May 31, 2012

The Session 64 | Of Whales and Dales vs AZ Ale: Two Pale to Fail

In this month's 64th iteration of The Session, Carla Companion--The Beer Babe, asks that we reconsider the much maligned and often under-regarded Pale Ale.
Your mission – if you choose to accept it – is to seek out and taste two different pale ales. Tell us what makes them special, what makes them forgettable, what makes them the same or what makes them different.
Prediction: There will be dozens of blog posts entitled, "A Tale of Two Pales."

The Session topic announcement came at the same time that I read this footnote to a post by Joe Stang.
If you are one of those folks getting irked by expensive craft beers and festivals in the States these days -- and who isn't? -- then I have some simple advice for you. Stop buying whales and instead subsist on that local pale ale you've always liked but always ignore. Save those duckets, buy a plane ticket, and go to where the beer is cheap. Make a trip your whale instead.
In addition to the local pale ale mention (my emphasis), it perfectly captures my sentiment about extreme beer trading and the impending Westvleteren 12 shit show that is likely to occur once Shelton Brothers is able to start importing the one-time 7760 unit American gift pack release. That's 7760 units for the whole US of A. I fear the worst from even the best of us.

It seems that this sentiment of returning to the bread and butter of beer is being echoed locally. Patrick of the Brew Bros recently reconsidered the Sunbru Kölsch style ale and confesses that he, "has crossed some-sort of taste threshold where I am no longer looking for the biggest and the bad­dest beer" and he now seeks situation appropriate beers. New to the blogging scene but beer scenesters for some time now, the fellows at AZDraft have been drinking AZ only for the month of May and are threatening to continue to do so til year end. Noble and note-worthy effort local blog-amigos.

With fates aligned, I thought it might be fun to compare two local Pale Ales in a blind taste test and see how they fared against one another. My plan was to hit OHSO Eatery and Nanobrewery for the taste test since they boast 18 of their 36 taps are from Arizona breweries.

And here is where destiny seems to bend a curve where one would expect a straight line. There were only two Pales on the menu. They were rather dissimilar, only one was from Arizona and the other was iconic and incredibly familiar to me. It seemed that my experiment was already failed. I pressed on as there was a second matter to research. More on that as you read on.

The first beer is Grand Canyon Brewing's Horseshoe Bend Pale Ale. Grand Canyon of Williams does see some handles and shelf space here in the Valley, but I will admit that I am not able to rattle off tasting notes on it de novo. I'm a bit more familiar with their Sunset Amber, their flagship beer.

The second Pale was Dales Pale Ale, the flagship beer of Oskar Blues, a beer that I have spent entire weekends drinking during Northern Arizona cabin retreats. DPA is far more aggressively hopped and distinctively grainy than I suspect the local offering will be--by design and intent of both breweries. Had I came a day earlier, I would have been able to compare SanTan's flagship, Devils Ale to Dales, which in my opinion are  more similar Pales.

There is no way that I would confuse these two in a blind taste test. I was ready to make my call based on appearance when the samples were presented, noticing the thick white head on the presumed DPA. I waited for the aroma and it confirmed my visual. "It's this one. The Dales is this one," I confidently proclaimed. My server waited for me to at least taste them before revealing the answer. I took long determined swallows. I was unshakable.

And I was correct.

And I was also surprised.

The Grand Canyon Horseshoe had all of the elements of Dales Pale, just less so. Less in degree, mind you not less in any enjoyment or quality. The Horseshoe had a little less aroma, perhaps more Cascade, but restrained. Both Pales had similar graininess. Dales had longer lingering bitterness.

You simply cannot know these things without trying them blind, side by side. I intend to do more of these types of tastings. I've found them invaluable.

If you're still with me, here is he second thing I was researching and it's the reason why I've linked flagship, now four times. If you are a blogger and particularly if you live in the US, please consider writing about flagship beers during the week of Flag Day June 10-16. If you're a reader, I encourage you to re-visit some flagships with a presumably more experienced palate. Encourage other bloggers to explore this idea and, of course, comment it up at the blog or social media outlet of choice. Use the hashtag #flagshipbeer.

Update: Included the missing Brew Bros link.

May 24, 2012

Lolli-Palooza | Stouts, Steaks and Pancakes

Jim Lolli is either reinventing breakfast or re-asserting himself as one of the top Publicans of our state. Lolli's Hungry Monk famously tapped Bells Hopslam in February at 8:30 AM with donuts. Tonight he brings us Stouts, Steaks and Pancakes as a benefit to the Beer For Brains Foundation.

I'm of two minds on drinking Stouts this time of the year. We're Arizonan's and we drink what we like. Hot coffee on a hot day is not a problem for me. It may be a bit of a last hurrah before the silent sleep of sun and heat force us to at least pay homage to lighter styles, Belgian wits, wheats and more session beers. At some point, we should acknowledge our environment and adapt an appropriate style.

Jim is right to put these kinds of twists on what beer can do. We need more people like him. He's not one to put the spotlight on himself, but I will. If there was such a thing as the Arizona Publicans League or the Association of Independent Publicans of the Valley (There should be, right?), a guy like Jim should be at its helm.

The Stouts, Steaks and Pancakes menu is below. As I am unable to attend tonight, please do me the favor of dipping a buttered pancake in a Great Divide Oak Aged Chocolate Yeti.

Update: Photos from the event via Ben "Tiberius" Smith and Jess Harter.
Jess honored my request with a buttermilk pancake dipped in Yeti!

Photo : Ben Smith

Photo: Jess Harter

May 23, 2012

Mystery, Mischief and Kickfinishing

There has to be a word for it. I'm at a loss. I know and banter with Erik Lars Myers @topfermented via twitter. I've clinked glasses with him and even supported his brewery, Mystery Brewing through his Kickstarter campaign. So we have that relationship. Twitter Buddies? Beer Tweeps? SMIRL friends (Social Media In Real Life)?

Regardless, Erik lays out some solid advice on Kickstarter campaigns for breweries in a straightforward manner. Pay special note to the advice he gives that has very little to do with Kickstarter and the emphasis on already working with things you should already have in place:
  • A plan that involves several funding sources;
  • Working with a community that you are already involved in;
  • Having your rewards worked into a larger existing marketing plan.
Money quotes:
I hate to say this, but if you don’t have a local community that’s ready to see you start a brewery, you’re going to have a difficult time finding that funding.
I will be sending out Kickstarter prizes for years. No shit. Half of my donors probably think I’ve completely forgotten about them.
What do I owe them now? They are the original community around my business. Any and every small business is about people. It’s about the community, and these are your starter community. 
Read the whole post here because it informs both the potential funder as well as those flirting with the idea of a Kickstarter project. 

It's worth noting Erik mentions that the Kickstarter game is much more competitive. In March, I noted that there were 3 Arizona brewery Kickstarter projects rolling out at the same time and that there were probably going to be as many as 8 this year. I asked that we make sure we are supporting the projects that have high community involvement. In the comments, I noted that Kickstarter should represent a small portion of  the overall plan. 

With all of the emphasis on things not Kickstarter and with success tied to having those things already in play, we all should reconsider Kickstarter as Kickfinisher.

Mischief's Brandon Richter
Since March, the campaigns of  two brewery projects, Granite Mountain Brewing and Arizona Wilderness Brewing were successfully funded in March. The third campaign, Mischief Brewing wisely decided to hold off until this month so as not to saturate the month of March. 

I don't expect to get invited to any weddings or children's birthday parties through Erik or because I contributed to Mystery Brewing. (So perfect, amirite?)  I do need to have a glass of beer with him at his brewery sometime.

As for Mischief Brewing, I've met Brandon and April Richter a few times and we interact on the internets. We drank beer too. I know we will continue to chat over beer. Mischief is now actively seeking $30,000 with 25 days to go in their endeavor

Mischief's April Richter
You have a few weeks to get to know them:

No kid birthday parties please.

Update: This was recently posted by Facebook's Tim Weable.

May 18, 2012

Where in the Phoenix Beer World?

Do you know where in the beer world this photo was taken? How does it relate to Arizona beer?

The concept is simple. We post a picture that is relevant to the Phoenix area beer scene and you try and identify it. Sometimes there will be a larger story involved, but often there will not. So, for glory and a tip of the glass next time we see you. Please, no social media cheating!

May 15, 2012

Flag Day for Flagship Beers | June 10 - 16

At the risk of causing a controversy with patriotic symbols and celebration (in an election year no less). I'd like to propose that we use Flag Day to honor the symbol of our nation and that also use that week to mark the success of one of the more tangible results of our Nation's independent spirit--American brewing.

During the week of Flag Day let's take a moment to celebrate our breweries flagship beers.

Fat Tire by Alisa Medina
(Brew Bros)
Flagship beers, for those that want a definition, are the beers that keep the lights on for a brewery. They are that breweries top-selling brand. Though I can't source a link at the moment, many of us are familiar with the story of New Belgium. Fat Tire and Abbey were two of co-founder Jeff Lebesh's first recipes. Lebesh was certain that Abbey would be the top seller. It wasn't to be of course. Fat Tire was the people's choice and it's success allowed New Belgium to support a vast and wide-ranging flavorful catalog as well as a employee driven culture.

It's a wonder to many outside the state that the top-selling locally produced beer in Arizona is Kilt Lifter  Scottish Style Ale, yet we drink it here unflinchingly as if it were lemonade. When asked, Head Brewer Andy Ingram will tell you that he'd always anticipated that 8th Street would be everyone's go to beer.

