Mint Julep Ale Falters Out the Starting Gate

My Uncle Gary made a living of writing about sports. He gathered more quotes over a very long and wildly successful career as the human Swiss Army knife of sports reporters than I can possibly imagine. He is also a man with a quip for every event in life; more of them are his own than he would admit.

I recall his theory about how to make a great Mint Julep going something like this:

Crushed Ice
Sugar
A Few Sprigs of Mint
Fine Bourbon

Step 1: Muddle the sugar and some mint in the glass
Step 2: Add a generous amount of crushed ice.
Step 3: Throw that all in the trash.
Step 4: Pour 4 oz of Bourbon in a new clean glass.
Step 5: Enjoy

The beginning of May gives us the Kentucky Derby. This annual event brings out women in garish hats, a sudden and fleeting interest in horse racing, and mint juleps. Flying Dog Brewery released a timely beer meant to celebrate this as part of their Brewhouse Rarities series: Mint Julep Ale. Just like Uncle Gary’s theory above, this brew should have left the mint and “bourbon natural flavors” out of the ale.

Mint Julep Ale

Notice bottom right: “Bourbon Natural Flavors.”

This golden ale entered the glass without any fuss while pouring a rich golden hue with little head. But right out the gate I knew this beer was in trouble. It stumbled badly at first sip with a mild mint flavor that coupled with the blonde ale like sex between drunk prom date virgins that were going “just as friends.” Is this how you wanted your first time to be? Not really, but you got to do it sometime… I guess and well, it happened.

The label says “honeysuckle” but I will be damned if the flowers showed up anywhere in the flavor profile.

Which leaves me, naturally, with the finish. The ale was meant to convey the bourbon with what is called “Bourbon natural flavors.” “What are those?” you may be asking. Hell-if-I-know.

I do know that one way to make beer taste like bourbon has been to age it in some bourbon barrels. That didn’t happen. Did they just add bourbon to the product? Nope. Otherwise it would just say “with Bourbon.”

So instead we got a facsimile of what bourbon kind of tastes like. It’s is as if Flying Dog took the basic concept and elements of bourbon and threw it into the bottle as a remix with a golden ale and some mint. Like Puff Daddy or P. Diddy or whatever, destroying classic rock songs as repackaged Godzilla movie soundtrack filler or a tribute to his dead coattails. (Yeah, I said it. Fight me!)

Did I hate this beer? No. While normally a broken down race horse would get one behind the ear and shipped to the glue factor, this one should be spared because I know some people really liked it. (I am looking in your direction Stouts & Stilettos.) But it shouldn’t be sent out to stud either.

This also-ran could be called a gimmick but that is way too harsh. Therefore, I am left with considering this a smart idea in principle that just never quite lived up to the potential. In the end, potential is just wasted energy until execution. This one faltered out the gate.

Post-Script:

Mint Julep Ale was handed to me by a friend with a wink as I walked out of his home. I suspected at the time he was looking to unload it.

There are several Flying Dog beers that I do strongly recommend:

Tropical Bitch
Gonzo Imperial Porter & the barrel aged variant
The Truth Imperial IPA

P. Diddy’s “work” has not aged well.

In full disclosure, I have yet to find a beer with mint that has really worked for me. So consider the source.

Reference Springhouse Brewing Co., which absolutely nails stouts, makes a Satan’s Bake Sale Mint Chocolate Chip Stout and well… I think it’s a wreck. But that beer is well regarded by others.

While we are on the subject of mint flavored things: Mint Oreos are okay but you shoud feel free to skip them.

Another point about Oreos…

The Canonical List of Oreo Cookies:

1. Oreos
2. Double Stuff Oreos

That’s it. That is the list.

The other permutations of Oreos are not officially recognized and many variations are downright heretical.

If you are about to disagree with the above list of canonical Oreos, let me stop you right now. I suggest that you think about your life choices. Maybe you need to find the reason why you are on a wayward path.

My 2016 (717) Collaboration Ale Review

717_color-180x180

For the 2nd annual Harrisburg Beer Week, the guys at Appalachian Brewing Company, Tröegs Independent Brewing and Pizza Boy Brewing came together to brew a special collaborative beer. Last year’s (717) beer was a crazy brew that inspired a full review and deep musings on my part about my journey to craft beer.

