Author Archives: rmoses

Tasting Notes: D9 Kingsbridge Barleywine

Does how we perceive a brewery or its staff alter our perception of their beer? Or, does the name on the bottle affect whether you consider a beer good?

Every craft beer fan has a brewery blind spot. Sometimes a brewery will use a house yeast that doesn’t particularly fit your palate. Sometimes the brewer concentrates on styles your palate does not naturally gravitate to. This is a people business. One night you and the head brewer met at a bar didn’t like each other. That could affect your perception of the beer. It could be as simple as you do not like the packaging for their beers.

Whatever the reason, you are predisposed to dislike their beers.

One of my blinds spots is in my own backyard with D9 Brewing out of Cornelius, NC. I have no animosity towards anyone who works there. In fact, I like everyone I’ve met from the brewery. Yet, I am not a particular fan of their beer. I don’t hate their beer, I look forward to their Systema Naturae sour beers releases every year. Yet, outside of those beers, I normally don’t find their beers appealing. That makes this review of the Kingsbridge Barleywine interesting.

 

D9 Kingsbridge Barleywine
Photo by Ryan Moses

Kingbridge pours a clear amber color with a thin head with a short retention span.

 

A bready malt and dark fruit sweetness is the primary aroma. There is also leather, clove, and hints of vanilla present. Alcohol also comes through on the nose, but it is not overwhelming.

In fact, the alcohol is the first flavor you perceive on the taste. It provides a little heat, but nothing too intense. The rest of the taste is a good sweet malt showcase. There is a breadiness followed by a vinous and pruny sweetness. It coats the mouth, but the taste doesn’t cloy or linger. The taste ends with a classic barleywine taste of honey and sherry.

This is a quality offering from a brewery whose style and quality has grown since I first encountered them. I look forward to their beer and my palate growing and evolving side by side as I continue to try all of their offerings.

Tasting Notes: Stone W00T Stout 2017

2017 W00T Stout from Stone has many things going on from the aroma to the finish. A lot of

Stone W00T Stout 2017
Photo by Ryan Moses

thought and planning went into creating this beer. That is apparent from the first whiff as you pour it into the glass.

It is a dark, dark, dark, dark brown bordering on black, like the oil from your car if you don’t change it regularly. There is no haze and it has a thin brown head and good visible carbonation.

There is a lot to the aroma. You first experience a strong whiff of alcohol. Then all the different malt aromas envelop you: chocolate, coffee, and smoke. Next is all the nuttiness from the pecans and spiciness from the rye. The beer closes with aromas of plum and raisin with the vanilla from the barrel aging.

As with the aroma, there is a lot happening with the taste. You would imagine the taste would knock you out with alcohol based on the aroma. The alcohol is definitely present, but not overpowering. Then you move into the chocolate, caramel, and smoke from the malt. Next, the combination of the rye and alcohol mimics the taste of cinnamon on the back of your palate. The pecan nuttiness and vanilla from the barrel aging close out the beer.

The wonderful thing about W00T Stout is that it does not overwhelm. With all these things occurring, it still drinks with a comfortable easiness. This beer that is crafted to be enjoyed. Not as an experiment to break ABV records or see how many weird ingredients can be included and still be palatable.

Food recommendations start with late night pancakes served with real maple syrup. If you want a more traditional meal, go with a pot roast with roasted parsnips and carrots as the root vegetables.

Tasting Notes: Founders Backwoods Bastard 2017

The Founders Backwoods Bastard will become a year-round offering in April.

Founders Backwoods Bastard
Photo by Ryan Moses

This makes me happy. This means more opportunities to enjoy this beer without buying as much as I can when it arrives in November.

My question becomes, how will this change affect both its actual taste and its perceived taste among the craft beer blogosphere.

I trust Founders to make a move like this. Their beer’s high quality remains consistent with every bottle and keg. I expect that this decision is carefully planned and will occur with minimal disruption to the beer. The question begs, will the response to Backwoods Bastard in April, hold the same intensity as a core item as it did in November when it was special. The stories we tell ourselves about a beer carry more weight than the actual facts of the beer.

Yet, I digress. We are here to praise Backwoods Bastard not bury it.

