Saturday, December 18, 2010

Phoenix Rising: Sonoran 200

Extreme beer has been a huge trend in the craft beer world for the past 5-10 years or so, and its a trend that does not seem to be going away. I have mixed feeling about this, and I believe some brewers do an extreme beer just because they can, or they are trying to "one up" another brewery who claims the most extreme beer on the plant. I can live without that element of the extreme beer trend. My opnion on that can be found here:

That being said, I truly believe extreme beers have a special place in the beer world, and there are some phenomenal examples of extreme beer.

The Sonoran Brewing Company of Phoenix, AZ is a good example of a brewery doing an extreme beer right, and for all the right reasons. I was fortunate enough to purchase a bottle of their Sonoran 200 on a recent stay in Arizona. Established in 1996, Sonoran Brewing is a very small, local, craft brewer, that is doing some amazing things with beer. I have enjoyed a number of their beers, and this is a very impressive brewery. Sonoran 200 is a great example of what extreme beer should be all about, and yet another great beer from this brewery. From the label:

We have done it again. Brewmasters Scott Yarosh and Zach Schroder are proud to present Sonoran 200, the second beer in our continuing series of Extreme Brews that will we be releasing every 100 batches. Sonoran 200 is produced from 2-Row Malt and pure Agave Nectar. We increased the Agave flavor and sweetness by infusing more Agave Nectar into the brew after the four week fermentation was complete. Then we Oak Age the whole batch for six months until just the right balance of Agave Nectar and Oak flavors were achieved, giving Sonoran 200 its distinctive characteristics.

Agave is a plant that grows in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Agave is known world wide in the production of tequila. Sonoran Brewing pays tribute by marketing this beer in a beautiful, square, corked bottle, traditionally used with many tequilas. Agave nectar used in this beer, pays tribute to its indigenous Southwestern roots and adds a wonderful sweetness to this beer. Many might not know this, but agave nectar has been used as a sweetener like honey, or maple syrup for centuries. It gives this beer another dimesion of sweetness and make an already fantastic extreme beer, even better in my opinion.

Sonoran 200 pours to hazy, opaque, caramel color, with no head, and no carbonation. The nose on this beer is wonderful, with lots of sweet malt, and agave nectar aroma of toffee , caramel and dried fruit. The palate on this beer is surprisingly lean for such a potent brew, coming in at a mighty 19.37% abv. Flavors of sweet malt, toffee, caramel, dried fruit such as raisin, prune, and fig, glide over the tongue. Sonoran 200 finishes with more of those big sweet malt, caramel, toffee, and dry fruity flavors up front, then ends with a slightly warming and cloying finish that lingers.

This is a very sweet, very strong, satisfying, delicious beer. This is one to sip and savor, and one that would make an ideal desert beer, digestif, or a beer to relax with a good book and a roaring fire. Its 19.37% abv strength is hide well, and it such, a smooth, mellow, sipping brew. A perfect night cap on a cold night in the Sonoran desert. The beauty of a beer like this is, you can drink it in a number of ways. Chilled, on the rocks, warm, room temperature, as a mix, you name it.

Beer geeks might not appreciate its cloying sweetness, but they don't get it if they pan this beer for that fact. Cordials and schnapps are sweet, we expect them to be, and Sonoran 200 should be treated as such, in my opinion. The use of caramel malt and agave nectar has wonderful caramel and dry fruit aromas and flavors that gives this beer big sweetness, in a very good way. This beer is like drinking a liquid Sugar Daddy or dulce de leche. Fantastic stuff. Sonoran 200 retails locally for about $25 a bottle. It is a very rare, very local, very special brew. One well worth seeking out.

For more information, visit the brewery's site at:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Drink with the Devil: San Tan Devil's Ale

Arizona can be a pretty hot place to live. The summer has some real scorchers and it can be very, very hot even in the Fall and Winter months. As a craft beer lover, you want a beer with a lot of flavor, but you also want a beer you can drink a few of, and one that can slake your thirst in the hot Arizona sun. The San Tan Brewing Company of Chandler, AZ clearly gets it right. This craft brewery/brewpub brews up some pretty flavorful yet very drinkable beers. I was fortunate enough to pay this brewery a visit last weekend, and was happy to enjoy one of their signature brews: Devil's Ale.
This beer is a classic example of APA or American Pale Ale, brewed with both Cascade and Centennial hop varieties that define this style. This beer has tons of flavor yet remains very drinkable and enjoyable. I was really impressed with this brewery, and was really impressed with this beer.
Devil's Ale pours to a bright, deep golden, to light amber color with a nice, white head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is just excellent with zesty, vibrant aromas of citrus and grapefruit. The palate is firm, with good pale and biscuity malt flavors, touches of caramel, paired with a really nice lemon/citrus hop flavor. Devil's Ale finishes with more good pale and caramel malt up front, then ends with a dry, grapefruit and citrus hop bite that slightly lingers.
An outstanding beer that would match well with a number of dishes on San Tan's menu. This place is on point on so many levels, from the crafting of the beer, to the service, to the food, to the atmosphere.

San Tan even has it own custom made beer glasses that are hand blown by an artisan glass maker. These should not be confused with the mass produced, machine made beer glasses that the Boston Beer Company has made for them. The quality of the SanTan glass is phenomenal and a true work of art. This glass is designed to enhance the aromas and flavors of the beer, and anyone who is serious about beer will tell you, the proper glass, does make a difference. You can purchase the glass as well as their beers in six pack cans, and growlers to go.
For more information about this outstanding AZ brewery visit:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An American Fall Classic: Post Road Pumpkin Ale

Now here is a beer style that is uniquely American and one that I look forward to every Fall. Pumpkin ale has it roots in American Colonial history and was a style that for centuries had been all but forgotten until the craft beer revolution of the 1980's. The style has been brewed by colonists since the late 17th Century when malt supplies ran short during hard times in the colonies and brewers were forced to improvise. Pumpkins were native and plentiful, especially so in New England, and made for a good fermentable when malt was scarce. In the colony days the pumpkin gourd of choice for colonial brewers, but were used more so for their sugars than for flavor. It is out of this tradition that modern American brewers pay tribute, and these days, you will find many examples of pumpkin beers on the U.S. market.
Post Road Pumpkin Ale was one of the very first commerical examples of pumpkin beer and to this day it remains one of the best. It was first brewed by the Post Road Brewing Company of Framingham, MA which was a contract brewer who had this beer brewed for them by the now defunct Catamont Brewing Company of White River Junction, VT. The label was sold when Post Road went under in the early 1990's and since that time has been owned by the Brooklyn Brewery of Brooklyn, NY. Brooklyn contract brews this beer as well, it it is brewed for them by the F.X. Matt Brewing Company of Utica, NY. This beer has become a Fall classic and is a bench mark example of the style.
Most versions of pumpkin ale, including Post Road are going for the "liquid pumpkin pie" effect and are heavy with spices such as cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Some examples feature more of the meaty/squashy pumpkin flavor that would you would find in colonial times. Post Road Pumpkin Ale gives the beer lover a bit both. This is a delicious, hearty pumpkin ale, with great spicy flavors as well as great pumpkin flavors.
Post Road Pumpkin Ale pours to a beautiful, bright, orange color, with a nice white head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose is the first thing that really grabs your attention. Fragrant sweet and spicy aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and pumpkin flood the nose. That palate is very flavoful with accents of malt, and meaty/squashy pumpkin flavor. Post Road finishes with more great pumpkin flavor up front, then ends with spicy flavors of nutmeg and cinnamon that lingers.
This is a classic example of pumpkin ale with a very clever use of pumpkin pie spice and real pumpkin. The brewers are not too heavy handed with the spices that really allows those squashy/gourdy pumpkin flavors to come though. Well worth seeking out, this beer is easy to find in U.S. markets during the Fall season and is probably the most popular of all the pumpkin beers on the market today. For more information visit:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Splice the Mainbrace: Heavy Seas Prosit! Imperial Octoberfest

The Clipper City Brewing Company of Baltimore, MD over the years has brewed some truly outstanding beers. This brewery has done a bit of a metamorphosis over the years and its products are now know as the Heavy Seas Beer, though the brewery is still officially Clipper City Brewing. Heavy Seas was at one time the line of specialty beers that Clipper City brewed, but has now become the name of their "fleets" of beer. Now a very pirate themed brewery, Heavy Seas offers three lines of brews:The Clipper Fleet, The Pyrate Fleet, and The Mutiny Fleet.

