Beer Me A Documentary

posted on April 20, 2009 in beerventure

Cheers to Anat Baron for her hard work and for bringing an inside look into many aspects of the beer industry to a mass audience.  I am happy I saw Beer Wars and generally liked it.  Generally.

I am tempted to chalk this one up to a classic case of overhyping: the Twitter beer nerds have been talking about the film for months and, in the last couple days especially, my Twitter page has been saturated with buzz for the movie (which I, probably too frequently, added to).  It’s a movie about beer for Chrissakes; we’re practically peeing ourselves.  Which is why, when Baron agonizingly fumbled through her introduction, I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.  This was her baby.  She was nervous.  I felt for her.

When she spent about five minutes of her already too long film talking about her own personal journey in some awkwardly placed cartoon, however, I started to lose patience.  I do not think any autobiographical information was beneficial to this film, especially when your only experience in the beer industry (and I am tempted to put beer in quotes in this context) is in Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  Baron marketed hard towards us homebrew and craftbrew lovers - she should know our feelings about those types of products.  Better to focus on the already too big story you’re trying to tell than to try and make us care about your relevance to it- especially if your relevance is something that will not give you much credibility to your biggest audience.  If she really wanted us to know her story, the more appropriate place would have been in the post-show panel (unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately, after her complete FAIL at the intro, she seemed too embarrassed to talk).  Of course, her particular background helps to explain her poor choice of a second lead in the film: the woman behind Moonshot - a gimmicky beer with caffeine.  It became clear that this was not a story about good, honest beer versus mass-marketed watered down alcoholic beverages; this was a story about big versus small, period.  Nevermind the actual product.

Beer with caffeine?!  That's unimpossible!

Beer with caffeine?! That's unpossible!

There is a pretty plain reason why Baron did not focus on the actual product (i.e., the beer itself): Anat Baron, through no fault of her own, does not drink alcohol - she’s allergic.  That makes it difficult for one to differentiate Dogfish Head from Moonshot, and so, Baron essentially put them in the same category - a prospect that probably pisses off not only Calagione but a lot of craft beer lovers as well.  Her only criteria was that these companies were not owned by some massive beer conglomerate (much to the chagrin of Rhonda, who was actually filmed attempting to sell out only to tell Ben Stein in the post panel interview that that was not her plan.  This poor woman.)  In fact, Baron made almost no mention of the actual ingredients in beer, which, to me, is the biggest difference between craftbrews and BMC.  This was another reason why, though appreciative of the movie overall, I felt a bit disappointed.  It was clear to me, and the crowd of beer lovers I was with, that the maker of this film did not share our love of brew.

Perhaps her objectiveness in this sense, however, served to elucidate some sticky points about our beloved craft beer industry.  First, along with Todd Alstrom - co-founder of Beer Advocate and a member of the post-show panel - most of the people in the audience did not hide their disdain for Moonshot, for its gimmickyness and its perversion of “real” beer.  But what makes caffeine such a different adjunct from, say, cloudberries*?  For that matter, why do we so abhor Bud for putting rice in their recipe?  I would be willing to bet my next pint that Sam Calagione could put rice in his next beer, call it exotic or “off-centered”, and most beer nerds would drool.  In fact, I’m so certain that I just performed a google search for “Dogfish head beer” and “rice” which quickly led to this discovery: Jiahu - a Dogfish Head beer with (*gasp*) rice as a primary ingredient.  And I thought rice in beer was “poison” - or at least that’s a quote from a DFH employee according to this blogpost .

Beer to Rice:  No, thanks.  Unless of course I include you because of a collaboration with a molecular archaelogist to revive a 9000 year old recipe.  Then, yes, by all means, join me.

Beer to Rice: No, thanks. Unless of course I include you because of a collaboration with a molecular archaelogist to revive a 9000 year old recipe. Then, yes, by all means, join me.

