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.

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“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.

Iteration and Variation

Over the past few months I have been enjoying the light, crisp and easily quaffable styles of the summer beer drinking season. Session IPAs, Goses, Berlinger Weiss and Hefeweizens have been taking up plenty of space in my fridge.

But I love stouts. They were my first love when coming to craft beer and they always draw me back.  So a week ago when I saw a lonely bottle of the new Blackwater Series Choklat Oranj from Southern Tier I knew it was time to mix it up.

A little background…

As far as I can tell, and this is my educated guess, the Blackwater Series are Imperial Stouts brewed with the same four “mother” malts and two “father” hops. This provides for iteration. Using the same base for each brew allows for variation while also breeding familiarity. The Blackwater Series is made up of Choklat, Crème Brulee (the most impressive of the bunch), Warlock (a pumpkin beer) and Mokah.  Previously, this series also included Jahva and Oat.

Choklat Oranj is the newest edition to this series and is another great iteration. It takes the familiarity of the series and the big chocolate flavors of Choklat and adds a refined orange breeziness. Opening the 22 oz. bomber and pouring into a snifter you first get whiff of dark chocolate buddied up with orange oils. The beer sits dark as pitch in the glass with no head.  It drinks heavy but with a curvy body like a playboy centerfold. Chocolate and roasted malts dominate with a long sweet finish of orange peel.  This is like drinking a liquefied Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I would be stunned if that was not part of the inspiration. The beer is silky with a lingering orange and citrusy release.  While the beer is 10% ABV it never gives a hint of the booze even as it comes to room temperature.  Drinking this beer slightly warm really opens up the flavors as the orange acidity is boosted late in the drink.  Let this sipper rest in the glass and enjoy it slowly.

What Southern Tier have done here is create a dessert beer just like its brothers, that fits right between Choklat and Crème Brulee in sweetness.  Oranj is not as creamy as some others in the series and is more acidic; making it more versatile in potential pairings.

The “variation on a theme” works well with the Imperial Stout style.  Locally, Spring House Brewing Company does something similar with their stouts: Planet Bean Coffee Stout, Satan’s Bake Sale (Mint Chocolate Chip) Stout, Kerplunk! Imperial Chocolate Stout, and the very impressive combo of Big Gruesome (Chocolate Peanut Butter) and ‘lil Gruesome (Peanut Butter and Jelly) Stouts. They all have a familiar backbone. The iteration and slight variation provides for exploration of how flavors can be magnified, muted, or changed via slight alterations and bold flavor additions.

It may still be the heat of summer but a sweet, thick stout can be just the ticket to changing up your beer choices. Sweet stouts are undeniably a great way to finish a fine dinner.  You would be hard pressed to find one better suited to the task than Choklat Oranj or any of the other Blackwater Series beers.

Post Script: During Harrisburg Beer Week’s Little Big Beer Fest the ladies at Stouts and Stilettos were pouring their collaboration with Pizza Boy Brewing, Sun Kissed Stout.*** Sun Kissed was an imperial chocolate and orange stout; as such is easily comparable to Choklat Oranj.  Similar in style and intent these two had a number of differences according to my notes and recollection.

The Sun Kissed Stout was lighter in body and was deeper in the roasted malts. This impaired a slight smokiness to the nose and finish.  The flavors imparted by the fruit in Sun Kissed was closer to orange rind and pith as opposed to the Southern Tiers orange oils. While the Oranj skews towards sweetness, the Sun Kissed had a bit of spiciness and roasted flavors. Both were great beers… the good news is while it may be hard to find you can still pick up a bottle of Choklat Oranj.


***It really should have been called Orange In The New Black Stout

Strawberries and Beer: Together Again For the First Time

  Right now driving around Central PA the farm stands are all open and there is one piece of produce that is at peak: Strawberries.

Let us forget for a minute my last post about summer beer and their light and crisp flavor profile and instead focus on what pairs right with a fresh bowl of ripe red sweet and slightly tart strawberries.  In my opinion these tend to be malty, heavier beers that contrast the natural flavors of the berries.

My fist pick is ¿Impending Descent? by Troegs.  This gonzo Russian Imperial Stout gets released each November so I buy in bulk to enjoy it on occasion throughout the year and have been ageing a large number as a running vertical. If you have one tucked away, pairing it with some fresh local strawberries will work out perfectly.  The copious amount of malts (six varieties) provide for various flavors of dark chocolate, vanilla, and coffee.  The roasted malts work wonderfully with the sweet tart fruit. If this beer has been cellaring for a time the pine and resin hop notes will have muted and left a perfect pairing.  If you can’t get a hand on ¿Impending Descent? I suggest picking up the always available Javahead Stout or racing out to the Hershey brewer right quick and picking up a growler of Scratch #192 a velvety smooth and decadent chocolate stout.

