Sunday, July 31, 2011

1,000 Mile Beer Drinking trip in Michigan - Jason, this one is for you and the UP, eh?


There are many fine things to do with Lake Michigan.

Swim. Fish. Lay on its beaches. Watch the sun rise from Wisconsin. Watch the sun set from Michigan.

One of its most enticing draws is driving around it; no matter where you start, you'll cover about 1,000 miles. The Lake Michigan Circle Tour was signposted in 1998 and since has become a road-tripping celebration of the upper Midwest. And what has sprung up along the way is a flourishing brewing region like nothing seen since Blatz, Pabst and Schlitz made Milwaukee famous.

Without veering more than a few miles from shore, you will pass dozens of breweries and brew pubs.

On a thirsty four-day drive around Lake Michigan, starting in Milwaukee, we drank well, met fine people and learned about the Midwest - its proud heritage, its passions and the beer that makes us raise our glasses. It's a highly recommended trip; just pace yourself or take along a designated driver.

We got down to business quickly, just 36 miles into Michigan, at The Livery (190 Fifth St., Benton Harbor; (269) 925-8760; It's a brew pub (that also plans to can its wares) in a former livery in Benton Harbor's low-slung brick downtown.

The Livery places a heavier emphasis on lagers than most American craft breweries, including a crisp, deft Bohemian pilsner and a dark Czech lager. But don't miss the ales, especially the amber India pale ale.

About 45 miles north we hit Saugatuck Brewing Co. (2948 Blue Star Hwy., Douglas; (269) 857-7222;, which was the only place we stopped that had tanks in the corner for patrons to brew their own. But we didn't have time for that. Instead we sampled our way through a set of well-crafted, traditional styles - blonde, Irish ale, Scotch ale, Irish stout, porter and black IPA (the winner). Then the bartender told us, "Our brewmaster is coming up to take you guys on a tour."

"Does it cost?" someone asked. "No, he just likes doing that kind of stuff," the bartender said.

Beers in hand (black IPA for me), we spent 45 minutes following brewery founder Barry Johnson, 59, who turned his home-brewing hobby into a vocation after retiring from sales in industrial cleaning supplies.

"It's a good time to be a craft-beer drinker," Johnson told us. "And it's a great time to be brewing in Michigan. Everyone's growing."

On we went to the picturesque town of Holland, where the main street is heavier with candy shops than chain stores. Better still it has New Holland Brewing (66 E. Eighth St.; (616) 355-6422; Though it's one of Michigan's better-known breweries, New Holland retains charm in a wood-floored, tin-ceilinged antique barroom that was packed on a Wednesday afternoon. With 13 drafts and 15 cocktails mixed from house-made spirits, New Holland's greatest attribute is its variation - you can drink simple (a kolsch), bolder (a smoked doppelbock), then bolder still - "hopquila," a house-invented spirit that tastes like a whiskey/tequila hybrid. Which I did.

We finished our day at Odd Side Ales (41 Washington Ave., Grand Haven; (616) 935-7326;, one of our more fascinating stops with a menu including pineapple IPA, chocolate IPA and Fig Brewton - an ale meant to evoke Fig Newton cookies.

For the next 160 miles, the booze scene dwindled - just as well considering the riches waiting in Traverse City - but along the way we found Jamesport Brewing Co. (410 S. James St.; (231) 845-2522; in Ludington, a town of 8,400 perched right on the lake, where locals pass workday lunch hours with bagged lunches on the beach.

Jamesport was similar to the first bar we had seen with a porch out back affording fine lake views. With a midday apricot wheat in hand, I met Tim Pulliam, 37, on that porch. Pulliam, who spends most of his week on the road for sales calls, often is in bars to woo clients.

"Pretty much any town you go to around here, you can hit a good brewery," he said. "And I don't think it's even peaked yet."

The beer dried up as we headed 100 miles north, but watching the flatlands give way to North Michigan's green hills was a worthy substitute. In Traverse City, the beer returned. Our first stop was Right Brain Brewery (221 Garland St.; (231) 944-1239;, which sits a block from the lapping lake. The menu was hop-heavy, but the standout was the Maya Mexican vanilla porter, a fine mix of throaty coffee and a trace of vanilla

Before heading to the Upper Peninsula, we detoured up the Old Mission Peninsula to hit the combination Jolly Pumpkin and North Peak brew pub (13512 Peninsula Drive; (231) 223-4333;, which was a perfect mix on several levels: pub and high-end food, families and young drinkers, and Jolly Pumpkin and North Peak. Grabbing a spot at the bar, we plowed through the inventiveness of Jolly Pumpkin beer (so adventurous but so cleanly executed) and the disciplined, finely crafted brews of North Peak (especially the wheat IPA). They're odd bedfellows but complement each other for a fine night of drinking.

We were about to enter another drought: the Upper Peninsula. There are ample breweries on the north end of the peninsula but fewer along Lake Michigan. We therefore relaxed for a 250-mile trip that brought us north to the Mackinac Bridge, then west along the peninsula's southern shore. We were plenty thirsty by the time we reached Hereford and Hops (624 Ludington St., Escanaba; (906) 789-1945;, which was so novel in the mid-1990s that there was a two-month wait for reservations.

