#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.

A Beer as Prologue For My Love of Craft Beer

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About dozen years ago, when I first moved to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh I lived in downtown on North 2nd Street. I visited the bar scene along my street three to four nights a week. I worked at a beer distributor as a second job a couple weeknights and on weekends. Back then I considered myself above the average beer drinker because I preferred Guinness and spoke well of Yuengling Porter. Drinking dark beer alone a differentiator and sign of my good taste.

Then one cold afternoon more than a decade ago I wandered into Troegs Brewing Company’s tasting room; the one that used to be in Harrisburg. I had a Hopback, a Pale Ale or maybe even a Troeganator… it blew my mind. Here was beer of a completely different nature. It was flavorful in a way I did not know it could be. It was a revelation in every sense of the word.

Shortly there after, seeking out other beers of high regard I stepped into Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) on Cameron Street. Their beers were sweeter and more approachable but no less interesting to my plebe beer tasting palate. Here again was beer brewed with care and respect. ABC’s then brewer, now owner/brewmaster of Roundabout Brewing in Pittsburgh, was my neighbor. This along with drinking regularly at Troegs helped expand my interest in craft beers.

Years later after I had given up on corporate beer and became fully committed to craft brews, a couple friends and I discovered Al’s of Hampden. This was back when he had six tables and maybe twenty or so taps. Here my world opened to styles of beer that I couldn’t have found elsewhere… Saisons, Black IPAs (remember when they were the new hotness), West Coast and triple IPAs and “What the hell is Brettanomyces?”

So last night at the Harrisburg Beer Week kickoff party, I had a beer that in many ways celebrated not just the region but my own journey to craft beer. (717) Collaboration Ale by ABC, Pizza Boy Brewing (Al’s of Hampden), and Troegs Brewing Company is my history with beer in a can. While Sara Bozich and the ladies at Stouts and Stilettos kicked off what took a ton of work to birth, I was thinking about my decade long journey with beer and the Harrisburg area; the two are woven together.

(717) Collaboration Ale is a strange beer that is brewed for a wonderfully strange area code. The area code where it gets its name holds a company town where government is the company. It is also home to some of the most fertile farmland in the country. The area has city life and Amish carriages all at once. Just as the area code is a hybrid, so is this beer. It has the character of noble hops like an IPA with the range of flavors of a Farmhouse Ale/Saison. This beer is hoppy in the front with a pronounced sweetness while providing the long dry finish and Chardonnay tang of a farmhouse brew.

Hybrid beers by their very nature are complex but this one is just uncanny in its depth. It starts with a billowy and long lasting head from a vigorous pour that provides a welcome yeast and peppery aroma along with some sweet and sour flavors in the nose. The slightly amber and completely clear and clean appearance are inviting and representative of the exacting standards these brewers demand.

The flavor profile provides for a bit of the honey sweetness up front as is typical for ABC beers in my opinion. The middle is all hops with a generous Nugget hop profile that is all Troegs. The finish is long and dry with a proper white wine and slightly sour notes clearly attributed to Pizza Boy Brewing’s history of sublime sours. The ability to definitively pick out the distinct characteristics of the three brew houses is truly unique for this collaboration. This beer is incredibly impressive on multiple levels.

The 7.17% ABV ale is easy drinking and sits comfortably in either a standard pint glass to be casually imbibed or savored in a snifter quietly with reflection. 

It is available on draft during Harrisburg Beer Week at Al’s of Hampden, ABC, and Troegs and will be released in 16 oz cans on Monday, April 27th at distributors in the area. If you get the chance, I highly recommend picking some up.

(717) Collaboration Ale gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

Bearcat’s Weekly Beer Related Links Friday News Dump

KeystoneEdge.com posted a great rundown about the upcoming Harrisburg Beer Week.  It makes my post look like what it is… the sad drivel of an Internet enabled sot.  Great to see the hard work for Tierney, Sara, Chelsie and Colleen get recognized.

Speaking of the Stouts and Stilettos girls… they recently had a nice makeover for their website.  It is now 100% more girly and it looks perfect.  They have a nice niche going writing about craft beer from the woman’s perspective. I especially enjoy reading Tierney’s postings on craft brews and brewing.  Cheers to them.