Palo Santo Marron by Dogfish Head Brewing will pair nicely.  The caramel, vanilla, and wood flavors from this 12% ABV brown ale will marry wonderfully.  The roasted notes along with molasses and a round mouth feel just work.  This is a world class beer and would be right at home with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some strawberries.

Samuel Smith Organic Strawberry Ale is a wonderfully crisp and tart fruit beer from the world famous English brewers.  Smooth malts with a soft mouth feel and subtle strawberry finish will be intensified by local fresh berries. This beer is easy drinking at 5% ABV. I would pair this with a strawberry and baby spinach salad with a light poppy dressing for dinner.

After dinner consider opening a bottle of Southern Tier’s Crème Brulee Imperial Milk Stout.  This beer is the pinnacle of Southern Tier’s very highly regarded Blackwater Series in my opinion.  Remarkably this beer tastes exactly like its name sake.  In fact, it is downright magical in likeness.  Cream, vanilla, and burnt sugar come straight through with a long sweet lasting finish.  This 9.6% ABV full bodied beer has an exceptional mouthfeel and would be a fine addition to a strawberry shortcake dessert.

Cheers.

The Highs and Lows of Cellaring Beer

SlyFox Raspberry Reserve  Speedway Stout 2011

Shortly after I bought my first home eight years ago I started cellaring beer.  I had heard of the practice and it seemed like the perfect way to expand my interests in rare and unusual beers by making some of the best beers of today potentially even better.

First off… I am no expert on aging beers.  That being said there are a few rules I work around and they have worked for me.

  • The storage space should be cool. My basement is quite cool year round and never gets above 60 degrees.
  • It should be dark. Beer is as photosensitive as an albino in the tropics. I use wine boxes and some old blankets.
  • Choose boozy beers. 8% ABV and above.
  • Hops are fragile and their floral, dank, piney, resin, citrus and/or tropical flavors degrade quickly. This will make you sad.  Pick something else.
  • I like to generally work with dark beers… Imperial stouts, barley-wines, Belgian strong ales, sour beers, Flanders reds work but so can Triples and Quads.
  • Bottle conditioned beers and those injected with wild yeast or Brettanomyces tend to offer good results.
  • Try to run a vertical. Age a couple bottles from each year and then try them together to get an idea of how the beer is developing during its long slumber.  This is great for learning about when a beer reaches “maturity” and when its over the hill.
  • Experiment… some will work and some will not. Failure is an option. Some will be sublime and some will be ready to hit the drain.  It’s a crapshoot; get over it.

I ran into that the dichotomy of that last bullet point this past week.  First, I opened a bottle of SlyFox’s Black Raspberry Reserve from 2010.  This bottle conditioned fruit beer weighs in at 8% ABV, is loaded with raspberries and is brewed in Phoenixville, PA.  I first had this beer fresh and I found it overly sweet and lacking sufficient complexity in flavor.  It was a little on the thin side but its effervescence made for nice mouthfeel.  It poured a deep rich purple with a slightly pink head. Flavors were only slightly tart and that was drowning in sweet sugars and candied raspberry.  I thought the beer promising if only the tartness could be amplified, the sweetness muted and some of the other potential fruity flavors given a chance to come forward. So in the cellar it went for nearly five full years.

Upon opening the cork and caged 750 mL bottle and pouring it in to a snifter I could tell the long rest had made significant changes.  This beer previously had a luminance about it.  The color had clearly moved towards a darker more brownish hue; not immediately off putting but certainly different.  The bubbly effervescent liquid was now flat and thin.  The aroma once of raspberry jam was now only a whiff of its former self.  It was bland at the front with no discernable finish. The beer lacked any real flavor. The beer was boring.  Age had not been kind this beer.  What was once a modestly good beer, with what I had hoped to be great potential, was lost for good.

The second bottle I opened was a 2011 Speedway Stout by AleSmith out of San Diego California. AleSmith makes a number of very, very well regarded brews and is a company that I trust completely with my hard earned beer money.  When fresh this imperial stout pours a pitch-black with chocolate and coffee aroma’s dominating the nose.  The taste of coffee and chocolate are dominate but do not hide the subtle toffee, caramel, vanilla and dark sweet fruits notes.  These all come through thanks to the fine and abundant carbonation. This beer is silky smooth and very easy to drink even at 12% ABV.

