Monday, December 19, 2011

Closing out the 2011, my top 10 favorite new beers of the year.

What a great year of beer drinking 2011 has been! Started it off in Vermont where Long Trail, Otter Creek , and Wolaver's are right around the corner. Then went to two beer tasting festivals, four beer and food pairing dinners, and found two local pubs that feature craft beer from all around the local area. one of which has over 60 brews on tap!!!  Maloney's in Matawan, NJ and Hailey's Harp & Pub in Metuchen, NJ (smaller tap run, but good irish pub food to compliment the beer).

Even though my fridge was stocked with many of the normal seasonal I look forward to ever year, my beer exposure was at its best in this year. Easily trying 50-75 new beers this year, it's been hard to keep track of how each one exactly tasted. I tried keeping up to date on my beer advocate account with reviews, and even kept notes on napkins in pubs while sipping on something new. But some fell through the cracks. But, I can recall with certain accuracy which beers made me stop and go "damn, this is amazing!" then taking another sip and saying "holy S**T!, how I have never had this before!".

So here they are. The top 10. These are the beers that stuck out. The ones I may have tried randomly on a Wednesday in February but can recall exactly how it tasted to this day. Seek these guys out. You will be amazed with their flavor!

In as close to possible chronological order;

Ottercreek Black IPA, Middlebury, Vermont.

Fittingly I had this on tap in Vermont so it was nice and fresh. At the time it was O.C.'s winter seasonal although it's now available all year round. But you're lucky if you can find it on the shelf as it sells out quickly and is carried by a limited number of stores.

Climax Nut Brown Ale, Roselle Park, New Jersey

This is as local as I can get. Climax is brewed around 15 minutes from me and although I've had other offering by them, this year was the first time enjoying Nut Brown Ale. Up until this year, Climax was only sold in 64oz. growlers, but now you can find it in 6 packs. Only negavite is the growlers are being fazed out. Grab one if you see it to use at your nearest growler fill location after you drink the beer.

Riverhorse Farmhouse Saison, Lambertville, New Jersey

Farmhouse Saison was a very limited release from this NJ brewery. Part of their Brewer's Reserve series, it only came in kegs or their variety pack. We enjoyed both, once at the brewery itself, the other in bottles. It's placing on this list reflects the tap variation. This beer was everything a Saison should be. Look for it next year if they brew it.

Allagash White, Portland, Maine

And so an obsession begins. White was the first offering I tried from Allagash, a now favorite brewery of both my wife and I. A great summer beer that's brewed all year round this beer became our stand by for the remainder of the summer after all the summer seasonal brews became sold out.

Weyerbacher Verboten, Easton, Pennsylvania

Enjoyed this tasty all year round brew at a beer dinner featuring Weyerbacher. This brewery has been a favorite of mine for some time but aside from a few of their offerings, we never ventured into Verboten land. Mistake. Verboten is an enjoyable beer that can sit in the basement for years to be aged or enjoyed fresh. This offering is bottle conditioned.

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe Ipa, Easton Pennsylvania

Another one of Weyerbacher's offerings we tried for the first time at the beer dinner we attended. I default to IPAs when there isn't much else to choose from in a bar so this was right up my alley. But The D.S. IPA also did something I never imagined possible, it turned my wife on to IPAs and got her palate more comfortable with hops! A great beer by itself, but even better when enjoyed with food. Take note of how it cleanses your palate after each sip.

Triumph Brewing Company of New Hope's Oatmeal Cookie Stout, New Hope, Pennsylvania

I love Triumph. Their beer is always good, always fresh, and always pairs well with their food. This was the first time having this stout and thankfully got to enjoy it on tap (the only other offering by triumph is growler or 750ml bombers). Rich and smooth and perfect for a fall day. Hope I see this on the tap list again one day.

Allagash Curioux, Portland Maine

"It's the best beer I've ever had". My wife has said this numerous times when we talk about Curieux to someone. This beer did so much for me. It turned me on to barrel aged beer. Before trying it I had been semi skeptical, but now it makes sense to spend $20 on a bottle of beer. At first, we thought this offering was a one time only brew, but thankfully it's year round. There's always one on hand in my house for when we have people over.

Fengleys Brewworks Devious Pumpkin, Allentown, Pennsylvania

I like pumpkin ales. It's a yearly habit for me to rush around buying 6 packs of all my favorite pumpkin offerings from breweries I support. I also like local products. So how Devious Pumpkin had not been enjoyed by my wife and I to this point baffles me. Rich in flavor, body, and ABV, we loved this beer. Next year we will be buying more than a single bottle though.

Honorable mention,
Carton Brewing Company Boat Beer, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey

So happy to be seeing more breweries opening around this state. Carton is a welcome edition. Their Boat Beer is as perfect as you can get for a session beer. Rich in flavor, but low in ABV you can keep on drinking this one until the game is over and not have to worry about a hangover the next day. The only negative is keg and growler fill only.

There you have it, 11 beers that highlighted my year. Looking forward to 2012 and another full year of beer discovery. First stop, New Hampshire for a family vacation.

Happy New Year to all! Cheers!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Maloney's St. Bernardus Beer Dinner Review.

Mix great food with outstanding beer and you get a Maloney's Beer Dinner. Every time my wife and I go here we yearn to live closer to it, currently it's about a 30 minute drive for us to get there. Although that's still close, a 30 minute drive wouldn't allow you to leave your car there and walk home like I would've had to do if i was driving tonight! I've mentioned it before, but so you know, they have over 70 taps. Hence our wanting to live closer.

This dinner featured St. Bernardus. A belgian brewery that until tonight we never tried more than their Christmas Ale. Being devoted to mostly local breweries, hopping the pond isn't something we normally do. Well that needs to be rethought after trying the run of beer we had tonight. Each beer was fantastic for it's own individual reason. This brewery obviously offers a wide diversity of beer that excites your palate each sip.

Like the American Ales Dinner, this one also featured four courses paired with four brews. Each course was delicious and showed off the talent of the kitchen staff. The pairings were also well done. Standing alone, both the food and the beer were great. But when paired together, flavors not present in the food before a sip would later pop out at you and the same with the beer.

