Friday, April 30, 2010

Rollin down the street, back from Lukas, sippin on John John Ale

With my mind on my John John and my John John on my mind?

Maybe not. Pretty sure I can't pull that off.

Thanks to FancyPantsBeer's note via Twitter, I was able to procure for myself at Lukas Liquor in Martin City a 22oz bottle of Rogue's latest barrel beer release: John John Juniper Pale Ale. As I mentioned previously, it's their Juniper Pale Ale that's been aged in Rogue Spruce-Gin-soaked barrels. I let it chill for as long as I could stand before cracking it open. The anticipation was killing me.

When I opened the bottle & poured the beer, the aroma was reminiscent of evergreens. I thought of camping back home (what says camping in the Pacific Northwest more than the smell of evergreens and beer?) And then that gave way to... coriander. And the warmer the beer got, the more pronounced it became.

Now, don't get me wrong - coriander is a very common botanical used in gin, and I'm a huge gin fan. The variation and creativity in gin styles and aromatics is nearly endless and it's almost as fun to find a new, delicious gin as a wonderful craft beer. The essential oils from various ingredients lend to spicy, fruity, herbal, and/or woody spirits. Rogue's award-winning Spruce Gin uses a ton of them: spruce, cucumber, angelica root, orange peel, coriander, lemon peel, ginger, orris root, grains of paradise, tangerine, and juniper berries. Problem is, coriander is the one "botanical" that I find really hard to love. It's the main reason I'm not a huge fan of witbier (especially double wit), and it really shines through in John John Juniper Ale.

That said, this is a very good beer and the creativity impresses me. The spruce and juniper do come through, as does the orange peel and the grapefruity citrus from the Amarillo hops. There's a bit of woodiness from the oak barrels, but it's definitely in the background and merely supports the other flavors in the beer (such as, oh I don't know, coriander?). Overall, I'd definitely recommend picking up a bottle of this and checking it out for yourself. It's not suitable for aging, so drink it fresh. I'd love to know what you think and if I'm completely crazy on the coriander component.

I'm curious, though... What did they do with the gin from the barrels? And how do I get my hands on some?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On the Road Again: St Louis

This post is part 2 of our our homebrew judging adventures this spring. Our trip to the other side of the state was probably one of my favorite visits to date. The weather was perfect (upper 70s and blue sky!), the beer was excellent, and we found some great new places for food. The main purpose of our trip was to judge homebrew at the Garage Brewers Society (GBS) Champion of the Pint competition, but we made a full weekend out of it.

Our arrival in town on that Friday evening was initiated by a small trip to Trader Joes in Chesterfield to pick up some snacks (and mesquite honey to make mead), then a hop over to the International Tap House for some beers. I was exhausted but mustered enough strength and stamina to drink a few beers, including the spectacular Avery Black Tot. Take note - this will be available in bottles at the Flying Saucer's 2nd anniversary bash this Sunday. It's a stout aged in rum barrels that really impressed me - sweet but not cloying, boozy without being hot, and lots of complex fruit character (is that raisin? Prune? No wait, fig?).

Saturday was the competition, and we worked up a hunger judging a bunch of homebrews. We're both big fans of traditional Neapolitan pizza, but it's unfortunately relatively hard to find in most parts of the country. The Good Pie in St Louis brings the style to the Midwest, and with competence.

We arrived around 7pm, made a bee-line for the bar, and ordered the cured meat plate and a couple of beers. The plate came with a good assortment of prosciutto, salami, pancetta, and a couple other items I can't recall. It was served with a piece of olive-oil-brushed pizza crust which was a wonderfully thin, charred, crispy-chewy authentic Neapolitan crust. I'm talking "baked in a wood oven at 900 degrees Fahrenheit for less than two minutes" kind of awesome.

I washed that down with the O'Fallon Wee Heavy that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I wish I'd at least taken a few notes as I don't really remember the specific qualities of the beer (hey, it was a long day). Our main dish was the Pizza Napoli:  anchovies, mozzarella, chili, and basil. Simple, fresh, and delicious. It was my first pizza I've ever had with anchovies, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it - and I would definitely recommend it, even if you're hesitant about fish on pizza. While the tap and bottle lists aren't extensive and their website's out of date, what's on is very thoughtful and current. And if you're dying to know what they do have, it looks like they frequently tweet tap announcements.

