Sunday, December 26, 2010

2008: The Jeffrey Pine

A few months ago, we bought some magnums of Anchor's Christmas ale, ranging from 2005 - 2009, and supplemented the collection with a sixer of 2010 Christmas Ale. Because we can't think of any reasonable way to do a proper vertical of all this beer, we're drinking the magnums throughout this winter and collecting our thoughts as we go through them.

The 2008 featured the Jeffrey Pine, which doesn't seem like a very interesting tree until you start reading about its distilled resin (a.k.a. turpentine). I thought all turpentine was the same, but apparently that from the Jeffrey Pine helps with respiratory ailments quite well, and can help with burns & other skin problems. But maybe the awesomest property (which sets it apart from other pine trees) is that the turpentine from the Jeffrey Pine is explosive. Explosive! 

But enough botany for today. The 2008 Anchor Christmas ale is a bit different from the two more recent vintages (though not explosive), but it shares several common characteristics. It still has prominent notes of ginger, molasses, anise, dark chocolate, and dried figs, but the vintage has a new property - wine. The aroma definitely has a vinous character, which is something we haven't yet had in any of the newer vintages.

The flavor carries a lot of the same characters in the aroma, but is heavy on the citrus - it reminds me of fruitcake. Rich, sweet, spiced flavor and heavy on the dried candied fruits. As for aftertaste, Mr Wort Hog suggested that it's like those Nestle Nips candies (could there be a worse brand than something that refers to a WWII racial slur?). The 2008 spices are subdued - nothing real prominent like the newer versions, but we still get some nutmeg and mace. 

This beer has a medium body, dry finish, and mod carbonation. It's dry like the '09, but has a bit of alcohol warmth we didn't get before. Overall, we like it and appreciate the complexity added by a couple years of aging. There are definitely some pretty consistent themes across the years so far, but the 2008 brought some new complexities that make me interested in the older vintages still hanging about in the cellar. I'd say that the 2008 is more interesting than the 2010 or 2009, but not compelling enough to seek out as a specific vintage. We'll see how the older versions fare in later posts...

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gift of Current Online Beer Menus

I love it when beer bars list their current offerings online; conversely, it's frustrating to go to a place specifically because they listed online something you wanted, only to arrive and find out the tap list was outdated.

I was in LA a couple of months ago and spent one evening after work at the Blue Palms Brewhouse. They update their beer menu on a computer at the bar, and project the list onto the wall above the bar. The same list is published to their website. You know for sure, by the minute, what's available. Check it out - it's a pretty cool menu approach.

Free State does a pretty good job of staying current, but it seems they switch out kegs so frequently, it'd be hard to keep their website current unless they updated it daily. They do, however, tweet every day about their daily food specials and when new beers go on tap. I'm not a fan of having to scroll through their tweets, so I usually just call them. There's almost always at least 1 beer they mention on the phone that isn't on their website. Beer Kitchen has been doing a great job of ensuring a current beer list, as is the Foundry. Until recently, Waldo Pizza just threw out general logos on their beer page, and most of them weren't for beers they currently had. Now, however, with their updated website, they give you a full PDF download of their entire - and current - beer menu. (which, by the way, contains some pretty great beers right now - Expedition Stout on tap!)

I hate having to call and ask what's on tap, and I'm sure employees find it a pain to have to track down someone who can answer my question. Kudos to those bars & restaurants who put forth the time & effort to keep an online beer menu that's up-to-date and reliable. To those places that don't publish tap lists online - please consider doing so. It can't be too hard to update at least once a week, and does have an impact on a beer lover's decision to visit your business.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Year in Waiting: 2009 Anchor Christmas Ale

image from wikipedia
I'll never forget the first time I went to Monterey, Ca. It was 1995 and my first time to the Northern California coast. It was also the first (and only) time I'd run over a seagull (a complete accident, but it was in front of a bunch of nuns!), and the first time I'd ever seen the majestic cypress tree. The Lone Cypress is visible on the 17-Mile-Drive loop, which also goes past Pebble Beach.

When I saw that the tree on the 2009 Anchor Christmas Ale was the Cupressus Macrocarpa (Monterey Cypress), I instantly recalled this trip. Though I didn't drink any beer on that vacation, I had a lot of chocolate. A lot.

And the 2009 Christmas Ale pays tribute to the Great Chocolate Consumption of 1995 with a heavy dose of cocoa in both aroma and flavor. Right away, you're met with aromas of chocolate and oranges, accompanied by molasses, anise, and cherries. While the 2010 was reminiscent of molasses crinkles, the 2009 brings forth images of well-made fruitcake (not the crappy kind with cheap candied fruit) and chocolate-covered orange rind.

The flavor is heavy on dark, rich, bitter cocoa - the kind you'd only get at a specialty shop... the kind grandma doesn't care for because it's so bitter. The orange character pops up again in the flavor, followed by some spices - notably, clove and mace.

And the body is quite different from the '10. This one is much drier, lighter in body, and more highly carbonated. That lightness in mouthfeel, the dryness - they pair extremely well with the bitter, dark cocoa components of the aroma and flavor.

So far, we favor the 2009. But we still have five more magnums to go.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Partridge in a Ginkgo Tree

Back in September, Mr Wort Hog and I made a trip to Goebel Liquor & bought six magnums of Anchor Christmas Ale (2009 - 2005). We weren't sure what we'd do with them, but they were so damn cheap we couldn't leave them there on the shelves. It seems unfair to do anything but a vertical, but trying to drink 9 liters of beer in one go between us seemed a bit ridiculous. Besides, this isn't Oktoberfest. So, over the next couple of weeks, we're drinking them all. Yep, you read that right.

Every year since 1975, Anchor has made its Christmas ale with a different - and secret - recipe and a different tree on the label. This year's tree is the Ginkgo tree (does memory improve with consumption?); we didn't get a magnum of the '10, but did pick up a sixer of the vintage. I think that's probably a more reasonable size for verticals. We're starting with the newest first, so a bottle of the 2010 starts this run of reviews (and yes, I'll actually post them in a timely manner, unlike my still-outstanding Germany posts).

