Little-known Lemburger is a big winner for a Finger Lakes wine producer

Lemberger, growing in popularity, garners top honor for Ventosa Vineyards in New York State’s 2015 competition.

By Alan J. Wax

Winner of the 2015 New York Governor's Cup

Winner of the 2015 New York Governor’s Cup

When was the last time you sipped a Lemberger? Likely, not lately.

But that could change as this little-known grape variety, originally from Germany and also grown in other parts of central Europe, finds new popularity.

Lemberger, a hardy, dark-skinned red wine grape that produces full-bodied, fruit-forward, peppery wines, has found a home in parts of Washington State and in New York’s Finger Lakes. Lemberger also is known as Blaufränkisch and several other names as well.

And it was a 2011 Lemberger from Ventosa Vineyards, on the northeast shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York, that recently was crowned the top wine in the annual New York Governor’s Cup competition. This year, the competition’s 30th, attracted 858 entries from throughout the state, including Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie

You won’t find many Lembergers in your local wine shop. Astor Wines, among the largest wine merchants in New York City, sells but one, from Fox Run Vineyards, also on Seneca Lake. Wine.com lists 14 offerings, mostly from Washington, but all are as sold out. (Channing Daughter’s Winery in Bridgehampton, Long Island, produces a Blaufränkisch.)

In Germany, the Lemberger grape has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years, according to the Wines of Germany web site, which noted that plantings have grown from about 400-500 hectacres in the 1980s to more than 1,750 hectacres.

Many Finger Lakes wineries produce Lemberger wines, in large measure due to the grape’s winter heartiness. A 1996 study by a group of Northeast researchers, including the well-respected Dr. Joseph A. Fiola of the University of Maryland, reported that vines can be hardy at 0°F to -10°F and that vines have survived temperatures as low as -13° F. Finger Lakes winters can be harsh. This past winter, the mercury dropped to as low as -10°F, which can kill half the buds on a grapevine.

The Ventosa Lambeger 2011 is estate grown — as are all the winery’s wines. But production is small, just 256, 12-bottle cases. The wine, aged in new Hungarian oak barrels, retails for $23.95 at the winery.

Wines at this 10-year-old producer, owned by Lenny and Meg Cecere, are made by Jenna LaVita, who honed her craft working under Peter Bell at Fox Run Vineyards; Eric Shatt, formerly head wine maker and vineyard manager at Ventosa, and Rob Thomas of Shalestone Vineyards.

Grapes for this year’s winning wine were planted in June 2004, after more than half of the vineyard’s red grape vines were destroyed by frost. The vineyard is just 23 acres and produces about 4,200 cases of wine annually, all made without the aid of herbicide sparys. Ventosa also produces Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.  Ventosa is also one of only two New York to grow and produce Tocai Friulano, a white Italian varietal (Millbrook Winery in the Hudson Valley is the other).

Ventosa’s online tasting notes describe its award winner as having “a powerful spicy oak nose, botanical notes of juniper and eucalyptus on the immediate palate. Sharp tannins, under-ripe blackberries, fiery pepper lingering on the finish.”

I can’t say I picked up the pepper, but it is a terrific wine, nonetheless. My notes: Almost inky. Spicy oak nose. Intense brambly character with juicy black fruits and oak notes. I found the tannins to be moderate. Lengthy finish. Enough here to convince me to try other Limburgers.

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Drink a peach: beers with summer fruit

peach-image-free-1The pleasure of summer peaches savored in a glass.

By Alan J. Wax

Now is the time to sip some of summer in a bottle: beer made with peaches, the season’s best fruit.

That’s quite a range of peach beers to choose from, ranging from light,but slightly tart Belgian Lambics to monster strong ales.

Peach beers have long been made in Belgium, but American craft brewers are interpreting the notion of peaches and beers in a wide range of styles, from sweet to sour, from low gravity to high.

To be sure, not every variation works. Peaches typically have both sweetness and a touch of acidity. Some brewers can be right on target, while others make you sit back and scratch your heading wondering, “What was this brewer thinking?”

To me, a good beach beer should taste like fresh peaches, not the syrupy stuff that comes from a can. And you’ve got to taste the peaches. Otherwise, they’re wasted.

Recently, I sampled a number of peach-based beers with a tasting group. I found, without a doubt, that the Belgian’s have this nailed down.

i-lindemans-peche-lambicMy hand’s down favorite was Lindemans Pêche, a peach Lambic from Lindemans Brewery, Vlezenbeek, Flanders, Belgium. Just 2.5 percent ABV, this brew was made with water, barley malt, wheat, peach juice, sugar, natural peach flavor from peaches, hops, stevia and yeast. Charles Finkel, founder of beer importer Merchant du Vin suggested in the early 1980s that Lindeman should produce a peach Lambic.   This golden brew offered a big peach nose that was matched by ripe, peach flavors on the palate with a hint of acidity. I gave it 5*.

