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.

Buried in the hip epicenter of Western Massachusetts that is Northampton—home to progressive colleges, boho-chic shopping, wide-ranging grub, and eclectic galleries—is New England’s oldest operating brewpub, duly named the Northampton Brewery.

If you haven’t perused the rest of this blog, I should mention how big a fan I am of brewpubs—these places, usually brimming with individuality, offer the steadfast trifecta of (über) locally-made beer, hearty cuisine, and friendly atmosphere. More than a sports bar, more than a restaurant, and more than a brewery, the brewpub brings it all together. In other words, I like food with my beer and vice versa.

The Northampton Brewery is a multifaceted establishment housed in a revamped 1890s carriage house. It features a low-lit bar area, a bright sunroom dining space, and a popular rooftop beer garden. Touted as the oldest brewpub in New England, it was opened in 1987 by current owner Janet Egelston with her brother Peter (with whom she also helped open Portsmouth and Smuttynose breweries in New Hampshire, which Peter now owns).

Served atop sullied copper-topped tables, the food at Northampton is hearty, bursting with flavor and creativity, and frequently embellished with beer-featuring sauces and recipes (telltale sign of a good brewpub). My menu item-of-choice, the pulled pork sandwich, comes doused in a perfected combination of zesty spices, their Pale Ale or Old Brown Dog, and homemade barbecue sauce. Topped with tangy slaw made with peppers and red onion it accentuates the underlying flavors of my beer samples (think a warm nuttiness in the red ale, herbal character of the harvest ale, and the ever-so-slightly tangy bitterness of the IPA).

Ah, the samples. Northampton does it right. I frequently grapple with the “dilemma” of whether to go with a flight of samples (which often risk being nearly shot-size) or miss out on trying the full array by getting pints of one or two selections instead. Here the samples (choice of four) come in 8-oz tasting glasses, presented on the always-appealing paddle, which are a fair enough size to get a feel for the beer while still trying out a few different styles.

I started with the Harvest Ale, a rich amber-colored ale emitting a light caramel aroma and bursting with fall sentiments plus a hint of hop bitterness thanks to the wet-hop process. Next was the Redheaded Stepchild, deep red in hue with a tangy sweetness with a smooth, hearty aftertaste characteristic of traditional red ales. The Blue Boots IPA had a sweet floral aroma with a nuttiness and hefty hop bite and the Black Cat Stout offered a creamy, rich coffee finish—extremely smooth and robust in flavor.

With fifteen year-round varieties, nearly as many specialty brews, and comparable seasonal selections, there is plenty to choose from at the brewpub. Styles range from familiar standards like stouts, porters, IPAs, and ales, but expands to lesser-seen experimentations like a German-inspired Sticke Altbier, bitters like the Daniel Shays Best Bitter and (Snow)(Sand)(No) Shovel ESB, and ryes including Magic Carpet Rye and Jess’ Goodbye Rye P.A. Apparently with a penchant for pale ales and IPAs (and fine by me) the brewery boasts quite a few variations on this style, experimenting with different balances of the Pacific Northwest hops they use. The brewery even goes so far as to have an annual IPA Week in December, during which six different India Pale Ales are available on tap. Otherwise, there is usually a mixed selection of about ten beers on tap, plus a few guest brews to round it out. Occasionally the brewery teams up with fellow microbreweries including siblings Portsmouth and Smuttynose for special beercentric events.

Whether going for a concert at one of the many music halls in Northampton, pairing your beer with locally made ice cream at nearby Herrell’s Ice Cream, or shopping at the various boutiques, Northampton Brewery offers a welcoming pit stop or a night filled with all the entertainment you need—hit up their weekly Celtic night on Sundays for live Irish music and a St. Patty’s feel all year long. Take a growler to go and you’re all set.

Quit the winein’ and cheese it up! Cheese and beer are a match made in heaven and Serious Eats isn’t just confirming it, they’re offering up thoughtful pairings that work together. Read on for their recommendations—you never know, the right beer with the right cheese may make you like a beer you never thought you’d enjoy or a cheese you never thought you could handle… now can you handle that?

If you’re extra curious, take it to the next level: There are creative cream-creations out there that incorporate beer right into the mix like Grafton Village Cheese Company‘s cave-aged Truckle, washed in Otter Creek‘s Stovepipe Porter.

