05/27/12

This Week’s Global Beer Headlines (with Commentary)

*I spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out if Guinness really built a submersible pub to celebrate its 250 year anniversary, or if this is some sort of strange internet marketing prank, so far it seems legit. In any case you can judge for yourself here is one of the articles from Arch Daily. It is being billed as a “Deep-Sea Bar”, photos are included, there may even be a video.  According to The Drink Nation, “The steel-shell sub is stationed in the Baltic at Stockholm, and has already made its maiden voyage.”  Go figure.

*Beer may help lay in-roads for trade between India and Pakistan. According to an article on the NY Daily News website, less than 2% of Pakistan’s trade was with India in 2009, but thanks to a Pakistani beer now becoming available India this figure may soon grow. Apparently Pakistani beer, which does exist, hasn’t been sold in India since the countries where partitioned in 1947.  The article goes on to discuss how this trade may also improve ties between the nations given their sometimes volatile relationship, but I think for the brewer it should do wonders for demand.  Take this point from the article, “In Pakistan, people ordering beer via room service in smart hotels have to sign a form declaring it is “for medicinal use only”. Officially, only Christian and Hindu Pakistanis (about 3% of the population) are legally allowed to drink.”  While I haven’t tried this Pakistani beer, Kingfisher hasn’t set the bar too high leaving the Indian market ripe for the taking.

 

05/31/10

Beer Run: Vancouver

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest. I’m hiding from the rain right now and decided to pen a dispatch from the field. I’m going to be visiting friends in Seattle next weekend but since they’re all away for the holiday I thought I’d explore our neighbor to the north a bit. On very little sleep, I drove north to Vancouver.

I was very excited about Vancouver, and not just because I had such a great time at Dieu Du Ciel brewpub in Montreal and was hoping that the Canadians know good beer. Everyone I know tells me Vancouver is a beautiful city, with plentiful nature close at hand, and clean, orderly streets full of good food and good times.

For the most part they are right. I’ve had a lot of great food here, and an awesome night of live music at the Railway Club. The streets are unusually clean. In fact the only litter I’ve seen since I crossed the border was inside my rental car. And the traffic appears far more cordial and orderly than I’m used to. Unlike Boston, when I cross the street, no one tries to run me over, and no one blocks the sidewalk by charging past the stop line (except me). And people actually wait for the walk sign at crosswalks (how quaint).

In short, I feel a little out of place here. Kind of like I’m in a modern, urban version of Mayberry or something. In Boston I’m thought of as too nice, too considerate; here I’m afraid I’ll be deported for jaywalking or vagrancy or something. Even the bums are polite; one was so busy asking me to have a nice weekend he forgot to ask for spare change. Another, finding I didn’t have 35 cents to spare, but noticing I did have a bag of beers, asked if I could spare a beer instead. I gave him the 35 cents.

But enough about Vancouver the city, how are the suds? Frankly I’ve been a little disappointed. I mean, you could do worse – the Granville Island brewery seems to be fairly ubiquitous around here with it’s Pale Ale ending up on tap at most establishments. There’s local beer all over downtown as far as I can tell, but it all just kind of ends up being fairly generic Brit-style ales and extremely boring light lagers. Today I visited the two dominant brew pubs near downtown, and things were starting to look a lot brighter, but at the end of the day I had to admit there was nothing on tap at either establishment that really, truly moved me.

First was brunch and a flight of tasters at Yaletown Brewing Company downtown. The food was amazing: a giant helping of applewood smoked cheddar soup with bacon, scallions, and crème fraiche, and duck confit done to perfection, with a crispy skin and meat so tender it melts in the mouth. Everything was not only tasty, but well presented, and the help was fairly attentive despite the lunch rush crowd. The place itself has a very sizable bar with lots of flat screens, so it seems like the place to be for both large groups and sports fanatics. Of which I am neither, so on to business.

