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by Nick Anderson — October 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm 353 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

I picked a hell of a day to get food poisoning this week — right before my birthday. Not that I’m a big birthday guy, mind you: I try to avoid people finding out about it, keep things low-key. Still, I was determined to open a couple special beers in my “cellar” (aka my basement fridge) and as your intrepid Beermonger felt a responsibility to do so. At least that’s what I told myself.

Anyway, the two beers I brought up were interesting both in how they’d changed, and how they made me consider cellaring in the future.

Evil Twin Christmas Eve At A NYC Hotel Room Imperial Stout: Absurdly long name for a tasty beer. This bottle was from the first run we got in Virginia (received during November of 2012), back when it was being brewed at De Molen Brewery in the Netherlands and retailed aroun $11 per 11.2-ounce bottle. Today, we see Xmas Eve every few months or so; now brewed at Two Roads Brewing Company in Connecticut, it comes in four-packs selling around $15 each — a marked improvement though still not cheap.

That price is well-earned: Evil Twin’s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso has a special touch with Imperial Stouts, and it shows in this beer. Fresh, Xmas Eve is a robust take on Imperial Stout; 10 percent ABV, with bold cocoa and raisin flavors along with a touch of heat. Xmas Eve it full-bodied without being rich. With a couple years on it, a lot of the cocoa has blown off, but Xmas Eve retains the boozy kick and dark, “stewed fruit” notes of its youth. It’s still a great beer, but I think I missed some of its more robust qualities; I can’t say I’d cellar it again for this length of time. Perhaps a year or so would strike a nice balance, but today I’d say snag some and drink it as you see fit.

Founders Backwoods Bastard (2012 Bottling): In fairness to the 2012 bottle of Evil Twin, it’s a big beer but not one made for long-term aging. In contrast, the bottle of 2012 Founders Backwoods Bastard I opened is built from the ground-up for the cellar. A Scotch-style Ale aged in Bourbon barrels, Backwoods Bastard is one of those rare beer that geeks like me like to talk about, but don’t want to talk about too much. It doesn’t get the over-the-top hype and publicity that Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout does, and that makes it easier to snag some of the supply that the Michigan brewery sends out every November.

I’ve shown remarkable restraint with this 2012 four-pack of mine — this is only the second of the four I’ve opened so far. While, like wine, the vast majority of beers are made for immediate consumption, Backwoods Bastard shows the potential in the rare beer that can benefit from some time put away. Where the smoky, boozy, and sweet mix of the malts and barrel influence would have felt a bit disjointed and cloying when released, today every element is integrated, working in harmony. Often unspoken in discussion of aging beers is how they can mellow, making something as strong as Backwoods Bastard (10.2 percent), with the heat of the Bourbon barrel, feel approachable and even elegant. I’m going to need another four-pack to replace this one, as I don’t think those last two bottles are going to survive the winter in my home. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm 449 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Before we get into it today, some notes:

Homebrew Update: My Brooklyn Brew Shop Everyday IPA has been in bottles carbonating for just over a week now. Bottling wasn’t so bad, but I don’t know how much I’d enjoy doing it on a regular basis with larger batches of beer. They’ll be going into my fridge next Thursday night for consumption starting Friday — if I stay patient. If not, well, you’ll be getting a report on the results sooner than anticipated. Either way, I’m already plotting a Porter or Stout brew next.

Articles of note: The increasingly must-read Craft Brewing Business has a great piece up about distribution contracts. CBB’s Candace Moon lays out the intricacies, fine print, and pitfalls of the legalese involved in the alcohol industry in a way that is accessible without being dumbed-down.

Also, check out Esquire picking up on Dann Paquette of Pretty Things going H.A.M. (look it up, kids) on “pay to play” practices in Boston. Paquette started calling out breweries, distributors, and bars/restaurants for engaging in illegal payments/gifting in exchange for securing tap lines, and revived an ages-old, extremely contentious running argument in the process. If you’re a Beer Advocate member, there’s a refreshingly reasonable and open forum thread on the topic that makes for great reading.

Onto the topic this week: The truth is, this is my second pass at this week’s column. Earlier in the week I’d been reading everything from the stuff I linked above, along with a great piece by Craig Gravina at DrinkDrank that addressed some of the concerns being raised about quality control in new breweries; whether drinking “local” would actually harm the growing beer industry.

I’ve been seeing some of the planned releases and strategies from so-called Big Craft breweries for 2015; taken as a whole, I just rambled about reconciling the business aspect of beer with the very passion we have for it as fans. What came out was, frankly, depressing; no one here wants to read about me being a sad panda.

I wanted to get to the heart of what I was trying to say — get to the point. Then a couple funny things happened: I tried a couple standout beers, and a lot of media outlets started talking about beer. First up was the New York Times Editorial Board itself, weighing in with concerns over the potential AB/InBev and SABMiller merger that’s been on again/off again for years now. Then chef David Chang took an oddly emphatic swing at what he derisively terms “fancy beer” in GQ, and something in my brain went “pop.”