The 2010 has a fantastic aroma; it smells like a molasses crinkle! Tons of molasses & ginger in the aroma, with nutmeg & dried fig not far behind. There were also notes of cherries & juniper or spruce in there, with a little bit of cookie-biscuit (you know, like those British "digestive" biscuits - vanilla, graham, and grain).

The flavor isn't much different, melding ginger, dark chocolate, toast crust, candied orange peel, and a little coffee. The finish is moderately bitter from the roasted malt and a decent helping of hops, but ends a little on the sweet & creamy side.

There are a lot of flavors going on here, and they all pair very well with each other. However, I think a few years of hanging around in the bottle will improve the complexity and depth of flavor. The different components just need more time to "marry". It's definitely worth picking up a six-pack or two and drinking one or two bottles now, saving the rest for next year. The richness and complexity of the Christmas Ale is something that is sure to change over time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dashing through the snow with beer throughout the day

We spent this past weekend in St Louis for another homebrew competition. This time, it was St Louis Brews’ annual “Happy Holiday” competition. Judging was held Wednesday & Friday at the Schlafly Taproom, while Saturday’s sessions were at the relatively new Hill Brewing Company (soon to become Ferguson Brewing Company). We tried a few beers at Hill: Classic American Pilsner, Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter, and Chocolate Stout.  

If you’re interested in checking out a pre-prohibition pils, theirs is a good one to try. It’s a style that isn’t very easy to find, but is interesting, moderately complex, flavorful, and refreshing. It’s made with barley and flaked corn, so there’s a decent amount of sweetness, but it’s balanced by hop flavor and bitterness and kept light in body by the corn.

In the KC area, if you’re lucky, you’ll find John Barleycorn at Free State. And if you’re in Nebraska, a trek over to Lucky Bucket will land you yet another Pre-Prohibition pils simply called the Lucky Bucket Lager. There aren’t many around, but this is a style that seems to be gaining some interest with craft brewers; keep your eye out for it.

On our way back to KC, we stopped for brunch at Broadway Brewing. We’re probably some of the last craft beer people in KC to go to Broadway, but I’m glad we finally did. There was a live band playing folk music in the back corner, which was perfect ambiance for the cold, snowy day. Broadway's known for focusing on local ingredients, and their menu is a welcome change from your standard pub fare; I had a chorizo & roasted red pepper quiche and Mr Wort Hog enjoyed some lamb hash. On tap was an APA, a Rye Pale Ale, a winter strong ale, and something else that escapes me. 

While we were there, they put on their cream ale – replacing the He’Brew Vertical Jewbelation, a blend of the past 7 years of Jewbelations, aged in Sazerac rye barrels. In fact, they had all seven Jewbelations on tap in addition to the Vertical Jewbelation! I was a bit disappointed to find out that these were kegs of *re-brewed* Jewbelations - instead of kegs that had been tucked away for years - but quickly forgot my disappointment in my glass of the Vertical Jewbelation. 

If you want any of them on tap, you’ll need to drive to Columbia or Omaha, as those are the closest cities with one of the 88 “chosen” bars. Or, find a gift pack (which has all the beers, an empty bottle as the shamash, and a glass) and drink your way to your own beer menorah!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bottle Caps: Now Available in Not-Bent

A recent discussion with a bottle cap collector reminded me of this. When we were at Goebel Liquor back in September, we got to talking to one of the guys working there (who was extremely knowledgeable about beer, by the way... all of the staff there was). He went into the back room and a few minutes later came back with a bottle opener for us. But not any standard bottle opener, oh no.

This is a bottle opener that doesn't bend your caps.

It appears it's just a piece of bored wood with a book binding screw through it. Looks easy enough to make, and removes caps with nary a dent. Pretty darn cool.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bring Back the Magic

As you may have heard, tragedy struck outside one of our very favorite beer bars the other night. Eric the Magician, who performs magic tricks for children at Waldo Pizza, was shot in his car after his weekly shift. There doesn't seem to be a known reason for the act of violence, but the three teenagers involved in the crime were all apprehended. One of them, 17, has been charged with assault & armed criminal action.

Thankfully, the gunshot was non-fatal and appeared to incur no permanent brain damage. Eric's still in the hospital, but word is he is doing well. Waldo Pizza has made a couple of updates to their Facebook site, and the latest provides information about a fund set up to help Eric.
We have established a fund for Eric called the Eric Price Help at Hand Fund. You can bring (or mail) your much appreciated donations to either Waldo Pizza location or to the UMB Bank at 8442 Wornall KC, MO 64114. Thank you very much. Please keep Eric in your thoughts!
You can read more on KMBC's site or The Pitch. And please continue to support Waldo Pizza and other Waldo businesses.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Give Beer!

When Mr Wort Hog & I got married, some of my coworkers pitched in & bought us a six-month "beer of the month" subscription. We got a box each month containing eight bottles of beer - two bottles each of four varieties. While many of the brews weren't life-changing, many of them were beers we can't get here in the KC metro, and some were beers we'd never heard of. All of them were decent, and many of them were quite good. We enjoyed the gift and now that the holidays are approaching, it might be a good gift idea for a burgeoning beer nerd you know.

This is the club we were gifted. With each box, you got a newsletter that described each beer & brewery, and you could get more info on their website as well. You can see the current selections with each membership type on their site as well.

There are several other beer clubs out there; someone's put together a list of quite a few, providing summaries on each.

Happy gifting!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finding Treasure in Tulsa & Springfield

A homebrew competition in Tulsa set us out on the road again this weekend. The Fellowship of Oklahoma Ale Makers (FOAM) held their 19th annual homebrew competition at Marshall Brewing Company, Tulsa's first production brewery since before WWII. The master brewer, Eric Marshall, studied in Germany for a couple of years and worked at Victory Brewing before returning home to Tulsa to open up shop.

Tanks @ Marshall Brewing
And his experience shows. They had a Best Bitter, a Robust Porter, an American Wheat with orange peel and coriander, and an India Black Ale on tap there at the brewery for us to sample. All four were fantastic, but the porter & black ale really stood out. The black ale is the first in their "El Cucuy" series and is a great take on this recently-popular style, with notable roasted malt character and both floral & citrus American hop flavor & aroma. Delicious and hard to resist.

