November 9, 2011

What We Don't Know

The ACBLG provisional logo
with the Franklin glurge.
I've been public about my disdain for Facebook and my preference to Twitter. Twitter is like a river of information. I can grab bits and pieces of news, gossip and distraction that eddy into my purview. I can cast out opinion like flat rocks skipping briefly only to be subsumed by the ceaseless deluge. I can converse, but the interaction is self-limiting.

Facebook seems to be somewhat of a swamp. Lethargic. Of the past.

I've tolerated Facebook recently because of the conversation in the Arizona Craft Beer Lovers Group (ACBLG)- a few hundred or so beer appreciators, homebrewers, beer bar owners, pro brewers and distributors. I was skeptical that this group would be of value to me and I still reserve the right to remove myself from the group (or be removed, one imagines). So far I'm learning things that I did not expect to learn.

Despite the concentration of knowledgeable beer people, I'm struck as to how much this group doesn't know about the business of beer (that has nothing to do with beer), distribution, packaging, the slim margins that the industry faces, the legal landscape, barriers to entry and basic customer service. I'm learning what this beer community doesn't know about each other. I'm finding out that they have expectations that go unmet. There's talk of favoritism, blind localism, "you owe us", "the beer needs to be". Some of the most appreciated figures in the valley feel under-appreciated or misconstrued or come off as quarrelsome. The voice of a few sometimes seems to be the roar of many, when in fact it's just one person's opinion and a "like "thumbs up. It either passed a weakly rebutted challenge or everyone else just gave up.

I include myself in the group that has much to learn on all of these topics. I have made missteps. I have put on the "know-it-all" hat.

I have strong opinions and I have a history of working forums like this for information well before (Remember BBS?) there was an internet. I'm going to share things that I know and my vehemence on some things is somewhat of a challenge to others because I want the best answers to come out. I like to be right, but I also like to be helpful.

The biggest frustration of the whole thing is, frankly, we all don't know how to get along with one another in a social media environment.  Some of the more awkward moments develop because a good number of people don't know that there are a number of industry people lurking in the group. Say something that probably should be handled in private and suddenly in swoop the distributors, or the publicans or the brewer or the beer clubs. The flatness of hierarchy in the "expertism" meant initially that your opinion stood on its merits and encouraged some candor. These days it can be downright cringe-worthy to click on a thread. I wonder how long some of the industry people will keep tuning into discussions that have such a low ratio of signal to noise. It must be frustrating since their time was tight well before this group came around.

One presumes that beer's shared amid our conversations in a friendly pub environment would smooth out the rough edges. There is some talk of meeting in real life. That day could not come soon enough for some.

November 4, 2011

The Session #57: Rob's Beery Confession

This month’s Session, hosted by Steve Lamond's Beer’s I’ve Known, has the topic “beery guilty secrets.”
I'd like to know your beery guilty secrets. Did you have a particularly embarassing first beer (in the same way that some people purchase an atrocious song as their first record) or perhaps there's still a beer you return to even though you know you shouldn't? Or maybe you don't subscribe to the baloney about feeling guilty about beers and drink anything anyway?
I guess I have unsubscribed from baloney for quite some time now. In the age of when I can say that I have been married 67.8 Kardashians and just about anyone who is anyone has a sex tape, the last thing we need to be embarrassed about is beer. Here is the closest thing that I can come up with.

In 2007, my wife Brenda and I did a beer bar only tour of Belgium hitting Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges. It seem silly to think that our guide of great beer at the time was not the internet, but was something that we affectionately called the Scheidt List. The list was given to my by Don Webb- homebrewer, beer tale teller, dear friend and now one of the owners of Seattle's Naked City Brewery and Taphouse. He obtained the hand written from memory list from Don Scheidt who wrote for Celebrator Beer News. The flip side is the bold type faced phrase, "Beer had Good Value but Food has No Beer Value."

The Scheidt list
So over the course of 9 days we hit every place listed on the handwritten stream of beer conciousness put forth by a PACNW beer legend. I focus on Trappist and Belgian classic styles, Brenda stuck to sours, lambics and guezue. Wake. Train. City tour and off to the beer bars from 11am to 2 with an occasional peek outside for a waffle or chocolate. The beers- amazing, bursting with flavor! Even the subtle wit and Belgian Pales exercised the palate in new and interesting ways. The food- rich, wonderful and savory! Moules. Frites. Waterzooi. Stoofkarbonaden. The experience was a sensory explosion day after day, night after night.

On the tenth day it became ridiculous. Taxing. I wanted no more of it. That night we found the most American style pizza joint. We ordered cheese pizza and Jupiler, the number one selling beer in Belgium (is there shame in that?). It is a weak pale lager. I remember more about that evening than the 1984 Chimay Blue I drank the night before at Kulminator

Jupiler. Exhibit A

Cheese Pizza. Exhibit B.


November 3, 2011

Exclusive Announcement: Rare Affair - Hot Scotchies

The Arizona Society of Homebrewers (ASH ) have announced today that they will be bringing hot first runnings of a brew day mash to the Rare Affair on Saturday Nov 5th. so that guests can sample the Hot Scotchy or Brewer's Cocktail. First runnings are the unfermented and unhopped malt building block of beer. As a tribute to today's International Stout Day, David Schollmeyer's GABF contending Bucket Hugger Russian Imperial Stout grain bill will be used.

Designated driver guests will be able to sample the drink without alcohol. All other guest will be invited to add some of the available spirits at Rare Affair to mix their own cocktail from among the following available to both Non-VIP and VIP.

