Home brewing in Connecticut Discussions - CT Beer Trail

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fermentation Friday: Dec 2008 - Yeast

I've been out of town for nearly 4 months for military training. During that time I only had limited Internet connectivity. This inconsistent connectivity, coupled with November's poor showing for Fermentation Friday, ended up with me not hosting December's installment of Fermentation Friday. I was ready and rearing to go, but I get it... I was more or less off the grid, and Adam needed to do what he needed to do, so no worries... (You're dead to me! Just kidding!)

So, this month's topic is yeast. Yeast make beer better by farting in the wort... It's true! My only real experience with yeast, other than the dry yeast re-hydration from the various home brew kits I've used, had not so great results...

I tried a smack pack on one batch, and something went terribly terribly wrong... That was the batch I lovingly refer to as the disastrous brew. From the original post...

My second batch of beer was a complete failure. I think I had some handicapped yeast this time. The recipe kit I used (I brain dumped what brand it was, so don't ask...) came with a "slap pack" of yeast. You slap the pack and the yeast activates. You know you're good to go when the packet bloats up. But something may have gone wrong with the yeast. The amount of bubbles produced in the airlock was dismal, but it may have been an issue of sanitation, or something else.

I also used some liquid yeast, you know the type that comes in a vial, in my Oktoberfest inspired Ale, AKA "Franken-Beer"... Also a not so great brew...

By the way, I never posted the photos and update from the night we used the Tap-A-Brew kit for the Franken-Beer... I'll dig that stuff up and post them...

Long story short, I've had NO LUCK with better yeast... The lower quality the yeast, the better the beer for me... Clearly, I still have a lot to learn...

At any rate, this wasn't a great post, but... It was the YEAST I could do...

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dogfish Head Alehouse

Jesse and I high tailed it to Dogfish Head Alehouse after missing the Flyingdog tour.

So many choices, so little time...

After we departed Flyingdog last week, we swung over to Dogfish Head brew pub for some chow and a couple more craft brews. We hit the Gaithersburg location.

A nice place, think wood grain, dim yet warm lighting, good beer and good food...

Here's what the guys from Dogfish Head have to say over at their site...

Here you'll find many of the favorite features that folks have enjoyed at the original Rehoboth, Delaware Brewpub for more than ten years; comfortable, casual surroundings and service, tasty and unique wood grilled food and, of course, the craft-brewed Dogfish ales! Don't forget to check out our newest Alehouse in Falls Church, Virginia.

When you visit, first check our beer chalkboard, it'll tell you what we have on tap. We usually have a great selection of the year-round beers, and we get all of the seasonal and special release beers - you can certainly quench your thirst for Dogfish here! And keep in mind - any choice you make travels only two hours from the brew vats in Milton, Delaware to our beer taps in Gaithersburg.

Wings and a sampler, can't go wrong...

We split a plate of extra crispy, hot all drum, buffalo wings. (They left 2 wings under the pile of drums, but I guess you can't win them all...) I also decided to get a sampler and took some notes via twitter on each of the samples. Here's what I twittered:

Have cell phone, will twitter...
  • 60 Min IPA: great session IPA, citrusy hop finish... 5:59 PM
  • 90 Min IPA: decadent, velvety, rich malty and hoppy... sip this puppy, 9 % ABV 6:04 PM
  • Indian Brown Ale: Brown Ale meets IPA... Awesome hybrid, something for the hop head and malt head alike... 6:12 PM
  • Shelter Pale Ale: OK, peanut finish... Good with some pan-Asian food or maybe PB&J? 5:56 PM
  • Chicory Stout: coffee & licorice... Don't love it but well built none the less... 6:17 PM
From your left to your right, Chicory Stout, Shelter Pale Ale, 60 Min IP, 90 Min IPA, Indian Brown Ale, Shelter Pale Ale, and one cool dude... (note: cool dude is way in the background...)

I had a really good bacon cheeseburger and rounded the night off with a pint of 60 minute IPA, all good. Jesse had a Lawnmower Light, which he said was a, "...great beer for a hot day of mowing lawns, go figure..." He paired that with a portabella mushroom burger, which he thought was pretty good as well.

Regarding the local DC/Baltimore area brewpub scene... So far, Dogfish Head and Rock Bottom in Bethesda are my favorite area brew pubs... Du Claws is pretty good too, but I was not overly impressed with Capital City or Gordon Biersch. In fairness to Capital City and Gordon Biersch, we hit those places after walking across DC in the cold rain. I was just underwhelmed by their customer service.

