NY Craft Beer Week

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting New York City during the 3rd annual NY Craft Beer Week.

I know today is the last day of the festival, but the video for NY Craft Beer Week is still entertaining to watch.

While I was unable to visit any major events, I was able to take some time out of my schedule to visit some of NYC’s craft beer bars. The cool thing about this festival was that even if you did not have the time (or money) to attend some of the bigger events, many bars participating in the festival featured a selection of draft beers from specific breweries.

The first bar that I visited Thursday evening was Bar Great Harry. Located in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood, this small craft beer bar featured drafts from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company (Pleasantville, NY). This brewery is located an hour north of New York City and has a reputation for crafting award-winning beer.

Since Captain Lawrence brews were being featured, I decided to sample their cask Kölsch. Previously I have never tasted a cask beer, so I did not know what to expect. I also lack experience with the Kölsch style, so I was just tasting this beer to see if I enjoyed it or not.

This beer is described as “Spring in a glass”. After tasting the Captain Lawrence cask Kölsch, I did not find this beer to be spring in a glass. While it was very good, it had an extreme sour taste that makes this beer more of a sour ale.

The first thing I noticed about this cask Kölsch was how smooth it was. Unlike many beers stored in kegs or keg systems, cask ales tend to lack that carbonation in the mouthfeel. The foam on this Kölsch was practically fluffy, and added a pleasant texture to the beer.

Cask aged ales also add flavor to a beer depending on what type of cask you use. While the flavors from the hop and malt were subdued, the sour lemon taste of this beer served as the most present flavor. The sour lemon taste was biting, as this beer may be to acidic for some. Overall I enjoyed this beer and liked the soft mouthfeel coupled with the harsh flavor.

Friday evening, I decided to visit Rattle N Hum located in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood. Smuttynose (Portsmouth, NH) and Ballast Point (San Diego, CA) were the two featured breweries that evening.

Rattle N Hum is a craft beer bar with 40 taps, 4 casks, and more bottled craft beer than I care to count. I was even surprised to see a beer from Hoppin’ Frog (Akron, OH) on their bottled beer list. It was the only beer from Northeast Ohio that I saw during my visit.

From their list, I tried their Smuttynose Oak Aged Imperial Stout ’08. This beer was aged in Jack Daniels oak casks and spotted a 10.1% abv. As with Captain Lawrence’s cask Kölsch, this imperial stout had an incredibly smooth texture. The head on Smuttynose Oak Aged Imperial Stout ’08 was incredibly creamy and there is a strong viscosity to this beer.

The flavor of this beer was also harsh. Smuttynose’s beer had a strong alcohol flavor coupled with a harsh oak taste that will remind you of drinking Jack Daniels Whiskey. There are also toffee and coffee flavors in this stout. This beer is definitely a sipping beer.

I had an awesome time visiting NYC during NY Craft Beer Week. Both Bar Great Harry and Rattle N Hum had incredible atmospheres that were perfect for socializing with strangers over a delicious beer. If you are ever in NYC, then visit either of these bars for some quality craft beer.

This quote was on the wall at Rattle N Hum. Nice.

If anything in this post gets you excited, I encourage you to take a look to see what beer festivals are happening in your area. Beer festivals are a great way to sample limited edition brews that are usually not available in your market. If you are willing to travel, Road Trips for Beer and Beer Advocate are excellent resources to see a list of upcoming beer events.

If you happen to live in Northeast Ohio like I do, then take a look into Cleveland Beer Week (Oct. 15-23). The festival is in its second year and it should prove to be even better than last year. I am excited for this festival, as some of the events happening for the week look huge! (Brewzilla anyone?)


Beer+Chai Tea=Mutinous Battle Chai

Yes. You read the headline correctly.

Craftbeer.com recently highlighted a collaboration project between Mutineer Magazine and New Holland Brewing Company (Holland, MI) known as Mutinous Battle Chai. The idea for this collaborative beer began in July and was finally released at the Falling Rock Tap House (Denver, CO) during the Great American Beer Festival.