I stopped being able to be “outraged” or whatever it is I’m supposed to feel when my hobby (and my profession) is being “attacked.” Looking at it one way, Chang pulls off an impressive troll job, judging by the online reaction to the column. Beyond that, however, is the fact that this is simply one man’s opinion: Chang isn’t limiting the beer options in his restaurants; you’ll find offerings like Stillwater Stateside Saison, Left Hand Good Juju, Fritz Briem Berlinerweisse, and Rodenbach — he’s even done a collaboration beer with Evil Twin. The guy’s just expressing a preference; the only issue I’d take is with the “neckbeard” and “hipster” cracks, which just strike me as unnecessarily antagonistic, but then again, it gets the clicks. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm 418 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Some odds and ends this week, and then a couple recommendations for Harvest/Wet Hop Ales that I’ve been enjoying so far this season.

The big news of the week is the news that Stone has decided to put its East Coast facility in Richmond. We’ve been following the rumors and speculation for months, and Richmond finally won out over Norfolk and Columbus, Ohio. Stone Richmond is estimated at a $30 million dollar investment that will bring somewhere in the area of 300 jobs to Virginia, not to mention solidifying Richmond’s status nationally as a Beer City.

Also, there are a pair of noteworthy articles I’ve read over the past couple weeks: Craft Brewing Business dives into this year’s poor barley crop, and the potential ramifications for brewers of all sizes (be sure to read the Reuters article CBB links to as well for more info).

Also worth spending a few minutes reading this week is this Esquire piece by Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Greg Engert. Engert takes an interesting angle on the “drink local” movement, looking at possible pitfalls as markets become saturated with breweries. Greg’s gotten where he is in our industry for a reason, and gives a very smart, reasoned take here.

This past week also saw the 2014 edition of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Breweries from our area once again made a great showing for themselves, and once again Devils Backbone led the way. This year Devils Backbone won four beer medals and for the third year in a row was a Brewery of the Year winner (this time as a Mid-Size Brewery). Richmond’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery won a Gold for its Raspberry Stout; Charlottesville’s Three Notch’d took a Bronze for its Hydraulion Red; Capitol City Brewing Company’s Shirlington location won an impressive Silver for Amber Waves (Amber was a highly competitive category this year); DC Brau’s Citizen Belgian Pale Ale won a Silver; and Maryland’s DuClaw, Heavy Seas, Union Craft, and two Gordon Biersch locations all medaled. Check out the full list of GABF winners here.

To wrap up this week, I’d like to mention a couple beers from what is increasingly becoming a favorite seasonal style for me — the Wet Hop Ale (sometimes classifies as Harvest Ale). With hops coming off the vine and going into the beer before they have a chance to dry out, Wet Hop Ales showcase a spectacular clarity of aroma and flavor without overbearing the drinker with aggressive bitterness or overly-rich citrus flavors (for more on Wet Hop Ales, read this past column).

This year, I’ve developed a minor obsession with two Wet Hop Ales in particular. Hardywood’s RVA IPA uses fresh hops from two local farms along with folks who have received some of the hop rhizomes given out by the Richmond brewery every year (the RVA IPA label estimates the number at around 1,000). As a “community-sourced” Wet Hop Ale, RVA IPA is as much as statement of how far Virginia’s beer scene has come over the past few years as it is a seasonal effort. Beyond all of that, the beer is simply delicious: focused floral aromatics give way to a palate that is balanced and elegant; hoppy but with a sense of restraint and an easy mouthfeel that belie its 7 percent ABV strength. Supply is surprisingly good, but RVA IPA won’t last long. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm 317 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Veering away from existential crises and the wider beer business as a whole this week, I’d like to relate one of the best parts of my job, and of being a beer fan in general: the unexpected, pleasant surprise.

Last week saw the Virginia debut of Nebraska Brewing Company, and I was particularly looking forward to carrying their Melange a Trois, which I got to try at the 2012 edition of SAVOR along with their IPA. But those weren’t the only Nebraska Brewing beers to arrive last week, and I took a flier on a six-pack of Brunette Nut Brown Ale because I’m a fan of the style and liked the idea of having one in cans. Sure enough, Brunette is great: all of the nutty and malty flavor you’d expect from classic examples like those from Sam Smith and other English brewers but lighter, less rich on the palate. This is an easy-going, flavorful, delightful beer that just got me from out of nowhere.

Not all “surprising” beers are everyday drinkers or more modest in style: I knew I’d enjoy Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin, but didn’t expect to become as fixated with it as I have when trying it during my visit to Stone for their anniversary party back in August.

The recently released 2014 bottling of Swiss brewery BFM’s Abbaye de St. Bon-Chien Grand Cru, aged entirely in Champagne barrels (or as they say on the label “Frenchy Sparkling Wine Barrels”) was something no 11 percent Sour Ale has any right to be — refreshing. Something about that version of that beer gives is the trademark Bon-Chien sourness up front, while smoothing out on the back with a finish that draws you right back in for more.

