Category: Featured

Stoaked

When we drove from Brooklyn to California, we took the essentials: brew kettle, fermenters, grains, beer books, a raincoat. Everything else we left in a storage unit. We were just in New York for a week of book promotion, and we visited our unit, flung open the door, and felt that strange relief you feel when absolutely nothing has changed. More specifically: when your barrel of beer hasn’t exploded over all your belongings.

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Hops, Stoopid

Hops come to brewers either as thumb-sized bundles of leaves called cones or flowers (the botanical term is strobilus, and they’re closer to pine cones than actual flowers), or ground up and packed into tiny, rabbit-food-like pellets. The cone-vs.-pellet debate is long and popular.

Lagunitas uses pellets. They have to, because whole cones won’t fit into the air cannon head brewer Jeremy Marshall uses to fire hops at 70 psi into the fermenters. That’s called dry hopping, and Lagunitas dry-hops a lot of their beers. We saw these boxes of hops last time we were up at the brewery. “Sum” is for Summit, a really bitter, grapefruity hop. Fill in the blank for the other one.

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Bottling Line

Does the Cicerone program certify brewery tour connoisseurship? We’ve been on our share of walks through fermenters and bottling lines and can report with authority that the Anchor Brewery tour is by far the most entertaining. Ask for Bob, and try not to roll your eyes right out of your head.

Big Beers, Small Barrels

Texan homebrewers don’t mess around. While we were there we heard about a homebrew made with bacon-infused Scotch, and tried a smoky barleywine that tasted like meat and leather and was so delicious we licked off our fingers when we accidentally spilled a drop. Fort Worth’s Cap and Hare homebrewing club is hosting the biggest homebrew competition in the country this month — Bluebonnet Brew-Off — and we’d be going, and entering, (and probably losing), if we didn’t have to run the Craft Brewers Conference gauntlet that same week.

Even Rahr shares the homebrew spirit. They host Cap and Hare meetings sometimes, and a homebrew contest called Iron Mash. We saw some little, 2- or 3-gallon barrels in their barrel room — just like the ones we have from Tuthilltown. One of Rahr’s brewers, Jason Lyon, told us the little barrels are good for experimenting because they have a better ratio of volume to surface area (less beer touching more wood), so they age beer faster than regular, 53-gallon barrels. Not everything’s bigger in Texas.

SF Beer Week: Shots

Life was like a Portlandia episode inside Elixir on Friday. The conversation moved from coffee (Stumptown vs. Sightglass) to coffee (Aeropress vs. French press vs. my personal technique, pour-over into a Mason jar and aged on the kitchen counter all afternoon). We talked about coffee shops and coffee blogs, and then, for a change of pace, pickles. Elixir was serving pickle-backs, which the group two bar stools down ordered by the half-dozen. Novelty demands overindulgence.

But we were there for the shot-and-a-beer combos. They were pouring it from bottles, but the bartender told me they buy Buffalo Trace bourbon “by the barrel.” It’s one of my favorite bourbons—rich and buttery—and they were pairing it with an interesting beer, Magnolia’s Cole Porter, aged in those very same barrels. They also had an English-style house IPA, Snake Oil, paired with a candy apple-y cognac and Sierra Nevada pale paired with mezcal. The mezcal was the star: smokey and bittersweet, like barbecued peaches, or charred coconut. The Sierra—a great beer on its own—kind of dumbed it down. The Cole Porter, too, wasn’t as good as the bourbon, and the pairing suffered for it. In fact, the beer seemed to have lost some of its roasted edge after the two months it spent in that barrel. So I waited until the bartender wasn’t looking and dumped the rest of my shot into the pint glass to try and even things out.

Alembic did the mixing for us. Their menu was illegible and this led to some confusion over what was actually in each drink, and what they were called. The two standouts were the Harlot of Babylon and the Golden Lamp Stand, maybe. The first, we think, had Moonlight’s Death and Taxes, creme de cacao, and Tabasco and tasted like Mexican hot chocolate. The second had Magnolia’s kolsch, ginger, and bitters, and tasted like grown-up orange juice. We munched on duck hearts and our waitress told us she eats them every day, with hot cocoa, like some Aztec Marie Antoinette. Would that be a heart-back? Or just heart burn.