My 2011 bottle after four years of hibernation showed significant and welcome change.  The beer pours slightly flatter with the previously firm dark brown head disappearing quickly and only providing minimal lacing at the edge.  The creamy mouth feel was replaced with the smooth silk like texture of a fine cordial.  With the coffee notes completely out of the way after its four year slumber the beer now focused on the roasted malts.  Toffee, caramel, and vanilla are all here in abundance but never over powering.  The 12% alcohol is more evident but never lends itself to a burn or unpleasant astringency and merely invites more rationed sipping; a wise credit to my patience.  The finish is as long as ever but instead of coffee now evokes the flavors of softly roasted malts and a hint of plums.  The beer was and remains complex and is never boring.  I am glad to have two more bottle to see what another five to ten years does.

Speedway Stout and cellaring your beers both get the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

Beer as Abstraction and Comedic Repetition

If you ever had the pleasure of driving through Elizabethtown, PA you likely got a whiff of what are two of the biggest industries in Central PA; chocolate and dairies.  One is decidedly more pleasant than the other.  On breezy days the roasted chocolate aroma can waft for miles around from the M&M Mars plant.  It is always welcome and inviting.  Central PA has an abundance of chocolatiers. These include M&M, Hershey and preferred by me, Wilbur in Lititz.

In order to supply these plants there are plenty of dairy cows in the area.  Driving around Lancaster county back roads gives you a real sense of just how big the dairy industry is. They are everywhere.

These two facts makes Lancaster Brewing Company’s Double Chocolate Milk Stout a great representative for its namesake. I procured a 22 oz. bomber and poured the dark brown opaque beer into a snifter glass which brought forth a light brown to tan head that laced the glass lightly.  Aromas of bitter chocolate like a 70% cacao dark chocolate bar are accompanied by a soft sweetness and is inviting.  Lancaster Brewing created this with cacao nibs and it is evident with every sip.  This beer is chocolate through-and-through.

It has a velvety texture in the mouthfeel and is thick without the greasiness of some imperial stouts.  The lactose sugars are evident in the finish along with hints of caramel and roasted malts.  The finish is long, of again, cacao.  The beer tastes of Hershey’s syrup but has more of a refined chocolate expression in the long lasting and pleasant finish. This beer is beyond smooth in texture and mouthfeel with 6.8% ABV that is never evident or intrusive.

Deep, dark chocolate again and again given as a single note played over and over. But it works in the same way Portlandia got cacao to work as an example of repetition as comedy. If you like chocolate, especially semi-sweet or bitter chocolate you will love this beer.  The chocolate notes are divided up as you drink. In that the front it is sweeter and along the lines of milk or semi-sweet chocolate. The more bitter and refined dark cacao flavors come in the finish to wrap things up with a flourish. It’s dynamic yet monochromatic not unlike Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White.  This libation is not deconstructing what it is to be “beer” as monochromatic art can change both the concept of abstraction and art but it does let you explore the complexities of doubling down on a singular flavor profile.

Double Chocolate Milk Stout is an excellent dessert beer.  As local strawberries are soon in season, I would highly recommend this as a pairing or do as I plan to the next time and drop a scoop of vanilla ice cream in for a beer float.  It can be found on tap or in 12 oz bottles, but I would spring for the 22 oz. bomber and split it with a friend; it’s just right.

Lancaster Brewing Company’s Double Chocolate Milk Stout gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

[Insert Name] Coffee Porter/Stout

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The craft beer business is fraught with trends that take root en masse. This has brought us an abundance of hoppy west coast style IPAs, bourbon barrel aged everything, and more recently the gose and sour beers surge.

This is not to say that I don’t like these beers, just that the craft beer culture seems to drift together and glom onto trendy styles with an aggressive stickiness.

The one thing that the above-mentioned styles provide when done right by all the various brewers is that they provide for iteration and variation. The distinctions that provide for the desire to try a various brewer’s take on a style and compare and contrast.   You know the whole reason we hunt for new brews and discuss the ones we like and don’t like.

This is a good thing.

But there is one trend that has completely burned me out… coffee flavored beers. There was a time years ago that coffee stouts were a subtle rarity. The proper bitterness of cold coffee flavors along with the roasted malts and creaminess of a stout just merged and provided the drink with a new level of complexity.

But eventually this trend turned south for me. It is now almost necessary for each brewery to brew a coffee stout or porter. Give the people what they want…I guess. This resulted in each brewer turning to specifically sourced and locally roasted coffee beans for their coffee beer. Iteration and variation became just a sourcing of beans.