We really enjoyed Dogfish Head Alhouse and may try to squeeze in a trip to see the "the brew vats in Milton, Delaware" before we leave the area if time permits. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Flyingdog tasting room (missed the tour)

Road trip!

A friend and I took the hour ride out (from where we currently stay for work) to Flyingdog in Fredrick Maryland to catch a tour. On our way their it started to rain heavily, and apparently Maryland drivers can't hack it. With slow moving traffic, and marginal GPS directions, we got there a little late. And although they let us sign up for a tour, that tour never took place.

Jesse was kind enough to drive...

That's OK though, we still managed to hang out for a couple of hours, try some tasty brews and spoke with Adam, one of the guys who gives the tours. When Adam found out we were military guys, he was very cool and invited us back urging us to bring some more of the troops with us. He even said no charge next time. Here's how it works...

Enjoying a pint and glad to be out of the rain...

Jesse raises his pint in good cheer

When you get to Flyingdog you dish out $5 and you get a company logo emblazoned pint glass for sampling and for a keepsake. Unlike some breweries, there are no tokens to exchange for beer, nor are there any limits to the amount of samples you can enjoy. (Within reason I'm sure...)

Flyingdog and Wild Goose brews on tap...

The tasting room offers the full array of Flyingdog Ales available as well as the beers from Wild Goose.

A large crowd kicking back and enjoy friendly conversation over a few good brews

The crowd was larger than I've seen at other breweries, and for the most part, they were younger and perhaps a bit more trendy. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of "middle aged folks" that bellied up to the bar too. They also had an outdoor patio, which remained popular for the smokers despite the rain.

Our GPS didn't get is all the way there, but we knew we were good when we saw the logo

The tasting room is large with one side festooned with framed prints of Ralph Steadman's beer label artwork, and the other side consisting of large nearly floor to cieling windows.

Nice place, great beer, good time...

Beers of note from the tasting were as follows:
  • Snake Dog IPA - An overall solid IPA...
  • In-Heat Wheat Hefeweizen - Interesting aroma/flavor. Jesse decided it smelled/tasted a little bit like BBQ sauce. And now that he mentioned it, I think I agree. How odd... Probably the banna and clove translated into something else in our minds.
  • Double Dog Double Pale Ale - Good but not for the faint of heart. Hoppy...
Found these youtube clips, which may give us a better idea of what we missed on the tour. Although, these were shot at their old brewery in Colorado...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Clipper City Brewery Tour

Clipper City is a big supporter of wounded war vets,
so Hugh Sisson and I toasted to that fact after the tour.

Continuing with my Baltimore/DC area beer adventure, a friend and I drove out to Clipper City Brewery last weekend to catch a tour. I was amazed that the man himself, Hugh Sisson, was on hand to guide us through the inner workings of his production facility. Apparently Sisson handles most of the tours there.

My buddy Jesse decided to join me and experienced his first brewery tour.

For $5, you get a commemorative logo pint glass and 5 tokens to exchange for 5 samples from either the Clipper City, Oxford Organic Ales or Heavy Seas product lines. I spent my tokens on the various Heavy Seas beers available from the tasting room that day. Unlike some breweries, you're encouraged to top off your glass and bring it along on the tour with you. What could be better than enjoying a tasty brew, straight from the tap, while walking through the facility it was just freshly made in, during an up close and personal tour from the head of the brewery? Honestly, how cool is that?!?

Hugh Sisson and I chat with some of the other guests after the tour.

Sisson shows us how the brewery works.

Sisson did an excellent job educating his audience, not just about his own beers, but also about craft beer in general. He ran us through the brewing process, providing a great tutorial suitable for the seasoned brewery tourist and brewery-virgin alike. Covering a multitude of topics, Sisson stressed the importance of quality ingredients, beer styles and food pairing, proper pouring methods and the dangers of drinking straight from the bottle. He also explained the concepts of balanced beer, fireplace beer, organic beer, and beer economics.

Sisson hands out hops and gives us the skinny on their contribution to flavor and aroma.

After the tour, Sisson mixed and mingled with his guests in the tasting room, enjoying a beer and friendly conversation, often talking one-on-one with us. Over all, it was very educational, down to earth and fun. Hugh Sisson successfully created an association between his "Joe the Brewer" persona (my words, not his) and the tasty beers he provides.

Bottom line, Sisson sells his beer by selling himself.

Good times!

I was a big fan of the Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, hoppy but smooth, simply a great beer! Sisson showed us how Loose Cannon is hopped in the kettle, again in the hop back, and then finally dry hopped, hence the Hop3 name...

