Monday, April 27, 2009

Big beers, hot weather, and a history lesson

First things first, a great big tip of the cap to the community of Lambertville, NJ for putting together such a pleasant and wonderful weekend. Shad Festival or no Shad Festival, Lambertville is a fantastic town to spend a weekend in. In addition to being quite picturesque, the town has the added advantage of being supremely walkable - you can walk to anything in town, and you can also walk across the bridge to another town, New Hope, PA. So if you haven't been - go.

We were treated great everywhere we went. The folks at the Inn of the Hawke were great hosts, served up some quality grub, and had a pretty nice beer selection to boot. Mitchell's was a trip late on Saturday night with a pretty boisterous crowd.

As for the beer-angle this weekend, it was just mildly disappointing. Granted, I know that nobody could have possibly predicted high-80's this past weekend, but I was still baffled by the number of really big beers served up by both River Horse and Triumph. Sitting outside in the sun at 1PM on Saturday with a long day still ahead, I bypassed River Horse's 10% Belgian and 8% Weizenbock and went for the Lager and Special Ale. The lager is unfiltered and still a bit yeasty (think Kellerbier) while the Special Ale is a nice, light, flavorful English style mild. I had forgotten what a great beer the Special Ale is.

When I asked at Triumph why they only had four beers on tap, I was told that the brewery is "going through some growing pains". No idea what that means. Triumph is a great spot, and I don't recall ever seeing fewer than six on tap, so seeing only four on the board came as a great surprise. And it was a bit of a disappointment that only one was lower than 6.5% ABV. Looking around the bar, it seemed that almost every customer was opting for the Kellerbier, weighing in at about five percent. I did have the Uber Pils (a boozey, full bodied pilsner) and the IPA (seemed a bit easier to handle the heftier beers indoors than under the sun), while I also tasted R's Keller. Oh, and the food was great. And with a $6 bar menu, I completely retract my earlier comment about the menu being a bit pricey.

And not to end on a sour note here, but I'm afraid I have a bone to pick with River Horse. Before leaving, I had a seat with R in the gift shop to finish off our beers. They have this great table with little stools that swing out from underneath that we love to marvel at - but I digress. I was about to buy a t-shirt when R advised me to open it up and look at what's printed on the back. And I'm glad she prompted me to do that, because I found printed on the on the back the following; "New Jersey's Oldest Craft Brewery".

Unfortunately I can't wear a shirt that would turn me into a walking billboard for a falsehood - especially when it comes to craft beer, and especially when it comes to New Jersey's craft beer. A little research would reveal that Dave Hoffman's Climax Brewing is in fact two months older than River Horse. It's right there on both company's web sites, so perhaps the folks at River Horse could have done a bit more research before getting those shirts printed up.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Getting awesome at the Lambertville Shad Festival

Taking a trip with R this weekend down to Lambertville, NJ for their annual Shad Festival. For those who have never been down that way, we'd totally recommend making a day of it on any weekend when the weather is nice. Lambertville is one of those quaint little river towns where you can have a nice day just walking around and exploring. Plus, New Hope, PA is an easy walk right across the bridge. Between both towns there are plenty of antique stores, sight-seeing opportunities, and restaurants to take advantage of.

But what does that have to do with beer, you ask? Plenty. Located in Lambertville is the River Horse Brewing Company, a craft brewery that within the last year or so received a sizeable investment and is now producing more specialty beers in addition to their regular lineup and is also expanding distribution. We've seen them on tap in JC, Hoboken, and NYC recently, so they're getting out there. And in New Hope, you've got one of Triumph's three brewpubs. The food is excellent at Triumph (if a bit pricey) and they always keep the rotation of taps interesting. We always find more than one beer on there that we've never seen them serving before.

We'll also probably hit one of our favorite spots in Lambertville, the Swan. And check out a new one recommended by Lew Bryson and Mark Haynie in their New Jersey Breweries book, the Inn of the Hawke.


I transferred my oak aged old ale to a keg to carbonate a few days ago. It tasted fairly awesome. Super oaky, which I'm actually hoping mellows out a bit with time. It's about three months old now, and the hot alcohols already seem to have aged out. Probably going to bottle it tonight.

Do to a household-wide bottle shortage, I'm probably canceling plans to brew a Biere de Garde. I'm going to keep the German Ale yeast slurry going with an IPA. And then it will be on to another lager and a saison. I'll need all of the bottles I can get my hands on for the old ale, berliner weiss, and saison.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beer Wars Live - no review required

I had intended to write up a review of my Beer Wars Live experience. Then I came across this. I guess there's not much more to say.

OK, I can think of two more things to say...

There has been a lot of noise from the beer nerds over Rhonda Kallman. Everybody's all up in arms that she was portrayed as one of "the little guys" when she's not a "real" craft brewer. Fine, she may lack authenticity from a craft perspective, but she's certainly more of a "little guy" as far as this movie is concerned than Sam Calagione. The man is wildly successful in the face of all of the abuse that craft brewers take from A-B (sometimes allegedly, sometimes absolutely). He's built up a 75,000 bbl a year brewery with distribution all over the country. Oh, and not to mention that he's built the most super-exclusive beer brand on the planet and is selling twelve ounce bottles of 120 Minute IPA for $11.

