Friday, August 28, 2009

Brew Review 2: Scheider & Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse

500 ml bottle $3.79
8.2% ABV

This unique beer is the result of the long friendship of Schneider brewmaster Hans-Peter Drexler and Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver. The two brewmasters feel that Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse represents the quality, tradition and terroir of the Bavarian Hallertauer hop region paired with the innovation and creative energy for which Brooklyn is famous”

This hopped-up Hefe is one of the recent “collaboration” brews that have been popping up of late. It's sibling is the Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse, brewed with different hops representing their individual locales. I love the idea; two masters of their craft working together to create something new and interesting because they are artists. How many other industries do you see that in? Not enough.

To begin with, a confession: I am not a big fan of hefeweizen or wheat beers. I often find them a bit too yeasty, too much sweet-spicy, and usually too carbonated. From time to time, they hit the spot perfectly, but I do not regularly drink them. But as I said, I love the spirit of the collaboration brews (and Brian Yaeger told me about this one just yesterday), so I figured I would give one of the two a try. I chose the Schneider version because, quite frankly, the cost difference is pretty wide. Where this one was $3.79 at my local store for the 500 ml, the Brooklyner version runs $12.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Anyway, the beer.

A cloudy golden color, as expected, with a surprisingly tart-hoppy aroma, and impressive head that lingered. The flavor is very fresh and the dry-hopped Hallertauer Saphir replaces much of the fruitiness of a normal hefe. But there are still hints of clove and citrus, mostly orange. The yeast sediment in the bottle was more than usual, and probably more than you would want in your glass. I poured about half and it worked very nicely. This is a very light feeling beer, very flavorful without being overpowering. I had to check my glasses when I read the 8.2% ABV since this could very easily drink as a session beer if you were not paying attention. Smooth and enjoyable, and another that would be wonderful on a hot day. If you are one who is inclined to add an orange slice to their hefeweizen, you will lose some of the hoppiness, but the sweetness will increase a tad.

Rating: 3 of 5

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Brew Review 1: Jolly Pumpkin Fuego del Otoño (Autumn Fire)

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales hails from Dexter, Michigan, just a few miles outside of Ann Arbor. With a fascinating list of styles and flavors, it was hard to decide which to pick to review, so I went with the recommendation from Ian, the resident Craft Beer Guru at Rollin' Oats in St. Pete. His suggestion was the Feugo del Otoño, or “Autumn Fire”, and it was a good one. From the beginning, I was blown away by the label art (true of all of Jolly Pumpkin's offerings). Absolutely gorgeous artwork, all done by Adam Forman and each one a masterpiece.

And then the description:
To catch a bit of soft radiance in each bottle, we wait for fall colors to begin their bright and fleeting glow before brewing this wonderful ale under their autumn fire. Gentle amber malt blend smooth caramel notes, gently lapping against a shore of distant forgotten spice. A beer to sip, contemplate and enjoy. Ale brewed with chestnuts and spices. Aged in oak barrels – bottle conditioned.

The first pour revealed a light coppery color and a near explosion of bubbles that relaxed into a gentle effervescence. The head lingered forever! The aroma was fresh and hinted at the tartness, earthiness, and citrus to come. I was a bit surprised at the first taste, however, and how wine-like it was, probably a result of the wine-barrel aging all of Jolly Pumpkin's beers enjoy. Very light with the dry, spicy tartness, but not strong, and no chestnut flavor that I could detect. The mildness of the overall taste belies the 6.1% ABV, however. Sitting on my porch in the balmy Florida evenings in August, this was a wonderfully refreshing and flavorful beer without being heavy or overly complicated. I would recommend it for just such an occasion.

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So You Want People to Pay More... Because They Are Drinking Less?

Go figure. The ink is barely dry on UniBev's acquisition of Anheuser-Busch and now they want to raise prices... because demand has gone down? Okay, I am not an economist, and maybe not particularly astute financially, but that just sounds wrong to me.

On the other hand, maybe this will be a good thing for the Craft Brewers. If the macros start to cost the same as the Craft Beer, it makes them more accessible. And without price as a discussion point, now we get to what really matters, which is taste and quality. If you have your choice between paying $8 for a six pack of Budweiser or a 6-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which will most people with taste choose? And if this affects bars as well, maybe more will be willing to carry Craft Beer, furthering the cause for us all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Florida: Beer Wasteland or Diamond in the Rough?

When I moved to the Tampa Bay area in Florida fifteen years ago, finding a Craft Beer in a bar was like finding an outdoor skating rink: it just wasn't there. Sure, you could find good imported beer; Guinness, Bass, Newcastle, and so one were readily available in just about every British and Irish pub from St. Petersburg to Clearwater to Tampa. A few specialty beer stores were around that carried a limited variety of American Craft Brews, but the selection was sparse, and their coolers were also mostly dominated by imports. The other aspect of what passed for “beer culture” in the Tampa Bay area was the fact the Anheuser Busch (and the Busch Gardens amusement park) dominated the beer scene. Budweiser was everywhere, and was – like so many other places – the drink of choice. For a beer lover coming from northern California, it was a bit of a culture shock.

Sure, there were a few glimmers of hope. Ybor City Brewing (since assimilated into the Florida Brewing Company) opened the year I arrived, however their brews were more in line with the macro-tradition of quantity produced and not quality. While the Gaspar's Porter was enjoyable, the “Gold”, “Amber, and “Wheat” styles were evocative of Bud, Michelob, and a feeble attempt at a wheat beer. Their “Light” could easily have been Michelob Light. But as unimpressive as the brews were, it did open some eyes to other possibilities in the beer world, and for that I give them credit. It may have been pretentious, but it was also somewhat of a status marker to order a “local” beer instead of what everyone else was drinking.

Two years later, however, real change came to the area in the form of two new breweries, one on either side of the bay. On the Pinellas County side, the Dunedin Brewery opened its doors as the first brewpub/microbrewery in the county. With a small but tasty pub menu that complimented the beers they brewed, their year-round styles were bottled and sold on local retail shelves. From their Piper's Pal to their Redhead Red and Beach Tale Brown, the Dunedin Brewery has become a stronghold of good beer and good Craft Beer values in Pinellas County.

That same year in Ybor City, the Tampa Bay Brewing Company opened their own brewpub. Where Dunedin keeps their menu small and simple, TBBC has created a beer-driven gastronomical juggernaut. Beer is central to everything, and many of the menu items share their name with the brew they are made with. Iron Rat Stout Shepherds Pie. Home Made Jack the Quaffer Bread Pudding. Fish and Chips made with their One Night Stand Pale Ale. In 2006, the brewpub moved to a new location still in Ybor City, more centralized and with much more seating. Their beers continue to be excellent and they host the Tampa Beer Fest in May each year.

The newest arrival to the Craft Brew party is Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. Started by beer-writer Joey Redner and award winning brewmaster Wayne Wambles, Cigar City takes its name from the long and storied history of the cigar industry in Tampa, but their approach to brewing is fresh and exciting. Of course, they have their “standard” line including the excellent Jai Alai IPA and the Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale, but what really set them apart from the crowd is their innovative use of flavors in combination with their brew. Guava, vanilla, and coffee are just some of the exotic additions you will find in the simple but comfortable tasting room at the brewery, in full view of the production area. Cigar City is a working brewery, so do not expect snacks or luxury when you visit, but growlers are available to go, and of course the full assortment of collectable shirts, posters, and glassware.

So what is next for Florida in the world of Craft Beer? Each year the Florida Brewers Guild-sponsored Tampa Beer Fest draws more and more attendees as well as more breweries offering a taste of their brew. The Craft Beer Expo in St. Petersburg has become a must-attend event, with representatives from all over the country in attendance, as well as a VIP cheese and beer tasting session and lectures on food pairings.

Florida is still far behind the “Beervana” of Portland, Oregon or the Craft Brew Mecca of the San Francisco Bay Area (of the over 400 breweries represented at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO, only two are from Florida). Years of dominance by AB (now UniBev) and antiquated anti-microbrew law have faded away now, though. Homebrewing is on the rise in Florida. Craft Beers are showing up in local bars and restaurants, and previously unavailable flavors and styles from around the country are finding their way onto the shelves of even the supermarkets. Beer culture is on the rise in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida. Only time will tell, but things are looking up in the Sunshine State. I think that calls for a beer.

...And Beer for the Daddy?

The phrase "Beer for the Daddy" might seem like an odd one to some; to others it's a no-brainer. But the origin - at least in this case - comes from flightless birds, parental responsibility, and the mouths of babes.

In 2005, a documentary film called March of the Penguins was released to critical acclaim, becoming the second-highest grossing documentary film of all time (the first being Fahrenheit 9/11). It is the story of the emperor penguins of Antarctica, and the difficult conditions they live and survive under. Beautifully filmed and wonderfully narrated by Morgan Freeman (in the American version), viewers are treated to a stunning and moving experience unlike any other.

And as far as this blog goes, none of that matters.

You see, we (my wife and sons and I) rented March of the Penguins later that year and watched it together. We loved it. The story was engaging, the images were brilliant. We got to the part where the male penguins were huddled together protecting the eggs. The females are off on their epic journey to feed and then travel back to regurgitate for their newborn young that the father's are now caring for. The narrator says something along the lines of "and the mothers arrive back with the fish for their babies." Without missing a beat, my youngest son - age 3 at the time - said very matter-of-factly "...and beer for the daddy?"