Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Guest post: Top 5 Draft Beer Mistakes

After twenty plus years in the beer business, I still see bartenders repeating the same mistakes of twenty years ago, when pouring draught beer. Ignorance of best draught practices —and, by that, I mean not knowing— is inexcusable when draught is your product. A chef knows to (and how to) change fryer oil; a bar manager must know to (and how to) clean his draught lines and how to pressure-balance his draught system.

My offers of demonstration are sometimes met with indifference or annoyance. "I know how to pour a beer," I'm told, as I see profligate quantities of foaming profit poured down a bar drain, or as I taste a beer obviously tainted by a dirty line. Or as I am presented with a beer with no head whatsoever.

"That's how it's supposed to be," I'm told. Well, no!

I don't often post guest blogs from commercial sources, but this might be an occasion to make an exception. Here, from from Micro Matic —"the industry leader in draft beer equipment and draft beer systems"— is a look at five simple practices that can dramatically improve your draught service.


Top 5 Draft Beer Mistakes

Few things compare to a glass of cold draft beer. However, as alluring as draft beer is, home and commercial bar equipment require care and expertise to make sure that they’re dispensing beer in ideal condition. Here are some of the top mistakes that people make with draft beer systems, and how to avoid them.

  1. Dirty beer lines
Not keeping beer lines clean is one of the biggest mistakes that beer system owners can make. Without regular cleaning, the lines that connect the keg to the tap can grow bacteria, mold, and yeast, all of which will affect the taste of the beer and make the drinking process less enjoyable. In addition, natural minerals found in the beer can leave deposits known as “beer stone” on the insides of the beer lines, in some cases actually blocking the flow of the beer. To ensure that your beer is flowing freely and without any extra bacteria or mold spores, clean your beer lines once every two weeks.

  1. Poorly regulated temperature
Another common mistake in draft beer systems is not paying attention to the temperature of the beer at all stages of its journey from the keg to the glass. Tape a thermometer strip to the keg and place another at the tap to be sure that your beer maintains a nice 38° the whole way. If you allow your beer to warm up, it will dislodge its carbonation and go flat quickly. If the temperature gets too cold, the beer’s carbonated bubbles will shrink, causing you to overfill the glasses and lose out on profits—not to mention causing your guests considerable distress when the carbonated bubbles resume their normal size inside of their stomachs.

Keg Rx
  1. Poorly regulated pressure
Along with temperature, pressure is another component vital for draft beer quality. Regardless of the gas you’re using (either pure CO2 or CO2 and nitrogen) to maintain pressure in your system, you’ll need a gas regulator for each tank, and you may need secondary regulators if you have different beers with different carbonation levels on tap. Just like temperature, pressure affects whether beer is over or under carbonated, and so storing beer at the appropriate pressure rating is key.

The PSIG* at the keg using mixed gas normally ranges from 20 to 25 PSIG for ales and lagers, and up to 30-40 PSIG for stouts. To acquire equilibrium with stouts, a 25% CO2 / 75% nitrogen mix is ideal, and for ales and lagers a 60% CO2 / 40% nitrogen ratio is required. Domestic lagers from large American breweries will require up to a 75% CO2/25% N2 ratio. For specific details on individual beers, contact the brewery or the distributor from which you got the keg.

  1. Dirty glasses
Beyond what happens within your beer system, you also need to think about how your beer turns out once it’s actually been poured. One of the biggest hidden culprits in making an otherwise perfect pint turn problematic is the cleanliness of the glassware. Ordinary dishwashing detergents can leave an oily film on the glass surface, which will affect the taste of the beer and flatten out the head. To solve this problem, use a cleaning solution specifically designed for bar glassware.

  1. Improper pouring
After all that work, the last thing you want to do is ruin your beer by pouring it badly. Many people try to pour beer like water, with poor results. To dispense beer properly, hold the glass at a 45 degree angle about an inch below the tap. Open the tap in one smooth motion, and when the glass is half full begin to straighten it to an upright position. Let the last of the beer fall straight into the center of the glass, then close the tap quickly and completely once the glass is full.

