Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sam Adams 2010 Longshot

Some of the biggest supporters of microbrewers is the homebrewing community. They as much as or more than others can really appreciate what goes into making craft beer. It also doesn't hurt that many a craft brewer started out as a homebrewer once upon a time. Conversely many microbreweries support the local homebrewing clubs. From allowing them to hold meetings, having brew days and allowing homebrewers to take some Wort home to brew beer to all sorts of things their is definetely a symbiotic relationship between these two groups. I think one of the coolest things that is done is the Pro-am contest held at the GABF every year. A home brew recipe is brewed by a craft brewer and entered into the contest. We have two local breweries that participate every year in Southern Star and Saint Arnold's, but the most famous of these is probably Sam Adam's Longshot series. Every year Sam Adams picks 3 winning recipes (one is always an employee, the other two are "at large" winner's), enters them into the GABF contest and releases them in mixed six pack's nationwide. It has to be pretty cool to go to your local store and see your face on a bottle of beer. Well this year's Longshot has shown up in my local Spec's so I picked up the six pack to see how they tasted. A couple of notes before I start 1) I had tasted these beers back at GABF, 2) In talking to the maker of DR8 (winner of the BBBB contest) I know that there are many things that can change between the small home brew batch and the larger batch released to the public.
Lemon Pepper Saison: Weighs in at 6.4% and brewed with lemon peel and grains of paradise this is the employee winner. It pours a pale golden yellow with a thin white head. Its spicey, yeasty, lemony with notes of vanilla on the nose. Very effervescent in the mouth, light bodied, citrusy, white pepper notes from the yeast I think. Very refreshing, and finishes dry. There is a slight tartness in the mid-palate maybe even some slight funkiness. A good beer that gets a B from me.
Mile High Barleywine: This one weighs in at a hefty 9.8% and is brewed with 6 malts. It pours a brownish ruby color with a quarter inch taupe colored head. The nose is hoppy, grapefruit, dark fruits, caramel malts. Full mouthfeel, very malty, rich, dried dark plums, raisins, figs, finishing with bitter grapefruit peel. Toffee. On the finish there is a metallic tang and astringency that is off putting. As it warms the alcohol becomes much more noticeable. This one gets a B- from me.
Old Ben Ale: This old ale weighs in at 9% and pours a dark reddish copper with a thick slightly off white head. Very malty on the nose, caramel, raisins, very little hop bitterness. Medium bodied a little lighter than expected. Fruity raisins, figs, grapes, sweet toffee, very caramel-y. Needs something to off set the sweetness. This one gets a C+ from me.

Quick Hits

Just a few short notes today from around the town in beer.

- First up Saint Arnold's has announced their 16th Anniversary Party will be held on June 13th. See below for details:
What: 16th Anniversary Party
When: Sunday, June 13
Time: 1 PM to 4 PM
Cost: $36
Includes: Barbecue lunch, special glass and the spectacle of the Saint Arnold Olympics
For reservations, please follow this link:

- Next week on June 3rd there is a Saint Arnold's Dinner in Galveston at Fisherman's Wharf. Only $50 plus tax and tip. For reservations, call 409-765-5708.

- One other piece of news that's somewhat old but I hadn't got around to posting on them, well until now that is. A few weeks back Southern Star held their now annual Pro Am home brewing contest. Just like last year's winning beer Saison was brewed, kegged, and entered into the GABF Pro Am tour, this year's winner will be as well. The winning recipe was a Smoked Porter. Very excited about this beer. I was very sad to see SS's Smoked beer go the way of the dodo bird so I'm happy that they are brewing another one even if it's not their recipe. No word on when this one will be showing up at your local watering hole, but I would guess sometime around late August.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dieu Du Ciel Peche Mortel