Unfortunately, you won't find their brews in KS or MO since they don't yet distribute outside Oklahoma. However, they're working on changing that; keep your eye out for these guys.

In the meantime, if you find yourself in Tulsa, their beers are on tap all over town. We had a bad experience with the bitter & IPA on beer engine at McNellie's, but that shouldn't stop you from ordering a Marshall beer on tap. Or from buying it in the bottle.

As a side note, OK has one of the stranger liquor laws I've come across. Like KS, grocery stores cannot sell beer over 3.2% ABW. Liquor stores can, of course, sell beer over 3.2% ABW - but this is where it gets weird: it must be sold at room temperature. So much for proper storage of IPAs.

Public photo from TripAdvisor
On our way home, we took a detour to Springfield, MO for a visit to Springfield Brewing Company. It wasn't too far out of the way, and its master brewer is Ashton Lewis - also known as Mr Wizard to BYO readers. We each got a sampler, which contained an American Wheat, German Helles, Marzen (their seasonal), Pale ale, Stout (their black sheep offering), and IPA.

Sampler Tray at Springfield Brewing Co
All were enjoyable, but the Wheat & Helles (which they simply called "lager") really stood out. The wheat was hoppier than is typical with American wheats around here, and Mr Wort Hog suspected it was lagered due to a light sulphuric aroma. You'd be missing out on a great American Wheat if you passed this one up.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Part 2: Kulmbach

Since we had three full days in Bamberg, we decided to take a day trip to Kulmbach, which is about 45 minutes north of Bamberg. We went primarily for the Beer & Bread museum, which is also adjacent to the Mönchshof brewery & biergarten. The Mönchshof line was originally brewed by the Mönchshof-Bräu brewery until the early 80s, when it was bought by Kulmbacher Brauerei (who also owns the EKU brand).  We get their Schwarzbier here in the states, and I was anxious to try it fresh off the tap to see how it compared to our boat-aged bottled version we get here.

The beer museum was definitely worth visiting. The bread museum wasn’t really that interesting and, as a result, was completely empty save for a couple of unknowing American tourists. We probably spent a good 1-2 hours in the beer museum, though, marveling over all the old brewing and bottling equipment. 

Old bottling system

Cool ship

The museum brews its own beer (and bakes its own bread), using open fermentation tanks. At the end of the tour, you get “Museumbier” and some museum bread to accompany it.
Open fermentation at the museum

Museum bread in solid & liquid states

After our educational lessons on brewing & baking, we settled in to the beer garden for a midday brew. There was a live band playing on one side of the biergarten, entertaining a few dozen Germans there for the afternoon. In typical fest form, they all had interlocked arms and were swaying back & forth while singing along to some traditional drinking songs.

While taking in the sights & sounds, I thoroughly enjoyed my much-anticipated Mönchshof Schwarzbier. This style can be deceptive due to its appearance; it's not rich or creamy, it doesn’t have sharp roastiness, and - as with other German lagers - you won't find fruity esters from the yeast. The version from Mönchshof was lightly roasty, only mildly sweet, and wonderfully dry. It had just enough hop bittering to balance the roast and malt, with a faint hop aroma or flavor (too much would have been unwelcome). Perfect for a beautiful fall day.

The difference between having this beer on tap in Germany vs. from a bottle (or even a mini-keg) in the US was noticeable, but not dramatic. You can find their Schwarzbier in a lot of stores that carry a broad selection of imports.

Or, you can try a similar but more fresh & vibrant version on tap at Gordon Biersch. Put some traditional German drinking songs on your MP3 player, don your headphones, and pretend you're in Northern Bavaria. Eins, zwei, zuffa!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Part 1: Bamberg (again)

We spent 3 days in Bamberg, so it goes to reason that I'd do more than 1 post about it. My last post focused on world-famous Schlenkerla's annual release of their delicious Urbock.This time, let's take a look at some of Bamberg's other offerings.

Ask a beer lover to name two breweries from Bamberg, and they'll probably name Schlenkerla and Spezial. To no surprise, those were two of our primary destinations.
Spezial Märzen
I ordered the märzen at Spezial, which is less smoky than Schlenkerla's and reminded me of bratwurst:  lightly smoky, a little spice (nutmeg, allspice), and minimal hop flavor with subtle bitterness to round out the smoked malt. Mr Wort Hog ordered their lager, which I actually preferred over the märzen. It, too, is smoked, and has a subtle grassy, lightly sulphuric aroma. The fresh pils malt flavor and noble hop flavor were perfectly balanced, as most German lagers tend to be. With a clean, bitter finish, their smoked lager ended up becoming one of my favorite beers we had in Bamberg.

Both Schlenkerla and Spezial malt and smoke their own barley, using aged beechwood logs to obtain the smoke character in their beers. Schlenkerla malts year-round, while Spezial malts only in the winter. Since the smoke character of the malt deteriorates as it ages, blending different batches is key to maintaining consistency in the flavor of their beers. Weyermann in Bamberg is one of the most well-known providers of smoked malt and also uses aged beechwood to make its smoked malt.

Not every brewery in Bamberg makes rauchbier, however. Across the street from Spezial is Fässla. We didn't stop in there, but had earlier tried a couple of their beers at a little pub in the city center. I had their Pils and Mr 'Hog got a dunkel. Their pils was fabulous - spicy, floral noble hop flavor with moderately-high carbonation and moderate body. It was very crisp and refreshing, with a lightly sweet grainy pils sweetness at the end. When you're ready for a break from rauchbier, Fässla is definitely worth a visit.

We made two separate visits to Bamberg's oldest brewery, Klosterbräu (äu is pronounced "oi"). It was founded in 1533 and has been owned by the same family since 1851. I ordered their "Braun" beer, thinking it must be some sort of German brown lager I'd never heard of. (since braun means brown, that seems reasonable, right?) Nope, turns out the place was the "Prince Bishop Braun Bier Haus" from 1533-1790 and the beer's a dunkel. It had a sweet, toasty Munich malt character with no hop aroma and low hop bitterness. It was perfect with my traditional Franconian dinner.
My super-awesome dinner at Klosterbräu - ham hock, potato dumpling, kraut, and a dark lager.

