Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thoughts on DC's Winter Holidaze Extravaganzee

In 1988, Washington, D.C.'s venerable beer pub, the Brickskeller, held its first ever Christmas Beer Tasting. Back then, there were only four 'local' breweries in Virginia and Maryland (and none in D.C.): G. Heileman Brewing Company, in Halethorpe, Maryland, Anheuser-Busch, in Williamsburg, Virginia, and upstart 'micro-breweries' Chesbay, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and British Brewing Company, in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Schoolteacher and beer raconteur Bob Tupper, the host, would have to round out the evening's tasting with beers from breweries elsewhere.

The final winter beer tasting at the Brickskeller was held in December of 2010. Proprietors Dave and Diane Alexander would sell the restaurant/pub/hotel later that month. But the tradition of the Winter Holidaze Extravaganzee has continued at their other restaurant: D.A.'s R.F.D. (The "DA" stands for Dave (and Diane) Alexander; the "RFD" for "regional food and drink").

Introduction and interruption

It was held this year on 19 December 2012, for the 25th time, and, this time, with 16 local breweries represented. Many, many more local breweries could have been invited: there are five breweries in Washington, D.C. proper, forty from Virginia, and twenty in Maryland. Four in 1988; sixty-five in 2012. What a difference a quarter century has made.

I did find the list of the missing to be somewhat peculiar. There was no Capitol City Brewing, Washington D.C.'s first brewpub since Prohibition (although now brewing in northern Virginia). There was a reason for this, however, which I learned of a few days later. Although D.C.'s 3 Stars Brewing was present, where was DC Brau, the first production brewery in the the District of Columbia since 1956? And, where was Flying Dog, Maryland's largest brewery, and the 23rd largest regional brewery in the U.S.?

As it stood, however, even sixteen were too many for the evening, which began around 7 pm and continued past 11:30 pm. Inviting four more breweries but splitting the event over two nights would have been logistically better. Here's the evening's roster:

Christmas beer tasting 2012

Here are some other 'takeaways' from the evening ...

  • Most humorous moment #1:
    Host Bob Tupper —he, in his 60s, looking like Santa Claus— says of the smooth alcohol-masked flavor of 3 Stars Brewing's (Washington, D.C.) Winter Madness: "I wish they had had beers like this when I was dating in college." (Rest of thought left unsaid!) Brewer/owner Dave Coleman holds up his hand, showing wedding band. "I wouldn't know, Bob. I'm 5 years happily married." Tupper retorts: "I've got 30 years on you, Dave."

    10.6% alcohol-by-volume 'Winter Warmer,' brewed with Vienna, 2 Row, Crystal, Special Roast, Biscuit, & Chocolate malts, and rolled oats, and hopped with Centennial and Cascade.
    3 Stars @RFD

  • Best beard trio:
    See above! Left to right: 3 Stars brewer/co-owner Mike McGarvey; brewer/co-owner Dave Coleman; RFD host Bob Tupper.

  • Most humorous moment #2:
    Host Bob Tupper lets out a guffaw at something Jason Oliver, brewer for Devils Backbone (of Roseland, Virginia), has said. Unfortunately, my notes don't indicate what was said.

    For the evening, Oliver brought his 16 Point Ale, the newest entrant in his line of 'buck beers:' a 9.1% alcohol-by-volume 'Imperial' India Pale Ale, hopped with Columbus, Centennial, and Simcoe.

    A Devil of a laugh!

  • Best fail:
    A couple of minutes into talking with George Humbert —owner of DOG Brewing (of Westminster, Maryland— about his Chocolate Porter 6.9% abv), host Bob Tupper —in his best school teacher manner, which is, after all what he does when not talking about beer— picked up his plastic glass, and asked the staff: "Is THIS the Chocolate Porter?" It wasn't. The crew had inadvertently served the spiced Longest Night Solstice Ale (7.4% abv) from Vintage 50 (of Leesburg, Virginia). After a few minutes, Humbert's beer was served, and both Kristi Griner —brewer at Vintage 50— and Humbert were seated on the dais. "I knew immediately it wasn't mine, but I didn't want to embarrass anyone, and it was good," said Humbert.

