Category Archives: Taps – Beer

Happy finds – and disappointments – mark a S. Florida breweries adventure

By ALAN J. WAX

A recent visit to South Florida provided an opportunity for two days of boozy adventures, visiting some old haunts and a couple of newer breweries. I was delighted by several beers and, surprisingly, disappointed by others, especially the offerings at one of the region’s leading beer makers.

My itinerary:

 
BANGIN’ BANJO BREWING
, POMPANO BEACH

Among the delights I found were the handful of brews sampled at Bangin’ Banjo Brewery, which is located in an industrial park not far from the highly popular Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach. Bangin’ Banjo is a 3-barrel brewing operation opened in mid-2014 by a pair of homebrewing friends. Nothing fancy here. The tasting room, rustic in tones of green and varnished pine, puts the focus on the beer. And they were quite satisfactory. High on my list were Swiftness Potion Belgian Triple, a deep-golden brew with an intense Belgian yeast character, banana notes and a dry finish; OJ Session IPA, an eminently drinkable crisp, light golden brew with a citrus nose with notes of sweet malt and piney hops; Annie’s Raspberry Cream Ale, a light, cloudy brew redolent of the red berries; Bangarang English Brown Ale, a copper-hued, somewhat grainy brew with notes of chocolate and nuts; and Overcast Shadow, a chewy, winey, deep-brown Russian imperial stout with a mocha head and notes of chocolate and licorice.

 

26th DEGREE BREWING, POMPANO BEACH

26th Degree Brewing Co., launched in September 2015 by a group of self-taught homebrewing buddies, occupies a former supermarket on a busy main strip in Pompano Beach that’s close to the Atlantic Boulevard bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway. The brewery’s name is derived from the city’s latitude. It’s brewing system, behind the large taproom, turns out 30 barrels at a time. It was easy to feel lost in the sprawling 4,500-square-foot, industrial-chic taproom on an early Sunday afternoon. The beers, served way-too-cold, were largely uninspiring. Erick the Great, an opaque black Russian imperial stout made with Belgian yeast, however, stood out with it a rich chocolate velvety character, estery Belgian notes and a dry finish.

 

FUNKY BUDDHA BREWERY, OAKLAND PARK

After several visits here in recent months, I’ve learned it’s best to stick to the tried-and-true year-round brews and avoid the overly sweet, flavored beers no matter how tempting it may be to give some of these brews with outlandish flavor additions that include strawberry extract, vanilla, chocolate nibs and more (Last Snow is an exception). The tasting room and outdoor drinking areas always seem to be filled. During my most recent visit, a pug dog-rescue group was holding a fundraiser and a bunch of people masquerading as Star Wars characters abounded. Last Snow, unfortunately was a week away from being released when I visited.  One standout among the specials was the Veruca Snozzberry Gose, a Berliner Weise brewed with kettle salt and coriander with a name that references the spoiled bratty girl in “Willy Wonka.” A refreshing brew, it’s a bright orange yellow and its taste suggests orange juice with salt.  Avoid Hit “Em with Hein, a creamy sweet brew with a fake strawberry flavor reminiscent of the taffy I ate as a kid; What is That Velvet, a flavor-muddled copper brew and Neapolitan Porter, a sweet brown brew with vanilla notes rising above the other muddled flavors; and, I’m So Excited, I’m So Scared, which tasted of sweet roasted grain and little else.

BARREL OF MONKS BREWING, BOCA RATON

My third visit to this out-of-the-way, but pub-style tasting room, was less inspiring than earlier visits, though Jess, who worked the behind the bar, was a helpful guide. Nuance, a prototypical Saison, was a top quaff, and Monk Be Mine, a cherry chocolate quad brewed for Valentine’s Day, wasn’t far behind with a full-bodied velvety character and the suggestion of chocolate-covered cherries.

Other offerings I tried were less successful, including 1801, a brew redolent of coffee and little more, and Start Sour, a fruity brew with only the barest suggestion of tartness.