An interesting characteristic we found in Bamberg's brewpubs is the large hallway at the large front entrance, called a "schwemm" (shvem). The pathway typically separated the building into halves, with doors going to different dining/bar rooms on each side. Additionally, nearly all of them had a little window where you could walk up and order a beer right from the barrel. Rarely was there ever a line, so it typically took under a minute to get a full half-liter glass of fresh beer.
Window for beer orders at Mahr's
Drinking in the Schwemm

We tried to make it over to Keesman, but they were closed. So, we crossed the street to Mahr's for a beer or two.

We noticed that most of the breweries in Bamberg also made their own schnapps, most of which were distilled from their rauchbier. I bought a couple shots one night at Schlenkerla, and we were quite disappointed that the schnapps had no smoke character at all. I bought a small bottle of the schnapps anyway, as a novelty to bring home. We cracked that baby open one evening and were surprised at how smoky it was! Proof that drinking rauchbier is a complete palate-wrecker. 

One of our final stops in Bamberg was Greifenklau, a brewery restaurant situated high up on one of Bamberg's many hills. The dining room was, like most of the places we went to, hotter than hell. I swear, these places had to be at least 75 degrees inside, if not warmer. Perhaps they keep it that way so you aren't too cold to drink beer.

That reminds me. Since our return, I have had about 4 or 5 people ask me, in some form, how I liked the warm beer in Germany. I have no idea why people think German beer is served warm; my best guess is that it's not served as cold as a typical macro lager, and therefore "warm". Most of what we were served was cellar temp, so probably around 50F. Far from warm, and a perfect temp for getting full aroma and flavor from the beers.

Lest you think all we did was hop from bar to bar, here are some other pictures of Bamberg I took while we wandered through town.

Walking up one of Bamberg's many hills
Bamberg Cathedral
Most of the buildings in the city center were half-timbered, and the streets were cobblestone.

More half-timbering

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Hoppy Halloween Indeed

We drove to Fargo last weekend for the Prairie Homebrewing Companions' 13th annual homebrew competition. Their main speaker was Jamil Zainasheff, a homebrewer known for co-authoring 2 books (Brewing Classic Styles and Yeast: the Practical Guide to Fermentation) and for The Jamil Show, a radio podcast on

Chip from Northern Brewer's BrewingTV was there to capture the weekend, and here's the episode he put together. It's just shy of 1/2 hour and a good overview of what a competition is like. There are a few highlights, including:
  • Jamil announces that he's opening a brewery in the east bay next year
  • The PHC's club yeast bank
  • Our friends Tom & Nancy won the ProAm and get to brew at Summit Brewing in Minneapolis
  • We won best of show for our Classic Rauchbier!
Check it out.

Brewing TV - Episode 23: Hoppy Halloween & Jamil Zainasheff from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Part 1: Bamberg

As I mentioned earlier, Mr Wort Hog and I spent about 10 days in October traveling around Germany and the Czech Republic.We went to cities that have historical significance in beer and were able to try several examples of prominent styles. So, here's the first of several recollections of our trip...

We arrived in Frankfurt on a Thursday morning. It wasn’t long before we were in our rental car and on our way to Bamberg, about 3 hours east of the Frankfurt airport in Northern Bavaria. It was only after booking our trip that we found out Schlenkerla would be releasing their Urbock our first night of arrival. During lunch we learned that tapping would start at 5pm, so we made plans to walk around town until 4:30 or so then head down to the brewery for the tapping.

We ended up arriving around 4pm so we could avoid the crowd rush... As it turns out, all we needed to do was show up some time before 8pm. Before then, the beer garden was relatively empty - entirely different from our experience with brewery special releases in the States. Around 9pm or so, the biergarten was so full, you had to pull your way through the crowd just to move from one place to the next. Bamberg's a university town, and we introduced ourselves to a group of graduate astronomy students who were speaking English... Talking physics and solar flares is quite a feat after about 2 liters of bock.
Biergarten at Schlenkerla
Fresh Schlenkerla urbock is a distant relative of the old stuff we get here. It tasted fresh and smoky without being "meaty"; less like bacon and more like warm campfire. Imagine drinking a lightly sweet bock while hanging out with friends at a bonfire. That's Schlenkerla Urbock.
Fresh Urbock
They tapped keg after keg after keg...
Yeah, he tapped that
October & November mark the release of bock beers throughout Germany. Several months ago, I found a website that listed the dates of dozens of bock releases in the country. I can't find it now, but if you're a Google Master, please send me a link if you find it.

Next up - the other breweries of Bamberg.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You Asked For It

And now you are getting it.

Boulevard announced via facebook a chocolate beer made in collaboration with Christopher Elbow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Read All About It

The past 2 months have been utterly insane. Since Labor Day, Mr Wort Hog's been on the road every single week, and I've also been traveling over half that time. Most has been for work, but we did manage to squeeze in a 10-day vacation this month in Germany & the Czech Republic. I typically get some work done on my flights, but every once in a while I need to read something unrelated to my projects. What to read? Beer books, of course. (well, and sudoku puzzles....)

I've finished a couple of beer books this summer, dug into a third one, and have plans to start another once I'm done with that one.

First, Great Beers of Belgium by Michael Jackson. The book is sorted by Belgian sub-styles and includes information about brewers of these styles. Sounds kind of boring, I suppose, but the book really is fascinating. I have learned about how Drie Fontienen has made a business almost entirely on blending beer. Not brewing, but blending. This book also provides a fantastic comparison collection of beers by style, allowing you to pick a couple that you want to try and maybe compare, without having to do a ton of research. I found this book a lot of fun to read through at random, rather than front to back.

Second, Brewing with Wheat by Stan Hieronymous. It focuses on, of course, beer styles made with wheat including Hefeweizen, Wit, American wheat, wheat wine, and a few German styles you won't see very many places: Gose, Berliner weisse, Grätzer, and Lichtenheiner. (I'll be writing about the first and last of those rare styles in a few posts to come, by the way.) Among other things, I found very interesting the explanation of what causes the clove flavor in Hefeweizens and how to manipulate that. Finally, Boulevard's own Stephen Pauwels is quoted several times in the book, and talked to Hieronymous extensively about brewing with wheat. That right there is reason enough for us KC denizens to check this book out.

