Sunday, September 9, 2012

Monk's Cafe: A Philly Must

Recently I was on a trip to Philly.  The first thoughts that went through my mind were to get a good cheesesteak, go to DiNic's for a famous roast pork sandwich and pick up some Russian River beer.  Well I got there to late to go to DiNic's, couldn't find a good cheesesteak place near me and I needed to go somewhere to get away from the smell.  Lets just sasy that Philly smells intertesting . . . sorry Philly people.  I pulled out my trusty phone and typed beer into the google maps search menu.  After searching through options of places that only served beer for the masses I stumbled upon one called Monk's Cafe. 

This rang a bell because I remebered having a sour beer by this name before.  So my friend and I decided to give this place a try.  After walking several blocks we finally found it.  After figuring out how to get into the place, the door seemed lock but it turned out I just needed to be smarter than what I was working with, we took a seat at the bar and were greeted with a beer menu that was about 12 pages long.  In contrast the food menu was 3-4 pages long and we actually had to ask for that one.  The first beer on order was their flagship beer.  It is a flemish sour ale brewed specifically for Monk's Cafe over in Belgium.  It was absolutley amazing! Refreshing and crisp with a sour, almost vinegar, flavor to it but with a tatse sour cherries.  It pours a dark brown with only a light floating head.  This might seem like a little much for some of you beer drinkers but don't fear the sour.  On a hot summer day this is just what you need.  It is so thirst quenching that I actually had to stop my self from chugging several glasses in a row. 

Monk's Cafe Flemish Red turned out to not be the only gem that I found that night.  I am a huge fan of sour beers and think they are the most complex and interesting of all beer types.  While I could have been happy with just the one fantastic sour I couldn't pass up the chance to try Russian River Sypmosium 2011.  This is a Sour Brown ale.  It pours a little darker than the Flemish Red, with a nice white foam head that trails down the glass as you drink.  It does not have the vinegar punch of the Monk's, instead it falls more into the sour fruit category with the flavors being apple and cherry.  Simply fantastic and it makes me jealous of all you West Coast guys and those who live in an area where this is distributed. 

All I wanted to find after my early disappointment in Philly was a place to grab a beer or two.  I didn't imagine that I would find a place with a beer menu 2 or 3 times larger than their food menu, which the food is fantastic as well (I suggest the mussels), to include one of my favorite sours on tap.  If you find yourself in the city of Brotherly Love make sure you make time to stop in at Monk's for a pint.  Be sure to get there early though as we were there on a Wednesday night and by 5pm it was standing room only.  Let me know if there are any sours that you have tried and love or if you have been to Monk's Cafe yourself. 

P.S. Of course every beer place I went to after Monk's Cafe was out of Russian River . . . awesome.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Märzen Anybody?

Märzen, March in German, isn’t a word that a lot of beer drinkers in the US would associate with beer.  This is surprising because Märzen is the exact style and type of beer that we call Oktoberfest.  That’s right! Our favorite fall beer actually got its start by being brewed in March. 
Back in 1539 a Bavarian decree on beer making was issued that required beer to only be brewed between September 29th and April 23rd.  The reason for this is that when brew houses tried making beer during the summer months it was often ruined by an abundance of air borne bacteria.  In order to have enough beer to last the summer months brewers would have to work overtime in March to produce mass amounts of beer which became known as Märzen after the month in which it was brewed.  This beer would be stored in cellars, storehouses, even caves and served all summer long.  Now when it came close to September 29th when brewing could resume the kegs needed to be emptied to make space for all the new beers and what better way to empty a keg than to have a party!
Märzen or Oktoberfest beers are malty in character with just a slight amount of hop bitterness.  The original beers were actually made extra hoppy or with a higher alcohol content to make sure that they would last the long summer.  As the summer months would go on the character of the beer would change with the hop presence becoming mellower, thus letting the malt dominate, as October approached.  For a beer to be considered a true Oktoberfestbier it must be made within the Munich city limits.  All other beers must be called Oktoberfest-Style beers. 

Oktoberfest has taken place in Munich, Germany at the end of September every year for the last 200 years or so, minus a couple of years being cancelled due to wars or cholera outbreaks.   The modern festivals begin with the tapping of the keg by the Mayor of Munich along with the proclamation of “O’ zapft ist!”  or “It’s
Tapped!” with the first beer being served to Minister-President of Bavaria.  Now along with the taste of beer and brats or pretzels, Oktoberfest also gives us the pleasure of the dirndl.  For those of you who don’t know what a dirndl is I have included a picture . . . . strictly for educational purposes obviously. 

So as we come to the close of another long hot summer make sure you take some time to kick back and knock back a couple Oktoberfests! May the summer end quickly and the Oktoberfest, or Märzen, flow long. 


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Craft Beer Bottle Sizes

As I have said in other posts, I like to drink beer.  I also keep a beer cellar in which I store and age some higher alcohol and sour beers to let them mature. I have a bone to pick with craft brewers and it is Bottle Sizes. 