This year’s collaboration beer has me thinking less about my journey to enjoying and now writing about craft beer. Instead I am thinking about the position of craft beer in Central PA and what it tells us about brewing decisions.

Before I even had my first sip of (717) on opening night, I was gathering thoughts about the brew as word slowly leaked out. I heard some rumors early on that this year’s collab brew would be draft only. Two theories swirled around this rumor: 1. Last year’s (717) did not sell well. It wasn’t well received and some cases languished on shelves. 2. It’s hard to get cans.

The later reasoning came from a more reliable source and it is the one I believe. I can understand not getting pounders, everyone but for the very biggest of contracts is getting squeezed by that issue. Even getting 12oz cans printed and ready on short notice can be nearly impossible.

The former was speculation with a halo of truthiness and at least had anecdotal support. While I enjoyed last year’s HBG Beer Week ale it was not widely loved and many people openly derided it as being a “hot mess.”

So maybe the brewers played it a little safe this year. They made a big, tasty ale but one that is more approachable and in line with a current and rising trend (e.g. citrus IPAs).

The 2016 version of (717) is an American IPA brewed with Citra, Nugget, and Azacca hops and the zest of 400 oranges. The opening aroma is nothing but orange. You pick up the oranges as the beer is pouring from the tap in front of you. They are abundant and wonderful. The hops fill out the middle with citrus, mango, and other tropical fruits. This is an IPA but it is not a bombed out bitter west coaster. The finish is long and leaves you with orange oils. This is an easy drinking IPA that belies the 7.17% ABV. The red hue of the medium bodied ale is really great and kind of mystifies the style and taste.

2016’s (717) is a beer that will not be challenged in finding happy imbibers. This is a double edged sword for me. I like this beer and I like it a lot. Yet I personally enjoyed last year’s “hot mess” more. It was pushing boundaries and challenged the craft beer drinker. It was a bold beer that played with clashing styles. It’s various and competing flavors borrowed heavily from the three brew houses. 2015’s (717) made for a more dynamic beer with multiple layers of stratified flavors.

I like to think that those that did not favor the 2015 version were saying “There are simply too many notes.” But that would be dismissive of them.

I believe in “fortes fortuna iuvat.” 2016’s (717) is bold in flavor but lacks the daring of 2015.

This year’s (717) is riding at the crest of a wave of tropical and citrus IPAs that are washing over the craft beer market and should make for a very popular beer during Harrisburg Beer Week and beyond… until it sells out. Go grab one and tell me what you think.

Cheers.

Post Script:

At the opening of Harrisburg Beer Week, Tierney and I shared a can of the 2015 (717). I can tell you that it hasn’t aged well. After spending a year in the Bearcat cellar it acquired an impressively strong “nail polish remover” note. Just because it was daring does not mean it had staying power. 2015 (717) crashed harder than a ’72 Ford Pinto. 

“The 16oz Can Crunch of 2016” is a real problem. I get it. There is a shortage of cans, specifically the 16oz cans, but that does not mean I have to just quietly accept this disappointment.

I am overly proud of myself for coming up with “The 16oz Can Crunch of 2016.” #NotSorry

Happy Birthday

  Dogfish Head’s Birthday Beer to Help Celebrate BoB’s 1st Birthday

It was a year ago, a couple weeks after first purchasing the domain above, that I got my first post up on the site. The guiding principle I gave myself was “Beer does exist in a vacuum; don’t just write about what is in the glass.” That idea really came to life when I attended the Harrisburg Beer Week kick-off party and sipped on the (717) Collaboration Ale by Troegs, Pizza Boy and Appalachian Brewing Company. I wrote for that post what is still one of my favorites.

Too many beer reviews on the Interwebs talk about the beer in a way that focuses exclusively on what’s in the glass. That ignores a big part of what craft beer is to me.

Drinking beer should and can be more than an alcohol delivery device.  The expectation is that craft beer brings more to the imbiber than just booze. It has a back story, is an artistic endeavor, and has cultural or personal relevance that should be discussed. Some posts I wrote did this well; others maybe not so much. In the end I think most worked.

Looking back as some of the more popular and/or interesting posts:

There was the time I tried to define craft beer.

The time I compared Peter Seller’s Dr. Strangelove to funky beer.

The above referenced story about (717) Collaboration Ale and my love of craft beer.