The Mutiny Fleet line of beers are the biggest and boldest of the Heavy Seas offerings, and they have been very impressive to say the least. Coming in at 8% abv or better, and marketed in 22 oz bombers, these are beers that can be aged and are seasonal releases, only available for a short period of time. I have enjoyed all the beers of the Mutiny Fleet, and one of their most impressive is Prosit! Imperial Octoberfest Lager.
The whole "imperial" thing in American brewing has become a bit over done in my opinion, but in this case I must say it really works. Clipper City brews a beer that for years was called Baltomarzhon, which later became know as Marzhon. That beer is now known as Heavy Seas Marzen and is one of the most authentic, delicious, domestic examples of the style. Prosit! is a bigger, bolder, beefed up example of that truly exceptional beer.
Prosit! Imperial Octoberfest Lager pours to a beautiful, bright, deep chestnut color, with a thick, creamy, white head, and a lively carbonation. The nose on this beer is just fantastic with big aromas, of light toast, nuts, and sweet malt aroma and light grassy hop aromas. The palate is polished and full on the tongue, with big malt flavors. Lots of good toasty and nutty malt flavors glide over the tongue on a very smooth, drinkable body. Prosit finishes with more good toasty and nutty malt aromas, then ends with just the right amount of grassy hop bitterness to balance this beer out.
This is a fantastic example of marzen, just amplified. Very smooth, very round, and dangerously drinkable for a beer of 8% abv. It is hefty enough to stand up to a hearty German meal, but smooth and drinkable enough that you could easily knock back a liter or two of this one. So in that regard, beware because Prosit! packs quite a punch. Available for a limited time only in 22 oz bottles and on draught, this beer is one well worth seeking out. Fresh this beer is outstanding, and that is how I enjoy drinking it. It would be interesting to see how this one would age, so you might want to put a bottle or two in the cellar and re-visit it in a year or so. For more information visit:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Ultimate Bar Food: Deep Fried Pickles

This might be heresy to suggest this, but I think I might have found a bar snack that rivals the Buffalo Wing. I am starting to see these things on more and more menus, and like the Buffalo Wing, this tasty little bar snack was at one time a very regional thing. What I really enjoy seeing is, more and more brewpubs and beer bars are adding these tasty little snacks to their menus. The bar snack/appetizer I speak of is fried pickles.
The history of the fried pickle like that of the Buffalo wing, is a relatively short one. The legend goes fried pickles were first made popular in 1963 by Avery "Fatman" Lindsey when he put them on the menu at the Duchess Drive In located in Atkins, Arkansas. Another account goes they were "invented" in Hollywood, Mississippi at the Hollywood Cafe, when a patron wanted something different and asked asked the fry cook if he could deep fry some dill pickles.
They have been on menus in Southern states for decades, but can now be found from coast to coast, and that is a very good thing. My first experience with the deep fried pickle? As you might of guessed, it was at a brewpub, The Salem Beer Works in Salem, MA back in the late 1990's. I enjoyed them in their spear form, and needless to say I was hooked. The sad part at the time was, few places carried fried pickles on their menus as an appetizer. You really had to seek them out, or make your own. That is not the case any more, and for a beer lover, that is a very good thing.
Fried pickles are just a natural with beer. The combination of the salty and sour flavors from a good quality dill pickle with the hot, salty, texture and flavors of the various batterings, make for one great beer snack. This is not a new concept, anything salty will make you thirsty and you will want to drink more beer. Bars have been offering salty snacks for this very reason for years.
I've enjoyed these both in spear and chip form, both are excellent, but my preference is the dill chips. Fried pickles work well with your standard lager, but I've matched them with a nice hoppy IPA, even dry stouts. Lets not get overly pretentious with this either folks. I know lots of beer geeks are into pairing high end beers with high end foods, and beer and food parings are all the rage with the beer geekery. They might look at fried pickles as being a bit mundane and pedestrian. They are missing the whole point of enjoying food and beer in my opinion. A simple bar snack like this with a nice cold beer is plenty good enough for any beer lover or beer geek for that matter.
So the next time you are out at a good beer bar or brewpub and you see fried pickles on the menu? Give them a try. I will warn you though, these things are addicting, and you will not want to stop eating them. If you can't find them? You can always make your own version. All you need is some good pickles, batter/breading, and oil for deep frying.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beer Sommelier or Beer Douche? Round 3: The douches have it

Here we go yet again. I came across a recent blog entry on the Washington City Paper from the Beer Director at a Washington, DC beer centric restaurant and beer bar called Birch and Barley/Church Key. For a beer lover, this place is beer paradise offering over 50 beers on draught and cask, as well has 500 bottled beer selections. The Beer Director asks in the blog :

"What's in a Name? Of Beer Directors, Sommeliers, and Cicerones."

Visit to link to the Young and Hungry Section dated 08/10/2010. I have addressed this very issue on two separate occasions on this blog, and in light of this recent article, I believe it needs to be addressed a third time.

As it stands now, his official title at B&B/Churchkey is Beer Director, and he states he is often being referred to or asked if he is a "beer" sommelier. He goes on to state that he sees the title of sommelier which is synonymous with wine, evolving to include beer and spirits. He sites recognition from Food and Wine Magazine that lists him as one of the "best new sommeliers" as giving credence to this. We will have to part ways here. I don't believe that because a trade publication recognized him as a sommelier, it makes him one, or that it is not a misnomer. I don't believe because a trade publication, that no doubt gets advertising dollars from the restaurant/food/beverage business makes those who are not certified necessarily credible. We all know how easy wine and beer writers can be bought and paid for, especially the latter.

He gives credit to the Beer Cicerone Program on one hand, then on the other, does not see that the title is necessary. There are other ways it can be done. Hands on training and experience in the field is where you really lean, and cut your teeth. I can agree with this logic to a point, but ultimately, I would have to disagree, as a sound foundation needs to be in place, and then built upon. His reasoning seems a bit disingenuous as well, seeing that after completion of his undergraduate degree, he went on to pursue a master's degree but beer came a calling. It indicates to me, that he must believe on some level that formal education has some merit. What really undermines his argument and that of the other "beer" sommeliers is the fact that none of them have the certification. If they had the certification, the training, the education, a real sommelier or real cicerone had, and then said "its not worth it."? It might lend a little more credibility to the argument against formal education and experience vs on the job experience alone.

The Beer Director makes some points as to why this title of "beer sommelier" may or may not fit what he does for a living. The Beer Director is responsible for training the staff, making the selections, and working with the chef for beer and food pairings. Sounds like what a wine steward or sommelier does right? He is doing this, but with beer. That is what a cicerone does, and there is a program out there, that educates, trains, and certifies a cicerone, the beer world's equivalent to a sommelier.

The fact that the Cicerone Certification Program has only been in existence since 2007 is a non sequitur in my opinion. I can not understand how anyone who is in the food/beverage business, and wants to be taken seriously when it comes to "beer expertise" including the promotion of craft beer, how to serve it, and match it with food, would not want education, training, and certification from this program. Especially so, when you see the people behind this certification program. It is an earnest effort to put beer on the same level as wine, and specialization matters here. The Beer Director seems to want it both ways. The respect of a sommelier or cicerone who has the formal training and certification vs "doing time in the trenches" IE on the job experiences is good enough.