Stone’s Collaboration Series has produced more than its fair share of winners, often showcasing styles they are not necessarily known for. The new Xocoveza Mocha Stout fits right in with the best and most unexpected of them — a Mexican hot chocolate-inspired Stout using coffee, chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and chili peppers. Usually I’m wary of any chili-infused beer; I’m not a “face-melting — if you’re lucky” hot sauce guy, and too many beers that use hot ingredients can easily go too far. But Xocoveza walks the tightrope perfectly: it’s spicy rather than full-on hot, with roast, sweet, and spicy elements expressing themselves fully but also in harmony. Wouldn’t have expected it, but I’m enjoying it like crazy while it’s here.

What beers unexpectedly became favorites of yours? Which did you think you wouldn’t like but ended up loving? Let’s hear about them below in the comments. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — September 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm 416 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Early this week, I tried something new — I made beer.

I’ve been curious about homebrewing for years, but hadn’t bothered to take the plunge into trying it. Where I once stood with no knowledge of the subject, I now stand with next to no knowledge of the subject, but indulge me a moment to relate some thoughts about it, because I’m really excited about it.

To start, a confession: it wasn’t so much that I hadn’t gotten around to making beer so much as I’d been avoiding it. I don’t have enough time for the hobbies I’ve tried to keep over the years, and I didn’t want to get wrapped up in another one, spending my days even more frustrated over yet another thing I enjoy that I don’t have time in my life for.

I’ve been fearful, the way we all are when we’re attempting to learn something new, of exposing our ignorance of it. I was also afraid I’d be no good at it — hell, I still am, but I forget that none of us is very good at anything at first; otherwise there’d be no need to learn. Part of me has been afraid I’d get into it; I can get somewhat obsessive about hobbies, and I know there’s a good chance I’m going to fall down the rabbit hole.

So, being a first-timer I decided not to go crazy and try something small and relatively easy: I got an Everyday IPA kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop, which is well-worth checking out. It’s pretty easy, so the joy is in the sensations; the sweet smell of malt lingering in the house was a particularly nice one.

Adding hops to the beer — just handling hops, was awesome. I’ve been walking around all week with the packets my Columbus and Cascade hop pellets came in. I keep going back and smelling them — I think I’m addicted.

The real point is this: I’ve heard the “why you should homebrew” thing for years, and I’m here to say they were right, OK? I’ve got about a month before I get to see how bad the beer I made is, and I have to say I haven’t been this excited about beer in years. I’m already getting requests from family and friends for future batches, and I have the thrill of discovering and learning about something I had no clue about before.

So if you like beer, try making some. If you don’t like beer, find some new skill to learn or hobby to take up: our lives are fuller and more meaningful when we do. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — September 19, 2014 at 3:00 pm 464 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Will Gordon writes about beer for Deadspin on their sub-blog, The Concourse. Earlier this week, he ran an opinion piece about how he thinks Yuengling, well, sucks (you can read it here).

After the piece ran, Gordon took to Twitter to talk about a phenomenon I’ve noticed not only in beer writing, but in most critique/commentary. Noting the rate at which the Yuengling piece was being read/shared/talked about, Gordon said “Hey everyone, good job reading about Yuengling at 8x the rate” as recent reviews of his on beers from Troegs, Boulevard and others are read. “Way to reinforce bad behavior.”

Gordon was merely expressing his opinion as someone who is paid to have opinions about beer, and because he “likes to have fun with the Yuenglingers,” he took a particularly edgy tone with his piece, only to find it doing “disconcertingly well.”

It’s obvious to brush off the lure of negative reviews and other critical writing for readers; we all know of plenty of commentators who thrive on “trolling” audiences — the “Shock Jock” principle, if you will. That’s not what I’m talking about today; I’m talking about why we, as human beings, are more inclined toward the negative. Gordon ran pieces over the past few months listing his picks for the most overrated and underrated beers on the market — guess how they performed against each other?

I’ve had a little experience with this myself: I posted one full-on negative review, one time, as much as an experiment in tone for the writing on my blog as anything else — and I still shudder when I think about it. Thankfully, it’s not the most-read post I’ve ever done, but it certainly provoked more reader reaction and interaction than any other post. It remains on the site because it’s the Internet and nothing ever really goes away even if you want it to, but that’s the only reason. That’s not how I want to discuss beer; even beer I don’t like.

The environment these days is such that some are finding “listicles” too much work, simply posting context-free “(Insert topic here), Ranked” lists and letting the public dive into confrontation, baseless argument and name-calling. Aggregate rating sites abound, along with the statistical analysis of nearly every subject imaginable.

The entire concept of opinion is coming into question: it’s not enough to merely have an opinion today — your opinion is expected to have to be quantifiably “better” than someone else’s. Some days, it seems that unless you have objective proof of an opinion being more relevant than another, than it has to somehow be “wrong” and no one can simply be “wrong” anymore. To paraphrase Dr. Zoidberg, your opinion’s bad and you should feel bad.

Everyone’s ready to uncork on someone, or something, or someone uncorking on something. Am I getting old (I know I am), or has this gotten worse over a relatively short period of time? I don’t like people enough to want us all to just get along; there will be no campfire singing and handholding over here.