I haven't started this one yet, but for the science nerds out there, there's a new book by Chris White (of White Labs) and Jamil Zainasheff (homebrewer extraordinaire) called Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation. I am not sure I'll be diving into this one right away, but Mr Wort Hog sure was diggin it on our flight home. And no question why - I still think that the amount of influence that yeast contributes to beer is highly underrated and under-appreciated. Should be interesting and highly informative (if not a bit too chemistry-laden for my preference).

And finally, Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski (master brewer at Southampton). It focuses on the very broad category, explaining what characterizes "farmhouse". Fantastic resource, and really dispels some misunderstandings on the beers in this very broad category.

While you're keeping yourself busy reading, I'm going to get back to my blogging and tell you guys about our trip to Germany & CZ. It was a much-needed vacation, and I learned a ton about styles of beer that really aren't that well represented here (alt, dark czech lager, kolsch, etc). Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Kitchen is Bitchin

I felt restless today. I worked yet another 10 hour day and still had a few hours of work left to do. Mr Wort Hog was out of town. I needed to be in Westport by 8pm to get my hair cut. What to do with myself?

I decided to head to the 'Kitchen. The newest beer destination in Westport and the new habitant of the old 180 spot, Beer Kitchen offers a combo of craft and specialty beer along with modern (albeit a bit cliché) American cuisine. The food menu's spotted with make-your-own mac & cheese (with applewood bacon, duck confit and truffle oil as a few of the offerings), gourmet burgers (including a bratwurst-patty burger), and plenty of vegetarian items. I ordered the mushroom flatbread, pictured below, which included shiitake mushrooms, brie, pesto, and onion jam (which I love). I wasn't sure what to expect; I've ordered "flatbread" in bars before, and have mostly been disappointed when they bring an under-baked, topping-heavy slice of manufactured pita bread that's bland and one-dimensional. Not here. The crust was cracker-thin, browned and crispy on the edges, and laden with house-made jammy onions. House made! Oh-So-Yum.

Mushroom Flatbread & Scrimshaw Pilsner

Oh yeah, and the beer. I got a Nogne O Saison (now tapped out) and a North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner, both on tap. Their tap list currently on their site (as of 9/14) is outdated, and I suspect you could probably presume any time that at least one of the beers listed on their website will be gone by the time you get there. But don't fault them for it. The focus is on frequent tap rotation to bring Kansas City some quality draft brews that are interesting, different, and seasonal. They only have 8 taps, so the intentional focus is quality and freshness over quantity.

Overall, a must-visit in my book. My biggest complaint with the place was the music, which was 100% Motown. Perhaps it was because I was there on a Tuesday night. Maybe I was cranky from working a lot. Quite possibly, it's because I'm not a Westport Hipster down with the Motown jive. But honestly, after a couple of beers and a very good dinner, I really didn't mind.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Get some IBUs in an IBA

Happy Friday!

It's been a long week and I'm glad the weekend is nearly here. To save you from end-of-weekend blues, this coming Monday (the 13th) Schlafly posted on Facebook that they'll be tapping a cask of India Brown Ale at the Foundry in Westport starting at 4pm (happy hour).

What's India Brown Ale? Pretty much what you think. Schlafly's website says, "this unique brew has the color of a brown ale, but the aroma of an American-style IPA. This beer will prove just how complex a brown ale can be."

I haven't had many IBAs, but the couple that I have had are super delicious. Dogfish Head's is the first that comes to mind which, of course, we can't get here. Saranac, though, makes one but I can't recall seeing one out here. I know Lukas in Overland Park typically carries a pretty big selection of Saranac - does anyone know if they carry the IBA? Any other IBAs in town?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wichita - Home of Aged Craft Beer

We drove down to the Air Capital of the World this past weekend, primarily so that I could take the BJCP exam. I wrote furiously for three solid hours, trying to let everything I know about beer, malt, water, and styles pour onto the pages. I'll find out how I did in a handful of months...

After completing the exam, Mr Wort Hog and I headed over to Goebel Liquor, home of Rob's World of Beers. There are several refrigerated cases of beer there, and I think about 3 full aisles of beer as well as an entire wall. Selection is not lacking at this place, and you're bound to find something you've never had. But what really sets this place apart is the selection of vintage beer. They have magnums of Anchor's Our Special Ale going back to 2005 (and at $9.99 each, we couldn't NOT buy some!). They had 6 years of Anchor's Bigfoot. Several years of Avery's Mephistopheles, JW Lee's, Ola Dubh, and a bunch of others. These guys have done an incredible job of setting aside beers to age & bring out later. I loved it.

Goebel Liquor

After stashing the beer in our temperature-controlled hotel room, we made our way over to The Anchor and joined most of my fellow examinees for a round and some food. The food was quite tasty (their house-made potato chips were awesome), but the beer selection is really the reason to go. Their draft list seems to frequently update and included Tumbler and Old Rasputin on nitro (yum!). They also have quite a few bottles in coolers, including some Boulevard Imperial Stout.

After a couple of beers, though, everyone parted and we headed over to River City Brewing Company in Old Town (not to be confused with either River City Brewing Company in Sacramento or Jacksonville). It was just a short walk away, and it's always fun to check out the local brewpubs. I tried ordering their oak-aged saison, but they'd just run out of it so I got their ESB instead. I was happy with what I got, but it wasn't anything special. Mr Wort Hog's chocolate bock was a bit on the sweet side, so after finishing off our beers we headed back to The Anchor to wrap up the evening - which included a bottle of that Imperial Stout.

It was a little on the syrupy side and I thought John's observation that it had that occasional aged-stout "soy sauce" characteristic was spot on. It was good, but to be perfectly honest I liked it better when it was young. 