Photo Credit: Craftbeer.com

Mutinous Battle Chai was initially thought of a chai tea inspired saison. Ingredients include:

Malt: 80% two-row barley, 20% Malted Rye

Hops: Summit, Styrian Goldings

Spices: Traditional chai tea spices, Saigon cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, crystallized ginger, pink peppercorns, and toasted fennel

Yeast: Belgian wit (first fermentation), Merlot yeast (secondary fermentation)

Other Ingredients: Michigan beer sugars (first fermentation), Nutty Dutchman Brown Ale wort (secondary fermentation)

This collaborative beer seems like a complex and ambitious beer. According to the Craftbeer.com article, Mutinous Battle Chai does not fit into any style category. Good thing that is what Mutineer Magazine and New Holland Brewing Company were going for.

Mutinous Battle Chai is another example of how spirited craft beer enthusiasts and brewers are. This crazy and eccentric beer shows how Americans continue to push the boundaries on beer and brewing. Beer styles will continue to evolve as craft brewers continue to innovate the art of brewing.

I am not sure if Mutinous Battle Chai will be bottled or distributed in a larger market. However, proceeds from Mutinous Battle Chai and Mutineer Magazine go towards A Child’s Right. A Child’s Right is a non-profit charity that works to provide children with clean and safe water in areas where drinkable water is scarce.

Photo Credit: A Child’s Right

So even if you can not get your hands on Mutinous Battle Chai, purchase an issue of Mutineer Magazine and support A Child’s Right. This month’s issue is filled with some cool stuff, including a feature on Mutinous Battle Chai and an interview with James Watt of BrewDog.

Guinness Foregin Extra Stout Coming to America

It is really funny that I just wrote about Guinness on Friday.

An article from beernews.org said the Guinness announced the U.S. launch of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout today. While many American consumers are familiar with Guinness Draught, most Americans have probably never tasted Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.

Photo Credit: beernews.org

That is because this will be the first time Guinness Foreign Extra Stout will be available in the U.S. since prohibition.

The history behind Foreign Extra Stout is fairly interesting. Brewed at St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland in 1801, Foreign Extra Stout was Guinness’s flagship export beer. It was originally known as West India Porter.

Unlike Guinness Draught, Foreign Extra Stout is carbonated instead of nitrogenated. It is also brewed with a larger amount of hops. Along with a stronger hop flavor, the increased volume of hops in serves to preserve the beer that may have made long trip during exportation.

Foreign Extra Stout also spots a 7.5% Abv. This is considerably stronger than Guinness Draught’s 4.2% Abv. In short, Foreign Extra Stout seems like a stronger Guinness with a larger hop profile.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout will be available this October in 4-packs priced at $9.49.

Beer Tastings and The Weekend in Review

Crack open a beer. This will be a long one.

Over the weekend I got a bit ambitious and decided to cover two local beer tastings for my Examiner page.

On Friday I attended an Oktoberfest and Fall Seasonal beer tasting at Heinen’s in Aurora, Ohio. This was the first event I attended to kick off a weekend filled with trying new beers. While my decision to attend this tasting was last-minute, I enjoyed tasting a variety of quality fall seasonals at a low $10 admission price.

Here is one of Heinen’s Beer Specialists pouring Southern Tier’s Harvest Ale.

On Saturday I attended a Pumpkin Ale Blind Tasting at Vintage Estate Wine and Beer in Boardman, Ohio. Vintage Estate is rated the Best Beer Retailer in the world for 2010 by Ratebeer.com! For those who remember, I also mentioned Vintage Estate when I posted about Drew Nelson’s blog 365 Days…365 Beers.

From the moment I walked in to Vintage Estate I could see why it was ranked best in the world. From the moment I walked in Owners Phil and Sandy Reda welcomed me with open arms. These two love craft beer and are relentless about offering the best customer service possible.

Let me try to paint a picture for you of what Vintage Estate is like. The shop area has over 800 craft beers and a quality wine selection in stock. There is also the VE Tasting Lounge which has 12 rotating craft beer kegs, a wine bar, Ohio’s only mead bar, and a selection of single malt scotch.

Here was the draft beers available during my visit. Kegs at VE do not last longer than week.

Back in the shop there is a section of seating known as the VE Terrace. This gives you the chance to “sit while you shop”. If you buy a beer from the Tasting Lounge, you can freely walk around with it in the shop or relax at the terrace and have a discussion on craft beer. Or if you would prefer to drink a beer from the shop, you can bring it into the Tasting Lounge, purchase it without an opening fee, and drink it while you shop.

During the pumpkin ale blind taste, many people relaxed at the VE Terrace to discuss their thoughts with one another.