In the last two cases this blog has addressed, the title of beer sommelier has been self proclaimed. In this case it has not, and I have a lot more respect for this guy because of that. That being said, I will have to say this guy is not a real sommelier. A sommelier is an accredited, trained, wine steward. If you do not have the accreditation, you are not a sommelier in my opinion. You are just a well informed "cork dork" or "beer geek".

I fully understand that sommeliers in fine dining establishments are doing more than training staff, procuring wine, and working with chefs to do food and wine pairings. Beer and spirits are coming more and more into the mix. I get it. That being said, I think it says a lot to be specialized, and I truly believe that if you want to claim the title of a sommelier, or a cicerone for that matter, you should have some sort of formal education and certification.

Working for a beer centric restaurant/beer bar one would think the owners would embrace the title of cicerone here. Is it not craft beer choices and pairing said choices with food their selling point? It this not what is setting this place apart? Why would you not want your Beer Director to have attended a program that has given him some formal education and certification, like a real sommelier? It would give him a bit more authority and credibility in my opinion. I have read his resume and his beer "credentials". While not lacking, they are a bit dubious at best. He liked to drink craft beer in college? He tried good beer in Germany and Ireland? He worked as a waiter, and then manager at a beer bar, then as the beer director for a restaurant group that is beer centric pizza place and the place he now works? I'm sorry, but being a beer lover for over 20 years, I'm just not in awe of this.

I'm in no way attempting to diminishing what he has done, or the selections he makes for his restaurant/beer bar. Nor am I with his food and beer parings. I've see what he has done, and he is doing great work. What I am suggesting is, if he wants to claim a title, would not the title of cicerone be appropriate for what he does, and give him a little more "teeth" if you will? I just find it too easy for any informed beer geek who gets a job a beer bar and or restaurant to now start calling themselves "beer" sommeliers. The verdict for me? Not as egregious as the other two "beer" sommeliers, but still beer douche. The douches have it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Island Life in a bottle: Applachian Ginger Beer

With the summer in full force, the heat is on here in the Mid-Atlantic. A recent heat wave with four days of 100 degrees or more. Temperatures are up in the high 80's and 90's with lots of sun and humidity. Beer is always a great choice as a summer refresher, but I always enjoy another type of beer as well, and that is ginger beer. Ginger beer at one time was fermented and brewed but much like ginger ale is now a soft drink. Gourmet examples of ginger beer and ginger ale exist, and many brewpubs and breweries actually produce gourmet sodas, with either a ginger ale or ginger beer in their line up. Ginger beer has much stronger and bolder ginger aromas and flavors than most ginger ales.

The Appalachian Brewing Company of Harrisburg, PA brews up an outstanding Ginger Beer. This gourmet soda is made with crystal clear Appalachian water, pure cane sugar, and fresh ginger. I can not stress enough how use of fresh ginger makes all the difference in the world. You really get the pungent and spicy ginger aromas and flavors, and it makes for a spicy, delicious, refreshing drink. People who have not had fresh ginger are often shocked how spicy and hot fresh ginger can taste.

ABC Ginger Beer pours to an opaque pale color with lots of big spicy ginger aromas and flavors. This is a wonderful, refreshing drink to slake the thirst in hot summer months, and is the perfect soft drink to mix with rum. One of my all time favorite drinks is a Dark N' Stormy which became popular in the sailing communities up and down the East Coast of the U.S. from Portland, ME to Annapolis, MD. I have been drinking them for years, and the key to a good Dark 'N Stormy is not only a good quality rum, but a quality ginger beer.

When I lived in RI, I could always get a good Dark N' Stormy. I'm happy to say I can make my own. ABC Ginger Beer is a fantastic ginger beer to mix with a good quality dark rum to make a great Dark 'N Stormy. So simple, yet so good:

1.5 oz of a good quality dark rum

8 oz ginger beer
1 lime wedge

In a high ball glass with ice pour 1.5 oz of dark rum. Top with ginger beer. Squeeze in lime and drop in glass.

Enjoy one of the most delicious, refreshing, summer drinks you will ever taste! I would always go with Gosling's Black Seal a phenomenal rum from Bermuda. A great quality domestic micro distilled rum like Thomas Tews or Rogue Dark Rum would be a great choice as well.

For more information about getting some ABC Ginger Beer visit the brewery's site at:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You never seen the sun on the old black rum: Thomas Tew Rum

A very interesting, and wonderful thing has happened as the result of the craft beer movement. With the rise of the brewpub and micro brewery, some craft brewers have got into the business of micro distilling and have actually set up small distilleries more often than not in the brewery itself. One such micro brewer/micro distiller is the Newport Distilling Company of Middletown, RI. This tiny micro distillery is also the home of the Coastal Extreme Brewing Company, brewers of the Newport Storm line of beers.

In 2007, Newport Distilling became the first distiller in the state of Rhode Island since the 1842. They are distilling one product at the moment, a rum called Thomas Tew Rum. Thomas Tew also known as the Rhode Island Pirate, was a privateer and pirate who made Newport, RI his home. In colonial times the port city of Newport, RI was home to twenty two rum distilleries. Newport Distilling has brought back that tradition with the production of a rum from Newport's past.

This rum uses black strap molasses and water which is fermented at the brewery which is next to the distillery. The "wash" is fermented with brewer's yeast, and distilled in a pot still 150 gallons at a time. The rum is then aged in American oak barrels, and is "chipped" with American and French oak chips in the barrel. Thomas Tew is then proofed, filtered, and hand bottled. The end result is a very special American made rum.

Thomas Tew Rum pours to a brilliant, deep amber color. The nose on this rum is wonderful, with very fragrant aromas of vanilla, molasses, and light oaky aromas. Those classic "rum" aromas are unmistakable here. The palate opens up with wonderful rummy flavors of molasses, toffee, vanilla, and light oak. It ends with more of those flavors and a warming, alcohol heat that lingers with those wonderful flavors.

This is an outstanding, hand crafted rum with fantastic aromas and flavors. Retailing for $32 a bottle, this is a very fair price for such a quality product. I love the fact that this rum is produced in my home state of Rhode Island, and is a tribute to Newport's rum producing past. This rum of course will work with any number of rum based drinks. That being said, with a rum of this quality, you really want to taste the rum. I enjoy Thomas Tew Rum neat, or on the rocks. It works very well in a Dark 'N Stormy (giner beer and rum) and the ubiquitous Rum and coke. The rum is the real star here, so if you are going to mix Thomas Tew, make it a drink where you can let the rum flavor really come though. If you find yourself in RI, you really should make the effort to find a bottle or two of Thomas Tew Rum, a welcome addition to any liquor cabinet. For more information visit the distillery's site at:

666 The Number of the Beer: Appalachian Batch No. 666

If you ever find yourself in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and you love great beer? You are in luck. Pennsylvania has a number of brewpubs and breweries from one end of PA to the other. The Appalachian Brewing Company of Harrisburg, PA is an outstanding brewpub/breweries with three PA locations; Harrisburg, Gettysburg, and Camp Hill, PA. I recently paid their Gettysburg, PA location and enjoyed some fantastic beers. Beer is available to go as well, and I was able to pick up a limited release 22 oz bottle of Batch No. 666 Ale.
Only 600 bottles of this beer was released in June of 2010, and can be purchased at the brewery's three locations for $6.66 a bottle. Stylistically this beer is an interesting one. It is a sub style of porter known as Scotch porter. This delicious, flavorful beer style can be found more on the brewpub level, but I have had some excellent bottled examples. Scotch porter takes the best of a robust, roasty porter and a sweet, malty, scotch ale. The end result is a beer just packed with big aromas, and flavors.
Batch No. 666 Ale pours to a deep brown, to black color, with a thick, creamy, tan head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is jam packed with big aromas. Sweet malt, caramel, light roast, coffee, dark chocolate, estery fruit, and piney hops. The palate is rich and full on the tongue, with lots of big flavors of sweet malt, butterscotch, coffee, light roasty, dark chocolate, with estery flavors of raisin and prune. This beer finishes with more big flavors of sweet malt, dark chocolate, roast, and estery fruit. Batch No. 666 Ale ends with some piney hop bitterness and some peppery alcohol that warms.
This is a wonderful beer to sip and savor. At 7.7% abv this is a great beer to relax with after work or a big meal. It would pair well with a number of deserts, and would go well with cigars as well. I find this type of beer more suited for the winter months, but would make a nice night cap beer in the summer months. Very limited release, this one can be purchased at Appalachian brewery locations, with a 3 bottle limit per customer. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Virginia Whiskey: Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky

I have always been a big believer in supporting local businesses, and trying to buy as many local products as I can. When it comes to beer, I always drink local, as well as global, and I try to do the same when it comes to drinking spirits. The Commonwealth of Virginia is fortunate to have hundreds of vineyards and wineries with plenty of local choices. Virginia has plenty of microbreweries as well and even a a meadery or two. What many people don't know, even those who live in VA, is the fact Virginia is home to a handful of excellent distilleries as well. If it makes sense to drink local beers and wines, why not local spirits?

The Copper Fox Distillery was established in Sperryville, VA in 2000. This tiny distillery is what has become know in the trade as a microdistillery. Rick Wasmund has a true passion for whiskey, and in the whiskey world is a pioneer of sorts. He is doing a truly amazing thing with his Copper Fox Distillery, and his whiskey is like no other. Rick began his venture into the whiskey world with a six week apprenticeship at the Bowmore Distillery in Islay, Scotland. He returned with what he had learned in Scotland, and Copper Fox was born. Rick has taken the tradition of old world Scotch whisky distilling, and merged that knowledge with new and innovative methods of flavoring and barrel aging his whiskey. Taking a page from Bowmore, Copper Fox is the only distillery in the United States that actually malts its own barley, as well as apple and cherry wood smoking portions of it. The end product of merging the old and new is a truly unique whiskey.
Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky is a singular drinking experience. Pot stilled is small batches one barrel at a time, this whiskey is non-chill filtered retaining the true character of the grain. Barrels are then aged in the warehouse, and numbered bottlings will be a blend of a number of different barrels, with different aging and "chipping" ages used. One of Rick's new innovations is to let apple, cherry, or oak chips steep and and infuse in the barrel bringing their own unique aromas and flavors to the whiskey.
I have had bottlings from batch#6 and batch#26, both have been outstanding whiskeys to drink. Batch#6 is deep golden to light amber in color with peppery alcohol and light smoky aroma, a creamy mouth feel. Flavors of sweet malt roll on the tongue with hints of cinnamon, oak, light smoke, and grain. Sweet malt, cinnamon, and peppery alcohol heat linger as you sip this one. This is a wonderful sipping whiskey to drink neat or with just a few ounces of spring water. The flavor and aromas will open up, making it a wonderful spirit to relax with after a good meal.
Batch#26 is deep copper in color. The nose is bold on this one, with lots of peppery alcohol, aromas of sweet grain, aromas of oak, cinnamon, honey, and grain. Silky smooth on the palate, big sweet malt, light smoke, oak and grain glide over the tongue. This whiskey ends hot, with more sweet malt, honey, and oak flavors, making it very bourbon like.
This is but two examples of what to expect in a bottle of Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky. Retailing for $36-$40 a bottle depending what market you are in, this is a whiskey anyone should add to their liquor cabinet. I was actually purchased a bottle of batch#6 in Rhode Island for a steal at $20 a bottle! I would not recommend mixing this whiskey anymore I would with a fine single malt Scotch whiskey. This is the type of whisky you will want to sip and savor, and enjoy a very unique Virginia whiskey that takes the best of both old and new. For more information visit the distillery's site at:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Flower Power: Willimantic Flower Infusion

The Willimantic Brewing Company and Main Street Cafe, of Willimantic, CT is one of the nation's best brewpubs in my opinion. It is my favorite brewpub of all time, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. I have visited this place literally dozens upon dozens of times, and each and every time I have come away happy. The atmosphere, the service, the food, are all fantastic, but beer is the true star here. Willimantic's house brewed beers are tremendous. Name a beer style and Willimantic has brewed it, and they have brewed it very well. This place is small enough that they can be innovative and creative, and that is a wonderful thing for an adventurous beer lover.

A great example of this is a beer I tried on draught last week on a recent visit to Willimantic. That beer is their Flower Infusion. This beer is billed as a Curvee de Fluers style Farmhouse Ale. It is brewed with European malts, wild flower honey, hopped with Marynka, and infused with Lavender, Caendula, Chamomile, Rose buds, and Hibiscus. Coming in at 6.7% abv, this is a beer to be sipped and savored.

This is a very complex, delicious, bold, flavorful beer with lots of interesting aromas and flavors. It came on draught at the brewpub on July 13th, 2010 so get on over to Willimantic before this one runs dry, as it is not your typical beer, and one well worth the time and effort to try.

Flower Infusion pours to a hazy, light amber color, with a tight, white head that slowly fades, and a moderate to soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is really fragrant and wonderful. Marynka is a Polish hop variety that has very "rooty" licorice aroma. You get those aromas in this beer and it marries well with the sweet and herbal aromas for the flowers used in this beer. It is amazing how well the flower aromas come though in the nose. It is literally like sticking your nose in a fresh bouquet of flowers and getting those sweet, fresh cut flowers aromas of lavender, caendula, chamomile, rose buds, and hibiscus. Sweet, herbal, and very pleasing this beer awakes your senses. The palate is just fanatic with a nice, soft malty base, with a wonderful back drop of honey sweetness ,that is slightly vicious as it rolls over the tongue. Flower Infusion finishes with more really great malt flavor and honey sweetness, then ends with a wonderful herbal flavor, a touch of licorice, and some hop bitterness that cuts the sweetness of this beer.

Amazing, unique, complex, interesting beer. It is the kind of beer you really have to taste for yourself. 1/2 gallon growlers are available to take this one home with you if you like. Willimantic Brewing continues to impress the hell out of me. For more information about this fantastic beer and the brewpub, visit their site at:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breakfast Beer: Shennandoah Chocolate Donut Stout

One of the most rewarding aspects of the craft beer movement that has been taking place in the U.S. for the last 30 years or so, is the quality and variety of beer styles that are being brewed. We are very fortunate to have a staggering amount of choices. Small local brewers are allowed to experiment, and are brewing up beer styles that just could not be produced on a large, commercial scale. A great example of what I am talking about is Chocolate Donut Stout from the Shenandoah Brewing Company of Alexandria, VA.
Beer for breakfast? Donut beer? Has to be a gimmick right? Yes and no. While this beer might indeed be gimmicky, it is in fact a very tasty sweet stout, that you guessed it, smells and tastes very similar to a glazed chocolate donut. The brewery calls this beer a double chocolate stout that is brewed with real chocolate, and essence of donut that is added to the beer using a "secret method."
Chocolate Donut Stout pours to a murky deep brown to black color with a tan head that fades, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is sweet and sugary, with aromas of sweet donut glaze, chocolate malt, dark chocolate, and hints of vanilla. The palate is soft and fat on the tongue with flavors sweet and chocolate malt, dark chocolate, and sweet glaze flavor. This beer finishes with more flavors of chocolate malt, hints of light roast, and more donut glaze sweetness.
This beer is very sweet and a bit one dimensional. That being said, it does taste like a chocolate donut, and that is the whole point of this effort. This beer makes for a unique beer tasting experience, and for the curious is well worth a try. It would work well with deserts, or as a desert itself. Available in select Northern Virginia markets on draught and in bottles, this beer is a bit hard to find, but can be purchased at the brewery. For more information visit:

