soup

Separately, the beer and the soup, were delightful. Together: neither complimentary nor hurtful.

Next up was English Summer Ale and an Heirloom Tomato Salad.

Heirloom Tomatoes & Grilled Hearts of Palm

Madden explained that Summer Ale is a new 'style' of beer popularized in the UK by newer craft brewers who brew a lighter-colored 'bitter' ale, using American hops. The pub's version was golden and 5.4% alcohol-by-volume, brewed with German Pilsner malt and a bit of wheat malt, and hopped with citra hops, a new U.S. varietal that many find to have an orange taste and aroma.

The salad was arranged with multi-colored heirloom tomatoes from Hummingbird Farms, of Ridgely, Maryland, grilled hearts of palm, and 'micro-greens,' all tossed with a house-made vinaigrette of pumpkin-seed oil and Orange Whip, the pub's IPA, brewed with Citra hops.

Heirloom Tomatoes & Grilled Hearts of Palm

I'm not a fan of Citra hops: I find their aroma and flavor to be a weird mixture of artificial orange scent and anise, but I'm in the minority. This pairing of salad and beer, however, demonstrated the ineffable character of such things. Together, there was no single point of pleasure or displeasure, but a tasty melding of citrus and tomato.

The third course served was a Quinoa and Black Bean Cake and a Saison ale.

Quinoa & Black Bean Cakes

The 'cake' was deliciously 'meaty' tasting, topped with a spicy green onion sauce. The tempura vegetables were sparingly battered, just right. Another sauce —pureed bell peppers, curry powder, garlic, cilantro, and orange juice 'gelled' with agar-agar (not the yogurt as the printed menu stated)— was served on the side. Both sauces were terrific. The tandem was one flavor too many.

Madden's Saison was a good foil for all the spiciness. 6.1% abv, crisp, yet medium-bodied, with a spicy and 'lemony' flavor and finish, derived, Madden told us, from the French yeast he uses to ferment the beer.

Vegetable Wellington

For the fourth course, Madden served his Big Chimneys Robust Porter. He named it for the first permanent building in Falls Church, erected in 1699, noted for its two chimneys. A porter is a dark ale, not quite as roasty as a stout. And Big Chimneys indeed was that: 6% abv, a character of bakers chocolate, toasted bread, and a hint of dark fruit and earthiness. Madden told us that the yeast he uses drops quickly out of the beer after fermentation, yielding a 'bright' beer without filtration. He hops the porter with First Gold, a favorite varietal of his, he told us. First Gold, grown in England, is a dwarf hop, its bines half the height of 'standard' hops. Madden likes its earthy, woody flavor that he finds similar to another English hop, East Kent Goldings.

Cunningham created a Vegetable Wellington to accompany the Porter. He filled a puff pastry with couscous, zucchini, squash, and local mushrooms (button, cremini, shitake) soaked in cognac. He finished it with an apple-carrot/ginger puree, and flash-fried spinach shreds, with grilled local white asparagus, and a crescent-shaped streak of tomato 'water' set in agar-agar, on the side. For two vegan diners, he served a similar Wellington but in a phyllo pastry, containing no egg or dairy.

When talking about pairing beer and food, descriptors can become somewhat fanciful. Suffice it to say, that this pairing 'worked.' The flavors of the porter and the Wellington did not overwhelm each other, but were similar enough (roasty, earthy) that they complemented each other, creating an experience greater than the sum of the two. This was my favorite dish of the evening, and a consensus favorite of other diners. When one asked if it might be added to the pub's 'regular' menu, Cunningham concurred: "Soon."

Then, it was time for dessert: Wee Heavy Scotch Ale with Chocolate & Berry Crème Brûlée.

Chocolate & Berry Crème Brûlée

"It's pure joy for me to brew Wee Heavy," Madden told us. He first brewed it in 1996 for Capitol City Brewpub in Washington, D.C. There, an inefficient kettle caused a long brewing day: the boil lasted for more than six hours. The boil at Mad Fox, with its more efficient system, takes up less than half of that time. Shorter brew days are more conducive to a successful marriage, Madden chuckled. "And, I'm married now.". (His wife Beth is a co-investor. Her maiden name —Fox— is half the pub's name: "She's the fox; I'm mad.") The beer has garnered Madden several awards, some of which are displayed at the pub.

The Wee Heavy was 8.6% alcohol by volume, hopped with First Gold; the grist was English pale malt with only a "touch" of crystal and roasted malts. The result was marvelous: an ale, deep reddish-brown, with flavors of chocolate and dark fruit (think Concord grapes and plums). There's been so much demand for the beer, which has won Madden awards in the past, that he brews it throughout the year, where he once offered it only as a 'Winter Warmer.' Madden told us that some of the Wee Heavy he also matures in oak barrels that have held bourbon and whiskey. These can be seen in the main dining room.

Chef Cunningham's dessert was the Brûlée, a caramelized chocolate custard finished with a reduction of blueberries, raspberries, a and strawberries. For vegans, he brought out a chocolate-ginger cookie, topped with chocolate/soy milk foam, and with a dollop of coconut milk ice cream on the side.

The dessert overwhelmed the Scotch Ale, surprising for a beer of such strength and depth of flavor. There was, fortunately, a simple remedy. Take a taste of the Crème Brûlée. Wait. Take a sip of the Wee Heavy. Wait. Repeat.

At evening's end, Chef Cunningham brought out his sous chefs. They and Madden, and the serving staff, received strong applause. It was a delicious dinner, and I and others made a point of thanking them. A vegetarian beer dinner is a rare thing. Being a non-animal eater, I can only hope for more.

The hosts
Here, Cunningham (l) and Madden (r) relax afterward.

  • More photos from the dinner: here.
  • An earlier post about the dinner, with a reference to another vegetarian beer dinner: here.