Monday, April 14, 2014

Session IPA: When Craft Beer Gets Crafty

Up until a few weeks ago I had never tried a Session IPA. The way I saw it, if I wanted to drink something hoppy I could drink an actual IPA. On days I wanted something lower ABV I could grab a wheat beer and be perfectly content. But then Stone's Go to IPA came out and I couldn't fight it any longer. I bought one and excitedly popped the bottle open the following night. It was the worst craft beer I've ever had in my life.

Originally, that's where this post was headed. I was going to tell you that Go to IPA had zero malt presence and that their hop bursting technique produced nothing but a weird sour citrus flavor. They say it produces "glorious hop qualities"; I say it creates a flavor profile that has been achieved by less than mediocre homebrewers for years. I was going to shake my digital head in disagreement like an irate Natty Boh bobblehead doll , but then I realized it might be too harsh to make an assumption about a particular beer when I've never actually had another within the "style" to make a fair comparison. To alleviate that shortcoming, I tried Lagunitas Daytime IPA (the best I've had at this point) and a few others over the past month. Most were okay given the style, but all are beers that have no reason to exist other than to capitalize on a segment of the craft beer community that will drink absolutely anything IPA related.

It's true I love to beat up Stone. This isn't the first time I've knocked on them and it probably won't be the last. But that's not what I care about in this instance. This isn't about one beer or one brewery. It's about the bigger picture. Session IPA is bad beer and it's a symptom of a larger problem I think a lot of the community ignores. Diversity in craft beer doesn't matter as much to brewers as they would have you believe. But so what, you say? People like IPA's so why is Session IPA bad beer? Well, it's not just because I've had a few and don't like the taste. I'm not a huge fan of Barleywine either, but I don't go around saying Barleywine is bad beer. I say Session IPA's are bad because the recipes don't even make sense. Regular IPA's work (American in this case) because the heavy bitterness they provide is usually, if brewed well, balanced by an ample sweet malt body. Yes, our IPA's lean heavy towards the bitter end of the spectrum, but they only work because the malt gives your palate a reprieve at the end. These Session IPA's don't work that way. We have brewers trying to give us the hop bombs we love, but are reducing the malt body in order to achieve a "session" level ABV and it doesn't jive. IPA's aren't just hoppy,something brewers all know but are happily ignoring, and yet that's all these Session IPA's achieve. Some come off as bitter hop water, and others have fantastic hop flavor but with nothing to support the finish. It's almost as if the liquid you have in your mouth evaporates on the finish at times. One second you brain is amped up for an IPA based on how hop forward the beer is and the next you're wondering if you actually were able to swallow anything the body is so thin.

The fact that we're so eager to latch on to poorly constructed beers like these speaks to the bigger issue of consumers drinking anything IPA related and brewers happily going along. Ray Daniels, Directer of the Cicerone Certification Program wondered aloud on twitter a few months ago if  "we’re creating a beer culture where IPA tyranny just replaces American Lager tyranny." After tasting Go to IPA, it's impossible not to wonder that very thing myself. What is craft beer coming to when Stone, a brewery known for criticizing big beer for putting out "fizzy yellow stuff", proudly releases a beer that on its best day is nothing more than "hoppy yellow stuff"? Taste is subjective, I get it, but bad beer is bad beer and we have to be smart enough to call brewers out when it's warranted. Now is the time to start screaming... so go ahead...I'm waiting.

Another couple of related quotes I came across recently were reported by Christopher Staten of Draft Magazine while attending the 2014 Craft Brewers Conference. The first quote scares me when I think about it in relation to Ray's quote above. Chris reported that IPA's currently account for 40% of the current craft market. It's fine if a lot of us like hoppy IPA's. It really is. I love them as well. But we don't have to love them all. We're allowed to be discerning. It's true that Stone makes great beer. It's also within the realm of possibility that they make bad beer from time to time. Knowing that they have the capability to produce top notch product, why are we so willing to accept mediocrity? I know we all want to be supportive and see the industry succeed, but all blind support does is produce a domino effect of foul beer. Brewery A puts out a Session IPA that overeager consumers love despite the obvious flaws. Brewery B sees the success and decides they want in on that niche market and puts their own Session IPA out that's even worse technically, but earns just as well all because they put the label "Session IPA" on the bottle. Before you know it, every brewery in the country is putting out their own version of a misguided style and that 40% keeps growing and we're left with an industry dominated by one umbrella style of beer and yet still claims that "craft beer is about standing up to and challenging monocultures".  If that's true why are we are so eager to accept and buy into a beer style that is so fundamentally flawed? And if we're for challenging monocultures, why aren't we more willing to challenging our own?