Moody Tongue NectarineSliced Nectarine IPA by Moody Tongue Brewing Co., of Chicago is a cloudy, deep golden brew with a huge head, nectarine and hop nose. (Nectarine is a variety of peach). Bitter notes slightly dominate the palate as you might expect in an IPA. It’s an IPA with nuance and a dry finish. 4*

St. Louis Premium Pêche from Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck in Inglemunster, Belgian was a bit of an oddity. Given to me by David Schultzer, owner of Bellport Cold Beer & Soda, this bottle was produced in 2006— nine years ago. Lambics are not really meant to be aged this long and this bottled showed it age. Sherry hued, it totally lacked carbonation. It was sweet and syrupy with a suggestion of peach cider. Still, not the worst of the lot, although far from the best. 3*

label_peach_berliner_weissePeach Berliner Weisse by Perennial Artisan Ales, of St. Louis, Missouri, is a cloudy pale gold brew with only mildly tart with hint of peach. 3*

Peach Grand Cru by Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, Colorado is a copper-hued brew in the style of a Belgian strong ale. There’s just a hint of peach on nose and great lacing on the glass. There appears to be tons of candi sugar in here, but it struck me as pancake syrup with some alcoholic heat and sweet finish. I wondered, where’s the peach? 2.75*

Festina Pêche from Dogfish Head Brewing, Milton, Delaware, is a 4.5 percent ABV brew in the Berliner Weisse style. Lightly hopped and pale straw in color, the peach, the brewer says, is used to offset the tartness of the style, in the manner that a Berliner would use woodruff of raspberry syrup. It’s soft and mild brew with just a hint of peach. A disappointment. 2*

Son of a Peach by RJ Rockers Brewing Company, Spartanburg, South Carolina,is cloudy gold, unfiltered American wheat ale. There’s a hint of peach on the nose, but the palate suggests bitter peach pits. Real dry finish. 2*

Unity VibrationI wasn’t quote sure what to make of Bourbon Peach American Wild from Unity Vibration Living Kombucha Tea Co. of Ypsilanti, Michigan. This 7 percent ABV brew Is described by its producer as “a whimsical re-imagination of an American wild ale blurs the lines between kombucha tea and Belgian Lambic.” It’s fermented with a kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, including lactobacillus and Brettanomyces) and aged in oak bourbon casks with peaches. A cloudy, light hay-hued beer, it was tart and dry with the nose and palate of nail polish remover. Downright nasty, to be honest. ½*

Go ahead, sip the orchard-grown essence of the summer, but choose carefully if you want to have pleasant memories of these hazy, lazy days.

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Getting Goosed at a craft beer festival

 A trio of beers from Goose Island prove to be among the best of the fest

Barry McLaughlin (1)

Goose Island rep Barry McLaughlin shows a bottle of Halia

By Alan J. Wax

Time to eat my words after drinking against my principals.

Since AB-InBev’s acquisition of Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. —and subsequently, Blue Point Brewing on Long Island and Elysian Brewing in Washington—I had made my mind up to pass up on their offerings and not support this industry giant.

I’d been loath to indulge in these AB crafty beers, particularly after the Budweiser commercial launched earlier this year that mocks craft brewers.

That changed today at the North Fork Craft Beer Festival on Long Island’s East End.

As I strolled through a dried patch of grass that was once a fairway at the Calverton Links Golf Club, I came upon the Goose Island Brewery booth staffed by Barry McLaughlin, a friend who is now the brewery’s representative for Long Island.

As it turns out, he was pouring the best beer I tasted at the event and two others that came darn close, all Goose Island products.

McLaughlin, who until recently marketed craft beers for AB distributor Clare Rose, poured me a few ounces of Halia, a sour elixir based on Goose Island’s popular farmhouse ale Sofie. Halia is Sofie aged on whole peaches in neutral wood barrels. It’s name means “remembrance of a loved one” in Hawaiian; Halia was brewed in memory of a friend of one of its brewers who loved peaches. It also sells for nearly $40 for a 765ml bottle.

Wow! What a delight this hazy golden 7.5 percent ABV brew proved to be. Brettanomyces dominated the nose and on the palate I puckered up for a hit of sharp lacto tartness. It’s juicy brew that offers up definite peach character. Not much oak there, but that was just fine. No distraction from the other flavors. 5 stars.

The beer is part of Goose Island’s barrel program, which encompasses thousands of wine and spirits barrels (Bourbon barrels, of course, are used for Goose Island’s much-sought-after Bourbon County Barrel Stout), filled with brew.

Next, McLaughlin poured me Gillian, another brew based on Sofie, but one with honey added. Goose Island’s web site describes it as inspired by an amuse bouche often prepared by the wife of one of its brewers. Gillian also is aged in part in wine barrels and made with Michigan strawberries and Michigan organic honey. This orange-hued beer boasts 9.5 percent ABV. It’s got a honeyed nose, rounded mouth feel and offers up fruity notes leading to a dry, tart finish. 4.5 stars.