They also had their seasonal brew, Winter Storm on tap. This is also a great beer you really need to try. Sisson was quick to note this beer was the World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner for the "International Pale Ale" category. While he bragged that this beer is the worlds best International Pale Ale, he also (jokingly) admitted he had no idea what an International Pale Ale really was. Apparently the style is unique to this competition.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DuClaw & Ram's Head Tavern

Its only my first weekend in Maryland, and I've already visited three places on my list Friday night, after a particularly lame ice breaker after work, I convinced a few folks from my my class to head out to DuClaw for some local brews and happy hour chow.

We were lucky we got to DuClaws during happy hour as the beers were only $2.50! I enjoyed a few Hellrazor IPAs along with a plate of Buffalo wings and a bacon cheeseburger.

Some words from DuClaw regarding Hellrazor...

From the first sip this American-style India Pale Ale gets in your face with an unruly hop bitterness, big floral flavors and aroma, and just enough malt character to keep you from giving in and acting up.

Hellrazor is an American-Style Pale Ale, light amber in color, mostly clear with a slight haze. A nicely hopped beer, with a solid enough malt backbone to maintain balance. I really enjoyed this one, and you might too.

The wings and burger were typical Friday night bar food, not bad, but not great, just standard. That being said, DuClaws is a solid local brewpub chain with quality beer and fair happy hour prices. Worse case senario, a great place to end a dull trip to the mall...

Our waitress at DuClaws was top notch! She even gave me a little local intel on where we should go next. Based on her recommendation, after a short but confusing drive, I was able to check off another stop on my list and visit Ram's Head Tavern in Savage, Maryland.

Ram's Head Tavern

Ram's Head calls an old mill its home. A very cool looking location!

An old mill lives a second life as Ram's Head Tavern. Ram's Head has a little something for everyone, featuring a huge back deck with built in heaters for outside dining, a quiet bar inside for drinks and friendly conversation, and a more lively bar down stairs with music, darts and pool.

Downstairs provides a fun location to cut loose...

They have a fair selection beer, with some of their own local Fordham brews on tap. Ram's Head, with its multiple locations, is owned by the same company that runs the Fordham Brewery. I took this opportunity to enjoy a Fordham Helles Lager and a Fordham Tavern Ale right off the tap.

Some words from Fordham regarding the Helles Lager...

This Bavarian style lager is brewed with four different German grains to produce a deep golden color and intricate flavor profile. Three hop varieties are used to help craft the subtle bitterness. The result is a clean and refreshing lager we know you'll enjoy. Voted "Best Local Lager" by Baltimore Magazine.

Some words from Fordham regarding the Tavern Ale...

This American Style Pale Ale has an ample amount of malt flavor to compliment its strong hop profile. It's cold conditioned on fresh whole leaf Cascade hops, creating an enjoyable citrus-like aroma.

Both brews were pretty good, although I did not have the time to take notes on them for a more formal review. I'll save the more in depth analysis for next time. You should give them a try if you get the chance... I hope to visit their brewery at some point during my Maryland adventure.

Next post, Clipper City Brewery Tour and a conversation with Hugh Sisson!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Beer Review: Wild Goose IPA

Having some issues downloading images from my camera on the road...

My busy training schedule, here in Maryland, has not allowed me to venture out to one of the local breweries or brew pubs just yet. While I eagerly await the weekend, I decided to get a headstart and picked up a six-pack of Wild Goose IPA, brewed locally by the same folks that make FlyingDog Ales right here in Marland. I hope to visit Wild Goose and FlyingDog at some point during my stay in Marland... In the mean time, here's my review of their IPA...

Wild Goose IPA
Served: From a pint glass
Location: In my "hotel" room

Style: English IPA

First brewed in England and exported for the British troops in India during the late 1700s. To withstand the voyage, IPA's were basically tweaked Pale Ales that were, in comparison, much more malty, boasted a higher alcohol content and were well-hopped, as hops are a natural preservative. Historians believe that an IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savor the beer at full strength. The English IPA has a lower alcohol due to taxation over the decades. The leaner the brew the less amount of malt there is and less need for a strong hop presence which would easily put the brew out of balance. Some brewers have tried to recreate the original IPA with strengths close to 8-9% abv.

Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 4.0-6.5%

(In this case
6.0% abv)

Some words from Wild Goose

Wild Goose IPA is an award-winning English-style IPA with a nice bubbling carbonation, fluffy white head and light coppery hue. Goose IPA is medium-bodied with biscuit-like toasted maltcharacter and spicy, earthy and grassy hop notes that finish dry. Nothing is better than a Wild Goose IPA paired with a plate of Maryland crabs. Also goes great with smoked Gouda, sausage, and sharp dressings. Spice cake pairs for a wonderful dessert.