The beer was nothing exciting - the craft world has passed the brewery by during the past 15 years - but the scene was one of a kind. Regulars filled the stools, drinking from their green mug club mugs and correcting me that the rest of the state wasn't Michigan - it was "lower Michigan."

With home creeping into our minds, we dropped south into Green Bay for dinner at Hinterland (313 Dousman St.; (920) 438-8050;, a brewery that has had the rare distinction of transforming itself into a true fine-dining restaurant. It also offered the option to go casual in the upstairs lounge, but with food this good, we declined.

It's no exaggeration to say Hinterland served the best - let me repeat, the best - meal I've had in a brewery. Which it should for a $36 piece of whitefish. But the savory fish, fresh scallops and fire-roasted tofu made a difficult act for the beer to match, even though it did.

Hinterland keeps it simple, offering just half a dozen beers at a time, including three year-round bedrocks: a pale ale, an amber ale and a deft coffee stout.

Bellies full, we slept, preparing to finish up in Beer City, USA - Milwaukee. We made two stops, beginning at Sprecher (701W. Glendale Ave., Glendale; (414) 964-2739;, which launched in 1985 as a brewery inspired by great German beer-makers. Founder Randal Sprecher started making root beer to occupy kids while their parents toured the brewery.

It redefined his business and now outsells all other Sprecher products combined. When we visited, Sprecher had 29 beers and sodas on draft, and our tour guide, Mike, gave us a tip: mix a splash of the cream soda with the black Bavarian lager. "It's like cake," he said.

It was better than cake; it was also one of the most memorable drinks on our drive.

After so much beer and so many stops, it seemed impossible to be nearing the end of our trip. But we were, and it came in the form of one of the nation's great brewery tours - Lakefront (1872 N. Commerce St., Milwaukee; (414) 372-8800; It's one of the few tours that isn't free, but it's a worthy deal. For $7 you're promised four 8-ounce beers that are closer to 10 ounces, and they're good beers: fresh, balanced and flavorful. I alternated my four between the well-hopped red ale and a black IPA. They make sure your glass isn't empty when the tour begins.

The hour tour is funny and irreverent, led by a guide reveling in his sleepy-eyed, slacker pose while touting the fact that MillerCoors spills more beer in a day than Lakefront - or any of the breweries we'd visited, for that matter - brews in a year.

"Who's been on a brewery tour before?" he asked.

A dozen hands went up.

"When do they serve you beer?"

"The end," everyone hollered.

"The end," he repeated. "We thought that was the dumbest thing ever. So we give it to you at the beginning!"

I raised my red ale to doing it right in the Midwest.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA - Boston, MA

After a fair amount of time spent with difficult-to-find brews, I decided to dive into more familiar waters, and try a little-known offering from Samuel Adams, their Latitude 48 IPA. One of the benefits of large beer producers is that they're pretty consistent. Of course, the downfall is that they're fairly tame. Here's what the website had to say:

Samuel Adams® Latitude 48 IPA is a unique IPA brewed with a select blend of hops from top German, English, and American growing regions all located close to the 48th latitude within the “hop belt” of the Northern Hemisphere. The combination of hops in this beer creates a distinctive but not overpowering hop character. The beer is dry hopped with Ahtanum, Simcoe®*, and East Kent Goldings hops for a powerful citrus and earthy aroma. The hop character is balanced by a slight sweetness and full body from the malt blend.



This one is pretty much as advertised...a tame IPA. There were no tell-tale signs of an excellent IPA, and the taste suffered as a result. I suppose that if I was looking for an IPA to cut my teeth on, this would be a good option, but if you're looking for something with'll just have to keep on looking.


6/10 - Tame by IPA standards.

NearBeer iPhone App to Locate Deals on Your Favorite Brew Bars

Finally, someone has created an app beer-lovers can actually use: One that helps you locate your favorite beer bar.

The next time you're in search of a bar with the best selection of ice-cold brewskis to wash away the summer heat, simply consult NearBeer.

If you've ever experienced the frustration of locating your favorite beer in a new city or unfamiliar neighborhood, thanks to Fort Lauderdale-based mobile technology development company, AboveGroundApplications, there's now an app for that.

The free app (available only for the iPhone) features mostly user-generated content, which enables it to work nationwide. Lucky for us, it functions best in South Florida, where it was created.

Want to know if the new restaurant downtown serves your favorite brew? Just tap into the NearBeer app. Need to locate the nearest beer-serving bar? Ask NearBeer, which locates the closest establishment, and offers up maps and driving directions. Want to find that new place you hear about, and see what beers they have on-tap? The app also lets you browse beer menus, prices, and specials for hundreds of bars and restaurants.

Hop Ottin' IPA (Boone Valley Bewery) - Iowa

Today, my wife Teri and I, along with our son Gehrig, made our way towards Sackets Harbor, NY for a nice afternoon by the water. It was close to lunch, so we decided to head into the Sackets Hops Spot for a quick lunch. Once there, I decided to try the Hop Ottin' IPA, an offering from the Boone Valley Brewery out of Boone, IA.