One thing I have learned as I increase my knowledge of craft beers is that almost every country has a craft beer culture. When folks think of Canadian beer most think of Molson, or Moosehead but there is so much more. Many are familiar with the greatness that is Unibroue from Chambly Quebec, but that is not the only craft brewer from the French Canadian province. Located within Montreal lies Dieu Du Ciel, a brewery that I've heard of, but never had the chance to try their beers. That all changed when I picked up a couple of their beers when I was in Colorado recently. The first one I didn't post on was called Rigor Mortis, an amazing Quadrupel that weighed in at 10.0%. Dieu Du Ciel has a reputation for making some amazing and unique brews, many of them are higher gravity. Additionally the artwork on the labels is incredibly eye catching, I don't know who the artist is, or the story behind the labels but they beautifully done. Peche Mortel, or Mortal Sin is a bottle conditioned Imperial Coffee Stout.
The Beer: This one weighs in at 9.2% and pours a pitch jet black with a thick dense head of cafe colored foam. The nose is of rich coffee, chocolate, darkly roasted malts and some citrus notes. The mouthfeel is full and creamy, black coffee with cream, roasted malts, slightly understated notes of bitterness. Very little alcohol. Chewy. It is reminiscent of iced coffee, slightly sweet. Some citrus acidity notes of lemon show up as well. Rich and smooth. Notes of alcohol shows up as it warms. Roasted malts, slight roasted bean bitterness shows up, but for the most part its creamy smooth. Figs, and raisins and other dried dark fruits show up enriching the flavor as the beer warms. This may be the best coffee stout I have ever had. This one gets an A+ from me. Here's what the folks of BA think.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Twisted Pine Hoppy Man

I love going to the liquor store and seeing a beer that I haven't seen before from a brewery that's new to Texas. That's not entirely true in this case as Twisted Pine has been in Texas for a few months with their basic line up of beer's, however last week was the first time I had seen their big bottle offerings like Hoppy Man. Twisted Pine is yet another brewery from Colorado (when on when will Odell's make it down here?!?), this one based out of Boulder. They do make some award winning beers, however my limited exposure to them has been of somewhat solid if unspectacular beers. I was able to taste many of their beers during one of my visits to Denver and a short drive up to their brewery.
This particular beer is a souped up version of their Hoppy Boy IPA. In other words an Imperial IPA.
The Beer: The beer has 3 different types of hops: Cascase, Chinook, and Simcoe, and weighs in at a hefty 10.5%. The beer pours a slightly hazy unfiltered orangish color with a thin off white head. The nose is of citrus hops, some piney qualities, and sweet caramel malts. Big hop impact on the tongue with the first sip, with slight caramel and toasted malts mid palate before plunging head first into a resiny hoppy finish. It was then that I got my first impression of the body of the beer which honestly was lacking. A thin mouthfeel, very little carbonation.
Other notes of caramel, toastiness, toffee, malts on the nose. Yes their is a resin-y finish, but there is also some sweetness mingling with the hops, a little too much sweetness for my tastes. Some spicey white pepper notes come out as the beer warms. An OK DIPA, with lots of hop notes, but with a little too much sweetness for my tastes. This one gets a B- from me. Here's what the folks at BA had to say.

