Wednesday, March 9, 2011

...and the times, they are a-changin'...

Just a brief note to anyone out there following this blog... I have moved!  Due to my desire to expand the capabilities of this site and what I can offer, I have found that I have outgrown Blogger/Blogspot, and I have moved over to WordPress.  There will be a bit of time while I get everything in order, but all future posts will be there from now on.


Monday, March 7, 2011

The good and the bad, I want to remember it all...

Last year, after attending the Florida Brewers Guild Beerfest in Ybor City, I set a personal misison to be able to attend the Brewer's Ball this year.  For those who are unaware, the Best Florida Beer Championships is a "not for profit organization founded by craft beer lovers, homebrewers, and commercial brewers in the Tampa Bay area."  To sum up their mission, it is to promote craft beer in Florida through both commercial and homebrewing competitions. This all culminates with the Brewer's Ball, a "small" festival and celebration of craft beer in Florida.  500 people, period.  28 Gold Medal winning Florida beers.  13 mystery homebrews from around the state.  Live music.  Free food.  Amazing raffle prizes.  And then the award for "Best in Show" as well as a prize for Best Homebrew (voted on by the attendees after tasting them all).  Bring your own glass (or use one of their plastic cups) and taste away.  Yes, this is a free-pour-your-own event.  And you can go back for anything you want.  Skipper's Smokehouse is a great venue for rock and blues bands, and it lends itself well to this very loosely-structured event.  One of the most enjoyable things - as always - is getting to meet many of the brewers whose beers I greatly enjoy.

I was especially excited to meet and spend some time talking with Mark Robertson of Pensacola Bay Brewery in - yes, you guessed it - Pensacola.  They are a new brewery to the scene, but have some very good beers.  I had their Lil Napolean IPA last year at the FBG Fest, back when Mark was still brewing out of his back yard!  Now they are a "real" brewery and the quality is still excellent.  I was very impressed with two of their Gold Medal winners, the DeLuna Extra Pale Ale (actually a Kolsch) and the Banyan Brown Ale.  I really look forward to visiting Mark up in the Panhandle at some point and checking out the brewery in person.

The big story of the day was Swamp Head Brewing's seven golds and also taking first and second in the Best of Show.  Their Blackwater Floridian Dark Ale was the big winner, with their Smoke Signal Smoked Porter taking the second spot.  I got to try both and they were incredible.

Of course, Cigar City was represented in grand fashion, offering up five of their best beers (including the highly touted Hunahpu Imperial Stout), and it is always fun to hang out with the CCB guys (and their better halves).  It was also great to see Peg's Cantina get recognized for their Dancing Cody IPA, which is an incredible beer brewed by Doug Dozark.

So a grand time was had by all, no question.  This is definitely an event worth going to, and taking whatever steps are necessary.  It is a lot of fun to try top-notch beers that are not otherwise available in the area, as well as meet and spend time talking to other craft beer lovers.

I am looking forward to this coming Saturday now, which will bring the official release of Cigar City Brewing's Hunahpu Imperial Stout.  If you have not had this beer, it is simply divine.  Not for the faint of heart, and not for your fizzy-yellow-water drinkers.


Monday, February 28, 2011

I'll begin by noting the tragic loss of a legend.  Sunday morning the world lost blues man Eddie Kirkland in a terrible automobile accident.  I had just watched him play the night before at the Dunedin Brewery.  An amazing talent with a brilliant career.  R.I.P Eddie.

I am also saddened to hear of the passing of a true Hollywood legend and icon in the truest sense of the world.  Jane Russell was the epitome of the Hollywood bombshell, and exuded something that the industry has so sorely lacked in recent decades: the ability to be sexy as well as classy.

On the up side of things, the annual Stogies & Stout event at the Dunedin Brewery on Saturday night was fantastic.  A great crowd of beer lovers without being cramped, top notch music by Eddie Kirkland, and an excellent selection of beers.  I love beer events that allow you to talk with others about the beer.  Plenty of open space to move around, good-size pours that allow you to really get a good mouthful, and snack strategically placed about the venue.  I want to give big-time recognition to Mike Bryant for organizing one of the best events of the year.  It was said repeatedly throughout the night how much people were enjoying the atmosphere.  More than one person said "I think I know everyone here..."  It certainly felt that way.  Even though I met several new friends, at no point did I feel intimidated or unwelcome or like I could not just walk up to anyone and say hello.  It was a very welcome and friendly feel.