    Mixed up, then fixed up.

  • Most embarrassing moment:
    Lost Rhino Brewing (of Ashburn, Virginia) 'collaborated' with Westover Market (an independent supermarket in Arlington, Virginia, with a year-round outdoor beer garden) to produce HopStar Triple IPA. The recipe was created, and small-batch tested, by Steve Marler (in the center of the photo), an award-winning home-brewer and a long-time member and officer of Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP), the Washington, D.C.'s area's largest and longest-running homebrew club. And the result, brewed by John Peters (on the right) at Lost Rhino Brewing —HopStar Triple IPA— was indeed a marvelously hoppy and bitter beer. The recipe included mango puree, which may have added to a citrus fruit aroma and flavor.

    The embarrassing moment occurred when Devin Hicks, the General Manager of Westover (on the left in the photo) —who was the impetus for making the beer— told the audience that the beer was just like Bells Brewing HopSlam but hoppier, and "everyone likes HopSlam, don't they?" The response from the audience was silence.

    Lost Rhino @RFD

  • Best posse:
    Mad Fox Brewing (Falls Church, Virginia) brought four brewers to the dais. There weren't enough chairs. In the photo, left to right: assistant brewers Brad Hulewicz (standing) and Brian Murphy; head brewer Charlie Buettner; brewmaster/owner Bill Madden; host Bob Tupper (wearing Santa hat).

    The beer they brought was one of the stars of the evening: Crazy Ivan, a 10% alcohol-by-volume 'Russian Imperial Stout,' aged 8 months in Evan Williams whiskey oak barrels.
    Mad Fox gang

  • Best personal moment:
    As I was writing down my tasting notes, an attractive brewer patted my back: "You're so organized," she said. Little did she (or I) know, that I would misplace my notebook, and have to recreate those notes from memory. So much for organization!

  • Best beers:
    Purely subjective, and purely my choices. The audience was not polled.

    Kevin Blodger —brewer and co-owner of Union Craft Brewery (Baltimore, Maryland)— brought Pregame, an 'English-style' Dark Mild: Deep brown/black, with some red highlights, with a strong coffee and baker's chocolate aroma and flavor. Only 4.4% alcohol-by-volume, yet packed with character. In fact, Pregame tasted fresher and more flavor-defined than a couple of the other beers (of much higher alcohol) that evening (to remain nameless).

    Union Craft @RFD

    Dave Warwick, brewer at Rock Bottom (Ballston, Arlington, VA), brought Fallen Angel,a blended Belgian-style Tripel: 50% of the mix was from a batch brewed in 2008 by then-brewer Chris Rafferty, and aged since then in a Woodford Reserve bourbon oak barrel; the other half was freshly fermented Tripel, brewed by Warwick, to provide carbonation and soften the wood and bourbon character. It didn't taste like a Tripel, but rather a strong golden ale with spicy notes, high-toned fruity aromatics, and a depth of bourbon heat and finish.

    Rock Bottom @RFD

  • And, finally: What is a winter beer?:
    That evening, we were served a saison —a Belgian-style spiced wheat beer. Is that a Christmas/winter beer? I believe the answer to be a simple one. A winter beer is a beer brewed, or drunk, or both, during the winter months. A merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good beer.

  • The Brewers Association —a trade association for U.S. breweries of annual output of fewer than 6 million barrels— defines regional brewery as "A brewery with an annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels." A microbrewery, it defines as producing less than that.
  • By 11:15 pm, concerned about missing the Metro from downtown back to northern Virginia,  I left without tasting the 11.5% alcohol-by-volume Pumpkin Retribution from Jim Wagner and his crew at DuClaw. Thus, their beer didn't make my 'Best of' list, possibly undeservedly.
  • Photos of the brewers and descriptions of their beers can be seen on Flickr: here.
  • Saturday, December 29, 2012

    Pic(k) of the Week: Boxing Day dusting

    Boxing Day dusting

    A white Christmas, even if a day late, even if just a dusting. Some gusty winds too.

    northern Virginia.
    26 December 2012.

  • Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as a subject. Commercial use requires explicit permission,as per Creative Commons.