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Bold and the Beautiful: Bold City Brewing, Jacksonville, FL

Being a veteran of the craft beer scene for past 20 years or so, has really made me appreciate beer at the local level. For me, there is nothing better than drinking local and finding those small, artisan brewpubs and breweries that serve their local markets. I've had some amazingly good beers along the way and some places have been particularly memorable. One such place is the Bold City Brewery of Jacksonville, FL. I was fortunate enough the visit this place last year, and enjoyed many a pint in their beautiful, little tap room/pub area attached to the brewery.
Founded in 2008, Bold City has only been brewing for two years, but in that short time, they have gained a very strong and local following. Bold City brews up an number of different beers styles, and they are doing them very well. If you visit the tap room, you will find 7-10 beers pouring, including a seasonal offering, and special "one off" beers. I was able to enjoy a cream ale, a hefeweizen, a pale ale, English old ale, a red ale, a brown ale, and IPA, and espresso aged brown ale, and a smoked porter.
A very impressive line up, and each beer I tried was flavorful and delicious. Bold City does a fantastic thing as well. If you are going to purchase a beer at the tap room, they will give you a free sample try of every beer they have on tap. If you are hungry? They have a private catering who will grill up some burgers and wings for you as you enjoy the beer in the tap room.
Want to take some beer to go?
Growlers are available as well. Due to Florida law, the growlers are a gallon in size. Most growlers are either 2 liters or a half gallon making the Florida growler quite unique. This should not deter you from purchasing one in my opinion. The initial investment of $20 for a gallon of world class craft beer is money well spent. I was happy to fill my growler with their winter seasonal smoked porter. I will return with my growler the next time I find myself in the Jacksonville, FL area. The brewery has recently purchased a bottling line, and is in the process of offering Bold City beers in 12 oz bottles. Look for find their beers at local retailers and of course cases to be sold at the brewery to go. For now, Bold City beers are available on draught at restaurants and bars in the Jacksonville area, so these beers are well worth seeking out if you are in the area. If you are a beer lover? Then a visit the brewery is a must visit. For more information on this incredible little, local brewery visit:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

End Game: Brewdog The End of History

Extreme beers have been a huge trend in the craft beer world for the past 5 years or so. Breweries world wide have been pushing the envelop be it big hops, big malt, big sour, big alcohol. You name it, odds are a brewery has done it, and there is always another brewery out there that is ready to top that with an even more extreme version. The Brewdog Brewery of Fraserburg, Scotland has pretty much ended the game with their latest beer The End of History.

This beer now holds the title of the strongest beer in the world, coming in at 55% abv or 101 proof. Only twelve 33 ml bottles (which have since been sold) were produced, and the beer retails at $770 a bottle, making it the most expensive beer in the world as well. But it gets even better. The End of History is marketed in road kill. Each bottle is marketed in a taxidermied carcass of either a squirrel, rabbit, or weasel.

Enough already. This quite frankly is ridiculous. The point of extreme beer is lost, if what you have is a beer being brewed just because you can, or you are going for some sort of record, to "one up" the next brewery. That is all Brewdog is doing. It has nothing to do with showing "big corporate brewers" the amazing things they can do with beer. I love Brewdog's beers but this is just a pissing contest plan and simple. Evidence of this was Brewdog's extreme IPA Sink the Bismark a 41% ABV beer that was brewed to recapture the "world strongest beer" record that a German brewery had broken.

The End of History is suppose to be based on a Belgian blond ale infused with nettles and juniper. I doubt you will find any beer character in this beer, and the brewery states, drink it as a shot like a fine whiskey. Pointless. If I want a fine Scotch whiskey, I'll purchase one, and pay a lot less than this gimmick of a beer.

Congratulations Brewdog, you have ended the whole extreme beer trend, it has offically "jumped the shark." And in my opinion it is about time. For more information visit:

Fox Hunt: Mad Fox Saison

Bill Madden, CEO and brewmaster of The Mad Fox Brewing Company, of Falls Church, VA is no stranger to American beer lovers. This award winning brewer has been brewing up some amazing beers over the last 15 years or so in the DC Metro Area. Be it at Capitol City Brewing, Founders, or Vintage 50, Bill's beers have had a loyal and faithful following. On July 12th, 2010 Madden finally opened Mad Fox, and has hit the ground running.

Mad Fox features at any one time 5-7 beers, as well as six beer engines serving up cask conditioned beers as well. I was fortunate enough to pay Mad Fox a visit and enjoyed the fantastic atmosphere, service, food, and of course the beer. One beer that I really enjoyed is Mad Fox Sasion. The brewery describes this one as such:

Saison (6% ABV)

A sturdy farmhouse-style ale that showcases a yeast from northern France, along the Belgian border. The earth and spice notes as well as the citrus fruit character are yeast driven. The balance and complexity of the aroma will change as the beer warms in your hand. Medium bitterness and honeyish malt with a semi-dry finish.
Mad Fox Saison pours to a hazy, pale, golden color, with a tight, white head that fades, and a lively carbonation. The nose on this beer is fantastic, with big spicy/earth aromas of yeast, paired with citrus, and touches of malt sweetness. The palate is firm, with good pale malt flavor, paired with some spicy flavors of yeast, and touches of citrus. This beer finishes with more of those good pale malt, yeasty and citrus flavorful up front, then ends dry with some hop bitterness that lingers with spicy yeast flavor.
Excellent example of saison. This is an outstanding beer to enjoy as an aperitif, and a phenomenal beer to match with a number of dishes on Mad Fox's menu, which is tailor made to match with all the house brewed beers. Mad Fox has arrived, and will be a go to destination for anyone who loves good craft beer in the DC Metro Area. For more information visit:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Retreat from Battle: Lee's Retreat Brewpub at Blue & Gray Brewing

Great news for beer lovers in and around the Fredericksburg, VA area. Lee's Retreat the long awaited brewpub that is attached to the Blue & Gray Brewing Company is now open for business. This is truly a great thing. Now you can enjoy Blue & Gray's beers on draught with some appetizers, or a nice meal as well as getting your growlers filled or purchase bottle product at the brewery. For more information visit:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Give me Liberty! Anchor Liberty Ale

On this most sacred day for Americans, our Independence Day, I can not think of a more appropriate beer to celebrate with than a few ice cold bottles of Anchor Liberty Ale from the Anchor Brewing Company, of San Francisco, CA. This beer has never been called an American Pale Ale or American India Pale Ale by style, but may indeed be the prototype to those two now classic style that were to come and can be found with great ease today.

Liberty Ale was first or one of the the very first examples of an American beer that featured the Cascade hop variety, an hybrid American hop grown in the Pacific Northwest. Cascades are unmistakable in a beer. They have those signature lemon, citrus hop aromas, flavors and bitterness that really make a great "hoppy" beer just sing hops. This beer was first brewed by Anchor in 1975 to commemorate the ride of Paul Revere, so today of all days is a great day to lift an Liberty Ale and say God Bless America.

This beer is an American classic. Hop character is in this beer in abundance, yet this beer has a solid malt backbone to balance, and is a very drinkable beer. Liberty Ale is dry hopped which means it conditions over whole flower hops giving this beer very fragrant hop aromatics that make it even more complex and inviting.

Anchor Liberty Ale pours to a deep orange color, with a tight white head that fades, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is just bursting with fragrant, zesty, vibrant, citrus/lemon and slight herbal hop aromas. This is paired with a touch of pale and caramel malt aroma, but the hop aroma really shines here. The palate is soft with good pale and caramel malt flavors, with some light fruit flavor. Liberty Ale finishes with more malt and fruit flavor up front, then ends with a long, dry, citrus hop bitterness that lingers.