Some great news on the national craft beer scene as well: the number of American craft breweries has now surpassed 1700!  That is amazing growth in a very short time.  Much of the credit has to be given to the Brewers Association for the tireless work in promoting craft beer and educating people.  And a healthy share must also be heaped upon those who have championed craft beer since before it was cool.  The brewers, their business partners, the distributors, the bars and restaurants... these are the people that make it possible for us to enjoy craft beer in so many different ways.

Much more craft beer excitement coming our way in the near future!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

There's beer geeks and there's beer snobs, and I'm a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool member of the beer geek community.

So sayeth Sam.

So I got called out on a recent article of mine after discussing my opinions of two highly touted craft beers, Bell's Hopslam and Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum.  "Bryan" said "when did we begin talking about beer in this hipster, douchey fashion? i LOVE a good IPA but i would never stick my nose it" [sic].  My initial response is: then you, Bryan, are missing out on one of the best parts of truly great craft beer.  I love the aroma of an especially hoppy beer, and could easily spend quite a while before drinking it just revelling in its fragrance.  That said, his comment does revive the ongoing debate of beer geek vs. beer snob, as well as how one talks about beer in general.  Apparently there is still the belief among some (Bryan and his friends, I assume) that one cannot speak about the aspects of a beer one enjoys without sounding like a "hipster" or a "douche".  That is unfortunate.

I am opposed to this kind of anti-intellectualism.  I do not subscribe to the (dropped out of) school of thought that just because one uses descriptive terminology to discuss a topic somehow precludes their opinion from having any validity.  Certainly, there is a point of "too much", and an over abundance of flowery language can undoubtedly turn a neophyte off.  But I don't think saying "I, uh, liked it and stuff..." accurately conveys how I feel, especially when what I genuinely mean is "I wanted to bathe in the citrusy, piny, floral bouquet wafting from my glass and I kept burying my nose in it to breathe it in deeper."

I think that there is a resistance among some craft beer drinkers to allow the elevation of beer.  By this I mean as soon as a beer drinker, writer, critic, whatever starts using language that sounds similar to a wine review, they freak out and scream snobbery.  Wine "experts" have a reputation - much of it well deserved - for waxing poetic about their drink of choice in a language that doesn't mean anything to the unwashed masses.  Quite frankly, it turns the average person off and makes a lot of people uncomfortable about exploring wine, which is a shame.  There are people in the craft beer community that do it too.  We call them beer snobs.

Sam Calagione famously said:
There's beer geeks and there's beer snobs, and I'm a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool member of the beer geek community. How I differentiate between a beer geek and a beer snob is this: they could have an equal amount of knowledge about beer; they could have equally awesome palates; [they] can articulate everything about the qualities of beer; [and they can] tell you the history of brewing styles. Their knowledge might be the same. But a beer geek loves beer because he or she loves beer, and they want to learn more always, try new beers, and share that with the people they love. Whereas beer snobs try to know as much as they can about beer as a power point and to lord it over people, or to stick out as an expert in a field of neophytes.
I do not lord anything over my fellow beer drinkers.  I love craft beer.  I love talking about craft beer.  I love being with other people who love craft beer.  Yes, I will use phrases like "The flavor and mouthfeel were excellent, but didn’t measure up to the promise of the nose."  Deal with it.  If you don't like it, don't read beer reviews.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What's In A Name?

...that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Juliet was on to something here for sure. As humans, we have a need to name everything. Sometimes we get away with just assigning numbers (Ford F-150, for example), but even theose become a recognizable name in and of themselves. We like our names to express an image. With cars it tends to be something predatory or fast or strong. Mustang. Challenger. Avalanche. Or something important sounding... Escalade. Grand Marquis. Avalon. Or something rugged. Outlander. Navajo. Mountaineer. You will very likely never see a Nissan Sloth or a Chevy Cuddle. Granted, there is the VW Rabbit, but rabbits are quick, so there you go. Motorcyles do it, too, evoking ideas of power, danger, and mystery. Nighthawk. Hurricane. And of course the legendary Ninja.

In the world of craft beer (and, to be fair, the big macros, as well) names are part of the equation too. From the obscure references to historical figures (honestly, did anyone know who Pliny the Elder was before Russian River made the name famous) to groan-inducing puns related to the ingredients (there is not enough time to list all of the Hop-something names here).  There is even, in fact, a Ninja Beer!