The beers were pretty consistent threes on our scale of 1 to 5, which really only means they rank as craft beer, but aren’t exceptional in any way. This would include the Mainland Lager, Nagilia Pale, Hills Special Wheat (a hefeweizen roughly on par with Franziskaner and quite a ways below Ayinger), and the Warehouse Stout, which despite delightful notes of coffee and smoke and a nose to die for, fell quite short on body. The Downtown Brown faired a bit better, squeaking by with a four for its nutty malt character and velvety mouthfeel, not to mention quaffability. The Brick and Beam IPA is a bit less quaffable, with a bitter, hoppy aftertaste that lingers a bit too long for a session beer, but its respectable hop character and good balance still let it squeak by with a four as well.

The only real standout at Yaletown was the Wit, which is an excellent example of an underappreciated style. This is what blue moon should taste like: delicate malt character that is restrained enough to let the citrus, coriander, and yeasty character show through, without the spices needing to be overbearing. With a fairly light body and a finish that tails off quickly, this one is definitely a session beer, and though not one of my favorite styles, would be extremely appropriate for a summer day (if such a thing exists in the Pacific Northwest). I might appreciate this style more if there were better examples of it in the US.

Next I walked over to the Gastown district, the “historic” district according to my guidebook and the arch that welcomed me to the neighborhood. For the record, Lonely Planet, those are not cobblestones, they’re paving stones. Cobblestones are a lot more uncomfortable to drive or walk on, a fact that gives historic districts their charm. This place feels like you’re trespassing in someone’s back yard. I was also uncomfortable with the overwhelming presence of trendy clothing shops and the fairly contemporary looking street lighting. The area is named after it’s founder, a gold prospector named “Gassy Jack” Deighton, who in turn was named after his penchant for spinning tall tales. Gastown was apparently the oldest settlement in what would become Vancouver, but was founded in only 1867, which might explain the oddly contemporary flair for a historic district (mind you I’m visiting from Boston, founded in 1630).

That said, it was a perfectly pleasant neighborhood, clean and orderly (as usual) and with a wide array of dining and nightlife options. There’s also a steam driven clock that seems to be all the rage with the tour bus set, but I wasn’t moved. After all, I was on a mission.

I found my way to the Steamworks Brewery, which is downstairs when you enter the building. I was pretty stuffed so I didn’t get a fair sampling of the food, but it smelled delicious as I passed it a few times on my way to the restroom. I did grab some mushroom caps with cream cheese and crab, which were certainly a solid appetizer, so I suspect the food would pass. Speaking of the restroom, it posessed something rare: a Punk-approved air dryer for your hands. Up until now we’ve only approved of one, the Xlerator which I believe we first encountered at Ulysses in Manhattan. Anything else you might as well blow on your own hands, or just shake like a dog if there’s no paper towels. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the Dyson Airblade, which puts out a squeegie shaped air jet that is perhaps more effective than the xlerator. It has a bit less horse power, though, so you don’t get that cool deformation of the skin on your hands while you are using it (Ever see pictures of people’s faces during freefall? Then you know what I’m talking about.)

Bladder drained and hands dry I strapped on my second flight of the afternoon. Again, the bulk of the lineup was solid threes. The seasonal Hefeweizen was a little too clovey for my taste, and the banana was overpowered (though anybody who likes the Sgt. Pepper at my local Cambridge Brewing Company might not find this as offensive as I do), Lion’s Gate Lager (which is actually a pretty nice straw colored lager, but really serves no purpose other than providing a safe haven for Bud – or is it Molson – drinkers in a sea of craft beer), and the Coal Porter all fall in this category. I’d also throw the Empress IPA in this category because the malt character was a little boring, but IPAs aren’t really my thing, so many people might surely disagree with me on that point. The Nut Brown faired a bit better; it was a bit hoppy for a brown in my opinion but certainly well balanced, and the nose was really a standout with notes of maple syrup, and woody or smokey character (which is not to say it was wood aged or smoked, this was probably all from the roasting of the malt). It barely earned a four, but was certainly a step in the right direction.