The Hops Spot is a small restaurant that serves various lunch foods, such as sandwiches and burgers, but it relies mostly on it's menu of craft and locally brewed beer.

Here's what the website had to say:

Welcome to The Hops Spot!

Officially open June 10, 2011, The Hops Spot serves up regionally sourced Charcuterie and Comfort Foods paired with an eclectic selection of almost (and soon to be more than) 100 Craft Beers.

Like Beer? Then come check out The Hops Spot- a casual eatery designed WITH beer, FOR beer!

As for the food, it really wasn't that great. My wife and I were expecting more as it was pretty overpriced. I had the Montreal Smoked Meat, and let me tell you...I'm from Montreal and this was not a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich. The meat was too thickly sliced and the bread was to flimsy. The fries were even worse. Crispy to a fault...they were brittle and without flavor. My son didn't even want to eat his Hot Dog which was priced at $7. It was pretty bad...but let's get on with the brew.

The Hop Ottin' IPA looked promising. It poured well and had some nice coloring, but it lacked that typical IPA cloud. As for taste, it was very good. Complex, yet simple, it was a great IPA to have with lunch. It was very refreshing, with very little bite. I guess the website is right in saying that the main focus is the beer...please don't go there just for the food.


The Sackets Hops Spot:

The Village of Sackets Harbor, NY:

The Boone Valley Brewing Co:

The Boone Valley Brewing Co Facebook Page:


Food: 4/10 - Not a Focus

Hop Ottin' IPA: 7/10 - A Good Bet

16th Annual Madison County Hop Fest - Madison County, NY

Sept. 16 Paired Beer Dinner

Sept. 17 Hop Fest

Celebrating over 200 years of Hop Heritage in New York State

Hop Fest Overview

The Madison County Historical Society is pleased to celebrate over 200 years of hop heritage in Madison County. Madison County’s own resident, James Coolidge, introduced commercial hop growing to New York State in 1808 by bringing a rootstock from New England. His success enticed area farmers who took up planting acres of hops. The hop industry in New York State exploded in 1828 with eleven counties raising hops. Madison, Oneida, and Otsego Counties raised the most- nearly 80% in the nation by 1880. The Madison County Hop Fest celebrates the past and possible future of the hop industry. The event features presentations, demonstrations, exhibits on the history of hops, a paired beer dinner, beer sampling, and the return of the ever-popular food and beer pairing called Taste of Hops.

The 16th Annual Madison County Hop Fest starts Friday, Sept. 16 at 6pm with a paired beer dinner at Ye Olde Landmark Tavern located on Route 20 in Bouckville. On Saturday, September 17, on-site at the Madison County Historical Society, located at 435 Main Street in Oneida, the day commences at 11 am with video presentations on hop culture, home brew clubs, raffle, hopshop, hop growing displays, and of course craft beer sampling. From12-2 pm join us for the Taste of Hops: a food & beer pairing featuring appetizers from Colgate Inn, Copper Turret, Hamilton Inn, Leandro’s Restaurant and Sports Bar, and Ye Olde Landmark Tavern. From 2:30-5:30 pm, join us under the beer tent for brewery samplings from some of your favorite craft breweries-Cooperstown, Ithaca, Saranac, Middle Ages, Ommegang, Magic Hat and more! There will be over 30 styles of craft beer to sample. Throughout the afternoon purchase your raffle tickets to win great beer related merchandise. Visit the Hopshop to purchase hop plants and event shirts! Visit with Home Brew Clubs. See who will be crowned Hop King 2011!

There is no admission to attend the Hop Fest. Admission is charged for the 4 course Paired Beer Dinner, Taste of Hops, and Beer Sampling. No one under the age of 21 will be permitted to enter the events where beer is served. Proper id is required for entrance to all areas where beer is served! Please do not bring children, strollers, or pets to the event. Tickets will be available for designated drivers (who must be 21 years of age) at the entrance of the beer-sampling tent. Tickets for the paired beer dinner are $45 and available on our website or at the MCHS. Reservations are required by September 9—seating is limited. Taste of Hops Tickets (only 150 will be sold) are $15 advance or $20 at door. Advance tickets are available at the participating locations, MCHS, or online. Beer Sampling Tickets are $25 advance or $30 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Kraig’s Kegs in Sherrill, online, or at MCHS.

New to the event this year is a hop hat contest, so come wearing your very own creative hop hat to win some great prizes! There is no fee to participate in the contest. Judging will take place in the beer tent at 5 pm by the public.

Proceeds from the Hop Fest support the educational programming at the Madison County Historical Society. The tradition of promoting the art of craft brewing and the influence of the hop industry on New York State continues at the Madison County Hop Fest. We appreciate your support in our efforts to share New York State’s hop culture.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale - Portsmouth, NH

Alright, here's the deal...this is my fourth in a series of selections from the Smuttynose Brewery out of Portsmouth, NH...the Shoals Pale Ale, which bills itself as "...the closest this to a true English Ale bottled in America". So far I've been pretty impressed with's what the website had to say:

GOLD MEDAL WINNER - Best American Beer - 2003 Great British Beer Festival

“...the closest thing to an English ale in an American bottled beer.” - Boston Globe, September, 1999.