When I first had a bomber of Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel it was a revelation; like many of Mikkeller’s beers. Pizza Boy Brewing’s Sunny Side Up (Little Amps!) Stout is so good I have considered it an all world quality stout since it first arrived. I still order that one when given the chance. I like coffee beers, but they are getting commoditized; by and large one is indistinguishable from the rest.

So that leads me to The Brewer’s Art and their Zeke’s Coffee Porter. This beer was perfectly fine. Rich coffee flavor, a proper bitterness, while slightly flat and thin in the body it was a good beer. Nothing about it was offending or strange in anyway; just like the dozens and dozens of other coffee beers I have had over the years. What was unique about this beer? The beans. Really? That is what they are selling?

Maybe this is a problem with me… As obsessive as I am about beer, is exactly how little I care about my coffee. Coffee is binary. It is either strong or weak.

Strong Coffee = Good Coffee

Weak Coffee = Shit Coffee

The artisanal coffee bean roasters offering specially sourced and carefully roasted coffee beans that are then ground with the care and precision reserved for pharmaceuticals and finally brewed at precisely 188º just seem overwrought. I mean the coffee at McDonalds is only a buck. Yeah its burnt to hell but… oh, God please don’t judge me!

So after 500 words where am I? Well… This post is just like coffee beers, overdone and not nearly as interesting as they used to be.

Say Hello to ZerØday Brewing Company

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Yesterday, provided the grand opening of ZerØday Brewing Company as the newest local brewery in Central PA. It was an opening with fanfare and well attended by the mayor and a Storm Trooper for the traditional ribbon cutting.

Over the past year I have attended three different opening days for local breweries (Columbia Kettle Works, Moo-Duck Brewing, and ZerØday) and without a doubt this one was the best on multiple levels.

I arrived well after the noon opening ceremonies but right into the thick of a very busy opening day.  While the crowd was heavy, the husband and wife proprietors, Brandalynn and Theo Armstrong, made sure everything ran with exceptional smoothness.

Upon arrival, I was able to quickly claim a corner spot near both the bar and the entrance.  I was very promptly greeted by a friendly bartender and plied with my first beer; no wait.  The service was impeccable.  It was hard to tell this was their opening day as the service and atmosphere made for an exceptional time free of any issues.  Theo Armstrong (the brewer) worked as bar back during my visit and made sure fresh clean glassware was always at the reach while his small but very busy team of bartenders served up his fine libations.  He also clearly took the time to talk with patrons and to politely accept congratulations from many happy customers.  Brandalynn worked the door greeting people warmly when she was not busily making sure everyone’s needs were met.

In the lead up to this opening I watched the Armstrongs via the modern wonders of social media put together their dream and I was a little worried about the volume of orange paint they were splashing about in the prospective taproom.  But the look of the place is fantastic.  The taproom is very nicely appointed and while very orange, is in no way off putting.  It has clean lines and is clearly well thought out all around.  Just a beautiful place to brew and drink a pint.

The beers were impressive even beyond first batch/smaller scale brewing standards.  ZerØday opened with five offerings on tap: Firstborn (Dry Stout), Cheap Date (American Blonde), Wits End (Belgian Inspired Witbier), Zeroday IPA – Ep.1, Dolce Vita (Chocolate and Hazelnut Sweet Stout).

My first beer was Dolce Vita.  After hearing via twitter about the soft opening this was the beer I knew I had to try.  It did not disappoint.  Served on nitro it has a silky smooth mouthfeel with a creamy luscious head built to last.  The aroma is like Nutella only somehow more inviting.  Then as it warms up the finish becomes longer lasting and deeper with a proper hazelnut and creamy chocolate that just makes this beer.  Very sweet, it would pair wonderfully with strawberries after a fine dinner.  If there is any room for improvement here… it’s that the beer was served way too cold. Dolce Vita shows off its flavors as it warms up. This beer was exceptional and is worthy of a visit.  Dolce Vita gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

As for the other offerings: Cheap Date goes down easy like she should and will be great for hot days when you are looking for a session beer.  Wits End was nicely constructed with a proper Belgian yeast and bitterness but lacked a peppery bite that I like in Witbier.  Zeroday IPA was clearly advertised as the first iteration. It was good but at 7.4% ABV, I was expecting more flavor and aroma from the hops and more body; just a tad thin. Firstborn was my least favorite of the offering but was still an exceptional stout.  When I say it was my least favorite its almost unfair because it was rock solid.

ZerØday’s beers were all good… and were frankly great when you consider this is the first time operating on the brand new brewing system.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  This would be excellent work for even a well-established small town brewery. The ceiling here is really high for future batches and I am sure they will not disappoint.

ZerØday Brewing Company gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval