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Week of Beer – November 20, 2012

November 21, 2012

Beer Thoughts

In lieu of a formal blog entry, I thought I’d share the beers I am bringing to Thanksgiving dinner this year.  They aren’t meant to be the perfect pairings for turkey, the ultimate statement on the past year in beer, or even the best beers for your Thanksgiving table… These are simply the beers I want to share right now.

 

CAPTAIN LAWRENCE BROWN BIRD BROWN ALE  Elmsford, New York

Style:                American/British Brown Ale

IBU (bitterness): >25

ABV (alcohol):     4.8%

Malts:         Canadian Pale, English Crystal, German Munch, German Roast.

Hops:          Columbus, Sterlings, Goldings

Why I selected this beer?  Brown Ales, with their warm flavors and roasted malt, taste like autumn in a glass to me.  While the Brown Ale style is of British origin, Brown Bird is a product of American brewing creativity, using Canadian, English & German Malts, and English & American hops.  Captain Lawrence Brewery was founded in 2005 by Scott Vaccaro, and has become renowned for their Barrel-Aged ales and Wild Sour ales.  It takes a skilled brewer to brew such complex beers, so his relatively “simple” straightforward ales are equally well-crafted, if sometimes under-appreciated.

 

DOGFISH HEAD RAISON D’ETRE  Milton, Delaware

Style:                Belgian Strong Ale

IBU (bitterness): 25

ABV (alcohol):     8.0%

Malts:         Pale, Crystal, Chocolate

Hops:          Warrior, Vanguard

Other:        Raisins, Beet Sugar, Belgian Yeast

Why I selected this beer? Dogfish Head Brewery’s motto is “off-centered ales for off-centered people” and one of the earliest beers that founder Sam Calagione brewed for his brewpub was not a strict by-the-recipe Belgian Dubbel (traditionally a somewhat strong, malty, mildly spicy brew with notes of chocolate and dark fruit, and a style not commonly brewed back in 1996 by American brewers).  He added raisins and beet sugar to enhance the flavors already present in the style, while at the same time creating something entirely new.   I also personally find that dark Belgian-style beers pair nicely with the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes of stuffing, candied yams and cranberry sauce.

 

THE BRUERY AUTUMN MAPLE  Placentia, California

Style:                Spiced Vegetable Beer

IBU (bitterness): 25

ABV (alcohol):     10.0%

Malts:         Unknown

Hops:          Unknown

Other:        Yams, Vanilla, Spices, Maple Syrup

Why I selected this beer?  The one purely American style of beer that isn’t a variation of a historically European beer is Pumpkin Ale.  It was likely brewed by the Pilgrims (with real pumpkins, but maybe not the pumpkin-pie spices we now associate with the style) and revived by American craft brewers in the late 20th century.  Taking this a step further, the Rue family (namesake of the bRUEry) used yet another Thanksgiving staple, yams (17 lbs per barrel) in place of pumpkin, along with pumpkin-pie spices and maple syrup, and then fermented it using their house Belgian-style yeast for another level of complexity.  A beer such as this shows the best in American craft brewing innovation and creativity.

 

FIRESTONE WALKER DOUBLE DBA  Paso Robles, California

Style:                Barrel-Aged Imperial Bitter

IBU (bitterness): 29

ABV (alcohol):     12.0%

Malts:         Two-Row, Maris Otter Pale, Munich, Crystal, Chocolate

Hops:          Magnum, Styrian Golding, East Kent Golding

Why I selected this beer?  When I visited Firestone Walker about eight years ago, we walked into an empty tasting room where the only person on staff that day had to turn on the lights when she realized she had visitors.  In the years since, Firestone Walker has garnered a cult-like following, not only for their delicious flagship Double Barrel Ale, a British-inspired Bitter (a.k.a. Pale Ale) finished in oak barrels, but for a series of experimental barrel-aged blended ales partly inspired by the barrel-aged blended wines made by their family-owned winery.  Double DBA basically doubles the recipe (and strength) of their Double Barrel Ale, and then ages it in American Oak barrels to add more layers of flavor and complexity (vanilla, oak, smoke) to an already delicious brew, making this an excellent after-dinner sipper to savor.

 

Last Round

There are a few themes in the list above:

All the beers are relatively low in bitterness and have little hop presence in their flavor.  This is intentional for two reasons.  One, I find for pairing sake that the savory fall flavors and seasonings on a Thanksgiving table call for maltier beers, and that a strong bitterness would simply overwhelm the meal. Two, if I am introducing new beers to anyone who might not be much of a beer drinker, more often than not, bitter beers can be a real turn off, and give a bad first impression that they may never look past.