If you diligently avoid these five big mistakes, you’ll have great success with your draft beer system. By keeping the beer lines clean, appropriately maintaining temperature and pressure, using clean glassware, and pouring correctly, you’ll avoid some of the most common pitfalls in draft beer dispensing, and you’ll be rewarded with perfect glasses of brew.

—Diana Carlton is a writer for Micro Matic. "In bars, restaurants, and venues nationwide, Micro Matic commercial bar equipment and expertise brings patrons and beer lovers the highest quality draft beer. Micro Matic is also proud to conduct its Dispense Institute, where trainees learn to improve draft beer quality through education."

30 of 50 taps

  • The term 'PSIG' stands for "pound-force per square inch gauge." Consider PSIG as the practical equivalent of pressure per square inch, even though that wouldn't be altogether correct. If only straight CO2 is used, such as with a short run of line, 10-15 psig is usual. Micro Matic added a slight alteration to the text after the post was originally uploaded.
  • See an earlier post about the Draft Whisperer, a bar manager in Washington, D.C., who cares deeply about presenting draught beer in the best possible manner: here.
  • The Brewers Association has published an extremely useful —free— guide to draught maintenance. Download it: here.
  • Clean your pipes. A series of photos demonstrating one method of beer-line-cleaning: here.
  • Caveat lector: I received no remuneration from Micro Matic.
  • Monday, February 25, 2013

    Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 5/6, 2013.

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

    Weeks 5/6
    27 January 2013 - 9 February 2013

    • 2013.02.09
      Excise tax reduction urged for breweries producing fewer that six million barrels of beer per year. Via Brewers Association.

    • 2013.02.09
      Renowned jazz trumpeter Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II has died at age 80. Via Wikipedia.

      Jupiter's Legacy Cider Flute & Bottle (02)

    • 2013.02.09
      The National Cider Summit, in Chicago, Illinois.

    • 2013.02.06
      King Richard III has been discovered under a parking lot in Leicester, England, where he's been since 1485. Via Notions Capital.

    • 2013.02.06
      Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night ... but the budget. United States Postal Service to end Saturday mail service on 1 August 2013. Via CNN Money.

    • 2013.02.06
      The relative meaningless of stated high IBU ratings for many 'craft' beers. Via Washington Post Food.

      Super snacks & beer

    • 2013.02.03
      The gluttonous Super Bowl feast, by the numbers. Via The Week.

    • 2013.02.03
      "The appearance of competition without any real competition." Steven Pearlstein on Anheuser-Busch Inbev's push to buy Grupo Modelo, brewer of Corona, and on the monopolistic tendencies of the nation's largest brewers and wholesalers. Via Washington Post Business.

    • 2013.02.03
      Maryland's Governor, Martin O'Malley 'corrects' his bet of Maryland beer in wager over the outcome of Super Bowl with California Governor Jerry Brown. Via Brewers Association of Maryland.

    • 2013.02.02
      Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil leaves burrow, does NOT see shadow today, predicting early onset of warmer spring weather. Via The Examiner.

    • 2013.02.02
      He did well. Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City, has died at age 88. Via Yahoo News.

    • 2013.01.31
      Braver new world. For the first time, number of mobile Facebook users surpasses desktop Facebook users. Via CNN Tech.

      Sniffing hops

    • 2013.01.30
      For first time, researchers have determined the exact structure of the humulone molecules in hops; health benefits may follow. Via University of Washington.

    • 2013.01.29
      How large breweries restrict the placement of 'craft' beers in chain stores and supermarkets. Via Brewers Association.

    • 2013.01.28
      RateBeer releases its list of the best beers of 2013, as determined by its readers.

      keg toss 2
    • 2013.01.28
      'Craft' breweries lose over $5 million a year due to keg losses. The Brewers Association launches a program to help.

