Beer and Victory Taste Better When Shared

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Fire up the grill. It is summer… or as I call it “Beer Season.”

This past weekend, Novak Djokovic won the French Open capping his career grand slam of tennis. It was a hot and humid day in Paris. He beat professional second banana Andy Murray in four sets to become the eighth man to complete the professional grand slam and the first man since 1969 to collect all four in a row. I watched the last set knowing that history was about to be made.

Watching the championship break point, and seeing “Djoker” define his career was anti-climactic. It happened and then… well it is the same with every tennis major. The winner just falls to his/her knees. Maybe lays down (this is a little weird in the French clay) and they cover their face with their hands. They shake their head in disbelief. They then get up and shake their opponents hand (“No. You’re the best. No really you are.”) Then they clap to the crowd with their racket.

It is always really weird.

It is because the victory is theirs alone. They have no one there with whom to celebrate. They are alone and standing in the arena to celebrate their accomplishment with thousands staring down at them. It looks and feels hollow.

In any other sport the victory is celebrated with teammates. Everyone jumps into the pile. Hugs, high fives, and the “Holy shit! Did you see what we just did?!?” is shared together. Even golfers have a caddy and the intimacy of a crowd pushed against the green with which to revel. Tennis players have ball boys that act as statues and officials that they just screamed at for a week over in or out calls measured in millimeters. Their joy is largely unshared which makes it far less joyful.

Beer is in danger of being the same. Beer is a beverage to be shared. Beer sipped alone largely lacks joy.

There is no beer better for sharing during this hot and humid summer than Sour Bikini by Evil Twin and Central PA local Intangible Ales. It is brewed together and should be enjoyed the same way.

This collaboration beer tastes like a summer beer should in 2016. Sour Bikini is refreshing and eminently crushable. The light bodied 3% ABV ale (yep… just 3%) has a citrusy, lemonade quality which is crisp and easy drinking. A hazy ale that is effortlessly quaffed generously right from the can. The slightly funky, sour start and finish are quick and do not linger too long with only a faint pucker of peach and citrus throughout.

You are going to want to fill up a cooler with these and hang out on the back deck with friends. Sour Bikini is not a beer for sipping while deep in thought about the trials of your life like some complex wintery barleywine. This beer is for drinking with your friends and laughing about the ironies of life, spraying the kids with the hose, saying “The damn country is going to hell!” or “Watch this!” It is for friends, and my beer friends are some of my favorite friends.

This is the beer I want to put in their hand on a hot, humid summer evening. I need to share this beer with them, eat some hot dogs, light a fire in the pit out back, and listen to the cicadas beg for their one chance at getting laid in 17 years.

Do it together because celebrating life is a summer thing and no one celebrates life alone. If you did, it would be weird, like winning the French Open and having no one to hug.


Stouts & Stilettos has a great rundown of Summer beers to enjoy. I recommend their post and the beers there in. It’s a great list.

Here are some others to consider:

Summer Love by Victory
Jammer by Sixpoint
Pacifico – Skip the Corona, drink this.
Allagash White
Sunshine Pils by Troegs
Red Stripe – It tastes so good on vacation who cares that it is made in Latrobe, PA?
Seersucker Pils by Abita (Is there anything more southern than a seersucker suit in summer?)
Orange Blossom Cream Ale by Buffalo Bill (For Mick)
Sunshine by New Belgium
Crusher by Iron Hill Brewery

Olde School Becomes the Height of Modernity


Free Will Brewing Co. is one of those brewers that has such a high level of trust from me that I am willing to impulsively buy anything with their name on the label because I know it will be of high quality.

When I was in a bottle shop a couple months ago, I saw a bottle of the above pictured beer sitting by its lonesome on a bottom shelf. I picked it up without even looking at the label. If there were two I would have bought both. Olly is an Oud Bruin or a Flemish Brown style of beer. This style dates back to the 17th Century in the Flemish region of Belgium. Oud Bruin undergoes a long aging process in wood, along with a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This coupled with the bacteria and cultured yeast, imparts a sour flavor to the beer. This is Old World brewing defined.

Free Will’s Olly is using Old World techniques to give us beer that tastes like the height of modernity. Olly, after brewing, is aged for between 2 or 3 years in oak barrels and foudres with brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus bacteria, then it was blended before bottling.

