Thursday, December 11, 2014

Evan’s Top 5 Beer Questions He Often Gets Asked

When I tell people that I am a beer blogger, inevitably I get asked some sort of beer question. Here are some of the interesting questions I get frequently.

What is the best beer? - This is probably the one I get the most often. I always find it a funny question, mainly because I don’t think it’s one that really has an answer. Personally, there is no one parituclar beer that I can wholeheartedly say is the absolute best because the range of differences in beer styles really makes comparison hard. I might have my favorites in various styles, but I can’t really say if my favorite fruit lambic is better than my favorite IPA. In my experience, usually the people who ask me this question aren’t big beer drinkers to begin with. Those who are usually ask a bit more specific questions, like what I think the best Oktoberfest beer is, a question that is much easier to answer. When people do ask me what the best beer is with no qualifications, I usually just list some good breweries that are available in the local region. They don’t want to hear a soliloquy from me on the difficulties on comparing imperial stouts and American pale ales.
What is the difference between a stout and an ale? - I get this one a lot, way more than I would have thought. Of course, there is the asshole within me that wants to laugh and call that person an idiot, but you can’t really fault the individual for this. Beer ignorance has been fostered in this country for years, from Miller Lite being called a “true pilsner” (true pilsners do not contain corn sugar or seaweed extract) to Joe Queenan’s recent tirade against people with beer knowledge in the Wall Street Journal ( Furthermore, stout bottles aren’t always labeled with the word “ale,” where as many other ale styles are. But, for the record, stouts are a type of ale. “Ale” refers to the the type of yeast used. Ale yeast ferments at the top and at warmer temperatures as compared to lager yeast, which allows the production of esters during fermentation that can add fruity notes to the beer (you won’t always taste them, though). A stout is a style of ale that is made with a portion of dark grains included in the grain bill, with unmalted roasted barley being especially common, that give the beer its dark color and its typically roasty flavor often with notes of coffee and chocolate (though stouts can exhibit a wide range of flavors, also including burnt toast, smoke, molasses, licorice, dark fruit, brown sugar and vanilla, for example).
What are the best gluten free beers? - If there’s a question that ever makes me feel like an asshole, it’s this one, because I really feel for people who have celiac disease. It has to be awful not to be able to consume anything with gluten. When I get asked this question, the answer that wants to come screaming out of my mouth, though, is “drink wine.”  I don’t drink a lot of gluten free beers because I don’t have to and, from my experience, they are usually putrid. I have heard good things about Dogfish Head’s Tweason’ale, but still, that’s one beer and it’s not available everywhere. Besides, and this is my opinion, if I couldn’t drink beer made with gluten, I wouldn’t want to torture myself with the suggestion of something I couldn’t have the real version of, but that’s just me.
What do you think of “X” Beer? - Usually, the “X” beer they ask me about is Yuengling. Many a Yuengling drinker seems to want approval of there beer choice. I always feel odd when put in that situation. On the one hand, I use to drink Yuengling all the time when I was a college student in Pennsylvania. On the other hand, nowadays I don’t particularly like the flavor of Yuengling. In the end though, if the person if happy with the beer they are drinking, then they should continue drinking it. My opinion of Yuengling shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Of course, if they are curious about expanding their horizons, I am happy to recommend more flavorful beers.
Where do I find the beers you talk about? - The question itself isn’t that odd, but when I talk to people about it, I’m always amazed how many people think it’s a ludicrous idea to go anywhere besides the nearest beer store. People who live in states with great distribution complaining to me, a person who lives in a dry county in Arkansas, about how they don’t know where to find Stone Brewing seems odd. The truth is, you are not going to find every beer in every place. It’s not the way the industry works. But, I can give you some tips on how to find the best that you can get wherever you are. The first tip is to talk to people. If you’re at a bar that sells craft beer, chances are there is a bartender or a patron who knows a good place to shop. You can also check sites like Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, where people rate beer stores and give you an idea of what they normally carry. The third thing you can do is ask at your local beer store. The good ones will normally be willing to order you something if they can get it, though you might have to buy a full case. The fourth thing you can do it set up a trade. It’s one of the main ways beer geeks around the country get to try the smaller, local breweries from far away. You live in Philadelphia but want to try some Alpine Brewing? Maybe you have a friend in San Diego who would be willing to send you some in exchange for some Weyerbacher or Dock Street. You can also set up trades on Rate Beer or Beer Advocate. Reddit even has a sub-forum for beer trades that has a pretty good reputation. You can also look into online stores that ship beer, like Half Time Beverage, Wine and Cheese Place and Beer Jobber, just to name a few.