  • 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. Most are brief, and many are re-posts from
  • The Clamps and Gaskets graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

  • Saturday, February 23, 2013

    Pic(k) of the week: Storm fronts receding and advancing

    Storm front (2)

    A storm front recedes at dusk. Photo taken on 24 October 2009, at Bull Run Regional Park, in Manassas, Virginia, during the Northern Virginia Brewfest. Camera: Canon PowerShot SD980 IS.


    Chantilly front

    In late afternoon, a cold front, moving rapidly west-to-east, chases away a warm, sun-filled winter day. Photo taken on 15 February 2013, in Chantilly, Virginia. Camera: Olympus E-PL1.

  • 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.

  • Friday, February 22, 2013

    The Draft Whisperer

    I don't normally re-direct here at the blog; I reserve that for Twitter. I'll make an exception today.

    DC-Beer —a blog and website on things beer in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area— published a story yesterday entitled "Meet the Draft Whisperer: Jack Rose's Nahem Simon." It's a piece by the site's editor Bill DeBaun on Nahem Simon.

    Beginning a few years ago, Mr. Simon made his mark upon the D.C. 'craft' beer scene by maintaining the draught and cask lines for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group —parent to Rustico, Churchkey, and several other locations. Now, he runs the beer lines at two Washington, D.C. restaurants: Jack Rose and Bourbon D.C.

    Nahem opens the Bran Riserva (02)

    Read the piece. It's a good essay on what a bar owner or manager should think about when he or she serves draught beer. There's a lot more to serving draught than simply opening a tap. There's maintenance and knowledge of product. Don't get me started on ignorance. Mr. Simon is much more diplomatic.
    Having seen so many badly maintained systems, he feels a responsibility to the consumer. “So many times you have people having the idea that 'draft beer will be better,' but it is often not true because you have employees dipping faucets [into beer], not pouring properly, not cleaning couplers properly,” he points out. “Beer is food, and everything should be maintained to the highest standard of hygiene that you'd treat food with.” It's also out of a sense of duty to folks on the production side of things.

    Keg room at Ale House (02)

    “The retailer is responsible for the packaging [of the beer]. It's a disservice, and I would think rude and irresponsible and careless, to just not hear about the hard work that all these owners and brewers are putting into their product. Ultimately, if someone comes in and gets X beer and it's a flagship beer, and it tastes completely off, that one experience can keep people from trying so many other products. If that product should taste completely different, it can affect a brewery's perceptions in the long run. So many breweries that have to compete with macros, it's up to us to take care of things.”

    After you've read the piece, resolve to serve better draught beer, if you're a bar owner, or to expect better draught beer, if you're a beer drinker. Start by reading this manual from the Brewers Association.

  • Look for some guest posts here soon, at YFGF, on best (and worst) practices for draught beer service. The author will probably spell it "draft".
  • Here, something similar from YFGF: Clean your pipes.
  • WAMU —a Washington, D.C. NPR station— recently interviewed Bill Thomas, co-owner of Jack Rose and Bourbon. Read the transcript: here.
  • On a personal note, Simon, an artist and friend, designed the logo for Yours For Good Fermentables.

  • Monday, February 18, 2013

    Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 3/4, 2013.

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

    Weeks 3/4
    13 January 2013 - 26 January 2013

    • 2013.01.26
      'Craft' beer sales in the United States have doubled in past six years. Food and drink research firm, Mintel, predicts a tripling by 2017.

    • 2013.01.25
      Kim Jordan —CEO of New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, Colorado— announced as keynote speaker for 2013 Craft Brewers Conference, in Washington, D.C. Via Brewers Association.

    • 2013.01.24
      The Brewers Association releases An Introspective Audio History of the Brewers Association by 2012 Board of Directors and Staff.

    • 2013.01.24
      Beer was first released in cans —tin cans— today in 1935, in Richmond, Virginia. Via YFGF.

    • 2013.01.24
      Overall beer shipments were down in the United States in 2011 by 2.4% in 2011, while 'craft' beer sales were up by 12%. Via Los Angeles Times.