But can we not all remember that we all perceive flavor, aroma and color differently? That beyond our physical differences, our experiences do much to shape our tastes, and that what I enjoy may not be what you enjoy and may not be what the guy who gets paid to write about beer enjoys? Knowing this, can’t we debate the merits of one beer or another with a little less anger? Can we have just a little more fun?

It’s beer, after all.

I’m feeling entirely too reasonable right now. I think I’m gonna go have a couple and write an unnecessary screed against something. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — September 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm 316 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Over the past two weeks, I’ve recapped my visits to two Southern California breweries — Stone and The Bruery — that I went on during my recent vacation. Today we’re wrapping everything up with a list of some of the things I noticed during my too-brief stay out West:

Good: Los Angeles’ local beer scene: I expected to find all kinds of good beer in San Diego and was not disappointed, but what surprised me was how many breweries are up and running in L.A. itself. During an afternoon trip to the beach at Santa Monica, my wife and I ducked into The Commons Ale House, a small beer bar just off the beach focusing on craft beer with some great local options on tap. Over games of Connect Four, we got to try Angel City‘s Eureaka! Wit (4.9 percent and made with Nelson Sauvin? Yes, please!), and El Segundo Brewery‘s Blue House Mosaic Pale Ale. El Segundo makes a handful of Blue House Pales featuring different hops. I noticed some Blue House Citra at a Whole Foods near my friend’s house later on in the week, along with a number of other L.A.-based brewery selections. Reading a Brewing News-style periodical about the L.A. beer scene, it appears that there are more breweries coming online, which is always a good sign.

Bad: Hop-centric, sometimes to a fault: What I found in SoCal was a dearth of the Lagers, non-hoppy Ales (Kolsch-style, Golden Ales, etc.), wheat beers, and mild Belgian styles that are more readily found here on the East Coast. For the most part, I was fine with this — I got into beer as a hophead, and I’m always going to be one. For people like my wife, the emphasis on big hops in nearly everything being put out by craft brewers can be tough to deal with.

My wife, you see, is not a fan of particularly bitter hoppy beers. Over the 10 years we’ve been together, she’s tried more beers than most people in the industry, and she has a great palate — she knows what she likes, and knows what she doesn’t. Too often in California we’d look through a menu at beer lists and there just wouldn’t be much of anything that she could get into.

Good: That may be changing? All that said, I did see some signs that things might be shifting a bit on the West Coast. The aforementioned Angel City Brewery offers their Wit year-round, along with a year-round Pilsner, and seasonals like a Wheat Ale and Oktoberfest. Modern Times offers a Saison and Coffee Stout that, while relatively hoppy for their styles by the numbers (30 and 40 IBU, respectively), aren’t overly aggressive. AleSmith‘s Anvil ESB was a beer we both loved. Even during our Stone visit, my wife found herself enjoying Go-To IPA (no bittering hops, remember?) and loved the limited-release Sprocketbier from earlier this year. I got to snag a sixer of Firestone Oaktoberfest and was impressed; hopefully production is boosted enough for next year that we see a little on the East Coast.

Good: If you do like hops, though… Oh man, is it fun being a hophead in California. The night we landed, my friend and I went on a BevMo run to stock up his fridge a bit. I decided to buy some ChronicAle from Port Brewing. I’m a fan of Port and hadn’t tried this one before. ChronicAle is a hoppy Session Amber Ale, clocking in at 4.9 percent, and comes in six-packs of tallboy cans. How cool is that? Also, those sixers of tallboys cost $9.99 at BevMo — this was the first of many moments where I contemplated staying in L.A., and never coming back. Also found and enjoyed while in California: Firestone 805 (in six-pack bottles and 12-pack cans), AleSmith IPA and Pale Ale 394, Stone Bastard In The Rye, Beechwood Alpha Master, Ritual Single Rye IPA… there’s a lot of great beer in SoCal, y’all.

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by Nick Anderson — September 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Last week I recapped the first weekend of my recent Southern California vacation, which included a trip to San Diego County for Stone’s 18th Anniversary Party and a tour of the brewery itself, along with a great lunch experience at the Stone Bistro and World Gardens. This week I’d like to tell you about the other brewery visit I had while I was staying in Los Angeles — to The Bruery, in Placentia.

Depending on where you’re staying in L.A., you can get to The Bruery’s Orange County location within an hour or two (I was staying near LAX, and the drive took about 50 minutes in late-morning traffic), though with the tasting room opening later in the afternoon most days travel time is subject to the whims of the freeway gods. I mention the tasting room hours because tours of The Bruery are currently on hold; I was lucky enough to be shown around thanks to The Bruery’s Virginia distributor setting me up with Jonas Nemura, Senior Director of Operations and Distribution for The Bruery.

As I mentioned last week, most brewery tours are fairly similar experiences, but what fascinated me at The Bruery was how different their approach was compared to Stone. Both breweries aim for world-class quality and expression of style in their beers, but for all of its experimentation Stone is much more in the “traditional” mold — around half of the production at Stone’s Escondido brewery is dedicated to their IPA, which is their flagship beer.

