Monday, December 31, 2007

Oak Aged Beers

A couple of days ago while I was in Denver, I picked up the most recent copy of Draft Magazine with Food Network's Dave Lieberman on the cover and I wanted to make a few brief comments on the magazine before getting to the main point of the post. While there have been many mixed reviews on the magazine (including those from me) I think this was its most solid effort. A sign of a good new magazine is that it steadily improves, and Draft over the course of its first year has done that. Its articles are more beer-centric, it always touts beer and food pairings (this edition more than any other), it has a pretty good layout, and a good balance between articles and ads (while other mag's seem to have twice as many ad pages as articles). Draft also has a strong lineup of contributors including Charlie Papazian, Stan Hieronymus, Rick Lyke, and Don Russell that give the magazine a good depth of knowledge. However you feel about Draft though, there is no denying that right now is a great time to enjoy beer magazine's with the re-tooled All About Beer, the Beer Advocate's Mag and Draft, and I don't think you can go wrong with any of them.
Now on to the main point of this post, oak aged beers. Within the aforementioned new Draft is a great article by Mr. Hieronymus covering Oak Aged Beers. The article inspired me to post my thoughts on two such beers that I was able to enjoy during my time in Denver.

2006 Old Curmudgeon: This beer comes from the Englewood, CO branch of the brew pub chain Rock Bottom Brewery. Although its part of a chain pub each restaurant has an independent brew master. There are some standards that the chains have to have, but other than that they are left to their own imaginations. At this particular Rock Bottom, the brewmaster is Rick Abitbol from Germany, and he's also a pretty honored brewer based on the awards that he has won. This particular beer is one of those that has won awards. The beer is the 2006 Barley Wine aged in oak whiskey barrels for 12 months. The beer pours a cloudy brown with a nice head, smelling of oak, raisins, a bit of alcohol and sweet caramel-y malts. The mouth is malt-y, raisins, prunes, thick and chewy, a bit of alcohol, some honey and lychee even. A very rich beer, that was great to have in very cold Denver. This one gets an A- from me.

Flying Dog Wild Dog Barrel Aged Horn Dog: This beer I picked up during my recent visit to Flying Dog. Horn Dog is their Barley Wine that is also part of the Canis Major Series. They took that beer and aged it for 13 months in Stranahan's Whiskey Barrel's. No word on whether or not this will be a regular beer of if this was just a one time experiment. The beer weighs in at 10% and pours a dark brown. There is no head and no carbonation. The nose is whiskey, vanilla, and oak. The mouth is smooth, thick due to the lack of carbonation, rich vanilla, oak, caramel, and a bit of alcohol burn. This beer tastes like a malt bomb if I've ever had one, its thick, bready, yeasty. The prominent flavor for me is the whiskey, in fact with the little carbonation its almost more whiskey like than beer. I could sip on this for hours upon hours though. Its quite amazing, quite complex. As you can tell I really enjoyed this, my one complaint is the lack of head and any carbonation. If Flying dog could get that little bit of additional creaminess I think it would put it over the top. I really hope that the folks at Flying Dog continue with this experiment (I just hope I can get my hands on a bottle since I probably won't be up at the new brewery in MD). This one gets a solid A from me.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

More on Flying Dog

Well, my Christmas vacation to Denver is over and I'm back in good ole Houston. I have a few things to write about that occurred during my stay but I first wanted to touch on some additional news I've recieved from Flying Dog. Josh Mishell over at Flying Dog sent me a press release covering the two new beers that I mentioned in my previous post. As a recap, Flying Dog is creating two new beers for next year. The first is an addition to their Canis Major line up and is a Belgium Tripel named Cerberus, the second is their Spring seasonal a Bierre De Garde named Garde Dog. In the press release they sent out the new labels, still done by British artist Ralph Steadman. You can see the labels below. They look pretty cool, and I can't wait to try the new beers. The other cool news is that they will be releasing two new mixed packs of their Canis Major (Gonzo Porter, Horn Dog, Double Dog and the New Cerberus). The first will be a four pack of each of the beers, the second will be an eight pack of 7 oz bottles, so the consumer will have two short bottles of each. A pretty unique idea and a way to try some of these higher aclohol beers without drinking a full 12 oz.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Trip to Flying Dog