The Anchor's Strong Ale Fest is coming up in November (on the 6th) so mark your calendars. It's all day long and is followed by a Hair of the Dog Brunch the next day. Sounds like a fun time, and they're sure to have some excellent brews.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Finding Love in Lee's Summit

We had a great night last night. Despite driving through traffic for over an hour yesterday (at least it wasn't that insane traffic jam in China) and arriving at the Flying Saucer to only obtain one ticket for CBS, we still had a nice time hanging out with our friend J and Mark from The Hopry. The CBS wasn't as "maple-y" as I remembered it being last year, but it was still an incredible beer. (And it's very possible my palate has changed.) Coffee, bitter roasted malt, dried fruit, vanilla, oak, and just a touch of maple sweetness. Keep an eye out for it next year; the Saucer's had it the past two years in a row, and I wouldn't be surprised if it made an appearance in '11.

We ate dinner, split an 8oz pour of CBS, and figured the night was still young - we had plenty of time to finally go to Gomer's in Lee's Summit. We'd both heard so many good things about it, and I'd recently seen that they had Mikkeller Rauch Geek Breakfast stout in stock. What else were we going to do with our evening?

So, we hit the highway and, half an hour later, found ourselves in a beer wonderland. We walked in and saw an incredible amount of craft beer in refrigerated coolers straight in front of us. (It's worth mentioning, by the way, that they have a fantastic gin selection that rivals Lukas' in Martin City.) They have the entire Mikkeller yeast series, a ton of Belgian beer I've never seen here, and put simply, THE BEST beer selection in Kansas City. By "best" I don't mean the largest selection or the most bottles; they have the most thoughtful and interesting selection I've seen in this city.

We talked to the beer buyer for a while, who's about our age and a major beer nerd as well. He keeps their blog pretty up to date and works hard to ensure their beer selection's current and creative. I just wish they weren't so damn far out of town. However, I now have a reason to go to Lee's Summit at least once a month, and recommend you do the same. I'm embarrassed that I've never been here before. If you're any self-respecting beer lover, you owe it to yourself to make it out there on a regular basis.

In case you're curious, here's what we came home with:

  • Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek
  • Southern Tier Pumking
  • Mikkeller Frelser triple bock
  • Cantillon broucsella 1900 Grand Cru
  • Trois dames grande dame oud bruin
  • Mikkeller Rauch Geek Breakfast
  • Rogue Chatoe Rogue OREgasmic 
  • Ska Nefarious ten pin imperial porter
  • Haand Bryggeriet barrel aged porter (aged in an aquavit barrel)
  • De Molen Heaven & Hell 
  • Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum double
  • Nogne O/Mikkeller Tyttebaer (cranberry wild ale) 
  • Vikings Blod Mead
  • Pirtle Blackberry Mead
  • Ben Middlemiss Benediction ale
  • Mikkeller Monks Brew
  • Sierra Nevada Tumbler
  • O'Fallon Pumpkin
  • Schlafly Pumpkin

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Early Thanksgiving

We popped open a Southern Tier Pumking last night and the temp was below 70F while I drove to work this morning. Fall is on its way and I can't wait. So here I am already thinking about giving thanks to what we have...

My brother and his girlfriend-of-12-years recently came to visit for a week and I think I'm still hung over. We tapped into the Wort Hog Stockpile and my brother brought some beers from Portland (note: Deschutes Jubel 2010 is awesome - worth trading). While we drank our fill of beer we can't get here in KC, I briefly lamented over not being able to get HUB, Russian River, Port Brewing, Smuttynose, Deschutes, Great Lakes, and so on.

However, as we reveled over our piles of empty bottles, Mr Wort Hog and I were both struck by how many great breweries have gained distribution to the KC metro just in the past few years. Hoppin Frog, Ballast Point, Lagunitas, Founders, New Holland, Anderson Valley, Dieu du Ciel, Ska, Moylan's, and others. Of course, even regional breweries like Tin Mill and soon Free State are (or will be) distributed here. There are several breweries we can get here that those on the west coast cannot. Brother Wort Hog was able to try a bunch of Founders while visiting - Devil Dancer, Double Trouble, Red's Rye, Breakfast Stout, and KBS. (Man, I love that brewery.) He also enjoyed some Schlafly, Bells, Left Hand, Breckenridge, New Holland, Odell, and O'Fallon - all breweries whose beers we can easily find at our local liquor stores but aren't available in "beervana."

I often go back & forth between picking up some regular favorites and hunting around the liquor store trying to find the Next Best Thing. After his visit, I was reminded of all of the great beers we can get here and not to take them for granted. (On that note, we also ate our fill of awesome KC BBQ and commiserated with Brother Wort Hog's inability to get good BBQ in the northwest.)

Overall, it was a good visit. We drank our weight in some awesome beer, ate excellent food, and laughed ourselves silly playing Cranium (OK, we only play the green & blue cards - those are the best ones anyway). I'm thankful to be able to share a passion for great beer & food with my kickass brother and his awesome girlfriend, and that they were able to come out here to visit - even if it was 115F nearly every single day.

All the more reason to stay inside and drink more beer.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Canadian Breakfast Stout is Coming!

The Flying Saucer got a keg of this Founders delicacy back in June and has been holding on to it through the summer... until now. They're putting this baby on for Rare Beer Night on August 26th. They've been tapping some stellar stuff for Rare Beer Night lately, and this one continues the trend.

I probably don't need to say anything more, but JUST in case you're not sure what this concoction is, it's their standard Breakfast Stout that is aged in barrels that were initially used to age Heaven Hills Kentucky Bourbon, then were shipped up to Canada to age craft maple syrup. The result, as I wrote about last year for Present Magazine, "carries smoky flavors from the charred barrels, vanilla notes from the bourbon, and a prominent douse of maple sweetness."

Simply delicious.

Friday, August 6, 2010

More Mikkeller

I mentioned the other day Mikkeller's line of yeast-series beers and how exciting and innovative this is. Lo & behold, McCoy's is featuring all five of them at their next beer dinner (see the last paragraph on the linked page). I've only been to one other McCoy's dinner but found it fun and entertaining; the food was pretty tasty (a notch or two fancier than what they typically serve) and the crowd was friendly and social.

They're also serving the Mikkeller Chipotle Porter, which was the Rare Beer this past Thursday at the Flying Saucer. I'd been looking forward to this one, so we trekked on down and had ourselves a glass or two. The aroma's wonderful – chocolatey and roasty, much like a rich dark chocolate bar (and it's all from malt – very cool). The flavor was quite similar but also had just a touch of red chili flavor. And then the capsaicin kicked in.