One the most often repeated reasons cited for enjoying craft beer is the fact that it provides variety. For a lot of us I think that's true. Many of us really do get the best craft beer has to offer. But some of us, let's call it 40%, pretty much dabble in one style of beer and one style of beer only. If you don't want to drink anything outside of IPA's I'm not going to ask you to stop. That's all you. But please, please don't just crown everything your favorite brewery releases as the next great thing. If Coors put out beers like some of the Session IPA's I've tasted we'd dog them to hell and back and ask why they're trying to dumb down the taste for the consumer. But let a craft brewer put out something as sloppy as a Session IPA and suddenly we're on to the next big thing in craft beer. Pretty crafty of the craft gang, no?

Craft beer got this far because we expected more out of beer. Now's not the time to get complacent. You have a voice and it's time to use it. We cheered our craft brethren into the mini-powerhouse that it is today. Now that we're here we have a question to ask ourselves. Do we want to be cheerleaders or do we want to be educated consumers who use their voice to move things in a positive direction. Three decades of blood sweat and tears seems like an awful lot to waste just to trade in All-Lager America for All-IPA. I thought we wanted more than that. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Celebrating International Pineapple Day with Bahama Breeze

Last week I was invited to celebrate International Pineapple Day with Bahama Breeze. Normally, I'm not a big fan of celebrating made up holidays, but complimentary pineapple cocktails were being offered and who am I to decline a friendly invitation!


Our brand new to Bahama Breeze server suggested we start off the night with a Goombay Smash. At first, I thought we were going to be taught a new move to smash Goomba's in the latest version of Mario, but in fact the Goombay Smash was a nice mix of pineapple juice, orange juice, and a healthy dose of dark rum. Next year, when you go to celebrate Pineapple Day, this is the drink to do it with.  The pineapple juice is the star of the show making the Goombay Smash totally refreshing. Initially, the rum felt a bit heavy, but after mixing my drink around a bit and allowing the ice to melt a tad the drink became dangerously easy to drink. So, be careful out there guys! It's a big drink. 


To go along with our drink we were served a variety of appetizers. The first app, and also our favorite, was the coconut shrimp. The shrimp were crunchy and breaded quite nicely. Yes, there was plenty of coconut but not so much that you couldn't taste the shrimp themselves. They were served with a citrus-mustard sauce that was a nice change-up from cocktail sauce or some of the weird sweeter sauces other restaurants have tried to pass off with coconut shrimp.


Another highlight of our appetizer session were the Beef Empanadas. They were filled with a mixture of beef, potatoes, and what looked like carrot or possibly sweet potatoes all stuffed inside delicious deep fried pastry. On their own, the empanadas were perfect savory little pockets of happiness, but the chutney served on the side played the perfect sweet counterpoint to the savory empanadas.  Deana, who came along with me to bask in the fruity celebration, was in empanada heaven when these came out.

About the time we were finishing those up the empanadas they brought another pineapple themed drink called Painkiller to the table. Painkiller was a delicious mix of coconut milk, orange and pineapple juice, a little ground nutmeg and rum. It was good but both of us definitely preferred the Goombay Smash simply because we weren't huge fans of the creamy coconut found in the Painkiller.


By that point, we could have called it a night and left full and happy, but the words Banana Nut Bread Supreme caught our eyes and we just couldn't leave well enough alone. And thank god gluttony got the best of us because this was a fantastic desert. Hot banana nut bread, fresh banana, vanilla ice cream, butterscotch brandy sauce, and a fat happy Doug. If Deana weren't making me the best birthday cake in the world a few days later, I would have been plenty happy trekking back to Bahama Breeze and enjoying this desert once again.

When all was said and done, I was very happy that I celebrated International Pineapple Day with Bahama Breeze. As a beer drinker it was nice to be reminded how refreshing a cocktail can be with the Goombay Smash and I'll never be mad at the dessert we shared. You might have to wait a year to celebrate the next Pineapple Day, but if you're in Towson and you're in the mood for a good drink and some tasty bites  keep Bahama Breeze in mind. It's good stuff.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guest Post by Hipster Brewfus: Craft Beer We're Breaking Up

Today, we have Jake from Hipster Brewfus guest blogging. Recently Jake and I have had a few discussions about the need for more open constructive criticism within the craft beer community. It seems that so many of us only want to speak up when have something glowing to say about a beer or a brewery. Yes, it's great and necessary to heap praise on the industry when it's deserved, but if all we ever do is focus on the positive how can our opinions as bloggers be trusted? At what point will readers begin wondering if the role of beer blogging is merely to kiss ass? If we see something we don't like, what's so wrong about being honesty and saying as much? With those questions in mind, I turned to Jake and asked if he'd kindly explain the merits of being critical and not blindly dishing out compliments like a giddy 16 year old boy on his first date. So, without any further adieu I'm handing it off to Jake.



Craft Beer, we’re breaking up:

It's you, not me. I promise.

It's not fair for the both of us to continue going the way we're going. I have no real respect for you anymore. But truth be told, I don't want to leave you. I've given you some of my best years, and have formed some of my happiest memories during the tenure of our relationship. But things need to change. Things need to change for the worse.