The Bruery (Photo by Nick AndersonNot only does The Bruery not have a flagship beer, but when one of their recipes began to show signs of becoming a flagship, they stopped making it — such is their dedication to an ever-changing lineup with an emphasis on trying new things and being on the experimental edge of the beer industry (there’s a reason I called The Bruery “fearless” when I wrote a short profile on them back in 2012).

Even as someone who works in the business with an appreciation for what The Bruery does, it can be jarring to hear a business plan that so diverges from the norm. The thing is, it’s working; when I visited, The Bruery was working on yet another expansion, gobbling up even more of the warehouse-like storefronts its complex occupies.

In six short years, The Bruery has become a name known to beer lovers worldwide — one synonymous with boldly-flavored, cutting-edge Belgian-style, Sour, and barrel-aged beers. A special treat during our tour of The Bruery was a stop in its barrel-aging warehouse. We were led to a nondescript office building a block away from the main facility, and upon entering the combined aromas of oak, bourbon, and other assorted barrel varieties smacked us in the face.

Walking into the warehouse itself was like entering a real-life treasure trove: somewhere between 10-12,000 square feet of space with rack upon rack of wooden barrels. It was like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark — except for beer.

Mind you, none of these contain The Bruery’s vaunted Sour Ales — those are created and aged in a different facility about three miles away. Part of The Bruery’s evolution involved moving Sour/Wild Ale production; fresh wort is even trucked over to the sour house (my phrase, not theirs) so all fermentation involving Brettanomyces and The Bruery’s souring bacteria can take place away from the regular production line, all part of an effort that should help avoid some of the cross-contamination issues that have occurred with a handful of beers in the past.  (more…)

by Nick Anderson — August 29, 2014 at 2:30 pm 455 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

These are tanks!I spent last week on vacation visiting my best friend in Los Angeles. When we were planning this trip, I checked in with my friends at Stone Brewing Company
to see if anything interesting was happening, as my friend’s brother lives near Stone’s location in the Northern part of San Diego County and we were thinking about going to see the brewery and its vaunted World Bistro and Gardens.

It just so happened that I was landing the day before Stone’s 18th Anniversary Party. I’m not one to pass up an opportunity like that, so off we went.

Rather than simply open the Bistro and have a celebration of all things Stone and only Stone, the Anniversary Party is basically an all-day beer festival split into two sessions; one earlier in the afternoon and one later. Some sixty breweries were featured, with well over 100 beers available for sampling.

Tickets weren’t exactly cheap ($45 — and yes, I paid for them), but the price ensured a crowd of die-hard craft beer enthusiasts. I should compliment everyone involved in setting up and running the Anniversary Party; I can’t remember ever attending such a well-organized beer fest.

Line for Bruery tastings (Photo by Nick AndersonMake no mistake, though: it was a big crowd, and some breweries attracted a lot of attention. This (right) was the line I got into to sample what The Bruery brought to the party (their tent is the one straight ahead in the picture):

And the line for Russian River sampling was twice as long, but the pourers worked efficiently and lines progressed smoothly. Overall, very well done.

After the Anniversary Party on Saturday, we were treated to spots in a tour of the Stone brewery on Sunday, along with reservations at the Bistro (those I’ll thank Stone for). The brewery tour itself is… well, it’s a brewery tour — they’re all fairly similar.

I always enjoy brewery tours though, and at Stone I appreciated not only our knowledgeable and engaging tour guide, but the carefully selected samples poured for those on the tour immediately afterwards in the Stone Company Store.

There were a couple noteworthy items during the tour: The first, on the heels of my last column here talking about the issues California breweries are having with the state’s ongoing drought, was that Escondido — the North County area in San Diego where Stone is located–was under a boil alert the weekend we were there. Testing that Friday the 15th showed the presence of coliform bacteria, so the first thing we saw when parking at Stone on Sunday was a very large truck outside pumping clean water in.

By Monday the 18th, the alert had been lifted for all but around 60 of the reported 6,300 water customers in Escondido. While this issue in Escondido wasn’t drought-related, it was interesting to see how an operation their size had to scramble to handle a temporary water emergency. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — August 15, 2014 at 9:45 pm 421 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Much like winemakers, chefs, and cheesemakers, there’s a strong conservation streak that runs through brewers.

GreenBiz recently ran a good piece illustrating the efforts that breweries of all sizes are making to ensure they are as sustainable as possible. It’s smart business sense to save energy to keep costs down, of course, but that’s not the sole motivation at play with beer. At the heart of good beer is the quality of its ingredients: the hops, grains, yeasts, and, most of all, the water used to create it.

Water is, and always has been, the single most important factor in brewing. Elements found in local water supplies have influenced the styles of beer made in various locations all over the world (perhaps most famously in Munich, where the hardness of the water led to the development of less hoppy Lagers).