Olly is a slightly reddish brown ale with a plunging depth of flavor and multiple layers. The capped and corked bottle opened with a typical “plunk” but no drama as the beer is lightly carbonated. The medium bodied beer has tiny bubbles that offer no head and only a slight ring of off-white at the meniscus of the glass. The ale has cherry, dark fruits, and plum flavors throughout with a slight dry woodiness in the finish. The finish is long and where this stellar beer shines by showing off the funk of brettanomyces, the clean lactic acid of lactobacillus and more acute sour of pediococcus. No astringency from the 7.9% ABV makes this an easy sipper to be shared (or not in my case).

After the American beer market homogenized over flavorless adjuncts the pendulum swung back towards craft beer that sees the surging industry we celebrate today with a variety of styles and substyles that boggles the mind.

What Free Will has done with Olly is use an Old World method to give us a completely modern beer. Olly is easily representative of all that is great about the current craft beer industry.  The ability to make something modern, fresh in perspective, and seemingly novel from a centuries-old style and method. As we leave the homogenized adjunct lagers of Macro brewers as road kill run over by widespread and local disruption it will continue to be the brewers’ willingness to embrace old methods along with new to push and renew the concept of craft.

Who would have thought that the modernity of New World brewing would be found in the Old World?

Post Script: The irony of my idea of modern beer taking three years to rest in wood barrels is not lost on me.

As craft brewers continue to discover and refine these old methods it will bring forth a wealth “new” beers for us to explore.

I am far more interested in the exploration and development of these “Old World” styles than I am anything else these days.

Olly on the bottle is Olly from The Sifl and Olly Show. This clip is from 1997. I feel old.

Lando, Crowlers, and Sour IPAs.

Lacto CalrissianTrust Lando Calrissian himself Mr. Billy Dee Williams:
“Pizza Boy Crowlers work every time!”

Before we begin… This post is about three things: The shelf life of Crowlers, Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), and Sour IPAs. I swear by the end this will all make sense and the three actually belong together.

The Crowler is wildly popular. It should be, they are great. I love picking up a new Crowler from either Al’s of Hampden or from ZerØday Brewing. I have purchased a Crowler from East End Brewing co. in  Pittsburgh and from St. Boniface Brewing in Ephrata. I generally keep a 32oz growler in my car. But with Crowlers, the need to keep a glass bottle rolling around the floor in the back of the car is somewhat abated.

Al’s of Hampden was the first in Central PA to get a Crowler, instantly it was a hit. The popularity of Crowlers became very apparent to me when Al’s Pizza Boy Brewing released Bourbon Barrel Aged Sunny Side Up Stout. It was a phenomenal beer. BBA Sunny Side Up was only sold on draft, which meant that you could have a glass at the bar or get a Crowler of it to take home. That was until Al sold out of all his cans. This led to some really pathetic bitching on social media by entitled beer drinkers.

Part of why the Crowlers sold out was a number of people buying 6, 8, 10, or 12 Crowlers to horde in stock or to trade. In December, I got into a bit of snit with some guys on Twitter that were talking about still having cans of BBA Sunny Side Up in their fridge. What are you holding on to beer in a Crowler for?

If you look today over at Beer Advocate you can see two people are still offering this beer for trade. In February it was four. FOUR. This beer was tapped nine months ago. These Crowlers have been sitting for nine months.

A quick check of Untappd shows that people are still regularly enjoying this beer at a bottle share or just pulling it out of the back of the fridge. This is nuts. These cans are sold as means by which to enjoy take home beer within a reasonable period of time (i.e. a couple days at most). Anyone that tells you they can go longer than a week or maybe two is just flat out lying. They are not for cellaring, storing long term, or used as a storage device to sustain a limited run beer for long periods of time until you can “win the trade” by getting some Bro’s “whalez.”  (THIS is my favorite link ever on the site.)

Buy the beer, take it home and then drink it. Enjoy it.

Crowlers are not like the beer version of freezing Han in Carbonite.


“Yes. He is alive and in perfect hibernation. 

He will stay very fresh.”