Before long, if you’re like me, you realize why Calagione’s use of rice is, perhaps, quite different from Bud’s.  There’s thought behind it.  No, not just thought, a full on collaboration with a molecular archaeologist.  The beer was designed (similar to their other ancient beer clones, Midas Touch and Theobroma) to mimic what is probably the earliest known beer recipe.  No two ways about it, that shit is just cool.  It’s also unique, educational and intellectual.  Contrast this with Bud’s use of rice which probably is meant to serve two purposes: to lighten the flavor and reduce the cost.  Still, the BMC lager is a type of style in its own right, even if most craft-brew drinkers think it is wussy watered-down crap.  The fact is, most brewers aren’t immune to adjuncts or gimmicks, so beer geeks should settle down on this point (even if the only adjuncty beer you drink is a Hefeweizen - wheat’s still an adjunct).

Craftbrew’s disdain for adjuncts isn’t the only area that Beer Wars exposed some potential paradoxes for the growing industry.  Indeed, it is the growth of many small brewers wherein the paradox lies; at what point does a microbrewery become one of the bad guys?  Sure, DFH only claims something like .001% of the beer market but it’s growing at a monstrous rate and its beers are popping up in more and more generic locations.  I think Calagione had the best response to Ben Stein’s inquiry along these lines, though: “we are brewers first and businessmen second”.  I have faith in that, though perhaps somewhat blindly.  I think the BMC people lost sight of that a long time ago.  Calagione’s passion, like Jim Koch’s of Sam Adams is simply self-evident - the guys are mad about beer.

Along these lines, one of the highlights of the film for me was when Baron exposed Budweiser’s masquerading as the “Green Valley Brewing Company” in order to sell their organic Wild Hop brew.

Please, do not refer to me as "The King of Organic Beers"; I want no association with that corporate empire.

Please, do not refer to me as "The King of Organic Beers"; I want no association with that corporate empire.

This deviousness, to me, underlines the fact that BMC is about market share first, product second.  The craft brew industry has been slowly sneaking bites of BMC’s gluttonous piece of the pie and the Big Three are using any tricks up their sleeve to get that share back.  See my “Elephant in Mouse Clothing” post for more discussion on this topic.  Honestly, I hoped Baron would include a little more content along these lines, though I also appreciated her focus on the three-tier system (which I hope to write more about another time).

All in all, I found Beer Wars to be a pretty important film for the beer industry despite my criticism and certainly appreciate Baron’s work to make this event happen.  I know how hard it is to make a film having seen my talented brother at work (and getting too little recognition).  She opened the dialogue for more people and I’m excited to continue the discussion where she left off - next stop: a blind taste test between BMC’s craft-styled beers and the real thing.  Sorry John, I know this is putting you in a position a little like when I play basketball against guys - if they win, they’re supposed to but if they lose, man do they get it.  Should be fun though :)

*At one point in the film, a DFH assistant brewer introduces Calagione to cloudberries and sure enough, DFH now has Arctic Cloudberry Imperial Wheat.  Is this not too a gimmick? Digg Facebook Google reddit StumbleUpon

Post tease

posted on April 4, 2009 in beer & food, beerventure

Alright, this probably doesn’t count as a real post but I’m so excited about my next three posts I wanted to post about it.  Here’s what’s on tap for BMAB*

1.  Part Deux of “Elephant in Mouse Clothing” - I am planning a blind taste test of a BMC craft brew series next to a tried and true microbrew using an experienced beer nerd and rather novice beer drinker as my subjects.

2.  Review of Beer Wars, which I will view with some fellow Greenbelt brewers after a mild pregame at River City Brewing Company.  This is how beer geeks get their nerd on.  Pretty awesome.

3.  A post on Beer in Space!  Seriously!  It’s gonna be out of this world!**

*My favorite thing about writing about the beer industry: the endless and minimal thought-requiring source of puns.

**My second favorite thing about writing about the beer industry: how you can get anything you want to relate to beer. Digg Facebook Google reddit StumbleUpon

The Stone in the Grad

posted on January 26, 2009 in beer review, beerventure

You mean The Grad is having a Stone tasting?  What are we doing here?