  • Monday, December 24, 2012

    The Things that Matter

    December ice (02)

    When my siblings and I were growing up, Christmas Eve was the special night of Kūčios, the family meal in vigil of the commemoration of Christ's birth. There were the rituals (communal sharing of apple and Communion wafer); the foods (kugelis); the desserts (ausuakai); the licit sip(s!) of strong honey liqueur (vititus); the discussions (the was-Adam-or-Eve-to-blame argument, always won by mother and sister).

    And there were the Christmas tales. One my father would tell was that of a Kūčios of his childhood in the 1920s, the story of The Empty Chair. These are his words.


    Christmas Eve at my childhood home in Brooklyn, New York was a time of joyous fulfillment, when the four weeks of preparation during Advent culminated in the ceremony of Kūčios, the traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve meal. It was the most important family event of the year, when all its members, even those who had married and left home to live in faraway places, felt drawn to join in the ritual.

    My wife and I try to carry on the Kūčios tradition in our own family. When the bright star of Christmas Eve becomes visible in the winter sky, we gather around our table for family prayers. Then we kiss the family crucifix, and share our Christmas wafers (plotkeles) and one large apple.

    As years pass, I repeat those stories that accompany these old customs, just as my father used to do: of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, an act whose disobedience involved us all and required the birth of the Savior to redeem, and of the sharing the wafer and the apple, which symbolized the family's unity and its spiritual kinship with the rest of mankind through Adam.

    One year not too long ago, a chair at our Kūčios table was empty for the first time. Our daughter, who was then studying at the University of Innsbruck, planned to visit St. Peter's in Rome on Christmas Eve for the midnight mass. She had asked that we keep open a place at the table for her. Since the family Kūčios began at 6 PM, it would coincide with the ceremonial opening of the Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter's celebrated by the Pope himself.

    Looking at my daughter's empty chair, I was reminded of another empty seat, many year's ago, in my parents' home on a Christmas Eve.

    It was the depth of the Great Depression, jobs were scarce in Brooklyn, and my parents could not even afford to buy a Christmas tree. The empty chair belonged to my grandfather. My family was celebrating Kūčios and grandfather was missing.


    Grandfather was our favorite. We called him Tevukas (Little Father) and (always) spoke with him in Lithuanian, as we did with our parents. He was tall and thin, and had a large gray mustache which curled up the side of his mouth.

    Tevukas had the irrepressible spirit of a young child deep within him. He would often come to our flat on Hope Street in Brooklyn to play radutai, a kind of 'horsing around' that Tevukas had indulged in as a youngster himself in Lithuania.

    It wasn't that he did so much with us — besides lifting us high into the air and catching us before we could hit the ground — but his infectious spirit of fun filled us with childish delight. By contrast, the other grown up folk would treat us as if somehow we were adults who, through our own fault, hadn't grown up.

    Tevukas would regale us with happy tales of the peasant life he had lived as a boy a long time ago in old Lithuania. He told us of how he had watched over the sheep as a little boy, and of the fearsome wolves who prowled nearby. He told us about the deep forest he would walk through late at night to get home.

    Once, along the way, he thought he heard voices through the trees warning him, "Vincai, Vincai, take the other way home". Frightened, Tevukas did so. When he finally reached home, his mother embraced him, filled with relief. She told him that one of the workers on a neighboring estate had gone berserk and had been hiding in that very forest.

    He would tell us of the proud lord on whose land his family lived and worked, of the lord's beautiful manor house, and of his beautiful daughter who spoke only Polish and would taunt Tevukas for being poor.

    Tevukas would enchant us with stories of amber castles perched below the waves of the Baltic Sea, or frighten us with tales of haunted houses and evil spirits. He would tell us of the olden times, when the people worshipped the tall oak trees and the stones in the forests.

    Every Saturday night, so that he would be clean for church the next day, Tevukas would wash his feet in a tin bucket. Sunday morning, he would put on his old, shiny but well-pressed suit and top it off with a black derby, looking like a dapper ponas (gentleman), twenty years younger than he was. He always sat in the same pew, at the aisle-end, and attended what was called the suma, the solemn high mass at 11:00 AM when the choir filled the old church with its beautiful singing in Lithuanian and Latin.