Although my memory is pretty good, I sadly didn't keep any notes during the tasting. Add to that the fact that we shared an Allagash Curieux before hand on an empty stomach, and memory clouds.

Check out this menu;

****Classic Pate de Maison- traditional pork and duck liver pate with Cumberland sauce and crostini, paired with Christmas Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 10%)
****Meghan’s Holiday Salad- autumn greens tossed with shaved fennel, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, and an orange-tarragon vinagrette, topped with a crumbled Feta cheese, paired with Witbier (Wheat beer, 5.5%)
****Rack of Lamb with a white cheddar-chive potato cake and thyme-scented fresh baby spinach in a natural lamb jous, paired with Abt 12 (Quad, 10%)
****Sticky Toffee Cake and vanilla bean ice cream, paired with Prior 8 (Dubbel, 8%)
Wow right? Right off the bat the Christmas Ale hit hard and delivered the mood for the evening. The thicker consistency and dark fruit flavors paired extremely well with the pate. Having already tasted this offering of beer I was really able to focus on the pate, which I've never had before. The pate was rich, and very filling. Just what I needed since there was already a beer and a half in me already! The two sauces on the plate complimented both the pate and the beer so well I could have just eaten that the whole night. 
Although a salad for a second course seems very light, this one hit the spot. With the pate being so filling, the salad fit perfectly in there and also gave the Witbier a chance to shine as a wonderful session beer. It's light body and low ABV smoothed out the spike of 10%ABV from the previous Christmas Ale. Witbier is comparable to many white beers. Citrusy, crisp and refreshing. It's a perfect beer for summer, but can also be enjoyed all year. The random cranberry and piece of crumbled feta in the salad bought the flavor of the beer to a whole other level exposing more depth  than a normal white ale. 
Third course is where the mistake happens. Not by the kitchen or any of the staff, but by me. The lamb looked delicious. Both my wife and I have tried lamb over and over and just can not get past the flavor. But according to my wife, who tried a bite from our friend, it was very good. We subbed in a chicken dish that was served in a type of cream mustard sauce along with the same sides as the lamb. Don't take it the wrong way, the chicken was very good, but the lamb just looked so picturesque. The Abt. 12 was a another great brew. To me Abt. 12 shared many characteristics with the Christmas Ale but with an earthier finish and slightly less dark fruit flavor. 
The dessert bought on the Prior 8. Another high ABV beer with great flavor. And the toffee cake went perfectly with it. Both complimented each other so well it amazed us. Although by now, the high alcohol and continual flavor punches had worn away the majority of my palate, I could still tell that flavors were being positively affected by both the beer and the food towards one another other. This dessert far surpassed others we've had during beer dinners here. Everything was balanced out so well and it helped to finish off the dinner wonderfully. 
Although the beer was amazing for this dinner it was certainly was not the highlight. The chef and his staff stole the show on this one. The food was a hit right across the board. No course lacked in flavor or stuck out as not pairing well. Each one had depth in flavor and was paired well with the equally flavorful beer. Cheers Maloney's and thank you for a fun night!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2012 Beer Resolutions

We all make resolutions every new years. Lose weight, get a new job, meet someone, etc etc. Most of the resolutions wind-up not being kept and you're left felling guilty for not sticking to your own promises. This year however, instead of choosing tough resolutions like losing weight, or getting a new job. I choose to have goals involving beer and encourage you to do the same. So when the other resolutions come crumbling apart, you can enjoy a beer and celebrate!

In no order,
1. Brew my own beer. 
I've been meaning to do this for the past year or two but have never gotten a kit. With devotion to being a localvore, and wanting to be more environmentally friendly being at the forefront of my thought, 2012 will be the year. Even if it's a simple brew kit in a box, beer will be brewed.

2. Get a Kegerator/Build a Kegerator. 
Both my uncle and cousin have one in their basement but they are filled with Coors Lite so I've never enjoyed any beer from their basement beverage fridge. My wife originally put the idea out there while we were at a bar together. So having her on board with the idea isn't an issue. Only issue would be the funds needed to get the project up and running.

3. Visit every brewery in the state, including brew pubs. 
So far, I've been to both NJ Triumphs, J.J. Bittings, Pizzeria Uno, and River Horse. With more and more places making great beer popping up in the state, it drives me to want to meet the people who are making the beer in my local area. Visiting the breweries will give me a chance to try more of their beer than is available in the stores. It also gives me a chance to thank them for providing us with great beer! Which leads me to be to do #4.

4. Volunteer at a brewery. 
The brewers and employees bust their asses day in and out. Hauling heavy bags of material around and then carrying the also heavy finished product is a wearing job. These guys really work in order to get the product completed. All the while paying extremely close attention to the beer itself! So why not volunteer. Even it it's doing some menial like sweeping the floors. The extra help will take a little pressure off the people at work so they can focus more on the beer. I really encourage everyone to do this.

5. The long shot, Get a full time job in the beer industry. 
My current job isn't the most satisfying I've had in my life. So going along with the "do what you love and you never work a day in your life" motto, I strive to work in beer. Although it is hard work, as previously mentioned, tree work is hard work too. Would it change my perspective for beer having to work with it all day? Probably not.

So make your own list. Resolve to do something new with your beer enjoyment this coming year. You may find yourself with a new career!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How Much Is Too Much?

My interest in craft beer started around 8 years ago upon being lucky enough to live within 20 minutes of Triumph of New Hope and River Horse in Lambertville. Back then, six packs were selling for around $7-$9. And $9 was For the high ABV beers like River Horse's Triple Horse. But with the emergence of interest in craft beer by more people, inflation, and other factors like crop shortages (which we'll be seeing more and more of in the near future) prices seem to be going up and up faster and faster.

For some of us, beer is like gasoline. It's almost necessary in order to get through a tough week comfortably. Sure, we can all go through the week without a beer or driving our car to work, but do we really want to have to ride our bike to work and then not enjoy a pint when we come home? No. That's why we're all beer heads and married to oil. But when does the cost of a bottle of beer become outrageous? I'm starting to find my limit.