BRC Gastropub part II

For a number of reason's I've been neglecting this blog for the past few weeks. The good news is that I have a few things that need posting, some are new beers that I've tried, other's are posts like this one about restaurants and bars. You may remember a few weeks ago I wrote my thoughts on Houston's new gastropub BRC. Well one of the things that I didn't focus on during that review was the beer. I thought then that it was a disservice to not talk about my thoughts on their beer menu, beer service and all points in between. With that in mind I headed (with my in-laws in tow) to BRC for an early dinner on Saturday and came away with some good news and unfortunately some bad news thoughts on this new establishment.
The Good news? Well, the food continues to be great. With a large party (6) we were able to try a few different appetizers. My wife, the lover of all things pickled ordered the amazing pickle jar again, while we also ordered the Crab Cake Beignets and the Boudin balls. Both orders were small (3 each) but we were able to split each one in half so everyone at the table got at taste. The Boudin balls were outstanding. They may not remind me of the ones I got in Louisiana, but they were crunchy on the outside and hot in the middle with great flavor. The Beignets were a little bit on the doughy side for my tastes, so the texture wasn't necessarily to my liking, but the flavor was spot on. For dinner I got the much talked about Dr. Pepper fried quail with blue cheese potato salad. Awesome. The sweetness of the Dr. Pepper, I mean you could taste it! It was really quite genius, just very very good. The blue cheese potato salad was mixes of blue cheese tangy explosions, celery crunch, and potato. A great wonderful combo.
Other good things? Well the beer for one. There were things on the draft wall like North Coast Le Merle, and while Bear Republic's Apex was gone it had been replaced with a Beglian IPA, Crazy Ivan from the same brewery. They are striving to have great beers on tap and so far are doing a pretty good job. I also noticed that they had expanded the big bottle list, one of the things I had asked for before.
Unfortunately there are two sides to this story which means there is some bad news to report and that's regarding the beer service and really all that encompasses. The first thing you notice when you open up the beer menu (yes the same one I lauded in my initial review) is there are a number of beers crossed out. Now this is bound to happen at a place that doesn't stock kegs and kegs of the same boring beer, but how does one know whats on tap? My first reaction of course would be to ask the waitress what was available that wasn't on the list, and here of course was the problem: She had no idea. She wasn't rude or discourteous exactly, but she just wasn't up to date with what all was new on the draft wall. So I walked up to the bar to get a look at the tap wall to see what I wanted (Bear Republic Crazy Ivan!), and got it poured into a frosty ice cold mug! What? If your restaurant is touting its great beer list and how it cares about craft beer, it shouldn't be pouring beers into what is essentially a frozen mug. Do they serve ice cold wine too? I doubt it, and that my friends is my biggest gripe. I want restaurants to care about beer service as much as they care about wine service. That doesn't mean I want to take beer to the sometimes over the top pretentious level that wine can be taken to, it means that I want folks to care about the temperature the beer and how the serve it. Is that too much to ask?
So where can BRC go from here? Like I said the food is outstanding, as is the beer they serve. However they need to do a couple of things that I think would really help them out: 1) Post updated beer lists as new kegs are tapped and old ones discarded. How do you do this? Well there are a couple of options here: a) go the Gingerman/Stag's Head way and print out a new beer menu when kegs are turned. Unfortunately this can get costly. b) Go the Petrol Station/Flying Saucer/Anvil route and post new beers somewhere like a chalkboard. This is relatively easy, although you need to do it somewhere that everyone can see it which would be difficult for the folks out on the patio. c) train the waitstaff to know what's on tap at all times. Again difficult to do if there are a lot of kegs that have been rotated since the last update to the menu.
2) Get rid of frozen glasses. As a sticker at a local bar says "frozen mugs are for wimps". Craft beer doesn't need them. At the very least choose what beers your going to serve in them, I can appreciate the appeal of an ice cold beer on a hot Texas Summer day while sitting on the BRC patio.
3) Get more beer glasses than just shaker pints. No, you don't need 16 different beer glasses, but all beer shouldn't go into shaker pints and a restaurant/bar is doing a disservice to the beer drinker if they serve their beers like that. This will be especially true if BRC gets big bottle formats of Beglian Ales.

I love what BRC is trying to do, combing good homey American food, with a great beer list. In the two times I have been there, Chef Jeff Axline has shown how much he cares about the food he is making. I only hope that they'll show the same care to the beer that they are serving. I don't want to be all negative, I'm incredibly impressed by the list of beers they are putting together, its by far one of the best of any restaurant in Houston, but if you are going to do it, do it right, that's what I am asking.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Camp Beer III

The next installment of Camp Beer is coming up quickly. For recap's of the previous 2 Camp Beer excursions, check out these posts 1 and 2. Camp Beer is hosted by Cathy Clark who founded the Live It Big organization after her good friend passed. The organization hosts events like Camp Beer, or Cocktail Camp to raise money for other charities. Yes you can drink good beer for a great cause. At Camp Beer, Anvil's Kevin Floyd hosts a tasting of around 20 or so beers, these beers are all highly ranked on sites like Beer Advocate or Rate Beer, and many of them are not available in Texas, so its a real treat to get to taste some of the beers. Check out my previous posts for all the beers we've tasted in the past, but to give you a quick example: Surly Darkness, Three Floyds Dark Lords, Smuttynose RIS, 2003 Alesmith Speedway Stout, Southern Tier Pumking, and Russian River Temptation. These were all served at one of the previous two Camp Beer sessions. I happen to know some of the other beers that Cathy has in her beer stash and while I don't know the exact line up for the next session I can guarantee that if you are a beer lover you want to be there.
So what are the details? Cathy announced yesterday that the next Camp Beer will be held on Sunday June 27th. Tickets will go on sale this Friday. If you want to know exactly when they go on sale follow Cathy on twitter, if you don't have twitter check our the Camp Beer website.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Russian River Supplication