Living on the west coast, I used to have a pretty decent heat tolerance. After three years in Kansas City, however, I am now a self-avowed hot-food-wuss. This beer is spicy. Now, it's not melt-your-face hot, but I've had Thai food here in KC that was less spicy than this beer. It was wonderful, like eating one of those chocolates that has dried chilies in it. I wish this weren't as rare as it is.

You can get yourself a glass of this at the Saucer, or join me at the McCoy's dinner on Tuesday, September 7th. Tickets are $50 (inclusive of tax & gratuity); you can buy them at McCoys or by calling (816) 960-0866. This is one I'm not going to miss, so I'll see you there!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ich liebe Grünauer

A couple of months ago, I received an email from JP's wine bar stating that they were featuring Austrian wines to highlight the opening of nearby Grünauer Austrian restaurant (which replaced City Tavern). I never did make it out for JP's specials, but I did go to Grünauer's website and decided it was worth a visit. Besides, Kansas City is essentially a complete void of continental European food, despite the number of German immigrants to this area; we've been wanting some German food for a while and figured Austrian was close enough.

We drank and dined in the Wunderbar, Grünauer's lounge, and had a fantastic time. Not only was the bar service inviting and personable, the food and drink were spectacular. For my pre-dinner drink, I got "Der Schmutzige" (the dirty one), which is "Black peppercorn and mustard seed infused Monopolowa vodka, Frank's Kraut Juice, beet brine and dill pickle water shaken with vigor and served up with a dill wedge." For someone who loves savory gin drinks, this was delectable. About 80% through, though, I have to admit that my palate was getting pretty tired from all of the goings-on in the beverage. Even still, it was very good; the flavors blended together well, and I appreciated the creativity.

For dinner, we ordered the Schweinebraten and Tafelspitz and enjoyed them both. The Schweinebraten (with dumplings! yum!) was just like I remembered in Germany, and maybe even a bit better. The Tafelspitz (sliced beef with broth & noodles) was surprisingly rich with depth and flavor without being greasy or too thin. We paired our dinner with a handful of Czech, German, and Austrian beers and thoroughly enjoyed our evening there.

After such a great initial visit, we returned this past Thursday night for dinner & drinks, including a comparison of draft versions of Bitburger and Czechvar (the latter of which I am becoming an avid fan) for BJCP "studying". They have several continental lagers on tap (Spaten Bock, Bitburger, Czechvar, Hofbrau, Carlsberg, Warsteiner) as well as a Kölsch and Hefeweizen, and about 7 or so Boulevard drafts. With about a dozen more beers in bottles, there's no lack of malty goodness to be enjoyed. It's inspiring to see dedication of an entire faucet tower to Boulevard, but I'd really encourage you to try some of the European drafts. They're quite different from the bottled versions since they're not light-struck, oxidized, or stale. If you've never had any of the aforementioned brands on draft, you owe it to yourself to have one.

photo from Grünauer's Facebook page
This time, we settled for more typical entrees - Berlinerwurst and Wiener Schnitzel. Both were, again, well-executed and reinforced our affinity for the place. And the service was, of course, friendly, attentive, and timely.

A mention of Grünauer wouldn't be complete without recognition of its huge selection of gin. It's got about 15 (or more?) different gins available for your enjoyment. Really! I check out the gin selection of every bar I go to, and this has to be the largest inventory I've ever seen.

Bottom line - Grünauer has several things going for it and I hope they're here to stay. The food is authentic and delicious, the cocktails are creative and well-executed, the liquor selection is well above par, the service is attentive, and they have a thoughtful beer selection that goes way beyond the typical Euro-lager. I hope you'll pay them a visit and enjoy this place as much as we do. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Style Spotlight: Porter

I've been a major slacker in studying for the BJCP exam and I need to get my butt in gear if I'm going to pass this thing. One of the areas I really need to work on and excel at is evaluating and describing beers, as well as determining how well the beers fit into defined styles. So, to prepare for my studies, I've been going to liquor stores in search of a handful of beers within the same style category. And finding them all at one store is actually a bit harder than you might think.

I decided on evaluating porters which, in brief, can vary from light-bodied and mildly roasty to moderately-full in body and full of dark fruit, chocolate, and roasted malt character. I'm not going to explain the history and style of Porter; I'll let the ever-eloquent Michael Jackson do the work for me.

A week or two ago, I stopped by Rimann Liquors in Prairie Village and picked up three different bottles of porter. Along with a bottle of Edmund Fitzgerald Porter acquired in Minneapolis, Mr Wort Hog and I shared my three purchases:

1. RHC Old Slug Porter
2. Sinebrychoff Porter
3. Samuel Smith Old Taddy Porter

I purchased them along categorizations in the BJCP guidelines of Brown, Robust, and Baltic porters, but for most purposes, they're all just variations on a theme. Here's the low-down on each beer:

Old Slug Porter (brown porter #1)
Described on the brewery's site as "A delicious traditional porter with a full bodied taste of chocolate, coffee, blackcurrant and black cherry with a good aroma. A near black colour with a good white head when served through a tight sparkler" ... No sparkler in our house, though... Our impression of this was a little less enchanting. It's a bit simplistic, and would be a good beer to drink without really being interested in what I'm drinking. Not challenging or complex, but easy to drink and still a quality porter.

A brown porter should be, according to the BJCP, "[different] from a robust porter in that it usually has softer, sweeter and more caramelly flavors, lower gravities, and usually less alcohol. More substance and roast than a brown ale. Higher in gravity than a dark mild. Some versions are fermented with lager yeast. Balance tends toward malt more than hops. Usually has an “English” character."

Aroma: roasty, dark chocolate, burnt sugar. Decent but it left quickly.
Mouthfeel: medium-light, high carbonation. A bit lighter than I'm used to for a porter, even an English one.
Flavor:  roasty, some dark chocolate, burnt toffee, acidic

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter (brown porter #2)
I loved this porter and would definitely buy this one again. Great mouthfeel, nice complex flavor, but not heavy or filling in the slightest. This is a great introduction to porters and would probably be well-liked by those who don't care for (or aren't interested in) the hoppier versions.