Look, I get that everything is happy and sunshiny in our world. I get that craft beer has become a "thing" and that this "thing" should be celebrated and welcomed with open arms. I get that I should be happy for all of the goodness and warm fuzzy feelings we all have. I get that I shouldn't want to curb stomp you. But I do.

All of your overwhelming positivity is giving me an ulcer. I want to see some honesty. I want to see some passion. I want to see the shit you hate. I want to know what you can’t stand. What beers did you drink that suck? TELL US, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE JUST FUCKING TELL US! I'm sick of reading your long winded beer reviews that really don't say much. Knock it off.

The pandering needs to stop, because contrary to popular belief, negativity is capable of accomplishing things. There is value in a well thought out, constructive stream of hate. The slew of compliments paid to something that is pretty much mediocre at best, does nothing to push the brewery to do anything better. There will always be a need for criticism in any avenue of life.

Look, I’m no stranger to any of this stuff. I’m loud and drunk a lot of times. It’s mostly those times I take advantage of to tell you just what I think. I know you may not like it. I see how many of you stop following me on social media after I go on some kind of hop induced tirade about how so many of you are worshiping at the altar of wrongness (Go To IPA scores a 90 on BA?). In a world full of “amazing,” “incredible,” “quaffing,” or any other stupid words, I want to hear you say “I drank this beer from a brewery that I really like, and ITS FUCKING TERRIBLE! And here is why…”

You know what you have to gain from that? A lot.

And Bloggers, you especially. What’s with the constant stream of happiness? Is it borne out of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” diatribe? Do you think that if you fill your product review with enough praise that somehow they’ll see it and magically you’ll start receiving boxes and boxes of goodies from the brewery that you've sworn your allegiance to? I can promise you, it doesn't work that way. Do you not see any merit in saying critical things? Do you think the only way to do it is the Hipster Brewfus way (long illegible strings of curse words)? Because I promise you it’s not. I’m the Brodie Bruce of beer blogging.

“You're gonna listen to me? To something I said? Jesus, man, haven't I made it abundantly clear during the tenure of our friendship that I don't know shit? I mean, half the time I'm just talking out of my ass, or sticking my hand in it.”

Do not use me as an example. I am most assuredly doing everything wrong. I am the first one to tell you I’m an idiot, and have no idea what I’m doing. But the one thing I do know is I wield the power of the consumer, and used correctly, it can be a very powerful weapon. Taking tastes and preferences out of the equation, sometimes things hit the market that are just plain bad. And if you don’t speak up about it, those bad things will continue hitting the market. And that stuff happens, especially when you take into consideration the fact that our relationship is still in its infancy stages, and that new breweries are popping up at an alarming rate. And just like with people, there will be a few winners, and a whole lot of losers. It’s science.

Look, there is enough bad and mediocre stuff out there to weed through to find the good stuff. But I think it’s your responsibility, since you took a blood oath to this, that you vocally help weed out the bad stuff. You could potentially help stop a future offense. Remember kids, like the DHS has taught us, “If you drink something, say something. Unless it’s positive. Don’t say anything, there is enough of that.”
So I hope you can reach down inside, find some honest vitriol, and share it. You’re losing me day by day, and It’s breaking my heart.

Love,

Hipster Brewfus

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Brewer's Art

If you come to this blog it's because you're a fan of one of two things. You're either a fan of the Baltimore food scene or you like good beer. If both of those descriptors fit you, than Brewer's Art is an absolute must visit. If only one of those descriptors fit you, Brewer's Art is still a place you need to visit. It's just that good.

The first time Deana and I ever visited Brewer's Art was during a Restaurant Week. One of the appetizer options offered was something called Liptauer Cheese Spread. My initial thought was "Cheese Spread? Weird. You don't see that everywhere. Let's get that." We did and we were happy souls. On the day of our Restaurant Week visit they used some spicy red pepper in the spread and it was fantastic. Creamy cheese, pepper with a little bite, and some super crunchy crustini combined to make one of my favorite appetizers in all of Baltimore. More recently, we went back with my brother and sister-in-law and the spread was just as good. The main difference between our first and last visit was that the pepper used wasn't as spicy and the crustini had a sauerkraut flavor that was superb. My brother, the ultimate consumer of cheese, gave it a rousing review.


On our most recent visit, I decided to try Braised Duroc Pork Cheeks for dinner. As is often the case, I like to try things I've never had before and since I've never chewed on a cheek before I decided now (or then as it were) was the time. The Cheeks were also served with a baby Bratwurst, split peas in a cider gravy, and swiss chard. This was the perfect plate. The cheeks had the familiar taste of pork with a crunchy outer texture juxtaposed against the tender inside. The bratwurst didn't tread on any new territory, but who would want that anyway? Brats should be brats and this one was as good you could want. The spicy mustard they served on the side was a great compliment. Swiss chard was also something I had never tried and I really enjoyed the earthy flavor it gave off. However, my favorite part of the dish, and also something new to me, were the split peas. They kept a crunchy texture and the cider gravy they were served with gave them an almost baked bean like flavor that went perfect with the pork cheeks. 


