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As mentioned in Paradoxical Pairings, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend most of this summer outdoors. It was a pretty amazing season and kicked off with some incredible spring hiking as well… which leads us to: beer for the outdoors (or, beer au natur-ale?)

Trail Ales

From this year’s birthday camping adventure… a few trailside brews and lots of fantastic friends. (on the right) Following my bottle’s directions and sipping that Wachusett Country Pale Ale in good company and a good view.

What do you look for in a trail beer? I look for portability and flavor fitting the activity…

Baxter at the Beach

Baxter hits the Beach: a Pamola Xtra Pale Ale went particularly well with a hike along (the brewery’s home-state) Maine’s rocky coastline.

Early this fall, after mountain biking, I returned to a Tröegs Hop Knife Harvest Ale nestled beside our car tire by a fellow rider and beer fan, crisp and refreshing with a decent hop profile to satisfy my taste buds, it was a welcome end to the ride… Earlier this year on a group ride during the hotter month of August I found a growler of Rising Tide‘s awesome Maine Island Trail Ale (MITA) shared amongst the crew to be the perfectly dry hoppy finish needed after a tough, technical ride.

Generally in the warmer months I’ve tended toward the session ales that have been growing in popularity this year, I’ve especially enjoyed Otter Creek‘s Hop Session  and Founders All day IPA. I’ll also generally enjoy a good summer seasonal if it’s hot enough.

As autumn colors begin to grace the trees, fall flavors grace post-outdoor cooler… Usually a well-balanced option that’s not too malty or boozy is best for me. A good red ale, like Opa Opa’s Red Rock Amber Ale, or, if I’m lucky, a Trout River Rainbow Red Ale.

Night-hiking in winter leads to comparably dark beers (or for a warmer alternative see the 12 Sips post).

Earlier this spring on a 10-mile backpacking adventure through a feeder-canyon to the Grand Canyon I was introduced to an ultra-portable potable… stay tuned for a Bonus Pint about that next week!

For now, share your favorite trailside beers (literally and digitally):

Tap Into It is the official video of Vancouver Craft Beer Week (May 6-14, 2011). It is marvelous. Though I already posted it on Facebook, it’s one of those little tidbits that brightens my day and here’s why I think that is:

1. It supports craft beer.

2. That song sure is catchy.

3. I think Brandon J. Mason performs with the perfect balance of grace and humor.

4. The outfit. (including the thong… or… especially the thong, who knows)

5. I am pretty sure that’s beer they’re using in the Flashdance homage and that’s like icing on the cake (they could’ve used water and we’d be none the wiser).

6. It uses no words, but… at the end I wanna say, I know exactly what you mean

Here are a few of my favorite stills, which will never cease to make me chuckle:

Clockwise from top left: 1. Best face I have ever seen, I would like to use it as a pick-up line sometime, 2. pure exuberance, 3. neon man thong, 4. beer a la Flashdance

And of course, the video. Good Job Vancouver Craft Beer Week.

Video for Vancouver Craft Beer Week 2011.

PRODUCED BY: Dead Famous
PRODUCTION: Shaun Lawless & Scot Proudfoot
ACTOR: Brandon J. Mason
LOCATION: Sugar Studios & The Black Frog
WARDROBE: Boolala Costumes
MAKE-UP/STYLING: Paula Lanzador
AUDIO & POST-PRODUCTION: Bear Studios
MUSIC: Stuart Brander C/O Liberty Music Trax

I officially wish I was there, people who can come up with a video like that have to be awesome to hang out with.
If anyone is out that way for the festival, please tell me how it is…

Red, amber, green, or black… Saint Patrick’s Day offers up the perfect (and possibly most united) excuse to have a beer… or three.

Get your Goodness: Washington, D.C., unloads

Here’s to hoping you all had a fantastic celebration, Irish or not, and that you got the chance to imbibe some interesting brews. I, myself, had some hearty corned beef and cabbage at local subterranean pub, Lion’s Den in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the sweet sounds of a local guitarist and a glass of well-poured Guinness rounded out my St. Patty’s Day. I topped it off with a little Irish whiskey for good luck, opting for Powers over Jameson (since I’d never had the former, and survey says… delicious!).

I had the pleasure of catching a bit of Irish prep in Washington, D.C., as loads of Guinness appeared throughout the city. Not that I needed help getting in the spirit, but it sure did add to the anticipation… how did you celebrate?

With the new year well on its way it’s about time we try to learn something, eh? It’s very easy to go through your beer-drinking life without knowing the detailed ins and outs of brewing.

But microbrewing and the people involved have some of the most fascinating details and stories. That’s the thing about craft beer, if anything, it is accessible. Craft beer makers want you to like craft beer. They’re not focused on sales, figures, numbers, or fame. They’re focused on craft beer lovers. (That’s why if you catch a craft brewer standing still for a moment, they wont hesitate to answer—at length, and with passion—any questions you might have.)

So… what if you don’t have a brewer handy (and the lifeline-that-is-the-internet is down)? Hit the books! With our monthly beer tasting club, nothing has been more popular than Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. In this handy how-to (pulled together by the how-to experts at Storey Publishing) novices and intermediates alike can brush up on the intricacies of craft beer and the nuances of tasting it.

Peppering his eloquent dialogue with informative tidbits, historic points, and unique details Mosher writes in a way that draws in both the hop head and the dabbling drinker. Systematically breaking down the beer world Mosher touches on many crucial elements of enjoying beer, including the oft-overlooked finer points like the history (which dates back to the Middle East circa 10,000 BCE) to beer’s progression through popular culture both around the world and, more specifically, in the U.S. He stresses the importance of presentation—from the temperature, to the glass, to the pour, and even to the viewpoint and knowledge of the drinker.

Alongside his aesthetic and historic details Mosher also breaks down the nitty-gritty, paying tribute to the book’s title: an examination of beer tasting, which includes all senses used in evaluating an experience—visual, smell, taste (of course), mouthfeel, and even ingrained psychological differences that affect each person’s perception. Breaking down the basic flavors of beer, the process of its creation, factors of comparison, as well as the vocabulary surrounding it, Mosher arms readers with the resources to explain and understand more fully their appreciation of beer.

Near and dear to my heart (er—stomach?) Mosher also gets in-depth about food pairings and recipes that incorporate beer into cuisine. Tasting Beer manages to encompass all the reasons and ways to enjoy beer in an informative and entertaining format. If you weren’t thirsty before you started reading, you will be by the time you’re half-way through.

Topped off with resources like a glossary, information about craft beer advocacy organizations like homebrewing clubs, the Brewers Association, Beer Judge and Cicerone Certification Programs (for when you’re ready to take your testing to the next level), and popular online forums like BeerAdvocate and PubCrawler, Mosher does not leave his readers wanting. In his own words:

“If we remain uninformed, we can be trapped in our own limited beer world, not knowing what delights we’re missing . . . It takes a little information to open up the extraordinary universe of beer.”

Now… go pick up a copy, a mix pack, and get tasting!

75 MInute IPA on cask for Dogfish Head pint night at Moe's

Nothing beats a night out… except maybe one with special beers, the inside scoop, and giveaways. Yeah, just when you think your favorite bar can’t get any better. Does your local beer bar do specialty beer nights? Sure, they’ve got great microbrews on tap all the time, but when a bar goes the extra step to reach out to a brewer (or their local rep) magical things can happen.

Josh Cohen at Moe’s Tavern in Lee, Massachusetts, is especially good at this, but I’m biased—that’s my bar. Check with your local craft beer bar to see if they are planning to link up with a specific brewer for a night. It’s a win-win: the bar get’s a surge of traffic and you get to try high quality or rare offerings from the brewer (like the above pictured 75 Minute IPA on cask from Dogfish Head), free swag including pint glasses, shirts, stickers, openers, and more… and often you get the opportunity to have one-on-ones with either the brewers themselves or a rep (who usually has relatively good insight into the goings on of the brewery).

Best way to find out about events is by “Liking” your local bar or brewery on Facebook or following on Twitter so you get it in your newsfeeds… or check in with sites like BeerAdvocate and Brewing News, who keep running calendars of beer-centric events all over the place.

It may be closed on Christmas, but the Old Forge in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, is definitely in the holiday spirit.

Adding Christmas cheer to their 300+ (and international) bottle list, the Forge has a sampling of the festive line from England’s Ridgeway Brewery.

Don’t be put off by the goofy names (like Reindeer Droppings or… Santa’s Butt), Ridgeway is serious about its beers. When the lauded Brakspear Brewery closed in 2002 (re-opened by Wychwood Brewery since then), master brewer Peter Scholey devoted his talents to opening his own brewery. Scholey, obviously with a wordy sense of humor, started Ridgeway, whose wide-ranging styles with themed names pop up around the holidays, imported to the States by the Shelton Brothers.

