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.   


Beer Meal: Bacon, Pancakes and Stout (with a beer syrup)

    While it’s not JUST for breakfast; some beers make an excellent pair with breakfast food (whether or not its consumed in the morning.) One of my favorite food and beer pairings is a big roasty sweet stout and bacon. This week I've been craving some pancakes and bacon.

The Ultimate Beer Breakfast. 

   Ricotta pancakes served with a sweet Oktoberfest syrup paired with Imperial Stout and a side of bacon.  This paring works on several levels, the most obvious is the roast and bitter notes in the stout are coffee like, but it is much more subtle and complex.  The pancakes are tender and fluffy; this complements the luscious mouth-feel of the stout. The Oktoberfest syrup is malty sweet; this accentuates the residual sweetness of the beer.  The salty flavor in the bacon can cut through the stout's bold flavors that tend to linger on your pallet.  All and all it is a wonderful meal and a great way to fight off a hangover. 

Ricotta Pancakes

   2 Cup Ricotta
   4 Eggs, separated 
   1 Cup buttermilk
   1 Cup All Purpose Flour
   3 Tablespoons sugar 
   1 Teaspoon baking powder
   Pinch of Salt 

      Combine ricotta, egg yolks, and buttermilk in a large bowl. Mix the dry ingredients together and then into ricotta buttermilk mixture until fully combined.  In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks, then fold into the batter. 

Oktoberfest Syrup 
   1 22 OZ bottle Oktoberfest 

      Pour beer into a small sauce pan and whisk until it stops foaming.  Slowly bring to a boil, the beer will want to boil over so keep a close eye on it. Reduce until it reaches the same consistency to thin maple syrup (roughly by two thirds its original volume). Once its reaches the correct consistency, taste it and add sugar to taste.  

Serve pancakes and bacon with butter and drizzle the syrup on top. Pour the stout in an Irish coffee cup and enjoy.  

As for the type of stout Founders Breakfast Stout jumps to mind but any roasty sweet stout will work.  Other options include North Coast Old Rasputin, Great Divide Yeti or Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.   

  Hope You Enjoy


Monday, April 2, 2012

Is Your Beer Too Cold?

Is your beer as cold as the arctic circle? Does the bottle numb your hand so much that you have to resort to using a beer koozie? Does it have next to no taste due to that fact that it freezes your taste buds?!? Well then you are drinking some really bad beer or some good beer way to cold.

I know that it will sound crazy but your beer should not be ice cold. The macro beer companies out there tout bottles that show when beer is at the proper temperature, somewhere between around 32-34 degrees, and show images of their bottles and cans being pulled directly from banks of ice to promote the refreshing quality of their beverage (I find it hard to call it beer). This is just a ploy to cover up the fact that their beer tastes awful. If you don't believe me then go ahead and leave your preferred major beer brand out to get warm and tell me if you still think that it tastes good. They are served close to freezing cold to cover up the bitter taste and lack of real flavor.
Now this is not to say that there are not some beer types out there that shouldn't be served at a low temperature. A German Pilsner is typically served in a smaller glass to insure that the beer at the bottom of your glass is still nice and cold. However, there are many beers out there where you will miss out on much of the flavor if you serve it at the wrong temperature. Until just as recently I was just as much at fault as doing this as everybody. I would just throw the beer in the fridge and then pull one out to drink whenever, but a little research and lots of taste testing was enough to change my mind. Just the other night I was enjoying a Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout. I did, out of habit, keep it in the fridge. This will be reconciled as soon as I build my own beer cellar. I took the stout out about 30 minutes before I was going to drink it to let it warm up. I poured it in a glass and took a sip. I was rewarded with an amazing amount of chocolate and toasted malt flavor. As I continued to hold the glass in my hands that chocolate became even heavier and a hint of coffee entered the picture. If I had drunk this at fridge temperature I would probably have liked it, but allowing it to warm up made me love it.
Let's face it, those of you who drink beer from the major companies do so because it is cheap, cold and gets you drunk. That's not what I'm out there to do. I want my beer to be exciting and full of flavor. For those interested there are a few ways to go about having beer at the right temp. Those with some money to spend can buy a wine cooler. These allow for you to set a very specific temperature for your bottles. For those like me you can just pull it out of the fridge a little early. Pouring it into a glass will allow it to warm up faster. I know it might seem like a lot of work for a beer but trust me when I say it is worth it. Below I will list a basic guideline for different types of beer. I hope this helps to make your beer journeys long and full of flavor.
Lager beers should be kept in the refrigerator before serving at 9°C/48°F.
The light American and Australian lagers should be server at a lower temperature of 6°C/42°F.
Ales should never be over-chilled, or it will develop a haze and loose their fruity-flavors. 12-13°C/54-56°F
Very strong ales should be served at room temperature.
You can always look online for specific beers or check out the bottle, some companies will list it there.