If you are looking for standard macrobrews like Bud Light or Miller Lite then do not look here. Phil and Sandy do not carry any of the mass market beers.

“We do not sell crap,” said Phil Reda.

Vintage Estate pretty much gives craft beer fans the full tasting/shopping experience. I could easily see myself walking around this place with a beer in hand discussing beer with someone else. And with no TVs in the shop or tasting lounge (that’s right. No TVs) you will actually have to interact with other people.

After talking to Phil and Sandy, the biggest thing that stood out to me was that they described Vintage Estate as a place a woman could walk into by herself and feel safe.

There you go ladies. A place where most men are so focused on enjoying their beer that they will forget to hit on you.

Vintage Estate’s Pumpkin Ale Blind Taste was an example of how much fun a visit at Vintage Estate can be. About 70 people registered for the event and participants ranged from certified beer judges to craft beer newbies. This pumpkin ale blind taste was the better of the two events, as participants had an interactive experience. Participants had the opportunity to judge each pumpkin ale and discuss them with fellow participants. While the results have yet to be posted, you can see how I judged the pumpkin ales here.

All pumpkin ales were served behind this super secret VE centerpiece!

So what did I learn from these two tastings?

Well, beer tastings are tough. While I enjoyed the pumpkin ale blind taste, I was disappointed in my inability to recognize Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale. I reviewed Punkin Ale about two weeks ago and gave it fairly high marks. At the blind taste, however, I gave it a low score and I could not pick out which of the ales was from Dogfish Head.

Perception also plays a huge part in tasting a beer. At the Heinen’s tasting, I was able to take a look at each bottle label of the beers I tasted. Unfortunately, I am guilty of gravitating toward flashy looking bottle labels and almost begin subconsciously judging a beer based on how well I like the label.

The truth is my favorite beer at the Heinen’s tasting had the lamest looking label. O’Fallon Brewery’s Pumpkin Beer had a label that looked like it was drawn by a first grader. It did, however, have awesome flavor and probably had the truest pumpkin scent of any pumpkin ale I have tried.

I guess what I am trying to get at is that perception plays a huge role in how your beer will taste. That is why it is crucial to enter all beers with an open mind and no expectations. Vintage Estate’s blind taste was a great exercise on how to properly judge a beer. By having no prior knowledge of the pumpkin ales, I was able to judge each beer with an open and honest outlook.

While I did get frustrated with missing Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, I truly enjoyed both tastings this weekend. Everyone’s palate is different and we all pick up different sensations in a beer. The tastings also served as an important reminder that perception has a strong presence when tasting a beer. As a beer taster, it is necessary to be aware of anything surrounding you that can affect how you perceive a beer.

I encourage you to check out my Cleveland Craft Beer Examiner page for more information on the beer served at both tastings. Heinen’s and Vintage Estate both have a great selection of craft beer. If you are looking for something new or something to help you stay warm during the cool fall season than look no further than these two shops.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

Happy 251st. Guinness!

Well the title says it all. Guinness turns 251 today!

Photo Credit: Wayyang Times

251….well that make Yuengling look like an infant.

Although I primarily drink American craft beer, I have been known to have a Guinness every now and then. Guinness has actually made its way onto An Amateur Beer Enthusiast a couple of times.

My recent post “Drink Up! Beer is healthy for you” highlights the antioxidants in Guinness that can provide advantageous health benefits. Not only is this beer the premier Irish Stout, but it is healthy for you! That is a nice deal.

In commemoration of Guinness’s birth, it is necessary to take a moment and pay respect to Guinness father Arthur Guinness. If Arthur were still alive (God rest his soul) he would be 285 year old!

Photo Credit: Counter Intelligence

Wow. That is old. Almost as old as drinking a Guinness with Toucan Sam’s cousin.

So take a moment tonight and drink a Guinness in honor of Arthur Guinness and his creation. After all, it is a lovely day for a Guinness.

An Amateur Beer Review-Part II

Initially An Amateur Beer Review Part II was going to be titled What Not To Do During A Beer Review.

Well when I tried to write out a list of things that you should not do when reviewing a beer, I decided that it would be easier to just make a list of tips that you will help you conduct a proper beer review. So now Part II of this segment will be titled Tips for Reviewing Beer.

To make this seem somewhat official, I came up with 10 tips that will help you review a beer well. Many of these tips are made up from mistakes and lessons that I have learned from reviewing beer. If you stick to this guide, you will hopefully avoid some of the amateur mistakes that I made when I started reviewing beer.