On my initial visit to Brewer's Art I ordered the Steak Frites as did Deana and my sister-in-law Amy on our most  recent trip. The steak frites are delicious in their own right, but what I really want to talk about is the out of this world customer service Amy received when her steak came out cooked a little more done than she had asked for. She was feeling a little self conscious about complaining, but we convinced her that it wasn't worth fighting through a meal she didn't ask for. She let our waitress know about the issue and there was absolutely no argument. Our waitress apologized that it was over done and said she'd have a new steak up as soon as possible. A few minutes later the manager one duty stopped by the table to apologize to Amy and thank her for giving them a chance to make things right. Brewer's art displayed some of the best customer service I've seen and I'd like to personally thank them for going out of their way to make sure our table left satisfied. The meal ended up being great and left all of us happy when all was said and done. 


As far as Brewer's Art's beer is concerned, I've never had a beer from them that I didn't completely enjoy and that wasn't totally full of flavor. I've sampled gruits, their staples in Resurrection and (the now infamous) Ozzy, and on this particular night I was smitten with their Charm City Sour Cherry (flavor is self explantory) and Biere De Mars (tart red ale) . I give them major props on putting out beers that are big on flavor without ever taking your palate hostage. 

I'm sure I could sit here and come up with a fun to say "be sure you visit Brewer's Art", but I'm not even going to try. You should visit because the food is great and the beer is as good as anything else being put out locally. Visit now. Eat good. Drink great. Be happy.

Price: A little on the expensive side, but they do have great happy hour pricing
Recommendation: Must visit for the foodie and beer geeks among us.
What to Order: Whatever your heart desires. They won't let you down. 

Brewer's Art on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2014

Brewmore


Last Thursday, Nick Kovacic of Digital Cave Media premiered his movie Brewmore at the MICA Brown Center to hundreds of local beer fans. Heading to the event, I wasn't sure what to expect of the movie but after it was all said and done I left with a much better understanding of the incredible history Baltimore has within the world of brewing and a sense of excitement that we can get back there with the help of some very talented modern day brewers. 

Brewmore focused a great deal of its roughly one hour run time on Baltimore Breweries from days of yore. Having not grown up in Baltimore I really appreciated being filled in on all of the glorious details of our cities brewing history. It's absolutely astounding to learn that at one time there were roughly 40 breweries operating within the city borders. More impressive yet, National was producing 1 million barrels of beer per year at it's pinnacle. To put that in perspective, you could add up every barrel of beer produced by our  local craft breweries over a span of many years and still not be anywhere near 1 million barrels. 

And speaking of our local craft breweries, it was nice to see Heavy Seas, Brewer's Art, Stillwater, and Union Craft Brewing in the spotlight. I thought a little more time could have spent on the modern day stuff, but what we did get was plenty entertaining and a great way to learn about the history and personalities of the breweries you can't always get otherwise. Personally, I really enjoyed getting a feel for what Brian Strumke of Stillwater is all about in regards to brewing. I knew he brewed great beer, but prior to seeing the movie hadn't learned much about him other than the fact that he's a "gypsy" brewer. Brewmore filled a lot of gaps in for me. 

If you're a fan of our local beer scene but weren't lucky enough to be in attendance last Thursday make sure you find the time to attend their April 19th screening at Heavy Seas Brewery. Brewmore is a great celebration of Baltimore and Beer and it's not to be missed. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Session #85 Round-Up

To everyone that participated in The Session #85 I offer a big thank you. I don't know if other hosts have experienced this, but I was a bit worried my topic would be met with a lot of disinterest. But, alas, you guys showed a lot of enthusiasm for the topic and offered a lot of insightful answers. We had a few first time participants this month who I'd like to encourage to keep on chiming in in the future. The Sessions are a great way to spur creativity and meet a lot of great people. With that said let's look at the reasons people drink.

Sean Creel of BrewKeep drinks to discover. Sure, it's nice to wind down a long day with beer, but it's the artistry of beer being created and the inspiration that went into a recipe that Sean likes to lose himself in. I couldn't agree more. Discovering inspired beers with crazy flavor profiles is a great time. I'll never forget the first time I drank a Lambic and had my mind blown that beer could taste like that!

Jake Scholan a.k.a. Hipster Brewfus drinks for a myriad of reasons. He wants a beer because work and life might be beating him down on a particular day and he's just looking for a little liquid zen to keep him going. But he also enjoys revisiting a beer that sparks memories of great times in the past with friends. Beer has helped him forge relationships in states he no longer lives in and find new friends after a move to Baltimore. I can attest to the power of beer bringing people together who wouldn't have known one another otherwise. My entry for The Session features a picture of Jake and I (and a couple other cool guys) meeting for the first time a few weeks ago. If it weren't for the draw of good beer, that day probably never happens.

