Thursday, April 25, 2013

vessels and containers

The business of beer is also the business of packaging and delivery.  After Budweiser (AB In Bev) announced their latest gimmick can, and Sam Adams introduced their special craft improving can, and Dogfish Head in collaboration with other breweries developed the IPA glass, a friend of mine asked me about containers and glassware.

I seem to recall discussing this in a past post, but after a few years and a few hundred posts now, I can't seem to find where I had discussed it before, and therefore am in high danger of contradicting myself.  I am okay with this, but if you peruse my blog in reverse and find my comments on this topic in 2008 or 09 or10, I would like to revisit my thoughts.

As I recall, at the time, I felt that glassware is a matter of personal preference.  I am not sure what I felt my favorite glass was at the time, but I think I had a couple of German beer (pilsener and alt?)glasses that I got at an after GABF party at Rock Bottom that I liked.  Both being promotional glassware, broke in the dishwasher over time.  I also owned a couple of Sam Adam's lager glasses, and were thoroughly unimpressed...also they broke in the dishwasher.  My favorite "regular" glasses recently were ones I purchased from Great Divide and Wit's End...they were thin walled glasses, and suffered eventual death by dishwasher also.  The Wit's End glass died last week, exactly 1 week after I got to tell Scott Witsoe (owner, Wit's End) that I still had it (from when he opened) and it was my favorite....he also mentioned that he couldn't get that glass (or it was backordered).

The glass that I seem to use the most, and also hate the most, is the standard straight sided "shaker" or American Pint.  You know this glass.  Most bars love using this glass.  It holds exactly 16 ounces of liquid, stacks without breaking, costs less than a dollar a glass to replace, and takes a hell of a beating before it breaks.  It isn't even a beer glass, per se.  It is called a shaker because it is for mixed drinks.  It fits and seals into a mixer (see Tom Cruise in Cocktail...he's still a dick).  But the real reason bar owners love the glass for beer is best exemplified by a couple simple experiments.

Fill the shaker glass to within 1 inch of its top to simulate a decent craft beer with a 1 inch head on it.  Then pour it into a measuring cup.  That 1 inch of foam represents 3-4 ounces of beer because of the shape of the glass.  You buy a pint, but get 12 ounces served.  Over a 1/2 barrel keg (15.5 gallons), you get 41 extra "pints" short serving your patrons.  $41 pints at $5 a pint is over $200 per half barrel keg, or $160 at $4 per "pint".

This doesn't fly in Europe.  You will see European Glasses with the 375 ml line or 0.5 L line for proper beer measure.  This is by law.

Here in America, buyer beware. It isn't that I care so much, as I almost never need to drink more beer, but it is what you end up paying for a beer.

So, does glassware matter.  I used to say no....but I have not done any blind taste tests.  There was a premium glass maker that did a demonstration at one of our local brewing supply shops for $40, you got to sample 3 beers in their different glasses as intended for their styles (compared to shakers) and at the end got to keep their glasses.  I got permission to attend from my wife, but was too late to sign up, so for me, the jury is out.

I know my brother and I like to drink big beers out of fluted goblets, and I have an awesome English pint glass from Sierra Nevada (from the rare beer tasting in 2009), and some nice smaller glassware for tasting, and enjoying lesser amounts.

When it comes to cans.  I can't get on the bus.  I don't like drinking from a can, and when I buy a six pack, it is 90% or more from 12 ounce bottles....only if I need cans or if I can't get a beer that I want to drink in 12 ounce  bottles do I buy cans, bombers, or 375ml or 750ml sized beers.  I can't recall buying craft beer in a can....ever....but, I don't go to picnics, concerts, or elsewhere where a can can be consumed and a bottle can't.  I am more likely to fill my stainless steel growler with something (local or home brewed) before I buy a can.

This is even though cans are better vessels to store beer (think very small kegs) away from light, they are light weight (ecological to ship and carry), and can be 100% recycled.  I am a can bigot.  I do reuse my minus the recycle argument....but still.

So, it is still a personal preference....but I do think it actually matters.  Glassware focuses the attributes of the beer, and makes it look or feel more appealing (like high heels on the fairer sex)....the shaker glass is horrible for everything except the seller, but if it makes you comfortable, it is the right glass for you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What the fuck are you talking about?

A little fun from us beer Geeks to you non-geeks.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Filling in the Map

Over the weekend, I had the chance to speak to a gentleman that was opening up a brewery in my neighborhood.  He is occupying an old Denver Fire Department location on 38th Avenue a few blocks west of Quebec in the Park Hill Neighborhood.

I have always coveted this building, as fire houses are cool, and breweries installed in old fire houses are even cooler.....unfortunately, they won't be making use of the copius amounts of vertical space (or the fire pole) in this location.

This article appeared this week regarding a brewery to open in old Aurora with plenty of incentives.

These two sites were two of my three targeted areas for my own brewery (back when I had no job, and was seriously considering it) in early 2010.  These two sites fill out a large gap in the map of Denver Breweries that just happened to be close to my house.

I will look forward to trying them out.  And will watch their progress with a high amount of interest.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Reflecting on beer judging

After 3 days and 4 sessions of judging at the 1st round of the National Home Brew Competition, I spent the better part of yesterday and today reflecting upon the experience.

Here are my random thoughts.