Last week I posted about the recent news of Flying Dog Brewery moving from downtown Denver to Frederick, MD. Since I'm in Denver for Christmas I figured this week would be perfect to make a special trip to the brewery for a tour, a tasting, and hopefully to talk to some of the fine folks there. Well I must say I couldn't be happier with my trip there. All three things happened and it ended up being great time. I spent quite a bit of time speaking with Josh Mishell and Neil Stewart at Flying dog, and had a long conversation with both. None if it was an official interview or anything so I won't get into direct quotes just some interesting news bits based on my discussions with him and others at the brewery.
Flying dog has brewed the last beer in the Denver Brewery, however, they have one more bottling run in January then everything will be moved to MD. Currently the brew tanks are holding the distillers wash for next doors Stranahan's Whiskey. After Stranahan uses up this wash, they will be contracting to another craft brewer to help out in their whiskey making (who this will be is still to be determined). Flying Dog will not be keeping open the tasting room in Denver as its not economically feasible to use that space solely for tasting, however they may work with next door's Blake Street Tavern (whom they already have a relationship with) for some tasting events. One of the big questions I had was why were they heading out East in the first place. It was explained to me that Flying Dog had been doing some contract brewing in the past (Spanish Peaks most notably) however those opportunities have started to dry up and many contracts are trying to go to other brewers for less money. After this Flying Dog looked to expand operations and since they couldn't do that in the facility they were at they initially looked at contracting their beer out east in the Frederick facility. This would allow them to expand their distribution across the US. However after a time the brewery came up for sale for a reasonable amount of money and the folks at Flying dog jumped at the opportunity. This led them to operating two facilities, one in Denver, one in Frederick. This was never good economically, and with the increase in prices for raw materials it became even more difficult to pay lease on the Denver building when it was only making 30% of the product. With that they made the difficult decision to move all operations to Frederick starting January of next year. They are offering all current employees relocation packages, and those that don't accept will be getting severance packages. Its nice to see them take such good care of their employees. While I'm disappointed that they are leaving Denver, the reasons why make sense to me.
In other interesting news I did find out that Flying Dog will be releasing two new beers next year, one will be there Spring Release and it will be a Bierre de Garde, the second will be a Trippel.
Lastly I was able to pick up 3 really amazing beers one of which I will be using as my Sessions Tasting, the other two I'll be writing up when I can. Special thanks to Josh and Neil for being so nice to me and my wife during our visit.
Thanks again to all the rest of the folks at Flying Dog and good luck to you all in MD.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2007 Anchor 'Our Special Ale'

In the recent Session hosted by yours truly there was one beer that was repeatedly written on. From the great taste to the passion that many felt for this particular beer, the amount of writings was amazing. Here is a seasonal beer that's been made every year sine 1975 I believe, every year the recipe is different, every year the label depicts a different tree. I had seen it before of course, who hasn't? I knew I had to buy some and try it for myself, was it really that good?
The answer of course is yes.
The Beer: The beer pours a deep dark cloudy brown capped by an 1/8 inch thick taupe head. The head disappears but there is plenty of lacing left behind. The nose is full of licorice, the smell of an evergreen forest, prunes, maltiness, and some floral hops. The mouth is the same. Its a mouthful of licorice, prunes and plums, cocoa, malts, piney hops, and a spruce-y taste. Quite frankly this beer is amazing, the amount of flavors that are floating all though this beer is incredible. I'm glad I bought multiple bottles since some will be held to age. This ones an easy A. Over at BA 99% of the folks are in favor of it.