Now crack open a beer. I hope you learn something.

This picture is from a review of Flying Dog’s In-Heat Wheat Hefeweizen I conducted earlier this summer. I wish I would have known these tips before reviewing this beer.

2)Tips for Reviewing Beer:

(1)Do not go into a review blind.

Before conducting any review, do some background research on the beer. What brewery brewed this beer? Where is the brewery located? Does this beer have a unique story behind it? Does the name of the beer have some sort of special meaning? Is the Abv (Alcohol by volume) high or low? What is the beer’s style and are there any unique ingredients used in this beer?

While this  may all seem simple, you will be surprised how easy it is to dive into a review without knowing a single thing about a beer. The “pre-review” takes about 5 minutes and is a great place to get started.

(2)If you are reviewing multiple beers in a session, make sure you review them in the right order.

If you do not review multiple beers in the right order, then you will misread characteristics of the beer. The best way to order beers is based on hoppiness (IBU’s) and alcohol content (Abv). The beers with the lowest IBU’s and/or Abv should be consumed first. This will help you avoid having lingering aftertastes from intense beers appear when reviewing beers with a sweet or mild flavor.

(3)Be wary of how many beers you try to review in a session.

Number 2 and 3 kind of overlap. While it is important to be ambitious and hard working during a review session, reviewing too many beers can hurt your individual reviews. This becomes especially true when reviewing beers with high Abv. Drinking many beers in a session can hinder your focus and accuracy during a beer review.

Along with this I want to note that if you do decide to review more than one beer in a session, make sure you rinse with water when you decide to move on to the next beer. This will help cleanse your palate from any flavors that may still remain from the previous beer.

(4)Be careful conducting a review off of a sampler.

While some beer review guides tell you to avoid reviewing samples all together, I slightly disagree. I just want to express that you should approach any review of a sampler (or tasting for that matter) with EXTREME CAUTION! When reviewing a sampler remember that a sample is just a sample. It is not a full beer.

So, when writing about a sample or sampler you should tone down your review. Write a couple of sentences about each beer in the sample to give your reader an idea of what they will get if they try this beer. While it may not be as in depth as a complete review of one beer, a sample review will still give readers a sense of what they will get if they order this beer.

To see this illustrated I will provide a link for a sampler review I did at The Brew Kettle in Strongsville, OH. I think this is a pretty fair example of how a article about a sampler should be written. For more click here.

Samplers can be fun, but you must be careful how you review them!

(5)Never, ever guess ingredients used in a beer!

This was a lesson I learned at a meeting with SNOB (Society of Northeast Ohio Brewers). Early on I built a comfort zone where I began to think every beer was using pale malt or cascade hops. Truth is unless you know for sure what ingredients a brewer used in a beer, do not guess!

If you do not know what ingredients a beer uses, then just describe what you see, smell, taste, and feel. You can still write a great review without knowing every ingredient used in the beer.

(6)Keep in mind what this beer is trying to be.

You will probably figure this out in the “pre-review”. Is the beer trying to be innovative or traditional? Is the beer meant to be bland or is it meant to overwhelm with flavor? What is the beer’s identity? These are all important to know as you review.

(7)Keep in mind how well this beer fits into its proclaimed style.

This will help quite a bit with number 6. Understanding what style your beer is proclaimed to be and if your beer fits that style will help you write a better review. It will also help you understand the beer’s identity.

For style guidelines visit the Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidlines. This set of style guidelines are used by judges of many national competitions. It will also help you get an idea of what to look for with certain beer styles.

(8)Keep your bias under control.

First you need to know your bias. What beers do you prefer?

Then you need to do your best to keep this out of your beer review. Unfortunately, this is hard to do.

My best advice is if you follow all of the other tips, you will have just enough to appreciate a beer to the point where your bias is at the least subdued. Just do your best and you will be just fine.

(9)Remind readers who will enjoy this beer.

It is ok if you do not like the beer you are reviewing. Just remember that all beer drinkers are not the same and drinkers will feel differently about a beer. If you take a few lines to be optimistic and tell your readers what profile of drinker will enjoy the beer you review, readers will get much more out of your review.

(10)Take your time! Enjoy your beer!

Be patient. Drink slowly and enjoy your beer. And take copious amounts of notes. The more you have the easier it will be to write a review later.