Cheese and Beer Go Together Better
By Martin Johnson
Serious Eats, December 28, 2010
Here are three simple reasons that beers go better.
1. In general cheeses and beers speak at the same volume level on the palette.
2. Beer’s carbonation makes an excellent foil for the creaminess and fat of most cheese.
3. The refreshing aspects of most beers offer a fine complement to the salt in many cheeses.
That said, you can’t just pair any cheese with any beer and expect bliss. You need to consider the flavors in what you’re drinking and what you’re eating. Here’s a primer on pairings that work.

Read more articles I’ve collected (not by me) in the Press Pints tab!

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.

In light of the 12 Sips of Christmas… tell me what you think

( I’ve got a few examples for each style, but feel free to share your favorite beer recommendations in these styles)

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.

While I was at the (first ever) Beer Bloggers Conference, held this year in the fitting location of Boulder, Colorado, words of wisdom were flying around like refills at free beer night… or something. People were talking the talk.

It was a stellar conference, I met stellar people (fellow bloggers and beer pros alike), and tried a ton of stellar beers.

I’ll kick off my string of follow-up posts with a few of my favorite Talking Pints from the conference:

“The driving force for writing about beer must be the passion for the beer”

Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin, (paraphrased) discussing inspirations (Day 3)

Read the rest of this entry »

Three years ago, stuck on an IPA kick (not unusual for me), I asked my most trusted bartender for a bottle recommendation as I’d exhausted the tap hoptions that night and wanted to continue with something new.

She thrust a map-imprinted bottle down on the bar without hesitation, followed by a glass.
I poured, I drank, I fell in love.

I had a new go-to IPA, one I could count on for hop-filled satisfaction with enough balance for a low-key night than the bolder (other go-to delicious) Green Flash West Coast IPA. Set more in the middle ground, and new to me that night, Avery IPA was a special discovery—even in bottle form.

There was no question in my mind, then, when a trip to Colorado this summer offered a chance to tour some of the state’s amazing breweries, hampered only by time and travel constraints. What would I make a point of visiting and let the rest (which ended up including Wynkoop Brewing Company, Breckenridge Brewery & BBQWalnut Brewery …not too shabby for five busy days) pour as they may?

Avery Brewing Company, Avery was number one on my list.

I have to say, my high-hopes dipped slightly as we pulled in—the brewery is located in the unfortunate confines of an industrial park, nearly impossible to spot from road, and disrupted by another company’s office between the brewery and tap room. BUT, for what it lacked in curb appeal, Avery certainly made up for on the inside (and, really, that’s what counts anyway, hmm?). Besides, our tour guide noted that owner Adam Avery has a stand-alone, owned brewery space brewing in the future.

So, atmospheric concerns aside, we embarked on the brewery tour, which was the usual (with a touch of color courtesy of a road soda to quench our thirst… for knowledge…? and our tatted, brogue-tinged tour guide), but had the bonus  of a postlude trip and more extensive discussion in the cask-conditioning room—a rough barrel-lined space bedecked in rogue twinkle lights and an impressive, customizable bar for private parties (yes, please).

After our brains were full, we worked on our livers. Ordering a sampler of eight different brews we ran the gamut from the sunny Wheel Sucker Wheat to the Seventeen Anniversary black lager, to the syrupy sweet knockout 2009 and 2010 Beast Grand Cru (the 2009 having been cellar-aged and coming in at 15.01% abv, while the 2010 stepped it up to 16.21%, beastly indeed.)

Avery rotates their tap room menu and fills it to the brim with special offerings that can be hard to find elsewhere (especially way out here on the East Coast, sigh, distance relationships). We definitely had a few that were… not for us, per say, but it was a well-rounded tasting experience full of new flavor. And the tap room atmosphere was stellar, peppered with regulars including quite a few cyclists.

Avery was my scratch at the surface of the many, many top-notch (and inventive) brews that come from the Centennial State. I consider that trip the first of many, the next being for the first-ever Beer Bloggers Conference.

So stay tuned…

 

 

Special thanks to: Sadie, Craig,
Donny & Meredith,
and the great state of Colorado.

 

 


Uh, in stark contrast to my last Press Pint… some recent failed fit-ness shed light on my lack of “successful” physical activity of late (a few too many 12-oz curls, har har… but, really.) Read the rest of this entry »

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

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