Last in the Goose Island line up was the brewer’s 25th anniversary beer, an American wild ale from Goose Island’s Clybourn facility brewed in 2013 and also known as Brettanomite. The 6.3% ABV golden sour ale was tart and flavorful with an in-your-face brett character, it was juicy and a bit cidery. 3.5 stars.

So glad I was willing to keep an open mind about these beers. I’ll be happy to open my fridge door for Goose Island beers like these going forward.

 

 

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Start-up beer exporter shipping East Coast craft beers to the UK

Bringing coals to New Castle? Not exactly, says the founder of newly launched Crafted Exports, which is shipping kegged craft beer to London pubs.

Bartender at London's Hop & Berry pub pours a glass of  American craft beer

Bartender at London’s Hop & Berry pub pours a glass of American craft beer, Haproon UFO

By Alan J. Wax

A Brooklyn, New York, entrepreneur and his partners are attempting to capitalize on surging UK interest in American craft beer with a start-up business that is exporting U.S. craft beers and ciders to England.

Crafted Export's Peter Schneider

Crafted Export’s Peter Schneider

Peter Schneider, a former sales rep for Brooklyn-based Union Beer, and his partners in Crafted Exports Inc.   have sent their first shipment to London, where the beers are being distributed by UK importer Euroboozer Ltd.

Schneider’s partners in Crafted are Qurban Singh Walia, Schneider’s former colleague in a consulting business and an executive at a brewery in India, and Peter McNulty, a manager at a New York City marketing firm and former operations manager at Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewing Co.

Now four years out of George Washington University, where he received a BA in economics, Schneider began formulating plans for the beer export business some 18 months ago.

Craft beer, he said, “has always been an interest of ours. We like the way that craft beer … helps people become more thoughtful about what they’re consuming.”

The company’s initial shipment, which reached pubs last month, included such brands as Harpoon from Boston and Bronx Brewery, Captain Lawrence, Butternuts Beer & Ale, and Doc’s Cider, which are all from New York. “We wanted to bring over beers we liked and were geographically together,” he said, “We wanted to keep a reliable, fresh supply chain. We wanted a portfolio that cut across boundaries a little bit.”

A second shipment already is at sea. “We’ve been getting a lot of great feedback,” Schneider noted.

Crafted Exports' current beer export portfolio

Crafted Exports’ current beer export portfolio

Crafted’s East Coast-oriented portfolio made it possible to ship beers more quickly to the UK, Schneider said. “Our main focus to get beer to the consumer as fast as possible.” That meant, he said, “changing the supply chain. “

Crafted leases 30-gallon steel kegs from a third-party logistical provider, which delivers them to the breweries and then recovers them in the UK, where they are cleaned, refilled with different product and shipped back to the U.S. Crafted buys the beer from each brewery, aggregates the kegs at a New Jersey warehouse before shipping them in temperature-controlled containers to the UK, where importer Euroboozers takes over.

The beers are being poured strictly at bars and restaurants. The brews were launched on July 22 at the Hop & Berry, a pub that hitherto offered only beers brewed in London. Pints of the American beers at the Hop & Berry sell from £5.20 (about $8) to £6 (about $9.35). Other pubs offering the beers include the well-known White Horse at Parson’s Green and the Draft House mini-chain.

The American brewers are excited to enter these new markets, Schneider said, noting that brewers often receive requests to export their products, but ignore them due to logistical issues. Schneider said Crafted’s platform got the brewers’ attention to ship to such markets such as London, which offer new growth.

“For a couple of young enterprising guys it was quite refreshing to see the level of drive and effort they put in prior to pitching their proposal,” said Chuck Williamson, owner/operator at Butternuts in Garrattsville, New York.

As for having his beer in the UK, Williamson said, “I think it is a great thing for Butternuts Beer & Ale. I have for years had requests from UK consumers that have come to New York City and had the Pork Slap in particular and wanted to know if they can get it when they get home.” Williamson said “It was good timing really for me,” he added, noting that he’d talked exporting with other firms, “We will see where the next few years takes us, but I think in general U.S. export of beers, done right, will be a great thing for our industry.”

And while bringing beer to the UK, where in 2014 there were 1,285 breweries—more breweries per person than anywhere in the world, may seem like shipping coals to Newcastle, Schneider says there’s keen interest among British drinkers in American craft beer. “This is an exciting new opportunity.”

Added Euroboozer founder Martyn Railton, who already imports Rogue Ales: “America has some of the most unique craft beers, breweries and beer characters in the world so it’s great to be working with some of the best of them. Our American range has been seeing double digit year-over-year growth and with the trend for American food booming within the pub, restaurant, casual dining, street food and wider foodservice sectors, to use an American saying – I expect all these beers will knock it out of the park!”

The beers being marketed in the UK include:

Harpoon IPA, a 5.9% ABV New England-style brew.

Harpoon UFO, a 4.8% Belgian-style wit.

Bronx Session IPA, a 5.0% ABV brew.

Bronx Rye Pale Ale, a 6.3% brew produced with malted and flaked rye.

Captain Lawrence Freshchester Pale Ale, a 5.5% ABV West Coast-style brew.

