27 September 2008

Wisdom from our National Sage

"I doubt not that moderate Drinking has been improv'd for the Diffusion of Knowledge among the ingenious Part of Mankind...drinking does not improve our Faculties, but it enables us to use them."

Benjamin Franklin, Silence Dogood, No. 12, 1722.

(full text here)

23 September 2008


I have said it elsewhere before; I'll say it here loudly and clearly; I'll say it again I'm sure:
Brewgrass rocked my socks off.

I (and Mrs. Perm) have been a mostly-annual participant in the Durham, NC World Beer Festival since 2002.  We have come to love it dearly ("It's the best thing that Durham has to offer."), have very very fond memories of festivals past spent with friends, and were sorry to realize that we wouldn't be able to make the trek this year to attend.  I can credit the WBF with introducing me to any number of then-new, now-favorite brews.  I raise my glass to thee in Toast, World Beer Festival.

I can, however, unequivocally state that the Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival blows the Durham fest out of the water.  Yes, it's quite smaller.  Yes, there are significantly fewer breweries -- and significantly fewer brews -- representing a smaller geographic spread than at the WBF.  Be as that may, Brewgrass for me has successfully captured the certain je ne sais quoi of Atmosphere that a "Beer Festival" should represent.  I firmly believe in the quality over quantity focus, and believe that BG has nailed that one on the head. 

Where Brewgrass got it right:

* Limiting the number of attendees.  Yes, it was crowded.  Certainly, it could easily have been much more crowded than it was.  The size of the crowd was manageable and reasonable.  I hope they continue this practice.  
* The Venue.  MLK Park is perfect for this thing.
* Having one 7-hour session rather than two 4-hour sessions (a la Durham).  Four hours is a long time to sample beers.  And yet there was much less of a sense of haste with the proceedings, having those additional three hours.  One could take a sample brew, return to one's chair, take some notes, relish in the beer, savor it, and return at one's leisure to the next brewery tent.  Here's a great example also of how fewer breweries to choose from works in your favor. 
* Having the space, ability, space, permission, expectation, and, yes, space to bring a chair and use it.  And sit down. Next year, we're definitely getting closer to the stage.     
* Being generally Chill about everything.  Laid-back, relaxed, happy.  Not that those things don't happen at Other Beer Festivals I've attended.  But Brewgrass really does capture that ambience beautifully.  (Can we credit Asheville with this fact?  Or the demeanor of those who come to this thing?  I can say, I did not miss the preponderance [being one myself] of that certain demographic of Duke (graduate-) students and Triangle Yuppies.) 
* Very nice souvenir tasting glasses.    

* Lest we forget or overlook it: The Music. The lineup of bands was stellar and the front-and-centeredness of the stage was entirely appropriate and enjoyable.

The weather was perfect. The people were nice.  And the beers were stupendous.

I began the day set to take detailed tasting notes and be all nerdy, BA-style. After about 3 or 4, though, the just-take-it-easy-and-have-fun mood got the best of me, and I decided to do just that.  Enjoy the day, make mental notes of outstanding samples, and simply soak it all in.

The bands: 
1. Brushfire Stankgrass.  We noticed how as the day went on, the bands successively got more and more "traditional" in style.  The first group was barely even "Newgrass," let alone Blue. They did have a banjo.  And they were quite good, in an Avett Brothers/Carbon Leaf sort of vein.
2. The Biscuit Burners.  These folks were probably my favorite.  Also flirting with a "Newgrass" sound, a few of their songs had a pronounced Indian influence (was that a sitar up there?) -- perfect for the Asheville-hippies.
3. Dixie Bee Liners.  Yeah, I was drinking.
5. Cadillac Sky -- these guys were fantastic, and really made me want to be closer to the stage.

What could have been better?  A cigar vendor.

The Calm Before the Storm.

