A blog that explores the seemingly endless beer options available, and occasionally brings up your Mom.

Monday, February 28, 2011


     Remember Flava Flav? Yeah, me neither. But this entry is about diving into the dark unknown, or darker beers. The biggest concern with most non crafty drinkers is the fear of flavor, the assumption that it's going to be too heavy, too dark, too everything that isn't little Bud Light. Which is fine, it's completely an acquired taste that requires research to find your favorite style. It's like getting into new music, so much work right? I settled with listened to Jewel for the rest of my life in 1994 and never looked back. Beer, is another story. The more you learn and respect beer, the more you will love it. 
     This heaviness I refer to in beer, is also referred to as "mouth feel" or "body" of the beer. When a beer is light in body, it's considered a nice session beer, easy drinkin', goes down smooth. A full bodied beer has a nice thick mouth feel and a powerful aroma and taste that lingers. We can measure the "body" of a liquid by measuring the specific gravity of a beer, or the sugar content. The higher the specific gravity, the fuller the body, and vice versa. I took it upon myself a year or so ago to test the specific gravity of a Coca Cola and a Barleywine style beer (one of the heaviest, full bodied beers around) as research for a Craft Beer speech I made. The specific gravity of the Coca Cola was 1.06, which is high and typical for a soda. The specific gravity of the Barleywine was only 1.02. In fact, it's rare for a beer to ever exceed 1.03. What does this all mean? It means that soda has a fuller mouth feel and is heavier than almost all beers around the world.  If you fear beer because it's too filling, too heavy and has too much flavor, then by golly you're wrong! And let's not forget that beers contain proteins, and B Vitamins which are not found in soda. So if you can handle a soda, you can handle any beer.
     Whatever your growing palette may be, here are some dark beers that are light in body and easy to drink. These are great beers to try if you're just starting to get into craft beer. And if you're already a crafty champion, could funnel 15 seconds.

The Salopian Brewing Company's Entire Butt English Porter (4.8% ABV) Historically, the "Entire Butt" is a term that describes a Porter that is comprised of a variety of ales. And unlike some beers, the name Entire Butt is not a indicator of this beers taste. The aroma is thick, like smelling melted chocolate and sugar. This Porter uses 14 different types of malts that help your palette balance between sweet chocolate and oats. There is a minimal amount of hop flavor, but the malt is the headline show. When sipping on this beer, one word keeps coming to mind; creamy. This Porter goes down so smooth, with flavors of roasty milk chocolate, sweet licorice and hints of fruity hops. A slight astringency helps to clean it up and get you ready for the next sip. A ridiculously easy drinking Porter that may change the way you drink forever.

Bell's Brewing Co. Oatmeal Stout (5.7% ABV) This beer has been referred to as a full bodied beer, but you'd never know it since it's so smooth. Consider drinking hot chocolate, who would want a watery hot chocolate? Same goes for an Oatmeal Stout. You want malt, chocolate, a little roast and you want to be able to enjoy another after the first. Oatmeal Stout's are known for being nutty and chocolaty smooth on the palette with little to no alcohol flavor. Bell's Oatmeal Stout does a great job of living up to that reputation. Aromas of milk chocolate, espresso and fruity earth leave me wanting to submerge my whole face into my glass. Bell's uses flaked oats that help lend to the flavors of oatmeal that come through first, which balance with the roasted coffee and milk chocolate flavors from the malt. It has a texture that is silky thin, yet creamy, which is the easy drinkin' factor for this brew. If you're ever in Kalamazoo Michigan, make sure to stop by Bell's Eccentric Café, where this Oatmeal Stout if an old time favorite.