Well that's my last post of the year, well at least from Texas. I head to Denver for the holiday's where I am sure that I'll be sampling some local beer. I'm also heading to Flying Dog Brewery on Friday so I'll post my thoughts on that visit as well.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Holidays.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Hop Shortage Impacts Local Brewery

Unless you've been living under a rock you've heard about the current hop shortage. There is even a brief mention in the MSNBC article I posted this weekend. Many breweries have already let folks know that beer prices were going to rise because of this. As brewers pay more for hops that impacts the market driving up the price of the six pack you buy in your grocery store. As lovers of craft beer most of us are used to paying more for our favorite beer, and frankly that's OK. I don't usually mind paying a bit more for something that's well crafted, whether it be a nice watch, a nice article of clothing or beer. Well crafted things tend to cost more, they are usually more labor intensive and they are made with finer ingredients.
I know that was a bit of a tangent so let me get back track. Beyond the hike in pricing the other impact to the hop shortage is changes in a beer's recipe. Certain hops are getting harder to find so a brewery may substitute Cascade Hops for Warrior hops or Amarillo hops. This is how local Houston Brewery Saint Arnold's is dealing with the hop issue. In this weeks Newsletter SA reports that although they have secured plenty of hops and malt for this year, they didn't necessarily always get the hops they wanted. For 2008 they will be using Columbus Hops instead of Cascade for bittering in the Amber and Elissa IPA (although as they state there will be plenty of Cascade hops in Elissa in late additions). They promise that the change is for this year only and they will revert to the original recipe next year. Time will tell if anyone can detect the difference.

One more piece of Saint Arnold's related news. They reported in the newsletter that their sales are up 30% for this year. That growth is absolutely astounding. Congratulations is well deserved to Brock and the gang.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

News Bits and Beer Quick Hits

I've found quite a bit of news this week in the wonderful world of beer, however instead of posting a few wordy entry's I'm taking the cheap way out and just posting one short entry on a few different news bits.

- First comes news from the Flying Dog Brewery out of Denver that they are moving to Maryland. A while back they bought out Wild Goose Brewery in Frederick, MD and began brewing a portion of their output at that facility. Well over time that output has grown to be 70% of production. With that increase in production and the fact that their current place was not conducive to expansion they have made the decision to move in January. That means the brewery in Denver will be closing down however their administrative duties will still be done out of Denver and won't be making the move. I have a couple of questions regarding this move: Will the tasting room still be open? What will happen to Stranahan's Whiskey next door? They use Flying Dog malt so I wonder how they will continue. The good news is that I am heading to Denver this week to spend Christmas with my wife's family, and I'm working on arranging a tour of Flying Dog, so hopefully I'll be able to find out the answers.

- Second bit of news is this article from MSNBC on the growth of craft brewing. The basis of the story is that craft breweries are starting to be run like a real life business. Instead of just throwing things together they have business plans and such. This organization is one of the many things that is helping craft beer increase their growth potential while the macro brewers are scrambling and seeing their sales drop. While Craft beer only takes up about 7% of the market in the last 52 weeks it has seen a growth (in term of dollar sales) of 17.2% according to this story. Thats pretty impressive. The good news is that as small breweries get smarter with their business structure they become more stable which leaves to longevity (hopefully).

- Lastly is the announcement of The Session #11. The monthly virtual beer tasting is being hosted by Brewvana, the theme is Dopplebock's. Hmmm, I love doppelbock's, especially in the cold weather. This will be a fun one to be sure. Maybe I'll even find something interesting in Denver. The session will be held on the 4th of January.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quick Hits: A Beer Writer's last Column

Those of you who are regular readers (I think there are some out there) know that I am a weekly reader of the Fort Worth's Star Telegram's Barry Schlacter. He writes two columns alternating between a beer tasting and then his 'Beer Sphere' where he writes on various beer related topics. For example this week's article is on books to buy the beer lover for Christmas. Its been nice to see a main stream newspaper in Texas writing not only about craft beer, but promoting Texas Beers as well. As far as I know he is the only regular contributor to a Texas Newspaper writing about beer. Unfortunately the column mentioned above is his last. Mr. Schlacter reports that due to budget cuts his column (and the weekly wine column) have been cut from the paper. If you appreciate well written beer articles and think that main stream papers should be writing about Craft Beer more, not less, then you're probably ticked off. If you are then you can do what I did and write some of the folks below and let them know:

Executive Editor, Jim Witt at jwitt@star-telegram
Features Editor, Catherine Mallette at
Reader’s advocate, David House,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Session #10: The Roundup

I sure never realized how much fun hosting a session would be. Its been a blast! We 30 entries from 15 states and 5 different countries. I know that I learned a lot about winter beers, and its given me an even longer list of beers that I want to try.
With that let's get to the entries:

The early bird winner is fellow Houston blogger The Dude. Going local as I did, he chose the very well made Saint Arnold's Christmas Ale. He also made what sounds like a very good Christmas turkey and sausage Gumbo using the brew. Good job!

Stan over at Appellation Beer writes about Colorado's Great Divide Hibernation Ale, a strong Winter Warmer. Stan's idea of a pairing, is the beer, a nice big fire and a plate of cheese. Sounds like a great time.

Rick Lyke of Lyke2Drink posts his thoughts on 6 different holiday/winter beer. Going above and beyond each beer is paired with different foods (or paired with a family gathering, but sometimes that's just as good). Maybe one could make a tasting menu out of this?

Rick Sellers of Pacific Brew News takes us through a list of beers trying to find that one that says 'Christmas' to him. Which did he choose? Anchor Merry Christmas Ale, not a bad choice.

The Beer Nut over in Ireland again tries to find that perfect winter beer. It seems like he has some great choices.

The Barley Blog takes an interesting twist. He has some great winter beers alright, but not from this season, they are ones that he's been cellaring since last season. He chose the session to take a few out of the cellar for a taste and see how his cellaring performed. Sounds like it did pretty well.

Jason over at the brewbasement takes up the cellaring theme as well. This time its comparing this year's version to a past one. Sierra Nevada 2004 vs. 2007. Interesting results to be sure.

Relatively new beer blogger and fellow Texan Josh over at kegs and kitchen participates in his first Session. For this post he posts on two very different beers.

Stephen Beaumont has his post over at Thats The spirit, where he takes us on a journey of 5 different winter beers.

David takes treats us to the Twelve beers of Winter from Matt's brewing out of Utica, NY. Granted its not 12 different beers, only 6, but quite a filling post.

London's own Stonch treats us to two different beers, one of them on cask.

Another Dave, this time posting on Sierra Nevada Celebration and how that beer signals the beginning of the Season.

Captain Hops rewards us all with not 1, but 3 Beer Haiku's on Winter Beers.

Greg Clow's been so busy that he couldn't write up a separate post on winter beers, but instead guides us to an article that he wrote for the Taste of TO. The article's good so make sure to check it out.

Wilson, experiencing a much colder winter that down here in Texas (3 inches of snow and I'm jealous), treats us to two different Winter Seasonal beers, one from Goose Island, the other from Boulevard Brewing.

Buttle writes us from New York about a Winter Seasonal from his local brew pub. Its his first Session and he gets kudos from me for selecting and promoting something local.

Tom over at the brew site has started a Beer Advent Calendar where he posts on a different beer on each day of advent. Great idea, wish I had thought of it. He rolls that theme into this months Session, selecting Wild Goose's Snow Goose Winter Ale.

Christina joins us for her first Session and starts off with a bang, giving us a post with 6 different beers.

Shawn over at posts on a local beer Schafly's Christmas ale. He thinks this beer would do just fine with a desert like ginger spice cake drizzled with white chocolate shavings or even a something savory like spiced ham.

Over at Boak and Bailey they pontificate on what it means to be a Christmas ale. Noting that its different if your asking the question in the UK, Belgium or Germany.

Tim of the Soux city Journal joins us and feels so bad that he couldn't participate in last months session he offers a two-fer.

Josh of Flying Dog Brewery and posts on a Do it yourself beer dinner, focused on Seasonal beers. He write specifically on Flying Dog's K-9 and what food will go with it. But this post is much more than that, its where to go for ideas to host your own beer dinner. A great site and one that I might devote an entire separate post to.