10th Day Publishing's Jon Jefferson has an interesting history with drinking beer. In his early days, drinking to excess was what he knew. At age 23 he realized this pattern wasn't something he wished to continue and he gave up drinking beer for the next eight years. Eventually, Founders Dirty Bastard found its way into his hands and it was that beer that helped him "learn that you could enjoy a beer as something more than just a vehicle for alcohol. The buzz became secondary." And how true is that? A buzz is nice, but having your palate pushed in a new direction is awesome. The flavor found in beer these days offers something for every palate making beer one of the most versatile drinks around. 

Das Ale Haus gave an answer that any beer enthusiast can get behind. Sure, he could tell us he drinks beer because  it's "like reading a good book, taking me out of the present and into whatever world my imagination conjures", but at the end of the day he drinks beer because he enjoys it. You won't catch me arguing with that.

Liam of Drunken Speculation reaches for a beer because he says it is a great way to speak with others who he might otherwise never have spent time with. He cites workplace meet ups known as Business Engineering Evaluation Review [read: BEER] as a prime example of beer promoting friendship and camaraderie where none may have previously existed. Cheers to that!

Something that I left out of my own reasons for drinking beer post was the desire to travel. The Beer Nut shares this interest and tries to discover different countries and nationalities through the beer that they produce. As a beer drinker, I find it quite intriguing exploring just how different beer can be depending on where it hails from. 

Tom Cizauskas of Yours for Good Fermentables likes to drink beer because when you get right down to it, beer is beer! He wraps up a very entertaining post by saying "I drink beer because I like how it tastes; I like how it makes me feel. Gustation and psychotropics. Pleasure. That, just that is why I drink beer. All else is froth." This is the kind of writing that makes me thirsty.

Byran D. Roth of This Is Why I'm Drunk takes home the "award" for being my personal favorite entry to this month's Session. His post, titled "Why I'm Afraid to Drink", bravely explores the concerns he faces with a hobby such as beer, knowing firsthand the troubles that can arise when alcohol becomes more than just a familiar acquaintance. It was the perfect counterbalance to serve as a reminder that while beer can open many doors to contentedness, there are times when it can reek havoc on lives.

Another entry reminding us not to put beer on too high of a pedestal was that of Alan McLeod, owner of A Good Beer Blog. In his words "Beer? It's a condiment. And you don't put mustard on your breakfast bowl of cereal. It doesn't make your life better anymore than sugar snap peas do. Then again...sugar snap peas are mighty fine." While I appreciate the sentiment, I believe that beer and it's moderate use go together much better than Mustard and Cereal. I think salt might have been a more appropriate comparison in that salt improves the taste of almost anything it touches, but add too much day after day and risk your blood pressure rising and your heart exploding.

Variety was the reason Tom Aguero of Queen City Drinks reaches for a beer. It doesn't matter if it's a 100 degrees outside or 0, there are beers that are suited for either occasion. And it doesn't matter what kind of palate or mood you're in, there is a beer out there to satiate your need. Smokey, roasty, fruity, tart, the flavors in beer are many and it's the abundance of choice that keeps Tom happy in beer. 

The Beer Ferret echoed similar sentiments, but it was the brewers artistry in providing so many flavors that leaves him impressed with beer time after time. As an undeniably mediocre homebrewer, I can't tell you how impressive it is seeing brewers take a few simple ingredients and turn them into something previously unimaginable. 

Reuben Gray of the magnificently named blog The Tale of Ale drinks beer but not to get drunk. Yes, he likes the way beer can lift the spirit, but it's the shared sense of community and togetherness he's looking for. I second that notion. Some of the best conversations and laughs I've had recently have been a direct result from sitting next to a stranger with a beer and sharing a good time. 

At Ramblings of a Beer Runner, Derrick Peterman finds himself running to beer for the buzz. Variety, friendship, and adventure all play a role in his fascination with beer, but it's the buzz so many of us enjoy that really attracts him. Could he make do without beer? Sure, but he'd have to change the name of his website to Ramblings of a Wine Runner and that sounds like a lot of work.

Ed at The Dogs of Beer wrote the entry that made me laugh the hardest. He doesn't really know what compels him to drink beer, but he does go on to list quite a few "beliefs" as to why beer is his drink of choice. My personal favorite reason Ed thinks beer is the drink for him? "I believe that finding out that the girl you just started dating is perfectly OK with just going out for wings and a pitcher of V-8 just does not scream "potential soul mate" enough". Ed, truer words were never spoken!

The details in and around a good beer give Sean Inman of Beer Search Party his satisfaction. "I like the tangential things like gathering at a bar or brewery. I like talking about beer issues or discussing the merits or demerits of a particular beer bust mostly, I enjoy the taste." Yep, that sounds like a beer blogger alright. If you're not having fun with the details, I can't imagine beer blogging being much fun.