My weekly trip to the liquor stores along my commute have seen bottles pop up on the shelf asking $11, then $15, then $17, $20, and just this past Friday $49! Seems like quite a jump. Bombers, the attractive 750ml bottles we're all now accustomed to seeing are where the largest price jumps have been taking place in my eyes. Is there really that much of a difference between a $6.99 bottle and a $49.99 bottle? And then how much better can it really get jumping all the way to $200 for Sam Adams Utopias? Then there is the switch from standard 6 packs to the equally priced or even more expensive 4 packs. Seems like we are all paying more and more for the same amount or even less beer! What's going on here?

My opinion, the increase is due to 25% inflation and growing conditions on farms, another 25% prices of transportation and energy required to produce the beer (oil/fossil fuels), 30% supply and demand(see Dogfish Head), 15% time spent on aging some of these more expensive beers, and 5% greed. I think brewers and brewery employees are good people but greed is a basic human instinct so we are all capable of it. Can we make it stop? Probably not. But there is a way to possibly control it. Start brewing your own beer.

So, how much is too much for you? So far for me it's $23.01.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Beer And Food, or Beer In Food?

Almost all restaurants that promote craft beer are doing more events with pairing food and beer.  Each beer is being carefully selected and then paired with a specific dish to highlight not only the beer, but the food as well. Beer can do wonderful things to the taste of food. Not only as a beverage, but as an ingredient as well.

More and more my wife and I are cooking main courses, side dishes, and even desserts with beer. Each different style of beer can be used for a different reason. Have a nice ale or lager laying around? Add some to your next marinade for BBQ pork ribs. Don't know what to do with a stout you have had for some time? Put some in the batter for your next batch of brownies. The beer will add another level of complexity, change the mouth fell, and even make a great conversation starter for when people come by for dinner. 

There are 3 recipes in particular that we have tried that have been a success so far. Cast Iron Skillet Stout Braised Short Ribs, Stout Ginger Bread, and then a simple Brown Ale BBQ sauce you can use on anything you're grilling. Try them out sometime whenever you feel adventurous in the kitchen or grill and let me know what beer used, and how it turned out.

Use my suggestions or sub in your favorite breweries beer that fits the style, 

Cast Iron Skillet Stout Braised Short Ribs with Founders Breakfast Stout;

1 lb. short ribs. I use beef but try it with pork too.
salt and pepper to season
2-3 tbsp. flour. I use whole wheat since it adds a little more body
olive oil for pan
1 tbps. butter
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 12oz bottle Founders Breakfast Stout
1/2 cup beef stock

1. season ribs with salt and pepper then dredge in flour shaking any excess off then heat oil and butter in skillet.
2. using med-high heat, brown the ribs on each side then set aside. add the onion and garlic to the pan for 5-7 minutes or until clear.
3. pour in beer, bring to boil and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. 
4. place ribs in skillet and add beef stock
5. cover, and simmer on low heat for aobut 2 hours or until ribs reach cook internal tempature. 150 med-rare, 160 medium, 175 well. (all temps F)

2 onion diced
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. celery salt
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup catsup
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (use loosely packed if you prefer sauce not as sweet)
1 12oz bottle Smuttynose Old Dog Brown Ale

1. add all ingredients but beer into a large bowl
2. slowly add small portions of beer and stir together to reach your desired thickness. 
3. if you didn't add all the beer, drink the rest of bottle and get cooking!

and lastly the big one, 
Classic Ginger Bread Cake with Guinness Stout

3/4 cup Guinness Stout
1/2 tsp. backing soda
2/3 cup mild molasses
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1+1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking powder 
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. fresh ginger(use a microplane zester to grate the ginger. trust me, it's worth it)

1. preheat oven to 350(F), grease and flour pan. 
2. bring stout to boil in a medium sauce pan over med-high heat stirring occasionally. 
3. remove from heat after boiled and stir in baking soda. when foaming subsides, stir in molasses, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until dissolved. set aside.
4. whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper together in a large bowl. set aside. 
5. transfer stout mixture to a large bowl and whisk in eggs, oil, and grated fresh ginger until combined. 
6. whisk wet mixture together with flour mixture in thirds stirring each vigorously until completely smooth after each addition. 
7. transfer batter to prepared pan and gently tap pan against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any air bubbles.
8. bake until top of cake is just firm to the touch and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. about 35 to 45 mins. 
9. cool cake on wire in pan about 1+1/2 hours. serve warm or at warm temperature.  

Try them out and let me know what you think.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Two Tastings, Many Different Opinions. Idiot's Drool, and Bitch's Brew.

Weyerbacher's Idiot's Drool

Well tonight was the night. Broke out two beers I have been holding on to waiting for the right moment to open. A friend was celebrating their birthday and enjoyed different beers so why not. But the reservations I had in bringing these particular beers were partially for good reason.

It was about time the Idiot's Drool got opened. After stewing over when to open one, who to have it with, and whether to sell or trade a bottle or two, I decided just to open one up. But it was the wrong crowd to taste it with. The Bitches Brew on the other hand was a hit with everyone. It hit to everyone's liking(or should I say expectations), and was definitely the overall favorite.

To being, we drank the Idiot's Drool. Touted by me as such a rare beer that most people will never get a chance to try it. So it had built up quite a reputation before any of us even knew what it tasted like. Even me! Right from the get go it looked nothing like a beer at all and people became skeptic. Then the smell built more doubt. And finally the taste sealed it for most. Worst comment of the night, "this tastes like beef broth". But this was coming from people who don't drink craft beer aside from my wife and I and the person celebrating their birthday. Was it really that bad?

After sitting with the glass for a long time and smelling it over and over, then taking a sip now and then,  the beer began to build on me. Complexity. And depth, that was downright overwhelming. Aside from the flavors that kept changing sip after sip, and the occasional puckering of the lips due to the sourness, I realized there was nothing like this possibly on earth. And that's when it clicked. Idiot's Drool is by no means a beer going by the common definition of beer. It is a brewer's experiment with what can happen with beer if you play jazz with it.

Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew
Which leads up into the Bitch's Brew. Unlike the Drool, Bitch's Brew was closer to the common definition of a beer. Poured with a nice head, it didn't have a syrup like body, and more of the common taste characteristics of beer were present in it. Needless to say it was a hit with everyone. The gesho used in place of the hops definitely added a complex bitter flavor to it. And I found a very earthy overall body that was enjoyable, complex, and hard to pin point at the same time. There is a characteristic that I found very similar to chewing a coffee bean. But a coffee bean with a thin coating of dark chocolate.

Bitch's Brew was the fan favorite for the night, Idiot's Drool took a back seat. Not because one beer one better than another. But we have been raised and grown up with a very common perception of what beer is. When people who drink craft beer, or like tonight don't drink craft beer often, try these wacky ones that breweries are offering, we need to get the idea out of our heads that we are drinking beer. We are drinking what a beer can do when given the reins and let loose to do what it wants with itself! This is what the people needed to do tonight and what I need to do in the future as well.


Check out my reviews of both the Idiot's Drool and the Bitch's Brew by clicking their link;

Weyerbacher's Idiot's Drool

Dogfish Head's Bitch's Brew

Big Tastings Today, Another Beer Dinner, and What's Coming Up...

Anyone checking in with me has seen the recent luck I've been having getting some rare limited release beers. Tonight I plan on whipping some of them out. Victory Dark Intrigue, Dogfish Head Bitches Brew, Weyerbacher Idiot's Drool, and Weyerbacher Rapture will come along to a friends house for a get together. Hopefully the chance will arrive to do a review on all of them. But definietley check back as updates will be posted about the Idiot's Drool especially.

In the meantime, Maloney's Pub in Matawan, NJ is holding their Christmas Dinner on December, 16th and featuring St. Bernardus Brewery as the beer of the evening. I've never gotten a chance to try any of their offerings but picked up their Christmas Ale to check out a glimpse of what's in store for the evening. This has been touted as their best dinner of the year so my wife and I are looking forward to it.

After that, New Years, and then my beers of 2011 review. Stay tuned as 10 beers will be highlighted as the best discoveries of the year. Some have been around for some time and I just haven't had them, others just came along this year. Either way, these were the beers that blew me away. So stay tuned and start saving some cash so you can pick them up before they're gone!


Monday, November 28, 2011

Does Aging Really Do Anything To Beer?

I recently wrote about aging beer and threw in some guidelines for you to follow in the event you wanted to try it out, have a look here This is my second year of aging, and although none of the beer in my basement has aged very long, some have shown signs that sitting in the cold dark basement has been worth the wait. Some were purchased with the intention to age for years, others have just been set aside for that special time.

This summer, River Horse Brewery in Lambertville, NJ put out it's second edition of their pumpkin ale. Hipp-O-Lantern, as they call it, is a beer I wanted to make sure to have on hand for when Thanksgiving rolled around. I managed to hold onto 6 bottles. Quite impressive for me since my biggest challenge aging beer is rule #7 in my post, DON'T DRINK THE BEER FOR AT LEAST A YEAR! Although the Hipp-O-Lantern got pushed aside for a different beer on turkey day, tonight felt like a good night to open one up.

Here is an example of what just a short time can do to a beer. Reviewing my original review from August 11, I noticed some major flavor characteristics being more defined, and others that were at the fore front, have now taken the back seat. Here is the original review,

appearance-pours a reddish copper with no head that has a slightly cloudy body.

smell-many different spices you would expect with a pumpkin ale. cinnamon, all spice, vanilla, pumpkin, malt, and a very faint touch of sweet honey

taste-starts with a sweetness like clover honey combined with molasses and malt. then there is notes of earthy pumpkin with cloves and ends with a faint touch of hops and all spice. very nice. 

mouthfeel-smooth with low carbonation. leave a pleasant fizziness on the palate after consumption. 

overall-good imp pumpkin ale. doesnt sit heavy on the stomach and can be enjoyed through out the night. like that it features more earthiness of pumpkin rather than the sweet pumpkin pie flavor.

    Now, here is a comparative tasting the same beer today, 

Appearance-little different here except with the head. large creamy pale head that quickly fades and leaves a generous amount of lacing on the glass.

Smell-although there are subtle spice aromas, now the hops are booming. It is the dominate smell along with the sweetness, spices, and pumpkin. 

Taste-the hops are coming forward as is the malt now. even though the hops are dominate, it's a calm hop flavor. the pumpkin and spice flavors in the middle help to mellow everything out. 

Mouthfeel-it seems slightly more carbonated now which may have contributed to the large puffy head. 

Overall-big changes going on here. the aromas and flavors from the original review are still evident, but in a different order and with some stronger now than in the past. the beer tastes more complex now as well. you really need to focus in order to pick up every flavor and smell. 

    As you can see, BIG changes. Just leaving the beer to sit there and allowing all those bacteria and other goodies in the bottle to do what they want has shown huge changes. And it's only been four months! So now when someone asks you why you have around a hundred bottles of beer in your basement, you can be sure it's for good cause and try to explain it to them. Trouble is, they will still find you a little mad! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beer Blogging For a Dummie?

With the start, and seemingly slow growth of interest, of my blog I reached a point of confusion of how to gain more information than I have currently access to. Already there are at least 100 other people like me in this state alone who blog about local breweries and the beer scene in general. So where is one to turn for information that hasn't already been tapped?

Last night, I went to Hailey's Harp and Pub in Metuchen, NJ. Offering my email and blog address didn't seem to conjure up much interest in the owner/beer guy of Hailey's and right now, the day doesn't offer me enough time to access the scene even in my local area. So, here I am! Left wondering and conjuring up ways to gain more access with the same amount of time, and the same amount of ability to drink beer. I have low tolerance, and high blood pressure! So even though the desire to drink more and more is there, the ability is not! Session drinking is what one like me should turn to.

So where does one turn for ideas? His readers! Drink some beer and leave a comment. Let me know what your most looking for in blogs like mine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

As the Turkey Sits In Brine....

A heritage Red Bourbon Turkey. This is the breed of our bird.

A meal is not complete without the proper beverage. In my case, the beverage is beer. Right now our turkey, a naturally raised bird from Griggstown Farm in Princeton, NJ that lived only 40 minutes away from our house, is sitting in brine. So which are the best beverages to compliment all food which I am fortunate enough to receive? Even though my beginning beverage of choice, Weyerbacher's Rapture, there will be other beers enjoyed. So what beers would I recommend to you if you can get your hands on them? Here are 3 beers that will highlight your meal, then 3 more that will help highlight all those deserts.