1. Tasting beer is the only way to get better at tasting beer.  I critically evaluated about 40 beers in three days, and each time I checked my comments with a beer professional or a national ranked judge (BJCP).  What I found was that for 3 of the 4 sessions, I actually did pretty good, and then I got a ball breaker of a national judge, and a difficult style that I don't have a ton of experience with (Bocks, including Maibock, Tradtional Bock, Doppelbock, and Eisbock).  I haven't drunk a lot of them, and never made one....but nearing the end, I was improving.

2. Judging beer is the most difficult drinking you will ever do.  I started on Saturday morning at 9am after two previous nights of judging from 6-9pm.  I did not feel like drinking beer anymore.

3.  There is a lot of crappy beer being made by homebrewers (and new professional brewers, too).  The average score for all beers is probably 28 out of 50.  I believe that is because that judges are too kind.  The minimum score for any "beer" (one that is undrinkable) is 12 or 13.  If homebrewers are submitting their best beers to the NHC, there is a crap-ton of bad beer still being made.

4. I actually submitted two beers that I thought weren't very good (certainly not champions), just for feedback.  This is not a competition to get good feedback, however, but I proved that people aren't putting their best beers forward (all of the time).

5. Most judges are doing the best they can under the less than ideal circumstances, but some are truly assholes.  I have been observing judging at NHC for three years now....most of the comments are honest and you can bank on them, some are crazy (even from "experienced" judges).  There is no way to tell the difference, however, so assume that if two judges said the beer was bad, don't delude yourself, it is bad.

My most interesting observation was when a pair of judges that I was sitting with had a bad (infected) beer, they asked the steward to bring the second bottle (if a beer is being considered for best of show the second bottle is used, if the first bottle is infected, the second bottle is evaluated in the standard judging), and the second bottle had a host of different issues than the first (both were as bad as bad can be).  I joked that they should evaluate both, and send a bill for an additional entry fee.

6.  I am not sure how I feel about judging isn't fun, but the people are great.  If I pass the BJCP exam, I will be happy (to have passed by never studying and never ever actually judging a beer in my life under any circumstances), and I will likely judge 1 or 2 competitions a year (I would like to try one that isn't the Nationals), if I don't, I am not certain I will pursue it....I will have to decide at some near term about this....I like knowing and learning, and don't have another good venue for growth...but judging beers sort of sucks, and the exam sucks even worse.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Holding my own on third day of NHC

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, April 19, 2013

One of the Coolest Things Ever...

So, I found myself sitting at a table across from the head brewer and founder at Blue Moon Brewing Company (perhaps you've heard of it?), and we are tasting and discussing the merits of some homebrewed Porters in front of us.  This was an unusual and unexpected treat for me.

I volunteered as a judge at the first night of the 1st round Mountain Regional National Homebrew Competition last night and was paired with a more experienced judge to work on the Porter entries.  That experienced judge just happened to be Keith Villa.  He is the originator of the recipe for Blue Moon Belgian Wit, and can be credited for bringing the Belgian Wit Style to the American masses.  If that wasn't enough, he has a quite impressive resume in earning his PhD from the University of Brussells earning many awards for his beers, and regularly judges beers at the GABF, World Beer Cup, and Japan Craft Beer festival.  He's been brewing professionally since the early 90's and a homebrewer since the mid eighties.  He looks about 35.

I felt extremely foolish judging and talking about the beers before us, but Keith was very kind and extremely patient with me.  It is like being asked to judge a local blues guitar competition and being paired with Eric Clapton or someone similar.  I learned more than a few things last night from him, and will be a better judge as a result.  My first judging experience couldn't have been better.

I am volunteering tonight and all day tomorrow for this competition.  If I get paired with as nice as and as knowledgeable people as Keith, I will be a lucky guy.  At any rate, it will be informative and interesting....but it won't be easy.  There were more than a few mediocre or worse beers, and very few excellent ones last night.

When I think about a long and distinguished career such as Keith's, I wonder what could have been if someone told me when I was young that it was even possible to brew your own beer, or have a profession in brewing.  I am certain that school counselors were prevented by law from making this suggestion to someone like me.  I grew up after the Brewery on Gratiot (Stroh's. Detroit, Michigan) was already gone, but I always had a fascination.  I don't know how long Detroit went without having any breweries.  Maybe a decade?  It wasn't a highly sought after profession in my neck of the woods, but even still....I am saddened by the thought as I sit in my beige cubicle.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Re: Learning to Like Pilsener

After discovering craft beer 20 years ago, I have often said that I am not much of a lager person.  After discovering American Craft Beers (mostly ales), and then exploring the English style ales, I have been describing myself as a "Malt Guy".  It has taken a full decade to learn about first Belgian styles and then turn my attention back to lagers.  I am still not much of a lager guy, but I do love my malty Oktoberfests, Bocks, and Helles.

German Pilsner has been ruined by my formative years drinking American Style Pilseners (or light lagers as described by the Beer Judge Certification Program).  When I look at a Pilsener, my mind thinks of the watered down American I have a rude shock to taste a more aggressive hop profile and that sulfury lager yeast taste/aroma.

I have had to teach myself to like them again....I used to like the mass produced German varieties (think Becks, or Heinekin) as a precursor to craft beer.  Now that local breweries are making them, I am finding that they are a nice alternative on a beautiful spring day.  They certainly are easy drinking, and very beautiful in a nice Pilsner Glass.