This is a wonderful beer to drink or enjoy with a meal. It makes a great aperitif beer, and is the beer world's answer to a dry martini. It is a great beer to enjoy year round, but this one would be a natural at any cook out or barbecue today on the 4th of July. Happy 4th of July!! God Bless America! For more info visit:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Discover Beer this Fall: Brew Masters

This is long overdue. The Discovery Channel is coming out with a new series this Fall called Brew Masters. The series will be hosted by Dogfish Head Brewery founder and owner Sam Caligione. Should be a very interesting look at beer, the brewing process, the history, the culture. I really wish they had done this one when Michael Jackson aka The Beer Hunter was still alive. I remember meeting and talking with Jackson at a beer dinner 14 years ago and MJ saying to me "I would love to do another series." The Discovery Channel was just not interested at that time, and sadly Jackson, the man who would have been the clear choice for this passed away in 2007. The Beer Hunter aired in 1989 on Discovery, and still is the most definitive series on beer over 20 years later. I wish Sam a lot of luck, I'll tune in, but Sam is no Jackson.


I watched all five episodes of Brew Masters, and while I enjoyed it, it was a bit of a let down to me. It was nice to see the day to day operations of the Dogfish Head Brewery and founder Sam Caligione going on adventures to Peru and Egypt. That being said? It seemed like one big infomercial for DFH. I do not believe this formula is going to work if Brew Masters features Dogfish Head again. I believe a new brewer needs to be featured. Frankly I got a bit tired of Sam and the gang after the third episode.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Welcome to Maine: Geary's Pale Ale

The D.L. Geary Brewing Company of Portland, ME is one of America's first craft brewers, and in my opinion one of its finest. David Geary was a true pioneer when it came to brewing in New England. He incorporated his business in 1983 with a vision of opening a small brewery in Portland, ME for local consumption. This was a novel concept at the time, as only a handful of "brick and mortar" microbreweries existed, most of them being on the West Coast.

Geary went to England and Scotland to learn the craft of brewing beer, and spent the winter months of 1984 honing his skills at six different commercial breweries in those two countries. When Geary returned to Maine, he drew up his business plan, got all his ducks in a row, and got to the task of building a brewery. The D.L Geary Brewing Company opened its doors in 1986 and on December 10th of that year, the very first pint of Geary's Pale Ale was sold. A New England classic was born.

I've been drinking Geary's Pale Ale since about 1991 when I was handed my very first Geary's Pale Ale all those years ago by the legendary Bruguru. Bruguru was ahead of the curve and has been drinking American craft beer from its infancy stages. 19 years later I still remember like it was yesterday being handed a cold bottle of this beer, and that distinctive Geary's label with a Maine lobster on the front of the bottle. When I took my first sip, I was totally floored, and this beer has remained one of my favorite beers of all times.

It is always a fond beer memory. My friend had actually been drinking Geary's since 1987, only about a year after they had opened, so he had been a loyal Geary's drinker when very few people outside of Portland, ME even knew Geary's existed. He has a great story of how he got turned on to Geary's Pale Ale that I just have to share here from Bruguru:

There is a story behind my first Geary's Pale Ale. It was one of my very first visits to Portland, Maine, back in 1987. Gritty McDuff's had not yet opened, and I had yet to visit my first brewpub. Still, I was quite full of myself as a beer lover, and strode into a small convenience store and asked for a six-pack of Sam Adams. The owner, a crotchety old fellow with an exterior as tough as the lobsters Maine is so renowned for, regarded me with a scowl.

"You like Sam Adams?" he asked. "I got something a lot better than Sam Adams."

I assumed that meant he didn't have Sam Adams, but I was intrigued. I asked what that was. He didn't reply, but instead plunked down a six-pack of Geary's Pale Ale on the counter.

I'm glad that crusty old Mainer decided to share a local beer with my friend. Brugru of course went on to become one of Geary's most loyal supports and drinkers, and handed me my very first Geary's Pale Ale. The rest is history.

Geary's Pale Ale a classic example of a British Pale Ale. It is brewed with a very distinctive yeast strain from Hampshire, England called Ringwood. Ringwood gives this beer a very unique earthy aromas and flavors, as well as a byproduct called diacetal, which gives the beer in varying levels "buttery" flavors and mouth feel. You want this character in a classic British Pale Ale, and Geary's Pale Ale strikes a wonderful balance of malt, hops, estery fruity flavors. It is such a flavorful yet drinkable beer, and is just a fantastic beer to drink or to match with a variety of dishes. It is a tradition of mine when ever I visit Portland, ME to enjoy this beer on draught with a twin lobster dinner at Dimillo's Floating Restaurant, which actually sits on Casco Bay. It makes for a wonderful experience, and Geary's Pale Ale is just a natural with lobster.

Geary's Pale Ale pours to a bright, deep copper color, with a nice, white head that slowly fades, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose this beer is fantastic with good spicy hop aroma, paired with earthy aromas of yeast. The palate is firm and crisp with a rock solid malt backbone, and light jammy flavors of fruit. The mouth feel is a touch buttery from the Ringwood yeast adding to the complexity of this beer. Geary's Pale Ale finishes with more good malt and light fruit up front, then ends with a long, dry, bitter hop bite that lingers on the tongue.

This is just a world class beer, that has been world class for past 24 years. Its is available in select U.S. markets, and I'm happy to say I have always had access to this beer. It is a beer well worth trying, and one that should be a staple beer in anyone's beer fridge. For more information about this beer and its world class brewery, vist:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mad Fox up and running!

Great news for beer lovers in Northern Virginia. The Mad Fox Brewing Company of Falls Church, VA is officially brewing beer and will be slated to open shortly. That is owner/brewmaster Bill Madden brewing up his first batch of his multi-award winning kolshbier.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cleveland Rocks: Fat Head's Brewery and Saloon, Cleveland, OH

The hunt for great beer is an endless one for a beer lover. Anytime I find myself on a trip any where, it is a new beer hunt. I make sure that I look for what is brewing locally, and try to visit as many local brewpub and breweries as I can. Cleveland, OH is a city I have been to on a number of occasions, so I was very happy when I visited about a year ago to find that in the suburb of North Olmsted, OH another outstanding brewpub/brewery had joined the ranks of great places to drink beer in the Cleveland Area.

That place is Fat Head's Brewery and Saloon. For those who know good beer, Fat Head's Saloon is a legendary Pittsburgh, PA beer bar, that in 2009 branched out, and established its own brewery in the Cleveland area. You can find the Fat Head beers pouring at the original saloon in Pittsburgh, PA but it is here in Cleveland where the Fat Head beers are brewed, which made it a must visit for me.

Like the saloon in Pittsburgh, Fat Head's Brewery gets it right on so many levels. The space is huge, the atmosphere is awesome, its well staffed and well run. The menu like the saloon in Pittsburgh is extensive and they offer the legendary Headwiches, which are huge over stuffed sandwiches that will satisfy the biggest eaters. I suggest if you are in Cleveland, try the Full Cleveland a one pound sandwich of grilled kielbasa, bratwurst, hot pepper kraut, melted Swiss, thousand island dressing, and Cleveland's own Stadium mustard. To die for.

What the real draw here is of course is the beer. Fathead's serves at any given time 10 of their house brewed beers along with about 20 more taps of craft brewed beers and imports. The selection is staggering. As much as I love the choices, I go with the house brews, and you will not be disappointed. Fathead's has only been brewing since 2009 but have already offered about 40 different beer styles, and they are doing them all very, very well. I could have lost an entire afternoon in this place. On my trip I was able to enjoy their IPA, Chocolate Stout, hefeweizen, and Czech pilsner. I was very impressed with how flavorful and stylistically accurate these beer were. A very good sign indeed.
Great atmosphere, great service, great food, great local beer. For a brewpub/brewery experience, you can not ask for more. Growlers to go as well. I love this place, and it quickly has become a personal favorite of mine. Fat Head's Brewery and Saloon is an absolute must visit if you ever find yourself in and around the Cleveland, OH area. For more info visit:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beer intolerant? There is hope: Lake Front New Grist Beer

The thought of being "beer intolerant" is unimaginable to me, but sadly it is true. There are people that suffer from a digestive disease called celiac disease. Those who suffer from this can not tolerate gluten, a protein found in in wheat, rye, and barley. These grains are the life force in beer, so if you are a Celiac, odds are you can not enjoy a beer.