Alan McCormick at Growler Fills questions the premise I set forward that beer improves our lives. He states "I'm not going to presume beer improves your life. Of course we have great fun gathering at our local breweries and swapping stories with friends over a couple of pints. It's easy to conjure up a plethora of examples of how beer is integrated into the enjoyable times of our lives. But is that the same as saying beer improves our lives?" And to answer Alan, I'd have to say it depends. If beer opened the door that allowed you to come upon enjoyable times, then yes, it was the beer that improved your life. But, admittedly, there are times where beer isn't the catalyst of our fun and it takes on more of a supporting role (if it plays any role at all). And that's something very important to note. If you are using beer as the means to improve your life, you're probably doing it wrong. There needs to be a balance and thanks to Alan for pointing that out.>

Tom Bedell has experience answering the question "why do you drink" and relays a funny story of his granddaughter grilling him about beer in the past and him turning the tables on her years later. For Tom, he drinks beer because there is so much of beer to love. He finds joy in the taste, variety, and history. And sometimes the joy of another beer is the fact that there's another beer to be had. I think that's one of the great things about beer. There are times when beer takes on bigger meaning and seems to find a connection to all sorts of things. And yet, there are times when it's just something familiar to keep you company.

Steve Pasko of Garde My Biere switched things up on us and kept his response brief with a little joke. Why does Steve drink? Because he's not an athlete or Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Champion and he wants a trophy, dammit!

Over at The Beer Site Joe Abernathy drinks beer for pleasure. But it's not the pleasure of the buzz he's after. As Joe put it "there are far more efficient liquors than beer available for that - but the same kind of pleasure one gets from, say, eating gourmet meals. Why do you eat good food, when ordinarily, unremarkable canned foods will offer you the same nourishment? You do it for the experience and the pleasure of enjoying something that elevates the senses; you do it to enhance your understanding of what beer can be." As a beer drinker, I think we all look forward to those sips of beer that make you say wow and see beer in a way you never have before. A great reason to drink beer, indeed.

Heather Vandenengel, owner and operator Beer Hobo drinks beer because it makes quite the friend. It doesn't matter what she has going on, beer is always agreeable. A post beer run, a beer to read with, a beer with friends, a beer to dissect...they're all great reasons for a beer and the beer is always happy to be there with Heather.


Oliver Gray at Literature and Libations takes us through one of those nights we've all been through with strangers, friends and acquaintances. The kind of night that starts off slow, full of meaningless banter and awkward silences, and you wondering when it will all be over. But then the beer comes out, inhibitions go down, and memories are made. As Oliver says, he's the chicken trying to see what's on the other side. 

Last but certainly not least, Boak and Bailey drink beer because they're British and it's part of the culture. Good times with friends, family, and a pint are how they get down. But what about beer invokes the urge to write about it? Well, it awakens the senses in a way that no other drink quite can. For them, beer is just plain interesting. Who can argue with that?


And that brings us to the end. If I missed  anyone's contributions, I apologize. Please shoot me an e-mail or tweet me and I'll be sure to add you in. I've spend the past half week in a cold haze so it wouldn't be a surprise to me if I've left something off. Again, thank you to every single one of you that participated. You made it a ton of fun. I enjoyed all of your answers and it was nice to be reminded that while beer is awesome it's important not to put it on too high of a pedestal.

Cheers to The Session and all its participants!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Experimenting with Beer Freshness

Over the last few years I've noticed more and more drinkers only wanting to drink the freshest beer possible.  If a beer doesn't have a bottled on date, there is a good chance these connoisseurs of freshness will pass on the dateless beer and go with something else they wouldn't typically prefer, simply because they want freshness guaranteed. Then there was me. I was always aware that hops can break down and lose their potency over time, but I had serious doubts that I needed to go out of my way to check the dates on my 6-pack. We’re talking about excellent beers made by reputable breweries so why shouldn't I trust that their beer would still be top quality as little as 3 months later?



With that question in mind, I set out to Heavy Seas Brewery with Deana and Oliver Gray of Literature & Libation (check out his reaction to our experiment here) to see if we could determine a difference between fresh beer and a beer nearing the end of its “best by” window. The new beer was Heavy Seas Loose Canon, kegged on February 17th and sampled 5 days later on February 22nd. The older bottle of Loose Canon was purchased on November 12th, 2013 and stored in my basement until the February 22nd tasting. The idea was simple. We’d look at each beer, sniff ‘em, and then taste the beers noting any differences. Oliver and I were to act as the experienced drinker and Deana represented the casual drinker in our attempt to discern if it took an experienced palate to pull out differences between the old and new beer.