We crossed the street to Buffalo Brewing, where we enjoyed very good versions of a double IPA and a sweet stout. Incidentally, the sweet stout was the gold-medal winner of a GBS chili-cookoff competition - thereby earning the right to be brewed & served at Buffalo. Way to support local home brewers, Buffalo! These guys are kind of in a strange location for a brewpub, as there are a few night clubs immediately near by and - as a result - lots of people in fancy clubber garb standing alongside red velvet ropes. Despite that, I recommend checking this place out if you're ever in STL. Every time we've gone, we've had good beer and the staff is always friendly.

We then we took the car back to our hotel before heading off to Schlafly's taproom to close the night. Schlafly was great, as always, and I've written about them before so I won't go into it again here. I sure do love their Kölsch, though, and always enjoy having it on tap.

The next morning, we enjoyed a wonderful brunch at Bridge, another fine beer establishment in St Louis. Owned by David Bailey, who also owns Bailey's Chocolate Bar and Rooster, Bridge offers over 45 craft beers on tap and over 100 from a bottle. What I really liked about Bridge was that they offered any tap beer in a 4oz glass. It's a perfect size for getting a full impression of a beer without growing tired of it - alternately, it provides a great way to sample a handful of strong beers without getting completely wasted.

As for food, we stuffed ourselves silly. We ordered smoked paprika popcorn (good, but not amazing) and a plate of mixed house pickles to start. The pickled grapes were a lot of fun and I was surprised when our bartender said some people get pissed that they include them. We also ordered a board of roasted duck breast on focaccia with cassis conserve as well as a small side of salt & vinegar potato salad. The board of duck breast was HUGE (8 pieces I think) and we didn't finish it, but it was wonderful. The potato salad was neither as salty or vinegary as I expected, which led to a bit of disappointment. I was expecting something like salt & vinegar chips (which I adore), but it was more like cold German potato salad that needed more salt.

Finally, for our main and final course, we ordered a plate of mixed cheese with more focaccia:  Methusela from Heartland Creamery, Comté Marcel Petite, and Rogue Creamery Smoked Blue (which turned out to be their regular Oregon Blue, not the smoked-over-hazelnut-shells variety. Bummer.).

Overall, we had a great time in St Louis and no doubt brought home a few thousand well-earned calories to boot. Regardless, I look forward to our next trip out there to explore more of the city's beer destinations. New places seem to be popping up pretty frequently and the craft beer scene is really taking off.

And so this post ends with a nod to St Louis Craft Beer Week. After our last visit, we look forward to yet another one of our own St Louis Craft Beer Weekends.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Juniper and Gin - For the Win!

Continuing the barrel-aging trend of late, Rogue introduced its John John series earlier this year, starting with John John Dead Guy - Dead Guy Ale aged in Dead Guy Whiskey barrels.

The series is so-named after its master brewer, John Maier, and master distiller, John Couchot. This week, the Oregon-based brewery released the next in the series, John John Juniper. I've been excited about this one for a few reasons:
  • Rogue's Juniper Ale was my favorite beer for over a year back around 2006ish and I never tired of it. It's still one of my Rogue favorites.
  • Rogue's Spruce Gin is one of the smoothest, most balanced and enjoyable gins I've ever had. And I've tried a lot of gins.
  • Gin isn't typically aged in barrels, so they soaked the barrels with their gin with the explicit purpose of making this beer. Now there's a Rogue concept.
It was released this week and should start to appear where Rogue is distributed, including the KC metro area. Unfortunately, the John John series has been somewhat hard to find locally, but I'm starting to see it around. We picked up a bottle of John John Dead Guy at the 23rd St Cork & Barrel in Lawrence back in February or so, and I believe Lukas Liquor and Gomer's in Lenexa now carry it.

Keep your eyes peeled this September for the final beer in this series: Hazelnut Brown Nectar aged in Hazelnut Spiced Rum barrels. I fail to see how that can turn out any way other than delicious. As an aside, it appears Rogue Spirits are no longer distributed to this area (not that they were widely available to begin with). Harry's Country Club was the only place I knew of that even sold any, and Harry himself said the distributor no longer carries Rogue. Bummer.

