Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Twelve

Brasserie Dubuisson - Scaldis de Noël (2008)

When it became obvious I was not going to post the twelfth beer by Christmas Day, I decided not to rush it. I actually went through a couple of different beers that I thought would be the final beer, but neither turned out to be very good, so I decided to pass on posting them. I finally decided on the little bottle of Scaldis de Noël that has been in the beer cellar since 2008. Brasserie Dubuisson was created in 1776 and is the oldest brewery in Wallonia, Belgium and is actually still in the same location. What is even more remarkable is that it is still a 100% independently owned brewery.

For a five year old bottle of beer, there was still a good amount of life in this Belgian Strong Dark Ale as I poured it into the glass. A nice dark mahogany colour with a thin layer of carbonation. It was definitely time to drink it though, as there was visible particles floating around in the beer. However, they didn't affect the aroma or flavour. Molasses, caramel and dark fruits noticeable in the aroma. Flavour was similar but with more of the dark fruits like figs, raisins and dates coming through at the start. Those gave way to toffee and and a roasted malt sweetness before finishing light and surprisingly a little bitter. It also left a little residual tangy sweetness across my tongue. The 12% ABV was still enough to provide a noticeable warming affect.

Although it was sometimes a little difficult to find the time during the holiday season to write the posts, I did enjoy creating this Twelve Beers of Christmas series and I'm glad I finally got around to doing it. Hopefully I can continue it next year with an all new round of holiday seasonals. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Eleven

The Bruery - 5 Golden Rings

The fifth beer in the 12 Days of Christmas series from The Bruery. As indicated in the post for Beer Six a few days ago, the beers typically take their inspiration from their corresponding version, so 5 Golden Rings was brewed as a Belgian Golden Ale.

Poured out a clear golden colour in the glass with a thin white head. Wonderful sweet aroma of golden fruits like pineapple, banana, pear and Belgian yeast. Juicy is one of the best ways to describe the flavour. Lots of pineapple, citrus and grape with notes of pear and grapefruit. Bready malts and caramel come through in the middle followed by cloves and allspice.  Finish is semi-dry and slightly bitter. I think it could benefit from a little more carbonation as the mouthfeel is a little heavy and syrupy. The 11.5% ABV comes through in full force, giving a rather strong warming and almost burning affect.  We'll see how this one ages and turns out in 2020.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Ten

Affligem - Noël (2008)

From what I found, it appears that the Affligem brand of beers was actually brewed by the Op-Ale Brewery in Opwijk, Belgium under license from the Affligem Abbey. The Op-Ale Brewery also produced beers under their own brand name but was eventually purchased by Heineken who later renamed it to Affligem Brewery. That was all news to me, same with the fact that Heineken owns about 190 breweries around the world is third largest after AB-InBev and SABMiller.

Affligem Noël is another beer that I typically purchase during the holidays, although I don't think I've seen it this year. The one I'm enjoying right now is actually a bottle that's been sitting in the back of my cellar since 2008 or 2009 (I'm not exactly sure, I have two different dates written on the bottle). Anyway, still a great beer that's aged very well. Carbonation is light, but still present. Aroma is sweet caramel, toffee and dark fruits with some bready Belgian yeasts coming through. Flavour is along the same lines as the aroma to start, but then I also get the addition of what to me tastes like coconut with a little pineapple. There's a citrus bitterness in the semi-dry finish and a hint of spices start to come through in the very end with notes of cinnamon and little light pepper at the back of my throat. Considering it's four or possibly five years old, there's quite a strong warming affect from the 9% ABV that I expected to be more mellow. I may have to try and hunt down a few bottles from this year (assuming we got any here) and see how a "fresh" one compares to this one.

It appears that Christmas Day is fast approaching, so I'll go ahead and push out two posts today with hopes that I'll complete the 12 part series by the 25th.  However, I still have a quite a few more bottles of Christmas Beers in the fridge (and will most likely buy more), so I may do a few CD+ (Christmas Day plus #) posts as well.