Long story short, it was painfully obvious that freshness matters.  The bottled beer seemed to take on a sweeter malty profile in both aroma and flavor. The hops were there, but as Deana put it, everything about the bottled Loose Canon seemed to be muddled.  Good,yes, but muddled.  The fresh beer, on the other hand, was where it was at. It wouldn't matter if it was the first beer you've ever had or your 1 millionth, the difference was staggering. The aroma of the new beer evoked smells I've experienced as a homebrewer opening up a brand new package of hops. For those of you who have never ever homebrewed, there is an earthiness about hops that seemed to be lost over time with the old beer. Where taste is concerned, the fresh hops in the newer beer also improved the overall drinking experience. The earthiness I referenced in regards to hop aroma also helped enhance the flavor. Instead of a beer with muddled flavor, you had a drink with distinct malt and hop presence. Even the mouthfeel of the fresh beer was different as you could notice the hops prickling your taste buds with each sip.



This experiment has changed the way I’ll drink hoppy beers from here on out. It’s not that the older beer was bad. It’s just that the newer beer tasted so much more alive. The fresh earthy features the hops provided the newer Loose Canon made for an incredibly inviting drink. Brewers go to incredible lengths creating recipes that showoff all that hops have to offer and it’s on us as consumers to make sure we’re buying the beer when it’s at its peak. I don't think I'll ever buy a beer, especially an IPA, without checking dates again. From here on out, when I'm shopping for beer my rules for buying beer are simple. Buy fresh beer. Buy local beer. Drink Happy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Beer Review: Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale

Tomorrow, on 3-1-2 Day, Goose Island will be releasing 312 Urban Pale Ale nationally. I had the privilege of tasting it a few days early. I'll give my thoughts below, but first a little snippet from their press release.

312 Urban Pale Ale was inspired by the success and the brewing experience from Green Line Pale Ale -- a Chicago-only, draft-only beer that supports Goose Island’s environmental and sustainable initiative. 312 Urban Pale Ale is Goose Island’s first year-round, national offering within the popular Pale Ale craft beer segment.
As with its exceedingly accessible and award-winning 312 Urban Wheat Ale, 312 Urban Pale Ale was brewed for those looking to enjoy another great Goose Island beer with their active lifestyle.
The new 312 Urban Pale Ale is brewed with Amarillo, Mt. Hood and Nugget hops, and has a touch of sweetness from the caramel malt which makes this beer highly sessionable. 312 Urban Pale Ale also has a bright hop aroma and a crisp bitterness that treads lightly, yet noticeably, in international bittering units.
So, what did I think? 312 Urban Pale Ale wasn't bad at all. The beer poured a wonderfully clear golden color with about a fingers worth of head. Aromatically, things were kind of subtle. Grapefruit (surprise!) and orange came through, but while there was a noticeable hop presence I was having trouble nailing down any other specifics. There was a particular note I kept picking up that reminded me of something in a jar of salsa. There was the softest hint of onion and a little bit of an acidic tomato thing going on. Weird, I know, but I double checked with my beer sniffing Q&A team and they agreed those aromas were present for them as well. For what it's worth, I'm not pointing these out as flaws, just relaying my experience. It wasn't off putting in any way. It just was. If there was anything that disappointed me aromatically, it was the fact that the malt played next to no role in the aroma profile.


My initial reaction upon taking a sip was "Boy, I'm glad this Pale Ale is just that and not a mini-IPA". Everything seemed to be in balance. There was a bit of what I call "hop spice" up front. It's that spicy tongue tingling thing that hops sometimes do. The finish, on the other hand, was really smooth. 312 Urban Ale is the type of beer you can drink all night and never suffer palate fatigue and for that I give it high marks. As for specific flavors, orange stood out most prominently but there were other hard to distinguish fruit characteristics going on. Malt played a small role on the finish with a little caramel creeping through. The salsa thing I referred to above in the aromatics showed up a bit in the taste as well with just a little mild onion flavor peeking through. I didn't necessarily like that feature of the beer, but it wasn't ruining it for me either.

Overall, I'm intrigued enough to want to buy Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale and give it a second try sometime down the line, especially if I see it available on draft. With summer around the bend I can see this being a beer that goes down really easy the warmer the weather becomes. If you get your hands on one in the near future, stop back and let me know if your experience was similar to mine.

*Disclaimer. I asked Goose Island if they would send a bottle of their new beer 312 Urban Pale Ale for reviewing purposes.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Session #85 - Why Do You Drink?

What a trippy experience. After participating in so many Sessions over the past year plus, it's now my turn to host and I decided to ask everyone why they drink? At first I thought the topic might be a little too dumbed down, but when I tried to answer the question I realized it would be a lot more complex than I initially anticipated. If someone asked me why I drink Green Tea the answer would be short and to the point. I drink Green Tea because it's slightly tastier than water and the health benefits are many. But ask me why I like to drink beer and I'm not sure I could ever really give an answer I'll be fully satisfied with. But here we are, the question was asked, and so I'll do the best I can to explain why I drink.

I drink to connect.