Alan from a Good Beer Blog finds a good choice from Western Canada, Faceplant Winter Ale from Nelson Brewing in BC.

Keith doesn't just write about any Winter Warmer, he writes about his. A home brewer, Keith discusses how he made his version of a Winter Warmer, which is based on Houston's own Saint Arnold's Christmas Ale.

Josh from Humps brewing posts his thoughts on some home brewed winter seasonals and those that are commercially available as well.

Snekse over at Gastronimic Fight club takes us through the Sam Adams Winter Seasonal Pack (along with A-B's Winter's Bourbon cask Ale). Having tried most of the Sam Adam's selection I can appreciate the write up.

Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur writes up on their newest Christmas Ale Gift of the Magi. Its also more as he gives some insight into his thoughts on the season. He also makes sure to get the food and beer pairing with his mention of the cheese plates served with his two Christmas ales. One of these day's I'll make it to his brewery dang it!

J over at the Brookston Bulletin writes his thoughts on the Christmas seasonal beer. His post is also yet another one on the wonders that is Anchor's Christmas ale - or Our special ale(and I have to agree).

Kieran initially thought that this session would be difficult for him. Seeing as he is from Australia (I meant New Zealand , my sincerest apologies Kieran), and its not Winter there, how does one get into the 'Winter Beer' spirit? You do what he did and make one!

Craig over at Beers Beers Beers is our last entry (so far). His is another posting on a great selection of Winter Beers, TEN in fact!

Well that seems to be about it for this month's Session. As I mentioned this was a lot of fun and I hope to have the pleasure of hosting again sometime. Stay tuned as I'm sure that next month's theme will be announced any day now. Till next time.

UPDATE: We had one additional entry that I overlooked in all the emails.
This one from Steve at Summer of Beers, who in Southern California finds the weather as Winter-y as I do. His post is on the Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza, an oak aged Belgian Dark ale.

That makes it 31 posts for this Session.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Session: Winter Beers

Finally, December 7th has arrived! The first Friday of the month means its Session time and I'm your lucky host. The theme this month is Winter Beers. I think I'm pretty lucky in that there are quite a few local Texas breweries that make good solid winter seasonal beers. With the goal of staying local my first instinct was to go Saint Arnold's Christmas Ale, a beer that I have reviewed a couple of times on this site. However I wanted something a little different so I kept searching. My next choice was for Rahr and Sons Winter Warmer, however I never found any down in Houston. Finally I went to my local Central Market for some inspiration. I spoke to the Beer Man there Caesar and he new just what I should get: Real Ale Sisyphus Barleywine Ale 2007, so that's what I did. The second optional part of the theme was to pair beer with wine or use it in a beer inspired recipe. While Barleywines aren't traditionally used in cooking, they are used in food pairings, one food in particular: cheese, big blue cheese at that. Again I searched for local foods, and found a really nice blue cheese from Pure Luck and their Hopelessly Blue Cheese. Now I had all of my ingredients, its time for write up!
The Beer: Using a sifter shaped glass, the beer pours a cloudy brown with a thin head. The beer weighs in between 10 and 11% abv. The nose is white grapes, sweet malt a bit of floral hoppiness. The hops show up in the taste, but its very well balanced with the malts. This is not an overly hoppy Barleywine say in the style of Avery Hog's Heaven. You get more toasted malts, even a little sweet caramel, a tinge of alcohol as it drips down your throat, more white grapes and a bit of honeyness all with out being cloying. Very smooth barleywine, one that I could sip on all night long. This one is an A- in my book. Here's what the folks over at BA had to say.
The Cheese: This is a pretty mild blue cheese, very creamy, with just a little bit of that blue funk that I like in this style of cheese.
The Paring: When the cheese is eaten with the beer the 'funk' as I call it explodes over the tongue really accentuating the flavors. The honeyness and maltiness really brings out the gorgeous flavors of this cheese. Great paring I think.