I wrote this blog post yesterday, with the intention of stopping by Royal Liquor on the way home from work today to see if any John Johns were in stock. Though I had no luck there, I checked out the gin selection and much to my surprise, there was a barrel-aged gin - from Oregon! I had no idea anyone barrel-aged gins and I was absolutely stunned at the timing. I bought that bottle of Ransom Old Tom, sweet & dry vermouths, and made myself a perfect martini* when I got home. If you're a gin drinker, this is a phenomenal gin that is sweeter and more herbal than its non-barreled counterparts (think Ricola). You could almost drink it on the rocks, nothing else with it. It's pricey at $39.99 per bottle, but absolutely worth it.

* Perfect Martini:
2.5 oz gin
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Shake with ice, strain into martini glass. Sip, repeat.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Time to Get Out and Drink some Beer

I'll keep this short & sweet. Get your calendars out.

April 24 - Parkville Microbrew Festival
... As if I need to tell you about this one.
What I love about this in particular is that people from the attending breweries are there. It sure is nice to talk to them about the beer they've brought as well as what they're experimenting with, and is a big reason I like to go to this. The weather's supposed to be stormy - bring your umbrella.

May 1 - National Homebrew Day
Interested in seeing how home brewing works? Check out a National Homebrew Day location. As far as I know, ZZHopsKC BierMeisters, and Lawrence Brewers Guild are all hosting brew days. I'd contact them directly for details, as their websites don't contain a lot of information. Additionally, the BierMeisters will have a couple of homebrews in the works at the Parkville Microbrew festival.

May 2 - Flying Saucer 2nd Anniversary
The KC Craft Beer Examiner has a nice summary of it there so check it out. Flying Saucer's general manager also started an informational thread over on Beer Advocate.

May 4 - Bell's Brewery Dinner at Foundry
Food pairings served with Bell's Sparkling, Oberon, Two Hearted on Cask, and three stouts: Expedition, Cherry, and Java. Reservations required - of course.

May 6 - Royal Liquor Beer Tasting
Over 75 beers available to try, with discounts on purchased beers.
At Royal Liquor on State Line.

May 22 - KC Bierfest
This thing's a month away and they still have 2009's beers listed... hopefully that will be updated soon. Also note it's now in Westport. Maybe this year the new location will help avoid fights and general douchebaggery, but I won't hold my breath.

Apr 24 - May 3 - St Louis Craft Beer Week
Yeah, I know it's not local. But if you feel inspired to make your way out there, many of the events look worthwhile.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Swapping out the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs

Goose Island has been full of news lately. First, news that they're killing distribution of their Nut Brown & Oatmeal Stout. While I think both of those are good beers, I can't think of the last time I had either of them. I think Bell's Best Brown is a better option for an English Brown Ale (though is only available seasonally), but also quite enjoy Samuel Smith's Nut Brown as well. Regardless, I was initially surprised to see the brewery put an end to the distribution of beers that provide 40% of its year-round selection. But with such a heavy focus now by beer enthusiasts on limited and seasonal releases, it makes sense to focus on more lucrative and marketable products.

Additionally, Goose Island explained on Facebook that "in the competition for fermentation capacity, tap handles, and shelf space, Nut Brown and Oatmeal Stout have been disadvantaged by the increasing popularity of hoppy, wheat, sour, and barrel aged beer styles. We are grateful for the few loyal aficionados who have enjoyed our old friends until the end. To you, we can offer only assurance that the Goose Island brewpubs will continue to brew regular batches of both beers and offer them by the pint and by the growler to enjoy at home."

Presumably, that means we'll be on the lookout for more beers from Goose Island like Sofie, Bourbon County Stout (and its derivatives), and their newest release, Fleur: “A Belgian style pale ale blended with hibiscus and kombucha tea, Fleur is a beautiful, rose-colored ale with an aroma of strawberries and hibiscus flowers. Her flavor balance starts with a hint of sweet, ripe, berry and finishes tart.”

If you're interested in the evolution of Goose Island, you may want to attend Barleys' next Beer School this coming Monday (April 19th) at 6pm. It'll be held at the Overland Park location and costs $8 per person. To get your tickets, call 913-663-4099.