In 2005 the Lakefront Brewing Company of Milwaukee, WI decided to brew a gluten free beer for celiacs so they could enjoy a beer as well. Lakefront's answer was a beer called New Grist, a beer brewed from sorghum and gluten free yeast grown on molasses. This beer was one of the very first gluten free beers available on the U.S. market, with only a handful of other domestic and imported examples that have followed.
I have to commend Lakefront for brewing a gluten free beer for celiacs. I don't know what life would be like living on a gluten free diet and not being able to enjoy a glass of beer. New Grist gives celiacs a chance to enjoy beer, and one has to applaud Lakefront for their effort. Brewed with sorghum and rice, this is a light, slightly sweet tasting beer, that is quite different from what a beer drinker is use to.

New Grist pours to a very pale, golden color with a short, white head that fades, and a vibrant carbonation. The nose has some crisp rice aroma, and some slight sourness. The palate is lean, with flavor of sorghum, that tastes like grain, and a touch of tart sourness. This beer finishes with more crisp and dry rice and sorghum flavors, then ends with a slightly sweet flavor that lingers.

Not really a beer that I would find myself reaching for too often. It is crisp, refreshing, and has some character with the sorghum and rice flavors and light sourness. The rice in this beer really dries the beer out, and the light sourness makes it refreshing. It has a unique taste for sure, one that might take some getting use to.
I'm glad a beer like this is out there, and I know if I was a celiac, New Grist would be a staple for me. It "is what it is" a gluten free beer, and should be judged as such. Worth a try for the curious beer drinker, and a welcome beer for a celiac. Only a handful of examples gluten free beers are on the market, so New Grist would be a good choice I think. For more information, visit:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

English Pride in the American Heartland: Maumee Bay Cask IPA

Toledo, Ohio has got a secret. Many might not know this, but Toledo has one outstanding brewpub in the Maumee Bay Brewing Company. This brewpub/microbrewery sells some of its more popular beers under the Major Oliver label, and they have even brought back the long since gone Buckeye Beer, a Northern Ohio staple for decades. But to truly enjoy what Maumee Bay has to offer, one has to visit Toldeo, and the brewery/brewpub itself, one must go to the source.

You will not be disappointed if you do, Maumee Bay is located in the historic 19th Century Oliver House Hotel. The space is absolutely beautiful, sporting one of the most beautiful brew houses you will ever see, a full restaurant, and six full bars on three different floors pouring Maumee Bay beers. Nine beers were pouring on my last visit which includes a golden ale, a red ale, a pale ale, a porter, an English mild, a pilsner, a hefeweizen, an Abbey dubble, and a cask condition IPA. I was floored with the number of beers, but was totally floored with the quality. These beers were all very, very impressive, even more so than I had remembered them.

The food and the atmosphere at Maumee Bay will dazzle you, the beer will stun you. I enjoyed them all greatly, but their Cask IPA really got my attention.This has to be one of the most impressive IPA's I have tasted to date, and I have tasted some of the best of the best, in the hop lavish Pacific North West. This beer gives those hop monsters a run for its money, and then some.

Maumee Bay Cask IPA pours to a beautiful, burnt orange/amber color with a thick, creamy head, and avery soft carbonation. This beer is pulled from a beer engine or hand pump by gravity, and is served at cellar temperature, which is a cool 56-52 degrees.This is important, as the hop aromas and flavors really "breathe" and let you know what a superior IPA should smell and taste like. This beer is hopped with imported(from England) East Kent Goldings aka EKG's, and they are in this beer by the bale loads. The nose hits you from a mile a way. Waves of fragrant, flowery hop aromas flood the nose. It is like sticking ones face in a hop pocket full of fresh hop cones. There is a slight underpinning of pale malt, but hop aroma is the star here. The palate is firm with a solid base of pale malt, with a touch of caramel malt sweetness. The finish is the show stopper. A citrus bomb of hop flavors grab hold of the tongue and just does not let go.

The finish will make you pucker it is so bitter, and for a hop head, that is a little slice of heaven in a glass. Without a doubt one of the most impressive IPA's I have ever tasted, a big league beer from a tiny micro with class and character. If you ever find yourself in the Glass City of Toledo, OH, what ever you do, don't miss the Maumee Bay Brewing Company. For more info visit:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

When smoke gets in your beer: Alaskan Smoked Porter 2009 Vintage

The Alaskan Brewing Company of Juneau, Alaska is a legend in the American craft brewing industry. Establish in 1986, this is one of America's very first brick and mortar microbrewers, and it is one of America's best. Over the years Alaskan Brewing has consistently produced exceptional beers available in only a handful of West Coast markets. I have been fortunate enough to try a number of their beers over the years, and one beer that is truly special is their winter seasonal release called Alaskan Smoked Porter.

This beer has won 18 medals at the Great American Beer Festival since it was first brewed in 1988, making it the most award winning beer the fest has ever seen. This beer is a rauchbier or "smoke beer" by style. Rauchbier is a traditional Northern Bavarian beer style where all the malt, or a portion of the malt used is smoked over a beechwood fire. The smoked malt gives the beer intense salty, sooty, smoky aromas and flavors, that can be shocking to the novice. Being Alaska, and the brewery in Juneau being located next to a salmon smokery, Alaskan Smoked Porter has a portion of its malt smoked over alder wood. Traditional rauchbier is based on a hearty lager such as marzen or bockbier. This beer is an ale, and is based on porter, a dark, chocolatey, roasty English beer style. The used of alder smoked malt in a porter makes this beer very unique and, when it was first brewed, a beer like no other.
I've had this beer on a few occasions both in 22 oz bombers and on draught on a few occasions, and each time has been spectacular. I was fortunate enough to acquire a bottle on a recent trip to the West Coast, and the 2009 vintage is as impressive as I remember the vintages I tried in the mid 1990's and early 2000's.
Alaskan Smoked Porter 2009 Vintage pours to an ink black color, with a rocky, white head that slowly fades, and a good carbonation. The nose on this beer is just awesome, with big, intense aromas of smoky aroma, paired with some hints of roast, but the smoke is here, and in a very big and good way. The palate is firm, with lots of good dark chocolate and roasty coffee flavors, paired with more salty, sooty, smoky flavors that work perfectly with the chocolate and coffee character of this beer. This beer finishes with more good chocolate, coffee, and roast up front, then ends with a very salty, smoky, bone dry finish that lingers.
This beer is phenomenal. Rauchbier is either a style you will love, or you will not. You can really smell and taste smoke in this beer, much like you can in good smoked BBQ. I love the intense smoke aromas and flavors in this beer, and it works so, so well with the dark malt and roasty flavors of a good porter. It is a winter seasonal, but this beer could be consumed year round. It is bottle conditioned, and can be laid down and aged for a few years. It 6.5% abv, it is a hearty brew, but one that is so drinkable. This beer is a fantastic match with a number of hearty dishes. A natural with BBQ, grilled, cured, smoked meats, game, and fish, and of course strong, smoked, and sharp cheeses.
A world class beer that must be tried at least once in your lifetime. For more info visit:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gaelic Star: Estrella Galicia

Spain is know world wide as being one of the Epicurean centers of the world. Spanish cuisine is truly world class, and the Spanish eat and drink very, very well. Spain is more associated as a wine drinking nation, and Spain produces some exceptional wines. One might not associate beer with Spain, but a beer drinking culture in Spain does indeed exist, and the drink of choice pouring in the tavernas and served with tapas, in not wine but beer.