All the beers are American brewed.  I love beers from all over the world, but Thanksgiving is an American holiday (yes, Canadians have their Thanksgiving too, but that is celebrated on a different day, and I’m more than happy to break out some great Canadian beers then) so why not celebrate with some of the creativity and innovation American brewers have brought to the beer world.

Last is that I truly enjoy all of the beers, and want to share what I enjoy with others.  Except the Autumn Maple, which I have actually yet to try, so let’s hope it is as tasty as it sounds… I’ll report back next week on that one.  Till then…

Happy Thanksgiving!

– Keith

Week of Beer – November 13, 2012

November 13, 2012

Beer Thoughts

Yes, yet another new craft beer blog by me.  After starting my beer writing with an almost monthly “pint of knowledge”, and not quite finishing my “year of beer” (I finished the beers, but not the blog, though one of these days I’ll actually translate my handwritten notes into a full 365 entries for the 365 beers I tried back in 2010), I’m aiming for a weekly post that sums up beers I’ve tasted that I’d like to share, places I’ve visited that serve great beer, upcoming beer events, and some thoughts I may have on beer over the past seven days or so.

I’ve recently moved to Fairfield County, Connecticut, so my posts will focus on mostly on beers available in this area (not necessarily brewed locally, but can be purchased here), and places and events nearby (Southern / Western CT, Westchester, NYC mostly).

Beer Tasted

The first Connecticut-brewed beer I tried since moving to CT was Half Full’s Pumpkin Ale.  Half Full is a new craft brewery (opened 2012) based in Stamford, CT, and their Pumpkin Ale is a draught-only Fall seasonal.

Pumpkin beers can be very divisive.  Some people can’t wait to Fall to arrive each year to find their favorite Pumpkin beers on the shelves, and other craft beer drinkers just can’t stand them.  I’m in the first group, and I’ve tried dozens of pumpkin ales over the years.  The two key factors for me are the choice of spices and amount of spices.  This is a very personal consideration, meaning the ideal choice and level of spice for me may be quite different from what you like.

That being said, Half Full’s Pumpkin Ale has a really nice blend of spices (I can taste nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla among other flavors) and a spice level where I taste a really nice malty amber ale with delicious pumpkin pie spices rather than a glass of liquid pumpkin pie.

I’m a big fan of drinking local if you can, but only if that local beer is worth drinking, and this beer certainly is.  I highly recommend seeking this one out before it’s gone for the season.  Check Half Full’s website for a Beer Map to locations serving their Pumpkin Ale (though I suggest calling ahead to any establishment listed to confirm).  Also, according to their website, if you want to grab a growler (a 64 oz jug hand-filled at the brewery) for your Thanksgiving dinner, they will be open on Wednesday, November 21st from 4 to 8 p.m.

Beer Places

Great beer destinations aren’t always bars or breweries.  Coalhouse Pizza in Stamford, CT is a great pizza restaurant that just happens to have an impressive selection of 54 craft beer taps served in 16 oz mason jars, as well as a nice list of beer by the bottle.  I got a chance to go there for the first time last night for a Belgian Beer class, and was impressed by the beer selection, delicious appetizers, very cool jazz murals on the walls, and truly friendly patrons and staff.  They also have a Beer Club that costs only $20 to join for the year, entitling you to a complimentary beer on Tuesday nights.  I’m looking forward to returning soon to try some of their amazing looking pizza for dinner.

Beer Happenings

Just a few highlights of local events in the coming weeks:

November 19th – Deadline for entries in the Coalhouse Pizza Homebrewer’s competition.  Entries can be dropped of at either Coalhouse Pizza in Stamford, CT or Maltose Express in Monroe, CT.  Judging takes place December 4th.

November 29th – 7 p.m. – Charity Concert with The Stationary Set at Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford, NY.  $10 entry.  Great Beer. Great Music. Great Cause.

December 8thBeer’s Cup of Joe: Stouts & Porters – Oxford, CT based beer importer B United is offering an educational and tasting class at their facility at 10:30 a.m. (nothing like starting your Saturday morning with some tasty brews!)

Last Round

It is now mid-November and  the last of the Fall seasonal beers (Oktoberfests, Harvest Ales, Wet-hopped IPAs and Pumpkin beers, among others) are becoming as hard to find as orange and red leaves still clinging to maple trees these days.  The winter beers are already taking their place, with Winter Warmers and Christmas Ales already filling the shelves.  Grab your favorite Fall beers while you can (especially for enjoying with your turkey dinner next week), because it may be next September (or August, or July given how early seasonal beers seem to be released these days) before you can find it again.

Cheers!

– Keith