The standouts for me at Steamworks were the Signature Pale and the seasonal German Pilsner. The Pilner had a very clean and fairly light malt character, quite restrained, which allowed a fairly robust hopping to shine through. The balance was good and the finish was clean, making it very quaffable. The Pale turned out to be my favorite here because it seemed to have the most assertive and interesting malt character of the entire lineup. I picked up lots of nutty and toffee notes, and even some woody and smokey character in the finish. There was a great balance, but also quite assertive hopping that lent a spicey, resiny flavor and aroma. Both earned a solid four.

As I finish this, the sun is shining again (for how long?) and I’m drinking a fairly decent “Springbock” from Phillips Brewing Company (one of the beers I saved from the homeless man about an hour ago). I’m pondering the state of the beer scene here in Vancouver and I’m seeing two things. First, most pubs and restaurants seem to carry local beer. The beer isn’t exceptional, but it is very accessible, and makes for a great session beer. There is a variety of styles on the market for the consumer to gradually trade up to – starting with the bland lagers, then progressing to hoppier and maltier English styles.

The second thing is that I havent mentioned the two best beers I’ve had in Vancouver: Big Rock’s Traditional Ale from Calgary (one province East, in Alberta near Banff National Park) and Back Hand of God Stout from Crannog Ales, on a farm in Sorrento, BC. Both were great beers, earning a solid four, and both come from outside Vancouver, but somewhere in the general region.

I feel both of these facts portend well for the future of beer in Vancouver, even if I’m not that impressed yet. I think that the revolution really begins when: 1) your average consumer is encouraged to trade up to craft beers, which seems very easy to do here, and 2) some mavericks in the sticks, heavy on craft and light on capital, start brewing exceptional beer and either kegging it up to put on tap in the city or putting it in big bottles to ship to high end liquor stores, while they slowly build their empire. If I’m right, you can assure that the revolution will not be televised, at least not in Boston, so be sure to check the scene in person from time to time and monitor progress.

Just wait til it’s sunny.

PS, I apologize to the city of Vancouver for the generally curmudgeonly tone of this article; but seriously, what’s with all the rain?

04/22/10

When Two Rights Make a Wrong: Flavored Saisons

Long time no see loyal reader. I’d like to try and get some momentum going again on the blog and shake out some of my blogging cobwebs before starting on another project, blogging on Boston area restaurants with some friends of mine. So here’s what’s been on my mind lately in the world of beer.

People who know me know that Saison is one of my favorite styles; an odd outlier in my repertoir of heavy, dark, roasty, thick-enough-to-chew favorites. Something about it just works. It’s crisp and light – or more accurately it’s percieved as light because it’s dry and usually a bit heavily carbonated. Like most Belgian styles, Saisons generally feature a complex yeast profile from the use of special yeast and generally warmer fermentation temperatures, which kicks up the fruity ester character, and sometimes adds a spicy phenol touch.

But more to the point, they are a relatively delicate beer, which further accentuates the yeast characters. Based on White Labs’ yeast profiles and the BJCP style guidelines, the attenuation of, say, a British style Pale Ale is something on the order of 70-75%, whereas a Saison tends more toward the neighborhood of 85-90%. This means more sugar is removed during fermentation and the result has a very light malt character that isn’t overwhelming. Then the hop character has to be restrained accordingly to keep the beer in balance (especially since the Belgians don’t really seem to care for hops anyway, they are known for aging their hops to remove the bittering and flavor characteristics before use-which I think I wrote about but was apparently never posted. We’ve got some catching up to do…) BJCP guidelines put the Saison at 20-35 IBUs (a measure of hop bitterness) whereas a Pale would be more like 30-50 IBUs. We’ve also talked about the BU:GU ratio before, which is a way to measure the balance of a beer based on the IBUs and the original gravity. Higher numbers are more bitter, lower numbers less. On this measure, Saison comes in around 0.4-0.5, and a Pale is more like 0.6-0.8.