Captain Lawrence IPA, a 6.5% brew.

Butternuts Pork Slap Pale Ale, a 4.3% beer brewed with a touch of fresh ginger.

Butternuts Moo Thunder Stout, a 4.9% ABV milk stout that pays tribute to the Butternuts Brewery’s former life as a dairy.

Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider, a 5% ABV semi-dry, effervescent cider.

Doc’s Draft Dry Hopped Hard Cider, a 5.5% ABV dry-hopped cider.

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Ellis Island Casino & Brewery: A craft brewing oasis in the Las Vegas desert

Competently made craft brews can be found just a short walk from the Las Vegas Strip, Cheap, good food, too.

IMG_0419

Ellis Island Casino and Brewery in Las Vegas

By Alan J. Wax

Amid the bright lights and crowds on the Las Vegas gaming strip, the odds don’t favor craft beer enthusiasts.

The hotels and restaurants that line this glittery Sin City venue offer little more than mainstream domestic and imported beers as I learned on a recent visit.

However, just a short distance from the Strip’s hubbub one can, indeed, find craft beer. I found it at the Ellis Island Casino and Brewery on Koval Lane, just off Flamingo Road, within walking distance of such hotels as the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo, Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas.

The Ellis Island Casino and Brewery is an unassuming one-story building with a brown and white façade opposite the parking lot used by employees of Bally’s and Paris. It’s tucked between a 7-Eleven convenience store and America’s largest Super 8 motel. On the inside, it has all the glamor of an Interstate truck stop, albeit one filled with all accouterments of a gambling hall. Open 24/7, it’s a place oft frequented by locals.

At mid-afternoon, one bartender scurried from side of the bar to the other to fill her customers’ needs. Video poker terminals built into the bar top leave little room for more than a glass of beer.

But the food is cheap and good. A sirloin dinner including a beer is just $9.99. And beer pricing can’t be beat. A 12 oz.-pour is $1.25, while 20 oz. costs but $2.

Fermenting tanks in the parking lot at Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

Fermenting tanks in the parking lot at Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

The brewery is found inside an addition to the main building and towering fermenters stand in the parking lot along Koval Lane. Inside, kettles and fermenters fill almost every inch. The brewery turns out about 6,000 barrels annually, the result of a recent increase in capacity, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

The brewery opened in 1998 and Joe Picket, a Chicago native educated at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Siebel Institute, who also worked at Chicago’s famed Berghoff, has been at Ellis Island since the beginning. Picket also has established breweries around the world, according to his bio.

The Ellis Island beers are competently made. But for true aficionados they may come across as unexciting. Picket has often been quoted as saying he produces beers that appeal to regular people. ”We brew for the masses,” he told the Las Vegas newspaper, the Journal Review, last year.

Ellis Island produces seven brews and a non-alcoholic root beer. Hefewiezen is the most popular.

I sampled the six brews available during my recent visit. The Hefe was unquestionably my favorite. A quenching brew with a typical hefe nose and bubble gum, cloves and banana notes on the palate. I rated it 3.5* out of 5.

Ellis Island Stout was dark and murky with a muted nose, but the palate burst with roasted malts. It’s light and eminently drinkable. I rated it 3*.

The deep gold Ellis Island IPA was served icy cold, so its floral nose initially was hard to notice. Round and drinkable with bready malt and muted hop notes on the palate, it turns bitter on the finish as it warms. 3*

The summer seasonal, the deep copper Ellis Island Bock, offered up a medium body. It comes across as crisp, but offers little in the way of caramel notes one might expect in this style. 3*

Ellis Island Light Lager: the name says it all. More body and flavor than a mainstream American lager with a hint of hops. 2.75*

Ellis Island Amber, a light coppery brew, also is shy in the nose and offers just suggestions of bready malt on the palate. It’s crisp, but dull. 2.5*

Time didn’t permit me to visit Vegas’ other craft venues, but they’re on my agenda, if I return.

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Long Island breweries, bars to celebrate Craft Beer Week May 6-17

LI Craft logo

By Alan J. Wax

Long Island: get ready for Craft Beer Week.

Long Island’s craft beer industry and its supporters in the hospitality and retail trade are readying a week-plus long celebration of the region’s breweries and beers. It runs from May 6 to May 17, which of course, is more than a week.

Breweries, bars and restaurants will be running special events to mark the celebration. So far, 21 breweries have signed on along with 20 restaurants and bars, three retailers and two wholesalers.

David Schultzer, owner of Bellport Cold Beer & Soda and the lead organizer of Long Island Craft Beer Week, says the celebration is designed to create awareness of Long Island breweries and beers and to attract mainstream beer drinkers to craft beer. “While the focus is Long Island beer and breweries, we need to get more people into craft beer.”

Nevertheless, he said, other states, such as Oregon and California, sell a far greater proportion of locally produced beers than New York.

“We don’t do a good job of letting people know we exist,” he says. Moreover, he said, with the growing number of small breweries opening in the region, brewers will be fighting for the same piece of the pie—and survival, unless they attract legions of new imbibers. “If you don’t expand that customer base, how can you survive?”