With other breweries in the state, it's less clear to me what the flagship beer is. Is SanTan's flagship its Devil's Ale or is it Epicenter? What about Lumberyard? Does the IPA sell more than the Red? I don't have that answer and that is the larger point of focus in this week in June. For many of us that choose to participate, we'll be drinking these beers again for the first time. It's an opportunity to revisit beers that you have not perhaps had in a decade. (Such a thing happened to my with Anchor Steam and I regret my years of overlooking that beer.)
Let's avoid this appropriation of the flag.
If you write a blog, I ask that you devote some time to writing about a flagship beer in your area. If you're just a reader, I encourage you to re-visit some flagships with a presumably more experienced palate. Encourage other bloggers to explore this idea and, of course, comment it up at the blog or social media outlet of choice.


See the rest of the Flagship Beer Day series here.

May 7, 2012

Indy Beer and Indy Music | Uniting the Tribes

We are very excited to welcome Corey Rial as a new member to the BeerPHXation team. Corey brings us a perspective from the Valley indy music scene and the attitude and hyperlocalism that we espouse on this blog. -ED

I wanted my first post on BeerPHXation to encompass my culture of beer in Phoenix, or at the least the culture I am often occupying. This is the culture of live music, be it established venues or fly by night warehouses, places where loud music and consuming beer are congruent.

To gauge a culture, be it art, food, music and the purpose of this, one should take a snapshot of their surroundings and observe the results. What do our restaurants and bars serve? What beers are prominent in our life outside these establishments, what is sold in the convenience stores, who is putting on events, etc. And most importantly what’s in our refrigerators.

We can’t go into peoples homes and evaluate the contents of their refrigerators, but we can observe their beer choices they bring with them.

For a case study along those lines, a band I play in recently played a show at a DIY music venue--a warehouse in a part of town where flying under the radar of established norms isn’t a radical idea, a BYOB establishment that doesn’t necessarily rely on zoning and sound ordinances, let alone liquor laws. We played with an established touring band that excretes DIY and independent ethos, and in turn attracts “like minded” people...or so it would seem. The place was brimming with Pabst Blue Ribbon and Bud Light. Not exactly the libation of free thinkers and society renouncers.
Tragedy May 1st Phoenix. Photo Courtesy Gregory Allen Colson

The question I used to frame this thought process was, “How is a group of people that go as far as to reject local music establishments totally OK with accepting the beer industrial complex?” and “How can we get on restaurants about beer if our creative groups can't pull it together?

The end game goal for restaurants (all business actually) is to turn a profit. They base decisions on what benefits them financially. This is an acceptable practice, as we all need financial stability/money to live.

Places like the Yucca Tap Room or the Lost Leaf, in contrast to the BYOB experience, are spaces that offer craft beer and generally care about creating or at least cater to an atmosphere of higher beer awareness and live music. Whats the reward for these venues to try and grow an appreciation for “craftier” endeavors such as smaller brews and grass roots musical acts if the patrons don’t show the same attitude on their own personal time?

Whilst playing similar DIY/BYOB venues abroad, I have of course seen similar scenarios, but let’s look at Portland for example. There was Pabst, there was Bud Light, but more so, there was Olympia and Rainier. Olympia and Rainier, much like Rolling Rock, are beers in name only, produced by one of the mega conglomerates and marketed to appeal to the beers original image. I am not sure most know this, and probably consume these beers because:

  • They are cheap (number one reason probably)
  • The brand reminds them of a by-gone heritage in the region.

We can look at regional loyalty further, while playing a house show in Chico California, there wasn’t a beer on the premises that wasn’t Sierra Nevada. Chico is a smaller place than Portland which in turn is a smaller place then Phoenix. There are asterisks to these comparisons, but I’ll ask the question. Is our regional economic beer Budweiser? (I would live in a town that had Sierra Nevada as its “cheap” beer any day.)

Is Hensley the provider of our regional beer? Is there a stigma to spending money on a beer that costs more then the price of admittance?  Does craft beer belong in the economic beer category? Would showing up to an underground warehouse event with a growler of 8th Street Ale (same cost as a package of domestic tall cans from the convenience store) attract questionable looks from people involved in the pageantry of looking like they don’t care? Is carrying cheap beer and wearing thrift store clothing a badge of honor more then supporting your local business infrastructure? It seems like it.

To me awareness of how I spend my money has always been the ultimate tool to reject what I disapprove of and to support what I feel is a better alternative. I find it odd that people who want to denounce the Wal-Marts of the world do not take that same vigor to other avenues. It is way more anti-establishment to purchase a six pack of SanTan at Bashas then buying Coors at a Shell station. We can personally see the effects of Bashas and SanTans and in theory actually speak with them if the desire arises, as opposed to a larger national brand.