Columbia Kettle Works (CKW) has just released Bald².  I am a big fan of both CKW and the Bald Guy Ale.  I don’t generally care for ales with rye, but this one just works.  Can’t wait to try it taken to the next level.  CKW also still have their Imperial Wheat IPA on tap which got the Bearcat Seal of Approval; be sure to get that one while it lasts.  I plan to pick up a growler of both.

Drinking barrel aged beer is not just a great way to try some of the most complex and tastiest beers but is also good for Mother Nature.

Bell’s Brewing Company officially announced they are making and will be canning Pumpkin Peach Ale during 2015.  Naturally, this will be brewed the easy why just like that stupid Bud Super Bowl Commercial told us.

Funck’s Restaurant in Palmyra will be having an all Pennsylvania beer tap takeover during American Craft Beer Week (May 11-17).

This Saturday is the Jersey Mike Rock+Run 5K sponsored by Al’s of Hampden (Pizza Boy Brewing).  I ran the inaugural race last year and loved it.  If I could have done it this year I would have done so.  If you have not signed up there is still be time for last minute entries including day of race sign ups.  Its a great deal of fun and a great cause and it gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

Harrisburg Beer Week

HBW Harrisburg gets a bad rap around here by the people that live in the area. “West Shore” white people refuse to cross water and would rather fight snarling traffic nightmares within a commercialized suburb. Harrisburg downtown can’t get out of its own way sometimes to succeed as it should. No better example of that than the hostile government boondoggle that is parking. It’s easy for those outside of Harrisburg to think of it as second rate when the most visible tenants (politicians) in this city are at best second rate and have a surprising number of outright criminals… but that is another post for another failed blog. There is one thing this area has that is first rate… Beer. From the established heavy hitter (Troegs), to the sublime upstart (Intangible Ales), to the spunky local (Columbia Kettle Works), we have an abundance of quality craft beer options here in the center of the Commonwealth. This is a long way of saying, its about time Harrisburg got its own Beer Week. In a couple weeks, Harrisburg will be holding its inaugural Beer Week and the timing and the planning appear to be perfect. Harrisburg and the Central PA area should be proud of its working man libations. I personally will be attending as many of the 120 currently scheduled events as possible. If you are reading this post I would expect the same from you. Celebrating and supporting local beer is critical to ensuring that the brewers continue to thrive in this area. It’s about time we celebrate our diverse and excellent craft brewers in the area. The girls at Stouts and Stilettos and Sara Bozich are putting in a ton of work to get this off the ground. ABC, Pizza Boy and Troegs are throwing their collective weight behind this endeavor right now by brewing a fascinating hybrid beer, (717). This crazy brew will debut one month from now at the kick off event. It will also be sold in 16 oz cans throughout the namesake area code. I can’t wait to get my hands on some. But this is not just about getting together to share our favorite social lubricant. Harrisburg Beer Week has a beneficiary in the Harrisburg River Rescue and Emergency Services. This means that your dedication to social drinking also supports a social good. I reached out to Tierney Pomone of StoutsandStilettos.com and she was, as always, kind enough to give me her thoughts:

“I’m really excited about the PA Women in Beer Conference on 5/1. 4 women who work with/for/own PA breweries are on the panel with a lead q&a, beer from Gift Horse in York, food from LBC. I really love supporting women in beer and think it’s important to have this open panel.
Each woman has a different role at their respective brewery so it’s going to be a unique opportunity to really engage.”

There are lots of events and they can all be found at HarrisburgBeerWeek.com. The week will close with The Little Big Beers Fest at ABC where local brewers will be offering small batch beers (little) that are heavy hitters (big). I already have my ticket. If you are going, I look forward to seeing you there and discussing all the great things about our local brews. Harrisburg Beer Week emphatically gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval

/Updated 3/10/15 to reflect the hard work of Ms. Sara Bozich who I regretfully left out when discussing the efforts to create the Harrisburg Beer Week.  Apologies Sara.  I owe you a beer.