During my recent trip to Colorado I picked up quite a few beers that I can't get here in Houston. I love going to Co for many reasons, but getting beers that are unique to Texas is near the top of the list for me. One of the beers I picked up is from California favorite, Russian River, maker of not only one of the best IPA's in the world (arguably one of the best beers period), but brewer of unusual Belgian style ales as well. They specialize in barrel aging and sour ales. That's a lot to pack in for a brewery, but RR does it all incredibly well.
Supplication is RR's Brown ale aged in French Oak that previously held Pinot Noir. Three strains of bacteria were added along with sour cherries. The bacteria added are Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus.
The Beer: The beer weighs in at 7.0% and pours a lightly beige almost pinkish with a dense head of off white head. On the nose its malty, sour cherries, oak, barnyard notes, hay, and horse blanket. The mouthfeel is medium, tons of carbonation. Funky, tart, sour, acidic are the first impressions of this beer. Notes of cherries, oaky, and dry finish. Vanilla and cherries. It gives me the impression of a cherry vanilla coke. Its not a sweet beer. Although there is a cherry sweetness up front the finish is dry enough that there is a great balance. Sour funky and barnyardy. Tons of sour cherries with undertones of roasted malts, caramel, even a nuttiness. This is such an outstanding beer. Every sip adds some new nuance to the flavor profile. I love it, this one gets an A from me. Here's what folks from BA think.

UPDATE: Experienced a mis-type in my entry. Brettanomyces is a strain of Yeast that was added to Supplication, Lacobacillus and Pediococcus are both different strains of bacteria. Sorry for the error.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Restaurant Review: BRC Gastropub

Ever since I first heard the rumblings about a restaurant that would be celebrating not only good simple food, but craft beer as well, I've been excited. Those first rumblings occurred back in September of last year and I've been following the goings on of BRC Gastropub since that time, waiting for it to open. Well that time has come. The newest 'B' restaurant (joining Branchwater Tavern and Block 7) on Shephard south of Washington Avenue is now open. BRC Gastropub is owned and operated by the same folks that brought you Glass Wall in the Heights. I spoke with Lance Fegan, chef of Glass Wall and co-owner of BRC, about his vision for the food at BRC:
simply put is 'its the type of food a chef would want to eat', it's easy to
understand, easy on the wallet, fresh everyday
Well that sounds good to me, but what about the beer? has a great selection of draft beers. There are about 25 taps with strong variety, and some Texas Representation in Saint Arnold's and Real Ale. You can get IPA's, Pilsners, Brown Ales, Porters, Belgian Ales... The bottle selection is similar; a very large selection with a few large bottle formats thrown in as well. Larger bottles like Stone's Smoked Porter are available for sharing with the table. All this I knew, but what I didn't know was how it would all come together. How's the food? Are the tap lines in good shape? How's the beer knowledge? I aimed to find out, and headed to BRC for dinner on Friday night.
The full parking lot was a good sign, as we pulled up to the smaller than expected building with the big red rooster out front (I guess this is as good a time as any to explain that BRC stands for Big Red Cock). We headed inside to a well appointed, but small, dining area crowded with tables and booths along one wall. Another wall houses a long bar behind which sits a couple dozen tap handles. Not seeing any tables free, the wife and I headed outside to the comfortable patio and were promptly seated. We were handed the dinner menu and beverage menu. The beverage menu got major bonus points for having the beer list up front with the wine in the back. The beer was well organized into draft, bottle, and large format bottle, with each section subdivided by category (brown, pale ale, IPA, etc...). I selected a Real Ale Devil's Backbone and the wife selected Avery's White Rascal.
Beers chosen, we now needed food. The appetizers looked amazing. Things like Dr. Pepper fried Quail and Blue Crab Beignets sounded awesome, but there was one thing that drew my wife's attention, and that was the Pickle Jar with house cured cucumbers and asparagus. For dinner, my wife ordered the State Fair Griddled Cheese, and I ordered the BRC Pub Burger with Fries. We also ordered a side of Mac and Cheese of the day and Seasonal Fresh Veggies.
The order was taken quickly, and it wasn't too long before our beers and pickle jar arrived. It was exactly as it sounds (and looks). A jar of pickles...crunch, sour, dill...simply awesome. These pickles were divine with sprigs of dill, and whole black peppercorns in the pickling liquid. There were easily 10 or so pickles that we devoured while waiting for our food. Relatively quickly after eating our last pickle, our food arrived.
My wife's griddled cheese sandwhich was stuffed with cheese, steak, and tomatoes. My burger was topped with thick slices of bacon, tomatoes, onions, and a special BRC sauce. My fries came in a neat little mini fryer-esque holder. Our sides were set on the table, and we started eating our way through the food.
Griddled Cheese Sandwich - Texas toast with cheese, sliced steak and tomatoes. A deliciously meaty and cheesey delight. This was well seasoned, not too salty, almost perfect. My only complaint would be that at times the sliced steak was tough to bite through so you would have to take a huge chunk of steak with a bite leaving a lonely pocket of cheese behind. Maybe if the steak was chopped instead of just sliced this would be perfect.