      New Albion, now

    • 2013.01.23
      "How beautifully simple." Boston Beer Company's modern recreation of New Albion, the first 'craft' beer produced in the United States, 1977-1983. Video via Boston Beer.

    • 2013.01.22
      Beer wholesalers, nationwide, generate more than $20 billion in taxes, add $54 billion to the GDP, and directly employ 130,000 people. Via Washington Business Journal.

    • 2013.01.21
      What the Constitution states (and doesn't) about Presidential inaugurations. Via.

    • 2013.01.20
      Legendary Washington, D.C. eatery, Ben's Chili Bowl, making 1,000 gallons of chili for President Barack Obama's 2nd inauguration. That and other statistics concerning the inauguration, via Huffington Post.

    • 2013.01.19
      Baseball Hall of Famer Stan 'the Man' Musial, played for St. Louis Cardinals, dies at age 92. Via Sports Illustrated.

    • 2013.01.19
      Baseball Hall of Fame manager, Earl Weaver of the Baltimore Orioles, dies, at age 82. Via ABCNews 7.

    • 2013.01.19
      Frosted glassware not the best choice for 'craft' beer, says Brewers Association. Video.

      Pat's Budweiser truck

    • 2013.01.16
      The U.K. Supreme Court awards trademark rights to the "Budweiser' name to both global corporation Anheuser-Busch InBev and Czech brewery Budějovický Budvar. Via RealBeer.

    • 2013.01.16
      Japan has the largest number of whisky distilleries after Scotland and the United States. Exporting single malts to the United States. Via Serious Eats.

    • 2013.01.15
      New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, Colorado announces that it is 100% employee-owned. Via MarketWire.

    • 2013.01.15
      More small breweries in United States turning to mobile canning operations. Richmond Biz Sense reports on a Virginia operation.

    • 2013.01.15
      The science of beer color: carmelization vs. Meillard reactions. Via PopSci.

    • 2013.01.13
      The 20 most influential beers of all time? List via The Zythophile.

    • 2013.01.13
      Advance screening for "Beer Hunter: The Movie" announced for Washington, D.C., for 27 March 2013.

    • 2013.01.13
      The Boston Great Molasses Flood occurred today in 1919. Twenty-one died. Via BellaOnline.

    • 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, February 16, 2013

    Pic(k) of the Week: Stylish beer bottling

    The Raven, bottling in style (02)

    Decked in plaid, Wade Gowl, salesman for Peabody Heights Brewery, assists during the brewery's first bottling run of The Raven Special Lager, on Friday, 8 February 2013. Was he setting a new standard for bottling couture?

    Long a contract brew, The Raven Special Lager will henceforth be produced by its owner, Stephen Demczuk, at his own, newly opened, brewery, Peabody Heights. Located in the Waverly/Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, Peabody Heights is that city's newest production brewery.

  • More photos of the brewery: here.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the beers of Baltimore-Washington Beer Works (Peabody Heights).
  • 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.

  • Saturday, February 09, 2013

    Pic(k) of the Week: Hop-back hop joy

    Hopback hop joy

    A beautiful sight (and a wonderfully aromatic one for the photographer): One hundred pounds pounds of whole-leaf hops sit in the hop-back at Heavy Seas Brewing (of Baltimore, Maryland), adding aromatics and flavor to its Loose Cannon Hop3 IPA.

    What is a hop-back? According to The Oxford Companion to Beer:
    [A] hop back is a straining vessel used in traditional brewhouses to separate leaf hops boiled in the kettle before the wort [unfermented beer] is cooled prior to fermentation. <...> Boiled wort is run into the hop back and after a short settling period a filter bed of hops is formed on the false bottom. The hot wort is then drained through the filter bed of hops before cooling. The hop bed also traps trub (coagulated protein), which is produced during the boil. The wort run off from the vessel should be clear, as the hops act as a good filter material.

