Monthly Archives: October 2011

I Got a Rock

Happy Halloween from The Thirsty Wench.  Tonight I’ll be watching something scary and cracking open some of my Pumpkin homebrew called Pumpkin Patch Panic.

(The AMAZING label done by Robert Burrows)

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What a Night: Cask Days 2011

I’m still recovering from the lovely night that was Cask Days, the beer event with over 50 beers from around the country to sample. It was also my first ever large scale beer event.

It was a LOT of fun and showed that the event, which originally started in the patio of Toronto’s Bar Volo, can attract plenty of folks.  People dressed up (two guys even dressed up as hop flowers!), some decent music was playing and the beers were just…WOW.  Before I go in to my pros and cons I have to name off two of my favorite beers from the night.  Amsterdam’s “Wee Heavy with Heather Tips” (sweet and comfortable) and Black Oak’s “Black Betty” Dark IPA (the aroma alone is worth getting this beer, but all in all a phenomonal drink).

So I’m going to do two things here.  First I’ll be going through some notable pros and cons of my experience at the event and then I’m going to go more general and give off some tips I learned at this event and will remember for other events.

PROS:

– Talking with the man from Niagara College’s recently formed brewing school (only brewing school in Canada), finding out the beer they make is VERY tasty and learning that they’d be up for me to pop by for a visit at some point!

– Getting a special pint glass and having that be what’s used for samples

– Learning about the Pink Boots Society, a group of females in the brewing industry who are setting out to encourage other females to join in on the fun.

– Bacon beer by Du de Ciel.  Never thought I’d get to try something like that. Bacon beer!  Jeez!  Was quite smoky and actually tasted like bacon.  And to later be told by more than one person that a better one exists in my area…wow.

– Talking with other people.  Making suggestions, discussing what we’re drinking and what got us in to craft beer…that was definitely a lot of fun.

– Being inside Hart House and feeling like I was at Hogwarts.

– The names! One of the things I love about one-off beers is the really fun names.  My favorite one was “There is No Dana, Only Zuur Sour Ale”.  As a Ghostbusters fan it made me cry with joy.

CONS:

– Music got WAY too loud.  It became difficult to talk to people over it.

– Hart House, while a great place for the event, just didn’t have the lights for it.  I would have liked there to have been lights in the sitting areas.

– Hipsters were everywhere, but that’s hardly anyone’s fault.

– Not enough representation from other provinces.  Ontario covered half the area, Quebec got a small table and the other provinces combined got one table.  While there was a lot of amazing stuff from the Ontario breweries, and I understand that Ontario laws are silly so they couldn’t get many out-of-province beers, I just would have liked to have seen more brews from other provinces.

– Accidentally sitting on broken glass in the bathroom.  Ouch.

– Walking through the maze that is the University of Toronto campus.

These cons are small at best and aren’t really the fault of the organizers.  And at the end of the day I’m there for the beer and it was fantabulous.  I’ll definitely be attending future events.

And that’s pretty much what my experience was.  And now THE TIPS.  Lessons learned from my first large scale beer event.

1. You don’t need to drink all the beers.  Cask Days had over 50 beers available, so it was pretty easy to feel overwhelmed and the excitement of it all made me feel like a kid in a candy store.  Next time, I’ll have a lot less and be content with that.

2. Eat something.  With all that alcohol around, you’ll need something to eat and the chances that those events will be serving food is really good.  Even if it’s something small, just make sure you’re having something to soak all that booze up (I had a veggie burger which hit the spot).

3. Bring a friend.  While I had a great time there and ended up chatting with some people, I really can’t shake the feeling that the event would have been better for me if I brought along a beer-loving friend.

4. Be safe.  In the good chance that things get a bit hairy and you’re not as sober as you’d like to be, make sure that you have a way of getting home that doesn’t involve a lot of falling down.  Do constant checks of your things to see if you still have them.

So pretty basic tips, I’ll grant you, but that’s why they’re so effective.

So in summary, I had a lot of fun and am really looking forward to going to more beer events!

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Wish List: The Brooklyn Box Set

Today the Brooklyn Brewery just announced the release of the Brooklyn Box Set, which, at $80 includes a copy of the large and detailed book The Oxford Companion to Beer and a 750ml bottle of the Brewmaster’s Reserve “wheat wine” called “The Companion” (Take a moment to make a few Doctor Who jokes now if you wish).