I drink to connect with myself. From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed at night my brain is an electric highway of racing thoughts. One thought hasn't ended and another begins. As the day goes on and my brain is filled with endless post-it notes to come back to later, there comes a time when I'm ready to slow down. I don't want to think about what I did yesterday or what needs to be done tomorrow. I want to stop and say "Hey, Doug! You're alive right now. Isn't that cool?" I've tried meditation in the past to achieve these moments of connecting with myself, and while it was cool and definitely worked, meditation is hard as hell unless you're extremely dedicated. It's a lot easier for me to sit with a beer for thirty minutes than it is to find a quiet a room and sit still for the same amount of time. And besides, my back hurts a lot less in my la-z-boy than it does trying to sit up straight on the floor. One beer and thirty minutes is all I need to relax, remember how lucky I am that my heart's still ticking, and have the added bonus of some awesome flavor when I've picked a great beer.

I drink to connect with the past. Besides beer and writing, another hobby I love is listening to classical music. It's beautiful on its own, but what I find extremely interesting is thinking about how many lives have been touched by the sounds of someone like Mozart. People have been listening to his music for over 200 years . The fact that I can connect with people whose lives have long since ended is awesome. I might not know anything about someone who lived 200 years ago, but it's comforting to know that the emotions and problems they felt then are the same that I feel today. Similarly, I can find the same connection with people who are no longer with us when I drink beers like those from Weihenstephan. They've been around since 1040. Think about that, because that's crazy. I don't know if I'm drinking the same beer that someone had 1000 years ago but that doesn't even matter. When I'm drinking a beer and dealing with whatever troubles might be going on, it's comforting to look down at my beer and know that somewhere down the line, someone else was drinking a beer and dealing with something not all that different from myself.


I drink to connect with friends. I'm a shy guy and meeting new people has never been my forte. I'm usually calculating and quiet, but a shared interest in drinking good beer has allowed me to open up and meet a lot of great people. Just two weeks ago I was able to share a couple beers with four other local beer bloggers. I would have never met any of them had it not been for beer and I can honestly say that as good as the beer was that day, it wasn't nearly as satisfying as meeting a bunch of welcoming guys who just wanted to geek out about something and share a couple laughs. It was an awesome day and I only hope that drinking beer will allow relationships like this to grow and for more to spring up in the future.

There are an endless number of reasons to drink beer and I'm sure more than a few of them will be covered in other entries for this month's Session. As for me, I will always drink to connect. Beer reminds me that I'm alive.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Padonia Ale House

This review was written by Deana

Douglas and I love to visit places with both good food and a good draft selection.  One such place that we had been meaning to visit was Padonia Ale House. This past weekend we finally made it there for dinner.  I've heard a lot of good things about Padonia from people I work with and with over 40 beers on tap plus a large bottle selection we could definitely see why. They had a nice mix between local beers and everything else and enough variation in beer styles that anyone should be able to find something they like. 



For dinner, I was in the mood for something spicy and wings sounded perfect. I loved that you could order 5 wings instead of the typical order of 10 or 12. The small batch saved me from having to talk Douglas into sharing with me. I also really liked how the wings were "sauced". It seemed like the buffalo sauce was added into the batter rather than being applied afterwards making them a lot less messy than your average wing. Because the wings weren't drowned in buttery buffalo sauce the wings were able to stay crispy but still have a good buffalo sauce presence. I would definitely order these again.



Douglas had been here on his own a few months ago, and suggested the buffalo chicken cheesesteak but since I had already decided on wings, I went with the Pulled Pork sandwich.  The pulled pork was served on a pretzel roll, which happened to be a little too well toasted for me, but the thick, slightly salty bread did go well with the juicy sweet barbecue sauce and coleslaw on the sandwich. It wasn't my favorite pulled pork of all time, but it's not something I would necessarily shy away from in the future either. 

On this particular visit Douglas had chili and a meatball sub.  The chili had a bright tomato taste, and was covered in a nice layer of gooey melted cheese. This wasn't your typical cumin, chili powder, spice fest type of chili, but seemed to have a sweeter thing going on. Perhaps chili sauce was added in, but whatever it was made for a nice change up in a bowl of chili. 



His sub was a bit hit and miss. The meatballs  had a really good flavor and the sub roll was perfect with the crusty outside and soft chewy inside.  His only complaint was that it could have used a little more sauce. Douglas seemed to think it got a bit boring to eat after awhile and could have used a little sauce added on the meatballs to mix things up and provide a touch of moistness. With that said, this was one of the neater meatball sandwiches we've eaten and our stain free pants after dinner appreciated that


If you find yourself in the Towson or Timonium area and looking for a place with good food and lots of good beer to choose from give Padonia Ale House a try. Not everything on the menu is a perfect, but the Wings, Chili, and Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak Douglas tried on a previous trip are all winners.

Price: Average
Recommendation: Nice stop for a good beer and a straight forward meal
What to Order: Chili, Wings, Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak

Padonia Ale House on Urbanspoon