SALTWATER BREWERY, DELRAY BEACH

I first visited here on the eve of its opening three years ago. Head brewers have come—and gone, but the basic beers remain the same.  Since then, they’ve turned out more than 300 different brews, many twists on the core roster. Alas, an old favorite, Don’t Get Confused, a Belgian tripel was not available. On this visit, I particularly enjoyed Mayday, a deep-brown, malty, drinkable American porter. Monk’s Vacation was an interesting quaff reminiscent of a sweet spice cake, albeit a liquid one, with dominant Belgian yeast and clove flavors.

 

DEVOUR BREWING, BOYNTON BEACH

We ran into Jess, who served us at Barrel of Monks a day earlier, behind the bar here. She knows her way around beers. Named for an indie rock song, the brewery was opened in mid-2015 by Chip Breighner, who worked at a home beer supply store. He brews on a 1-barrel system so that qualifies Devour as a nano. Our evening visit was interrupted by a power outage, forcing us to drink at one of the tables set up in the parking lot that serves the industrial strip that is the brewery’s home. I enjoyed the SoBo Wit, cloudy yellow, lively and a definite orange character, but was unmoved by most of the others brews sampled.

 

COPPERPOINT BREWING CO., BOYNTON BEACH

My second visit since its opening in the spring of 2016. Owner Matt Cox, winner of GABF gold medal in 2002 when he worked at Big Bear Brewing in Coral Springs, brews on a 20-barrel DME systems, viewable through the wall of the comfy brick-walled taproom. Das Pilsner, a bright golden, crisp brew with notes of fresh hay, was an enjoyable quaff. Also quite tasty, Blood Orange Wit with its reddish hue, citric-cardamom nose and the notes of sweet fruit and spices that played off against one another.

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The best beers I had in 2016

By ALAN J. WAX

It was a year in which I had to slow down. Both on drinking and writing.

Medical issues forced me to cutback on imbibing for several months. I’ve been adjusting back slowly, largely sampling, not guzzling brews. I’ve stopped going to beer fests, too, but that’s just as well because you barely have time to taste and analyze what you’re drinking at these events.

As a result, I sampled only a hundred or so beers in 2016. With fewer opportunities to imbibe, there were fewer opportunities to scribble blog posts.

When you cut back, you hope the brews you’re drinking are only the best. But that’s in an ideal world. There were more than a handful of beers tasted over the past 12 months that were exceptional. Many more good, but no nearly as good and there were a few drain pours. I visited one brewery in Brooklyn during the past year, where after tasting, I could not find a single beer that I’d considering drinking a full glass as one was hoppier than the other. I hope this hop craziness goes away. What’s wrong with balance?

Rant over.

My favorites last year represented a broad spectrum of origins and styles. They included American craft brews, Belgians and one German. There were more than a few sours, a lager, a stout, a porter and a couple of big brews. Here, alphabetically, are the best beers I had last year:

collaboration_no_5_tropical_pale_ale_12oz_bottleCollaboration No. 5 – Tropical Pale Ale by Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, MO., and Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, FL. This 6.2% ABV, bottled pale ale is built on a pilsner malt base with additions of Marris Otter, Munich, and caramel malts and late hopping with a blend of Mosaic, Citra, Lemondrop, and Azacca hops. It’s bright amber with a dense head and a citrus nose. This is a real lip smacker with a great balance of fruit, malt and hops.

evil_twin_big_bottle_0007_imperial_biscotti_break_nataleImperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top by Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn, NY. A deep brown, bottled American-style imperial porter (11.5% ABV) with a mocha head and a nose that shrieks alcohol. Nonetheless, it was quite likeable, sweet and winey with notes of chocolate, caramel and malt.

nancy-1Nancy by Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME. A sour red ale fermented with Maine cherries and Brettanomyces in 100 percent stainless steel tanks for almost a year. Golden/copper hued, the bottled version presents itself with a nose of Brett and earth. It’s extremely tart and balanced with feint cherry notes. Quite lip smacking.

oudbeersel_oudekriek_375_met_glasOude Kriek (Vieille) by Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Beersel, Belgium, This deep red Lambic brew with 6% ABV offers up a pretty-in-pink head. There’s a lovely balance that melds 400 grams of cherries per liter and the oak from old barrels that are used in its production.