    The article notes that modern breweries, by and large, have eliminated the use of hop-backs to clarify wort, replacing them with more efficient kettle whirlpools. At the same time, however, many 'craft' breweries have re-installed hop-backs, not to clarify wort, but to add fruity hop aromatics, a character different than that of boiled hops or of 'dry-hops' added after fermentation.

    To learn more about that, I talked with Joseph Marunowksi, the Director of Brewing Operations at Heavy Seas.
    The hop-back is a wonderful item which takes advantage of some very simple principles.

    When hops are added to the kettle during boil, there are compounds in the hops that are altered by the high heat to fix bitterness into the wort. This happens to different degrees based on the amount of time spent in the boil. Essential oils, however, tend to be boiled off because of their volatility.

    The hop-back gently brews the hop flowers in much the same way that a fine cup of tea is made. You don't want boiling water necessarily because it may add astringency to the tea.
    [For a similar reason,] we wash hot wort over the hop flowers to collect these essential flavor components, and then immediately crash cool the wort in our heat exchanger to prevent the loss of those aromatics. By this method, we achieve our second "level" of hop character. It's what separates Loose Cannon Hop3 IPA from other, simply bitter, IPAs.


    We use a proprietary blend of precious and difficult to obtain American hops to infuse our brew with a fresh, herbal and spicy goodness. We use almost a pound of hops per barrel in this fashion for a grand total of three pounds of hops per barrel, added in three ways (in the brew kettle, the hop-back, and our 'hop cannon' dry-hopping in ruh storage). You just cannot get that flavor in any other way.

  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the beers of Heavy Seas.
  • The topmost photo was taken during a tour of the brewery, with an Olympus E-PL1. See the rest of the photo-set: here. The second photo was taken, several moons earlier, with a camera phone.
  • 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 reproduction requires explicit permission, as per Creative Commons.

  • Friday, February 08, 2013

    Not small beer: Excise tax reduction urged for small breweries

    Small Brewer Federal Excise Tax Bill Reintroduced in Congress

    Boulder, CO • February 7, 2013—With the 113th Congress underway, the Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade group representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies—announced the reintroduction of H.R. 494, the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (Small BREW Act) in the House of Representatives. The bipartisan legislation, which was reintroduced by Representatives Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), seeks to re-calibrate the federal beer excise tax that small brewers pay on every barrel of beer they produce.

    Under current federal law, brewers making less than 2 million barrels annually pay $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels they brew, and $18 per barrel on every barrel thereafter. The Small BREW Act would create a new rate structure that reflects the evolution of the craft brewing industry. The rate for the smallest brewers and brewpubs would be $3.50 on the first 60,000 barrels. For production between 60,001 and 2 million barrels the rate would be $16.00 per barrel. Any brewer that exceeds 2 million barrels (about 1 percent of the U.S. beer market) would begin paying the full $18 rate. Breweries with an annual production of 6 million barrels or less would qualify for these tax rates.

    Farmhouse Brewery

    "Small brewers are small business owners and this bipartisan legislation would allow them to remain competitive, protect existing jobs and create new employment opportunities in communities throughout Pennsylvania and the country,” said Congressman Jim Gerlach, co-chairman of the House Small Brewers Caucus. “More than 100 small and craft brewers in Pennsylvania provide jobs, produce world-class products and are active community partners. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House on passing this legislation and providing a boost to all small brewers."

    "I have been a consistent and enthusiastic supporter of America's craft brewers for many years. These innovative small businesses employ thousands of people across the country. They are independent entrepreneurs who are passionate about the product they make. In western Massachusetts alone, there are scores of proprietors creating great brews with locally produced ingredients,” said Congressman Richard E. Neal. “As a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will help the growing small brewing industry."

    “There are few industries with more size disparity than the American beer business. There are 2,500 small breweries who together account for only six percent of the U.S. beer business,” said Rob Martin, president, Ipswich Ale Brewery and Massachusetts Brewers Guild. “Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal understands the struggles craft brewers face because of this, and he has championed our effort to help level the playing field a little by supporting an equitable federal excise tax bill. He is keenly aware that craft brewers are looking to grow their small businesses and will create thousands of good jobs across the country if this legislation passes. As president of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, I know I speak for all small brewers when I applaud Congressman Neal’s effort.”