Backwoods pours with a reddish brown/chestnut color and a thin off-white foamy head. It has a slight haze and nice carbonation.

Alcohol and a plum/pruny sweetness are upfront on the aroma. For an aged beer, it carries less leathery/oxidized hints then I expected.

The alcohol, while present and noticeable, does not overwhelm and is not as intense as the aroma indicates. There are two “woody” tastes. The first is a restrained old-world hop woodiness and the second is on the backend and comes from the barrel aging. The rest of the taste is a classic scotch ale with a malt-focused sweetness with enough hop bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malt and barrel aging.

This is a great beer whose year-round presence I welcome. I hope the general beer drinking population joins me in that sentiment.

Food pairing recommendations: Rotini pasta with a vodka marinara sauce or a nice slice of apple pie topped with cheddar cheese.

Beer and Food Pairing: A Curry Dish and Saison Dupont

Today’s pairing is more of an idea than an actual pairing.  I was inspired at a recent Christmas dinner for the bartenders at the bar that I manage.  We were at Copper, an excellent Indian restaurant in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte.  However, their beer list is less than stellar.  Therefore, we were drinking wine.  Nothing against wine.  In fact, the pinot noir we drank was excellent.  However, as I drank I could not help but think, “A beer would be better with this meal.”  Why did I think that?

Well, there is the obvious that I work in the beer industry and I have a beer blog and beer is one of my favorite things on Earth.  There is also the stone fact that beer is better with some foods than wine because of the cooked nature of beer and the way the carbonation in beer scrubs the palate.

On to the meal and the pairing.  First, the naan was outstanding.  I will eat naan without any tzatziki or any other condiment.  Second, my entrée was equally outstanding.  I had the Yukon gold-green beans-mushrooms curry served with Goan style coconut-chili sauce, garlic, and vinegar.  The pinot noir we were having with dinner fought valiantly, but it did not quite work with the spicy nature of the dish.

So, my mind started working.  I needed a beer light on the palate, crisp enough to cut through the spiciness and creaminess, and yet spicy enough on its own to handle the spicy nature of the curry.  What was my answer?

Saison Dupont
Photo by Ryan Moses

Saison Dupont is my favorite beer.  In this case not only is it my favorite beer, but it is the perfect beer to pair with a spicy dish such as this.

Let’s start with why a saison before we get to why this saison and you will see why I picked it.  Saisons are crisp, refreshing, and dry.  Just what you want to cut through a creamy, spicy food.  Then they also tend towards a spicy and citrusy taste both of whom complement most curry dishes.  Why this particular saison?  This the saison all other saisons strive to emulate.  You remember how everyone wanted to be like Mike?  This the same thing.

In a subjective business, like beer rating calling something the G.O.A.T. is almost pointless.  I may not be able to say Saison Dupont is the G.O.A.T., but I can say, you will be hard-pressed to find a saison that hits every checkmark when you look at the BJCP style guide with such exacting beauty.  It is crisp and with its touch of citrus cuts through the spice and cream.  The hint of pepper also makes it a compliment to the curry’s heat and spice.  Its carbonation gives it bright refreshing taste the scrubs the palate and has a perfect dry finish.

So, this particular saison because this particular saison is the almost perfect representation of the form which makes it ideal for this particular meal.

Tasting Notes: Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome
photo by Ryan Moses

Where as the Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016 is a well done modern version of an Old Ale, the Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is a pure classic as one of the first winter warmer beers available in the US. 

The beer pours a dark gold/brownish amber color.  It is pasteurized and has a nice clarity and moderate carbonation.  It pours a moderately foamy off-white head.

The aroma is reminiscent of a cookie or a dessert bread.  You get bread, caramel, prunes and maybe a hint of apricot. There is a slight herbal hop aroma.

The taste is a good reflection of the aroma.  The alcohol isn’t detectable which makes sense, as it only weighs in at 6%.  That is rather light in comparison to modern interpretations of the winter warmer which are made for sipping.

The hop flavor leans on the herbal nature of the flavor and just enough bitterness to offset the sweetness of the malt.  There is a bready and caramelly comfort to the beer that again reminds one of a nutty snickerdoodle or a gingerbread cookie.

Adding to the cookie idea the Welcome has a nice creamy mouthfeel.  It isn’t thick as much as smooth and slightly mouth-coating.  That in combination with the prickly carbonation and dryness makes this an easy drinking beer.