In Spanish cuisine tapas are a number of small dish hot and cold appetizers served in Spanish restaurants and bars. They are wildly popular, delicious dishes, and the tradition is to go from tapas bar to tapas bar trying different house specialties, and drinking a lot of beer along the way. Here in the U.S. one can find good tapas at a good Spanish restaurant, and the beer you will always find is Estrella Galacia (Gaelic Star) from the Hijos de Rivera Brewery of A Coruna, Spain. This brewery was established in 1909, and Estrella Galicia is their flagship beer.

This beer is a pale lager by style, and it is a good example in my opinion. It is not the kind of beer that is going to bowl beer geeks over, but is a crisp, clean, refreshing beer, with a good balance of pale malt flavor and mild hop bitterness. It has a touch more body and flavor than your standard Eurolager like Heineken, and maybe it is just me willing this, but it seems to work very well with tapas.

Estrella Galicia pours to a deep golden color, with a thick, creamy, white head, and a good bit of carbonation. The nose on this beer has light herbal/grassy hop aroma paired with some crisp malt aroma. The palate is very crisp, with good pilsner malt flavor and a touch of malt sweetness. This beer finishes with more crisp pale malt flavorful up front, then ends slightly malty and grassy.

This is an enjoyable Spanish lager. The crisp and clean nature of this beer makes it an ideal match for tapas. The carbonation cleans the palate and allows the flavors of the tapas to come though, and the balanced malt and hop flavors work well with a variety of dishes. I recently visited an outstanding Spanish restaurant and this beer really worked well with a plate of jamon iberico. Jamon iberico is a cured Spanish ham from the fabled black pigs of Spain, that is the ham world's answer to kobe beef, or caviar. Salty, rich, buttery, this is phenomenal stuff, and the Estrella cleans the palate allowing you to really enjoy the jamon.

For more information on Estrella Galicia vist:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hops and Glory

Good news for beer lovers! British author Pete Brown's masterpiece Hops and Glory : One man's search for the beer that built the British Empire is available in paper back as well as hard cover in Canada and the UK. This book can be purchased at Amazon Canada and Amazon UK both in hard cover and paper back for a very reasonable price. More so than here in the U.S. This book is one of the most impressive beer books I have read to date. Beer lover or not, it is well worth the read, and a great book to own. Its that good. Go get your copy here:

Here is my review of Hops and Glory:

In the world of "beer" writing there is the late Michael Jackson aka The Beer Hunter, and then there is everyone else. Since Jackson's death in 2007, the dearth of talented writers on the subject of beer has been painfully felt. The truth of the matter is, good "drinks writers" are few and far between. Pete Brown has changed all that, and has set the bar to "Jacksonian" heights with his latest book Hops and Glory. This book is not only a tale about one of the most beloved and cherished beer styles India Pale Ale (IPA) but a history lesson on 19th Century Burton on Trent brewing, the all powerful East India Company, the history of the Raj, and a personal odyssey.

Brown is a masterful story teller, and he weaves the history of his search for the beer that built the British Empire and love affair with beer into an adventure story anyone would enjoy reading, beer drinker or not. The meticulous research Brown puts into Hops and Glory is amazing. This is a powerful story. Brown puts words into action in this book and the reader learn at his own personal expense. The fact that he actually convinced a Burton brewer to brew up an authentic IPA recipe from the 1800's for him? The fact that he takes said IPA from Burton on Trent via canal to London, and then on the sea voyage route to India the way it went in the days of the East India Company to the Raj? The fact that he just did not talk about it, speculate "what it must have been like" but he actually did it? One has to admire this, and the pay off for the reader is you are along for the ride when you read Hops and Glory. Brown makes you live it, breathe it, you are there with him.

No more tall tales or yarns about India Pale Ale. The story of the history of IPA needed to be told, and what a way to tell it. There are some bumps along the way, and why this book is so awesome is, its not just about the beer and its history, but the reader is living the adventure with Brown. We get the good, the bad, the ugly.

Hops and Glory is a history lesson, travel guide, and adventure story all rolled into one. I literally could not put this book down. It is an enjoyable, informative read, and I'm still amazed that Brown actually made the journey that many have talked about, turn into reality. A journey that will most likely never be repeated by anyone. This is "beer" writing at its very best.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Drink like a Viking: Viking Hot Chocolate

Summer is fast approaching, and that usually means drinking thirst quenching, lighter beers that go down easy in the heat. I'm a big fan of summer seasonal beers, but I believe any time is a good time for a good beer. So I like to do what a lot of beer lovers and beer geeks do and mix it up a bit. Its not uncommon for beer lovers to get a stash of winter brews and break them out in the summer months. Styles such as double bocks, barley wines, imperial stout, spiced holiday ales and the like are perfect winter warmers. It is nice to see how these beer fair with a little age on them, and to drink them "out of season." So what better beer to show as example of this than a glass of Hot Chocolate from the Viking Brewing Company of Dallas, WI.

Viking Brewing established itself in 1995, and this is a very small, local micro brewer with distribution limited to the state of Wisconsin. They brew a number of beer styles both ales and lagers, and they brew a number of different seasonal beers. Hot Chocolate is their December-January seasonal release. This beer is a chocolate stout by style, and is very unique and interesting in the fact that it is brewed with organic cocoa and cayenne pepper.

Hot Chocolate pours to a slightly hazy, deep brown to black color with a tight, soapy, tan head that fades, and a moderate to soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is excellent with dark chocolate, coffee, cocoa and roasty aromas. The palate is soft with good dark chocolate, cocoa and coffee flavor. The body is a little thin for a stout to my tastes, but only a minor flaw in my opinion. This beer finishes with more good dark chocolate and coffee flavorful up front, then ends with a nice, spicy, peppery burn that hits the back of the throat and lingers.

The cayenne pepper finish really starts to heat up after this beer warms a little, and I for one love it, making it a very enjoyable drinking experience. Some beers that use hot peppers can be gimmicky, but that is not the case here. Cayenne works well with the cocoa, coffee, and dark chocolate aromas and flavors in this beer. Flavorful and unique, this is the kind of beer well worth trying any time of year. For more info visit:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hop Monster: CascaZilla

Now here is a monster of a beer. A few years back I visited the Ithaca Beer Company, in Ithaca, NY. This is an outstanding little brewery, and every beer I have had from Ithaca has been impressive. One of my favorite beers from this brewery is their American red ale simply known as CascaZilla. This beer gets its name from a gorge in Ithaca known as Cascadilla and the "monstrous" amounts of Cascade and Amarillo hops used in the brewing of this beer.

Hops are the seasoning in a beer, the more hops used at different stages of brewing, the more aromatic, flavorful, or bitter a beer will be with hop character. Cascade and Amarillo hops are know for their zesty citrus aromas, flavors, and bitterness, and they are in this beer by the bail load. What I love about CascaZilla is that huge hop character is balanced with the use of a generous amount of caramel malts, giving this beer is beautiful red color, but also some malt sweetness to stand up to all those hops. So what you have here is an excellent example of a hoppy American red ale, with lots of big hop aromas, flavors, and bitterness, with some good malt character as well.

CascaZilla pours to a beautiful, bright, deep amber to ruby red color, with a tall, off white head that fades, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose is just fantastic on this beer, with lots of zesty aroma of lemon peel and grapefruit. The plate is firm with some good sweet toffee flavors paired with a very nice, tangy lemon/citrus hop flavor. This beer finishes with more of those good toffee and citrus flavors up front, then ends with big smack of grape fruit and lemon hop bitterness that lingers.

Very impressive beer with tons of character. At 7% abv, this is the kind of beer you will want to sip and savor. It makes a great aperitif beer, would work well with a number of dishes, and is a great beer to have after a long hard day at work. Well worth seeking out if you can find it in your market. For more info visit:

The United States of Beer

The greatest thing about this picture? There is either a brewery or brewpub in all 50 states. We have come a very long way in 30 years. God Bless America.