Puh-lease. Forgive me for rolling my eyes yet again over all of the attention paid to Sam Calagione, the coolest kid in class. It's funny how all of these people who've heard Sam's story a hundred times and can probably recite his bio from memory have no problem with the amount of screen time he's given, but they're spitting mad over Rhonda.

And Ben Stein moderating the panel at the end of the movie was hilarious, for all of the wrong reasons. His hyper-capitalist douchebaggery was on full display. Clearly unprepared to discuss the topic at hand, it was really funny to hear how excited he got when Greg Koch described Stone's average 47% annual growth over the last ten years. Beer, not so exciting for Ben. Big numbers, percentages, growth? BOING!!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beer Wars Tonight and Home Brewery Troubles

So tonight is the Beer Wars Live movie/live-simulcast-panel-discussion-thing and I will be seeing it, along with R, at the theater in Union Square. Earlier in the week I looked over this FAQ post on the movie's web site. The very fact that this post is even there would indicate that the movie's director/producer has been taking some heat and decided that they'd take the time to address some of the more frequent or pointed questions thrown their way. I'm pretty surprised that they'd get so many questions about the cost and the decision to have Ben Stein host the panel discussion.

First, $15 is not a heck of a lot of money these days. And when you consider that this movie is only being shown in theaters on one date, at one time, AND they're satelite feeding some discussion, I would have expected it to be more than $15.
Second, on Ben Stein... I completely agree that he's a piece of crap. I watch the Sunday Morning show on CBS with R on the weekends and his rants about the economy, politics, and whatever else is on his uber-capitalist mind, are really annoying. But to boycot the movie over it (see the comments section on the FAQ post)? Seems a bit rash to me.


Some potentially troubling news out of my home brewery. I think I may have an infection. I'm noticing that my last three batches seem to have a mild bit of sourness in the finish. Unfortunately, living in an apartment in an Urban Area, I don't really have the ability to separate some of the functions of a brew day. For example, I have to crush grains in the same room where I store all of my gear. I do a pretty good job of minimizing the proliferation of grain dust, but it's not remotely possible to contain it all. So I wouldn't be surprised if I got some kind of lactic acid bacteria infiltrating my gear. Frankly, I should be surprised that this hasn't happened sooner.

So what does this mean? Tomorrow night, everything that comes in contact with wort post boil is getting replaced, autoclaved, boiled, and/or thrown through some kind of multi-step sanitation regime of bleach, star-san, and iodophor.

Also, I used gelatin for the first time the other day to clarify a beer. That stuff stinks! After dumping the gelatin solution into the keg, I caught a whiff of the mason jar that I mixed it up in. Smelled like feces. Like an actual shit. Granted, the beer has no doodoo off-aroma at all. But I don't know if I can bring myslef to use that stuff again.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Props to some Manhattan watering holes

On Friday, along with R, checked out some gin mills we've never been to. After chowing down on some massive (and I mean MASSIVE) oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, we hit:

The Campbell Apartment. If you've never been here, you have to check it out. The back story is that it was at one time the office/party space of some wealthy banker back in the 30's or so. Left unused for a while, it was finally converted into one of the most impressive bars you'll ever enjoy a drink in. You really have to see the place for yourself. With a ceiling at least 20 feet high, and beautifully decorated, they're really not lying on the web site when they tell you that it's luxurious.

The specialties there are the cocktails. R had two Prohibition Punches, which were tasty and deceptively strong (like most good cocktails). The beer list is really not much of a list. Pilsner Urquell, Amstel or Heineken (can't remember which), and Kasteel Cru, which caught my eye. Kasteel Cru claims to be a French "lager brewed with Champagne yeast". This phrase may not make much sense to American beer geeks since Champagne yeast is not bottom fermenting, but when you consider that in the Europen sense, "lager" more commonly means that it's an aged or cold-conditioned beer, you get the picture. So I polished off one of those, a bourbon (neat), and a Pilsner. Not the most mind blowing of beer experiences, sure, but we could have spent the entire day there studying the incredible detail in that room.

The Waterfront Ale House. This place has been here a while, and perhaps I should be somewhat embarassed to cop to never having been there before. But I'm just not in the area of 30th St and Second Avenue that often any more. So sue me.

Now here we would find an interesting beer list. Not massive, but some really interesting selections. Definitely quality over quantity, which is well appreciated these days when there are a lot of mega-tap-system bars popping up that just aren't doing anything all that exciting with the space they have. Ramstein Maibock, Goose Island Mild, and Schlenkerla Lentenbier were my selections. Without going all beer geek review on you, let me just say that all three hit the spot on a day when I was feeling more malty than hoppy. The awkward public feud between the bartender and the waitress aside, the Waterfront Ale House did us just right on a gloomy Friday evening. All that plus free popcorn!