Two good ideas for a pairing are a granny smith apple pie.  The tartness of the apples should balance with the caramelly breadiness.  Almost like getting two doses of the filling and the crust.  Another idea is a tomato bisque.  The tomatoes should provide just enough tartness to play off the beer’s sweetness.  The only issue maybe the creamy to creamy taste from soup to beer, but this is such a good beer that should not matter.

Yes, Christmas is past, but it is still winter.  Also, as we enter January and people are thinking about drinking less after a very busy Thanksgiving to Christmas food/drink period, the Winter Welcome with its low ABV and bold taste is just the beer you should enjoy.

Tasting Notes: Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016

In the modern craft beer, when you think of a winter beer you think of something like the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale or the Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas.  It is a beer that is a lot.  A lot of alcohol, a lot of “winter” spices, a lot of sugar.  However, one of the original winter beer is the simple Old Ale.

The Old Ale is an aged, referred to as “stale” back in the day, beer with a higher ABV.  It is a beer that should warm you as you drink it on a long winter night either by a fire or cuddled next to the one you love.

Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016
Photo by Ryan Moses

The Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016 is a great example of an old ale.  Clocking in at a nice 9.2% ABV, this amber beer provides a good warming feeling as you enjoy it.

It pours a nice hazy dark amber color and shows a good amount of carbonation.  The head is off-white and holds itself well.

The Vintage has a nice aroma.  It is all dark fruit, molasses, and caramel.  There isn’t much hop presence on the aroma however, there is a little leather and oxidation, which is to be expected from an intentionally aged beer.

Once you taste it, you notice the alcohol.  It isn’t overwhelming, but it is present and noticeable.  There is a little bitterness coming from the hops.  Not a real hop flavor, but just the bitterness to add a little balance to the sweetness.  That sweetness is dark fruit, molasses, and caramel.  It isn’t cloying sweetness, but a well-balanced sweetness that makes you think of cookies. You also get a little leather and oxidation, but again in just the right amount to be expected.

There is still a good amount of carbonation in the beer.  It also nicely attenuated staying relatively light on the palate as well as a nice dry finish.  This is a big beer that is easy drinking and smooth.

For food pairings, you should go with something big like roasted beef or lamb.  If you wanted to go with a dessert, I would try something creamy, but sweet like cheesecake with a cherry glaze.

Why I Write

I see them come in every day to the bar.  They are all like greyhounds chasing a fake rabbit around a track.  They are on a track chasing a goal they’ve been told they should want.  They set goals, hit benchmarks, and achieve things.  We are taught this concept at an early age, and then it is reinforced by a whole industry dedicated to teaching and perpetuating that across almost every business.

That approach did not work for me.  That is not quite accurate.  That approach might have worked if I had been setting goals that I wanted to accomplish and not the ones I was told I should accomplish.  After a series of not quite failing but not getting what I believed I wanted and going broke, I had to find another way for me to be content.

I was flailing and working at a job I knew I could do in my sleep that had no real future for me.  I found website zenhabits.net.  The author, Leo Babauta, had a similar story as I did in not finding happiness in the traditional goal setting manner, so along with deepening his Zen Buddhist practice, he became a proponent of living a goalless life.

The first blog post I read from was to imagine the perfect day.  The day where you are living your life the way you want to.  What are you doing and who are you with from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  From that, you know what you should be doing every day.  If you start doing the things you saw in that vision right now, you will begin to live the life you want and begin reaping the things you need for a content life.

After I started that, I then started reading more about Zen Buddhism and found another concept that has shaped how my life has moved.  It goes hand in hand with the goalless life and it is the idea of doing the thing to do the thing.  You dig a hole and fill it up.  Why? To dig a hole and fill it up.  Zen meditation isn’t about achieving enlightenment, it is about sitting and breathing.

This appealed to me because it had been my experience in life.  The times I tried to do X solely to accomplish Z, I failed.  The times I did X for the sake of doing X and did it to the best of my abilities I found I gained much more then I could ever have imagined.  I did X and I still accomplished Z.  No expectations and no goals work for me.