Recently I decided that I was going to break into my cellar.  When I started to look through my selection I ended up not opening anything.  The problem I faced was most of the beer in my cellar are high alcohol and/or in 22 ounce or 750 ml bottles. I understand that craft brewers feel like they need to differentiate themselves. A lot of breweries view the large format releases as a way to do this, but I seldom want to drink 22oz of a high abv beer.  I do however enjoy drinking 6-12 ounces of those beers. 

There are a few breweries that have been successful in making their beers stand out and appear special. Goose Island, for one, releases four of their "Vintage Ale" series beers in 4 packs.  The packaging makes these beers look special. 
Also Rogue releases some of their beers in small 6.4 ounce bottles. That format defiantly stands out on the shelf.  I will also mention Dogfish Head because they bottle their super high abv beers (120 Minute IPA and World Wide Stout) in 12 oz bottles.  I will share one of these 12 oz bottles with someone else, if they were packaged in bombers or 750's I would be hard pressed to find a reason to open them.  

Bottom line is that if you make a great and interesting beer then craft beer drinkers will not only buy it, but seek it out.  

~ Ben 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Beer Review: Allagash Curieux

Picture Credit
Today is my 26th birthday.  To celebrate the occasion I decided to look in my beer cellar and pull out something special.  I decided to go with Allagash's Curieux.  This beer is one that I was convinced to buy at my local bottle shop.  Curieux is a Belgian Triple, a portion of  it has been aged in Jim Bean bourbon barrels.  The brewers then take the barrel aged beer and blend it with fresh triple.

To be honest I am not a huge fan of most triples.  I usually find them to be too harsh with hot alcohols that make them not enjoyable to drink. I'm also very skeptical of wiskey barrel aged beers in general. Don't get me wrong I love a good whiskey, especially bourbon, but when I want whiskey I drink whiskey and when I want beer I drink beer. Some times bourbon barrel aged beers have too much bourbon and not enough beer.  None of this is the case with Curieux.  It is very well balanced and smooth.

Allagash has made a great triple and improved it with a shot stay in some Jim Bean barrels.  This beer does not scream "HEY I HAVE BOURBON IN ME!!!!"  instead it says "I have hints of vanilla and coconut that are reminiscent of a good bourbon."  It pours a beautiful straw like gold color with a thick head.  The aroma is all of the yeast character that you expect from a triple with the addition of the vanilla from the oak.  I was expecting to get more bourbon on the nose, but am pleasantly surprised with the subtle oak notes.

The flavor is very smooth.  It does not seem to be 11% abv.  Again I was expecting to be punched in the face with Bourbon.  That is just not the case.  The delicious triple is complimented with light vanilla and coconut.   There is enough alcohol in this beer that reminds you to sip it, but it is not so evident that you wouldn't be able to drink it quickly if you wanted to.  It has a nice biscuit and graham cracker grain backbone.  This helps balance some of the sweetness that is evident from the higher alcohol.  The beer is very carbonated which helps lift the alcohol sweetness off of the pallet.  Even though there is a fair amount of sweetness in this beer it still manages to finish rather dry.  All and all a very easy drinking and enjoyable beer.

I think that this beer would pair extremely well with some BBQ.  It has a nice spicy flavor and aroma that could stand up to spicy pulled pork.  It also has the bourbon flavors so I would recommend using a Jim Beam or other bourbon sauce.


~ Ben

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fullsteam Awesomeness!

I apologize for my absence, but work and travel have kept me busy. That and a wife who wants things done around the house. But what this does mean is that i have had time to visit two new breweries and try around 25 new beers. Today I'll start with one of the most interesting places I have been to in a long time. I'm talking about Fullsteam brewery in Durham NC.

To give you an idea about the feel of Fullsteam it's located in a warehouse. The inside has simple concrete floors with a bar that seats probably about 20. When the barkeep asked me what I wanted I simply told him one of everything you make starting from lightest to darkest. He obliged me and i can tell you right away that i liked their style. They don't do small tasters of each beer but 6 ounce glasses. They also had the awesome idea of a dry erase strip down the middle of their bar which I used to write my beer notes on.
To start I was given a Beasley's honey white. Now I love white beers but tend to stay away from anything with honey in it. Then I was told this white was also made with cracked black pepper . . .which they toast themselves. I took one sip and was hooked. The sweetness was perfectly balanced by the heat from the pepper. It was so good I almost considered abandoning the other beers and have a couple pints of Beasley's. I knew however I owed it to my readers, and to myself, to move on.

Next came Carver's sweet potato lager. Again I was worried that between the malt and sweet potato it would not be for my palate, or that cinnamon or some other spice would be added in. What I actually got was a well balanced lager. The sweetness of the malt was balanced by the earthiness of the sweet potato. It had a full mouth fell and would go perfect with any dinner I can think of.

Third comes their 1 hop rye IPA. I tried to get a hop and malt list but was unsuccessful. This IPA was bitter at about 64 IBU. The bitterness was right on for me and not overwhelming on the palate. This would be perfect for a summer BBQ or after mowing the lawn.