    Tevukas loved to dance. At his granddaughter's wedding, when he was already 80 years old, Tevukas was determined to see if the young girls in America were as pretty and graceful as those in Lithuania. So, risking Grandmother's's stern disapproval, he danced with all of the bridesmaids at least half a dozen times.

    Yes, they were as pretty and graceful, he eventually admitted, but there was none that could compare with his little Katuke (kitten), his affectionate name for Grandma.

    The Empty Chair

    That cold Christmas Eve, in Brooklyn, many years ago, we were all worried about our missing Tevukas. Grandmother couldn't be consoled, frightened that some tragic accident had befallen her husband. "Kur mano Vincas? Kur mano Vincas?" ("Where is my Vincas?"), she wailed over and over again throughout the Kucios meal.

    We youngsters stole anxious glances at one another and prayed all the harder in our hearts that nothing bad had happened to Tevukas. We knew presents would be few, but at that point, we wanted nothing more than to see our Tevukas safely home again.

    What made his mysterious disappearance even worse was that snow had started to fall the night before and had continued all during the day. Normally we would have been delighted with snow for Christmas. Now we were worried that Tevukas was lost in the blizzard.

    Father gave thanks for God's gift of food for us. He inserted a quick prayer for Tevukas' safety. Our Kucious meal came to a melancholy conclusion.

    A Christmas Gift

    Suddenly, we heard a strange noise on the stairs leading to our flat. It had a peculiar, swishing sound which grew louder and louder as it approached our door. Then it stopped, and a loud banging ensued.

    Father opened the door.

    There stood a huge Christmas tree, full of snow. Behind it was Tevukas, all white too, like a living snow man, his mustache frozen stiff.

    "Tevukai, Tevukai!", we all shouted at once. "Where were you? What happened?"

    Tevukas smiled thinly through cracked lips and walked over to the stove in the kitchen to thaw out. Great globs of melting snow fell to the ground and Mother rushed to wipe them up.

    Tevukas drank a warming shot of veritos (a strong, spiced honey liqueur), and began to tell his story.

    When he had awakened that morning, he had seen the big flakes of snow. He knew that meant that the trolley car bosses would be hiring men to keep the tracks free of the falling snow. So, while it was still dark, he dressed quietly as not to wake Grandmother and trudged out to the car barns, where the trolleys began and ended their journeys.

    Tevukas had worked all day in the cold and snow. With the money he earned, he bought us the biggest Christmas tree he could find. He told us that he had no money left to buy us anything else and hoped that we would like the tree. Well, even as young as we were, we kids understood what a sacrifice Tevukas had made for us. We jumped all over him, thanking him again and again, kissing him and wiping the melting snow that was still dripping from him.

    Father stood the evergreen in a bucket in the parlor. And we marveled at what a wonderful Christmas present Tevukas had given us. It was the largest and best Christmas tree we had ever had.

    Tevukas, finally thawed and warmed, sat, weary but contented, down on his waiting chair. Grandmother, though still scolding him, smiled as she brought him his Kucios meal.

    Gifts would be few that evening, but our hearts were glad. Beloved Tevukas was safe and home with us on Christmas Eve.

    The chair no longer sat empty.

    —Albert C. Cizauskas

    Now, at Kūčios, I keep an empty chair for Albert, my father.


    Mike McCarthy, long-time executive brewer for Cap City, departs.

    I thought it peculiar that the nation's capital's first operating brewpub since Prohibition was not present at the local brewery winter beer tasting at RFD last week. There was neither beer nor representative from Capitol City Brewing Company. Now, I know why.

    I can confirm, sadly, that Mike McCarthy —10 year-long brewer for Cap City, 8 years its executive brewer— has resigned his position, and, in his words, is "exploring other options." McCarthy began at Capitol City in 2002, and became executive brewer in 2004. Under his stewardship, the brewpub won numerous awards. The outdoor Oktoberfest celebration he would organize annually grew to become the area's largest.