Otter Creek Alpine Black IPA (6% ABV) Otter Creek made this Black IPA on their pilot system (a small batch brewing system) for the Vermont Brewers Festival in Burlington, Vermont. They expected it to be a one time creation, but turned into a consumer favorite. Everyone who tasted it, wanted more. They decided to make it their new Winter Seasonal to share with the world, did you have it this winter? If not, I bet you can still find it on the shelves somewhere. This beer caters to the preferences of hop lovers as well as malt lovers, giving a nice balance of both worlds. Otter Creek uses Apollo, Centennial, and Citra hops that add bitterness to the caramel malts and roasted barley. All of this may not sound like an easy slugger, but when ingredients are in such balance (like sweet malts and bitter hops) your palette perceives it to be very smooth and drinkable. This brew has a floral aroma of pine, citrus as well as chocolate, roast and caramel. The mouth feel is light, picking up on roasted flavors from the malt and finishing dry and bitter from the hops. A very unoffensive beer that can get you into not only dark beers, but hoppy dark ones. And apparently Black IPA's are the new rage, so you better catch up.

   Four years ago (at this second perhaps) I was throwing a small orange ball into a plastic cup of Keystone Light. Since then, my palette has not only changed, but my whole life as been turned around towards exploring and supporting new beer options. Craft beer sales may seem like they are sky rocketing, but sales are still only moderating growing. Only 5% of the beer consumed in the USA each year is craft beer, meaning that 95% of beer purchased and consumed is coming from only two companies, InBev and Miller Coors. Craft brewers are concerned with producing a product they love, commercial breweries are concerned with market share. When you're consuming, what are you concerned about?

Monday, February 21, 2011


"We have already been too long subject to British prejudices. I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America; both these articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality." 

     One of the first to jump on the Buy American Policy, is no one other than our booze loving First President, George Washington. In 1774, Washington supported a bill drafted by fellow patriot Samuel Adams (not a coincidence), called the non-consumption agreement. In an attempt to break free from the Empire, the agreement encouraged the consumption of American-brewed beer and goods, rather than the highly taxes imported goods. Boycotting English imports was effective and was the kick-start America needed to create a booming beer industry. One of Washington's favorite beers was a Porter, brewed by an English brewer (politician and social elite extraordinaire) named Robert Hare. Washington always demanded that there be an "ample supply" on hand at Mount Vernon, his Virgina estate. However, it was not the term Porter that Washington had wrote a historical recipe for, but what he referred to as a "Small Beer".

"To Make Small Beer:

Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. -- Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Molasses into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask -- leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working -- Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed."

 Preserved in the manuscript collections of the New York Public Library is a notebook kept by Washington. 

Many home brewers have attempted to follow the recipe exactly, but admit their creations were, "positively revolting" or "molasses flavored beer".  Following this recipe precisely would have yielded an 11% ABV beer, which would be a full bodied, very sweet and malty ale, balancing a burnt coffee bitter finish. Here is one of several breweries that has taken to the challenge, and with a couple alterations, has had quite the success with this historical recipe.

Yards Brewing Company's General Washington Tavern Porter. (Revolution Series, 7% ABV) Based on the ale Washington had brewed for his field officers, this Porter is kettle brewed over a direct gas flame. This method causes the ale to boil rigorously, helping to create the rich flavor Washington loved. A clean and mild aroma of roasted malts set you up for the real thing. The taste is rich and smooth, some chocolate and graininess, with hints of fruit and coffee. A nice round mouth feel, that finishes with a slight hop flavor. Yards new brewery is now located just blocks away from the site of Robert Hare's brewery, where Washington's favorite Porter was crafted. A truly historical beer and place!

 Other breweries, continue to make classic English Porters that I'm sure our Founding Father would have enjoyed (American made, or not). Here is one of my favorite classic Porters, that holds true to the real definition of a Porter.

St. Peter's Old-Style Porter (Year-round, 5.1% ABV) This is a true Porter Style. A Porter is technically a mix between three different styles: an old ale (stale or soured), a new ale (brown ale or pale ale) and a weak ale (mild ale). This creates a full bodied ale with a complexity that satisfies a variety of palates. This ale specifically has aromas that are sweet like toffee with hints of roasty malt. A good balance between hints of sweet chocolate, caramel and roasted malt. Very smooth and creamy, with a quick finish that runs away from your tongue. A very drinkable beer, that might make you cut down your cherry tree! (Buy this beer online here!)