popsporter-1520Pop’s Porter by Wynwood Brewing Co., Miami. A 6.2% abv robust porter, this brew was a GABF gold medal winner in 2014 and is made with a blend of roasted malts. Deep brownish black with a cocoa-hued head, there are notes of roasted grain and chocolate on the nose. There’s lively carbonation in the bottled version, which has a creamy, chewy texture and flavors of chocolate, caramel and anise. It finishes bitter.

southdown-breakfast-stout-2Southdown Breakfast Stout by Sand City Brewing Co., Northport, NY. Sampled on draft, this 8% ABV, American-style stout is dark and roasty with notes of coffee and hints of creaminess. It’s brewed with roasted barley, oats, chocolate, and coffee beans from Southdown Coffee in Huntington, NY.

 319-speziator-hell-doppelbock_720x600Speziator Hell by Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg, Germany. We forget how good German beer can be. This relatively new-to-the-U.S. Teutonic import is a reminder. A doppel-style mai bock, it pours deep gold with a thick white head. The nose is rich malt with a touch of floral notes. There’s a mouth-filling, malt-rich, caramel malt palate with a tad bitter finish.

8803797958686St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition by Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck of Emelgem, Belgium. This brick-red Gueuze style beer is anything but shy. It has a huge ripe cherry palate and perfect tartness.

Keep up with my ratings at untappd.com. Find me there as corkscapsandtaps.

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I’ll have a beer with a cherry on top

CherriesThere’s a profusion of cherry-flavored beers on the market, but most are anything but sweet.  Our picks among the best.

By ALAN J. WAX

Life is just a bowl of cherries, or should I say, a glass of cherry beer.

With cherry season now at its peak in North America, it’s as good a time as any to be tasting cherry beers. And, there’s a slew of them out there as brewers increasingly turn to this red stone fruit, known botanically as pruneus avium (sweet cherry) or prunus cerasus (sour cherry), to add another dimension to their beers. So popular are cherry beers that as I write this Kriekfest, a celebration of cherry beers and ciders, is underway in Oregon.

To be sure, cherry beers have been around for ages. Belgian brewers have produced krieks—lambics flavored with tart cherries – for centuries. And there are Flanders red-brown ales, such as Rodenbach Cuvee Alexander, made since the early 19th Century. (Rodenbach reintroduced Alexander this year as a limited edition beer after production ended in 1998.)

Cherry beers have been craft specialties since the 1990s. Boston Beer Co. introduced Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat Beer (not a personal favorite and I’ve not had it recently) and New Glarus in Wisconsin introduced its Belgian Red, which soon won the brewery accolades, awards and cult status.

More recently, brewers have been producing a profusion of cherry-flavored sours beers, their own spins on kriek, as well as goses, stouts, wheat ales and more.

I’ve spent the last few weeks sampling as many cherry beers — Belgian, British and American — as I could find. Some were exceptional, others horrible disappointments. Some were reminiscent of cough medicine. Others were redolent of cherry aromas and flavors. And in some cherry notes were barely detectable (Why add cherries if no one can’t taste them?).

Not surprisingly, Belgian krieks rated highest on my list, but even among these there was great diversity from brewer to brewer.

Here are tasting notes from my effort:

beer-_25654_sm_0ad84b2561aada098d5176eb2162f1Oude Kriek (Vielle)Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Belgium. Deep red with a petty-in-pink head. Meld of cherries and oak notes all lovely balance. *****

 

beer-8341_373b5_smSt. Louis Gueze Fond Tradition. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Brick red with a huge ripe cherry palate. Perfect tartness. Not a shy beer. ******

 

beer-679637_c1cc1_smNancyAllagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME. Golden hue. Brett, earth nose. Extremely tart, faint cherry notes, but lip smacking all the same. Balanced. *****

 

beer-_467139_sm_7826d62272252e65d1b1573741ad39Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry on Top.  Evil Twin Brewing, Mt. Pleasant, SC. Deep brown with a mocha head, an alcoholic nose. Chocolate, sweet malty and caramel notes on the palate with a wine-like quality. Quite likable despite the hidden cherries. **** ¾