    The Brewer with the Golden Boots

    When Capitol City opened its doors in 1992, it was the first brewery to operate (even if a brewpub) in the city since 1956. Martin Virga, now with Gunpowder Falls Brewing in Pennsylvania was the first brewer, brewing at the original location on 11th and H St., NW. That location is still open, but no longer brewing. (Several of the original fermenting tanks are in use now at Vintage 50 in Leesburg, Virginia).

    Cap City throws a party!

    Under Bill Madden —who succeeded Virga and would be executive brewer for over 9 years (and is now president/brewmaster of Mad Fox Brewing)— Capitol City would open three more locations: one in the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, one in the National Post Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and one in Baltimore, Maryland, at the Inner Harbor. The last two would eventually be closed. The Shirlington location remains open; McCarthy oversaw a major expansion of its production size.

    I stopped into the pub on Sunday for a pint and a growler. The pint was a cask-conditioned ESB: brilliant in clarity, firm in malt, with an earthy nose and finish. Delicious.

    Cask ESB @Cap City

    The growler was filled with a newly-released German-style Pilsner, which I'll serve with Christmas Eve dinner. Both beers would have been two of the last brewed under McCarthy's supervision.


    Saturday, December 22, 2012

    Pic(k) of the Week: Don't tell Mrs.Claus!

    Don't tell Mrs. Claus!

    Don't tell Mrs. Claus!

    Adjusting Santa's hat was Kristi Mathews Griner, brewster for Vintage 50, a brewpub in Leesburg, Virginia.

    Santa Claus was Bob Tupper, host of the Winter Holidaze Extravaganzee. Brewers from sixteen breweries in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia brought their winter seasonal beers, and talked about them.

    Held on 19 December 2012, at RFD, in Washington, D.C., the evening was the 25th annual occurrence of this winter beer tasting. For many years prior, the venue had been the Brickskeller; it was sold in 2010.

  • More photos from the tasting: here.
  • Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as a subject. Commercial use requires explicit permission,as per Creative Commons.

  • Monday, December 17, 2012

    Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 48/49/50, 2012

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

    Weeks 48/49/50
    25 November - 15 December 2012

    • 2012.12.13
      7,500-year old evidence of cheese-making found in Poland. Via Reuters.

    • 2012.12.13
      N. Joseph Woodland, the creator of the barcode, has died at age 91. Via AP.

    • 2012.12.12
      Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar dies at 92. Via Minnesota Public Radio.

      Hop bines @Legend (02)
    • 2012.12.12
      New study finds that humulone found in beer (from hops) can prevent the common cold. Amount needed? 30 'standard' beers. Via Yahoo News.

    • 2012.12.12
      Pete Brown, author of "Shakeseare's Local," wins U.K. Beer Writer of the Year ... for the second time.

    • 2012.12.07
      Seventy-one years ago today: the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. "A date which will live in infamy." Via Wikipedia.

    • 2012.12.05
      Jazz legend Dave Brubeck dies one day before turning 92. Via Minnesota Public Radio.

    • 2012.12.05
      It was 79 years ago today that the 18th Amendment -Prohibition- was repealed by passage of the 21st. Via Wikipedia.

    • 2012.12.05
      France proposes 160% increase on beer excise taxes. Via New York Times.

    • 2012.12.03
      "The cultural character of a place." An appeal to UNESCO to grant London’s pubs world heritage status. Via The Drinks Business.

      Cloudy cask!
    • 2012.12.03
      An ex-pat British brewer in the U.S. argues against cloudy cask-conditioned beer. Via Pratt Street Ale House.

    • 2012.12.03
      Archaeologists discover remains of 3,500 year-old malt kiln and brewery in Cyprus. Via Belfast Telegraph.

    • 2012.11.29
      New study says eating meat —and cooking meals— were evolutionary advantages for human brain development. Via Washington Post.

    • 2012.11.27
      Burgundy's 2012 harvest very small; prices expected to spike. Via NPR News.

    • 2012.11.27
      Burgundy's 2012 harvest very small; prices expected to spike. Via NPR News.

    • 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.

    Saturday, December 15, 2012

    Pic(k) of the Week: Love in the Time of Garlic Fries

    Love in the time of garlic?