The first big event of Long Island Craft Beer week is the May 6 kickoff, Long Island Craft Beer Cares, a charity beer and food tasting at the Melville Marriott Hotel to benefit the Long Island Cares food bank; the Lustgarten Foundation, which raises funds to fight pancreatic cancer, and the New York Bully Crew, a pet-rescue organization.

A collaboration brew — Long Island Craft Cares — developed and brewed by Great South Bay Brewery, of Bay Shore; Port Jeff Brewing, 1940’s Brewing Co., of Farmingdale; Barrage Brewing Co. of East Farmingdale, Blue Point Brewing Co. of Patchogue, and BrickHouse Brewery, also of Patchogue, will debut at the charity event.

Breweries represented at the Long Island Craft Beer Care event include: Blue Point; Great South Bay; Barrage; 1940’s ; Port Jeff; BrickHouse Brewery; Brooklyn Brewery; Sixpoint Brewery, Brooklyn; Spider Bite Beer Co., Holbrook; Blind Bat Brewery, Centerport; Destination Unknown Beer Co., Bay Shore; The Brewers Collective, Farmingdale; Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, Bronx Brewery and Southern Tier Brewing Co., Lakewood, New York.

Beers, Burgers Desserts of Rocky Point, The Tap Room of Patchogue, Noodles & Co., of Garden City, Verde Wine Bar of Deer Park, The Trattoria, St. James will be among area eateries serving up delicious food to accompany the local craft beer at the Craft Beer Cares event. Tickets are $55 and can be purchased online at Eventbrite.

Free Long Island Craft Beer pint glasses will be available and can be ordered online and picked up on May 7 at these locations: The Tap Room, Patchogue; Savoy Tavern, Merrick; Beers Burgers Desserts, Rocky Point; Brewology, Speonk; Lil’ Left Coast, Bellmore; Bobbique, Patchogue and Eat Gastropub, Island Park.

The celebration’s other big event is Bay Fest, a beer festival featuring dozens of breweries at Great South Bay Brewery, i25 Drexel Ave., Bay Shore on May 16. Twenty-seven  breweries — at last count — and several home brew clubs will be pouring samples of their wares. There’s a general session from 1:30 to 5:30 pm with tickets $40 online and $15 for designated drivers. A VIP session, which starts at 12:45 p.m. $55 per person and $15 for designated drivers. Tickets are available at Ticketfly.

In addition to the host brewery, participating brewers include Port Jeff Brewing, BrickHouse Brewery, Blue Point Brewing, Barrage Brewing, 1940’s Brewing, Montauk Brewing Co., Oyster Bay Brewing, Barrier Brewing of Island Park, Southampton Publick House, Riverhead’s Crooked Ladder Brewing, Goose Island Beer Co. of Chicago, Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, Connecticut, Brooklyn Brewery, Ommergang, Greenport Harbor Brewing, Long Ireland Beer Co. of Riverhead, Adirondack Pub and Brewery of Lake George, Third Rail Beer Co. of Manhattan, Southern Tier, Samuel Adams, Destination Unknown, and Lithology Brewing, Farmingdale.

The big events sandwich a multitude of smaller, but no-less exciting events. You’ll find them listed at the Long Island Craft Beer week website.

Hope to see you at one them.

 

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New flavor focus, new labels mark transformation of Otter Creek Brewing

By Alan J. Wax

Vermont’s Otter Creek Brewing wants the world to know a transformation is underway — in the market and in its beers.

Founded in 1991, Otter Creek in those relatively early days of craft brewing was known for its Copper Creek Ale and Stove Pipe Porter. Both are now gone. Jettisoned by management. The now-rapidly growing Middlebury, Vermont, brewery in instead focused on what brewmaster Mike Gerhart says are modern craft beer drinkers.

Otter Creek, he noted, started out brewing classic styles of beer, because back then they were new and exciting for beer drinkers weaned on American lagers. “That was huge, but it ran its course. Over the last 10 years, the slingshot has been pulled back as far as it can go,” he told his audience.

Today, however, he added, “Flavors are changing by the moment.” And with 1.1 new breweries opening every day in the U.S., competition is getting tougher.

Otter Creek head brewer Mike Gerhart at Jackson's Restaurant

Otter Creek head brewer Mike Gerhart at Jackson’s Restaurant

Gerhart and the rest of the Otter Creek team were on Long Island in late-March, bringing their message and their new beers to bar owners and beer retailers. I sat in on one of these gatherings, a dinner arranged by the brewery’s distributor, Clare Rose Inc., at Jackson’s Restaurant in Commack, New York.

“This is the beginning of a new day for the brewery,” he said. “Amber ales aren’t what people are looking for these days. We have to brew what people want”

Translation: more hops.

Gerhart, 39, has been brewing professionally since he was 18—he started home brewing under his parents’ watchful eyes at 15—and his resume includes stints at Magic Hat, Coors and, significantly, four years at Dogfish Head, where he was the research and development brewer, helping owner Sam Calagione develop new beers. He joined Otter Creek in 2009.