So what happens when a brewery’s water supply starts to dry up? Breweries in California are starting to find out, as a three-year drought has begun to choke brewery growth predictions and has many looking for new locations (and water supplies) to use in their production.

The L.A. Times reported at the end of July that Bear Republic Brewing Company (Racer 5, Red Rocket Ale, Hop Rod Rye) has cut its expected growth rate from 35 percent to 15 percent this year because of the shortage of water from its source, the Russian River. Bear Republic has facilitated the creation of two new wells, but the mineral content of well water requires a filtration system to ensure the consistency of the final product; an additional expense to the brewery.

Bear Republic hasn’t been alone in feeling the effects of California’s water woes: MillerCoors and AB/InBev have both taken steps to reduce their water consumption over the past few years, especially at their California facilities. The L.A. Times article also reported that Lagunitas has cut its water consumption by 10 percent over the past two years, and has started incorporating well water into its production.

Lagunitas executives told the Times that they’re concerned the state may require them to switch to well water completely, which may have an impact on beers produced there in the future (though the brewery has already installed a filtration system for the well water it currently uses). Even before the most recent drought concerns, Bear Republic was worried that its 8 million gallon per year water use cap would negatively impact growth.

So what’s a West Coast brewery to do? If you’ve been following the beer industry over the past few years, you’ve already seen the answer in action: go East. Bear Republic is reportedly exploring the options breweries like Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and (soon) Stone have already enacted and opening a brewery on the East Coast (Lagunitas stands out by having opened their second location in Chicago).

The influx of breweries in the area of Asheville, N.C., to take advantage of the Smoky Mountains’ water supply is inspiring others to find new water sources of their own. Whether this leads to a future where breweries play a game of “musical chairs,” jumping from one available water supply to the next, remains to be seen. In the meantime, California breweries are left in the same position as many Golden State residents–praying for rain.

Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — August 8, 2014 at 1:30 pm 508 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

We’re into the first week of August, which of course means that fall seasonal beer releases are flooding the market whether we’re ready for them or not. After turning away a handful of Pumpkin Ales that hit the market in July, I’m giving in and taking some now (by the time this column runs, we should be getting our first 25 cases of Schlafly Pumpkin Ale at Arrowine, along with Pumpkin beers from AleWerks, Evolution, and Terrapin — not to mention Great Lakes’ Oktoberfest).

Autumn is often citied as the favorite season for beer fans, but over the past few years I’ve been increasingly won over by summer beers. Summer beach hangouts, cookouts, parties, and other get-togethers necessitate the light, flavorful character of Summer Ales, which are built to refresh and generally lower in ABV percentage. Yes, fall beers may be arriving early, but there are still some great summer beers for folks like me looking to hold onto the season just a little bit longer. Here are some summer seasonals that haven’t quite wrapped up their runs yet:

Bell’s Oberon: The venerable American Wheat Ale is still available in bottles and 16oz tallboy cans. Expect to see Oberon on shelves well into September, crossing over with Bell’s next seasonal beer, Best Brown Ale.

Three Brothers Drift: Unless I find a good excuse, don’t expect me to be writing about the Harrisonburg brewery’s summer Pale Session Ale again until my Best Beers of 2014 column at the end of the year. The second (and final) canning run of this 5 percent ABV treat is just hitting in NoVA now, so it’ll be available for a little while longer, though considering how much of it we’re going through at Arrowine, not for that much longer. Drift will return next summer for a longer production run; in the meantime, if you haven’t tried it yet, do so.

Anderson Valley The Kimmie, The Yink, And The Holy Gose: I keep expecting this to be gone every week when I try to order more, but no — there’s still a last little bit around. Not that I’m in any hurry to sell through it: at 4.2 percent ABV, with a hint of sourness not unlike the fabled Westbrook Gose that we can’t get in Virginia, Anderson Valley’s The Holy Gose has been one of my favorite beers this summer.

Sixpoint RAD: Radler — essentially a version of Shandy developed for bicyclists (the word radler translates as “cyclist”) in German-speaking countries by mixing beer and soda–isn’t for everyone, but I love it so I was intrigued when Brooklyn’s Sixpoint brewery announced they were going to put a version of its own on the market. Using a fruit juice blend instead of a soda, RAD is a unique take on a distinct style; one I appreciated as an alternative to a Light Lager or sugary soda.

21st Amendment Hell Or High Watermelon: I was pleasantly surprised this week to find out another run of Hell Or High Watermelon will be arriving soon (likely within the next week or two). With its light, clean, fresh mouthfeel, Hell Or High Watermelon would make for a great summer beer even without the fruit added. In this case, though, the fruit is present without being overbearing or cloying. Hell Or High Watermelon becomes more popular every year, with good reason. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — August 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm 554 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

One of my favorite aspects of the “craft beer movement” has always been the “anything goes” attitude that permeates through so much of it. For all of the recipes that hew close to tradition, at the end of the day the cardinal rule of beer amounts to “Is it good? Then shut up and drink it.”

I say that so that you know for certain that I am not coming from the perspective of a purist over the new couple of paragraphs as I explain why breweries should use or not use certain words on their labels, or at least take those words into greater consideration.