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Nine

Jolly Pumpkin Aristan Ales - Noel de Calabaza

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales was founded in 2004 and quickly gained notoriety for producing fantastic farmhouse ales using traditional methods. Fermented in open vessels with a variety of French and Belgian yeasts, the beer is then aged in oak casks for months where it undergoes a secondary fermentation with wild yeasts in the barrels. After aging, the beer is bottled with additional yeast and left to bottle condition (develop further flavours and carbonation in the bottle). All of that fermenting and aging results in beers with complex and unique flavour profiles.

The Noel de Calabaza is the first and only farmhouse or sour beer on the Twelve Beers of Christmas list. Not because I don't like them, but because I don't think I have any others. The aroma is surprisingly light, but the smell from the wild yeasts definitely let you know that this is not a traditional Belgian dark Christmas ale. If you can get past the funky yeast smell, you can also get hints of oak and dark fruits in the aroma. Although the flavour is predominantly tart and funky from start to finish, it's not overpowering. If you take the time, you can get a lot of different flavours out of this beer. Dark fruits like raisins, figs and plums with maybe some green apple, grapes and sour cherries. Some of the oak even starts coming through in the dry and tart finish. The alcohol is 9% ABV, but it really doesn't even come in to play. This was definitely a great change of pace from the traditional sweet and spicy Christmas beers and I savoured it down to the last drop.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Eight

Anchor Brewing - Christmas Ale

Anchor Brewing has been brewing their Christmas Ale (a.k.a. Our Special Ale) since 1975. And every year for the past 39 years, a unique beer has been brewed for it and a different tree is featured on the hand drawn label. However, I think the trees are more varied then the recipe as I find the beer tastes pretty similar each year. It's a beer that has basically become synonymous with the holiday season for me and I have a tradition of enjoying a magnum of it on Christmas Day.

This is definitely one Christmas beer that contains a lot of holiday spices in the aroma and flavour. Ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon... pretty much just name a traditional holiday spice and it's in there. Some years have been more intense then others but this year it seems to be pretty balanced. Along with the spices is some molasses, brown sugar, roasted malts and a bit of a pine bitterness in the finish. The alcohol level will also vary, but it's typically around 5.5% ABV, making it an easy drinking Christmas ale.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Seven

New Belgium - Frambozen

Flemish for raspberry, Frambozen has been brewed by New Belgium since 1993. Only fresh raspberries from the Pacific Northwest are used and because of that, the amount produced will vary based on the amount of raspberries that are available that year. Back in 2006, a very poor raspberry crop limited the amount they could produce and Texas was one of only a few select markets that received any that year.

If you're not a fan of raspberries, then this is definitely not the beer for you. The aroma and flavour is filled with the smell and taste of ripe, tart raspberries. Even the colour is a ruby-tinted light brown with a light pink head. However, there is still a good amount of malts that break through with a hint of nuttiness and a little bitter chocolate that helps to balance it out and remind you this is still a brown ale. It's a little sweet up front, but that gives way to a finish that is slightly dry and tart but not mouth puckering. Some of the toasted malts even come back in the lingering raspberry tartness. This is another beer that I've aged (sometimes accidentally as bottles get shoved to the back and forgotten) and it typically holds up well. The raspberry tartness becomes even more intense as other flavours start to drop away, but I would recommend drinking it fresh and often while it's still available.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Six

The Bruery - 6 Geese-A-Laying

The Bruery started their 12 Days of Christmas series in 2008 and each year a unique beer is being released for the next verse in the song. Some of the beers are inspired by their corresponding verse and all are designed to be capable of aging until the final 12 Drummers Drumming is released in 2020. The Partridge In A Pear Tree, was a Belgian Dark Strong Ale. 2 Turtle Doves was brewed with cocoa nibs, toasted pecans and caramelized sugar as the beer was based on the "Turtles" candy, resulting in cross between a Belgian Dark Strong Ale and an Imperial Porter. 3 French Hens was a spicy Belgian Dark Strong with 25% of it aged in French oak. 4 Calling Birds is a traditional Winter Warmer (not a lot of inspiration from calling birds) and 5 Golden Rings was appropriately brewed as a Golden Ale. Unfortunately, I missed out on the Partridge in a Pear Tree, but I have tried the subsequent releases and now have bottles in my cellar of verses 3 through 6.