Otter Creek, now brewing ‘round the clock, he said, is adding new capacity—120 barrels – to its current volume of 80,000 barrels.

The brewery’s newest releases are clear evidence of the new direction.

Among them is the first year-round IPA in Otter Creek’s history,Backseat Berner, described as a “juicy exploration of American hops” at 7 percent ABV with 68 IBUs. A hazy gold with a nose of citrus and musky, tropical fruit and resiny notes dominate its full-bodied, palate. It’s an eminently drinkable brew. The beer’s hazy notes are Gerhard’s use of a centrifuge to remove solids instead of a filter.

In addition, Otter Creek has begun producing what Gerhart described as a “hop-soaked” session ale, Over Easy, with 4.6% abv and 40 IBUs. It’s a cloudy gold brew with a floral, tropical citrus aroma. It’s crisp and a bit wine like with good mouth feel for a low-alcohol brew and a dry citrus finish.

Then, there’s Citra Mantra, an American pale lager, a spring seasonal brewed to emphasize its crispness and to allow the hop character that might be overshadowed in an ester loaded ale. It’s 5.75 percent abv and clocks in at 55 IBUs. It has more dry hops that an IPA. Gerhart said he developed the recipe while meditating at a Buddhist monastery in Vermont. Also, hazy gold, it nose is floral. On the palate it’s crisp, a bit sweet with bready malt notes, but finishes dry,

Otter Creek has had three owners over its 20-plus years in business. Entrepreneur Lawrence Miller, who founded the brewery, sold it in 2002 to Wolaver’s Organic Ales, which until then was a contract brewer. In 2010, Wellesley, Massachusetts-based private equity firm Fulham & Co. acquired Otter Creek and Wolaver’s through its Long Trail Brewing Co. subsidiary.

Six pack of Otter Creek's Citra Mantra features a meditating Gerhart.

Six pack of Otter Creek’s Citra Mantra features a meditating Gerhart.

The new flavor direction isn’t the only thing changing at Otter Creek. The packaging is new too. New labels feature cartoonish drawings featuring Gerhart, the brewery’s VW microbus and Gerhart’s 150 lb. Bernese mountain dog, Oslo.

Will the new beers resonate with drinkers? Given the demand for such hop-forward brews as Russian River Brewing’s Pliny, Alchemist’s Heady Topper, Bell’s Hopslam ale, Dogfish Head 120, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and others, the odds are favorable. I, on the other hand, will miss the traditional styles.

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Aging beer can be a gamble; some are winners, others are losers

By Alan J. Wax

Aging beers. We hear so much about it these days.

Brewers often encourage their customers to age their products and nary a day goes by when you don’t see some query on a beer drinker’s forum about the age worthiness of a just-purchased brew.

I’ve been aging beers for years. On purpose – and accidentally. Unable to keep up with many newly acquired beers, I let some sit away forgotten until rediscovered. Others, I’ve boxed and carried to the cellar intended for aging in the cool temperatures and darkness.

Recently, I came upon a number of brews that I had put aside and largely had forgotten. Wondering how they might taste, I pulled them out for a tasting with several open-minded, beer-loving friends.

The results, needless to say, were interesting. The beers, ranging in age from a half-dozen years to almost 25 years, had aged differently. Some gracefully; others less so.

This motley collection included English and Belgian beers of strength as well as a few American craft brews.

My notes from that tasting:

CourageCourage Russian Imperial Stout (2011) by Charles Wells Brewery, England. 10% abv. Its espresso color was intact, the head mocha and a nose that suggested alcohol. On the palate there were notes of licorice and molasses and an extraordinarily dry finish. 3/5.

Paradox Isle of Aran. Brew Dog, Scotland. Imperial stout. 10% abv. No date, but likely purchased in 2010. Black brown in hue with a roasty nose. Low carbonation. Malty. 2/5.

Paradox Smokehead (2010). Brewdog, Scotland. Smoked imperial stout.10% abv. Deep brown in hue with pronounced, tar, ashtray aroma. Malty sweetness on the palate. Dry finish. 2½/5.

Harny's 1990Thomas Hardy’s Ale (1990). Eldridge Pope, England. Old ale. 11.7% abv. Meant to be aged, but perhaps, too long at almost 25 years. More of a thin malt syrup lacking carbonation. Mild hints of fruit. Big oaky notes. Super dry. 3/5.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale (2008). Hanlon’s Brewing, England. Old ale. 11.9% abv.
Deep copper hue with oak and caramel on the nose. On the palate notes of orange peel, caramel and nuts. 4/5.

Harvest Ale (1991). JW Lees & Co., England. English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Brown hue. The nose suggests a musty, damp basement while on the palate there are hints of bitter chocolate, oak and dried figs. 3/5.

Harvest Ale 2003Harvest Ale (2003). JW Lees & Co., England; English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Murky brown and lacking in carbonation. Sweet sherry notes, caramel and oak. 3/5.