A Drinker’s Guide to Hops: Spalt

Spalt is a German hop that takes its name from the hop growing region in which it is grown. It is an old hop variety and is considered one of the four noble hops, along with Saaz, Tettnanger and Hallertauer Mittelfruh. You may also see it called Spalter, Spalter Spalt or Spalt Spalter. You should try not to confuse it with Spalt Select, which is a newer variety that has a slightly different aroma profile.

Alpha Acids: 2.5-5.5%
Cohumulone (% of alpha acids): 22-29%
Total Oil Content: 0.5-0.9 ml/100g
Oil Breakdown: 20-35% Myrcene, 20-30 Humulene, 8-13% Caryophyllene, 12-18% Farnesene

Given that it is a noble hop, Spalt is mainly used in late additions for flavor/aroma, though it can be used for bittering when a very mild bitterness is desired (like a hefeweizen, perhaps). It has high levels of Farnesene, which helps contribute to its floral aroma/flavor. Other descriptors used for Spalt include mild, spicy, earthy, woody, musty and some even find it fruity occasionally. It is mainly used for German styles, with it being considered the perfect hop for the altbier style in particular. It can also be used in Belgian style ales or any beer where some noble hop character is desired. The biggest commercial user of Spalt that I could find is the Boston Beer Company, the people who make Samuel Adams. They use this hop in their Holiday Porter, Bonfire Rauchbier, White Christmas (spiced wheat ale), East West Kolsch, Black Lager, Honey Porter, Noble Pils, Pale Ale, Costal Wheat, Infinium (strong ale) and even in their light beer. Other beers using Spalt include Brouwerij Het Anker’s Lucifer (Belgian golden strong ale), Stillwater’s Autumnal Ale (farmhouse ale), Mikkeller’s Czechet Pilsner, Red Oak’s Hummin’ Bird (helles lager) and Tampa Bay Brewing’s Alt to Have Another.

Beer Review: Stone Enjoy

Stone Brewing Company
Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA (Imperial India Pale Ale)
9.4% ABV
Purchased at Mr. T’s Riverside, Cardwell, MO
Tasted November 2012
Poured from a 22 oz bottle

    This is the third installment of Stone’s Enjoy By series, the imperial IPAs meant to be consumed quickly. The truth of the matter is that all IPAs should be consumed quickly. While hops do act as a natural preservative, the oils that give them all that great flavor don’t last very long. A good rule is that all IPAs, regardless of alcohol content, should be consumed within three months of bottling, though the fresher the better (it’s awesome if you can get one within days of bottling, but for those who don’t live close to a brewery, that can be problematic). With the Enjoy By IPAs, brewed with 10 different hop varieties plus hop extract for bittering, Stone tells explicitly you to drink this beer within 35 days right on the front label, all the while implying that all IPAs really should be consumed fresh, too. They only send each batch to a small number of markets, where they have made arrangements to get the beer to the retailers as quick as possible. This all insured customers in the selected markets can get the beer with plenty of time to spare, or, you know, force as many down their gullets as humanely possible. I was lucky enough to get some bottles of the Enjoy By 12.21.12 batch that were sent to Missouri. The beer was bottled on November 16th and was in my glass on November 30th. Given that the Stone brewery is in Southern California and I live just south of the Missouri border in Arkansas, that is a pretty good brewery-to-consumer turn around.  
    Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA pours out of the bottle a beautiful crystal clear golden orange with a creamy, eggshell colored head that settles down leaving behind nice lacing. The nose is bursting with hoppy fruit aromas, specifically tangerine, orange, strawberry, pineapple, papaya, passionfruit, guava, grapefruit, raspberry and white grape. I also get a good amount of pine, along with touches of minerals, flower pollen and grass. The scent lets you know this is going to be a hoppy beer. Enjoy By is a medium bodied ale that isn’t all that thick, but has a bit of  a heft while still leaving a crisp and tingly feeling in the mouth. The flavor starts with caramel, toffee, almond, strawberry and raspberry. The finish is bitter, grassy and piney with tangerine, orange, ruby red grapefruit, papaya, guava and white grape. The bitterness lingers into the aftertaste, where you get notes of minerals, pineapple, citrus peels, dried tropical fruits, pine, lemon oil, grass, flower pollen, peach, berry and fresh sage and rosemary. As you drink, a nice touch of spice becomes evident on the aftertaste.
    While Enjoy By has plenty of bitterness, but it’s really the fruit flavors from the hops that star in this beer. I particularly like how the tropical fruit and berry notes play a big role, which is a bit of a change of pace from most of Stone’s recent imperial IPAs. And though there is no mistaking that this is an aggressive hop bomb, it almost seems a bit more refined than some of their other ones, with less of that flower pollen and grassiness that you get from extreme hoppy beers. Those characteristics are still there, they just are lighter than what you saw in, say, Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA. Any beer this big and bold is going to have its detractors, and if you don’t like hoppy beers then this isn’t going to be for you, but I think a lot of hop heads are going to enjoy this beer like I did. I also hope the emphasis on getting beers to consumers fresher becomes something that can become more pervasive in the craft beer industry, because I certainly wouldn’t mind other IPAs being in my glass around within two weeks of being bottled.