 

beer-KriekCuveeRene_39549Oude Kriek Cuvee Rene. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium. Bright Crimson. Oaky Brett nose. Oak then cherries then Brett notes on the palate. Dry! ****½

 

beer-972795_68cce_smKirsch Gose. Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA. Salmon hue. Salty, bready, cherries. A delightful surprise. Slight tart finish. ****½

 

beer-_331435_sm_77bcfb3c2bd619473d1587edbb5beeSpontan Cherry FrederikdalMikkeller, Denmark. Deep Reddish purple w/small pink head. Tart cherry aroma. Concentrated cherry palate offset by dry oaky notes. Lip smacking finish. ****½

 

beer-KriekBoon_2565Kriek. Brouwerij Boon, Belgium. Cranberry hue. Cherry nose. Carbonated cherry juice. Easy quaff w/dry finish. ****¼

 

 

beer-941039_8b820_smSt. Louis Kriek. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Light red. Medicinal nose that gives way to wonderful bright tart Cherry candy flavors. Easy drinking. ****¼

 

beer-1056584_60f2e_smKentucky Old Fashioned Barrel Ale.  Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., Lexington, KY Deep gold w/bright white head. Honey whiskey aroma. Lotsa wood but the fruit notes are no show. Round mouthfeel. ****¼

 

beer-1201496_53365_smSmuttlabs Cherry Short Weiss.  Smuttynose Brewing Co., Hampton, NH. Cloudy gold. Sharp nose. Cherry palate. Soft tart finish. ****

 

beer-754491_62b87_smCerise Sour BlondAlmanac Beer Company. San Francisco, CA Cloudy deep gold. Seriously sour. Hint of cherries. Dry, acidic finish. ****

 

beer-1452658_a78cb_smExpletus. Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, CO. Light copper. No head. Sharp sour notes. Just a hint of cherries. Just the barest suggestion of oak and not a hint of tequila. Refreshing all the same. ***¾

 

821699LOrganic Cherry Ale. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, England. Light red, Jolly Rancher candy nose and palate. Black Forest cake finish. ***½

 

beer-CherryStout_4138Cherry Stout. Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI. Roasty nose with notes of chocolate and roasted grain. Hint of sweetness in the finish. Cherry not discernible. ***½

 

beer-1549430_e6569_smKettle-Soured Dark Cherry Imperial Red (Savor Series). Fort Collins Brewery, Fort Collins, CO. Cherry red hue. Muddied nose. Residual sweetness but hops, fruit and Brett clash. Disappointing. ***¼

 

beer-652375_124fa_smKriek Lambic. Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA Peach hue. Brett nose. Quite tart. Cherries only in the background. Overwhelmed by Brett. ***¼

 

beer-902019_89398_smMosh Pit Tart Cherry Ale. No-Li Brewhouse, Spokane, WA. Amber. Bitter. Near impossible to pick up the fruits. ***

 

beer-3095_c11c3_smKriek. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium Crimson. Candied nose. Cherry soda, wine cooler like. Juicy.***

 

beer-728652_96ab2_smBlood & Guts (2015).  Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA. Deep brown. Chocolate, chicory nose. Brett and chocolate notes, light tart cherry near the finish. **¾

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A chocolate beer instead of Easter eggs?

Chocolate-Ale-Bottle-Label-1600x1600

 

A proliferation of chocolate-flavored beers provides a twist for Easter quaffing

By Alan J. Wax

What will the Easter Bunny bring you? Some chocolate eggs?  Better still, some chocolate beer?

Easter is the perfect excuse to indulge in as much chocolate as possible with no regrets. For all the adults looking to treat themselves this Easter weekend it’s the perfect time consider a beer made with chocolate.

There are plenty of choices as brewers increasingly have been wedding chocolate in its various forms with the maltiness of their brews. The result can be tasty.

Typically, chocolate beers are produced using dark chocolate or cocoa in various forms during different parts of the brewing process, depending on how much chocolate influence the brewer wants to impart.