So, science aside, what we’re talking about here is a relatively light, malty beer with a delicate flavor that allows the complexity of the malt and yeast character to really shine. And Saisons happen to be one of this beer snob’s favorite summertime options, not to mention a perfect stand-in for white wine or champagne with food, any time of year. For my favorite examples, see Brooklyn One (didn’t care for Brooklyn Two as much) or the classic Saison DuPont from Brasserie DuPont in Belgium. Other good examples include Southampton Saison, Victory Saison and Ommegang Hennepin.

CBC has a new(ish) beer on tap called Sgt Pepper, which is a peppercorn flavored Saison. I say newish because it’s been brewed in past seasons, and also because, well, I haven’t posted in a while. Since I love Saison, and I love peppercorns (mmm…Steak au Poivre…) you’d think I’d be all over this one. And every year I think the same thing, and every year…I’m wrong.

See, you try to take in the bouquet on this one and you sneeze. It’s just way too much peppercorn for a saison in my opinion. The Punks have a long standing bias against flavored Saisons for this reason, no matter what you put in them the flavor seems to overpower that delicate malt and yeast character which is the hallmark of the style. I thought we were alone on this one, and I don’t mean to second guess some of my favorite brewers here, but anecdotal evidence from my friends bears out that this one isn’t for everyone. Taste it before you get a full one.

There is one more thing to keep in mind here. Several of my beer and brewing gurus (see Charlie Papazian, or Stan Hieronymus) are quick to decry the practice of beer snobs like me judging a beer against style guidelines. That’s important for competition, but flavored beers are, by necessity, kind of unique beasts. This is why they created specialty categories at beer competitions to begin with; to encourage creative brewing rather than stifle it. So please, do try it, you might like it. Just do so with caution. And maybe don’t breathe too deep on that first sip.

01/12/10

Chelsea Brewing Company Tasting at The Stag’s Head in NYC Wednesday Evening

stagThe Stag’s Head will be hosting the Chelsea Brewing Company on Wednesday evening (1/13) from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Pat Greene of Chelsea will be on hand to answer any questions you may have regarding the free beer you are drinking.  I have been told the beers on hand will include:

  • Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Mild (barley Wine)
  • Hop Angel IPA
  • Blue Berry Wheat
  • Frosty’s Winter Wheat
  • (Possible) Sunset Red (Pin)- CASK
  • Chelsea Stout
  • Chelsea Blonde

The Stag’s Head is one of my favorite beer spots in New York, and I have always been a big fan of the reasonably Chelsea Stout. I am really look ing forward to trying some of the brewers other offerings.  I should also mention that Chelsea’s brews are the only beers made here on the island of Manhattan (on Chelsea Piers).

Lets all go out Wednesday evening, drink some free beer, and support the blossoming beer movement here in New York City.

The Stag’s Head Address:

252 East 51st Street @ 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10022  |  212-888-2453

08/31/09

Punks Welcome Olde Magoun’s in Somerville to the Beer Locator

In case anyone has missed it, our new site now features a tool called the “TP Beer Locator” in the upper navigation bar, which points our users to all of the best beer bars we’ve discovered on our various travels throughout the world. There’s hidden gems here from all over the northeast where we’ve spent most of our time, but also from the southwest and west coast, and even Europe and Southeast Asia, South America, and Australia.

Now that I’m settling into my new digs in Somerville (which also explains the relative dearth of posts lately), Mike and I went out to explore the neighborhood a bit. We’ve been hearing good things about Redbones in nearby Davis Square, but frankly in the recent heat wave, we were looking to stay a bit more local than that (especially after moving my preposterously oversized wooden desk all the way from Brighton). We settled on Olde Magoun’s Saloonright around the corner from my new house, and we were not disappointed, so we’ve decided to add this small, unassuming pub to the TP Beer Locator, and sing it’s praises here for a bit.

The beer selection doesn’t come close to what we’re used to at the Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either. They’ve got twenty one taps, and everything is well thought out. Generic fizzy yellow lagers don’t seem to be available on tap, only in bottles; after all, why waste tap space? The most generic items on tap included Guinness, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and Smithwick’s Irish Red.