Listed as one of America’s Best Beers in the October, 2008, issue of Men’s Journal Magazine.

Our interpretation of a classic English beer style is copper-colored, medium-bodied and highly hopped. Its flavor is delightfully complex: tangy fruit at the start, with an assertive hop crispness and a long malty palate that one well-known beer writer has compared to the flavor of freshly-baked bread.


OG: 1050, TG: 1012

Grain Bill: Pale Brewers, Crystal 60°L, Carastan, Wheat

Hop Selections: Cascade, Chinook
IBU’s: 30,

Color/Number: Copper, 10.5°
ABV 5.4%


The coloring is indeed a deep copper and you can definitely sense the hoppy attitude from this one. is complex as advertised and you can definitely taste the fruit. All in's a great Pale Ale, but it falls just slightly short of it's predecessors. The other selections from Smuttynose, such as the Old Brown Dog are on point but the Shoals Pale Ale is just slightly behind it's brethren. It is an awesome brew...and one to be saved for people with whom you truly enjoy spending time with, but if you have a choice...other selections from Smuttynose will impress you more.


7.5/10 - A Good Choice

Stone Brewery Ruination IPA - California

The Stone Brewery had come highly recommended from a good amount of people. Myself, I've actually tried a few different brews from the Stone Boys, but had never actually sat down to review one. I got to say opinion really hasn't changed very much...they're pretty easy on the palate. These guys produce a very wide variety of Ales, Stouts and even a Barley Wine. Here's what the website had to say:

So called because of the "ruinous" effect on your palate! This massive hop monster has a wonderfully delicious and intensely bitter flavor on a refreshing malt base. One taste and you can easily see why we call this brew "a liquid poem to the glory of the hop!" Those who seek, crave and rejoice in beers with big, bold, bitter character will find true nirvana in Stone Ruination IPA!

Quick Facts

First Release Date: June 2002

Hop Variety: Columbus & Centennial

Stats: ALC/VOL 7.7%, 100+ IBUs

Availability: 22oz Bottles, 12oz Bottles, Sixpacks, & Draft



This fine IPA pours like a dream. I'm throwing a couple of steaks on the grill as I'm sipping this IPA and the first thing that I notice is the coloring. That unmistakable cloudy coloring is truly inviting. After the first mouth explodes with it's complexity. Let me tell need to try this one. Even if all you can find is the 22oz bottle...go ahead and commit. You will not be disappointed.


9/10 - Rock Solid

2011 Bobcats, Bears and Brews Event

Friday, August 12, 2011 (6:30 PM to 10:00 PM)


Watertown , NY - New York State Zoo at Thompson Park

It's time once again for our 3rd annual Bobcats, Bears and Brews Beer Tasting Event! Join us for an evening of good food, beer and fun. The event is held at the Zoo and will run from 7-10pm. Advance sale tickets are $30; $35 at the door; $25 for corporate/group/military. Must be 21 to attend and have valid ID to get through the door. For more information check out our website at

Phone Contacts:

MORE INFORMATION - 315/782-6180


The science and magic of beer.

Unlike wine, beer is often gulped down without a moment's thought for the skill of the maltsters and brewers who created it.

We are the sons and daughters of malt. The cry "fancy a pint?" is the most natural social invitation available to us. Beer is our social lubricant of choice and has been for centuries.

Yet how many of us spend as much time over our selection of beer as we do our selection of wine? Whereas fermented grape juice is seen as something foreign or exotic, beer is often gulped down without giving a moment's thought to the potent skills of the maltsters and brewers who created it. Little consideration is given to the incredible range of flavours available to us; flavours that can be harnessed to match our mood and the food on our plates.

Beer is the juice of grain skilfully treated: it is liquid bread. The first people to make beers as we know them today were the Sumerians, who cultivated cereal grains specifically for brewing and drank beer to honour their gods. Many cultures have seen beer as a gift from God (a medieval English term for yeast was godisgoode). It is an expression of place and tradition – one of the few truly regional foods to which we are regularly exposed.

Brewing is a combination of art and science and great brewers are blessed with a little of both. The artist in the brewer chooses the ingredients and balances the flavours and aromas of the finished product. The scientist understands and carefully orchestrates a symphony of chemical reactions between the grain, the water, the hops, and the yeast. The brewing process is complex and what follows can only be an outline of it.

Making the malt

To make beer and wine alcoholic we need sugar, the foodstuff that yeast transforms into alcohol. The fruit used in winemaking naturally accumulates sugar to attract animals and so spread its seed. By contrast the grain used for making beer is sugarless. Instead, grain is filled with starch, which provides energy for the growing embryo/seedling. This starch must be processed to form the sugars that yeast can then use.

While the requirement to produce sugar from grain adds complexity to the brewing process it also offers the brewer an enormous amount of control over flavour and texture – a type of control the vintner doesn't have.

Enzymes – biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions without themselves being consumed – are used to extract sugar from grain. When Inca women chew grain to make chichi, a maize beer, they're using the enzyme amylase in their saliva to break down the starch.

In the Near East, where British-style beer originated, ancient brewers discovered that the grain itself could supply such enzymes during germination. Barley was found to be particularly good at producing them and so it became the grain of choice for beer making.