Often, these beers are stouts. The malt flavors in stouts and porters often mimic flavors of dark chocolate and roasted coffee beans anyway, so if a brewer wants to take it the next level, they can add actual chocolate for aroma and (or) flavor. Chocolate beers can range in taste from a chocolate milkshake to burnt cocoa — depending on the brewer’s preference.

Chocolate beers can be the perfect pairing to dessert or even as a substitution for it. Try a sweet chocolate beer (like Boulder Shake) with drier desserts, say a black chocolate cake that’s more on the bitter side, or a creamy vanilla ice cream, so that the beer serves as a chocolate sauce on top.

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, which I first sampled in 2003, was among the first of this ilk. Nearly an opaque, ruby- black brew, I recall it as smooth with a lingering chocolate aftertaste.

A much sought after beer:  The cocoa-infused Sexual Chocolate by Foothills Brewing Co., a brew pub in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a Russian Imperial Stout that weighs in at over 9 percent ABV. It attracts hundreds of devotees to the brewery every year to get their hands on this special release. Unfortunately, I’ve not sampled it.

Barrage Brewing Co., in Farmingdale, Long Island, produces a couple of chocolaty brews. One is Yada Yada Yada, a brown ale that’s sort of Snickers bar in liquid form. Peanuts dominate the palate, which includes notes of caramel and chocolate. Barrage’s Assault ‘N Fudgery is Bosco (a chocolate syrup popular in the New York area for decades) gone boozy. It’s sweet and chocolaty and best slowly sipped.

To be sure, there are many others.

Evil Twin Even More Denmark is a terrific ebony hued brew with a nose of orange peel marinated in alcohol. Orange and alcohol flavors mingle on the palate.  It’s velvety with a bitter chocolate finish. It was sold only at Whole Foods Market.

Dogfish Head Theobroma, a chili beer with chocolate among its flavorings also is a winner and has been around since about 2008. It’s a cloudy, deep gold with a fruity nose and light chili pepper notes on the palate. The chocolate is subtle and the finish is sweet.

Dogfish Head Higher Math is definitely a beer for dessert. Murky brown, it exudes cherries and cocoa on the nose. It’s thick and mouth-coating, sort of like a high octane chocolate-covered cherry.

Boulevard Chocolate Ale is a richly flavored American-style strong ale that debuted in 2011 and is produced as a collaboration with Kansas City chocolatier Christopher Elbow as part of the brewery’s Smokestack Series. Deep gold in color, there is a complex meld of chocolate, caramel and vanilla notes.

Moody Tongue Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter, from the chef-led Chicago brewery, is brown in color, spritz and has notes of cinnamon but only a hint of chocolate.

New Belgium Brewing Co.’s Salted Caramel Brownie Ale with its chocolaty nose, is a light style, easy drinking brew that seems more like a cream soda with a strong vanilla finish.  It’s a collaboration with ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s.

New Belgium Brewing Lips of Faith Chocolate Stout exhibits big alcohol notes and a burnt caramel flavor. It finishes on the sweet side.

Boulder Beer Co. Shake Chocolate Porter is definitely easy drinking, like a creamy, chocolate milk shake.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, an import from England, hits you with its big chocolate nose, but the impression on the palate is light and silky smooth.

Off Color Brewing’s Dino S’mores is an opaque, black-hued, high-alcohol brew with notes of roasted coffee and chocolate on the nose. The palate suggests creamy marshmallow but that flavor fade fast. It’s a thick, chewy brew.

Evil Twin Christmas Eve in A New York City Hotel Room is a potent, opaque black imperial stout with a nose and palate that suggests crème cacao chocolate liqueur. It’s rich and smooth with a light alcoholic bite (10% ABV).

Funky Buddha Nib Smuggler Chocolate Porter, a winter brew from the Fort Lauderdale brewery, is a deep brown milk porter with a nose of chocolate syrup and notes of roasted grain. There’s chocolate and vanilla in each sip. The finish is dry malty finish.

There are many more out there, I‘m sure.  If you find them give ’em a try. They’re unique and fun to drink.