Beer Review: Odell Deconstruction

Odell Brewing Company
Deconstruction (Barrel Aged Sour/Wild Ale)
10.5% ABV
Purchased at The Wine and Cheese Place, Clayton, MO
Tasted November 2012
Poured from a 750 ml bottle

    Odell Brewing calls this beer Deconstruction because of the way they approached the brewing process. Inspired by the theory of Jacques Derrida, instead of brewing one beer with all the characteristics they wanted, the brewers made multiple beers with different pieces of the desired product. Of course, what you see in the final bottle is actually a construction, because they blended all the beers together. 58 percent of the finished product is a fresh golden ale, while 42% is a mixture of various test batches of that golden ale that have been aged in wine barrels with wild yeast and bacteria. There is part of me, the real nerdy part that is, that kind of wished they had actually left the beer deconstructed and given us smaller bottles of the different beers that we could pour together or pour separately and then drink in succession, but practically, that probably wouldn’t give you quite the ideal mix of flavors that the brewers intended that you get from having them blend it for you.
    Deconstruction is quite foamy as it pours out of the bottle, leaving with a quite large off-white head atop the golden hued orange amber liquid. On the nose, I get aromas of tart lemon, grapefruit, straw, grass, apple, cherry, white grape, oak, mango, pineapple, flowers, coriander, orange, lime zest and a hint of white wine vinegar. Deconstruction is a medium bodied ale with a crisp and carbonated mouthfeel. Flavor wise, on the front I get apple, straw, grapefruit peel, chamomile and a sweetness that reminds me of agave syrup. The finish is tart and tastes of mango, grapefruit, coriander, orange zest and maraschino cherry. The aftertaste has a hint of sourness to it, though it is more tart than anything else. There, I get notes of lime, lemon, straw, grass, more coriander, flowers, sweet pineapple, oak and a touch of white wine vinegar. As those flavors fade, a peppery spice begins to pick up in intensity and you also get a bit of brine.
    I really think the deconstructed brewing process produced a really nice balance ale. If Deconstruction was just a single batch of beer that was aged, I don’t think you could have gotten the sweetness, spice and grapefruit flavors, and if this had just been fresh beer you probably couldn’t have gotten the tart, sour, acidic flavors from the barrel aging with wild yeasts and bacteria. Because they deconstructed the brewing process, they were able to combine the different batches to make a balanced whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Deconstruction ends up as a complex finished product that I found quite enjoyable to drink.  

