Home brewing in Connecticut Discussions - CT Beer Trail

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...

Beer:
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.

Beer:
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.

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