The Ridgeway holiday lineup includes:

Bad Elf (a strong, warm, 6% ABV IPA)
Very Bad Elf (a 7.5% ABV well-rounded English bitter… are we noticing a pattern here?)
Seriously Bad Elf (a popular 9% ABV Belgian tripel, banned in Connecticut apparently due to the appearance of Santa on the label… bah humbug!)
Criminally Bad Elf
(a hefty 10.5% ABV Barleywine-style ale)
Insanely Bad Elf (this 12% ABV imperial red is only available in elf-sized 330 ml bottles)
Pickled Santa (a whole-spiced 6% ABV traditional English bitter)

Reindeer Droppings (a 6% ABV English amber balancing it’s sweet with a bit of tartness, what has that Rudolf been eating?)
Reindeer’s Revolt (a low-key 6% ABV English ale for those of you protesting Christmas’s spice)
Warm Welcome Nut Browned Ale (a classic 6% ABV brown warmed up for the season with extra hop and malt character, perhaps a better welcome than the ol’ milk and cookies routine?)
Lump of Coal (you may remember this from my 12 Sips of Christmas post, a dark 8% ABV holiday stout)
Santa’s Butt (a 6% ABV winter porter named for a large brewing barrel (or “butt”), not Santa’s rear)

With whimsical labels illustrated by Massachusetts artist Gary Lippincott gracing the 550-ml bottles, Ridgeway’s offerings make the holidays a bit brighter… or darker, depending on your tastes.

If you’re looking to escape from family frenzy, the Old Forge offers about five of these by the bottle, plus holiday tap selections like Tröegs Mad Elf and Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, in its rustic wood-paneled pub garnished with twinkle lights, hot wings, and gleaming beer-club mugs. (Or, if you want to spread the cheer, check out your local beer store and bring ’em home to your loved ones).

Ho-ho-hop to it.

Special Thanks to: Shelton Brothers, Peter Scholey, and Santa’s little helpers.

As part of a cross-blog experiment led by my friend and fellow blogger Sandy, this post is being written in conjunction with several other (largely financial) blogs under the umbrella inspiration of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Beer lists, and specifically holiday lists, have been done before. But here’s my (current) take. I’m stretching beyond beer for this one, but bear with me hopheads, I save the best for last.

First sip: Let’s start with something traditional… Eggnog! I love eggnog and, until last year, never even thought of it as a homemade possibility, but it is and it’s relatively simple… and well worth it (think, spiked). After perusing a few recipe sources I settled on my steadfast (yet underused) Joy of Cooking cookbook. I opted for the cooked version for safety, though they offer an uncooked version for traditionalists (if you’re looking at a circa-1960s JoC like my parents, however, raw is the only option as those were simpler, less salmonella-fearing times). You make a custard using a dozen eggs, heavy cream, milk, sugar and nutmeg… chill it, add your dark liquor of choice (I did brandy), and refrigerate some more. It’s fresh and as nutmeggy and boozy as you want.

Second Sip: Keeping on the traditional note (and leaning towards experimentation) this year I intend to try something new. My favorite Christmas book growing up was A Child’s Christmas in Wales, an intriguing, off kilter prose poem by Dylan Thomas and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
I don’t know what it was about this gritty story I loved so much, but for one it felt like England. Wassail, meaning in good health, is a traditional English warmer made with spiced beer (or wine or cider) and baked apples. DRAFT Magazine offers up a fantastic sounding recipe in their holiday issue using Florida-based Cigar City Brewing‘s Warmer Winter Winter Warmer, a 10% ABV malty Old Ale. (You could also try substituting Founders Black Biscuit or the Southern Tier Old Man Winter for the Cigar City). Stay tuned for my take on this one.

Third Sip: Though not alcoholic, one of my favorite winter warming beverages is (what my family calls) Russian Tea, which is a simple combination of Tang (yes, Tang), spices, and instant tea—all mixed with hot water. It offers an aromatic, tart alternative to the usual mugged beverages.

Fourth Sip: I can’t list winter beverages without Hot Chocolate… my favorites? At home I prefer using Ghirardelli’s unsweetened cocoa powder and a little sugar (add a little zest with cayenne if you’re feeling spicy or a little Kahlua for kick). Our local chocolatier Chocolate Springs in Lenox, Mass., whips up a decadent version that is very well-worth a try.

Fifth Sip: On a recent trip to Germany I was introduced to Glühwien (pronounced glew-vine, and basically translated to “glowing wine” …mmm). Red wine is mulled with spices (and sometimes citrus) to form an aromatic alternative to the traditional red. If you’re fancy (and have connections) you can top it off with a Zucker Hut, a sugar cone (“hat”), which you douse with rum and light on fire allowing it to seep into the mulled wine. This is best done with friends… and a fire extinguisher.