Beer Review: The Perfect Crime Smoking Gun

The Perfect Crime
Smoking Gun (Smoked Imperial Stout)
10% ABV
Purchased at The Wine and Cheese Place, Clayton, MO
Tasted December 2012
Poured from an 11.2 oz bottle

    If you have never heard of The Perfect Crime before, it is a brewing supergroup composed of Stillwater’s Brian Strumke, Evil Twin’s Jeppe Jarnit Bjergso and 12 Percent Imports’ Brian Ewing (who handles both Stillwater and Evil Twin beers). The idea was for these three friends to have some fun and, in the case of Strumke and Bjergso, brew different styles of beers than what they normally do, though Smoking Gun, being a smoked stout, is a style Evil Twin has tacked before (though, apparently, Strumke was the main driving force behind this recipe). The name of the supergroup, according to an interview the three gave with Hogsalt ( refers to an evening in Los Angeles where the three men were set to share a hotel room. When they checked into the hotel at 11 PM, instead of getting a room with two beds, they received one with only a single bed. They got a different room, but Strumke kept the key for the first room and slept in there, thus committing, in the eyes of these men, the perfect crime. So far, they have produced four beers, all brewed at Scheldebrouwerij in Belgium, located just beyond the border with the Netherlands northeast of Antwerp. They purposefully keep the labels on these beers spartan, with no mention of the relation to Evil Twin and Stillwater. They make two beers at a time, with Bjergso taking the lead on one and Strumke on the other (as mentioned above, Brian Strumke was behind this smoked stout). The idea is that one is a companion to the other. The companion beer, what they call “riffs on a similar style,” for Smoking Gun was a trappist-style quadruple called Hollow Point. In this case, though, I elected to drink the Smoking Gun on its own.
    Smoking Gun pours out of the bottle black with a creamy tan head that settles down at a slow, deliberate pace into a film across the top of the liquid leaving behind some nice lacing. The aroma isn’t forceful, but pleasant with light smoke, toasted bread, date, raisin, fig, quince, cocoa, brown sugar and licorice. This is a full bodied stout, though it isn’t thick, merely weighted with a smooth mouthfeel and a tingly aftertaste. On the front, I get flavors of toasted bread, pretzel, spiced apple butter, licorice and a real faint suggestion of smoke. The finish tastes of fig, date, raisin and quince, along with hints of berry, apple, pear and bitter cocoa. These flavors linger for a moment but fade on the aftertaste, where you get notes of purple grape, a pleasant light smokiness (I can’t say what type of smoke for certain, but it tasted a bit oaky) and a touch of salt.
    You know, as I was drinking this beer, I actually re-read the little spiel on the label (something that is common on Evil Twin bottles), which prior to drinking the beer just seemed vague. It says, “It should be indisputable evidence when a smoking gun is right in front of you,” but finishes with “This is not the case.” After drinking the beer, it clicked to me what they are saying. With a smoked stout called Smoking Gun, you would expect a big smokey explosion in your mouth. That’s not really what you get with this beer though. It’s a lot more subtle in its smokiness, and in a lot of ways, it almost comes across more like a strong Belgian dark ale with its emphasis on the fruity flavors, like fig, date, raisin, quince and grape (I can see how this would relate to a quadruple). Some people don’t particularly like it when a beer doesn’t give them what they are expecting. If they buy a smoked stout, they expect a smokey, roasty stout, not a fruity beer with light smoke and salt on the aftertaste. But I found the flavor of Smoking Gun to be enjoyable. The taste was smooth and well-rounded, with each flavor being clear, but not overpowering anything else. Probably, not everyone is going to like this, but some people are going to love it.

A Drinker’s Guide to Hops: Calypso

Calypso is a fairly new American hop variety. I have seen 2011 as a release year, but I haven’t been able to confirm that. Its breeding pedigree includes the Nugget hop.

Here is the data on Calypso
Alpha Acids: 12-14%
Cohumulone (% of alpha acids): 40-42%
Total Oil Content: 1.6-2.5 ml/100g
Oil Breakdown: 30-25% Myrcene, 20-35% Humulene, 9-15% Caryophyllene, 0-1% Farnesene

Calypso is considered a dual purpose hop, suitable for both bittering and flavor/aroma additions. I am actually surprised by the high cohumulone levels, as usually most new hop varieties are bred to have lower amounts. However, I have not experienced or heard of any complaints about these hops being too harsh with their bitterness. When used in late additions, Calypso’s flavor/aroma can be described as fruits with notes of pear, apple, meyer lemon, lime, grapefruit, tea, melon, cherry blossoms, black pepper and orange. Most of the times, it seems to be used for brews in the pale ale family. The people at Stone seem to be big fans of the hop, including it in their 16th Anniversary IPA and well as in the Enjoy By IPAs. Other commercial beers using Calypso include Saranac Red IPA, Rising Tide Zephyr IPA, Cromarty Rogue Wave Extra Pale Ale, Hangar 24 California Spring Beer (wheat ale) and Epic Hop Syndrome Lager.