Mmmm That pairing suggestion has my mouth watering. I'll need to scarf down some local crabs with one of these babies before I return home...

1. Appearance -
Pale amber-gold, with merely a hint of a slight haze. Moderate, yet creamy head that diminishes rapidly, with some lacing.

2. Smell - I can detect the hops, and a hint of malt. (A note on smell - I have a very limited sense of smell, that comes and goes, so my opinions on beer smells should be taken with a grain of salt...)

3. Taste - Not extremely hoppy when compared to other IPAs. Very approachable and balanced with a creamy smooth, buttery biscuit-like malt backbone. Rounded off with a nearly tart citrus finish. Hints of tea and salt...

4. Mouthfeel - Medium to light bodied. Smooth yet pleasantly carbonated.

5. Drinkability - Not my favorite IPA, but certainly a tasty beer. Hoppy enough to please me, but maybe not sufficient to satisfy some of the extreme hop-heads out there. This leans closer to the balanced IPAs that I enjoy, not over powering, but balanced and pleasant.

Drinkability Scale from 1-10: 7 (Not awesome, but certainly enjoyable.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Beer Review: Stampede Light Plus

The good folks from Stampede Light were kind enough to send me a six-pack of their beer for my reviewing purposes. Sadly they did not send me Jessica...

That being said, I couldn't think of a better beer (light in calories and created with physical fitness in mind) for me to review tonight after finally getting myself back into the gym. And hey, if Jessica Simpson drinks it, how bad could it be?

What follows is my honest review of their product.

Stampede Light Plus
Served: From a pint glass
Location: In my "hotel" room

Style: Light Lager

The Light Lager is generally a lighter version of a breweries premium lager, some are lower in alcohol but all are lower in calories and carbohydrates compared to other beers. Typically a high amount of cereal adjuncts like rice or corn are used to help lighten the beer as much as possible. Very low in malt flavor with a light and dry body. The hop character is low and should only balance with no signs of flavor or aroma. European versions are about half the alcohol (2.5-3.5% abv) as their regular beer yet show more flavor (some use 100% malt) then the American counterparts. For the most part this style has the least amount of flavor than any other style of beer.

To judge this beer fairly, I would run your opinion against the style. This beer certainly fits the bill for a Light Lager. So the light flavor and aroma should not come as a surprise. That being said, it's hard for most of us to separate our disdain for a particular style from our views on a specific beer.

1. Appearance -
It's yellow, nearly colorless, crystal clear, light head, some lacing, but dissipates rapidly.

2. Smell - Slight aroma, grain perhaps? (A note on smell - I have a very limited sense of smell, that comes and goes, so my opinions on beer smells should be taken with a grain of salt...)

3. Taste - Crisp and refreshing, but not a lot of flavor here; something to drink with some very spicy wings to cleanse your pallet perhaps, but not something to select for it's complexity or flavor. On second thought, it reminds me a little of Sapporro; not a great beer, but something I always get with my sushi. So this maybe a domestic alternative to drink with your next spicy tuna roll. The beer doesn't taste bad, but it doesn't really grab my taste buds either. Slight sweetness, no hops, nothing much to note here.

4. Mouthfeel - Very thin, watery, with a only a hint of a bite from the carbonation in the end.

5. Drinkability - Not a great beer, but not offensive either. When stacked up against other Light Lagers it's not bad. I'd pick this over Bud Lite any day, but is that the endorsement you'd be looking for if you brewed this beer? It lacks character, but it is refreshing and true to style. I think this might be a good beer to inhale after an afternoon of lawn mowing on a hot Summer day. In my case a good beer to review after a visit to the gym. But that's probably it... Reminds me of the "good old days" of happy hour wings and cheap pitchers of Busch...

Drinkability Scale from 1-10: 5 (Sure you could drink it, but there's nothing that calls out to me. Then again, I could probably stand to cut my carbs... If this beer is a 5 Bud Lite is a 3... Just saying...)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Maryland / DC Beer Culture Here I Come...

I arrived in Maryland (right between Baltimore and DC) last night, and boy are my arms tired. I'm here on business, but I plan to make the best of my off duty time, and I already have a google map of some of the places I hope to visit while here. Check it out! Please let me know if you have any other suggestions.

View Larger Map

I'm tentatively planning on hitting Clipper City's tour this weekend... Anyone else in the area feel like grabbing a beer and checking out the tour?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sampede Light Plus Review Coming Soon!