Well that about does it for my Session Entry, next up of course is posting a round up. I've already received quite a few entries, but if you have sent me yours you can post a link to this post with your entry or email me at I plan on posting a round up no later than Sunday. Hopefully that will catch any stragglers.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Music and Beer: A follow up

In a perfect example of 'I wish I had this piece of news last month' I came across some pretty interesting news recently. The follow up bit is a reference to last months Session Theme of Beer and Music. While Houston has a rich music history and actually has quite a few good music venues it is lacking in independent music shops. If one wanted to peruse a local music shop full of not only CD's but vinyl records as well, you headed to the great Cactus Music on W. Alabama and Shephard. You could also get local music acts promoting their CD releases, all in all it was a great place. Sadly Cactus closed last year leaving a gaping hole in the Houston Music scene.
However in wonderful news Cactus is BACK! A new location just a bit down the road from the original (2110 Portsmouth St. in Shepherd Plaza). And who do we thank for bringing Cactus back? Brock Wagner, owner of Houston's own Saint Arnold's. Along with some other fine folks Brock has invested in Cactus and has worked to bring it back. All the investors are local and they have helped bring back a local institution. In this era of local institutions falling by the way side in favor of global corporations its nice to see folks getting together and putting their money where there mouth is, doing something wonderful for the local community. Kudos to all. Having been there a few times already since their opening its a great space, with plenty of CD's, Vinyl and some really great art work. In Saint Arnold's most recent newsletter, they promise good musical acts, along with great refreshments. If that doesn't symbolize music and beer I don't know what does.

Reminder for The Session

Just a friendly reminder that this Friday is the latest Session. The theme this month is Winter Beers, the rules are as follows:
  • Pick any Winter Seasonal beer you want. Or a sampler if you’d like (think the Sam Adam’s seasonal pack).
  • If you select a single beer, let us know why you choose this beer.
  • Extra credit for paring your winter seasonal beer with a winter meal, or better yet a recipe based on the beer of your choice.
  • Post your contribution to The Session on Friday December 7th. Send me the links to your post and a few short days later I'll post a round up of every one's contributions.
This month should be fun as the temperature cools I find myself more and more reaching for a winter beer. Once you've posted your write-up you can just send me an email with a link to the post:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tommy Knocker Cocoa Porter

This past weekend found me at one of my all time favorite beer places. While not necessarily local (it is a chain) Flying Saucer has one of the best beer selections around, bar none. Usually when I head into my local Saucer my eyes are immediately drawn to the chalk board above the bar, here is where you find what's just landed, whats new on tap and in the bottle. This time was no different, and my eyes were immediately drawn to Tommy Knocker's Cocoa Porter in the bottle. I had heard about this beer and was eager to try it. No sooner had a sat down and ordered one than my friendly waitress set one before me poured into a pint glass.
The Brewery: Tommy Knocker is not only a brewery but a pub in Idaho Springs, CO. I actually went there, well before I had delved deep into craft beer so its a place I want to visit again. They've been around for about 10 years, and while some of the beers can be run of the mill, they do make some interesting fair, chief among them their Maple Nut brown, a brown ale made with maple syrup. In fact they've just released an Imperial version that I'm dying to try but alas I don't think it will make its way to Texas.
The Beer: The Cocoa Porter is a winter warmer made with real ground cocoa. The beer pours an almost opaque with a thin barely visible toffee colored head. The nose is full of cocoa, honey, roasted malts. The mouth is creamy chocolatey, slightly sweet and incredibly smooth. It has a sense of Swiss Miss cocoa mix, and trust me this is a good thing. Its quite amazing in its cocoa-ness. The hop profile is pretty low as this is a creamy malty beer. I thoroughly enjoyed this beer as the only negative I could find was its utter lack of head. I think that would have made the beer even creamier. That withstanding I found this beer to be outstanding, its a strong B+ in my book. While a quite a lot of folks at BA didn't like it, I think they missed the point. This is not a serious Porter or stout, this is drinking hot cocoa by the fire. I believe this is what TK wanted to do, and if it is, its a success.