Great Lakes Adds Two Beers To Seasonal Line Up

Evan’s Take: Though I would love to try the new double IPA, I am really excited for Rye of the Tiger. It’s a former brew-pub exclusive beer that made its way to Philadelphia for Philly Beer Week 2011 and it was delicious. I cannot wait to be able to get it without trekking all the way up to Cleveland or finding a rare, special Great Lakes tap event. Now, sing along with me: “It’s the Rye of the Tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight/Rising up to the challenge of our rivals...”

Stone Releases Final Vertical Epic Beer

Evan’s Take: As I mentioned when the information first became available, the final installment in the Vertical Epic series is a strong Belgian dark ale with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, rose hips, orange peel and clove. I have yet to track it down, but the early reports I’m seeing are all positive, which is an especially good sign given that the past two years’ Vertical Epic beers were quite divisive and I liked those quite a bit.

Yazoo and Calfkiller Call Attention to High Beer Taxes In TN With Collaboration

Evan’s Take: Yazoo brewmaster Linus Hall has long been complaining about the ridiculously high beer taxes in Tennessee, but now he has put his complaints in beer form with the help of Dave and Don Sergio of Calfkiller (another TN brewery). You’ve heard of protest songs, now we have a protest beer. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if this brings more attention to the high tax rate than the occasional Twitter rant would, especially since they plan to bottle it, giving Hall the chance to channel his inner Greg Koch and pen a manifesto for all to read while they drink. I also must admit that I am curious about the taste of a honey coffee smoked wheat ale.

Dogfish Head Gets Approval For Expansion

Evan’s Take: This expansion would allow Dogfish Head to more than double their brewing capacity over the next 10 years (up to 500,000 barrels). I must admit the selfish part of me is hoping this means that they might move back into Tennessee, a state they pulled out of about a year and a half ago, I believe, which would give me easier and regular access to their beers. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a Burton Baton? Also, is there any brewery that isn’t expanding right now?

Boulevard To Debut a Black Rye IPA

Evan’s Take: In addition to rye and barley, Grainstorm will also contain oats and wheat, making the name quite appropriate. I really enjoyed Firestone Walker’s black rye IPA, Wookey Jack, so I will be happy to try Boulevard’s version. It’s super awesome for me, because I can get Boulevard Smokestack beers at the liquor store closest to my house.

Three Floyds Changes Their December Seasonal

Evan’s Take: I think it’s kind of funny that Three Floyds and Great Lakes are adding two rye IPAs with tiger in their name to their seasonal lineups, and that they announced this at around the same time. “Rye Da’ Tiger vs Rye of the Tiger, the Tiger Battle” could be an awesome beer event for some bar to do, but unfortunately the timing wouldn’t work out, with the former being a December release and the latter coming in April.

Untappd Begins to Offer a Optional Pay Service

Evan’s Take: I don’t use Untappd, so, in a sense, I couldn’t really care less. I take manual notes on beers for the blog and also have an uncanny memory for things that don’t really matter (for example, I can remember every beer I drank on one particular night in July and what songs Radiohead played when I saw them in March, but can’t remember my only living grandparent’s birthday). That being said, I still think Untappd is a good service, and it has a lot of utility for a large number of beer geeks. Anyway, so they announced a optional “supporter” program, where, if you chose to, you can pay $50 a year and get a few additional features (an easier way to export data, some more detailed statistics and an exclusive “badge” seem to be the main perks for now).  Personally, I think this is a reasonable way to provide capital for continued running of the service, while still keeping the application free to the public (it’s basically an optional donation). I’ve seen some complaints, the most cogent of which you can find at Good Beer Hunting ( I think Untappd has done a pretty good job explaining their reasoning, but I’ll let you make you’re own determinations. In the end, I don’t use Untappd so it doesn’t affect me and I learned from The Wire that you shouldn’t give a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.