The book alone is a must-have, but I’m really eager to try The Companion.  Especially while reading the book.  Description below:

“With 160 experts covering more than 1,100 subjects, The Oxford Companion to Beer is the most comprehensive book to yet be published on the subject. To accompany the book, Garrett Oliver (Editor-in-Chief), Horst Dornbusch (Associate Editor) and Thomas Kraus-Weyermann (writer and master maltster) brewed our current Brewmaster’s Reserve beer, called The Companion Ale. Made with 55% new floor malts from Weyermann Maltings, The Companion is brewed in an old style called “wheat wine”, a wheat-based equivalent to barley wine. The floor malts give this beer a juicy malt character of considerable depth, 55% malted wheat gives it a surprising lightness on the palate, while our house ale yeast lends a gentle fruitiness.”

But there’s some sadness to it, folks. Currently the Brooklyn Box Set is ONLY available at the retail store in their brewery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  So you folks in other states/countries (like me) are out of luck.

But still, that is one beauty of a product.  If any of you are in the area it’d be wise to pick that up.

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CURRENTLY DRINKING: Flying Monkeys SuperCollider Double IPA

This is a beer that I’ve been looking forward to try out for a while.  Flying Monkeys Brewery up in Barrie, ON announced this beer over the summer and while it was supposed to be released with the Autumn seasonals in September…the LCBO, I guess, just didn’t feel like it and sent it out early this week.

I really have to say that the label design is just beautiful on this.  I love that it’s a beer that is Science-themed, I love that there are some horrible but snigger-worthy science/beer puns on it and I adore that there’s a quote by Oliver W. Holmes on it.

It also packs an INCREDIBLY strong punch at 12.4%ABV.  At risk of sounding unprofessional, by the end of a single bottle I was feeling alright with the world and giggled a lot.

But really, this was a beer I was excited about.  I’ve always been a fan of Flying Monkey’s beers and well, I love Double IPAs so this seemed a match in heaven.  Here’s the notes I wrote down while I was tasting it.

COLOUR – A BEAUTIFUL dark Cherry Oak colour with a very strong thin white head to it.  Really is a thing of beauty to see dark bubbles rise up in that gorgeous dark colour.

AROMA – The malt hits me first.  Hints of toffee and/or caramel with of course the hops.  Nice citrus tone to it.

TASTE – Sweet lord, is that hoppy.  Though like the aroma, the malts hit first very quickly. Quite sweet.  Really like the aroma hint of toffee/caramel flavours similar to that of the aroma, but it feels like the malts only came to this party to say hello to a few people and leave.  The hops and alcohol content, however are clearly here for the night (and even brought their party mixtape).  This is a very, very hoppy drink.  The hops bring the nice citrusy tones to it, but boy does it pack a punch.

VERDICT – A really wonderful effort from one Ontario’s great craft breweries, but in the end I was disappointed that there didn’t seem to be much of a balance between hops and malts.  One gets the impression of hoppiness for the sake of hoppiness which…to be honest is something I really admire about Flying Monkeys, but when compared to their other brews, Hoptical Illusion, Netherworld Dark Cascadian Ale and Smashbomb Atomic IPA (all beers that have a great balance between the malts and hops) I just feel this one comes off a little short.  If nothing else, buy it for the bottle design and the interesting flavour.

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The Coaster & The Pumpkin

Just wanted to mention two personal bits of awesomeness here.

Firstly, look at this AMAZING custom beer coaster that the incredibly talented Mike Rooth did for me!  The man knows I love my Ghostbusters and this is just…wow.  And I’ve been told that the cool thing is that it was drawn with waterproof ink so it could actually be used as a beer coaster!

Wow.  That is…that is just awesome.

Second bit of news is that last week I brewed my fourth beer ever and I have a feeling that this will be the best one yet.  Won’t reveal much until the label is done and it’s bottled, but it involved doing this:

And that’s all from me, my little saplings.  To my Canadian friends, have a Happy Thanksgiving. To My international friends, Happy October.  And to my NYC friends, enjoy NYCC, you bastards.

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The Autumn Beer Posts part 1 (with Alan Tyson)

For the month of October, I’ve been cooking up something special.  I’ve been calling on some fellow beer-loving friends from land, sea and air (okay, from all over the world.  Still impressive, but I don’t get to make dramatic hand gestures and you don’t get to read a post by a dolphin).  So for the next couple of weeks you folks will be getting a few posts from an assortment of people (myself included) talking about the Autumn beers of their region that they love.

