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