Speaking of Lando… I wonder what it would cost for Billy Dee Williams to cut a Colt 45 like promo for Lacto Calrissian. It is a sour double IPA, also by Pizza Boy, and one of the best damn beers I have had so far in 2016. This lactobacillus bacteria “infected” ale has a depth of flavor few beers can match. There is citrus peel in the front end then a subtle alpha acid hoppiness along with some unique lime in the middle. The finish is both creamy and slightly sour as the lactic acid is more than evident in the beautifully bodied brew. The finish is strong and long lastingly pleasant, which is good because this 8.2 ABV ale has no alcohol burn and could sneak up on you like Greedo.

If you have a chance to swing by Al’s and get a draft of Lacto Calrissian I doubt you will be disappointed. And if you choose to take a Crowler of it home… Don’t sit on it.

Post Script Thoughts: Sour IPAs, like Tropical or Citrus IPAs, are hot right now; like Tatooine and her two suns hot. These twists on the the craft beer lover’s old stand by are showing that we are a long way from brewers running out of innovative ways to give us new and exciting styles. It is also a way to introduce sour beer to the skeptic. Both are good things.

In regards to the above mentioned people buying 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 Crowlers of BBA Sunny Side Up: Do what ever you want with your money. I have no complaint with you purchasing all that beer. I just find it ridiculous to horde a Crowler. That stuff has a serious risk of going bad. It has to be at risk of going flat. Please… don’t horde Crowlers.

Han shot first. There is no debate.

MS Paint FTW! I mean, just take in the work at the top of this page. Just look at it!

I am bit of a Star War’s geek… so this post was more fun than you can possibly imagine.

All Right Stop, Collaborate and… Brew Really Good Beer

East End Brewing Company and Pizza Boy Brewing represent the two areas of Pennsylvania that matter to me personally.  Over the past decade plus I have spent more time on the PA Turnpike than I would like to admit traveling between my old home (Pittsburgh) and my new home (Harrisburg and later Lancaster).

East End has been making phenomenal beers in Pittsburgh since 2004 and are at the center, geographically and metaphorically, of the region’s craft beer surge.

Al’s of Hampden was where I discovered the funk and the sour of craft brewing; either through Al’s wonderfully curated offerings, Pizza Boy Brewing or Intangible Ales. It has been where I know I will find great beer here in the Harrisburg area every time.  It’s bullet proof.

So when Al teamed up with East End to make a Berliner Weiss I knew I would have to check it out.  Moonstomp (named after a Reggae song) is a cloudy straw colored beer.  The brew was crisp and refreshing.  The nose was similar to that of Big Hop, an exceptional pale ale by East End and was fragrant of apples. The light bodied and effervescing brew had an easy drinking character. The flavors of apple and slight bits of lemon along with a pleasing mouth feel made this beer inviting; while the long slightly sour finish made it slow going. A palate-cleansing tartness of lactic acidity sold this beer to me as perfectly executed.  A fine collaboration and bringing characteristics of both brewers to the final product, it is highly recommended.

Moonstomp is currently available at Al’s both on tap and in 22 oz. bombers. It will see a limited release on Saturday at East End.  You will want to arrive early for this one if you are in Pittsburgh.

Al also released a bourbon barrel aged version of his beloved Sunny Side Up Stout. This coffee stout was aged for about four months in Woodford Reserve barrels Reserve barrels and yesterday ten and a half kegs of it were tapped starting at 11 am.  Glasses and Crowler fills sold out the allotment before the dinner rush ended. The numbers on how much was sold as figured by my friend Jeff… were in a word, amazing. Al was apologetic on social media about selling out half the stock so quickly. He need not be. The beer was fantastic.

Served in a wine glass, the pitch black stout shortly held a mocha brown head and smelled lightly of bourbon, vanilla and cold coffee. In the front, it tasted of chocolate, coffee, and roasted malts.  The bourbon flavors of vanilla, caramel and oak come along to finish and linger pleasingly.  The full bodied beer never gives up a burn or astringency despite the 10% ABV or the long rest with the spiritus frumenti.

This is barrel aged beer done right.  The aging process expanded the character and flavors of an already exceptional beer.  It added depth and complexity and never diminishes the base.

Al will be tapping this beer again today (7-30-15) at 4pm.  It will be available by the glass and in 32oz Crowlers to go. (Special thanks be given to Zeroday for helping out in this regard.) Get to Al’s early. This will sell out.