To trigger production of these naturally occurring enzymes and transform the starch stored in the grain into sugars, the raw barley is encouraged to germinate by soaking it in cool water for a few days then allowing it to dry.

The maltster stops this process dead by placing the germinated grain (the malt) in a kiln, where heat and desiccation kill the embryo but preserve the wonderful chemistry ready for the brewer.

To produce malt for a pale yellow, light-flavoured beer, the maltster dries the barley gently at 80C, creating a "pale malt". If the temperature is increased, an incredible range of complex chemical reactions begin to take place.

Alongside the caramelisation of sugars, we see complex Maillard reactions between sugars and amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in the grain (the same "browning" reactions occur when a joint of meat is roasted in an oven and when bread is toasted). The higher the temperature and longer the heat exposure, the darker in colour and richer in flavour and aroma the malt becomes.

High temperatures (150-180C) create malts that are rich in colour, aroma and flavour. Words used to describe such malts include: "caramel", "chocolate", "rich" and "black". These malts create the iconic style of dark and heavy beers, such as porters and stouts.

Making the wort

The roasted malt is ground and then loaded into a vessel called a mash tun. Water is added and the mixture is heated, drawing out sugars and other chemicals from the malt and encouraging more enzyme activity. The "wort" that results from this soaking in water is a sweet, brown, earthy liquid.

The first stage of the mashing process above sounds innocuous "water is added" but it is very important. As Pliny the Elder wrote:

"Alas! What wonderful ingenuity vice possesses! A method has actually been discovered for making even water intoxicated."

Water is what makes a beer "local". Even the strongest beers are 85-90% water, so the flavour of the water – a product of the local environment and geology – has a direct impact on the flavour of the beer.

Early brewers tailored their beers to make the best of local waters. Thus, in sulphate-rich Burton-on-Trent English pale ales were developed as the bitterness of the water limited the use of hops. The mild water of Pilsen encouraged Czech brewers to add large amounts of hops. The alkaline, carbonate-rich waters of southern England and Dublin balanced the acidity of dark malts and so encouraged the development of darker beers.

In modern times, some brewers use additives to control the chemical composition, and so the flavour, of their water making it no longer truly "local".

At this stage hops are added to the wort and the two are boiled together in beautiful shiny coppers.

Until the 11th century, beer was drunk without hops. This would be an unpleasant experience to modern palates. Un-hopped beer is at best cloyingly sweet and at worst it has turned eye-wateringly sour due to the growth of unwanted bacteria.

To get over these problems brewers used plants, herbs or spices to add aroma, bitterness, and to help prevent (or perhaps cover up) bacterial infections. Additives included meadowsweet, rosemary and bog myrtle.

Unfortunately, these were not very successful, not least due to difficulties in cultivating such plants. From around the 8th century hops started to be used in central Europe. They were relatively easy to cultivate, being grown in Kent by the 1520s, and ideal for adding bitterness and aroma. They also had great disinfectant properties.

Hops are a member of the hemp family. The flower or cone of the hop contains alpha acids, beta acids, tannins and oils. The proportion of these depends on hop variety. Alpha acids give bitterness to beer while the oils impart aroma. The beta acids and tannins in the cone help to stabilise the beer and have vital disinfectant qualities.

Hops are either added at some point during the boil or after. If the hops are added earlier they provide greater bitterness, if they are added later the essential oils do not evaporate and so remain in the beer, adding aroma. Well hopped beer can have strong floral, resiny, and/or citrusy notes.

After boiling the brewer has transformed bland, dry, sugarless barley grain into a rich, bittersweet liquid that frankly tastes disgusting. To transform this swamp water into the perfect pint, yeast cells have to go to work.


After the wort has been cooled and aerated, yeast is added and so fermentation begins.

The process of fermentation is generally split into two main stages. At the beginning of the first stage there is plenty of oxygen available and so yeast cells can reproduce very easily. However, alcohol is not produced in this process. As the oxygen supply is exhausted the reproduction of yeast cells slows, but fermentation begins as sugars are transformed into ethanol and carbon dioxide.

Fermentation is the transformation of sugar into alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide by yeast. In addition to alcohol, yeasts produce many other flavour and aroma compounds including esters, fusel alcohols, ketones, phenols, and fatty acids. Esters are the compounds responsible for the fruity notes in beer, while phenols can cause spicy or smoky notes. Brewers use their own specially selected and carefully controlled yeast strains to produce the distinctive styles of their own beers.

Before we understood the fungal nature of yeast, traditions and superstitions had to be relied upon. Viking families would have a "brew stick" which they used for stirring the wort and which magically started its transformation into beer.

We now understand that this stick was covered in dormant yeast cells and that stirring the wort introduced air into the beer and transferred the yeast cells. These brewing sticks were family heirlooms – a yeast infection passed down from generation to generation, if you will.

It took scientists such as Louis Pasteur to take yeast from the metaphysical realm into something that we can now understand and manipulate.