On the Road: Des Moines

2010 has been the first year of multiple competitions for the Wort Hogs. We started off by entering the Upper Mississippi Mashout, then participating in the KC Bier Meisters annual competition by submitting entries and judging. Last month we headed up to Des Moines to help judge at the IBU Open, and we spent this past weekend in O'Fallon and St Louis to judge at the Garage Brewers Society's first annual Champion of the Pint. On that trip, we not only brought back our 14th medal of the year, we heralded passing 190,000 miles on our odometer. I'm looking forward to passing the 200,000 mark toward the end of the year after driving to the National Homebrewers Conference as well as several more competitions in the fall. I've had an incredible time so far at all the homebrew competitions and our corresponding travels, so I thought I'd make a few posts out of our journeys ... First up: Des Moines.

We were there over the weekend of March 13th, arriving Friday evening after work. We made it a point to hit up a couple of brewpubs, Raccoon River and Court Ave Brewing, as well as a couple of beer bars. Both brewpubs had great beer, and I recommend stopping by both if time allows.

We first hit up Raccoon River and ordered their sampler paddle, which included your standard lineup of an IPA, a red, light ale, brown, stout, a seasonal (porter, I think) - and something I've never had before: a vanilla cream ale. I really enjoyed the beer on my first two sips, but after a while the amount of vanilla extract in the beer wore on me. It was pretty thin in body and lower in carbonation than I would have preferred. I think it'd be quite good on a really hot day with a splash of orange juice and higher carbonation.

We trekked a half mile east to Court Avenue Brewing Company (and by "trekked" I mean "drove"). Mr Wort Hog ordered their Templeton Rye-aged rye ale and I, without realizing how much beer I would end up getting, ordered the massive sampler tray. I did indeed try ALL of their standard lineup (the cask ale and cider were not part of the sampler), and the German Hefeweizen was my favorite. The IPA, really a Pale Ale, was a close 2nd. I have to say, though, that their 21st Amendment ale was amazing. It's a completely different beer from Boulevard's Rye-on-Rye but every bit as delicious. Toffee and vanilla abounded, balanced by a mild spicy bitterness. But mostly toffee. It's a year-round offering now, so I highly recommend your next trip to the D.M. include Court Ave and a glass of this beer.

In the same area of Court Ave Brewing is Royal Mile, a British pub with a decent tap list. Upstairs it houses Red Monk, a Belgian beer bar with a spectacular selection of Belgian beers. We didn't stay long, as it'd been a long day already and we had a long day of judging ahead of us. However, I did get a very spritzy Belgian ale that took about 15 minutes to settle to the point of being drinkable. It came in a green bottle with a green label that had cursive writing and even a special cap to manage the amount of pressure in the bottle. I wish I'd written down the name (it was long and, well, in French), as it was very delicious but hard to drink. I suppose it's a good beer for the calorie-conscious, as it takes forever to consume. By the time your friends are finishing off their 2nd beer, you'll be halfway through this one. I

Our trip wouldn't have been complete without visiting El Bait Shop before getting out of town. There's an impressive number of Rogue beers available there (25 in all, if I'm counting accurately from their Flying-Saucer-like menu), so if you're a Rogue fan you don't want to miss it. The Wort Hogs first laid eyes on each other at a Rogue Public House (and spent many subsequent hours there), so we definitely have an attachment to the brewery... other than the fact that it makes excellent beer.

The atmosphere was laid back and friendly as well, though extremely crowded and louder than any place I think I've been to that wasn't playing live music. The volume in that place was insane, so either avoid the place on Friday & Saturday nights or learn sign language so you can have a conversation. For posterity, check out this video on YouTube showing their taps. Check your speaker volume first.

I would have liked to stop by the Hessen Haus, as it has an impressive list of German beers available, both on tap and in the bottle. It was highly recommended by our Des Moines friends but after a long day of judging and drinking, I was ready to hop in the cab and head back to the hotel room.

Overall, I was impressed by the number and quality of beer hangouts in Des Moines. I'm sure there are others in town as well, but these were the top spots we were recommended by the local homebrewers - and their named spots did not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination. Next time you're in Des Moines, any of these places should satisfy your craving for quality craft beer.