Most of all, enjoy the beer you are drinking. All beers are made with a purpose. Never forget that.

An Amateur Beer Review-Part I

Thanks to a suggestion by my friend Jonathan Lim (if you write the 100th. comment he will get you free netflix…so comment), I have decided to do a series of posts explaining the process of how to review a beer.

Reviewing any beer is an art form. It may seem easy to the naked eye, but the truth is that reviewing a beer takes plenty of practice, patience, and focus. Many beers have subtle qualities that make it very easy to get confused during a review. I feel as though I have only built a comfort level on my ability to review a beer well within the past month (This blog started in Feb. 2010…so yeah, it takes a lot of practice).

With that being said, I want to remind everyone that these segments will be a crash course in beer reviewing. While I have built a solid knowledge base for beer, there are still many things that I have to learn.

To keep this easy, An Amateur Beer Review will be split into the following three parts:

1) How to review a beer.

2)What not to do during a beer review

3)A walk-through beer review with Stoudt’s Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest.

I hope An Amateur Beer Review serves to be a helpful segment. I will do my best to include mistakes that I have made in the past as well as suggestions that will help you get started as a beer reviewer.

Your Amateur Beer Enthusiast working on a review of He’Brew Genesis Ale. Check out the review for an example beer review.

1)How to review a beer:

When I became interested in beer reviewing, I used Beer Advocate as my guide. Beer Advocate is a great way to start building a foundation for beer. Not only do they break down how to taste a beer, they also provide in-depth information on reviewing a beer, beer styles, and history about beer. I also feel that Beer Advocate is a welcoming resource to those who are a bit intimidated by beer experts.

Another great place for beer education is Great Brewers. I recently discovered this resource and it has proven to help my beer writing. In terms of beer education, Great Brewers gets a little more detailed and dives into the science behind beer. For reviewing, Great Brewers gives you examples on what qualities to look for in a beer and words to describe a beer. This proves to be immensely helpful, as writing about beer as a beginner is very challenging.

Alright. Enough introduction. Here are the five areas you want to explore during a beer review:

Appearance: How does the beer look? Is the color gold, straw, tan, amber, copper, brown, black, orange, ruby? Can you see the carbonation in the beer or does it look think and viscous (this means syrupy)? Does the beer have a large amount of foam that dissipates quickly or lingers for some time? Does foam stick to the sides after dissipating? What is the head’s (interchangeable with foam) color?

Smell:While this number is disputed, smell accounts for about 80%-95% of how a drinker will perceive the taste. When you go to smell a beer, give it a few quick sniffs. Then swirl it in you glass to bring out the aromas. What do you smell? Does the malt used have nutty, bready, toasted, roasted, caramel, coffee, chocolate, toffee, or biscuity qualities? Are the hops giving off citrus, pine, earthy, floral, grassy, perfumy, or spiced aromas. Can you pick up fruit hints in the flavor? Can you smell certain spices or a yeast smell? Continue to smell your beer throughout the drinking session to see if any aromas come out as the beer warms?

Taste: It is important to note there is a right way to taste a beer. Take a sip and let the beer sit on you palate for a bit. Swirl it in your glass and taste again. Also note how the beer tastes as it warms since many flavors tend to be masked when beer is served a very cold temperatures. When it comes to taste, a good tip of advice is that the words you used to describe the smell will probably be the words you use to describe the flavor. Is the flavor subdued, bold, intense, inoffensive, overwhelming, hearty, robust? Does the beer have a dry, fruity, clean, spicy, acidic, bitter, or wet finish? Do certain flavors appear in the front, end, or sides of the sip?

Mouthfeel: One of the toughest things to do as a new beer reviewer is to not clump mouthfeel and taste together. How does the beer feel when it sits on your palate? It is thick and viscous, or is it liquidy and wet? Is the mouthfeel tingly, creamy, warming, oily, smooth? Does the beer have a large amount of carbonation or is the carbonation more moderate? Is the carbonation pleasant and bubbly, or prickly and sharp?

Drink: This is where you make a conclusion about the beer. How was the overall consumption of the beer? Would you drink another? You should also make remarks here about other beers that are similar and how well the beer fits into its style.

Well there you have it! I will make a page for this section just so people can reference it in the future.

Please comment if you have any questions about how to review a beer. I would be happy answer any questions people have.

Stay tuned for An Amateur Beer Review Part II where I will lay out what not to do when reviewing a beer.