The Brewery Lineup was Stellar. 42 by my count, 30 of which were from either North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, or north Georgia. With a total of at least 175 beers or so (the guide booklet wasn't completely accurate in its listings). Of those 42, Mrs. Perm and I managed to make it to 22 breweries and sample about 45 brews.  Modest in the grand scheme, perhaps, but I, at least, have very few regrets about how I made out. 

There were two or three breweries that I missed on purpose (Foothills, Big Boss, Sam Adams), but only a couple that I wanted to hit up and didn't (Duck Rabbit, Heinzelmannchen).  

At first I was slightly bummed that there were not free water bottles (Durham does do this, or at least used to), but once we discovered the preponderance of jugs o' water at the brewery booths (ostensibly for cleaning out your tasting glass), my complaints washed away.  Plus, the $2 we did spend on water bottles went to Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Asheville.

Highlights of the brew tastings: 
* Dogfish Head and their Randall.  60-Minute IPA filtered through basil, mint, and coffee.  YOWZA!  Their Festina Peche was also a highlight.
* Highland's limited-release Imperial Black Mocha Stout.  Definitely in my Top 3 of the day.
* Pisgah Valdez -- another strong coffee stout, this one with organic, fair-trade coffee beans.
* French Broad's Saison. American breweries often struggle with making a successful farmhouse ale. French Broad nailed it.  The Altbier was also a winner.
* Green Man had their ESB in a hand-pump cask.  It was heavenly.
* Magic Hat Jinx. Strong ale brewed with peat-smoked whisky malt. 
* Outer Banks Slap Happy Abbey.
Thomas Creek's Vanilla Cream Ale -- surprising!
Great Divide Wild Berry. 

* Rogue (OR) Brewing's Old Crustacean Barleywine.  I don't know how they get off calling that a barleywine.  I also don't know the story behind the naming of this one, but "Old Crustacean" pretty much tastes like the name suggests that it might.
* Triangle Brewing (NC)'s Xtra Pale Ale.  As Homer Simpson might say, "Bo-ring!"

Here's a list of what we tried.  I'll have a review of a few of them forthcoming.  This posting is already long enough.  

Asheville Brewing Co. Old School Pale Ale, Ninja Porter.
Brooklyn Brewery. Post Road Pumpkin Ale.
Catawba Valley Brewing (NC). King Don Pumpkin Ale.
Coast Brewing (Charleston, SC). Hopart IPA, ALTerior Motive Altbier.
Dogfish Head Brewing. Festina Peche (a "Neo-Berliner Weisse"), 60-Minute IPA (Randallised!)
French Broad Brewing Co. (NC) Wee Heavier Scotch Ale, Altbier, Gateway Kolsch, 13 Rebels ESB, Saison.
Green Man Brewing (NC). Pale Ale, Cask-conditioned ESB, Porter.
Highland Brewing. Gaelic Ale, Imperial Black Mocha Stout.
Magic Hat. Lucky Kat IPA, Number 9, Jinx.
Moon River Brewing (GA). Wild Wacky Wit, Swamp Fox IPA, Captain's Porter.
Outer Banks Brewing (NC). Slap Happy Abbey.
Pisgah Brewing (NC). Valdez, Endless Summer.
Rogue Brewing. Old Crustacean Barleywine.
Sierra Nevada (CA). Anniversary Ale.
Terrapin Beer Co. (GA). India Style Brown Ale, Big Hoppy Monster Imperial Red Ale.
Tommyknocker Brewery (CO). English Style Pale Ale (dry hopped with Kent Goldings & Fuggles)
Thomas Creek Brewing (SC). Doppelbock, Vanilla Cream Ale.
Triangle Brewing (NC). Belgian Style Golden Ale, Xtra Pale Ale.
Victory Brewing (PA). Prima Pils, Hop Devil IPA
Yazoo Brewing (TN). Hefeweizen.
Great Divide (CO.) Wild Berry Ale.

A local brewing favorite.  Find the Hasid look-alike?

The scene of pure magic -- Imperial Black Mocha Stout.