"You mean The Grad is having a Stone tasting? What are we doing here?"

Last Thursday (1/15), Stone Brewery (or, at least, two regional sales reps and their round, steely, beer-filled friends) saw it fit to pay Davis a little visit.  It may come as no surpise the host happens to be the only place in Davis that also pours the eighth-best rated beer in the world.  I would say the two hit it off quite well.

I headed over in a small group including John and his mentor*-friend, Shane but we ended up meeting a group of “Sacramento Hopheads” via the site  Technology is really good at uniting beer lovers (as Twitter very well shows).  And, really, if you’re going to meet a bunch of random people from the internet, it helps if your common interest happens to also be a social lubricant.

On to the beer.  Here was the line-up:

Old Guardian Barleywine
Smoked Porter
Pale Ale
Levitation Ale
Ruination IPA
Arrogant Bastard
Double Bastard Ale
Russian Imperial Stout
12th Anniversary Ale

Stone 10th Anniversary Ale
Stone 11th Anniversary Ale

To me, the Best in Show that night was Levitation and Ruination - indicating to me that I really am developing a palate for hoppy beers (hooray!  Californians won’t shun me.).  Levitation is Stone’s version of an Amber Ale, so, not surprisingly, it’s more hoppy than most ambers.  The BJCP guidelines for an Amber suggest the IBUs should be in the range of  25-40, but Stone takes pride in sticking it to the man, giving this beer 45 IBUs.  Modest for Stone to be sure, but definitely not what you’d expect from an Amber.  While I’m a fan of traditional ambers, and they have a special place in my heart for being the first style I brewed, I loved this one.  To me, Levitation is the gateway brew to hoppy beers.  Malty and citrusy, but not too bitter and very drinkable.  This beer is full of flavor and refreshing; it may well become a go-to for me for my new habit of rehydrating after a long-run with a beer, in the style of Beer Runner.

I guess once the floodgates open to hoppy beers, there’s no going back.  So the second beer I dug that night was their Ruination IPA.  I think this hop-kick was also driven by a slight overdose on very malty beers like Oskar Blues’ Old Chub (a Scotch Ale), Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout (”a punch in the face”**), and Old Rasputin from North Coast - an RIS.  Hops were a welcome, refreshing change; plus, hops are what gave Stone its name.  So, naturally their hoppy beers are very enjoyable.  When in Rome…or the Grad…which is serving Stone…well, you know.  (BTW, I neglected their superstars (Arrogant Bastard and Double Bastard) because we serve those on tap at our restuarant, but if you’re new to Stone, you’ll want to try those…especially the Double - hoppy as a mother but smoother than the original.)

Don't judge me for my big gargoyle muscles and enormous IBUs.  I'm actually very sensitive inside.

I'm actually very sensitive inside.

Lastly, I want to try to give some constructive feedback regarding the event itself.  Thankfully, we got to the Grad a little before they started serving, so we staked out our territory near the bar early on.  Still, once they started pouring, it was a bit of mayhem by the bar - people could easily cut in front, there was a lack of papers and pencils on which to write your tasting choices, there was a miscommunication as to what beers they actually had…etc., etc.  The main problem was the system of going up to the far end of the bar to order drinks.  This resulted in a huge, slow-moving line, making me ever-more thankful that I was actually early to something for once.

It’s easy to complain about these kind of operations, not so easy to come up with solutions.  But what I would suggest for events like these is just bringing in some extra waitstaff who will hand out the tasting papers and bring the beer to the people at tables.  Yes, it may take a while for these people to get their beer but it’s better than everyone rushing the bar and that way people can actually sit down and enjoy themselves - maybe buy a pint of something else (at the uncrowded part of the bar) while they wait for their tasters.  Sure, it will cost extra for the labor but it will reduce the daunting line of people that had to wait forever - many of whom I’m sure just went home.  I don’t think the Grad ever really has people wait tables but for a special event like this, it would not be too difficult to train them (they do have people running counter-service for food).  Also, it would reduce the problem of the customer having to trasport his or her drinks from the bar to their table (sans a serving tray).  When you have 8 glasses this can take several trips, causing all the more mayhem at the bar.