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The best beers I had in 2015

25 all-star brews includes sours, barrel-aged beers and more from U.S. and Belgium

By Alan J. Wax

What a year it’s been!

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of what’s gone down my gullet—or the sink drain. To be sure, I sampled and rated hundreds of beers. Many of them were excellent, a great many more bordered on excellence and some less so. There also were a few drain pours.

These were beers I’d sampled at home, at breweries, brew pubs, bars, restaurants and beer festivals. Mea culpa. I failed to take notes on many of the beers sampled at the Great American Beer Festival and at local fests due to the tasting experience, except for a few true standouts.

To my surprise, so many of my top picks for this year were American craft brews, including a couple produced by a brewery owned by AB-InBev (Chicago’s Goose Island and several from breweries in South Florida, where I have a second home and where new breweries seem to open almost monthly and several from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. A few Belgian brews also stood out.

Sour beers, of which we’re seeing more and more, are well represented.

RodebbacgOf the hundreds of beers tasted over the past 12 months, I rated only 25 at five stars on Untappd.com (You can follow me there under corkscapsandtaps). A handful of brewers made the list more than once, Here are my picks (listed alphabetically):

2011 Vintage Oak Aged Ale (Barrel No 95) by Belgium’s Brouwerij Rodenbach. Murky brown with a nose that suggests leather oak. On the palate there was a fruit bowl of flavors including dried prunes, raspberries, grapes and cherry along with hints of Brett. Simply amazing stuff.

Barrel-aged Project (Blonde Ale): No. 6 Porto by Belgium’s Brouwerij Hof Ten Dormaal. This deep copper colored brew is part of importer B United International’s ambitious barrel aging project. The nose suggested Port wine nose and its incredibly complex palate weaves notes of bread, honey, plum and oak. It finishes quite tart.

Bourbon County Stout Vanilla Rye (2014) by Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago. Hard to find, but worth the effort to search it out for its silky smoothness and intense vanilla and spice character.

Collaboration No. 3 – Stingo by Boulevard Brewing in collaboration with Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. A deep copper, traditional English strong ale with a tan head and a nose of roasty grain. Notes of cocoa and toffee and some hints of black pepper accompany its chewy, but silky, texture.

Common Good, a deep brown, American wild ale by Fullsteam Brewing of Durham, North Carolina, It’s brewed with locally sources agricultural products including a corn mash, apples, rye and barley. Just luscious with notes of corns, apples, nutty malt and bready yeast.

Dark Truth Stout, also by Boulevard Brewing. Ebony colored, this double stout is thick and richly flavored with notes of chocolate, caramel and spices.

Halia (2015), also by Goose Island.  A hazy golden brew that erupts with its Brett nose and lots of sharp, lacto tartness and finishes with notes of juicy peaches.

Imperial Stout (2014) by Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, Missouri. Ebony hued with a vanilla nose the notes of whisky from barrel aging are well integrated. A chewy, oily brew, it offers notes of dark molasses and finishes bitter.

Last-Snow-Tap-StickerLast Snow (2015), also by Funky Buddha Brewery. An imperial coconut-coffee porter that shows off an incredible mélange of chocolate and coconut notes and more.

More Moro, a blood orange IPA from Funky Buddha Brewery, is deep gold and offers a huge citrus nose. Juicy orange/citrus flavors cut through hop bitterness. It finishes up spicy dry and orangey. Both delicious and drinkable.

Rye Saison by Wynkoop Brewing Co., Denver, Colorado This reddish brown ale is malty sweet. With notes of yeast, spices snd black pepper. It’s rich and velvety.

Once Upon A Time 1955 Double Brown Ale by the soon to be or, perhaps, now-shuttered quirky Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, of Somerville, Massachusetts. Colored deep mahogany with a dense, foamy head this beer as the Brit’s like to say is quite “moreish,” meaning when you finish one, you’ll want another. Its nose proffers rich notes of malt and cocoa nose. It’s smooth on the palate with notes of bread and caramel malt notes and a pleasant roasty finish. An homage to the beers of Merry Old England.