And, lest we forget, the food was great -- Doc Chey's Noodle House (the fried gyoza dumplings were DELICIOUS), Barley's Taproom pizzas, and amazing organic bratwurst from Greenlife Grocery's deli (with equally amazing "Lusty Monk" mustard).

Running into old friends makes a good day into a Great one. 

'Tis the season...

I can't tell you how many comments I got from this shirt. I think I'll have to wear it again next year.

A final parting shot. There's that cute tasting glass again.  Filled with Moon River Wit, by the way.  That's a good wit.

19 September 2008

Beer in the Media roundup...

This might make a fun recurring feature: what's going on with brew news (and opinions!) across the globe, with appropriate snide remarks by yours truly.

First off, a potential tragedy in Scotland.
This is so ridiculous I must paste the entire article in-line.


The Orkney Brewery has mounted a vigorous defence of its award winning Skull Splitter ale, which could be withdrawn from sale in the UK following a report claiming its Viking branded bottles had an “aggressive” theme. The report, by management consultancy PIPC, was commissioned by controversial drinks marketing watchdog, the Portman Group, to investigate compliance with an industry code of practice on the naming, packaging and promotion of alcohol.
Skull Splitter, an 8.5% ale created over 20 years ago and sold internationally, was singled out in the PIPC report because “it’s name implies violence and also the impact the strength may have on the drinker”.
The report claimed that, potentially, Skull Splitter was in breach of the drinks industry’s code and the Portman Group will meet later in the year to consider what action, if any, it may take against the Orkney Brewery. That action could include an instruction to UK retailers not to stock the ale.
Fearing one of its longest established and most popular ales could be withdrawn from sale in the UK, the brewery has now launched a campaign to save Skull Splitter, a former Champion Winter Ale of Britain.
Already commended for leading the way with efforts to increase awareness of sensible drinking, the brewery – set to undergo a major redevelopment - has repeatedly stressed to the Portman Group that the ale is in fact named after Thorfinn Hausakluif, the Seventh Viking Earl of Orkney - nicknamed “Skull Splitter”.
Orkney Brewery’s parent company, Sinclair Breweries Ltd, is mustering support for its case ahead of the final decision by the Portman Group.
Norman Sinclair, managing director of Sinclair Breweries Ltd, said: “We’re completely stunned by the hard line the Portman Group has taken with Skullsplitter. When they first raised their concerns with us on the back of the PIPC report we fully explained the historical background to the name and, as responsible brewers, we were happy to try and work with them to find a solution. Indeed, we’ve cooperated with them every step of the way but it’s apparently got us nowhere.
“Again and again we have stressed to the Portman Group that Skull Splitter, like all our beers, is a high quality, hand crafted product designed to be savoured by adults who enjoy the real ale experience. We never target any of our beers at a young market, nor do we allow them to be sold cut price. In addition, Skull Splitter is not sold in supermarkets.”
Mr Sinclair said he had reminded the Portman Group that Sinclair Breweries Ltd, which also owns Kinlochleven’s Atlas Brewery, was the first small, independent brewer to incorporate new government alcohol consumption guidelines on all its labelling.
“We’ve always promoted a responsible attitude towards our products and, whilst we recognise that the Portman Group is trying to address a very real problem with under age drinking in this country, real ales are not the cause of these issues,” he said. “Sadly, the Portman Group does not appear to have grasped this fact. They have chosen to disregard everything we’ve said about the history of Orkney and the associated branding of what is a carefully crafted and well loved product, enjoyed the world over.”
He added: “We await their final decision with considerable concern. It’s almost inconceivable that a quality product such as Skull Splitter, one that has won numerous industry awards, could disappear from sale in the UK and I sincerely hope that common sense prevails.”

Two words: Namby-Pamby.