Jordan Rawls, the Brand Manager for Stampede Brewing Co. was kind enough to send me a six-pack of Sampede Light Plus for my sampling and reviewing purposes. That's the beer that Jessica Simpson is the spokes-woman for...

"Yes, I work out and take care of myself, but I also like a cold beer once in a while," said Simpson.

I originally contacted the folks at Stampede in the hopes of getting Jessica to come out and promote the beer and the charity event I'm helping with. Sadly the box only had the beer, no Jessica. Just as well, there were no air holes in the box any way.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Beer Review: "Store brand" Metolius Beers !!!!!

Hopefully you read my little post on "store brand generic beers" and were curious about how the Metolius Golden Stone Amber Ale and the Metolius Dolly Varden Indian Pale Ale stacked up. If not, I encourage you to go back and read it, and then check out these reviews...

Beer: Metolius Golden Stone Amber Ale
Served: From a pint glass
Location: My back deck

Some words from Metolius: Stonefly at sunset, perfect fishing, Stonefly Metolius, the perfect amber. Brewed with a toasted amber malt for a round, malty and robust flavor.

Style: American Amber / Red Ale

Style Description from our friends at BeerAdvocate.com: Primarily a catch all for any beer less than a Dark Ale in color, ranging from amber (duh) to deep red hues. This style of beer tends to focus on the malts, but hop character can range from low to high. Expect a balanced beer, with toasted malt characters and a light fruitiness in most examples. The range can run from a basic ale, to American brewers who brew faux-Oktoberfest style beers that are actually ales instead of lagers.

Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 4.0-7.0%

(This beer doesn't tell you it's % abv)

1. Appearance - It's amber, go figure. It has respectable head retention, nice and clear with only a slight haze with happy little bubbles rising to the top.

2. Smell - Malty sweet, with slightly roasted biscuit aroma, with hints of cut grass. (A note on smell - I have a very limited sense of smell, that comes and goes, so my opinions on beer smells should be taken with a grain of salt... That being said, my nose must have been working that day!)

3. Taste - Sweet roasted malt. Not bad, improves as it warms. Would be a nice backbone for a mild IPA.

4. Mouthfeel - Moderate body, farly smooth and nicely carbonated.

5. Drinkability - Easily consumed. Better than most beers available at the grocery store, but only average for a craft beer.

Drinkability Scale from 1-10: 7 (I don't love it but I wouldn't turn one away either.)

On to the next beer...

Beer: Metolius Dolly Varden IPA
Served: From a pint glass
Location: My back deck

Some words from Metolius: Dolly Varden Trout are full-bodied, so is our IPA. A well-hopped, deep, golden ale with malty, full-bodied taste and refreshing finish.

Style: American IPA

Style Description from our friends at BeerAdvocate.com: The American IPA is a different soul from the reincarnated IPA style. More flavorful than the withering English IPA, color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber. Hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt back bone.

Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 5.5-7.5%

(This beer doesn't tell you it's % abv)

1. Appearance - Looks similar to the Amber Ale, but lighter with less of a haze. Featuring a cream

2. Smell - I detect the hops and caramel, I think. (A note on smell - I have a very limited sense of smell, that comes and goes, so my opinions on beer smells should be taken with a grain of salt... That being said, my nose must have been working that day!)

3. Taste - Toasted smooth malt start with a lightly hopped finish. Much like the Amber Ale, it gets a bit better as it warms. would prefer mall flavor all around, more malt and more hops would have nice. Its a meek beer, a with hints of pine and citrus.

4. Mouthfeel - Nicely carbonated, but a little too light for me. On the light side of edium bodied.

5. Drinkability - More satisfying than your average macro on the grocery shelve, but in the grand scheme of things, not a great IPA. It's a mediocre island in a sea of low quality mass produced beers.

Drinkability Scale from 1-10: 6.5 (Its just 'OK' nothing more.)

Session #20: Beer and Memories - Bass Ale

It's that time again, time for the Session... This month's topic/question, hosted by Bathtub Brewery, is...

"Is there a beer that reminds you of a specific memory?

If you’re thinking, “Huh?” then you might want to craft your response along the lines of “Whenever I drink [insert brew here] it reminds me of that day …” Or perhaps it’s the reverse. Oooooh."

This is a fun topic, and a challenging one... Many a good times were had over a pint of beer in my past. I suppose I could hearken back to the time period in my life when my courtship with beer began...

College Days and Bass Ale
Unfortunately my college days were sometimes more about quantity than quality. I didn't always drink for flavor, and I didn't always practice what I now 'preach' when it comes to responsibility and moderation. That being said, in a sea of low end beer drinkers, I was still an island of quality, at least when compared to my friends that would feast on Natural Ice from the can. BLECH! As I neared the end of my days living in the dorms at UCONN, I started to transition from what I could afford, to what I could enjoy.