There are two basic styles of brewer's yeast: ale and lager. Ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae – "sugar fungus ale") works at warm temperatures (15-25C) in the brewery and forms a vast blanket of froth on top of the wort. This type of yeast does not turn as many sugars into alcohol as lager yeast, so leaving a residual sweetness. It also lends a certain hearty fruitiness to the aroma and palate.

Lager yeast is classified as S. carlsbergensis because the first pure culture was isolated at the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen. Lager brewing began is central Europe in the 15th century when brewers in Bavaria stored – or lagered in German – their beers in deep, icy caves to keep them in drinkable condition during the long hot summers. From this evolved cold-tolerant lager yeasts that also turn more sugar into alcohol, giving a dryer beer.


In the first stage of fermentation the yeast cells use up most of the easily fermentable sugars. After this the second stage begins. Fermentation slows and the yeast starts to work on the heavier sugars such as maltotriose. This is referred to as conditioning.

Conditioning can take place in different situations depending on the type of beer. The traditional beer style of Britain, real ale, is simply "racked" (poured) into the cask. This "cask-conditioned" beer leaves the brewery in an unfinished state because final conditioning takes place in the pub cellar where yeast in the cask continues to turn the remaining sugars into alcohol.

As the beer matures it gains not only a small amount of additional strength but also develops round and fruity flavours. Conditioning can take from two to four weeks, sometimes longer depending on the type of beer.

Lagers are usually aged in large tanks in the brewery at near freezing temperatures (just like those in the Bavarian caves) for one to six months depending on style. This cold ageing serves to reduce sulphur compounds produced by the yeast, helps clear the beer, and produces a cleaner tasting final product with fewer fruity esters.

Lagers are usually pasteurised prior to delivery. This means that unlike cask-conditioned ale, lagers (and cream flow ales) are biologically dead when they arrive at the pub.


For me beer isn't just meant to be drunk on its own. Beer and food make great table fellows. I love to match the citrus/grapefruit style of a hoppy Indian pale ale, or a good hoppy lager, to the spice of a curry; or make use of a well-roasted dark malt stout to complement a rich chocolate dessert.

Wherever you are drinking your beer, though, make time for an appreciative pause. Take up your glass and salute the work of those who turn the sugarless, aroma-less, dry grains into the wonderful, multifaceted liquid we see before us. Drink deeply and enjoy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Smuttynose Robust Porter

Sometimes, you're not quite in the mood for a Stout but you're still looking for something dark. Jason, this one's for you...something unfamiliar and dark. I guess it's true what they say, it's not the destination, but the journey that matters. This Robust Porter has taken me by surprise, but the journey has been awesome. I'm not saying that I've found the perfect Porter, but it's damn close. The coloring is deep but not thick. The aroma is sweet yet bitter. Definitely a must-have. This is a Porter to break out with the good china. Here's what the website had to say:

GOLD MEDAL WINNER - Porter , 2001 Great American Beer Festival

JUDGED GRAND CHAMPION - Best Porter in the USA - 10th Annual US Beer Tasting Championship

GOLD MEDAL WINNER - 2010 Mondial de la Biere, Strasbourg, France

WINNER AT THE 2011 Good Food Awards in San Francisco.

This hearty, mahogany colored ale is brewed to evoke the dark, full-bodied ales that were a favorite of dockworkers and warehousemen (hence the name “Porter”) in 19th century London. It is a good bet that when Dickens’ Mr. Pickwick sat down for a pint, he would have been drinking an ale much like our Robust Porter. This is a smooth and very drinkable beer, characterized by its well-balanced malt and hops, plus subtle notes of coffee and chocolate".

“Full-bodied and malty with undertones of coffee and chocolate and a bright, hoppy finish, in style it’s like Cary Grant's accent: the best of British and American.” - The Boston Globe, November, 2005


OG: 1064 TG: 1018
Grain Bill: pale 2-row, carastan, dark crystal, special “B,” chocolate
Hops: Cascade
IBU's: 45
Color/Number: Dark chocolate brown
ABV 5.7%



8.5/10 - Solid...real solid

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale - New Hampshire

The Smuttynose Brewery impressed me so much with their IPA, that I thought I would move on to their traditional American Brown Ale...their "Old Brown Dog Ale". Here's what the website had to say:

"Winner of a Silver Medal at the 1989 Great American Beer Festival.

AWARDED BEST BROWN ALE IN THE NORTHEAST - 8th Annual US Beer Tasting Championship

Old Brown Dog has been cited as a classic example of the “American Brown Ale” style of beer. Compared to a typical English Brown Ale, Old Brown Dog is fuller-bodied and more strongly hopped.

Old Brown Dog has been around for many years. It was first brewed in 1988 at the Northampton Brewery. In 1989 it won a silver medal in its category (American Brown Ale) at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.


OG: 1060, TG: 1016
Grain Bill: Pale Brewers, Munich, Crystal 60°L, Chocolate
Hops: Cascade, Willamette
IBU's: 15
Color/Number: Deep brown-amber, 25
ABV 6.5%


The first thing that you really notice with this Ale is just how smooth and drinkable it is. It just seems to flow. The pour is very smooth...with a nice deep brown coloring. With the first sip, you truly realize just how complex it is. The flavor just seems to jump out at you. You can clearly taste the caramelly flavors and the hint of fruit. Every sip seems to bring another layer. I really enjoyed this one. I highly recommend it.