First up is Alan Tyson from the land of Amerika.  Alan’s a reader and a good friend.  He’s also a writer who went above and beyond by writing a whole post on two beers that he loves.  Have fun and be nice to him.

—————

To me, autumn is beer season.

Don’t get me wrong – few things in this life are better than having a pint of Guinness with your friends in your favorite warm, dry pub while a spring storm hammers against the windows; or sitting on the porch with an ice-cold lager (or my personal favorite, a lager/7up shandy), spitting out sunflower seed shells and working on your sandal-tan; or curling up with a big bottle of something dark, sweet, warm and brain-numbing in front of the fire with that special someone… or, if you’re me, the dog.

Beer can, and should, be enjoyed at any time of the year. But beer, in this writer’s opinion, is as essential a part of autumn as falling leaves, school bells ringing for the first time in months, and slipping on thick jeans, a sweater and a jacket, and taking a long walk down the streets at night. Autumn is when things start to slow down, when everything living lets out a big sigh of relief, when the year’s end seems like a concrete, rather than nebulous, point. Beer is the perfect liquid companion for this time: for example, nothing beats cracking open a bottle in the same motion as clicking on the TV to watch the game (for most of my countrymen the game is first football games, but for me it’s the tail end of baseball season, even if my beloved Red Sox didn’t do so well this year). The first thing I reach for when I come in from raking the leaves is a room-temp brown ale or stout, to warm me back up, and this particular autumn will always have a special place in my heart, because a few worthy compatriots and I have thrown in our respective chips and are going to take our first attempts at home brewing.

Yes, friends and neighbors, I think autumn is beer time in ways none of the other seasons can quite match. The question then, of course, is which beer should you have with you at all times in this most glorious of seasons? I’m a big proponent of “as many as possible!” for the answer, but my esteemed host has only so much patience for loquacious Americans, so I shall limit my suggestions to my two favorite autumnal brews.

The first of these is Dogfish Head’s Punkin’ Ale, brewed in coastal Delaware. Dogfish is the poster child of craft breweries, and I’m not just saying that because they are, in a lot of ways, my local brewery (a short jaunt up I-95 from where I live, and you’re practically there) – they go out of their way to make beer that doesn’t quite taste like anything else, and Punkin’ is no different. Now, the autumn season is awash in pumpkin ales (and even a few pumpkin lagers, rumor tells me, though I confess that the idea doesn’t really sit that well with me), and there are plenty of amazing ones out there, but Punkin’ still manages to stands out as something completely different. It’s not actually my favorite pumpkin beer: that honor goes to O’Fallon Brewery’s simply-named Pumpkin. However, their distribution isn’t as widespread as Dogfish Head, and I don’t want to just tell all you fine people about a beer you’d be hard-pressed to track down (if you live in the middle section of the Mississippi River Valley, you’re in luck, and I highly recommend the O’Fallon beer), and even though I like Pumpkin better, I do believe that Punkin’ is a better-made brew, and certainly a more complex one.

First things first – Punkin’ is made by taking a pretty basic brown ale recipe (if I ignore all the beer’s other flavors, which is hard, I suppose I’d compare it to a smoother Newcastle), and then adding to it real roasted pumpkin, brown sugar (I presume as part of the bottling process, though don’t hold me to that), allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg, which are your pretty standard pumpkin beer spices. It comes in at 7% alcohol by volume, which is a pretty heady amount if you’re not used to it, and even if you are, three of these guys will get you feeellliiiinng preeeettyyy meeeeeelllooooow real quick. It’s probably a good thing they’re usually sold in four-packs.

Right off the bat, you can taste the cinnamon and nutmeg, so strong you can almost chew it. The distinctive warming flavor of a brown ale is next. Something I should mention right now: this is a beer you really don’t need to stick in the fridge any longer than twenty minutes or so, and I don’t even do that. Straight out of the case at room temperature, this beer is ready to go, and indeed chilling it will dull a lot of the really great flavors, and it will absolutely kill the aroma, which is all roasted pumpkin.