(Note: The photo on the right happens to be younger version of me, at a wedding, enjoying a Bass Ale, just a year or so after college... Just happened to stumble upon this old photo, had to scan it in and post it... Too funny!)

I look back now and laugh when I remember my friends mocking me for enjoying Bass Ale while they guzzled some flavorless swill from a funnel. Granted, Bass Ale is not exactly the best beer in the world, but it's still leaps and bounds above the likes of Bud Lite and Red Dog. BLECH! I guess Bass Ale was the "gate way" beer for me, that eventually led me to better beer in the years that would follow.

Bass has had, and probably always will have, a special place in my heart. Despite its current place within beer-dom, Bass still garners respect in the craft beer world, often imitated with home brew recipes and at local brewpubs, Bass must still be doing *something* right...

It's still a good old standby for those times I find myself in a bar or eatery with a limited selection. And it's also in my subconscious, always serving as a benchmark of, or a baseline for, quality. If I try a true craft beer and say, this is OK, but honestly its no better than a Bass, then I know it's just an OK beer.

When I think about Bass, I remember my youthful follies and my gradual ride to maturity and responsibility. I guess you could say I "grew up on Bass" if you think about it in that context. I now associate Bass with cozy local pubs, good friends, and great conversation. I also fondly remember my own home brew being compared to Bass, all good memories, and over all, a respectable beer.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Generic Craft Beer at Your Local Grocery?

Do they make generic "craft" beer? You betcha!

I remember when it was common to see rows and rows of generic products at the local grocery store when I was a kid back in the 80s. I'm talking about those "no-name brand" versions of products. For example, you may have seen cereal that resembled "Fruit Loops" but came in a plain white or yellow box, with no Toucan Sam or similar branding, just black sanserif font lettering that would read "FRUIT FLAVORED CEREAL RINGS" or something like that. Does anyone else remember that?

Well, now a days, stores have their own branding, and they've livened it up a bit. Now those same "FRUIT FLAVORED CEREAL RINGS" would have a lame second rate version or Toucan Sam in a weak attempt to full the general public into thinking they're "Fruit Loops" or at least close enough. Perhaps the logic is they help parents lie to their brand conscious kids about the food they're buying for them. "See Johnny, there's Toucan Sam, these ARE Fruit Loops!"

What about beer? Is there such a thing as generic or store brand beer, or do those Dharma Initiative folks have the corner on no-name brew market? You might be surprised to know that there are grocery store brand beers out there. I did not know myself until I stumbled upon some at Shaw's Market a couple of weeks ago. Kind of ironic that I found these beers shortly after I posed this question: Where do you buy your beer?

As a searched for something new and interesting in my groceries beer section I started to talk with the local distributor guy who was stocking the beer fridge and asked him why the store didn't carry local brews and more craft beers. His answer, "They (Shaw's) don't see the money in it."

Flash forward a few weeks and suddenly a display featuring six-packs of Metolius Golden Stone Amber Ale and Metolius Dolly Varden Indian Pale Ale appeared. Did this beer suddenly appear becasue I confronted the beer distributor, or am I just an egotistical self important dolt?

I was skeptical of these brews. I figured they were probably the latest attempt of a macro brewery trying to snag a little of the craft beer market with a off shoot branding and marketing effort to appear like a small time brewery. But maybe it would be good anyway, like Blue Moon or something. I was close, but still wrong. Here's what I found out...

A fish and a fly fishing lure in lieu of a faux Toucan Sam...

Apparently the Metolius line of brews is made by Pyramid specifically for Albertsons, which happen to own Shaw's. This is pretty interesting considering Al Williams, a former private label product lines manager at Albertsons was one of the "founding-fathers" of all things generic in the US. (At least that's what wikipedia told me, so it must be true, right?) Grocery stores can't legally market their own beer, but they can buy exclusive brands and sell those.

Here's an interesting article aboutMetolius dating back to 2006. I guess a two year old article doesn't count as news, but it's news to me. This quote sums up the business model behind made for store beers...

SB Northwest brewer Ron Seid said he got the idea a few years ago to provide exclusive brands to the big grocery chains.

"Quality is very important to me, and our cost to the retailer is a little cheaper compared to other brands, so it's good situation for (the grocery chains)," Seid said last week from Portland, where he contracts with the Portland Brewing Co. (now part of the Pyramid Brewing Co.) to make Metolius and Fire Station 5 beers. "The stores can make a little better (profit) margin than they can on the national brands."