In order to bring this posting full circle I also decided to crack open one of my two bottles of Homewood Reserve (2014) that I have been sitting on.  This bourbon barrel aged version of Blackstrap Stout by East End was a fine compliment to the Sunny Side Up.

It too played with the subtle end of the barrel aging spectrum. The nose is thick of roasted coffee and hints of bourbon. Medium bodied and lighter than the Sunny Side Up.  Homewood Reserve was lightly carbonated but with microscopically small bubbles.  Easy drinking for an aged stout it had a long and very dry finish of coffee, vanilla and slightly of wood.  As the beer warmed up, just a faint burnt smokiness entered with an almost peaty character. The most interesting flavor was a mineral like taste that would be akin to a full bodied deep red wine.  This was both surprising and pleasing.  A great beer.

The thread that weaves all three beers together beyond the collaboration between the two breweries and the similar styles is the understated approach to flavors. These beers work at the edges. Never being over powering with any one taste. Instead they gently suggest various impressions of the ingredients and processes used to make the final product.  This is brewing at a high level.

Post Script: Beer geeks frequently talk of chasing “whales” the seemingly unobtainable beers that many covet. Usually these beers are from far off states sold in incredibly low volumes. I am generally dismissive of these snow flake in hell type beers. I stopped chasing “whales” a long time ago. 

But there are “whales” to be had in our own backyard. I just had three of them. We need to recognize the quality we have locally and cheer this as a grand success for the craft beer community here in Central PA.

Costly Beer vs. Expensive Beer

Hater Tears

Recently the cost of beer has been an interesting subject.  First, had a long story about the impending craft beer war. The point here being that price will be where the various craft brewers compete in the near future.  This would inherently drive the cost down on many beers.  Some brewers are already producing on the razors edge economically and others are pushing for rapid expansion to achieve the very real economies of scale.  There is a coming bloodbath.  Anyone that follows the industry closely knows it.  There is a bubble.  It will burst someday.

Earlier this week Drunkspin’s Will Gordon pondered the price of beer at length and never really came to an answer other than “Is all beer overpriced?”

The next day, Albert Kominski took to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to defend selling 750mL bottles of barrel aged sours for $33 apiece.  His response was lengthy by social media standards but cogent at the same time.

Over the years I have spoken with Al far more than any other brewer I know.  He is always quick to greet me when he sees me in his establishment and gives me a few minutes of his clearly busy schedule to discuss what I am having and what else on the big board is worth picking up for my next draft.  I say this to mean that as far as I can tell, Al gives a damn about his customers and always has.

In my opinion, Al has exceptional taste when it comes to curating his offerings, brewing beer, and together with Terry Hawbaker has been delivering very high quality beer.  Al has been doing this well enough and for long enough to have an exceptional resume and a trusted responsibility to his customers.

So when Al sells a beer for $33 bucks a pop it’s because in his mind it’s worth it and/or he needs to charge that amount.  Is it costly?  Yes it is.  Is it expensive?  Not necessarily.  Keep in mind that those two things, costly and expensive, are not the same. (Please check out that link… I can’t say it better.) These beers, as Al pointed out in the above and here provided links, are costly to develop.  That does not necessarily make them expensive.

Do I wince at $33 a bottle?  Sure… but I also don’t tell other people how to spend their money.  Which as far as I can tell is where the debate started.  Al took exception to a patron telling others that the beer was overpriced.  He was right to do so.

The Internet flame war that ensued was typical.  It was also mostly BS being thrown around.

Making beer is hard work.  Making exceptional beer is both hard work and costly.  Making exceptional, barrel aged, small batch, sour beers with hundreds of pounds of fruit and literally years of work is a serious and costly endeavor that can go belly up for reasons that are not completely under the control of the brewer.  There is risk.  The risk can be great.  The investment in money and time is real.

So when I see a $33 bottle of beer do I wince?  Yes, I wince at the thought of how much work and money must have gone into just 750mL of beer.

Post Script: I think what Al is doing by going up market, dramatically so, is skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.  Down market is a losing proposition and is already owned by huge corporate interest.  The economies of scales of SABMiller and InBev cannot be matched.  So why go there?  The only place it go it up.  Way up. This is the fundamental concept behind disruption from above and is a guiding principle of the craft brewing industry. There is a market at the top and selling artfully crafted rare and costly beer is the way to develop a hopefully safe space when the impending bloodbath ensues.