When events are run more smoothly, people are more likely to come back to future ones.  This one was still a very positive experience, but there’s always room for improvement (plus, I came early).  Other suggestions are highly welcome.

Sorry bout the tardiness of this post.  Just started school back up; little rusty getting my head wrapped around titration calculations and the like but once routine kicks in, normal posting regimen will resume.

*If beer mentors were Jedis, then I’d be the bitchy little Aniken, John the fun-lovin’ Obi-Wan, and Shane the wise Qui-Gon Jinn.

**(Ashley, 1/11/09) Digg Facebook Google reddit StumbleUpon

Beer, Beer & something…oh yeah, More Beer.

posted on January 3, 2009 in beerventure, homebrewing

I made my pilgrammage to MoreBeer today.  Again, like RRBC, MoreBeer is sort of a beerlover’s mecca - with a face only a homebrewer could love.  That’s because B3 is tucked in a remote corner at the end of “Detroit Ave” in Concord, CA, amonst a bunch of warehouses.  I don’t think I could come up with a more ghetto sounding location if I tried.  However, once you walk in, you’re greeted by a bunch of happy beer geeks, which is about the friendliest atmosphere in the world.  MoreBeer isn’t much bigger than the Home Brew Outlet I went to in Sac, but it was staffed with four times the amount of people, who were each about 10 times more helpful.

Beyond the knowledgeable, friendly staff, B3 also purports a variety of goods beer enthusiasts are into, such a rotating list of several different craft brews (which I wish I had written down - still a little new at this whole blog-reporting thing) you can buy by the keg.  Call them to ask.  As you can tell by the website, their equipment and ingredient inventory is about as extensive as you’ll find anywhere - they boast that they are “The World’s largest single-source provider” of anything you need to make your own beer, wine or coffee…a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering they were started from a garage in 1995 (according to the first ever Sunday Session podcast on the Brewing Network, from 2005, OMG so long ago).

My mission to B3 held 4 main objectives:

1. Purchase a refractometer

2.  Purchase a wort chiller

3.  Purchase a California Common beer kit

4.  Have a general looksee (1.), and get an idea of what I’ll be spending more money on in the upcoming years.


The Ultimate Accessorizer

As for the first two objectives, it’s a bit ambitious for a second-time brewer, and one who still uses a 6 gallon kettle on her stove in her small apartment kitchen to brew, to buy what some might consider more advanced toys such as a refractometer and a wort chiller.  And in fact, it did cross my mind that I might be in danger of becoming what my brother, Seth, describes as an “accessorizer”, i.e. one who gets into a hobby more for the accessories than for the actual activity.  Still, seeing as how I am on a path to get my masters in brewing sciences, I figured it was safe to invest in this hobby.  And unlike when I tried to lock myself into the law school path by signing up for the LSAT, I feel much better about taking a plunge in this direction.


Your faucet is pretty standard, really.

I ended up purchasing the cheapest refractometer - they range from about $60 to $115, so I guess I could have gotten even more committed (a true accessorizer would have gone for the $115 USA-made Fender of refractometers).  I felt the wort chiller was a useful purchase for any brewer - or at least, Palmer made me think so; I also had to buy a faucet adaptor because my apartment doesn’t have a hose.  I didn’t even think about this before I left so I had to hope I bought the right kind of adapter and wouldn’t you know it, it actually fit.