    Food truck romance?

    As captured at the grand opening of ...
    Center of the Universe Brewing
    Ashland, Virginia.
    17 November 2012.

    Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as a subject. Commercial use requires explicit permission,as per Creative Commons.

    Saturday, December 08, 2012

    Pic(k) of the Week: Life is Good (with beer and cigar)

    Life is good

    "I'm a single-malt man," he told me but, even so, life was looking pretty darn good for this gentleman, wearing his tartan colors. On a warm, sunny, Friday after Thanksgiving late afternoon, he was enjoying a stogie and a beer.

    On the beer patio at World of Beer, Arlington (Ballston), Virginia, USA. 23 November 2012.

  • 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.
  • Commercial reproduction requires explicit permission, as per Creative Commons. For non-commercial purposes, no permission is required (but kindly link back).
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the beers of Abita Brewing (of Louisiana).

  • Thursday, December 06, 2012

    Church-bells & brewers

    It was always the church-bells. A city filled with them.

    My parents were in the U.S. Foreign Service. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, they were stationed in Bonn, the capital of the then West Germany. From our family's two-floor apartment, a field away from the Rhine River, I could hear the pealing of many church-bells.

    It was the pealing of those bells on St. Nicholas Day morning that especially appealed to a young boy's anticipation. St. Nicholas (Nikolaos of Myra 270 A.D. – 6 December 343) is the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox Christian patron saint of brewsters and brewers. And the predecessor to the modern Santa Claus.

    Happy St. Nicholas Day! (01)

    Every 6 December morning, those bells meant ... chocolates! Chocolates that St. Nicholas had stuffed in the wooden shoes we had placed out the night before, to welcome him to our house. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that, upon a few occasions, St. Nicholas filled my shoe with lumps of coal, for purported bad behavior.

    Today, in honor of St. Nicholas, why not thank a brewer for their beers (or a confectioner for their chocolates)? But NOT with a lump of coal!


    Digitally transferred from an out-of-print German record album of the early 1960s. That record was played often during the Christmas season in the Cizauskas household. The scratches can attest to that.

    Wednesday, December 05, 2012

    Drinking, again. Mad casks and hops.

    Beer reviews

    Mad Fox Brewing Company is conducting an interesting crowd-sourced IPA recipe project, using cask ales.

    Defender is this Falls Church, Virginia, brewpub's house pale ale, brewed with English Pale malt, German Vienna malt, and the American hop variety, Columbus, for bittering, flavor and aroma.

    Columbus is one of a triad of hops —Columbus, Tomahawk, and Zeus— commonly referred to as "CTZ." Each may actually be the same hop, or similar genetically, but each has its own proprietary names, and each was bred to be a bittering hop, containing a high percentage of alpha acids (~12-14%). But 'craft' breweries, such as Mad Fox, like to break the 'rules.' Many are using CTZ hops for bittering and aroma, the latter imparting a pronounced alliaceous character.

    Mad project (01)

    Brewer Charlie Buettner racked Defender into 6 different firkins, carbonating the beer --naturally, with live yeast-- within those 10.8-gallon casks. Then, in a process called dry-hopping, he added hops to each. In a neat twist, he placed a different hop variety into each firkin. Buettner asked customers at the brewpub to taste samplers of all six and offer comments. He will brew an IPA next year, hopped with their choices.

    Mad project (02)

    My rankings, least preferred to most, were:
    • Topaz (dank, harsh, tasting/smelling of wet dirt and graphite)
    • Stella (a cardboardy/geranium aroma/flavor)
    • Motueta (meh)
    • Wakatu (very limey; the closest of the 6 hops to the typical American grapefruity aroma)
    • Crystal (lemony; softly spicy)
    • Helga (brightly floral and spicy)
    Mad Advocate (02)

    But, hey, what do I know? Mad Fox customers felt differently than I. Buettner tabulated the customer comments, and reported this:
    For the cask-hopped APA event, we dry-hopped six APA casks each with a different emerging hop and asked for your comments and rankings. We've been looking at comment cards since yesterday and (so far) Topaz and Mouteka are neck and neck with Stella in a close 3rd. Thanks for helping Mad Fox decide on the hops we will use for an IPA next year.