My most widely read post this year, by a wide margin, was about Costly Beer vs. Expensive Beer.

Most importantly as I look back I need to thank some people:

  • First, my friend Bobby C. who encouraged me to start the blog. He is a good dude and I have yet to find a more positive and supportive friend.
  • To Theo and Brandalynn Armstrong (Zeroday Brewing Co.) could never be more open to discussing brewing, starting and now growing their business, and what makes it takes to make great beer. Happy Birthday to you guys too.
  • Rod Smith of Columbia Kettle Works and Mike and Kristen from Moo-Duck Brewery, Al from Pizza Boy, who each spent occasions discussing with me the process of brewing.
  • The Beer Busters Podcast for having me on the show. That was fun and crazy nice of these guys. Love the show.
  • Tierney, Chelsie and Sara from Stouts and Stilettos and SaraBozich.com. They have all been supportive and engaging over the past year.  Extra thanks to Tierney for letting me bounce ideas off her and for offering inspiration.
  • Most importantly thank you to my readers. This vanity project has been a lot of fun and I hope it continues to be fun the future.

Looking forward to year two… I have some plans and additions:

  • Podcasting: Looking to lauch maybe by June, if I am lucky. The next thing that goes up on time for this blog with the first thing. Hell… this post is two days late. I am planning for the podcasts to be a short (think ~25 minutes) conversation with some of my beer friends. These are interesting people and I think you will like to hear from them.
  • Other Writers: I have discussed with a couple people about posting on this blog from time-to-time. It would be a rarity but it should happen. Really hoping to have one guy join… He is a total lunatic but he really knows his beers. He would be completely insane, gonzo, and it could be so much fun.
  • Lagers and Pilsners: In 2016 I am going to planning to drink more Lagers and Pilsner beers. Hoping this will broaden my taste and hopefully you will find some good beers too.
  • More Regular Posts (LOL J/K I can’t promise that…)

Again… thanks for reading and I hope year two is even better than the first.

Cheers!

#DrinkItNow

The ladies over at the newly redesigned Stouts and Stilettos are promoting an idea dreamed up out of Portland, Maine by Allagash Brewing that is as brilliant as it is simple:  #DrinkItNow

The point is to stop waiting for the perfect opportunity to drink that beer you have squirreled away. NOW is the time to drink it.

I have a beer cellar of which I am very proud. It is not the greatest collection of beers collecting dust by any stretch of the imagination but I love them. Many of these beers at this point sometimes feel almost too precious to drink on just a lazy Sunday afternoon. But that is wrong.

What a better time than now to crack one open as we fight off the doldrums of winter. It is time to celebrate that old beer for no reason other than its great to drink delicious, aged, big beers.

What am I drinking this Sunday?  I don’t exactly know yet.  That is why I am putting it to a vote.  Which of the following beers should I break out for the February 21st #DrinkItNow day?

The three choices:

2013 Old Ruffian Barleywine by Great Divide Brewing Co.

2012 Olde School Barleywine by Dogfish Head

2011 Dark Intrigue (BBA) by Victory Brewing Company

Vote between now and noon of February 21st and the winning beer will be cracked open that evening. Please click on the link immediately below and vote.

What Should Bearcat Drink For #DrinkItNow?

Cheers!

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

Fresh Flick and a Fresh Beer.

Brewed in the Burg

This past weekend GK Visual and SaraBozich.com released Brewed in the Burg, a documentary now available online at Vimeo. This film debuted during Harrisburg Beer Week to resounding praise.

I caught it then but now that it is online, I wanted to take the time to really digest the film. It was an opportunity to pick up on all the nuance and ideas kicked around by the Who’s Who of the Harrisburg-area craft beer industry. It is an impressive line up of interviews:

So I hunted down the freshest local beer I could find to enjoy while watching. I found the perfect beer. It was a Crowler of Pizza Boy’s Murren River IPA; a super fresh batch tapped just two days prior (7/12/15).
The Murren River was piney and dank in the nose. Heady as hell, this straw colored American IPA is excellent from start to finish. Well bodied with a great clean mouth feel it providing a firm head that laced the glass perfectly. Murren River had a slight sweetness that was cut with balanced piney and citrus hops. The finish is of orange and a subtle hint of earth and grass. It came with a long dry finish that belies the easy drinking tones. This beer clocks in like a Cruiserweight with 7.6% ABV but drinks well below its weight class.