BRC Pub Burger - Tillamook cheese, tomatoes, Maple-y bacon, onions, MEAT, and a BRC special sauce all sandwiched between buns. The bread was creamy eggy deliciousness. The meat was well seared but juicy and just slightly pink in the middle. The bacon crispy. All in all an incredibly well made burger with great textures and high juice factor. I don't know what the BRC special sauce was, and in all honesty I'm not sure what it added, as it surely wasn't overpowering anything on the night I was there. The fries were well seasoned thin strings...simple with large crystals of sea salt and herbs. While they tasted delicious, some were a little too limp and after them touting the 'double fried fries' I expected them to be a little bit crispier. That was a small disappointment that didn't affect their taste.

Mac and Cheese - This dish changes daily depending on what the chef wants to do with his Mac & Cheese. While most times I'm easy to please with this dish, BRC's M&C was truly a treat. Baked with bread crumbs topping the dish, it was hard to tell what the Mac was made with until the first bite....bacon? yep that was there, but something else, something richer, something blue....yep it was blue cheese and bacon Mac and Cheese. This dish was one of my favorites. Yes it was rich, so I couldn't have eaten a whole side by myself but shared with the wife, we were able to do some damage. The crunch bread crumbs added a needed texture to the mac and cheese. It was pretty much perfect.

Seasonal Vegetables - This was probably the one disappointment of the night. A dish of sauteed vegetables. Mainly squash topped with some herbs and what appeared to be a marinara sauce. While it didn't taste bad, it felt like something I'd pick up at a cafeteria compared to the rest of this fabulous meal.
We finished our meals and beers with happy smiles; very content and excited about this new establishment. I didn't talk much about the service intentionally. BRC has been open for such a short period that it was obvious at times that service issues were still being worked out. While our initial orders were taken promptly and the food arrived quickly and hot; after the food arrived we didn't see our waitress much. In fact I didn't get to order a second beer due to her absence, and we had to waive down a busser to pay our bill. This was a hectic Friday, one of their first (if not their first), so for now in my mind its excusable as they get their legs under them. I'll be back for sure and I know that their service will improve (if it doesn't I'll state as much here on the blog).
Other things that I would love to see in the future at BRC:
1) Cask beer - Again I have spoken to Mr. Fegen and they have multiple Cask Engines on order so that should be forthcoming!
2) A larger and more diverse 'large bottle format'. I think this is a way for folks to share a couple of different beers. It can be better to get unusual beers in bottle format vs. draft where you have to worry about long term quality of the beer if patrons aren't buying it.
One idea I absolutely loved that BRC is doing is selling tasters of beers. The tasters were a few ounces and are perfect to give patrons the ability to sample multiple different beers, some that they may not be familiar with before purchasing. Simply a great idea.
BRC is something that I have been waiting for Houston to have for a long time. A place that celebrates not only good simple food, but great beer as well. There are not many places in Houston, if any, with the quality of food and the beer selection that BRC offers which is why it is working its way quickly into one of my favorite places in Houston.