8.5/10 - Authentic

Randon Beer Talk - New Belgium Brewing Publishes Tour de Fat Book

Still breaking ground in their 20th year, New Belgium Brewing has dipped into the world of publishing with Tour de Fat; Sights, Sounds, Feelings, Flavors, a coffee table art book celebrating the first eleven years of the Colorado brewer’s traveling, philanthropic bike festival. The limited edition hard cover book chronicles the trials and triumphs of building an event from the ground up. From the early years when the whole show fit in the back of a pickup truck to 2010’s hometown Tour de Far with more than 15,000 attendees, the story is a first-person narrative from the cyclists, carnies, performers and car swappers who lived to tell the tale.

“Having seen this thing grow up from the get-go,” said New Belgium Spokes Model, Bryan Simpson, “the book truly reflects and celebrates the blood, sweat and perseverance it took to build this event into a powerful philanthropic engine and a bike advocacy building block.”

The project stems from a long-standing collaboration with Fort Collins-based independent publisher, Wolverine Farm Publishing. WFP staff and volunteers have traveled with the tour for the last six years extolling the virtues of literature married to activism and art. Publisher Todd Simmons published and edited the book.

“Tour de Fat rises above every other summer festival in its commitment to artistic integrity, philanthropic protest, and complete worship of the bicycle, and this book is merely an extension of that—a wildly flung tail of the last eleven years,” said Simmons.

This season Tour de Fat is expected to surpass $2 million raised for bike advocacy since its inception. With stops in 13 cities throughout the summer and fall, the Tour raises money for non-profits thru beer sales and challenges one driver from every city to give up their car for a year in exchange for a bicycle. Every event starts with a costumed bike parade followed by a mix of music, vaudeville and general spectacle topped off with the actual swapping of a car for bike and a celebratory dance party.

The Book is available on their website -

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smuttynose IPA - Portsmouth, NH

The first thing that really catches your eye about this IPA is the label. It is insanely simple. But then again, coming from New Hampshire, what did you expect? The second thing was truly disturbing. As it settled into the glass, it appeared that some kind of sediment was forming at the bottom. I was told that it was the Lees and that it was a result of it being unfiltered and natural.'s what the website had to say:

"GOLD MEDAL WINNER - Best American Beer 2004 Great British Beer Festival

“Hands-down one of the best American-style India Pale Ales ever crafted. This brew is lip smacking, with an aggressive and pungent grapefruit hop character. Wonderfully balanced and insanely drinkable.” - Jason & Todd Alström, the Weekly Dig's Beer Highlights of 2004

Portsmouth is a colonial era seaport town, so it goes to follow that sooner or later we'd brew an India Pale Ale as a tribute to those big, hoppy 19th century ales that made the long sea voyage from England's temperate shores, 'round the Cape of Good Hope, to the sultry climes of the faraway East Indies.

But there's another reason we brewed this beer, one that's closer to our home and hearts. Hopheads.

Ten years ago we brewed our first batch of Shoals Pale Ale, our American interpretation of the traditional British ESB (Extra Special Bitter) style. At the time, it was widely considered to be darned hoppy. However, a funny thing happened over the last decade - our Shoals Pale Ale didn't change; beer lovers did, and we started to hear more and more: “Why don't you guys make a really hoppy beer?”

You could say, then, that Smuttynose IPA is a physical salute to the glory of the American hop grower. The citrusy hop flavor coming from a mixture of Simcoe and Santiams is pleasantly balanced by a smooth bitterness from the Amarillo hops. The beer itself is light bodied and crisp with a golden color that will throw a slight haze, as we bottle it unfiltered. At 65 IBU's, this is definitely not a training-wheels IPA, but is meant for hop lovers looking to satisfy their craving in a way that's not easy to find. We think they’ll be quite pleased.

ABV 6.9%

Our IPA is dry-hopped and unfiltered. The lees (sediment) that form
on the bottom of the bottle are a natural part of this fine ale".

Well, there you go. Bitter, but smooth. This is no lightweight. It's a bit of an acquired taste. Once you have one of these, you will truly notice the line between mass-produced IPA's and a crafty IPA. At $15 a case (12), it will not break the bank. Enjoy.


8/10 - Bold

Brooklyn Summer Ale - Brooklyn, NY

This one caught my eye. It's really my first leap into a New York brewed ale, and I was pleasantly surprised. I had no idea what to expect, but after having a couple I have to say that this Brewery has caught my attention. Now I'm going to be on the lookout for more from them. Here's what the website had to say:

"Brooklyn Summer Ale is a modern rendition of the "Light Dinner Ales" brewed in England throughout the 1800's right up until the 1940's. They were also called "luncheon ales" or even "family ales", because they were refreshing and flavorful without being too heavy. We brew our Brooklyn Summer Ale from premium English barley malt, which gives this light-bodied golden beer a fresh bready flavor. German and American hops lend a light, crisp bitterness and a citrus/floral aroma resulting in a beer with a very sunny disposition. FOOD PAIRING Excellent with salads, seafood, quiches, and lightly spicy dishes. It's also great at a brunch. SPECS Style: English Style Light Dinner Ale Malts: Two Row British Malts Hops: German Perle and American Cascade, Fuggle, and Amarillo Alcohol: 4.5% by volume Original Gravity: 11 Plato".