The taps are a good mix of excellent imports (Radeburger pilsner and Weihenstephaner hefeweizen, for example) and a great list of American micros. What’s more, they don’t fall into the all too common trap of having two dozen IPAs with no dark beers or quality lagers; the selection is quite varied with a little something for nearly every palate.

But the real draw with this place is the food. I dare say their food selections are actually superior to the Sunset, and at marginally lower prices (though the portions are marginally smaller than the Sunset’s offerings, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you aren’t feeding a crowd). The nachos-the yardstick by which Mike and I tend to judge these places-were quite respectable, falling just short of the Sunset in my opinion. But considering the rest of the menu changes everything; we also had a crispy, delicious pizza that was fantastic and a truly sublime seared Ahi tuna sandwich. And none of these dishes came to more than ten dollars.

The clientelle also appears quite friendly, and the place lacks the intimidating vibe some people might get from a bar like the Sunset with a beer list that reads like the phone book. And talk about amenities…free wifi, free appetizers on arrangement if you have your fantasy football draft at the bar, the full sports package on TV featuring every football game. They even have a Tuesday night trivia competition sponsored by Harpoon, where the winning team gets four cases and a free brewery tour.

While Olde Magoun’s isn’t likely to captivate us the way the Sunset has for the past year, and we’ll surely strike out for more extensive beer lists from time to time, it makes a more than suitable local replacement, and they’ll be seeing much more of us over the coming months. If you are in the area, they should be seeing more of you as well.

Stay tuned, later this week we’ll have another Geek Speak article on gravity and attenuation, and then next week we should be back on track with new articles in our Belgian brewing series, including one on aged hops, and a few other surprises. Thanks for your patience!

08/18/09

Beer Run with Billy Joel: Sunset Grill and Tap, Allston, MA

BeerIt was a weekday afternoon, and things at the Sunset were slow. The staff was killing time, no doubt talking about beer and pouring a lot of samples for the customers, as they sometimes do when there’s nothing left to do. Then it happened. In from the street walked a living legend…Billy Joel had entered the Sunset.

He took a seat at the bar, surrounded by an entourage, and asked for a beer list. He was ill prepared for what came next, as he was handed not a sheet of paper, but a book, with pages upon pages of beers from the world over, ever major style from every country imaginable. Flipping, flustered, through the many pages, he asked

“You..uh..got a lot of beer here, huh?”

“Yes, that’s kind of our thing…” the bartender replied.

“You got PBR?”

…As luck would have it, they did indeed have PBR; inexplicably since few people likely order it in this environment. So the story goes…

This is my own beloved local, the Sunset Grill and Tap, and I can tell you that the Pianoman’s story is far from unique. After all, who would expect such a wide selection of beer for all price ranges so close to the campus of Boston University, in the decidedly un-glamorous Boston neighborhood of Allston; this isn’t Back Bay or Beacon Hill after all. And yet there it is, like a diamond in the ruff (not to discount another gem, Deep Ellum, just down the street).

No, this is a very common tale; many’s the time that I sat at this bar taking notes on many a fine beer, and witnessed the confusion of a newcomer to this unassuming place when handed the beer list. I must look like I belong, almost like a permanent part of the decor, because questions often follow. Rest assured, I and many others here are more than happy to play tour guide, so if you find yourself here, don’t be afraid to ask questions, not only of the staff, but also the patrons. Who knows, if I had been there, poor Billy might not have gotten stuck with a PBR after all.

Just as you shouldn’t be intimidated by the clientele, don’t be intimidated by the list either. So many choices may be daunting at first, but in time you’ll come to understand that it just makes the place more versatile. If one can’t find a beer they like in the Sunset’s ever-evolving catalog of 112 taps and hundreds more bottles, you aren’t likely to find one anywhere. The beer menu is well organized (this is not a trivial point, because I’ve been to some places out west that could use some work in this area). The options are great in every category, with indications next to most of the beers showing what scores they’ve received in online polling, and stars next to the top choice in a given category. My only knock against the menu itself is that they need a “what’s new” section for regulars such as myself so I needn’t spend a half hour sifting through the menu every time I go there.