    Nationally, small and independent brewers employ over 100,000 full- and part-time employees and generate more than $3 billion in wages and benefits and pay more than $2.3 billion in business, personal and consumption taxes.

    “Craft brewing has revitalized a once proud American industry with compelling products and, more importantly, stable, fulfilling jobs,” said Bill Covaleski, brewmaster and president, Victory Brewing Company, and president, Brewers of Pennsylvania. “This legislative initiative recognizes the investments already made by America's new brewing entrepreneurs, and promises to help further innovation and product diversity.”

    Consumer demand for the bold and innovative beers brewed by America's small brewers has grown significantly in recent years. However, because of differences in economies of scale, small brewers have higher costs for production, raw materials, packaging and market entry compared to larger, well-established multi-national competitors. Furthermore, efforts to increase state taxes for all brewers continue to threaten jobs and their economic stability.

    Samuel Adams Brewery in Cincinnati

    Adjusting the tax rate would provide small brewers with an additional $60 million per year that would be used to support significant long-term investments in tanks and other equipment and create jobs by growing their businesses on a regional or national scale. Congress has not re-calibrated the excise tax on small brewers since 1976. At that time, there were about 30 small brewers. Today, there are over 2,000.

    “America’s small brewers are part of a vibrant, growing industry, and really are Main Street manufacturers,” added Bob Pease, chief operating officer, Brewers Association. “The Small BREW Act will help America’s small brewers invest in and grow their businesses—an important part of economic re-invigoration. We look forward to working with the new Congress on the passage of this legislation, which will have a positive impact on agricultural, manufacturing, hospitality and distribution jobs for the future.”

    —Read original press release: here.

    Note that this a re-introduction of the bill. Over several years, in similar form, the SMALL Brew Act has failed to receive full House approval. Considering the current debt and deficit reduction attention of Congress, I would worry that it will face a struggle to pass again this year. Write your Congress-person.

    The Brewers Association, a non-profit trade association, represents the majority of brewing companies (which it estimates at 2,126 this year) in the United States. Those breweries, together, however, account for only 5.7% of beer sold annually in the U.S. by volume, and 9.1% by dollars (2011 figures).

    The Association defines a craft brewery, i.e., small, as: Producing 6 million barrels of beer or less per year, with less than 25% of the brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer, and whose flagship beer is all malt, or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor. Thus a 'craft' brewery can be as small as a so-called nano-brewery producing a few hundred barrels of beer a year or as large as Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams, producing in excess of 2 million barrels of beer a year. The BA excludes breweries such as Yuengling from the category because, although independent and family-owned, it brews with a surfeit of adjuncts, specifically corn. Read more here.

    Sunday, February 03, 2013

    Super Bowl XLVII: a baseball & cask ale wager

    The following is a two-sport beer story.

    Today is the day for the Super Bowl (the 47th such annual spectacle). In New Orleans, Louisiana, the Baltimore (Maryland) Ravens will play the San Francisco (California) 49ers, for the championship of the National Football League. Yours For Good Fermentables, of course, picks the Ravens to win.

    Once the game is over, however, it's only two weeks until baseball spring training. And, in all of baseball, there may be only two teams that serve cask-conditioned beers at their games. One is the Orioles. The other is the Giants. The Orioles' home park, Camden Yards, is in Baltimore. The Giants play in AT&T Park, in San Francisco. You can see where I'm going with this.

    It was only last year, that Flying Dog Brewing (of Frederick, Maryland) arranged to serve cask ales at every Friday home game at Camden Yards. It was a small campaign ... but a very successful one for the brewery.

    At AT&T Park, however, cask ale is served for every home game. In fact, the Public House, a restaurant at the ballpark, serves cask ale nearly every day, game or not, year-round, in and out of season.