    De gustibus non disputandum!

    • In the photo above, look closely at the party behind brewer Buettner. It's the Alstrom brothers, creators of the crowd-sourced beer-review website and magazine BeerAdvocate.
    • Drinking, Again is a series of occasional reviews of beer (and wine and spirits). No scores; only descriptions. Graphic created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

    Monday, December 03, 2012

    Allagash at Lyon Hall

    Tap 'takeovers' seem to be all the rage these days: at one bar, as many beers as possible, from one brewery, on as many taps as possible. Sometimes too many is too many ... how many beers can one actually drink —responsibly— in one session? But it's fun, and, if small portion samples are provided, one can survey a brewery's breadth and depth.

    The 'Keep' at Lyon Hall

    Lyon Hall is a brasserie-styled restaurant in the 'hot' Clarendon district of Arlington, Virginia. Allagash Brewing is a Belgian-beer-inspired brewery in Portland, Maine. The two will team up for a tasting of four draft beers —a mini-tap takeover, if you will— on Wednesday, 5 December.

    The 5th of December (1933) is an important date in the history of U.S. good fermentables. Here's how Lyon Hall put it, on its Facebook page:
    Repeal Prohibition Day
    Almost 80 years ago, Americans wised up and realized that we can't live without booze, thus repealing the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So on Wednesday December 5th , we celebrate with a bounty of sweet, delicious beer! Join us at the bar for a special tapping of 4 unique Beers from American craft brewery Allagash! On tap for the evening will be Confluence, Smoke and Beards, Curieux, and Bourbon Black. Take home a glass, enjoy a special Allagash Beer Flight, and revel in the fact that none of us ever lived during Prohibition!

    There is no entrance fee. Simply pay as you go. The 'official' tappings commence at 5 pm. Lyon Hall's bar manager, David McGregor, is the official host. Suzanne Woods, the local representative from Allagash Brewing, is the official guest.

    Allagash Brewing
    • Bourbon Black
      A Belgian style stout brewed with 2-row barley, roasted torrified wheat and roasted oats, chocolate malt, and a generous portion of dark caramelized candi sugar. The silky mouth feel is a great balance to the roasted character, coffee and dark chocolate notes expressed throughout. Then ...aged in aged in Jim Beam Bourbon barrels. 7.5% abv.

    • Confluence
      Dry Hopped Golden Ale created with a mixed fermentation; utilizing our house primary Belgian style yeast in combination with our proprietary Brettanomyces strain. The two yeast strains work in tandem creating a marriage between spice and fruit flavors that ultimately leave a lingering silky mouth feel. Confluence is brewed with a blend of both imported pilsner and domestic pale malts as well as a portion of caramel malt, resulting in a complex malty profile. Tettnang and East Kent Golding hops are added in the brew process to balance the intricate malty profile while adding a sweet and spicy citrus aroma. After fermentation, Confluence undergoes a lengthy aging process in stainless steel tanks to enhance the flavors. Dry hopped with Glacier hops, providing a pleasant balance of aromas. 7.5% abv.

    • Curieux
      The brewery's first foray into barrel aging. Curieux is made by aging its Tripel Ale in Jim Beam bourbon barrels for eight weeks in cold cellars. The aged beer is then blended back with a portion of fresh Tripel. The resulting beer deep golden, soft with coconut and vanilla notes, with hints of bourbon. 11% abv.

    • Smoke and Beards
      A 'collaboration' brew with Belgian brewery De Molen, Smoke and Beards is a smoked Tripel ale, brewed with a blend of 2-row and smoked malts, and then lightly hopped with Northern Brewer, Hallertau,and saaz hops. The beer is hazy and light golden in appearance, with an aroma of light smoke and spice. The flavor is smokey, with hints of dried fruit. The body, medium; the finish, dry. Menno Olivier, owner of Brouwerij De Molen, has a habit of naming beers with paired words. After meeting a few of the Allagash brewers, he knew he wanted one of the words for this beer's name to be "beards." 9.2% abv.
    Celebrating Repeal Day

  • UPDATE: Photos from the tasting: here.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the beers of Allagash.