The bartenders always seem willing to provide free tastes of anything on tap (this would be all the beers on the back cover of the menu). I’d say as long as you order some beers to go with your samples, I’ve never seen anyone get turned down on a sample. They also offer a range of serving sizes, though I usually go with the default. Do be careful to watch the prices on anything you order though; I’ve been known to accidentally order a $20 bottle of Brooklyn Local One Saison one night when I’d had one too many and wasn’t paying attention. But as a budget conscious Mike was quick to point out in leaner days, they always have a great selection of fantastic taps at $5 or so. If you’re willing to step up just a bit, they’ve got many more for 6 or 7.

As I stated in a previous article, the Sunset is a fantastic place to try a cask ale, they serve up a mean Dogfish Head 60 Minute from time to time, especially. Another very special section of the list is the meads. These are fermented honey, sometimes with malt or spices and herbs added, and taste like something between honey and wine, but somehow better than both. The Sunset has a wide selection of them, which is rare no matter where I’ve been. Mead isn’t really my thing, but certain Punk’s have been known to exclaim “where have you been all my life” with the first taste. Truly something worth trying, even if it doesn’t stick.  It led us to brew our own batch, results yet to be seen…

The place also has its fair share of intimacy, with many nooks and crannies to choose from. In fact, this could be seen as either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on perspective; I’ve often complained that the large wall splitting the place in two limits the sociability of the bar area by taking up standing area around it and limiting movement and the cross-pollination of conversations from one side to the other, but at the same time it creates a much more intimate feel that can be welcome at times, either for dates or for deep discussion among friends.

As for the food, you tend to be safe with anything latin-inspired (gigantic nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, etc) and anything involving the hummus. Overall the food generally doesn’t disappoint, but I would stay away from the barbecue sauce; I’m not a big fan. Also, plan around huge portions for everything. A good strategy is to bring people with you and share whatever you get. If you are still hungry afterward you can always get another plate of something.

I should also point out that there is a pool hall upstairs (Big City) and a Tequilla/Margarita Bar just down the street (Sunset Cantina) that are both owned by the same wonderful people. Mike and I have been to the Cantina, it struck us as a slightly more sociable atmosphere than the Sunset G&T, and with a respectable 38 beers on tap. It offers a nice compromise for the group with a mix of beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers, if the two should ever associate. One word of caution, however: do not order the $50 or $60 margarita…the cost of the drink is the cost of the tequila shot that goes into it; just drink the shot. The bartender there told us they always serve the shot on the side for those and recommend drinking them separately (often being ignored). There is a good reason they do that. We’ve never been to Big City so I can’t say anything about that, but I’d be willing to bet their beer selection is second to none among pool halls in this city.

08/13/09

Good News Seattle, Fremont Brewery to Celebrate Grand Opening

The Fremont Brewing Company will be celebrating its Grand Opening at the Latona Pub on August 17th.  For those long-time Punk readers you may remember us highlighting this brewery in my Seattle Beer-venture posting.  For those of you who are new or need a refresher, Fremont is a small scale family-owned start-up located in Seattle’s Fremont district. The FBC is dedicated to producing high-quality sustainable beer, and I can personally vouch for the fact that they do.  To help accomplish this onerous feat the brewer sources as many locally produced organic ingredients as possible.  This includes everything from using water from a nearby river in the Cascades to buying hops grown in the Yakima Valley.  The other half of the formula comes from the owners’ passion for making the best beer possible.  I had the pleasure of meeting with the owners during my visit, and I can assure you from what I saw these guys not only mean business, but should be around for a long, long while.  I should also point out that the FBC has a long-term goal of creating a neutral carbon foot-print, and brewing with sustainability in mind.