River Horse Oatmeal Milk Stout. A yearly offering from the Lambertville, NJ brewery has been a fan favorite since it made it's debut about 3 years ago. This stout is easy drinking, and full of flavors that won't overwhelm your palate so you can still taste all those sides! The ABV is a little high for a beer you will certainly want more of. But at 6.7% it won't kill you to have two or three.

Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale. Another great seasonal beer. I just tried this for the first time this year and don't know what took me so long. It's easy drinking, has a nice maltiness to it, and the flavors just make you feel the fall season. Tumbler is also lighter on the ABV than the River Horse, coming in at only 5.5%. So this is one you can have a couple of without risking being asleep for dessert!

Lastly, Anchor Steam Christmas Ale 2011. Since Chritmas decorations pop up before Halloween now, I found it ok to list a Christmas Ale for a beer to drink during Thanksgiving. This beer is a tricky pick though. If you read the description, you find that Anchor has a different recipe every year for this seasonal brew. So last years may not be as fitting, and next year may be more fitting. But this years is on the spot. Check out my review of this beer 

Now on to dessert. So long as you didn't over do it on the food, and the beer, then you will be ready to go for the next round. These next three beers will heighten the flavors in all those classic deserts you're used to. Making the brown sugar stand out in a pie, or the earthiness of pumpkin be more defined.

Allagash Curieux. Curieux is aged for 8 weeks in Jim Beam Bourbon barrels. The result is a smooth ale that has sweet hints of vanilla and would compliment any dessert well. If you want to be daring, there are recipes on Allagash's site that you can tackle for a new Thanksgiving dessert! But even without a dessert, Curieux is so complex it can be enjoyed alone. It is a remarkable beer. Be careful though, Curieux is 11% ABV!

Souther Tier Pumking. "The most bizarre tasting liquid you will ever consume in your life." Is how I described this beer once to someone. It smells like a pumpkin pie, then tastes like one too! But it's a beer, and a high ABV beer as well at 8.6%. Pumking, like all other fall beers now comes out somewhere in July or August. But it apparently doesn't age well. So if  you're lucky to have one around, now is the time to drink it. This is a great beer to feature with a pumpkin pie.

Otter Creek 20th Anniversary Ale. Get it for this years dessert, or don't get it at all. This is a one time only beer that's in limited quantity. It has a bourbon like flavor and the caramel malts with dark fruit flavor will compliment all your dessert from pies, to cookies, to cakes. The ABV is booming at 12% so either choose to share a bottle or get crazy with your own. But either way, you will enjoy this one as this is the only year it's here.

Well enjoy! Let me know what you chose, what you thought, and how the turkey turned out. I will be sure to post my review of Rapture.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Idiot's Drool, Rare Beers, and Limited Releases. What To Do With Them?

Over the past week I have lucked out a few times. Obtaining Ottercreek's 20th Anniverasary Ale, Weyerbacher's Rapture, and most notably, Weyerbachers Idiot's Drool. Even though the 20th Anniv. and the Rapture are limited release, the Idiot's Drool is by far the cream of the crop and has me posing question about how to handle them. Should I sell some and make back my money while keeping a few for myself? Should I drink it during holiday meals and other gatherings through out the year? Or should i just sit on it? keeping it around until I feel the urge to move on a bottle?

The answer same to me last night, at least for the Idiot's Drool. But it is a rule that can be applied to special release beers in general. Although it is meant to be consumed, it should be treated with high regards. Factor in that I only have 6 bottles for the rest of my life and then the discussion take a very interesting turn. This is a bottle that should come out during things so dynamic in one's life that it requires a celebratory drink that is special. First born child, one of your children's weddings, grandchild being born. But then factor in the beer's life itself. How long can it really sit before turning? This is why 6 bottles for life and no opportunity to obtain more is such a peculiar problem.

The other beers, although being held in high regard, for some reason don't strike the same type of panic that the Drool does. I have 4 bottles each of the other beer. Rapture is 750ml bottles, and Ottercreek's are only 12oz bottles. So the liquid in both bottles, and all for that matter need to be managed well, looked after, and chosen wisely.

Sell some? No way.
Yearly family gatherings? Maaaaaaybe.
Cherished like the memory of a child being born? Definitely.

The sickness in all of this...
I haven't even tried any of these yet!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Maloney's Pub 3rd Annual American Ales Dinner Review

Fun past two nights. After the Weyerbacher Idiot's Drool madness, my wife and I headed to Maloney's Pub in Matawan, NJ for their 3rd Annual American Ales Dinner. We just discovered Maloney's this summer after attending another dinner there. The place is great. Over 60 beers on tap, constant tap rotations, friendly knowledgeable staff, and a cool place to just hang out. Some craft beer places can be packed with people with their noses in the air, not here. It's a welcoming establishment I wish was closer to home.

Tonight's line up featured 4 beers paired with 4 dishes. Each beer was meant to compliment the course it came with and the course did the same for each beer. The line up was attractive on paper and more so in person,

***Harvest Mushrooms- cornbread and sausage stuffed mushrooms paired with Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale (6.5%, American Brown Ale).