This Christmas season I had lost the idea of no expectations and no goals.  I forgot that doing the thing, to do the thing was how I have made the life I’ve made.  I have lost a lot of weight in the last year, and part of that was because of running every day.  Somewhere in the last two weeks of dinners, weird work hours, going out with friends, etc. I lost the idea of running to run and running began to take on the weight of losing weight.  I forgot that I ran because I like it and it is fun.  By thinking about it as solely a way to lose weight it took on too much and I couldn’t make myself run for the last week.  The same thing happened with my mediation and my writing.  I sit and just breath to sit and breath.  I write because I like writing.  The outcomes of any of those actions are uncontrollable.  You can only control the things you do and not really what they accomplish and certainly not how others react to it.

So, why do I write? I write because I like it and I write about beer because the things around the American craft beer market are interesting and ever-changing.

Living with no goals and no expectations works for me.  I think, my life will see great changes over the next year.  However, I don’t expect it.  I am simply going to keep running, keep meditating, keep writing.  I know if I do those things every day, I will get the things in my life I need.

Tasting Notes: Rodenbach Alexander 2017

Flanders reds are considered sours.  When you look them up in the BJCP style book there they set under the European Sour category.  Tasting the Rodenbach Alexander 2017 makes me question the nomenclature used to describe these beers. This was beer tasted off draft and not from a bottle.

When well made, Flanders reds aren’t sour.  They are tart and maybe slightly puckering like a wine, but they aren’t sour.  At least not sour in the way people expect sours to be after the introduction of kettle sours to the American craft beer landscape.

The Alexander pours a nice reddish-brown color.  It has a little haziness to it and a thin off-white head.  The carbonation is not obvious on the pour.

The aroma wraps around you.  I get cherry, oak, and hints of vanilla, apricot, and apple.  There is enough vinegar in the aroma to remind you it is supposed to be a sour, but it doesn’t overwhelm the nose.

This isn’t a beer trying to hide anything, so the taste runs right along with the aroma.  There is the cherry, oak, vanilla, plum, and hints of apricot and apple.  The acid gives it a tartness, not a puckering sour taste along with a welcome dryness that works with the carbonation to make you want to explore the complexity in the next sip.  That is the beauty of a complex beer like this, each taste provides you something different.  This is a beer that benefits from “breathing” outside of the bottle.  It changes ever so slightly as it warms in the glass and in your mouth.

This is one of the beers you drink to remember how wonderful and interesting this thing we call craft beer is.

Suggested food pairings from my trusted tasting partner:  anchovies, spicy ramen, dashi broth, or Korean barbecue.

Craft Apprenticeships Are Awesome

From GL Stock Images

There is a push/pull between art and commerce every creative must navigate.  Craft brewing is no different.

Real example: You the brewer want to make an old ale and a rauchbier.  Your investors want you to make 3 new IPAs because they are getting ready to go into distribution and need stuff they know will sell regardless of quality.  How does the business navigate that?

You have to have a well thought out vision.  Not a business plan which you also desperately need, but the vision on which the whole enterprise is based.

Artists often spend years of trial and error and public failings to figure out the vision behind their art.  Brewers may not get that opportunity.  They probably homebrew and have friends and acquaintances tell them how great their beer is.  Then they decide to start a brewery with a vague notion of making Belgian style, German style, English style, or IPA heavy American style beer.

What they need is a clear idea of what they like, what they are good at, and how they want to express that to consumers.  These can’t be vague platitudes about “returning to the roots of beer” or “putting an American take on Belgian style beers.” It has a to be concrete ideas of what you are accomplishing and how you want to do it.  It isn’t your business plan, but it is the place from where your business plan flows.

Most craft brewers get into brewing the same reason that most professional artists get into art.  This thing that they do is what they love, and it is an expression of a part of who they are.  The difference is, as I see it, that artists spend their whole learning curve honing the core ideas of what they want to do.  From their medium to their subject matter, artists spend much of their early career finding their path.

One difference in how and why artists have such clear ideas about who they are and what their art says is the art world has always had apprenticeships both formal and informal.  In this country with Prohibition almost killing the brewing industry, brewing lost its infrastructure and informal craftsman apprenticeships.