I loved this beer and it merges perfectly with a important quality of craft beer discussed within Brewed in the Burg. Right in the middle, it discusses the importance of freshness. This is the obvious and unassailable advantage of drinking local craft beer. It is impossible to get a beer as fresh as I did today any other way. This matters. It tastes better and you are getting the beer exactly as the brewer intended.

The other themes discussed are true of any craft beer community: supporting local business, fraternity between brewers, friendships cultivated among beer drinkers and a love for great beer.

The way this film is true to Harrisburg is the people on which it focuses. It could get easily lost that this documentary is about just craft beer brewed in Harrisburg. What Sara and GK Visual have done is weave a story about local brewers, small businessmen and women, beer drinkers and people that write about it or just enjoy drinking it. These are salt of the earth people that are doing extraordinary things in an extraordinary industry. Stick around and watch the outtakes… This was a great reminder that these are just hardworking people; many of them making good on a dream.

Craft beer becomes a conduit for telling their story. That is the take away from Brewed in the Burg. The slickly shot and edited documentary is about the people that make the local craft beer industry possible.

Please check out the video at http://vimeo.com/gkvisual/brewedintheburg and use the tip jar. Brewed in the Burg is a movie worth a couple of your bucks. This doc will give you an understanding of how a sublime Intangible Ale, a crisp Sunshine Pils or whatever you are nursing at ZerØday got into your glass. Through people’s hard work and dedication to the craft of brewing beer.

Believing Your Lying Eyes

When enjoying a beer the first sense that is engaged is vision.  The look of a beer says a great deal about it before you take the first sip. Be it a thick opaque porter, a clean and clear pilsner, or a hazy hefeweizen the look of beer often communicates what is coming.  It can be the classic and inviting cascade of a nitro infused Guinness or it can be overly pale yellow of a Rolling Rock; each says something important.

But what happens when you play against type?

Stone Brewing Company through its Stochasticity Project released Master of Disguise an Imperial Golden Stout.  A beer brewed to have the flavor, body and character of a stout but the golden hue of a pale ale.

The beer came in a 22oz bomber and I poured it into a stemmed tulip glass.  It was as clear and as crisp looking as a golden pale ale; it looked just as advertised.  The head was thin and disappeared quickly.  The nose is immediately of coffee but it is not overpowering.  It is joined by slight, gentle notes of chocolate and roasted malts.  The mouth feel a bit deep not unlike a stout but closer to a full bodied porter.  This comes from an abundance of oats. The oats show as the backbone and balance all the flavors and allow the beer to lace beautifully along the glass.  While it starts with roasted coffee and malts, as the beer warms up the esters of the hops open up.  The finish is proper with coffee and cacao flavors lingering.  This well balanced beer clocks in at 9.7% ABV but this is never is evident.

While the trend of Black IPAs took off and was hot before burning out, I don’t see this beer as starting a trend.  It was certainly a delicious beer and an interesting experiment in brewing; it just does not have the complexity and the essence of the other very highly regarded Stone Brewing stouts.  Is this “essence” lost when you change the natural color of a beer?  If I had enjoyed this beer in a blind test I feel like I would not have guessed it as a stout.  There lacked a certain velvet and silk like quality that you get from a full bodied, thick stout…but this was damn close.

So the real question is… Did they pull it off?  I think so.  While the body was a little light, the beer had plenty of stout characteristics to pass.

I would recommend this beer for novices that are put off by the concept of a thick black stout.  Some people can’t get past the look of a stout beer and tend to just order perceived lighter fare.  Master of Disguise would be a great way to introduce imperial stouts.

Postscript:  I think Master of Disguise is just another in a long line of beers that are blurring the line of what it means for a beer to be “true to style.”  Black IPAs drove this conversation for a long time but as they faded from interest so did the discussion.  This beer alone will do little to reignite the debate.  The boarder question is “How committed are brewers to being true to style?”  In homebrew competitions and beer festivals of note this is a critical component. But how important is it to the typical craft beer drinker?  As the industry moves further and further outward via expansion how far will brewers push to make something new?  I don’t know the answer to that question but I am looking forward to thinking about it while trying a ever changing number of strange brews.