Sunday, October 31, 2010

Something I Have Never Done Before!

I finally broke down and bought my first growler of beer.  It sounds funny, but I had never bought beer in that quantity before.  For the uninitiated, a growler is a 1/2 gallon, or 4 pints, or 64 oz.  The term is said to come from back in the days where it was common to purchase beer from your local bar in a bucket.  The beer's carbonation in the metal bucket would make a growling sound....I don't know if I buy that or not, but whatever.

I like the idea of buying in reusable containers from your local beer maker, the same way you might buy sausage from a local butcher, or bread from the local bakery, or take your reusable grocery bag to your local grocer, but I do have some complaint and it is some of the reason that I never bought one before.  A growler of beer costs between $10 and $15 (depending on the type of beer), and the original purchase of the glass container is $4-5 more.  That is 64 oz. for $10, or 6.4oz per dollar.  I can buy a six pack of most 12 oz. craft beers for about $10, or 7.2oz. per dollar, and the containers are always free.  Furthermore, a growler lasts only a few days, where packaged beer is good at least for weeks if not months when kept in the fridge.  Sure, at bar prices the same 4 pints of beer could be upwards of $12-$20, so buying in growlers only makes sense for the breweries that don't package their beer....otherwise, it just doesn't pencil.

This leads me to why it was that I bought a growler in the first place.  I bought a growler of Dry Dock's Pumpkin Ale, because I couldn't get it for home any other way, and we decided not to make our own this year.

Interestingly, I have tasted three or four pumpkin ales this year, and none of them tasted to me quite right....I think that the light amber ale that most breweries infuse pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices into is the problem.  The beer is clear, crisp, and dry.  I think the brewers are thinking that they want a light, neutral, or balanced beer so that it doesn't get in the way of the essence of the pumpkin.  They tend to use yeasts that don't impart flavor and attenuate really well.  I think this philosophy is off the mark.  I think of the essence of pumpkin, and pumpkin is actually the doesn't impart that much flavor, so to capture the essence you need to focus on the color, the spices, and the texture of the pumpkin pie.

Color.  It would seem obvious that orange is the color of pumpkin, the official color of Autumn....but as I look at the pumpkin pie, the good home made ones are darker, almost brown on top.  But no one is going after the Pumpkin Brown Ale.  I might just be waxing poetic like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

Spices.  It seems obvious, but the difficult thing about spices for commercial breweries is that the character changes over time.  I think that breweries are trying to get there pumpkin ales out before halloween, but really they will be better (and unfortunately long sold out) by Thanksgiving.

Texture.  This is where I believe that most Pumpkin Ales miss the mark.  A pumpkin pie is thick and creamy, never thin and runny.  I think that the pumpkin ale needs to be mashed at a high temperature to leave as many unfermentable sugars as possible, leaving behind a thick beer worthy of the pumpkin and spice.  Coupled with a yeast that accentuates malt, yet ferments out cleanly, a pumpkin ale starts seeming like a lower alcohol version of a Christmas beer.

Perhaps the issue is that fresh pumpkins start showing up in late September.  If you need to get your pumpkin ale out by October 31st, you need to have things ready to go when the pumpkins come in.  If I could just save the pumpkin ales I had tried this year another 4 weeks, perhaps they would have turned for the better.  I think that age would be the biggest factor, but the beers are so popular that they are usually sold out before Halloween.  Too bad.

Happy Halloween Folks!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A New Project, and You Can Help

I have often recently been asked my opinion as to what makes a decent brewery or brewpub. I have yet to give a good answer. The reason that I am indecipherably incoherent (other than that the question more oft than not comes after we have had a few beers) is that it is in my opinion, the definition of quality in brewing establishments is both subjective and has so much more to do than a brewery’s beer quality. In fact, my opinion of good beer is also so subjective to the point that what is deemed world class quality I may think of as only average. Beer is in the eye of the beholder, and a good beer joint is too.

My opinions on beer quality have been bothering me as of late. All you have to do is read back on this blog to understand how I roll. I have been thinking that I am at the very least a pariah of current craft brewing trends, but more likely the village idiot or the guy with dementia holding the sign that reads “The End is Near!” I have convinced myself that I know very little, and should I open a brewery based on my view of good beer, I would fail miserably. And then I ran into a streak of people that without any prodding or influence from me, expressed similar opinions and tastes. Admittedly, all of the “people” were middle-aged, middle-class, educated white-guys (just like I think I am). I find that all of a sudden, I am not feeling like some skeptical, tea-party sympathizing, lunatic fringe outcast (of the beer world), but rather a delusional self-appointed mouthpiece populist of the Everyman Beer Snob middle ground; a different shade of crazy, to be sure.

So, I once again have started thinking that I will try to boil down (brewing pun intended) what I think makes a brewing establishment special. I think that what I will do is try to establish a number of different dimensions of the establishments I have visited and what makes them special to me. I will try to make this a multi-posting project (as otherwise this would be an extremely long post).