***Roasted Autumn Vegetable Bisque paired with Ommegang 2011 Independence Day Ale (6.5%, Farmhouse Ale).
***Turkey Pot Pie- tender turkey, pearl onions, baby carrots and peas in a savory gravy, topped with puff pastry and baked to perfection with Allagash Fluxus 2011 (8% Biere de Garde)
***Pumpkin-Spice Cake topped with crème fraiche and drizzled with a cranberry-orange coulis …..paired with  Dogfish Punkin’ Ale (7%, Pumpkin Ale)
Starting off with the Smuttynose Old Dog Brown Ale was a great call. This may of been my favorite pairing of the night. This beer has been awarded different medals in it's history and you could taste why. A very nice mouthfeel, not overwhelming on the malts or hops, and a great beer to hang out with in any situation. The dish it came with did wonderful things to the flavor characteristics of the beer. Take a bite and sip, you pick up more hops. Sip beer and take a bite, you taste a different herb in the dish or the earthiness of the mushroom explodes on your palate. The chef at Maloney's is amazing at doing this judging by the two dinners we've attended. 
Second course featured Ommegang Independence Day Ale with a wonderful earthy bisque that spoke to almost everyone at the table. This was my least favorite beer of the evening. I found it more suited for the summer with a much lighter body and floral and honey characteristics. Although it did compliment the bisque nicely i found myself just concentrating on the bowl of food and ignoring the glass of Ommegang. I let this one sit to the side and eventually it was replaced with an extraordinary brew by Allagash
Third and main course was a tasty turkey pot pie paired with Allagash Fluxus. What a wonderful complex beer! Allagash is starting to become one of my top breweries. Everything I try from there ends up being incredible. From their White Ale, to their Curioux, Allagash knows how to hit the nail on the head with the brewing hammer every time. The gentleman from Maloney's touted this beer as being delivered to us from the only keg existing in the state. Maloney's has pull, you can see by their tap run, and this was another beer I was amazed they were serving. 
Although the turkey pot pie was a good course, the beer stole the show on this one. Eating the pie mainly to fill me up a bit to avoid complete intoxication, I was focused on absorbing all the flavors of this beer. The Fluxus had so many different flavor characteristics that naming them all would be hard to do by memory. Balanced, with maltiness, slight hops, and features of grapes with some almost wine like qualities to it. Amazing beer!
Last course, and hit with everyone on the table, was pumpkin spice cake. This was another achievement by the chef and their staff for being able to deliver the flavors of fall on a plate to you. A perfect pairing with this was any pumpkin ale you could think of. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale was the chosen beverage. Palate burn out could have been the culprit, or possibly the sugar and cinnamon coated rim on the glass, something I wasn't a fan of, but this beer didn't do anything for me. It lacked the body of most pumpkin ales enjoyed throughout the season, and generally lacked any distinct flavor. I had tried a large run of Dogfish Head beers a few years back and none of them really hit it off with me. This gave me another hint that Dogfish head just isn't for me. The Fluxus was still fresh on my mind, so the Punkin was just something to drink next to the delicious pumpkin cake. 
At the end of the meal, my wife and I were given a complimentary pint of the Anderson Valley Brewing Company's Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale while we hung out with the couple sitting next to us who were regulars enjoying the same. This was the perfect end to a wonderful night of great food and great beer. The description of the Winter Solstice on their website describes this beer as well and better than I can. It was enjoyed to the last sip nice and slowly. 
Thanks Maloney's for putting on another great dinner. We will be seeing you again soon!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Weyerbacher Idiot's Drool Release Night. Timing is everything!

Tonight could easily be described by the t-shirt logo above. After missing out on the release party for
Rapture, I left work at 3:30 and drove an hour for the Idiot's Drool release party. Idiot's drool is Weyerbacher's insanely delicious barley wine style ale Blithering Idiot that was then aged in oak barrels for 4 and 1/2 years!!!! I found parking then hesitated for a few seconds in the car, deciding "should get changed out of my dirty work clothes or not", I voted against it due to the large number of cars still pulling up and circling the area. Slipping in line about 30 seconds before the next two guys arrived behind me.

this is only 50% of the total line

The wait begins...
I took to chatting with fellow craft beer enthusiast to try and pass the time as the sun eventually set, the wind picked up and it dropped into the 30's. Thankfully it didn't rain or it could have been a harsh evening for some. The doors eventually opened and the line began to slowly creep forward. The people you were standing with eventually got talked out and we all began to feel concerned. Seeing person after person with an Idiot's Drool case walking out the door and leaving made everyone realize that if you didn't get it, it was gone for good. When we got close enough to see inside, but not see the cases of Idiot's drool, Bill Bragg(scroll to the bottom of the Weyerbacher page for Bill's bio) began walking up and down the line counting heads. Someone asked how much was left. Bill's response, "not much". I nervously ask, "are we going to get some where we stand in line?" Response, "it's gonna be real close, there are only about 40 bottle left." Nervousness begins buidling. A girl starts walking up and down the line, offering people $30 a bottle if you are able to get one for her. People then realized they weren't going to get any.

the chaos inside the brewery. this is the order line, and pay/pick up line mashed together.

Eventually the order table was in site and I could see the actual cases. At first there was 10 cases upon walking in. Look away for a second, now there was 8. Take a step forward and let someone by, now 7. Needless to say, it was nerve wrecking. Sooner or later, there are 3 people in front of me.  Now 1 person in front of me, and only 1 last case. Panic! If he takes all 12 like he said he may, then I'm the first person to come in last! He takes 6! I get the very last 6 bottles available!!!!!! I still feel nervous. Stepping up, handing them my order slip, the guy turns around, then looks at me. In a low voice he says, "You get the last case". Remember how i thought about getting changed in the car? And how the guys who were behind me walked up about 30 seconds after I did? Timing is everything!

view from my spot in the pay/pick up line.
the case on the floor all the way to the right is my case.
dangerously close to anyone wanting to make a desperate attempt for beer.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled. The crazy part, Idiot's Drool was priced at $23 a bottle for a 750ml cage and corked bottle. I bought 6, and haven't even tried it yet!

This was a fun night. Got to talk to some other beer enthusiasts, chatted with people from the brewery, and picked up some damn good beer. In addition to the Idiot's Drool, Rapture was available so ended up throwing 4 of those in there too with 1 Merry Monks, and 1 Double Simcoe IPA

What a night!

No caption needed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Change for the Better.

Having given up on the selection of most of the bars in the area i switched to just buying six packs and drinking at home and visiting my local breweries. The bars never had anything good on tap, most of the crowd was just people looking to get hammered, and the prices were way to high for the kind of beer they were pouring. Two experiences this week are giving me hope that it's time to come out of my cave and head out for a pint. First, being stuck at a wholesale club for two hours waiting for new tires to be put on my truck. And second, heading out just tonight to take a chance and see if anything interesting was on tap.