I suppose this is no different than contract brewers like Custom Brew Crafters that make craft beer for local restaurant chains and bars. But for some reason, I couldn't shake the feeling they were trying to pull a fast one on us. But then again, good but cheap craft beer in my grocery store is a good thing. Perhaps this is a case of guilt by association. An association with "Big Beers" tricks...

I think its safe to say Pyramid is a craft brewer, and if they're producing the Metolius beers, then Metolius would in fact be a craft beer, correct? I think Pyramid may be doing something pretty cool here... They're providing affordable craft beer to the masses, unlike the big beer companies that are simply trying to fool the masses into believing they're drinking craft beer. What do you think?

Keep in mind, craft doesn't necessarily equate to quality. I'll be sampling these two brews and posting my reviews later this week. I'd like to hear your opinions, if you've tried these or any other made for grocery store beers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

September 2008 Fermentation Friday!

This months Fermentation Friday question/topic is...

"What indigenous brewing ingredient have you used or would you like to brew with and what style would that beer be?"

Now don't get this confused with the short list of bad ideas I came up with in a previous edition of Fermentation Friday, when the question of the month was, "What is the craziest concoction you ever came up with, on the fly or prepped, to brew with."

I'm glad Marcus from Final Gravity, this month's host, included the words "or would you like to brew with" as I have not yet brewed with anything overly unique or interesting, indigenous or otherwise.

For me, it would have to be either apples or pumpkins. There's not much else I can think of besides those two items, unless someone knows how to make a tobacco beer, but I hate tobacco. And I think out of the two, I would lean more towards pumpkins. I'm not big on overly sweet beers and ciders. That being said, I'm not overly in love with pumpkin ales either.

Last Friday, at the Hartford Better Beer Fest, Kenn and I got a chance to try Southern Tier's Pumpkin Ale, AKA Pumking, and it was, "Very nice! The pumpkin was surprisingly subtle, but would go well with this Thanksgiving's feast." Or at least that's what I thought at the time and that's what my chicken scratch tasting notes said.

From what I've heard, many pumpkin ales are merely ales with traditional pumpkin pie seasoning added. That's OK and all, but I really want to go out, pick a pumpkin and turn it into a big bottle of beer.

According to Kenn, he read something about the colonial New Englanders who would be forced to use pumpkins for beer making due to a lack of other more typical fermentables. He also mentioned something about boiling it to make beer, and have enough left to make soup or pie, I blieve he said. Now that would be cool! Kenn, what was that book title again???

Had I more time this fall, I would give this a whirl, but sadly this season is short on free time. Perhaps next year Kenn and I will follow in the foot steps of those intrepid colonist and do a joint endeavour, diving head first into pumpkin brewing, and perhaps even a little cooking if enough of the old jack-o-lantern survives the boil... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hartford Better Beer Fest was a class act

The good folks at Franklin Distributors got us into the event as "VIPs"
God bless their hearts.

They wanted to give me an idea of what sort of fest they were capable of putting together
as I help plan my own charity event. Let's just say I was impressed.

The Hartford Better Beer Fest was a class act. The event was held in the "Society Room of Harford"... Ooooh... Well ladee dah! Actually, this is a beautiful building... (Photos coming later...)

From the site...

In the glorious Society Ballroom, you have a room of grand marble columns soaring to an exquisitely muraled ceiling, some thirty five feet above the dance floor. The sweeping staircase flows down from the 3,000 square floor balcony, providing a dramatic focal point for grand entrances and photographic opportunities. Marble, limestone, brass and bronze accents adorn the opulent Ballroom in a setting right out of the Great Gatsby.

Fest goers chat and enjoy some fine American craft beers on the dance floor.
(One couple actually did dance!)

Folks gather around on of the numerous imported beer tables up on the balcony.
Classy, but still down to earth enough for jeans.

Kenn admires the architecture and poor lighting over a tasty beverage.

They had live jazz playing and a delightful variety of some high-end hors d'oeuvres. Oh, and did I mention there was beer too? Is that how you spell hors d'oeuvres?

Downstairs, in the 'Society Ballroom', was a wide variety of domestic craft beers, ranging from Flying Dog and Anchor Steam, to Brooklyn Brewery and Southern Tier. Additionally there was a wide variety of imports upstairs along the balcony. I spent a fair amount of time at the Trappist table. Man, you gotta love those monks...

Kenn came straight from work (minus a detour)
So he was probably more properly attired than I.

Here are some quick notes on the beers we sampled in alphabetical order by brewery:

With so many beers available, my tasting notes were long, and sloppy...
Below is what I could manage to decipher from my fest hieroglyphics.