That’s the thing, too: Punkin’s pumpkin (say that ten times fast) is much more a treat for the nose than it is for the mouth – there’s not a whole lot of pumpkin or pumpkin pie flavor, so much as there’s “Thanksgiving Dinner” flavor. One of my brewing buddies exclaimed halfway through his first bottle of Punkin’ “and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries!”, referencing, of course, the entire-meal-in-a-stick-of-gum from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. There’s hints of roasted turkey, and even steamed vegetables, which is very strange to taste in a beer, but the folks I’ve shared it with all agree that it’s not a bad taste, just unusual. This would, in fact, be a perfect beer to have with that big autumnal family gathering, because the flavors just line up so perfectly. Of course, its festive flavor and high alcohol content also make it one hell of a party beer – bring it to your next gathering (especially if you know everyone else is bringing yellow fizzy beer), and be prepared to make a lot of new friends, thanks to your delicious and dizzying contribution!

In short, Punkin’ is a well-crafted and tasty spin on an old autumn classic, and though its differences set it apart from more traditional pumpkin beers, they also set it above them for the same reasons.

Second, we have Hoptober, from the New Belgium Brewing Company out of Fort Collins, Colorado. The best way I can describe Hoptober is this: beer, with extra beer, with a side dish of beer and beer for desert. Let me explain – as New Belgium (the same company that makes Fat Tire, one of the most popular craft beers in the United States, and one of my first loves) proudly proclaims on the side of their bottle, this thing is just absolutely packed with as many things that makes beer… well, beer, as humanly possible.

Take the malts, for example – it’s a balanced mix of pale malt, wheat malt, rye, and oats. Now, I am an absolute malt fanatic, and I love thinking about how different grains will interact to create new flavors, and even to me this is a hell of an audacious mix. In the wrong hands, this would end up tasting probably like a whole lot of nothing, a strange, homogenous mix that doesn’t actually have any of the characteristics of any of these malts. But these aren’t the wrong hands, they’re New Belgium’s hands, and what you end up with is something that has all the crispness of a pale ale and all the creamy smoothness of an oatmeal stout, and the texture and mouthfeel comes in at least three waves that I could taste. This is definitely a beer where you want to let a few seconds pass between sips – you’ll be glad you did.

Now, we get to the beer’s namesake, it’s hop content. I’ll admit, I was a little scared when I read what all went into this thing – I’m not, in general, a hophead, and while I do love the scent and flavor of a well-balanced hoppy beer (I’m thinking here of Stone Brewery’s Arrogant Bastard or Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde), I do have my threshold, and the following ingredients looked like they might surpass it. Hoptober is made with no less than five varieties of hops, these being Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Williamette, and Glacier. I’m not sure when during the process they were added, or in what amounts, though I’d bet my bottom dollar that the Cascade came in towards the end, as that’s the most prominent hop aroma in the beer.

What I was forgetting is that even though there are many varieties of hops used, that doesn’t mean that NBBC made the mistake of using massive amounts of each. The hops are balanced, layered, and ultimately they each contribute a little something of their own to the beer. As previously stated, the aroma is mostly Cascade (at least to my nose), but the flavor is a wonderful mix of floral and spicy notes, which just permeate the thick, malty character of the beer, so that this is the drinking equivalent of eating a 9-grain, just-came-out-of-the-oven, foot-thick loaf of delicious bread. This seems to be a thing with New Belgium, as I’ve heard their Fate Tire described, accurately I think, as being like drinking a warm, buttery biscuit or English muffin (one wonders what they call them in England).

Something very impressive about this beer is how little the flavor changes with the temperature. I drank a 40 oz. bottle just as it came out of the fridge, and it took me until it was nicely warmed up to room temperature to finish it, and I really couldn’t tell you which end of the spectrum I prefer. This beer really doesn’t care how ice-cold or hand-warm it is, it’s still gonna taste just as good.

I recommend Hoptober all by itself, or if you are going to have it with food, have it with a thick-cut slice of warm multigrain or black bread with a little butter on it. The flavors here really stand by themselves, and they really need to. On the other hand, I can see a multitude of cooking uses for this beer – using this in beer bread is what comes to mind immediately, but I can see this going into pie crust and gravy to make the wheatiest, most healthsome-tasting meat and veggies pie you’ve ever had, and a true autumn treat at that!

Yes, friends, autumn is our season, and we should make the most of it with the best beer we can get our hands on. These two are my personal picks, but as I said at the beginning, there are whole lakes of other beers to try, many of them seasonal brews that are only available during this time of the year. Read on for more!

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