Parade of Souls Belgian Imperial Stout by Barrel Of Monks Brewing, Boca Raton, Florida. A rich, ebony-hued brew with a nose of chocolate liquor with notes of dried fruits and chocolate and a finish that won’t quit.

Porter by Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A mouth-filling brew with an opaque deep brown hue and a mocha-colored head, it has a nose of concentrated chocolate with hints of licorice. There’s more chocolate along with roasted grain and sultana raisins on the palate and a finish of bittersweet chocolate.

St. Bretta (Gold Nugget Mandarin) by Denver’s Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. A cloudy light orange-hued Brett brew with a short head. There’s tart orange on the nose. Ditto for the palate. It finishes dry. It’s lip-smacking delicious.

Saaz Matters by Funky Buddha Brewery, Oakland Park, Florida. There’s an immediate hit to the nose and palate of Saaz hops in this golden brew that danced all over my tongue. Could easy pass for a Czech Pilsner with its balance malt and crispness. Well done.

Timmerman's oude gueuze

Timmerman’s oude gueuze

Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter by J. Wakefield Brewing, of Miami. This was an incredibly rich and delicious sweet stout redolent of creamy vanilla notes and chocolate.

Timmermans Oude Gueuze by Brewery John Martin & Brewery Timmermans of Belgium. A hazy gold brew with a lactic nose, this was a big time pucker, a beer to savor with tart lemony and dry notes that went on forever. This is what a sour beer should be.

Trébuchet Golden Farmhouse Ale by Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie of Agora Hills, California.  This  golden brew wowed me at GABF with its tart nose and an intense, dry tart hit on the palate accompanied by a tasty Brett character.

 

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Two newcomers to Denver’s bustling beer scene offer unusual brews

Following up on my visit to the Mile High City for GABF

Ratio bar

Ratio’s tasting bar

Spangalang's tasting bar

Spangalang’s tasting bar

By Alan J. Wax

America’s Mile High City is bubbling over in beer.

That’s something a visitor to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver late in September could quickly have discovered. I did.

Some five dozen breweries now produce lagers, ales and stouts within the 155-square-mile confines of Colorado’s capital city, almost half of them opened in the last two years.

During my visit to the GABF, I got to experience some of the city’s bustling beer culture with a visit to two its newest production breweries, Ratio Beerworks and Spangler Brewery, courtesy of the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau, which arranged a bus tour for a group of beer writers and bloggers. The tour, led by Ed Sealover, a reporter with the Denver Business Journal and author of “Mountain Brews,” didn’t’ travel very far from Downtown.

Ratio logoOur first stop was Ratio in what’s known as the River North, or RINO, neighborhood. Here, Jason zumBrunnen, a former brewer at the city’s pioneering Wynkoop brew pub, has partnered with Zach Lowery and Scott Kaplan to open a music-inspired, 5,500 square-foot brewery (with a 20-barrel system) and taproom in a former distillery. Ratio, which produces beer on a 20-barrel system, traces its roots to its owners’ days in the punk rock music scene of the late 90’s. Their idea was to combine the marketing and business sense they acquired in the music business with their knowledge of brewing,

It appears to be working. The taproom was abuzz with visitors during our beer week tour and the beers I sampled were both unusual and quality brews

Though I only had timet to sample three beers, there were no disappointments.

Wicked Grin was a terrific saison made with plums that had an intense tart character and nice black pepper notes. Hold

Steady with Coffee, a deep brown ale, struck me as something akin to the ice coffees one finds in Southeast Asian restaurants, cold and sweet.

The Knew Gose was a delightful summer quencher with great lime notes.

Spangalang logoOur next stop brought us to another close-to-downtown neighborhood that’s undergoing revitalization, Five Points, which in its heyday was a jazz mecca that rivaled Harlem. Here, we found the Spangalang Brewery, which riffs on Welton Street’s jazz roots. Housed in a former motor vehicle office, the tasting room walls are adorned with framed jazz album covers. Former Great Divide brewers Austin Wiley, Darren Boyd and Taylor Rees produce the beers, made in an adjacent space several feet below ground.