  • Brewery: Achel (Belgium/Trappist) - Now I failed to take note of which Achel I sampled, so these notes are only so meaningful. The beer was pleasantly complex, with flavors ranging from grapefruit to maple to raisin. This may be my new favorite Trappist beer, if only I knew which one it was...
  • Brewery: Anchor (US/Liberty Ale) - I dig this beer, after all we share a birthday. Just a good all around Ale, even Kenn enjoyed it despite the hoppiness. He said he, "could have a few," and thought he detected a hint of grapefruit.
  • Brewery: Avery (US/Beast Cru) - Not bad, but the flavor of alcohol was apparent, although it was balanced by the malty backbone, not for the faint at heart. A big beer.
  • Brewery: Flying Dog (US/Dogtoberfest) - A typical Oktoberfest, not overly flavorful, but easy going down. A kin to Spaaten, less flavorful and less smoaky, then say a Sam Adam's Oktoberfest.
  • Brewery: Flying Dog (US/Kerberos Tripel) - Not a bad beer, less fruity than the Stoudts Triple lower on this list. More of a dry finish.
  • Brewery: Franziskaner (Germany/Hefe Weiss) - Tasty (fruity/wheat), with a strong pleasant aroma even I could detect.
  • Brewery: Hartford Better Beer Company (US/Praying Mantis Porter) - Surprisingly light, toasty and effervescant, even I could smell it. Kenn called it the spritzer of Porters, meaning it's light and fizzy.
  • Brewery: McEwan's (Scottish/Scotch Ale) - Too sweet for me, I've had better.
  • Brewery: Nøgne Ø (Norway/IPA) - A big malty backbone on this IPA, not what I expected.
  • Brewery: Nøgne Ø (Norway/Imperial Stout) - Thin, but leaves a residue. Flavors of chocolate, coffee and raisin come to mind.
  • Brewery:Rochefort (Belgium/Trappist 6) - Nice and easy, very tasty. Fruity and malty.
  • Brewery:Rochefort (Belgium/Trappist 10) - Also nice but less easy. Alcohol flavor is detectable, but not offensive, mixes with the malty body. A sipping beer, to be enjoyed slowly by the fire.
  • Brewery: Southern Tier (US/Pumkin Ale) - Very nice! The pumpkin was surprisingly subtle, but would go well with this Thanksgiving's feast.
  • Brewery: Southern Tier (US/Java) - The name says it all. A nice sipping beer that taste like java. Not bad, if you go for that sort of thing.
  • Brewery: Stoudts (US/Triple) - Not bad, taste like apricot.
  • Brewery: Tririez (France/Farmhouse Extra Ale) - Tasty, another beer with an aroma that hits hard. Citrus, meets honey, meets hops.
  • Brewery: Unibroue (Canada/Maudite) - Good, malty, hints of raisin. (I tasted raisin a lot that night...)
  • Brewery: Unibroue (Canada/La Fin du Monde) - Malty but hoppy, interesting, not great, but certainly complex. Worth a try, it maybe your thing.
  • Brewery: Westmalle (Belgium/Trappist Dubble) - Very tasty... Perhaps my second favorite Trappist beer, perhaps...
  • Brewery: Westmalle (Belgium/Trappist Triple) - Tasty, sweet, smooth, with grapefruit undertones. I like it, but prefer the Dubble.
I ran into, sorry man can't remember your name, from CT Beverage Mart. He's helped me select the right beer for that special occasion more than once or twice. For some reason, he had me mistaken for another patron of CTBM, and thought we had an altercation in the past. Something about me punching him after not enjoying a wheat beer he recommended. That must have been some other guy...

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Hartford Better Beer Fest

If all goes as planned, I'll be heading out to the Hartford Better Beer Fest with my buddy Kenn. (Tonight, Friday, Sept19th)

I'm pretty excited about Kenn's growing interest in both home brewing and craft beer. Although his brother is an avid home brewer, I'd like to think I had a hand in his beer-geek enlightenment. Kenn recently got his own set of home brewing equipment, and he's the guy that gathered (and paid for, God bless him) all the ingredients for Franken-Beer, so he's well on his way at this point.

The Hartford Better Beer Fest is sponsored by Franklin Distributors. These guys have been kind enough to offer some assistance with the charity event I'm planning, and invited me to this fest to give me a little fest planning education. Good times!

Stay tuned, I may twitter the event... As always my twitter feed is available on the site. (Top left corner for the moment... Under Have Beer Will Travel...)

Popular Posts