  • Sunday, December 02, 2012

    Drinking, again. This is a story of a Pale Ale (31).

    Beer reviews

    This is a story of a 'small' cask-conditioned ale that traveled 2,766 miles, from a brewery in Paso Robles, California, to a bar in Baltimore, Maryland.

    This is a story of Pale 31 Ale: 4.8% alcohol-by-volume and 38 International Bittering Units; sparkling and bright; pungent and refreshing; full-flavored and sessionable.

    It's a tale of the brewing chops of this man —Matt Brynildson of Firestone-Walker Brewery— and the publican skills of this man —Casey Hard of Max's Taphouse.

    Here's the story. I was sitting at Max's, as the bartender pulled a pint of Pale 31 from a cask.

    Cask Pale 31

    I looked. The ale was bright, although unfiltered; it was carbonated, although naturally, with a lacy head of foam.

    I sipped. It was fresh —amazingly fresh, considering how far it had come— redolent of piney hops, and tasting of biscuity malts and those hops. There was no shredded wood bark there, no Madagascar single-rhizome ginger (no offense to that island nation), no civet-extruded coffee beans, no hermetic cellaring at Funk & Wagnalls. There was nothing but the 4 beer verities: water, malt, yeast, and hops. It was cask-fresh. It was all it needed to be.

    I sipped again, and again, until I had reached ... The End.

  • Pronounce Paso Robles: "pasoh ROH buhls," not "pasoh ROH blays."
  • More about the process and practice of cask-conditioned real ale: here.
  • Drinking, Again is a series of occasional reviews of beer (and wine and spirits). No scores; only descriptions. Graphic created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

  • Saturday, December 01, 2012

    Pic(k) of the Week: South Baltimore Canvas

    South Baltimore canvas (02)

    Long-time residents call it South Baltimore; newcomers, Federal Hill. Regardless, artist and art-gallery owner Crystal Moll was enjoying a warm autumn morning on South Charles Street, painting the street view.

    Baltimore, Maryland.
    10 November 2012.

  • See what Ms. Moll saw: here.
  • 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. Commercial reproduction requires explicit permission, as per Creative Commons. For non-commercial purposes, no permission is required (but kindly link back).

  • A Victory, with Stilton

    NaBloPoMo 2012The month of November was —for three thousand, three hundred, and thirty-eight of us— National Blog Posting Month: NaBloPoMo, for short. The idea was to write and post one blog entry per day.

    I managed to complete the month, but only just. Writing 30 short-form pieces in 30 days, of content of worth, of length greater than a Tweet or photo caption, posted relatively on schedule, while holding down a real job, proved downright difficult. The exercise only increased my astonishment that 'real' writers who write for a living —and write much, much longer pieces— do so under (multiple) deadline demands.

    Tonight, for this 30th post, I celebrated (and toasted writers everywhere). I opened a bottle of Victory Brewing Storm King and unwrapped a chunk of Stilton cheese.

    Victory and Stilton

    First released by Victory Brewing (of Pennsylvania) well over a decade ago, Storm King is a very dark beer, and quite strong (9.1% alcohol-by-volume) and roasty. The brewery calls it an Imperial Stout, but with the its aromatic slug of resiny and piney hops, Storm King out-muscles parvenu Black IPAs at their own game. (In the 1990s, there had been no such Black IPA style designation.)

    Stilton, described.

    Stilton, a British blue cheese, has a stinky-foot aroma (in a good, non-Rex Ryan way) and a buttery, salty flavor. As I did, eat the cheese while drinking a strong dark beer like an imperial stout. In a pas de deux of flavors, the beer's roastiness will soften the cheese's blue mold, which, in its turn, will calm the beer's roastiness.

    Thirty posts written, I'm sipping from a glass of Storm King, and nibbling on crumbles of Stilton. That's a victory. Until next year, NaBloPoMo; until next year.

    By cheese law, Stilton (or, at least, cheese called Stilton) can only come from the three English counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. Cheese made in the town of Stilton, ironically, cannot be designated as Stilton.