  • Tullamore Dew Scotch- Various
  • Belveniw 12 yr Scotch
  • Equador Highland 10 yr Scotch

The author and Oak Creek's Jim Strelau
I was introduced to the Hot Scotchy a few years ago by Oak Creek's brewmaster, Jim Strelau. when I had the good fortune to brew with him on the brewpub's 7BBL system. Sick as a dog with a permasmile on my face, I watched Jim arrive with glasses of Scotch and fashion a ladle out of a cup and string. He pulled off a few draws out of the Elderflower Pear Bier De Garde that we were brewing and mixed up the perfect elixir.

Mentioned briefly here and much more extensively by Beervana's Jeff Alworth, the history of the cocktail is as murky as un-vorlaufed wort. It may or may not have anything to do with the Sternewirth Privilege- the unwritten and perhaps mythic law that requires one to drink while brewing. Jeff smiths it out better than I can and if this doesn't convince you to read the rest of his column and desire a cup of warm comfort at Rare Affair, nothing will.
What happens is nothing short of mystical. Mash runnings are very sweet and flabby--there's no definition to the flavors. The addition of Scotch somehow reverses all this. Like an electric current, the Scotch animates the grains so that you can taste them in HD. The Scotch is likewise a very clear note, but not sharp or aggressive. It has all the flavor of a straight shot, but it's floating amid Mom's comforting malted. Insanely beguiling.
It's been a brewday staple for me ever since and is now an ASH tradition at our brewouts. I'm not aware of it being sold anywhere ever in Arizona. The likeliest places that would have done this would either be Four Peaks or Santan, holders of spirituous liquor licenses. Nothing in recent valley memory serves.

Take heart, should you miss out on this as you can always join the motley band of homebrewers. Once the weather has truly turned into brisk wet windy nights, look for an ASH events during February's Arizona Beer Week. ASH will be serving Hot Scotchies in a few valley locations in partnership with select establishments including Citizen Public House and Moto.

You hear that Richie, Vince? We're doing this right?

UPDATE: I spoke with Doc from BJ's Brewhouse. We'll be getting 4 gallons of Red Goliath first runnings as well. Blustery evening be damned!

November 2, 2011

The Best Way To Enjoy Beer...

A couple of weeks ago I did some beer judging for ASH and followed that up a week later by judging beers home brewed by employees of Crescent Crown. I enjoy beer judging very much, but the process is actually very hard work. It's satisfying work and pleasiong, but it is not drinking beer for personal enjoyment. I wrote this to try and flesh out the differences. In the process, I can see some crossover to explaining how some monster tastings that occur at festivals or the result of a beer club trade or personal cellar openings can skew beer opinions and create some unwarranted beer geek hype. These are my guidelines, I'd like to hear yours.

Drink In Situ
Drink a beer in its place of origin. Trot down to your local brewery and you should have the freshest example. The brewery has complete control of the beer as they place it in its final vessel. You won't have to worry if the beer was treated well; that it wasn't out in the hot Arizona sun or sat on a dusty shelf.

If you are fortunate enough, travel to the town of a style's origin. Have a Pilsner in Plsen. These days, with some small exceptions, any style of beer can be made in any brewery in the world. It's fun to wrap your head around why a style sprung up from the ground (water), or the air (yeast) or any number of natural or man-made circumstances. The scarcity of some beers and the imperfect world of post prohibition distribution makes traveling for beer one of life's few authentic experiences. It's much more pleasant to be handed a draft beer from a publican than it is to pull one out of a suitcase or swaddled in bubble wrap.

Learn the Brewer's Intent
Brewing is compromise and there are literally dozens of things that have to happen for the beer to get into your glass. The brewer tries to control as many of these things as possible and often has to do something at the expense of another. These decisions impact the beer's flavor profile. Great beers often have great stories but even absent one as told to you by the brewer or the brewery staff, you should be able to piece a narrative together based upon the style or description. Did the brewer intend to hit the top end of the IBU threshold or was she looking to create a beer with sufficient bitterness with a hefty malt backbone? It's quite possible that the beer is not suited for your tastes by design.

Get a Proper Serving
Typically this is a pint, or perhaps two. If the beer has some heft, a 10 ounce snifter might be appropriate. Some of this can be divined from the brewers intent or style guidelines, but most beer is designed to be consumed in 12 to 16 ounce servings. Here is where you have to take off your festival go-er, beer ticker, beer rater or serial sampler hat. There are few beers designed to be enjoyed as a four ounce pour. Fewer to none as a two ounce pour. Brewers design beers to consumed start to finish with the hope that you entertain the possibility of having one or two more of the very same beer. Nobody brews a beer that is best served preceded by a 2 ounce pour of Russian Imperial Stout and followed up by a 1 ounce pour (that you split with your mate) of American Wild Ale. One thing you may have said to yourself  (or heard others say out loud) is, "That was intense, but I don't think I could finish a glass of it." This is very instructive. It may have some spectacular inter-galactic rating, but face it, you wouldn't enjoy it in its natural beer serving state.

Drink With Others
Beer is a social drink that is meant to be shared and enjoyed with groups of people. I often hear people say they don't have a good palate with the implication that they don't physically have the ability to describe beer. We all have the same basic apparatus, the thing that distinguishes the "expert" beer reviewer is associating vocabulary with a taste or sensation. The only way that you can learn this language is to compare notes with others. With a tiny bit of education, talking about beer with others as you drink it can markedly increase your appreciation and enjoyment. Sometimes the best beer you will have is the one that you enjoy with others in a convivial atmosphere. Not a word is spoken about it, yet you both signal your server for one more of the same.

If you can wrap up all of these elements in a beer session or maybe even a couple of them, I think you'll agree that this is the best way to enjoy beer and take part in beer's culture.