One thing that I am finding is that my memory is failing me. I used to travel throughout the Western United States fairly often. When I would, I would visit two or three brewing establishments in the course of each 1-2 day trip. I have visited so many breweries and brewpubs, that I can’t even remember them all, let alone what I liked or didn’t. So, I invite you to help me in this endeavor and try to make this more of an interactive exercise. Please feel free to respond with your favorite brewpubs and breweries, and why it is you like them. I can only use this information to semi-publically mock you. But really, I am trying to put my finger on what people with money to spend on beer like, and maybe, just maybe, someday I will go for it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Corona Burns

As if you needed a good reason not to drink skunky Corona Beer, a story came out on Reuters about a condition called 'Mexican Beer Dermatitis'.  Apparently, the lime juice reacts with the sun to give a nasty rash similar to the sting of a jellyfish.  The beer isn't really to blame, but does contribute as the spray from the carbonated lime laden beer readily gets on you.  I wonder if Bud Lime (a beer with the supposed Lime juice already infused) has the same issue?  Hell, it probably doesn't use real lime juice...

As they say....its all fun and games until someone puts an eye out.

Me, I am an ale man, myself.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Starbucks = Craft Beer?

There are interesting times, indeed.  What is old, new, what is new, old.  The world has gone on a rollercoaster ride, just to end up back on the platform two minutes or many years later, lately I can't tell which.

With the Dow Jones industrial cresting 11,000 last week, I noted that it was almost back to where it was when I lost my job two years ago.  But, really so much has changed.  I have recently read articles about Walmart and Target experimenting with small format stores (25,000 square feet instead of their typical 140,000-200,000).  McDonald's started buying decent beef (it still tastes like its bad and it is bad for you, however), and trying to compete with Starbucks, and now Starbucks is deciding to experiment with local beers and wines in their Seattle stores to increase evening traffic.

This sounds like a new idea, but really, Starbucks and the craft beer movement were started about the same time and by the same person.   Starbucks was co-founded by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker.  Gordon Bowker later founded Redhook Brewery in the late 70's, one of the nation's first new breweries dubbed "microbreweries" since the end of prohibition.  It seems fitting and interesting that Starbucks would delve into serving local beers and wines....I just hope that they don't decide to buy their own brand and instead focus on local products you may not have a chance to buy everywhere.  If they do this, there might be yet another surge in the local pico or nanobrewery evolution.  If they go with a brand, all hail the next King of Beers....not necessarily a good thing.

If Starbucks gets it right, it will localize their shops as a whole different hang out...otherwise they will just turn into another version of Applebee's.

Dear Starbucks.  Hire me to run or implement this program....or offer to sell my beer. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I think that we all can agree that there is so much more to life than beer.  I enjoy drinking beer, but it is always so much better with good friends.  I had my friend Kent hit town for an evening as he was passing through on his way to Vegas.  Actually, my brother and he were headed there so Kent stopped by to pick him up.  Dave came up from the Springs and my nephew came down from Fort Collins.

Due to life constraints and flight schedules we got a late start.  We wanted to hit a new brewery, Strange Brewing, but they close at 8:30pm.  We needed food first.  I respect a place that holds limited hours, and I will make it over to Strange (I have loose plans to get there in the next week with another friend), but we all hadn't eaten in all day.

We hit Wynkoop's instead.  For a quick review, food was average, pumpkin ale was on tap, but not great, my brother liked the smoked porter, and the ESB was well received by all.  Wynkoop's, for some reason, has always suffered from average food and beer, but the atmosphere is great.  We went down to the Denver Chop House and Brewery for a nightcap.  Again, two block walk, great atmosphere, good beer, great (awesome) service.  Actually, I think that the Chop House has great beer, I just wish I liked it more.  The Chop House focuses on some styles that aren't standards in the brewpub world.  They have a great Dormunder Lager, they make a decent Trippel, and a wonderful Dry Stout, and an Irish Red.  These are just not my favorite styles....other than that, these beers are great and a great atmosphere, and I loved our bartenders....we walked out of there having paid more in tips than beer (it was warranted).  I also love the brewery set up at The Chop House.  If I could choose to brew one of my beers at any location I have seen in Colorado (I have seen most of them), it would be here.

Why?  It feels right.  It is super clean.  You can show up on a Tuesday afternoon, and you will see the assistant brewer scrubbing the outside of some tank...everything gets cleaned regularly.  It is inside a historic train station.  It is haunted....and our beers would fit into the lineup as a diverse mix of beers you don't regularly get everywhere.  The brewery and beers seem to fit with my philosophy of cleanliness and intention in brewing.  Nothing that is over the top, everything is very drinkable.  It might be downtown Denver's best kept brewing secret.  Nobody talks about it when they talk about where to go when in Denver....which is too bad.

Given the chance, I would brew our Porter at that brewery.  It would fit in great, as it is so different from the Chop House's dry stout.  Our Porter is slightly sweet and malty, it would beef up the dark side of the Chop House's offerings.....and after all, what is a brewery located in a historic train station without an awesome Porter on tap. (Porter is named after train porters as it was their drink of choice).

I need to do a segment about what makes a great brewery or brewpub, and get isn't just the beer.