While I’m not a purist when it comes to beer, I am a bit of a zealot when it comes to words. Words mean things; they have power, and more than a couple of times this year I’ve seen words alter the expectations and experiences people have had with beers.

The most prominent example of this is likely the “Session IPA” phenomenon. Using those words in tandem raises expectations of IPA drinkers, giving them an excuse not to enjoy them (“It’s not an IPA, it’s only ___ percent ABV, and it’s not that hoppy…”) while also implying somehow that Session Ale is somehow “lesser;” not worthwhile. “Session Pale Ales” or “Hoppy Session Ales” would be more accurate, but slapping “IPA” on a label makes a beer easier to sell — or so they say. Marketing wins again, I guess.

Other times, a beer can completely miss its potential audience because of how it’s presented. Twice this year alone, I’ve tried beers labeled as “Sour” (one with the word in its name) that seemed to “miss” with beer fans for different reasons. In one case, the beer was much more a Wild Ale, with a heavy focus on the funky, fruity Brettanomyces wild yeast characteristics. Labeled a “Wild Ale”, that beer would have not only been sought out by fans of Brett beers, but not made promises to Sour fans that it couldn’t keep.

In the case of the second beer, while it was indeed a Sour Ale, it was one where the acidity was muted for the sake of harmony with other elements of the beer (barrel-aging, specifically). Like it or not, in today’s beer environment the word “Sour” carries expectations of highly tart, acidic beers — and with the word “Sour” in its name, some letdown was inevitable.

Combine a slightly different name with a bit of explanation on the label and in your press materials, and suddenly you have a beer that is interesting not only to Sour Ale fans (who now can be pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoyed something so subtly sour) but fans of barrel-aged beers in general, who might have found a new interest thanks to the intriguing bit of acidity racing through the beer.

As annoying as it can be to think about, when you name a beer or put a descriptor on its label, you are quite literally “branding” it. It’s one thing to have aspirations of filling a market niche — or, in the most rare cases, creating one — but you cannot turn a beer into something it’s not through mere insistence. Care must be taken to avoid watchwords that create expectations; there are so many beers out there now — there’s no excuse for shooting yourself in the foot by creating opportunities for people to dismiss your product.

If you’re embracing those watchwords? Well, the beer better damn well live up to the expectations of the devotees of that specific style. Remember, words mean things; don’t just throw them out there.

Enough about that, let’s get to the fun stuff:

What I’ve Been Drinking This Week

It’s been a while, but I haven’t been taking time away from trying new things — I’ve just been pressed for time to take notes on them. Here are the impressions I’ve gotten from a couple of recent releases:  (more…)

by Nick Anderson — July 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm 734 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

The big news for beer fans this week is the arrival of a very special, highly anticipated release: Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America 12-packs. Featuring one bottle (or can) each of collaborations between the California craft beer icon and 12 of the most renowned brewers in America, the Beer Camp 12-packs are only one part of a massive celebration of American beer.

Sierra is taking the Beer Camp on the road with a nationwide Beer Camp Across America tour, with seven stops in various regions of the country offering a day of live music, food, and dozens of different breweries sampling their wares at each stop (Note: if you’d like to try to make it by one of the Beer Camp stops, the last two are in Philadelphia Aug. 2 and in Mills River, N.C. — home to the new East Coast Sierra Nevada brewery — on Aug. 3).

In an April press release, Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman explained the rationale behind Beer Camp Across America: “We’re about to open a second brewery in North Carolina, and while that’s exciting for us, it’s an even greater reason to celebrate the future of craft brewers everywhere.”

It’s an impressive undertaking, and all with the aim of promoting and helping the beer industry overall: the same Sierra press release revealed that “a portion of proceeds from the festivals will go to brewers guilds or other nonprofits in the host state of each festival, while a portion of proceeds from the sales of the 12-pack will go to hop and barley research,” a worthwhile cause as the rapidly increasing number of commercial breweries puts a strain on both commodities.

The Beer Camp 12-packs have been popping up and selling out at retailers all over NoVA this week — we’ll only be receiving a handful at Arrowine, probably around the time this column runs, and we’re lucky to be getting even that — so what’s the fuss all about?

Put bluntly this is a 12-pack unlike any that has come before, featuring new collaboration recipes from Sierra along with a murderer’s row of the American craft brewing scene: Allagash, Asheville Brewer’s Alliance (represented here by John Stuart of Green Man and Luke Dickenson of Wicked Weed), Ballast Point, Bell’s, Cigar City, Firestone Walker, New Glarus, Ninkasi, Oskar Blues, Russian River, 3 Floyds, and Victory.

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by Nick Anderson — July 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm 402 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

I’m not going to lie to you: the beer world is a little quiet this week. That’s okay — I don’t need everything to be going at a breakneck pace all the time, and it gives me a chance to write a column I’ve been wanting to get to for a while. There’s a good amount of time left in the summer, and many of us are still gearing up for our summer vacations. Here’s a list of beer-related books to read if you find yourself with some free time this season:

Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide: All of The Beer Hunter’s books are worth reading – Ultimate Beer; Great Beers of Belgium; Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion – but the Great Beer Guide is my personal favorite. Jackson reviews 500 classic beers in the Great Beer Guide, pulling off the incredibly difficult trick of translating sensual perceptions (sights, aromas, flavors) concisely and clearly, in language anyone can relate to.