Well what i found on both occasions was promising. At a Buffalo Wild Wings (a place i never imagined even stepping near) the tap run included, Blue Point, Long Trail, Stone, and some other beers that you don't usually see. After talking with the manager for a while it was apparent that the clients there were controlling the taps. He had bought in other local brews, but all the people wanted was the special that night, which was mostly Coors, Bud, or Miller. So they had to tone it down and reduce the craft beer selection to just a few. But it intrigued me. If Buffalo Wild Wings had Stone, what did other places that weren't as commercial have?

Tonight was a sign of what may be coming true. Craft beer is mainstream. Being so amazed that B.W.W. had Stone on tap, I picked a random place and popped in. Amazing! Ramstein, Long Trail(2), Sam Adams(2), Flying Dog, Harpoon, Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, Stone, Smuttynose, Ottercreek, and South Hampton Publick House!! They didn't even have the Big 3 on the tap run. They stored it out of site, nearly under the bar. Could it be they didn't want the Coors and Bud taps disrupting the craft beer image they wanted to display?

Maybe people got fed up being given an option of only 4 beers on tap where ever they went and either demanded more options, or just simply pulled out of the scene and hit the local breweries themselves (my preferred tactic). Either way, there seems to be a wave of change hitting even commercial restaurants. People want good beer!

Head out to a place you haven't visited in a few years. See what's pouring there. You may be very excited to see the pint glass is no longer full of yellow stuff they refer to as beer, but a complex dark ale with a nice thick head.


Tastings, Dinners, and other Local Events. Where to go for the beer.

Over the past year I've attended some great beer events. From dinners to tastings, or a festival where beer was one of the main attractions there have been a number of them this year. After researching breweries, going to my local liquor store too often, or just going into a bar for a random pint it's becoming evident that there are hundreds of events every year. Just New York City and Philadelphia can keep you occupied all year. One of the major problems though was knowing where to find the information in advance so you aren't left in the cold.

Sticking with just my very local area, here are three helpful links to help you narrow your searches, or just find something to do during the week or weekend. Unfortunately I was unable to find a New York State, or Pennsylvania State guide. But these links will give you a plethora of events to pick from.

New Jersey



Pick out an event and head out for the day. Talk with your local brewery represetative and learn something about beer you never knew. Or maybe find a brand new beer you never tried before from your favorite brewery. Events are a great way to gain knowledge of the beer you are drinking. And if nothing else, you can thank your local brewers for making the beer you look forward to drinking at the end of a hard day.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Honest Pint Update.

Last post gave a quick description of the project and their goals failing to mention that the site creator was bailing out of the effort. Guess I didn't do enough homework before writing the post!

Good news though, recently read on Beervana, a very well put together beer blog, that the site will be taken over by a group of people who will be dedicating the resources to it to make it successful!

Keep hitting the site to check for updates and look for your favorite places to get certified.

Honest Pint Project

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Honest pint project. How to know you get what you pay for.

When you order a beer in a local pub, how can you be sure that what you're paying for is what you get? Sure if you order a craft beer and a mass produced crap beer comes you know the difference. But what if the glass is only 14 ounces? Sure you can do the math, but your loosing one pint after you really pay for eight. Doesn't seem very right.

Honest Pint Project is dedicated to listing your favorite pubs and restaurants that are giving you the full 16 ounces you deserve.

The site seems to be very seldom used (as there are only 8 states listed where certified pints are being poured and the site is ). But they list instructions on how to get your local place certified, and hopefully they meet the requirements. If not, demand a full pint!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Winter beer season is here!

Sorry for the lapse in post. Storm took focus from posting to consuming.

With the onslaught of pumpkin ale and Oktoberfest season now at a close and a slow disappearing of those beer from all the stores its now time for an even more overwhelming beer season. With the winter brings a whole new mix of different brews to pick from. Christmas Ales, Holiday Porters, Belgium Doubles and Triples, and Stouts galore will fill the shelves.
Each brewery does it differently, you can count on some putting forth a hefty darker style beer packed with a dominate malty flavor. But there are plenty of other breweries that offer something totally different. This has been somewhat of the trend from what I've experienced(try Smuttynose Winter Ale for a great example of maltiness and Harpoon Winter Warmer for a spice filled ale).

In addition to my regular favorites, this is a time to look forward to your favorite brewery putting out an experimental batch that could be a delight. Two or three years ago Riverhorse in Lambertville, NJ released their Oatmeal Milk Stout that was wildly popular. This year the same brewery will put out a Chocolate Porter. Meanwhile still keeping their Oatmeal Milk Stout as their yearly winter release in addition to their equally popular Belgian Freeze.

Also Weyerbacher in Easton, PA is planning a release party for their one of a kind Idiot's Drool. With the craze of oak barrel aged beer at a fever pitch, Weyerbacher is setting a great example of how to do it right. Idiot's Drool is simply their Blithering Idiot, a hefty Barleywine style brew aged in Bourbon barrels for 4 years!!!! The anticipated release is November 17th and is happening at the brewery. This beer is not being released in stores so if you're close by, make the trip. This is also in addition to their Winter Ale(keep an eye out for the Klepto-snowmen on the packaging), and their Quad.

Then there's the Vermont trio. Longtrail in Bridgewater Corners, VT has their popular Hibernator. Otter Creek in Middlebury, VT took their awesome Black IPA out of the seasonal category and replaced it with an all new Winter Red Ale. Thankfully they kept the Black IPA as a year round selection. And Wolaver's, also in Middlebury, VT has a their tasty Alta Garcia Coffee Porter.

Although not my favorite, Troeg's in Hershey PA has their insanely popular Mad Elf. Plan on picking this up if you see it. My taste buds are defective, so I'm told, since people are in love with this beer and it just grossed me out last year. But I will try again this year.

Finally, Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, CA has their equally popular Christmas Ale. This beer is one you can't judge by trying once. Unlike other breweries, Anchor does something very different for their seasonal offering. Instead of keeping the same recipe each year, they basically completely rehaul the entire recipe every year. Try it this year and if you love it, buy it is mass quantities since you will never get that same offering again. It's somewhat saddening(observe my wife and I passionately talking about how good the 2010 offering was) but that makes this brew so special each year.