Some of my favorite beers, however, have faily simple names.  Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale.  Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale.  Stone IPA.  Excellent beers, simple names.  And some of the beers with crazy, bizarre, funny, etc. names are just... meh.  Then you have the amazing beers with the great names.
  • Wilco Tango Foxtrot - A delicious American strong ale from Laguintas in California.
  • Arrogant Bastard - One of my favorite all time beers.  From Stone Brewing in San Diego, CA.
  • Jack the Quaffer Porter - I love this beer from Tampa Bay Brewing Company, and the recipe was the base for my own Three Halos Rum Porter.
  • Loose Cannon - A fantastic IPA from Heavy Seas Brewing in Baltimore, MD.
A great beer does not have to have a great name, and a great name does not make a beer great.  But it is always fun to look at the creativity that abounds in the craft beer world.

Monday, February 14, 2011

For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

Thanks, Geoff.  I'll take it from here...

Yes, that's Chaucer...
 I am not a fan of Valentine's Day; let's just put that out there.  More specifically, I am not a fan of what Valentine's Day has become.  Not that it was ever a real holiday to begin with.  There is no record of any reason for it, and in fact the Catholic Church removed it from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints back in 1969.  Nowadays it is a Hallmark holiday that serves the sole purpose of driving business for the greeting card, candy, and flower makers of the world.  It is designed to make men feel guilty and feel the need to spend money - whether or not they have it - to prove their love to their lady fair, and for women to feel that if they are NOT receiving such material affection, that somehow their lives are lessened by the absence.

That said, there is something nice about having a day that, at its core, is about love.  A day that allows even the hardest of hearts to say to someone "I love you,", and maybe give that special someone a token of your affection.  As a husband and parent, holidays take on a different meaning than when you are a young and wild Single Person.  You can't just shrug and say "meh" when they come along, because there are others expecting things.  CHildren especially love holidays where they get little presents or candy or special treats, and Valentine's Day is no different.  You know who else like's Valentine's Day, even when they won't admit it?  Wives.  There are some things I have learned (albeit slowly) in my almost-fourteen years of marriage.  Never forget or forget to acknowledge the following: your wife's birthday, your anniversary, Mother's Day (if you have children, and Valentine's Day.  Most other slips of memory or action can be forgiven in time; these ones will haunt you for years.

In a good marriage - or any relationship for that matter - both parties involved know what it takes to make the other happy most of the time.  That does not mean they always DO it, but they know.  For example, this year my wife and I went to a nice dinner without the kids the night before Valentine's Day and enjoyed each other's company for a few hours with good food and drink.  As a gift from me to her, I gave her her favorite flowers, two bottles of Malbec (a newly discovered favorite), and some dark chocolate from Godiva.  I made dinner Valentine's Day evening for the family and we all felt the love of family.  And my wife, knowing me as she does, gave me:

I'll bet you were wondering when I would get to the beer part, eh?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation

I am not a big fan of American football.  I'll put that right out there.  Sure, I will cheer on the home team most of the time or root against the Philadelphia Eagles (I do not like Philly fans of any sport... they are just mean) or the Dallas Cowboys (I root against anything out of Texas, just on principle), and I did get excited for the New Orleans Saints in last year's big game.  But I never watch football by myself, I have zero interest in college football, and could not name more than a dozen players, past or present.  That said, I love Super Bowl parties.  The food, the crowd, and of course the beer.  Nowadays, I usualy make a point to bring some craft beer with me to a party since it is usually the case that these types of parties typically serve beer prominently featured in the advertising of the game.  This year, though, had I been invited to the White House to watch the game (hey, it could happen!), I would have been served not only beers from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but a freakin' White House Homebrew!  How cool is that?!  This is not a political blog, but I do love our President more today than I did last week.

The opening of the Ale and the Witch was great.  good music, good people, and great beer.  Brett has put together a really friendly and laid back place and picked some really excellent beers.  I am looking forward to becoming a regular there.

Congratulations are in order to Tampa Bay Brewing Company.  After fifteen years of fighting, they can now sell growlers of their great beer.  I know Dave and company have worked their asses off to see this day, and hopefully this is just one more step towards bringing Florida into the mainstream craft beer world.  Bit by bit, we are getting there.

Cheers, all!