The opening event kicks off at the Latona Pub 7:00PM sharp when the first keg of Fremont’s Universale Pale Ale will be tapped at the bar.  Fremont’s founder, Matt Lincecum will be on hand to answer your questions regarding the beer and discuss the hardships of starting a small scale environmentally conscious brewery in the midst of a severe economic downturn.  Apparently, Matt is considered a long-time regular at the Latona Pub, which ironically will be celebrating its 22nd birthday at midnight on the same night.  My only regret is that I can’t fly out to Seattle to attend, so I hope all of you in the Seattle area attend, and have one (or many) on my behalf, and please be sure to say hello to Matt for us.  Also, in the future look for Fremont Brewery six packs at a grocery store near you (if of course you are reading this in Washington state).

08/10/09

Meet River Horse Brewing Co. in NYC on Wednesday (8/12)

The Stag’s Head, located in what was formerly known as CB Six, will be hosting the River Horse Brewing Company this Wednesday evening (8/12).  It will not only be a great opportunity to wet your palate with free tastings of River Horse’s Hop Hazard, Double Wit, and ESB selections, but you will also have a chance to speak wit the man who brewed them.  River Horse’s Brew Master is scheduled to be on hand from 6:00PM to 8:00PM.  From what I can tell the Stag’s Head tries to run similar tastings every Wednesday evening, but I am told it is quite rare that one of the brewers is actually in attendance.  On July 22nd the pub featured the Ommegang Brewery; I wish I knew about that one earlier! If you are free and in the area, then I recommend you head over and support the event.  It would be great to see more events like this one in the Big Apple.  This Punk will be there, and hopes to see you there as well.

Click Here for the Stag’s Head’s Regular Beer Menu

Click Here for the Location

About the River Horse Brewing Company (from their website): While we might be new to your area, we have been brewing fine craft ales and lagers along the banks of the Delaware River since April of 1996. You can find our all natural, fresh bottled and draft beer products throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and parts of New England. Distribution includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New York City, Long Island, Virginia, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We have also been featured by several well-known beer-of-the-month clubs. We use choice, all-natural ingredients and local spring water to produce the best product made in our area. You will notice that all of our products are pure representations of their respective styles, very clean and very well balanced.

08/4/09

Jurassic Pub: Truly Ancient Ale

Mad scientists extracting ancient DNA molecules from fossilized amber, resurrecting long dead beasts and unleashing them on an unsuspecting modern world as part of some half-baked, twisted commercial scheme. Hollywood horsepucky you say? Think again my friend. Truth, you see, can be even stranger than fiction. A certain hybrid, made possible by frightening science, has recently come to my attention: The Tyrannosaurus Rat. No, not the ones living in the sewers under Manhattan; I’m talking about a beer, one unlike any the world has ever seen.

The first batch was brewed in 2006, when Peter Hackett of northern California brewpub Stumptown teamed up with famed mad scientist (and real-life inspiration for the Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park) Raul Cano of California Polytechnic to brew a hybridized version of his Rat Bastard pale ale that is nothing short of an abomination. What was so different about this simple pale ale? It was brewed with yeast that had lain dormant for 45 million years, buried deep in amber – fossilized tree sap – from an age before man, at the dawn of modern mammals.

Cano had generated a great deal of interest and controversy in the mid nineties by claiming to have cultured microorganisms (thousands in all) from the remnants of amber. Among the many species in his catalog were several strains of yeast closely related to Saccharomyces cerevisiae-he had found ancient ale yeast and brought it back to life! Cano never intended his research to create tasty beverages. In fact he had started his company, Ambergene, with the far loftier goal of synthesizing new antibiotics from the microorganisms, but the company later folded by 1997 when the investors (among them several major pharmaceutical companies) lost patience in the lack of progress. The only marketable idea that seems to have come from the venture was when a homebrewer on Cano’s staff decided to culture up some of the ancient yeast and brew a series of beers from it: T-Rex Lager, Stegosaurus Stout, Jurassic Amber Ale, and Ancient Ale. These beers were served at the wedding of Cano’s daughter, as well as the wrap party for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.