Vintage Ale (2006). Fuller, Smith & Turner, England. Old ale. 8.5% abv. One that did not age well. Copper hue, off white head, Notes of wet cardboard and licorice with an unpleasant bitter finish. 1½/5.

Triple (2001). Browerij St. Bernadus. Belgium. Tripel. 8% abv. Golden with a white head. Disappoints with notes of cardboard and candy sugar. 2/5.

Black Choco StoutBlack Chocolate Stout (2002). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Chocolate on the nose and hints of wine on the palate. Oily. 2½/5.

Black Chocolate Stout (2009). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Roasted malt on the nose, bit also hints of cardboard. A tad fizzy. Nutty palate. A recent purchase, suggesting poor retail storage. 2/5.

Monster Ale (2000). Brooklyn Brewery, American Barleywine. 10.1% abv. Deep copper hue with the barest signs of carbonation. Sherry and paint thinner notes. Definitely over the hill. ½/5.

CelebrationCelebration Ale (1996). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American IPA. 6.8% abv. Deep copper hue. Totally lacking a head. On the nose, notes of soy sauce. Hints of cardboard. Unpleasant, strong bitter finish. 1/5.

Bigfoot (2001). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American barleywine. 9.6% abv. Deep copper color. No head. Wet cardboard nose. Hints of sweetness toward the end that suddenly becomes extraordinarily bitter. Definitely past its prime. ½/5.

Carnegie Porter (1997). Carlsberg Sverige. Sweden. Baltic porter. 5.5% abv. Dark brown with a nose that suggests a nutty Oloroso sherry. Thin and lacking in carbonation. 1/5.

Our Special Ale (2000). Anchor Brewing Co. Spiced winter warmer. Unknown abv. No spice flavors, aromas evident. Medicinal and bitter. ½/1.

Choco BockSamuel Adams Chocolate Bock (2008). Boston Beer Co. Bock. 6.8% abv. Deep brown. Soy sauce nose. Low carbonation. Chocolate and caramel notes. Considering the low alcohol, it’s held up well. Stored in original wood box. 2½/5.

If you want to age your beer, remember these few simple things. Experiment by tasting your aging beer after six months—if it’s good, keep going, if not drink it immediately. Age them in a cool (55F) dark place, like a basement. Expect flavors to change; some fade, others become more pronounced. High alcohol beers and those with dark malts age best. Hoppy brews lose their hop character.

How have your aging brews tasted?

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A wysgi to toast Wales’ patron saint

Penderyn USA 300dpiBy Alan J. Wax

Quick, name a Celtic saint celebrated in March.

Bet you picked St. Patrick.

Ever hear of St. David, the patron saint of Wales? For centuries, March 1 has been a national festival day in Wales, commemorating St. David as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Outside of Wales, the day is only celebrated by Welsh societies with dinners, parties, and recitals.

According to tradition, St. David was the son of King Sant of South Wales and St. Non. He was ordained a priest and later studied under St. Paulinus. Later, he was involved in missionary work and founded a number of monasteries. The monastery he founded at Menevia  in Southwestern Wales was noted for extreme asceticism. David and his monks drank neither wine nor beer – only water – while putting in a full day of heavy manual labor and intense study.

Given St. David’s asceticism, we might consider toasting him a sacrilegious act. But what the heck, we’re always looking for a reason to imbibe and what could be a better libation for this day than Penderyn single malt wysgi, the only malt whisky distilled in Wales.

It’s a relatively new product. Whisky making largely disappeared from Wales, which like other Celtic lands had a rich whisky history, in the last part of 19th Century. Then along came the Welsh Whisky Co.,  which located its Penderyn distiller in the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2000. It was the first distillery in the country in more than a hundred years. Penderyn released its first distilled product on St. David’s Day in 2004.

The distiller, which produces just one barrel a day, boasts that it draws water exclusively from a well that taps the carboniferous limestone deep below the distillery. It also attributed its house style derives to the use of two types of casks. For the initial maturation, the distillery uses hand-selected Evan Williams and Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Later, the wysgi is transferred to Portuguese barriques that previously nurtured Madeira wine. Each cask is closely watched and regularly nosed until it has reached the standard of the distiller’s consulting master distiller, Jim Swan, a global authority on wood management.

The whisky carries no age statement, but in a 2008 post on the Whiskey Advocate’s blog, Penderyn’s Ed Minning stated that the average age (at that time) of Penderyn was 4.75 to 5.5 years, with eventual “peak” maturation to take place in 6.5 to 7 years.

Penderyn’s still, the company claims, is unlike any other: a single copper-pot still invented by Dr. David Faraday, descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. The still removes almost all of the undesirable chemical compounds which a conventional two or three pot system cannot. This is how Penderyn starts to differentiate itself from traditional Scottish and Irish whiskies. It’s bottled at 46 percent ABV or 92 proof.