Now the former should be considered Fullsteam's more normal beers, because what I got next was weird but in an awesome way! Fourth came the Working Man's Lunch which is a chocolate brown, but the twist is that it was made with a Weihenstephan yeast strain that adds in a distinctive banana flavor. The reasoning behind this beer was to recreate an old Workman's lunch of an R.C. Cola and a Moon-pie. And they did it. If you drink between the lines you can taste this combination. Incredibly weird but surprisingly good!

Fifth came the toughest beer of the night to drink. Hogwash is their hickory smoked porter, and let me tell you you can definitely taste the hickory smoke. A sip of this beer is like a punch smoke on the mouth. I could however see a good place for this at a summer barbeque or with a nice North Carolina pulled pork sandwich.

Finally we come to the last beer offering of the night. Overtime is the imperial version of the Working Mans Lunch. It has the same interesting flavor with a little bit more bitterness and a much higher alcohol content.

While sampling these beers I had the pleasure of talking with Fullsteam owner Sean Lilly Wilson. He explained to me that Fullsteam strives to use as many local southern ingredients as possible. This is evident in the sweet potato in their lager and the corn they use in their cream ale, which wasn't on tap the night i was there, that both come from North Carolina. They also make a winter ale with persimmons from Florida. Even Chef Jose Andres has taken notice of the amazing beers produced here for he uses them in one of his restaurants. He also let me know that not only do they produce seasonal brews, but they also want to do an IPA for every season.

I can only hope to make it back to Durham soon to try more new beers from this up and coming brewery (did i mention they are only about two years old?). If you are in the area and want to try some delicious, although different, beers, then make sure to visit Fullsteam. Trust me when i say you won't be sorry.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Local Beer is Better Beer!

As beer people we tend to look for the most exotic and the rarest beers that we can get our hands on. This is a fun and a great way to enjoy craft beer.  I would like to emphasize the benefit of drinking from local brewers.  

I know that for some of you, this seems like an absurd thing to say.  Some people are lucky enough to live by a whole bunch of breweries. These people may seldom think of getting some things else.  Others don't have local breweries. For me I have one brewery close enough to me to consider it local, Star Hill Brewery, and I drink their beer often.
What most people don't consider is that as soon as the beer leaves the brewery it begins to degrade.  That is why beer nerds like me love to go to brew pubs and tap/tasting rooms at breweries.  When you drink a beer at the brewery you know that you are getting the product at its best.  When you pull a bottle off the shelf at a large grocery store you can’t be sure that beer was not mistreated.  The likelihood that a beer has degraded increases the further away that beer gets from the brewery.  This seems to be especially true for hoppy beers.  

Once a beer leaves the brewery, depending on the distributor, it may be placed onto hot trucks, end up staying in a hot warehouse, be put onto another hot truck, and then end up on a non-refrigerated shelf at the store.  All of those steps lead to a degradation of the beer.  If you drink local all of those steps are shortened.  A lot of small local breweries self-distribute.  That means that they skip the entire middle of this process; straight from the brewery to the shelf.  Bottom line the shorter the beer travels that less chance for degradation of flavor

My last point to make in this drink local rant is: Buy Beer Locally.  I realize that you can get some craft beer from large grocery stores, but the selection is never as good as a local bottle shop.  For me I shop at a small gourmet store.  They sell fine chocolate, cheese, wine and beer.  They do not have a large beer section, but what they do have is awesome.  These places should be the foundation of the craft beer movement.  I can go get a 6-pack of Sierra Nevada from my local grocer, but I will not be able to talk about the four different 30th anniversary beers that were released by Sierra Nevada with the cashier (I've tried....they don't seem to appreciate it).  I have also never been able to find Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA or a selection of sour beers at Safeway. Most of the fun of drinking new and exciting craft beer is talking about it (i.e this blog).  Shopping at a local beer store not only gives me the opportunity to grow my beer cellar, it also gives me an additional opportunity to really geek out on beer.  


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Should Session Beers be The Next Big Thing?

As I have said before, I like to drink beer. I like to drink it a lot.  The problem is.... Craft brewers have gone crazy.  It is hard to find any new and interesting beer that is not an imperial this or a double that. Don't get me wrong one of my favorite beer styles is Russian Imperial Stout; but it has its place.... In the a fire.....bear skin rug optional.  Session beers also have a place.... at a sporting event, a BBQ, or a weekly poker game. 

I think that the next big thing is craft beer should be small beers.  What makes a beer a session beer?  I think a good limit should be 5%abv.  There are some great session beers on the market (21st Amendment Bitter American and Full Sail Session Lager).  The problem with these beers is that they cost as much as a normal strength beer. 

I have no problem paying more for high alcohol beer.  The brewers justify the price by saying that the bigger beers use more raw materials.  This same logic should apply to session beers. They use less raw materials, they should cost less. In a market where total beer sales declined by 1.3% in 2011 and craft beer sales have increased by 13.2%.  I believe that if craft brewers find a way to create great low alcohol beers, and sell them at reasonable prices craft brewers will be able to take more market share from the Macro brewers.