It seems the Bloody English are at it again! It is also apparent that the Portman Group has no sense for irony nor humour. I can only imagine that they would frown on such beer names as Duvel ( = Satan! Aaagh!), Weyerbacher Old Heathen ( = paganism!), Mt. Shasta's Weed Ales (marijuana use), and any number of Unibroue names (Maudite, Trois Pistoles...). And let's not forget Biere de Boucanier or Midnight Sun's Lust Ale.

Needless to say, the Skull Splitter is a fine, fine brew.

Second, some "fun things" from your friends and mine at Anheuser-Busch. Apparently they are unleashing an "American Ale" in the next week or two. Could it be that a corporate giant is quaking in the boots because of the Craft movement? Or is it a matter of saying, "hey, we can play this game, too!"

However you spin it, I think the immortal words of one Jesus Quintana are apt: "Bush-league psyche-out stuff: laughable, man!!"

By way of editorial, you can't do much better than my good friends at Bruisin' Ales:

The deluge of fake craft is upon us.

favorite quotes:
If you managed to make it through that Bud tutorial, they say 25 ibu's is 'hoppy.' Try telling that to a Double IPA-hophead and they'll likely spit it back in your face. Read this BeerAdvocate forum post where a Bud rep allegedly compares Bud American Ale to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 'but without all that nasty hoppy bite aftertaste.' Oh, my!"
"Will we try Budweiser American Ale? Maybe. Will we carry it? Absolutely not."

And three, for good measure:

Brewgrass is upon us!

Tomorrow, Mrs. Perm and I will be heading up to good ol' Asheville for the Twelfth Annual Greak Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival. The weather looks to be perfect (high of 74 F, mild wind at 7-9 mph, few clouds...) and the Brewery lineup looks superb.

Come back soon for photos and reviews!

14 September 2008

It's good to be the Queen....

Queen mistakenly sent 2,000 pints of beer

'LONDON (AFP) — Queen Elizabeth II was mistakenly sent 2,000 pints of beer when one of her royal residences was confused with a nearby pub, it has emerged.

Royal staff had no record of any such order when a truck turned up at Windsor Castle on Wednesday with 12 barrels of lager ahead of England's football World Cup qualifying match with Croatia in Zagreb.

A quick telephone call revealed the mistake -- the booze had been destined for the Windsor Castle pub five miles away in Maidenhead in Berkshire county.

"We have received mail for the royal household here before but I think this is the first time they have received anything meant for us," said pub manager Misko Coric, who had ordered the beer for the football match.' 

It does not say whether Her Majesty used Royal Prerogative to keep the beer at her castle or not.  Seeing how it was an undisclosed brand of "lager," and not a cask ale, the temptation might not have been as grand.

10 September 2008

September Interlude...

I. Cellaring Pays Off.

Sara and I cracked into the final 4 remaining IPAs (from April).  Three words: At Their Peak.  I believe, over the entire course of my share of those bottles, I continually uttered the phrase, "Damn! I brewed THIS."  Brewing note to self:  4-5 months is apparently the moment d'or for IPA.  It's well known in cellaring circles that hops fade with cellaring, but apparently there's something of a bell curve at work, because the profile was hops all the way for these babies.  I have a renewed energy for homebrewing -- and letting my brews sit for a few months -- after tasting those luscious treats. Wow.

II. The Waiting Game.

The Howells English Mild Ale is in the bottle and waiting to mature.  I broke a couple out tonight to sample: very basic, very pleasant (read: almost boring in their straightforwardness).  They need to sit maybe a week or so more to get really good, but my preview-tasting at least tells me that they're not duds.  When I went to bottle them, I noticed a thin layer of hop/yeast trub on the surface of the brew, which is not really common -- it concerned me just a little bit (mold??  could mold have gotten in there???  Did it not ferment at all?) but after pouring into a glass and sampling, my fears were laid to rest.  
With this one weighing it at just over 3% ABV, I figured that the obligatory put-6-aside-in-the cellar habit might be suspended for this brew. After the glorious IPA discovery, though, I think I owe it to myself to keep some aside until midwinter.  I'm pretty sure they'll mature nicely.