    San Francisco ballpark cask ales!
    James Beard award-winning chef Traci des Jardins opened Public House at At&T Park in 2010. Befitting its surroundings, it's a 'gastro-pub,' yet with locally-sourced ingredients. The man who runs the cask program for her is Greg Stone. In the restaurant business for over twenty years, he's a trained wine sommelier. But, now he's definitely caught the beer bug.

    Stone oversees 22 taps and 2 casks. He keeps the casks in their own cooler, set at the 'traditional cellar' temperature of 48 °F. He serves from the casks via hand pumps, called beer engines (to the left in the photo). The casks, unlike kegs, are open to air once they've been tapped; to prevent spoilage or the beers going flat, Stone serves them within 48-36 hours.

    A lot of Stone's cask training was hands-on at Magnolia Brewery. In fact, the San Francisco brewery makes a 5% alcohol-by-volume for Public House, called Billy Sunday Bitter. But even so, Stone said, cask ale is a small percentage of craft beer available. It can be difficult to find enough cask ale to keep his beer engines flowing, so he's purchased four firkins (10.8 gallon casks) for the pub, which he sends to breweries to fill.

    Stone told me that he sells no big brewery beer. If folks do ask for a 'mainsteam' beer, he'll offer alternatives. For example, if they ask for Blue Moon (a spiced wheat beer) from Coors, he'll ask, why not try Allagash White, instead? And, as if the uniqueness of serving cask ale in a ballpark weren't enough, Stone stocks his cellar with a reserve list of 'craft' beer in 22-ounce and 750-ml bottles. And, oh yes, he has a wine list.

    Public House Bar Area (02)

    It sounded as if a road trip would be in order. But, first things first. San Francisco might win the battle of the casks. But, now it was's the time to defend the honor of Baltimore.

    Mixing two sports, I offered Mr. Stone a friendly wager. If (when) the football Ravens win the Super Bowl, he'll buy me a pint of cask ale the next time I happen to be in San Francisco for a (baseball) Giants game. If (it won't happen) the (football) 49ers win tonight's game, I'll buy him a pint of cask-conditioned Flying Dog beer the next time he's at Camden Yards for a Friday (baseball) Orioles' game.

    To make it more interesting, he and I have upped the ante. I'm throwing in a case of Baltimore beer: Heavy Seas Brewing's Siren Noire Imperial Chocolate Stout, a beer not sold in California. Stone has matched that with a promise of beers from Sonoma County's Russian River.

    I look forward to drinking those, Mr. Stone!

    Ravens win!

    UPDATE: Ravens win! 34-31.

  • CORRECTION. I edited my original piece, after Greg alerted me in an email that Public House has never carried Blue Moon (and will never).
  • See more photos of Public House at AT&T Park: here.
  • Read another profile of Public House, its cask program, and Greg Stone, via Market Watch of the Wall Street Journal: here.
  • Read more about the cask ale program at Camden Yards: here.
  • See the (corrected) Super Bowl beer bet between the governors of California and Maryland: here.
  • Read more about what cask ale is, at Cask Ale USA.
  • Saturday, February 02, 2013

    Pic(k) of the Week: A brewster & her mill

    A brewster & her mill

    In December 2000, my stepdaughter seemed quite pleased with the second-hand malt mill that I had just purchased for Sisson's Restaurant & Brewery.

    Over a decade earlier, in 1989, Sisson's (then in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland) had made beer history when it became the first brewpub to operate in the state of Maryland. Its then brewer and co-owner, Hugh Sisson, is now better known as the founder and president of the Heavy Seas Brewing Company, of Baltimore, Maryland.

    Beer history footnote: The mill was sold to Sisson's by John Mallett, who upon leaving northern Virginia's Old Dominion Brewing Company, ran his own brewery consultation company, called SAAZ. Mallett is now better known as the Director of Operations for Bell's Brewing, of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

    Sisson's no longer exists. Dominion has been sold and moved to Delaware. That young lady above is now a teenager. Life goes on.