Spangalang, which opened in April, is already a winner; Its Table Beer won GABF gold in the category known as Other Belgian-Style Ale

The brewery takes its name from a jazz term that refers to a cymbal pattern.

Here, I sampled a number of sour and Brettanomyces focused beers and one more mainstream brew

Pure Gold, a sour beer made with tart cherry juice and rose water and 100 percent fermented with Brett. Cloudy gold, I found the Brett character muted and only hints of sour cherries.

Mr. Ra’s Interplanetary Influence, homage, I presume, to jazz composer Sun Ra, another Brett brew that is cloudy gold and, again muted Brett character.

Cucumber Gose, a collaboration brew with the Real Dill pickle company, Fresh cucumber juice and coriander are added post fermentation to this slightly sour, salted wheat beer. An interesting concept, but it was a bit like drinking from a pickle barrel.

Bossman Marzen. Tasted at the advice of a colleague, this amber brew game off notes of fruity malt and caramel on both the nose and the palate. Definitively more pleasing that the sours.

Though GABF won’t be around for almost another year, if you find yourself in Denver before then you’ll be quite pleased with these newcomers—as well as the many other beer makers across the Mile High City.

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Beer retailer’s first GABF trip is as much about socializing as it is sampling brews

GABF first-timer David Schultzer schmoozes first, tastes second

The scene at the GABF (photo courtesy American Brewers Association)

The scene at the GABF (photo courtesy American Brewers Association)

GABF_Logo_LRG_V_RGBBy Alan J. Wax

For Dave Schultzer, a New York beer retailer, his first trip to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver was in a word, “overwhelming.”

Schultzer, who for the past 18 years has operated Bellport Cold Beer and Soda, a beer store with more than a thousand different bottles, in Bellport, Long Island, spent more time during his inaugural Sept. 24 visit to America’s biggest beer talking with the brewery people he’s gotten to know over the years than he did tasting beer.

Schultzer was one of some 60,000 people expected  to descend on GABF this year, the largest three-day crowd in the event’s 33-year history. Tickets, released in July, sold out within an hour.

As he made his way into the sprawling exhibition hall of the Colorado Convention Center, Schultzer took note of the space’s enormity— and the plethora of bearded gents in black shirts, the defacto uniform of many craft brewery workers. “I’ve never been in a beer event anywhere near the size and scale of this thing.”

But Schultzer was unperturbed by what might lay ahead. Over the course of nearly five hours during the first of four GABF sessions, Schultzer crisscrossed the convention center’s exposition hall, the size of 10 football fields, dozens of times. “That’s a massive amount of space to cover,” he noted.

Yet, over five hours he sampled only two dozen brews of the 3,500 available while taking14 selfies with brewing industry folks on his iPhone.

Schultzer and Captaiin Lawrence's Scott Vaccarro.

The reason, he explained, was his need to re-connect with brewery owners that he helped in bringing their products t0 Long Island. He also visited with his friends from Long Island breweries. Among those he connected with were Sam Calagione of Dog Fish Head of Milton, Delaware, Scott Vaccarro of Captain Lawrence Brewing, Jeremy Cowan of Schmaltz Brewing, and Eric Wallace of Left Hand Brewing, of Longmont, Colorado. And he made new friends, too, among them Hugh Lewis of (512) Brewing Co. of Austin, Texas.

Left Hand's Eric Wallace and Schultzerx

Left Hand’s Chris Lennert and Schultzer

 

“That’s the fun of the show for me,” he noted, adding, “There’s so much to see and when you know a lot of people, you allot time for seeing them, but you end up with not a lot of time for yourself.”

As for the beers he sampled, he said, “We started off on a high note with a sample of Goose Island Vanilla Rye Bourbon Stout.” But he also enjoyed, he said, Barrel Licked Boot from Fort Collins Brewery, Barrel-Aged Narwhal from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Udder Love from Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, of Long Beach, California, Peanut Butter Milk Stout from Belching Beaver of Vista, California,

Schultzer said his first GABF experience was fun. “Being around like-minded people who are happy to see you is not a bad way to spend a day.”

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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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