How are we to hold the people with the most to lose (the restaurants and their money) accountable when the vast majority of sports fans, punk rock fans, artists, weirdos, joe schmoe’s and the rest are free to (carelessly) use our money to keep well enough alone?

If the creative and indy taste makers are making decisions purely on cost and the venues support them, how do we break this cycle? Should we break this cycle? Isn’t it the desire to innovate and impress our peers that drive us to improve/create/take risks? Would a world with less bud light still encourage us to innovate/improve? Or are we fine enough with the dichotomy of indie craft beer fans and folks who just like to drink on the cheap, regardless of its impact on our economy, our culture and our general collective community?

Here are some links for your further consideration:

May 1, 2012

Beer City USA | Voting Is Not Enough

Today is opening of the Beer City USA poll put on by the legendary Charlie Papzian. I've expressed my thoughts on the poll previously (Dr Slactivist | Or How I Came to Accept the Poll). I concluded that the poll represents an opportunity to actually do something instead of passively clicking and (for the even more involved) cutting and pasting a link.

Patrick of the Brew Bros has spearheaded the get out and click campaign. He writes:
The pre­lim­i­nary vot­ing took place a few weeks ago, and the final bal­lot has been set. We will post the link for the bal­lot when it is avail­able, and be sure to vote for the city that you believe deserves to be crowned “Beer City USA”. Of course we have a large base of con­trib­u­tors in Ari­zona, and would love to see the state do well but over­all,  would love to see more par­tic­i­pa­tion from all across the board.
We also asked people to opine on why they thought Phoenix deserves the title. We have 12 days of voting but 1000's of days of getting things done. If you'd like to submit your opinion on Beer City USA, you can email us at BeerPHXation at Gmail and we'll publish it. This submission comes from Noah Curry:

"Phoenix and the surrounding areas sure don't get the respect and the attention they should when it comes to the craft beer world. For some reason people still think we're nothing but cacti & cowboys. Beer has always been the worlds favorite beverage of choice and this is no different for the craft beer lovers in AZ. We here are passionate fans of the craft and should be considered the best beer city because we can supply some of the best craft beers for the best craft beer lovers and do it outside of the spotlight. Winning the title of best beer city will not change my opinion of the Phoenix beer scene because I know we produce equal if not better beers and places to drink these beers than the big boys in Denver or Portland. Phoenix deserves this title and will eventually win one year. Until then, I'll just sit back and continue to drink local."
I locked in on Noah's comment about Cactus and Cowboys. Traditionally, Arizona was known for the 5C's: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. Somewhere in the 90's the southeast valley tried to incorporate Chips as a 6th C owning to the growing chip fab industry in Chandler. The 50's Hollywood version of Phoenix is definitely captured in Noah's sentiment as is the Old Town Cowboy sign.

How do we add Craft Beer as the 6th C? This poll won't do that.

What a Beer City Mayor Looks Like.
Former Denver Mayor Hickenlooper
I look at this poll not as something to be won but as an opportunity to find out what our level of enthusiasm is in the valley. This should be the beginning of how we move people that are not currently involved in craft beer as a local business and get them thinking about how it contributes to the economy and quality of life. We could cobble together the votes to make a good showing this year. We may even get the most votes, but I can't say that it will feel as though we've won.

How will we know when we've arrived?
  • We'll have a dozen more independent breweries in Phoenix.
  • The Mayor of Phoenix and the Governor of Arizona will be clamoring to open Strong Beer Fest and Arizona Beer Week with a ribbon cutting.
  • There will be dozens of walkable neighborhoods with breweries and good beer bars. 
  • There will be at least one brewery in downtown Phoenix between the 7's and south of 1-10. 
  • We will have 2 more curated beer festivals besides Strong Beer Fest and The RAREAffair.
  • Our breweries will offer more collaboration projects.
  • We have at least one event focused beer blog that covers all of the beer events of the week.
  • We will have 10 beer bars or restaurants that have cellared and vintage beers.
  • There will be at least one Belgian Beer bar that offers moules and frites.
  • At least once a month, you will hear about a Pro-Am beer being tapped.
  • When there is a request put out to have people call their legislators about a liquor issue, the groundswell of response will make the news.
  • When I buy a six pack at the local grocery store or order a beer at the airport bar, the clerk or bartender will tell me something about the brewery.
  • We'll have one or two personalities like Don Younger or Greg Koch or maybe someone more behind the scenes like Angelo De Ieso who has the power to bring people together on an issue or conversely get people talking and excited about an issue.
The poll opened today, May 1. It will close 11:59 p.m. Mountain Time, Sunday, May 13. 


The real work will be on-going.