Aroma: chocolate, figs, burnt sugar, toast crust, raisins
Flavor: loads of caramelized fruit sugar. I told Mr Wort Hog it reminded me a little of burnt raisins on the outside of homemade scones. Not overwhelmingly roasty; more of a dark toasted bread flavor with dried fruit mixed in there. Yum.
Mouthfeel: almost creamy, medium carb, medium body

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (robust porter)
Fitzgerald was probably my favorite of the lot, simply because of the lovely combination of dried cherry and roasted malt character. If we got this here in KC, I'd probably drink this well throughout the winter.

The BJCP guideline states that robust porter "differs from a brown porter in that a black patent or roasted grain character is usually present, and it can be stronger in alcohol. Roast intensity and malt flavors can also vary significantly. May or may not have a strong hop character, and may or may not have significant fermentation by-products..."

I'm not sure I find this description all that helpful, actually. Anyway, here are our general findings:

Aroma: loads of dried cherry, roasted malt
Flavor:  low hop bitterness, balanced by malt sweetness & roastiness
Mouthfeel:  medium-full body, moderate carbonation

Sinebrychoff Porter (Baltic porter)
The Sinebrychoff website is pretty verbose about this beer. They even give nutritional information (65 calories per 100ml, by the way). I enjoyed this one quite a bit as well and am interested in comparing it with Okocim and Baltika #6 some time.

From the BJCP guideline: "A Baltic Porter often has the malt flavors reminiscent of an English brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwarzbier, but with a higher OG and alcohol content than either. Very complex, with multi-layered flavors."

Aroma: dark dried fruits, licorice, milk chocolate, sweet mild tobacco
Flavor:  low hop bitterness, moderate malt bitterness balanced by sweetness, dark chocolate, burnt caramel syrup
Mouthfeel: medium-full body, almost creamy, low-to-moderate carbonation

By the way, you can't get Great Lakes in the KC metro area. (I'm really failing on that "focusing on beers you can get here in KC" aspect, aren't I?) But, a few great porters in the "robust" category that you CAN get here would include porter by Founders (definitely on the hoppy side), Sierra Nevada,  Anchor, Bell's, or Boulevard.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rare Beer Nights - and Mikkeller

Flying Saucer's on a roll recently with its rare beer nights. Last week featured Mikkeller's Big Worse, which was a wonderfully decadent barleywine full of malt aroma, rich dried fruit flavor, and enough bitterness to keep it balanced. I enjoyed it so much, I didn't realize how quickly I was drinking it until my glass was nearly empty.

Tonight's featured rare beer is Founders' Devil Dancer, a "triple" IPA clocking in at over 100 IBUs and dry-hopped with 10 different hop varieties. I'm sure Devil Dancer will not disappoint these hop-loving Wort Hogs.

Next week is Dieu du Ciel's Aphrodite (or, "Aphrodesiaque" if you're in Quebec), which is a stout brewed with cocoa and vanilla. I've been impressed with nearly all of Dieu du Ciel's beers, Deese Nocturne being probably the sole exception (and a recent rare beer). Aphrodite, though, is a wonderfully rich stout and one you can easily find in bottles around the KC metro (Royal & Lukas both carry it, and I'm sure other stores do as well). And if you ever find yourself in the Montreal or Quebec City area, make a point to go to their brewpub in Montreal. It has  wonderful ambiance and about 15 different beers on tap. When we were there 2 years ago, they had I think 4 or 5 smoked beers among the list; impressive.

August 5th, though, is something I am really looking forward to:  Mikkeller Chipotle Porter. Apparently only being sold in bottles in Texas, Flying Saucer appears to be getting a keg of it. Sweet! (or, spicy?). While browsing the Mikkeller site, it appears they aged some in bourbon barrels and bottled that too. Awesome.

While on the topic of Mikkeller, I thought their single-hop series was clever and interesting, but not that engaging. What I'm really looking forward to, though, is their upcoming Yeast Series beers. It is truly fascinating to me just how much a strain of yeast can completely change a beer, and I don't think that the beer blogging/reviewing community really pays enough attention to its role. Yeah, we all know that Belgian beers wouldn't be what they are without the signature yeast esters. And "bretted" beers have received a lot of attention lately. But what happens when you make several batches of a simple base beer (say, a strong pale ale) and ferment each batch with a different yeast? Mikkeller has the answer. I can't wait.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kirschwasser Stout

It's too hot for me to come up with a clever title for this post. Good grief, it's hot outside. Heat index of 93F at 10pm. Ugh.

And here I am drinking a stout. An American stout sounded really good - roasty, hoppy, dark chocolate... but it needed.... something... So, I looked in the cupboard... gin? No.. vodka? nah... rum? hmm... Kirschwasser? YES!

I picked up a small bottle of Clear Creek Kirschwasser at Royal back in March for a pot of fondue and have quite a bit left. It's the real stuff - not candy brandy or syrupy schnapps, but real kirschwasser like you'd find in Germany. Potent stuff, but delicious and very well made. The distillery (out of my home state of Oregon) makes a handful of craft spirits, this being one of their most easily accessible.

I think the 375ml bottle ran me around $25 or $30 - a bit steep, but considering how long it lasts, it really isn't much. (Especially if you think about how long two or three $10 bottles of beer last...)

I grabbed a 25cL glass we had on hand (about 8 ounces) and poured in about 6oz of homemade American Stout along with 1/2 ounce of Kirsch. And it hit the spot. You get just enough cherry aroma and flavor to complement the roasted malt flavor of the stout, but it's not overwhelming at all. I wouldn't add any more than that, or it would dominate the beer.

It's certainly not something you'd want to toss back after spending a day working in the yard, but it was a perfect way to end a day filled with running errands, cleaning, cooking, and doing other various random things. A great complement to relaxing on the couch with Mr Wort Hog, Kitty Wort Hog, and my laptop.

You can make your own by choosing any good American Stout - Bell's Kalamazoo, Rogue Shakespeare, Sierra Nevada, and so on. And you know, I'm betting Kirschwasser would be fantastic in a coffee stout or a chocolate stout as well. Yum, yum.