Thursday, February 28, 2008

Beer(s) of the Moment - Samuel Adams Longshot

First of all, a confession. I don't drink Samuel Adams that much. I tend to support smaller craft breweries and local beers, but that doesn't mean I don't respect what they do. They sometimes get a bad rap for being too commercial, but I think that they should be applauded for both their history and their support of the craft brewing industry. Their television commercials are educational and emphasize ingredients and quality over misogynistic themes that accentuate the lowest common denominator. And it doesn't stop there. Recently, Sam Adams offered a very generous sale of hops to smaller brewers to help them out in the current hop shortage, and they offered the hops at cost, with no profit for themselves. I have to tip my hat to them, and the Longshot beer releases are just another way that Sam Adams supports brewers.

The Longshot contest occurs every year as a homebrewing competition, where the winners are announced at the Great American Beer Festival and Sam Adams promises to brew their beers to be released in a special six pack. Typically there are three beers in the six pack, two from the open competition between homebrewers and one beer for the best homebrew from a Sam Adams employee. This year was a little different, as only two beers are in the six pack. One of the winners this year was Mike McDole's Double IPA, but due to the unavailability of certain hops (there were seven in the recipe), it was not able to be included with this year's beer, but should be included in next year's batch.

Let's talk about the beer. First up is the Grape Pale Ale, a recipe created by Sam Adams employee Lili Hess. As the name suggests, this is a pale ale brewed with grapes and a surprising addition of maple syrup. The syrup lends a bit of sweetness to the beer, and of course there is a grape fruitiness as well, but overall the flavors are fairly mild and it makes for a pretty easy drinking pale ale that would be nice on a warm summer day.

The star of the six pack is the Weizenbock, brewed by Illinois homebrewer Rodney Kibzey. Weizenbocks are a fairly rare style of beer, sort of an amalgamation of a Hefeweizen and a Dopplebock, basically a strong dark wheat beer. Probably the best known beer of this style is Aventinus, a beer I love, so it's no surprise that I really liked this beer. It is dark, fruity, with a wonderful spicy finish. I would love to see more commercial representations of this style.

So the next time you walk into a grocery store and see a six pack of Sam Adams, just try to remember all the good things they have done and are doing for craft beer.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Night of a Thousand Beers

There are some nights as a beer drinker that really stand out. It could be finding a brewpub in a new town. Or maybe attending a festival and trying a new beer for the very first time. Or it could be when seventeen people get together with a common love of beer, and everyone brings a special beer to share with friends. That night was this past Saturday, and over the course of several hours, upwards of 40 beers were sampled from across the country and beyond (yes, the 'thousand' was a bit of a stretch).

Our friends John and Melissa were kind enough to host the tasting, not to mention digging deep into their beer cellar for some rare treats. The special tasting was scheduled to coincide with the arrival of two intrepid beer travelers who have incorporated Asheville into their beer travels, having come down from Pennsylvania three times in the past year. You can read all about Deuane and Caroline's beer travels at Caroline's blog, and you can also get a run down of just about everything we sampled on Saturday night. Jason and Julie from Bruisin' Ales and Mark and Trish from the Asheville Brews Cruise were on hand as well to take part in the festivities.

Now, on to the highlights. Deuane and Carolyn brought down several great beers from Pennsylvania, one of the best states in the country for craft beer lovers. One interesting beer was the Voodoo Love Child from Voodoo Brewery in Meadville, PA. The Love Child is a Belgian Golden ale aged on passion fruit, raspberry and cherry, and Pisgah's Red Devil comes to mind when drinking it. Another beer from up north that stood out was the Southern Tier Choklat Imperial Stout. This beer had the most intense chocolate flavor that I have ever had in a beer, with a semi-sweet chocolate finish that lingers on your tongue after a couple of sips. Moving away from American micros, there was also a 3 Fonteinen Oak Aged Kriek, with plenty of tart cherry to go with the ever present farmhouse funk associate with Belgian lambics. And finally, Dave from Pisgah Brewing brought along an old and a new Baptista for an impromptu vertical tasting. The aged Baptista was superb, and if you have an extra one or two in your cellar from last year, now would be a good time to compare it to the new one. And speaking of Pisgah, be on the lookout for a possible customer appreciation day in April.

I can't say enough how much I enjoyed both the quality of beer and the quality of people that I experienced at the beer tasting. Nothing beats good friends and good beer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Special Beers at Barley's

Are you looking to treat your special someone to a nice beer on Valentine's Day? Head on over to Barleys for this years Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout from Foothills Brewing. Really, the name alone screams Valentines Day, and the beer is one of my favorite North Carolina brewed beers. This is the second year it has been released, and once again Barley's has gotten the only keg in Asheville. Foothills recently had a very limited bottle release, and individual bottles are going for over 75 dollars on ebay. Thankfully you can avoid the scalpers and get a glass of it for 4 bucks.

Another rare beer on tap at Barley's is the Brooklyn Extra Brune, a Belgian dark abbey-style ale. This beer is released as part of the Brewmaster's Reserve, which are draft only beers that are only released to a limited number of bars throughout the country. The beer is brewed with and addition of belgian dark candy sugar, and has notes of plum with a spicy and banana like finish. It is a great belgian style ale, and perfect for a cold winter's night. This can be found upstairs at Barleys for a limited time.