Porter today is a category on it's own with several subcategories and varying styles within. Finding a Porter you enjoy will be a fun adventure that makes you feel like a true Patriot. For now, I will leave you with some wise words from some of our past presidents. Happy Presidents Day!

"I have often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can't get my wife to go swimming." - Jimmy Carter

“There's nothing left…but to get drunk.” - Franklin Pierce after losing the Democratic nomination

“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.” - George W. Bush

“Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.” - Lyndon B. Johnson

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" - Ronald Reagan
"I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again." - Bill Clinton
"Look, when I was a kid, I inhaled frequently. That was the point." - Barack Obama


Friday, February 18, 2011


     When I was in elementary school I realized that there were two kinds of people in this world, those who ate healthy breakfast cereal and those ate eat sugary breakfast cereal. Those who ate the healthy breakfast cereal would humbly support why they did so with reasonable facts, and those who did not, were found throwing rocks at the basketball hoops during recess. I am glad my parents raised me on the latter (points to arm muscle). Either way, by now most people should be familiar with the flavors of popular cereal brands. Throughout the years I have tried beers with flavors that brought me back to my childhood cereal bowl. Here are some of my favorite cereal flavors, in beer form.

Leinenkugels Sunset Wheat (Year-round, 4.9% ABV) Tastes like, Post's Fruity Pebbles. This beer might as well advertise being brewed by the Flintstones. This beer has an underground popularity for it's similarity to Fruity Pebbles, but you won't find any of our favorite characters from Bedrock on the label. Brewed in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, this beer is brought to us by the 7th oldest brewery in the United States. This "sunset in a glass" has the expectant aromas of coriander, orange peel and wheat, which are a precise indicator of it's taste. The flavors from the wheat and pale malts come through first, followed by marmalade and yeast. A smoothly unoffensive Witbier that will have you aching for summer, if not your childhood.

Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager (Early spring, 4.2% ABV) Tastes like, Cap'n Crunch Crunch Berries. I was so excited the first time I tried this beer. Not only has it opened my eyes towards other fruit infused ales, but it tastes like my Cap'ns favorite cereal. Abita uses real Louisiana strawberries that are picked late in the season, when they are the sweetest (and I am very thankful they do!) No artificial taste in this brew, just an aroma of strawberry fields as you sip away. The good amount of carbonation increases the body of this light lager, making it creamier and delicious. In the short time this beer has been around it has gained quite the reputation, so snag it while you can!

Southampton Publick House Imperial Porter (Winter, 7.2% ABV) Tastes like, GM Cocoa Puffs. You are bound to go Coo Coo for this Porter. Southampton brewed this Baltic-style Porter keeping in mind the old styles of Great Britain and Eastern Europe in the late 18th - 19th century. Back then, they were known for ales that were strong in alcohol and rich in flavor (and taking down the Holy Roman Empire). This velvety smooth porter has rich notes of chocolate, caramel and dark fruit. The alcohol hides well with this one with flavors of molasses, dark malts, a slight tartness with hints of coffee at the end. This beer is dangerously drinkable and could be a great substitute for milk in the morning. (And if you're near Long Island, check out Southampton Publick House, it's the only Microbrewery/Restaurant on the East End of the Island!)