  • The word "brewster" refers to a female brewer (or would that be the word "brewer" refers to a male brewster?), except that it hadn't always. More from the Zythophile.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the beers of Heavy Seas.
  • 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.

  • Friday, February 01, 2013

    Drinking, again! HopSlam hype?

    Beer reviews

    It's become a January 'craft beer' ritual in the Washington, D.C., area. Bells Brewing of Michigan ships its 'double IPA' HopSlam to the area, in limited quantities. In a frenzy, craft beer geeks scrounge for it. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook become agog with sightings of case displays, that are depleted quickly, sometimes within hours. This year, prices have ranged from $19.99 to some reported as high as $40 per 6-pack at some stores in Washington, D.C.

    Here's how the brewery describes HopSlam:
    Starting with six different hop varietals added to the brew kettle & culminating with a massive dry-hop addition of Simcoe hops, Bell's Hopslam Ale possesses the most complex hopping schedule in the Bell's repertoire. A generous malt bill and a solid dollop of Michigan honey provide just enough body to keep the balance in check, for a remarkably drinkable DIPA. 10% abv

    Concurrent with the excitement of some is the grumbling of others. "Hype Slam," they gripe, isn't all that good. One of their arguments is not the taste of the beer itself, but disdain for the quantity of excitement over the beer. I'll dismiss that out of hand. That's snark without gustation, evidence without relevance. Hyped or not, what brewer wouldn't want such acclaim for her or his beer?

    But, then, there's hesitation over the retail price of HopSlam. As there should be. The malt bill and the hop bill do incur a much higher production cost. Even with Bell's large size relative to 'craft' breweries, it's a small size relative to the mega breweries. Bell's doesn't have the economies of scale to rein in those expenses. Regardless that there are other beers more expensive, HopSlam, at $19.99 a six-pack, does not come cheap.

    And, then there's what I call the reverse Christmas tree effect.

    When I was young, my father would annually declare that that year's family tree was the best we had ever found, better than the one the year before, which itself was better than the prior year's, and, so forth. Reduction ad absurdum, but my, what a decrepit Charlie Brown-ish tree that first family tree, before I joined the family, must have been.

    This year, as in the past, I read reviews and hear snipes that HopSlam isn't the same as it has been. It isn't as hoppy, or it just isn't as it was the year before, it's said. Ignoring the fact that hops are a crop whose flavors and aromas are subject to the whims of weather and other growing conditions, one must marvel at the amazing memory palates needed to discern a difference between a beer now from one then. And, back to that reverse Christmas tree effect: if each year's HopSlam were indeed a mere strutting shadow of the year's prior, what an amazing elixir that original HopSlam must have been.

    Let's return to the issue of price. Let's stipulate to the increased production costs and diminished profit margins of the beer for the brewery. Let's ignore any retail price gouging, a practice, I''d be certain, the brewery would vehemently discourage. Then, let me ask you this. Would you travel a great distance to see a work of art? Would the cost incurred diminish the experience? Now, I'm not saying that HopSlam is or isn't 'liquid' art, but at what level would its price diminish the experience of drinking it? That's the $19.99 question.

    Annual beer geek grail

    John Mallet is the Director of Operations at Bell's. Many Northern Virginia fans of Bells beers may not know of their close degree of separation with Mr. Mallett. For several years during the 1990s, he was the brewmaster for Dominion Brewing, helping, in no small measure, to put that Ashburn, Virginia, brewery on the fastrack to regional importance, before it lost that, and was sold. Mallet's own description of his beer captures the HopSlam experience, in one succinct, hilarious, sentence:
    It smells like your cat ate your weed and then pissed in the Christmas tree.

    HopSlam —this year— is hoppy, piney, grapefuity, catty, malty, rich, sharp, exuberant. I can only have one bottle at a sitting —it's 10% alcohol, for goodness sake; it's twenty dollars for a 6-pack, for wallet's sake— but, oh what fun those 12 ounces are. Is it worth the price? Drink one, if you can find it.

    • 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.