Until the last handful of years, the path to becoming a brewer has been much less organized and centered on homebrewing. While homebrewing has fueled the passion of and set the template for craft beer love, it is not necessarily the best training as a professional brewer.  With the rise of craft brewers, that idea of apprenticeship is slowly coming back to the fore, but slowly.  These apprenticeships allow brewers to go through the crucible of rejection and self-examination to come out on the other side not only with a clear vision of who and what they are as brewers but a clear vision of the value of themselves and their craft in a monetary sense and in a creative sense.

As craft beer matures and the idea of being a craft brewer matures, I hope and expect this idea of apprenticeship to take hold to give potential brewers the time and space not only to learn their craft but learn their own way to operate within that craft.  I don’t just want there to be formal schools of brewing, which is awesome and necessary.  I want brewers to come from within. Apprenticeships and more learning may not solve the problem of whether to brew that rauchbier, but it will help the brewers understand the scope of the consequences of that decision.  It is through the combination of book learning and practical application can any craft grow and continue to innovate.

Searching for Better Beer or How To Define Craft Beer

This is a bunch of craft beer

How do I define craft beer?

This question vexes me. I continually try to move past the, “I know it when I see it,” definition most of us use. (ABInbev High End is not craft beer but Oskar Blues CANarchy is).  I create a definition in my mind and then I correct it with 10 different exceptions.

Let’s begin at the beginning and start with, “What do I think of when I think of craft beer?”

The first thing I think, when I think of craft beer, is the mindset.  The very simple yet important thing that separates craft brewing companies from big beer companies is the idea that beer is more than just a commodity to be sold.

During the period in the American beer industry between 1933 (the end of Prohibition) and 1979 (when homebrewing became legal), brewing beer was treated the same as manufacturing tires.  Beer was simply a product to made as cheaply as possible and sold with as big a margin as possible.  Quality, taste, and creativity were barely tertiary thoughts.

Craft beer begins with the idea that the beer is the important thing.  This whole enterprise started because a bunch of guys who spent time abroad for school and in military service came back to the US and wanted to drink better beer.  English pubs and cask ales and German bier halls and fresh lagers created a thirst in these people.  Charlie Papazian’s seminal, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, coined the phrase, “better beer” and the resulting mindset of making beer for beer’s sake instead of treating it as a simple commodity is the is the cornerstone of what craft beer is.  At least it should be.

The second thing I think craft beer has to have is creativity.  Alongside that should be a sense of fun and adventure sparked by the creativity of its brewers.  Sometimes that creativity can vex me when I’m just looking for a nice pale ale and I have options that range from hibiscus goses to BBA chocolate stouts.  However, it is that creativity and need to push boundaries to come up with something new and awesome that makes craft breweries different from big beer companies.

The Brewers Association has a definition of what a craft brewery is as part of its membership requirements.  I don’t necessarily follow that definition because it is a definition that fluctuates as needed.  That isn’t a shot at the BA, but it is a simple acknowledgment of how running an organization like the Brewers Association can be a fluid adventure.  The BAs charge is to speak for the small independent brewers in this country.  Sometimes that means you make exceptions to keep some brewers (Boston Beer and Yuengling) and sometimes that means you create rules that exclude others (ABInbev High End brands).

My definition doesn’t rely on numbers or ownership.  The first two parts of my definition focus on the liquid in the glass and how that is the focus and how I get a sense of creativity and adventure with every sip.  The final part of my definition touches on the business side.  A craft brewery is a brewery whose business practices are not malicious and predatory.  Craft breweries do not see the beer business as a zero-sum game.  For a craft brewery, this isn’t a simple dialectic of win or death as it is for big beer companies.

While all breweries, at least the ones with an actual business plan, want to be successful and want to make money, they also have a sense of collaboration with other craft brewers where they try to promote not only their beer but all beer.  They try to work together and promote craft beer and make sure consumers get better beer.

We know the big beer companies don’t look at it the same way.  We have the Department of Justice and various state attorneys general investigations and fines to prove it.

In sum, my definition of craft beer is, a beer crafted with the idea that the beer, the liquid in the glass, is the most important thing.  It is a beer that embodies a sense of creativity and adventure.  Finally, it is a beer from a brewery that cares more about the beer community as a whole and making sure drinkers get better beer then they do about crushing the competition and making a quick dollar.