As for the beer kit, I’ve decided my next homebrew will be a California Common, in the style of the ever popular Anchor Steam.  I chose this style for a few reasons: by the time it’s ready it will be February, too late for holiday ales, too early for wheat or lighter color ales, I’m still not ready for real lagers but this beer, because it uses a lager yeast is unique, and it still is a warm enough beer for colder temperatures.  I could’ve gone with an IPA, but I sort of felt that that was a little cliche given their ridiculous popularity out here.  But honoring my move to California by brewing the type of beer the state was first known for somehow seemed less cliche.  I’ve also decided I’m going to attempt to brew this guy all on my own, without the help of my mentor.  Again: plunge.  Things could get interesting.  Stay tuned. Digg Facebook Google reddit StumbleUpon

Beer, actually, is all around us.

posted on December 28, 2008 in beer review, beerventure

The movie Love Actually was inspired by witnessing loved ones reunite at the airport.  And where there is love, there is also beer.

However, the beer selections at most airports aren’t all too inspiring, apparently unless you happen to be at one of these airports.  Unfortunately, the Southwest terminal at the Houston airport is not on that list.  Still, because I was at an airport, it seemed appropriate I should drink.  What do I mean?  Well, airports are like movie theaters in that all normal social rules don’t apply.  Ellen Degeneres talks about our behavior in movie theaters - our free pass to shovel popcorn into our mouths - and I am reminded of how it seems once you enter an airport, whether it be 6 AM or 3:30 in the afternoon, it is perfectly appropriate to start drinking.  Who knows what your actual timezone is?  Cheers!

So, naturally, I dropped into “Pappas Burgers” for a pint and some tortilla soup.  The soup was OK, though it was dominated by a block of cheese and a mound of tortilla strips while the “with avocado” apparently meant one measly slice.

Kyle Perfect10Model's lunch

Kyle Perfect10Model's lunch

Aside from Bud, BudLight, etc. on tap, Pappas also pours Fat Tire (which I almost went for) and ZiegenBock (which I ended up selecting because I had never heard of it).  Probably should have stuck with the Fat Tire.

I actually have nothing against lagers and generally can appreciate most styles of beer.  In fact, doppelbocks, marzens and pilsners are among my favorites; since I hadn’t had a bock in a while I was quite excited to spend some time with this one and get to know him.  Unfortunately, “Ziegenbock” is a bit of a misnomer; if I were to call myself KylePerfect10Model, you have certain expectations, no?  Well, Ziegenbock isn’t even described as a bock on its pseudo-website (part of the ICS website, owned by Anheuser-Busch, owned by AB-InBev) but rather as an American Style Amber Lager.  Well, OK, so how was it?

So glad you asked!

Name: ZiegenBock Amber

Style: Amber Lager

Brewery: Anheuser-Busch

Region: Houston, Texas

Pairings: Wasn’t bad with my tortilla soup.  In fact, amber lagers like this are rather tasty with Mexican.

Color:  Brown (on the darker side) with definite reddish tint; very transparent.

Carbonation: Almost no foam or lacing but tastes quite carbonated - but perhaps this was just the acidity.

Aroma: Very light, sour fruit and caramel.

Mouthfeel: Thin, does not linger, pleasant.

Flavor:  Not a lot to it other than soury-sweetness though this is somewhat balanced by a crispness lent by the hops and clean lager yeast finish.

Finish: Clean, sour and caramel are all that mildly linger.

Comments: Anheuser-Busch, now AB-InBev, only brews and offers this beer in Houston, Texas which is an interesting attempt to reach out to a local beer crowd.  I’d like to try some truly local craft brews to compare.  Maybe I’ll get to venture beyond the George Bush Airport next time. Digg Facebook Google reddit StumbleUpon

Great American Beer Quest: RRBC

posted on December 24, 2008 in beerventure

Putting the words “Great American” in front of anything lends it instant epicness.  Add the word “quest” into the mix and you’ve crossed over into full-on epic territory.  Few journeys may be worthy of such high-flyin’ superlatives, but I’ve learned that a trip to the Russian River Brewing Company is one of them.

The funny thing about RRBC though is that, walking in, you would have no idea you just stepped into one of the most highly respected, award-winning brewpubs in the world; it’s like the scene from

RRBC=Holy Grail?