Sixth Sip: This one is a classic, but is a semi-recent discovery of mine. The Hot Toddy is a mixture of brandy, whiskey, or rum with hot water (or tea), lemon, and honey. It is both light and bold, and with a whiskey bite it will warm you up from the inside. Try using the Berkshire Mountain Distillers new Berkshire Bourbon Whiskey.

Seventh Sip: The last of my non-beer recommendations is Single Malt Scotch, something I’ve been exploring recently, usually opting for the bold smokiness of the peatier varieties. For this holiday theme I’m going to recommend the highland origin, double-casked Aberlour because of it’s rosy color and combination use of bourbon and sherry barrel-aging for a fruity aroma and ginger spiciness with a smooth finish (good peaty alternatives would be Laphroaig or Talisker).

Now… who’s ready for some beer?

Eighth Sip: One of the best transitions from fall into winter are cranberries. Not having much in the way of a sweet tooth, I love the tart berries in many forms—relish, muffins, juice, pancakes… they are also one of the few fruits I can tolerate in a beer. Both Harpoon Brewery and Samuel Adams make excellent cranberry beers. Harpoon’s Grateful Harvest Ale balances out a reasonable dose of fruit with full-bodied malt character and slight hop bitterness. (Added bonus: $1 from every six pack sold goes to your local food bank). The Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic naturally adopts a sweeter flavor from its brewing process, but the addition of fresh cranberries and the wheat’s heartiness form a festive balance.

Ninth Sip: For our last monthly beer club meetup we sampled an array of pumpkin and spiced beers that included several winter seasonals. The Southern Tier Old Man Winter and 21st Amendment Fireside Chat were my two favorite spiced ales (which I’ll admit I was wary about to begin with). Both managed to pack that zesty winter flavor into a hefty beer without overpowering with spices. As with many winter seasonals these are a bit higher in alcohol (both about 7% ABV), but neither tasted too boozy, therefore allowing for more tasting all around.

Tenth Sip: The first time I purchased the Ridgeway Brewing Lump of Coal it was largely inspired by my intent to put a jesting “lump of coal” in my dad’s stocking for Christmas. Then we opened it (after the presents… and breakfast) and realized it was more a reward than a punishment. Uber-dark with a chalky bittersweet chocolate flavor and smooth body, it’s now a tradition, stocking or not, for me to procure this English beer (imported by Shelton Brothers of Belchertown, Mass.) for our family’s yuletide.

Eleventh Sip: Winter’s bluster pushes us closer to our woodstoves, Otter Creek captures those wintry sentiments in its Stovepipe Porter. This dark ale has a prominent roasted character and a hearty, slightly herbal bitterness. Smooth and full-bodied it goes well with stews, roasts, chocolate, and fires.

Twelfth Sip: I couldn’t skip my favorite beer style (what is Christmas without the ones we love?) so here’s that hop fix, but kicked up a notch to follow suit with other winter strong beers. The Lagunitas Hop Stoopid is a hefty Imperial IPA with a well-balanced flavor, not too overpowered by syrupy malt, but bursting with hop bitterness (what are the holidays without bitterness? wait…). This one’s available all year, but is a nice winter treat in my opinion.

And those are my 12 Sips of Christmas… they taste best when shared, so eat, drink, and be merry… together.

Hoppy Holidays!

Special thanks to: Sandy for the idea, family and friends for drinking together, and Santa… for the spirit.

A: The beer rating sheets from our first Monthly Beer Club tasting, where we drank Red Ales till we were… red in the face?

Our first meetup was a grand success with only a few instances of confusion, lots of good friends, and varying amounts of beer-tasting experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sorry to use the over-referenced “Cheers” line, but there really is something to be said for a place where everyone knows your name. I know I personally have always sought to be a “regular” somewhere special, and that’s because when you settle in and aren’t sure what to order, the bartender can make a suggestion of something new and you will love it. My spot is Moe’s Tavern in Lee, Massachusetts. It is small, casual, low-brow, varying in attendance, and unwavering in quality.

The food is unadorned and perfect that way (my favorites are the McDonald’s-Looking Fries, the (Dogfish Head) 60-Minute Wings, and the Philly Cheese Blunt—each of them simple and just what you want to go alongside a stellar microbrew). Moe’s has a wide-ranging, well-selected collection of craft beers, both on tap and in bottles. Owner Josh Cohen is longtime best-buds with Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione and so the house beer (marked with a Simpsons tap handle) is the 60-Minute IPA, which is a steadfast choice on any given night. Read the rest of this entry »

Talking Pints

“What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”

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Samples with a sunny disposition at Northampton Brewery

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