The Website:

A truly wonderful beer. It was light, refreshing and easy on the wallet. I recommend it for a great dinner with friends.


6/10 - A Taste of New York

Red Hook Copper Hook - Pacific Northwest

Here is another fantastic entry from Red Hook. The more beer that I down, the more I realize just how good the Red Hook Brand is. The Copper Hook entry is just as good as previous entries. Here's what the website has to say:

"This copper colored ale is a real crowd-pleaser. Copperhook strikes the perfect balance of smooth, rich, malty flavor you’d expect from a craft brew with a lighter body and hop profile that makes it a perfect “session” beer when you’ve got a long day ahead of knocking back a few with your buddies".

Style......................Copper Ale
IBUs.......................25.0 IBU
Original Gravity..13.25 degrees plato
Brewed Since.........2001

I again loved the vintage bottles. Another true crowd please.


6/10 - A Good Bet

Land Shark Lager - U.S.A

I had seen this Island brew on display at my local shop but never really had the inclination to grab a six-pack. That said, my buddy showed up the other day with one in tow and I figured well, here's my opportunity to try it out. Here's what the website has to say:

"Brewed in Jacksonville for Margaritaville Brewing Co.
Refreshing, drinkable island lager. Found in 4.7% and 4.0% variants".

Notice how I said "". That's because the website had nothing to say, other than shameless promotions for Jimmy Buffett, who distributes it through his Margaritaville brand. I used to be a huge Buffett fan, but over the last decade, this guy has peddled everything to make a buck. The website says nothing about the actual beer itself. Here it is though:

The beer itself though is awful. There was no flavor, no kick, no color and no body. It was completely lifeless. My rating


1/10 - Avoid at all costs

Well's Banana Bread Beer - UK

A friend of mine suggested that I try something "unfamiliar" and "dark". On a whim, I picked this one up. It sounded odd and "unfamiliar". Though not too did prove odd. Here's what the website had to say.

"This unique brew combines all the traditional qualities and style of a Charles Wells beer with the subtle flavour of banana

Wells Banana Bread Beer is a popular beer in the Wells and Young’s range of ales. The beer has achieved a number of accolades including winner of "Beer of the Festival" award at CAMRA's London Drinker Festival in March 2002.

Available as a draught seasonal cask beer, Wells Banana Bread Beer can be found on the bar and, in its popular bottle format, in all leading supermarkets".

Alcohol strength:
Pack format:


Odd indeed. You definitely taste the bananas after the beer has gone down. The aftertaste is unmistakable. It's not too bad though. The cost is steep at $5 a bottle and not really worth the price.


4/10 - Expensive but a good brew

Red Hook ESB - Pacific Northwest

I already mentioned that I had purchased a case of "Vintage Bottled" Red Hook Beers. Here the next installment...the ESB. Here's what the website has to say.

"Brewed in the style of a traditional British ESB (Extra Special Bitter), we’ve been making ESB continuously since 1987, and it’s now the benchmark for the Amber beer category. Despite having “bitter” in its name, Redhook ESB is really not that bitter at all. This brew is all about the balance of caramel malt sweetness completed by spicy, citrusy hops".

IBUs........................28.0 IBU
Original Gravity............13.75 degrees plato
Brewed Since................1987
2008 North American Beer Awards Gold Medal Winner
2009 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal Winner


Review: it....I feel like I'm back home when I pour this one. It is truly bold, with a great taste. Whenever I really want to treat myself, or reward myself for making it through another crappy week at work...I pick up a case of Red Hook. Believe me, you should too.

The price was pretty good at $18 a case. This is definitely one for your good friends.


7/10 - A Good Buy

Red Hook IPA - Pacific Northwest

I love this beer...enough said. I love the Pacific Northwest and does it get any more Northleft than a Red Hook IPA. This is bold and spicy. Awesome. I found a nostalgic variety case featuring vintage bottles from the early 80's. I could not resist.

As for the price. At $18 a was very reasonable. This one will not break the bank.


7/10 - Solid

Boddingtons Pub Ale - UK

What a fantastic Pub Ale. It embodied everything that I thought a true Pub Ale should be. It was heavy but refreshing. The Head was thick but palatable and the brew went down so smooth that it felt like I was drinking a pint of Heaven's own brew.

The cost was rough at $11 a four pack...but well worth it. This is not one to share with strangers. This is one to save for a special occasion...such as your local soccer club winning the championship, or your kids have finally decided to make it on their own...awesome.


9/10 - Solid

Stella Artois - Belgium

I began my journey with Stella. This is my Uncles favorite beer. As my wife and I stopped by his house to pick up some hockey equipment for my son, I was intrigued by the sheer amount of empty cases in his garage.

As for the beer itself...a little pricey, but not too bad. At $9 a six-pack, it's reasonable. The taste is very clean and refreshing with a full body. I recommend it but there are plenty of better options out there.


6/10 - A Good Brew