RRBC=Holy Grail?

The Last Crusade when Indy picks the most trifflin’ looking cup in the place and, lo and behold,  it belonged to Jesus Christ.  Indy: 1, Nazis: 0.  Yup, exactly like that.  To illustrate the point, I merely need to point you to their website, which, clicking on the link you’ll think you’ve warped backed in time circa 1997.  Of course, this only adds to RRBC’s charm, and is all the more reason why I love beer.  It’s obvious this place cares about one thing and one thing only: tasty beer.  Just so happens the food is pretty good too.

I’ve been wanting to journey to RRBC for some time now, ever since hearing tales of how Pliny the Elder slays armies of single-IPAs in the night, first luring them into a false confidence with his inviting hop aroma, then easily overpowering them with his mighty BUs.  Or I think that’s how John first described it to me.  Anyways, let’s just say Vinnie and his brews had been hyped up for me for a while and having tasted a bottle of Pliny, Damnation, and I think Beatification (can’t quite recall - nearly all Vinnie’s Belgians end in “tion” making us fans work harder to get them straight) at John and Ashley’s (his girlfriend), I had no reason to doubt RRBC wouldn’t live up to its hype.

The two things one must get on one’s first RRBC visit (so I was told, and so am passing onto you) are Drew Bites and the sampler.  D.B.’s, as I shall call them, are strips of pizza dough minus the sauce, plus gooey mozz, pepperoni and peppercinis.

mmm...Drew Bites.

mmm...Drew Bites.

They’re served with a side of bright red, zangy marinara dipping sauce.  John and I were quite hungry and the saying goes that “hunger is the best sauce” but if that’s the case, this sauce was a damn close second.*†

Onto the sampler.  It’s difficult to start with Aud Blonde, RRBC’S lightest beer (though don’t you dare call it light to its face) when Pliny’s staring you straight in the face.  Still, I did my best.  And since I’m a fan of pilsner malt, I was not displeased.  I think it’d be a little overkill to go into detail on every beer in the sampler but my progression was thus:

Aud Blonde -> Belgians, lightest to dark (Sanctification -> Damnation -> Perdition -> Salvation ->) IPA trio (Russian River IPA, Blind Pig, Pliny the Elder) -> Consecration (a Belgian in its own category, will discuss further) -> OVL Stout -> Porter

Sampler.  Sorry hard to read; dem bottle caps is shiny!

Sampler. Sorry hard to read; dem bottle caps is shiny!

I did try the unlabeled (black bottle cap in the picture) one which John told me was Happy Hops but found it to be my least favorite.  Standing next to many other beers I would have quite enjoyed it but standing up to these, I let John finish it after his pint of Pliny.

Since this won’t be my last post about RRBC, I’ll finish by writing about my favorite for this go around: Consecration.  This beer is the lovechild between Cabernet Sauvignon and a Belgian strong dark, two components that by themselves can be quite remarkable.  We all know that sometimes when two attractive people get together, the result isn’t always, well, pretty.  But, like it seems to have for Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, it occasionally works out.  Consecration is the Shiloh Jolie-Pitt of beers.

If I were a beer...I'd totally be RRBC's Consecration.

If I were a beer...I'd totally be RRBC's Consecration.

The nose and finish are Cab-driven but the middle is a malty-sweet, yet complex dark flavor.  I think there has been one luke-warm review in BeerAdvocate – the rest are resoundingly positive.  This is a beer that I cannot wait for to be bottled.  Well done Vinnie and keep ‘em coming.  I’ll be back.

*Now, potentially, one could substitute Drew Bites with the similar Beer Bites but you’d be missing out on some tangy, straight-up delicious peppercinis; alternatively, you could venture into unknown territory and go for the Travis Bites (Beer bites with white cheddar and jalapenos), which I will be trying on my next visit.

† “Hunger is the best sauce” is a Cha-ism; “Cha” is the nickname of my college roommate/teammate/BFF. Digg Facebook Google reddit StumbleUpon