So how do you bring bugs back to life after 45 million years? Many microorganisms (including yeast strains) actually go into a state of deep hibernation when they run out of the things necessary to sustain life. If they are preserved from exposure to the elements, say by being trapped in virtually air- and water-proof fossilized amber, they can apparently stay alive and hibernate…for a very long time. This makes it relatively simple (I’m sure!) to reconstitute them; simply sanitize the bejeezus out of the outside surface of the amber (Cano used disinfectant, ultrasound, ethanol, and fire) to prevent modern contaminants from interfering with the sample, then dip it in liquid nitrogen to make it brittle, break it into many small pieces, and then stick it in a solution of microorganism chow and other nutrients and wait. The controversy I spoke of wasn’t so much over the risk of culturing some sort of andromeda strain from the amber or other ethical concerns, but more about the risk of modern contaminants. Most of the bacteria and other microorganisms Cano found were actually closely related to modern species, and considering 95% of modern bacteria has not been identified, let alone studied by scientists, it was hard to say whether Cano’s bugs were coming from inside the amber or outside. Even Cano initially thought the cultures growing in his petri dishes were contaminations that were keeping him from studying the dead bugs he was looking for, but with time this hypothesis changed, he isolated thousands of species, and his work was peer reviewed, replicated on several occasions by other teams, and eventually published in the journal Science.

And what about the beers? Cano’s Fossil Fuels Brewing Company is currently working with two northern California brewers: Hackett at Stumptown Brewery is producing a pale ale, and Joe Kelley at Kelley Brewing makes what can be referred to as a “Belgian” hefeweizen. Neither are available outside of northern California at the moment, but reports from the field indicate that the yeast features clove and other unique phenolics that gives the hefeweizen a bit of a “Belgian” feel. The strain has also been described by hacket as having a “gingery” tang, and several sources make mention of smooth fruity notes, citrusy but not overly sour. Either beer appears to be a must-have if you can get one.

So when will we get it on the east coast? Hard to say. They are expanding draft offerings (with presumably fake amber chunks in the tap handles) throughout California as we speak, and are in talks with contract brewers to ramp up production of bottles for wider distribution, but considering the fledgling brewing company has taken nearly three years to get this far, there’s no telling how long that will take.

So in the meantime, us Punks will have to wait (or pull together funds for that Pacific Coast Highway road trip we’ve always wanted to take) and see where this truly unique yeast will show up next. Reports indicate that Joe Kelley of Kelley Brewing would like to see it in a scottish wee heavy, so you’ll likely find it there before you find it at our local Sunset Grill and Tap, unfortunately.

If you want to listen to me geek out on this truly astonishing yeast strain from the perspective of a knowledgable homebrewer, don’t forget to check out my Technical Addendum.

07/28/09

HostOurCoast’s Visit with Dogfish Head

TheobromaOn Facebook recently, I came across an old college friend of ours Paul, who has been running a blog about travel along the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia coast. Paul just visited the Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware and apparently was lucky enough to get a personal tour led by founder Sam Calagione.

Paul posted a video in which Sam spoke about the process that went into Midas’ Touch and the new Theobroma. Fascinating story here, archeologists analyze the traces of chemicals left on pottery found at ancient sites including King Midas’ tomb and a site in Honduras, and find out as much as they can about the liquids that the vessels used to hold. Then they bring this data to Dogfish Head-which seems to be the de facto leader in the field of Archeological Brewing-and they try to brew a beverage to the same specifications. The new Theobroma (which translates as “food of the gods”) is based off of the oldest known use of cocoa, in an Aztec beverage containing honey, chilies, and annato seeds.

The article also makes mention of Santo Palo Maron, which as we pointed out in the ACBF post a few weeks back, is aged in barrels made of pseudo-endangered rain forest wood (presumably old barrels, not fresh ones) and tastes divine.

Anyway, check out the article. I hope sometime in the near future to get some samples of these beers, do some tasting notes and try to research some more about them, because I find this whole thing really cool. I had heard they could do this sort of thing but didn’t realize Dogfish Head was the leading expert in the field.