III. Things to Come.

I've brewed my first Irish Stout (I'm very proud -- in my nerdy sort of way -- at the label I've devised for this one.  Coming soon to a blog near you.) and racked it into the secondary fermenter.  It's due to go into bottles this weekend and get broken out maybe on 1 October, as a reward to myself for surviving the dentist that day.

For this one, I've returned once again to my friends at Asheville Brewers' Supply for the ingredients and recipe:

6 lbs Northwestern Dark Malt Extract syrup
1 lb Briess Dark DME

1 lb crushed grain (.75 English black patent malt, .25 American roast barley)

1 oz Challenger hops (added @ 10 minutes)
1 oz Irish Moss (added @ 55 min.)
1 oz East Kent Goldings hops (added @ 60 min.)
Total boil = 70 minutes.
White Labs Irish Ale Yeast pitched @ 85 F.

OG = 1046, so we're looking at something in the 5.x% range, depending on the final gravity. So, it'll be stronger than Guinness, and one of the strongest ones I've brewed thus far...

06 September 2008

September Homebrew Tasting Notes

Lest ye think that Perm has vanished into church-work-stress oblivion, here's a new post.

August ended up being quite a nice month -- a birthday party for Sara, a birthday/vacation trip to the beach (complete with Orval and Chimay Blue), and a severe bout with Appalachian Trail Syndrome.    On top of that, I broke out the Organic Nut-Brown Ale and brewed a batch of English Mild. 

For starters: The Beach.

DeBordieu is always nice, but I felt this trip to be especially refreshing.  As we ended up being there on my birthday, I had some birthday treats to relish.  Sara surprised me with a bottle of Ardbeg (my current favorite Scotch), which went very well with my Lianos Dos Palmas!  
But I'm getting ahead of myself.  
Birthday dinner consisted of fettucine alfredo with grilled fresh bacon-wrapped, onions, and zucchini, served up with an Orval Trappiste Simply divine. 


For dessert, we tried our hands at a Chimay-based zabaglione, with mediocre results.  But the 
Chimay was transcendent, as always!

I took some alone time and did a 3-day stint on the AT in the Roan Mountain vicinity (NC/TN state line, between Mitchell and Yancey Counties [NC] and Carter County [TN]).  It was beautiful, inspiring, and exhausting, and I ended my sojourn with a swing through the Jack of the Wood pub in Asheville for a hot lunch (I hiked back to the car in fog and wet shoes) and a pint of their great Gold Ale.   Let me tell you what, there is nothing better after 3 nights in the woods and 20+ pounds on your back for 30 miles than a pint of that Gold Ale in the environs of a nearly-empty English-style pub in Asheville.  It was a moment nearly as transcendent as being atop a 6000' bald.

The reason I started this post, believe it or not, was to review my Byrd's Browning Ale (the organic nut-brown).  So, without further ado, here's the run-down.

Check out that sweet new Brooklyn Brewery glass, too...

Appearance: 4/5
A lovely brown color, like milk chocolate or dark nutmeg.  A bit cloudy (but hey! it's homebrew), a thin head that is nice and white.

Aroma: 3.5/5
Faint hops, "young-beer-sweet-funky" (I don't know what else to call it), walnuts, with a bit of earthiness.

Taste: 4.5/5
It's fairly complex. Caramel, roasted peanuts, honey, and a slight floral finish.  Nice job!

Palate: 4.5/5
Bubbly/dry/sharply-spritzy-yet-smooth.  It's easy and refreshing, with a warming finish.

Overall: 4/5
Not bad!  It's not my favorite of my homebrews (ESB still holds that title, I think), but it's certainly not my least favorite, either.  Highly drinkable -- my biggest complaint is in the nose. It's quite good with a peanut-sauce Asian dish (I had it with shrimp summer rolls, and it was a winner).

Combined score (out of 5): 4.15