Penderyn whisky starts out with an 8 percent ABV barley wash supplied by brewers S. A. Brain & Co. in Cardiff, which has been around since 1882 and is considered Wales’s premier private brewery.

The whisky’s garnered a few awards including winner of the Best World Whisky Gold Medal at the 2012 & 2013 International Whisky Competition and gold at the 2014 International Spirits Challenge for Best Cask finish whisky.

So, how’s it taste? It’s a light golden spirit with, not surprisingly, a big alcoholic bite from the 46% ABV. The nose suggests creamy toffee. On the palate I picked up notes of pears, mangoes and vanilla along with a suggestion of sweetness. The finish, albeit, is on the short side. I’d rate it 3/5.

Nevertheless, it’s a unique spirit and once malt fanciers ought to try. St. David’s Day, as we said, could be the perfect time.

 

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The top 15 beers that I drank in 2014

By Alan J. Wax

It was a very good year.

Over the past dozen months I’ve sampled and rated hundreds of beers. To be sure there were a few duds—beers I couldn’t swallow, but most of them were very good. Quite a few, in fact, were terrific, but more than a handful of brews really stood out.

Since taste is a very personal thing, I don’t expect everyone to agree with my choices. Readers may not enjoy the specialties that I do—Belgians, Belgian-inspired beers and sours were prominent on my list of top-rated beers. For the record I am not a fan of big, in-your-face hoppy beers, so if you’re hoping to see some on this list, you’re out of luck. Some of these beers here are regarded as world classics and I was pleased to renew acquaintances; others were new to the market and I was pleased to have discovered them.

Here, alphabetically are the top 15 beers that I drank in 2014; all rated five stars out of five (to see the runners up, and others, visit my Untapped.com profile:

Chimay Spéciale Cent Cinquante by Abbaye Notre Dame de Scoumont of Belgium, Released in limited quantities in 2012 to mark the Trappist brewery’s 150th anniversary this Abbey tripel is hazy gold with a dense foamy white head and a spicy nose. It’s full bodied and lively with notes of black pepper, licorice and malty sweetness.

hell gateHell Gate Golden by Blind Bat Brewery, Centerport, NY. A Belgian-style unfiltered tripel. Murky deep gold in color and rich in body with notes of cardamom spice and bubble gum.

Hottenroth by The Breuery, San Diego, Calif. In the style of a Berliner Weisser, this refreshing brew is hazy gold with a short head and sour apple nose. It’s lactic. Lemony, light and delicious.

Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel by Belgium’s Brasserie d’Achouffe. A Belgian IPA that’s golden hued with a rocky white hear and nose that is at one fruity, floral and resiny, Beautifully balance flavors with sweet malt, Belgian yeast character and grain notes,

Jonge Kriek (Ghost Bottle) by Brooklyn Brewery. Cherries dominate this oak-aged, Brett-tinged brew which used Brooklyn Local 2 as its base.

Life and Limb Batch 2 by Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, Calif. A deep brown American strong ale with a nose that redolent of malt and spice.  Rich and velvety mouth feel with notes of spices, chocolate and dried fruits. 

kwakPauwel Kwak by Belgium’s Brouwerij Bosteels. Belgian Strong ale, brown in hue and complex with notes of honey, caramel, brown candy sugar and a hint of anise.

Rodenbach Caractère Rouge by Belgian’s Brouwerij Rodenbach. A Flanders red ale brewed with macerated fresh cherries, raspberries and cranberries. A brassy red hue with a nose of oak and berries. On the mouth, there’s a delicious complex blend of sour fruit flavors

Saison Dupont by Belgium’s Brasserie Dupont. A golden hued brew with a huge head and spicy nose. It’s extra dry, citrusy and bready with a lip-smacking finish.

Logo-SaisonSaison by Brasserie St-Feuillien of Belgium. A classis example of the style with a golden color and notes of yeast, pepper and malt.

Surette Provision Saison by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver, Colo. This deep hazy golden brew has a prominent brettanomyces nose, extraordinary lip-smacking tartness with hints of oak toast and a dry finish.

St. Bretta (Spring) by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver, Colo. A hazy orange colored brew with a huge citrus nose precede the lip-smacking tart, orange, apple, spice and, of course, metallic brettanomyces notes. It’s a great palate cleanser.

St. Bretta (Winter) 2014 Batch 5 by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver, Colo.  I had this winter delight on a summer night. Almost ebony it didn’t have much of a head, but lots of fizz and a winey nose. Deliciously sour, citrusy and dry.

collab-woot-bttle22Drew Curtis/Wil Wheaton/Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout by Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, Calif. Dark brown in color with nose that that redolent of: alcohol, nuts, and roast notes. On the palate: it’s rich, syrupy with notes of dried fruit. The finish reminds you of this imperial stout’s 13 percent ABV.

Westmalle Trappist Tripel by Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle, of Belgium. This golden hued brew has a white rocky head. The nose offers notes of grain, yeast and anise. Its mouth feel is velvety with a soft malt palate that echoes the nose.

That’s my list. What’s on yours?  Tell everyone in the comments section.

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