Keep your eye out for these and others this winter season. You can get a malty hearty ale or a beer hinted with pine cones. Unlike the pumpkin ale season where it's all pumpkin in every bottle, The winter season is full of variety, and wonder. Stay warm, and keep the beer flowing to guide you through the cold months!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Aging beer. Proper storage and things to consider.

Taking the advice from an employee at a local brewery, we decided to make an attempt at aging beer. At first, we thought it was a simple matter of putting the bottles on racks and leaving them for at least a year. But after reading into it more, and asking the advice of the brewery, it was suggested to store the beer upright due to many different factors.

Last year was the first year I made the attempt and realized after drinking the one beer that survived my cravings during the months that the wait is worth it. Beer can be aged just like wine. It's obvious that if you're buying a beer to age, you probably enjoy it. But make sure you buy enough to drink some now, and enough to put some away. There are just as many factors to consider like in the wine cellar business but you can keep it simple by applying these rules to your "beer cellar".

  1. Keep the beer out of direct light. The affect of light can quickly ruin your beer making the moment you open that bottle a year or more later a big disappointment. 
  2. Just as important as light, keep it away from any heat source. Right now, my stash is placed within 2 feet of my furnace. Although we haven't turned on heat our, I know it will have to be moved before winter begins. Heat will just as quickly destroy the beer. 
  3. Store your bottles upright. Unlike wine, beer should be stored just as it is in the store, standing up. There are two basic reasons for this. First, standing the beer laying down will allow the yeast to settle on the side of the bottle. After storing my own in a wine rack before learning about this, I was witness to this and it can throw off the flavor of the beer. Second, you want to keep the liquid away from the cork, or other capping device. In the case of cork, there are a slew of different reason to keep the beer away from it which you can find all over the internet.
  4. A good rule of thumb to follow is this, Larger = longer, Smaller = shorter. This is in regard to the ABV content. Larger ABV beer will be able to age longer and not spoil therefor allowing more changes to happen within the bottle. With smaller ABV's, less time aging due to a quicker spoil rate won't allow for such unique changes to occur. 
  5. Buy and store the beer at room temperature. There are two reasons for this. One is for the actual beer, the other is for you to save money. Most of the time, your basement will be slightly above 60 degrees(F)  on average through out the year. That's unless you have a furnished basement. This is a pretty good temperature to keep all your beers. Unless you wanna get very very involved, there isn't too much need to worry about humidity levels. The other reason for room temperature beer, is so you don't run a second fridge! The refrigerator is one of the costliest appliances in a house to run. Save yourself the money by buying and storing at room temperature. And then use the money you saved to buy more beer to age!
  6. If you don't have a basement, put aside a little corner in a closet to store a few beers in. You will get a low light environment and will just have to ignore the higher storage temperature. 
  7. Lastly, DON'T DRINK THE BEER FOR AT LEAST A YEAR!! This is by far the biggest challenge in the whole process. Mostly all the other requirements are easy to meet as long as you aren't homeless. Ignoring a glorious stout that came out in the beginning of the year around time for Thanksgiving, or avoiding that 6 pack of summer ale you bought in april during a warm spell in September is the hardest thing to do. Have strength and know it will be worth it in the end. 
Cheers! And Happy aging!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Local. It doesn't get any better.

After reading a few books, my wife and I decided to put the effort in and become big supporters of our local farms and businesses. Beer naturally became part of the mix and it has become so enjoyable. With the same idea behind food, Closer = fresher = tastes better and Local business = not a mini mall or factory size store, we have found some excellent brewers in our area.

Most are within an hour drive enabling us to visits them and witness how they're making the product we're putting into our bodies (can't do that with "The Great American Lager"). We've also learned so much about the brewing process in general.

Depending on your area you may have breweries close like we do, or maybe a little further away. But they're working with the distribution chain to ensure their product is available to you. Take the time to visit them. By devoting the day or maybe afternoon to driving out and meeting with your brewers, it will show them that what they are doing is worth while in more ways than just the paycheck. Some of the breweries may be small with almost no signs in the front. Others are bigger like Sam Adams now is. And then you may have brew pubs. Each one will have different things to see and cool people to meet.

It's taken some time, but we have found most of the brewers in our area though word of mouth. But recently I found a great website making the whole process quick and easy. Check it out...

Brewers Association


Saturday, October 22, 2011

"I don't like that bitter taste". Understanding, acclimating, then falling in love with hops.

Being a beer fan for years i have come to love my hops. that nice floral and sometime bitter flavor in your that most newer beer drinkers have come to associate with beers they dont like. in order to fully judge a beer on the hops alone it would be fair to know why they are used during brewing in the first place.

Hops are the female flower cluster of the hop plant. the hop plant is a large climbing vine like species much like grape plants that is generally used to stabilize and flavor beer. in addition to its basic uses there are a number of other benefits from using them. they balance the sweetness of the malt, add antioxidants, and was found to reduce the spoilage of beers. traditional IPA's(india pale ale) feature a large amount of hop flavor. during the 17th-19th many IPA's were shipped to India so hops were added in excess to ensure the beers wouldnt spoil during the long trips across the ocean. but hops were used way back in the 800's as well.

hops being adding to the mash

Hops, like most plants have many different species. each one featuring a different taste quality than the other. brewers will now grow their hops specifically based on which flavors they are wanting to feature in any number of their beers. the brewer will harvest then either dry or use them fresh in their brewing method. most time the hops are added to the brewing method right around the time the brew begins boiling. although some breweries will add the dried hops directly to the beer then filter them out, others will sometimes pour the premature beer through a large strainer loaded with fresh hops. it simply adds a different flavor to the brew by quickly exposing the mix to the oils on the flowers. Think of hops like tea leaves in boiling water. same concept.

example of wet hopping using a strainer                                              

now knowing a little more about why that beer your drinking is bitter hopfully gives you some desire to delve into some hoppier brews. below are some "less hoppy" hoppy beers as i like to call them. these should give you the a nice introduction into hoppier beer and then the big IPA's. although the hops wont be as pungent, you will still get the bitterness when trying these out. 


Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter
River Horse Special Ale

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale

Anchor Brewing Porter

Wolaver's IPA

Otter Creek Black IPA