     Not only are there beers that taste like your favorite cereals, but there are beers that are actually brewed with them. You can check out one guys experiment here, as well as find dozens and dozens of other examples on your own. If you think beer and cereal should be separate, well then you were obviously one of those twig eatin' breakfast kids. Try brewing a batch of cereal beer on your own, whatever the outcome, be proud of your own boozy creation. Enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011


        The history of Valentines Day is like the invention of beer, it’s hard to pinpoint when and where it started.  The name Saint Valentine was the name given to several martyred saints of ancient Rome. We know very little about the Saint Valentine we celebrate for each year, other than that he was buried on February 14th. We can find him buried along the Via Flaminia, an ancient road leading to Rome from the North. Pope Gelasius I established this celebratory day in 496 AD, but I have a feeling we celebrate a bit differently then he had planned (proof). You may be wondering what this has to do with beer. Nothing. So let’s hop to it! If you are going to be eating some chocolaty sweets tonight, here are two of my favorite beers to help balance your palate, as well as your heart.

Dogfish Heads World Wide Stout (Limited, 18% ABV) If you’re enjoying milk chocolate, caramel, or anything sweet, your best bet is to pair it with a roasted malt beer. The contrast will encourage you to go back and forth between sips and bites. Since it’s creation, the World Wide Stout has fluctuated in ABV, going from 23% to 18%, but I don’t think anyone is complaining with an ABV of 18%, especially when it’s as smooth as this one. The aromas of coffee, sweet malt and raisins do a great job at letting you know what this brew is going to taste like. The taste is smooth with flavors of fruit, coffee, sweet malt and alcohol. The body is thinner than expected and finishes dry, with hints of plum. You could forget the chocolate with this one, because this is a fine dessert on it’s own.

Duvel Moortgat Brewery’s Maredsous 8 Brune (Year-round, 8% ABV) In 1963, Moortgat created the Maredsous line of beers, including the Blonde, the Brune (Brown) and the Triple. The brown ale is brewed in the style of an Abbey Dubbel under the supervision of the monastic community of Maredsous. This is the ideal beer to pair with a fruity/tangy chocolate, or even just fruit (if your like that). Maredsous 8 should be served between 42-47 degrees Fahrenheit in order to fully enjoy the flavors they worked so hard to create. Maredsous 8 has a complex aroma of rich dark fruit, toffee and brown sugar. A heavy to medium body with flavors of berries, bready yeast, pepper, spices and alcohol.  A very smooth and drinkable dubbel that is hard to top (maybe because it's top fermented?). If you can only find it in an 11.2 oz bottle, get two, because your heart will ache for another.

When it comes to pairing your beers with any food, always consider whether or not you want to balance out the flavors or a compliment them. When aiming to balance, try a beer with flavor that is opposite to what you’re eating. For instance, if you’re eating something sweet, drink something that is dry or bitter (or vice versa). If you want your flavors to compliment one another, try a beer that is similar in flavor and body to what you are eating, like how a malty ginger beer would go great with a ginger spiced truffle, creating a potent mix of flavors that blend perfectly.

Whatever your blending may be, pick something that brings out the best in one another. Because that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


     In early February there is one thing a lot of single people have in common: They get awkward. The pressure of the BIG V starts to set in and they begin to question their independence. Maybe they call past lovers, or maybe they build up the confidence to ask out that special someone they’ve been meaning to (awkward). But whatever you do, your best bet is to just show off your knowledge of beer. If you give Mr. or Misses Potential a call before economy boost day Valentine’s Day, here are three conversation starter beers that can either make or break that date! (And if you’re not single, the following still applies).

Excelsior! Alphalpha (Available now, Limited batch, ABV 8.5%) One inoffensive conversation could be your love for supporting local businesses (because we all do it, right?) and with that you can talk about Ithaca Brewing Companies delicious Excelsior! Alphalpha. This “Double Honey Bitter” does a good job of supporting it’s own community by incorporating NYS grown Cascade hops, local alfalfa honey and pure Cayuga Lake water into the brew. And let’s not forget about the organic pilsner malt they use too, yum! Coming in a 22 oz bottle, this gift from the valley is the perfect drink to share with someone. The aroma of honey and orange hits you up front, with a pleasant grapefruit bitter flavor that finishes dry. For what is considered to be an Imperial/Double IPA, this beer is both drinkable and delectable. (And if you like it, date two could be a road trip?)

Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale (Year-round, ABV 8.7%) For the next beer, keep your confidence up by ordering this hop loving Black IPA. This ale will help you look, feel and speak better than you could have ever imagined you could. And if not, after splitting this they might not care either way. This Black IPA was originally Stone’s 11th Anniversary ale, but since they loved it (and themselves) so much, they decided to bring it back year round. This beer has one of the most intense hop aromas of any beer and blends great with the roasted malt that gives this ale it’s black color. An intense bitter hop mixes with flavors of pine, toffee and caramel. It’s smooth to the palette and finishes long and dry. As Stone describes this brew, it's Bittersweet!

Empire Aphrodisiac Ale (Limited batches, ABV 6.8%) If you can find it on tap, this herb infused beer will help you cut to the chase. From Syracuse, NY, this Golden Ale with the addition of local organic honey, fresh ginger, and dried lavender tips is sure to get your heart pumpin'! Legend says that the Picts, a group of Early Mediaeval people from what we consider now Scotland, would drink beers infused with herbs before battle and times of intimacy (similar, no?). This ale has a lusty aroma of sweet honey, sage and ginger. A sweet flavor with hints of honey, mint, ginger and pepper. A very complex blend with a decently dry finish, leaving you ready for another sip. Or a trip home?

     Regardless of how your evening may end it’s important to keep in mind that Valentines Day is not about being with someone. Like all Holidays, it’s about being able enjoy a few beers with the people you like the most, even if it’s with your own pet.

Next time, THE BIG V Chocolate and Beer Pairings (assuming this post helped).

Monday, February 7, 2011


               If the winter blues have given you a nightly ritual of watching Netflix on the couch, then these beers are for you. High in calories, flavor and a bit boozy! These elements combine together, putting you in your inevitable deep sleep. What could be better this time of year? Calories give us energy, but not when they come from sugar (like with beer). After the sugar rush ends, you crash, and I am a strong believer in taking advantage of that!

Top 3 Beers to crash on your couch with:

1) Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot (Limited Selection, 330 Calories). With a APV of 9.5%, this Barleywine is one my favorite ways to warm up in the winter. If you’re unfamiliar with barely wines, this is a good one to try. It’s smooth, low on the alcohol flavor and has a bitter bite to back it up. One of my favorite hops, the Cascade, are used in the finishing and dry hopping process of this brew, giving it a hint of citrus while maintaining the sweetness barley wines are known for. The long finish allows you to enjoy all the contrasting flavors this beer has to offer. Let the laziness commence! (Ps. Store one and drink it next year!)

2) Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adam’s Cream Stout (Brewmasters Collection, 195 Calories). A roasty, milky cream Stout sure to please any dark ale lovers palette. This stout is based on the English style sweet stout, rather than an Irish stout, resulting in a sweeter and rounder body. A large portion of chocolate and caramel malts mix with a handful of English hops, creating a balanced body and sweetness. Boston Beer does a good job of delivering what they claim they will and no more. A solid Cream Stout sure to have you counting cows instead of sheep. (Did you know the Boston Lager has 180 Calories?)

3) New Belgium’s Fat Tire, (Year-round, 160 Calories). Not as full in calories, but still up there, is this unkept secret of the West. It’s the intellectual beer drinkers favorite and most of them have never even tried it! This biscuity Amber Ale gained quick popularity when brewer Jeff took his homebrewed creation around to the public and received an unexpected, but very positive response. It’s a good beer to pair with most foods due to its medium body and nice balance of malts, spices and a citrusy hop. If you can find it on the east coast, snag one. And hide it.

And while several other brewers world-wide were busy this winter making us unique treats, these are a few popular ones that could help you snooze the blues away, and are worth keeping in mind. Check back soon for more crafty suggestions, and as always, "Drink beer everyday!"

Next time: Valentines Day is coming, don't get awkward!