The Oxford Companion to Beer: Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery edited this nearly 1,000-page tome than includes sections on the history of beer, styles, food pairing, culture, and more. The Oxford Companion is a fantastic reference/time sink, with answers to nearly every beer-related question you can think of. Oliver’s own The Brewmaster’s Table is also highly recommended; a guide to the art of pairing beer with food, it’s a manifesto for the inclusion of beer among the ‘noble’ beverages of the world.

The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance: What else could the story of Stone Brewing Company be called? Co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner along with freelance food/drink writer Randy Clements tell the history of one of America’s most renowned (and occasionally controversial) craft breweries. Not only does the book go into the philosophy behind Stone, but it gives valuable insight on what it’s like to start a brewery, and includes recipes for some of its beers and dishes featured at Stone’s World Bistro and Gardens. For a deeper look at the craft beer business, check out The Brewer’s Apprentice, by Koch and Matt Allyn, which offers some tips on brewing technique and ingredient information in candid, interview-style section with industry luminaries like Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo, Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman, and many more.

Brewing Up a Business: The first time I met Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione was at a beer dinner around the time Brewing Up a Business was released. If you’re a fan of Dogfish Head or interested in what drives its business approach, this is a must-read. As much an autobiography of Calagione as it is a biography of his brewery, Brewing Up a Business  is an engaging read that is also an unexpectedly open and candid mission statement of sorts.

The Craft Beer Revolution: A recent release that I’m about to pick up myself is The Craft Beer Revolution by former AP reporter and Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy. Jeff Alworth at Beervana reviewed the book this week, and it sounds like a fascinating look behind the scenes of the industry as craft beer came to prominence. In particular, Alworth calls the second half of Hindy’s book “a revelation. Here Hindy starts talking about the inside of craft brewing, the blood-and-guts reality that has been largely airbrushed out of the canon.  He treats the flood of money in the mid-90s with more details and insight than I’ve seen anywhere.  It’s a blend of big-picture trend analysis and anecdotes that reveal the more human aspects of that time.”

There are hundreds upon hundreds of beer books out there: do you all have any favorites? Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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by ARLnow.com Sponsor — July 11, 2014 at 2:00 pm 670 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

While cleaning out some stuff around the house last weekend, I found an old price catalog from one of my distributor partners from 2005.

In a blog post earlier this week, I had some fun going through it and seeing what was/wasn’t available at the time (no Bell’s or Founders, for example), but in this space this week I wanted to go in a different direction. With plenty of concern over rising hop prices and the impact they’ll eventually have on the cost of beer, and with the discussion of beer pricing in general ongoing, I thought it might be fun to compare 2005 beer prices to where they are today.

Now, I’m not about to go talking about how much a distributor charged or charges for something: what we’ll do today is compare by what I would charge. The results were interesting in ways I wasn’t quite expecting. Sure, some beers have notably jumped in price: in the 750mL format I prefer, Delirium Tremens has gone from $7.99 to $11.99 per bottle. Most increases are shockingly mild, however–Bear Republic’s 22oz bottles (there was no six-pack production in 2005) have only gone up a dollar, from $4.99 each to $5.99 now. Spread out over nearly ten years that’s actually quite impressive, especially for an industry comprised mainly of small businesses.

What really surprised me was how many examples I found of breweries whose prices have held, or in some cases have even gone down thanks to distributor quantity-deal pricing that wasn’t possible when supplies were more limited. Mainstay beers like Hofbrau Lager and Weissbier remain in the price range to hit shelves at $10.99, but prices of $9.99 or lower are possible with the right number of cases ordered. In the case of Anderson Valley’s six-packs — the Solstice seasonal beers to be specific — while the ‘frontline’ price has increased, it hasn’t gone up so much that the retail price has had to move up from $11.99.

Quantity deals on the Solstice beers helps keep it in its price point, as does the fact that the now-available cans cost less at wholesale than the bottles do. Lagunitas six-packs have held steady at frontline, but quantity deals open up the possibility of retail pricing at $9.99 or even $8.99 per six-pack instead of $10.99 or $11.99.

The trend seems to be moderate price increasing on six-packs, while 22oz or 750mL bottles have gone up more significantly. Bucking that trend is Stone, whose six-packs are notably more expensive now than in 2005, while its 22oz bottles have increased only a little bit (bear in mind, this is before special releases like Enjoy By, RuinTen, the Stochasticity Project Series and others that are more expensive than the core Stone lineup).

Even when a brewery’s lineup has jumped in price overall, today production levels are such that distributors will offer retailers deals to get pricing close to 2005 levels, if not outright matching them — provided the retailer is big enough to take on 50/75/100 cases of a single brewery’s beers at a time.

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