The 6 Geese-A-Laying is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale brewed with Gooseberries. It poured a deep amber colour with a light fluffy head. Sweet malts, Belgian yeast with a little fruitiness in the aroma. It started out mildly sweet with caramel, toffee and candied fruit flavours. However, that sweetness gave way to a tart and slightly acid fruity finish. And the more the beer warmed, the more the tart berry flavour came out and lingered after each sip. For being a big 11.5% ABV, the alcohol was not very noticeable, but I could certainly feel it after finishing the bottle myself. It's definitely going to be interesting to see how all these beers ager over the next six years.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Five

Mikkeller - Santa's Little Helper (2013)

Mikkeller was founded by homebrewers Mikkel Bjergsø and Kristian Keller in 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark, but Kristian exited the company in 2007. Mikkel is referred to as a gypsy brewer as he does not own a brewery, but instead uses the brewing and bottling facilities of various other breweries. Even though this seems like it would be a limitation for a brewer, Mikkel has apparently brewed over 600 different beers (according to their Wikipedia page). Mikkel's brother Jeppe is also a gypsy brewer who founded rival brewery Evil Twin Brewing in 2010.

After the disappointing non-Christmas Christmas Ale that was Beer Four, Santa's Little Helper gets us back on track. It's a Belgian Strong Ale that poured almost completely black with a fluffy tan head. Roasted malts, brown sugar and dark chocolate in the aroma with a hint of the alcohol hiding inside. Sweet caramel and roasted malt flavours up front with slight tastes of licorice and molasses coming out as the beer warms. A slightly bitter finish followed by a lingering flavour of roasted coffee and bitter chocolate. As the beer continued to warm, I also started to get a hint of cayenne pepper at the back of my tongue and throat. Perhaps that's the spices referred to by the "brewed with spices" on the label. The 10.9% ABV is a little noticeable with a gentle burn as it goes down providing a nice warming glow. I have another bottle of this that I think I'll age for a few years as I think it will probably mellow out the flavours and tone down the alcohol.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Four

http://deranke.be/Brouwerij De Ranke - Père Noël

Santa Claus hugging a snifter of beer on the label with the word's "Belgian Christmas Ale" underneath are the only things that makes this a Christmas beer. There is nothing in the aroma or flavour that gives it the typical characteristics expected of a Belgian Christmas Ale. The brewery's own website even indicates "...very different from any other Christmas ales you might know". They're not kidding.  I contemplated not bothering to include it as part of my Twelve Beers, but since I'm a little behind on my posts due to taking a trip back to my Canadian homeland, I'll go ahead and keep it as number four.

It's actually a pretty good Strong Belgian Pale Ale and I'd be more enthused about drinking it if that's all that I was expecting. Usual aromas of lemon and bananas with a hint of white pepper and cloves. Light pale and sweet caramel malt flavours to start along with some of the same spiciness found in the aroma. Finishes very dry with a grassy hop bitterness. A decent beer, but again, certainly not one that I could classify as a Christmas Ale. On to number five!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Three

Another of my annual favourites, Deschutes Brewing has been producing Jubelale since 1988.  For that first few years it was bottled by hand in 750ml bottles until becoming their first beer that was released in six-packs in 1993. Back then the label was a simple Christmas wreath added around the brewery's iconic oval label containing a mountain and stream. Starting in 1995, a different regional artist has been commissioned each year to create the artwork for the label.

Deschutes Brewery - Jubelale (2013)

Poured into a large Deschutes snifter, it had a big fluffy tan head that settled slowly and left great lacing. The mouthfeel on it is exceptional, it's so silky smooth that it feels like the beer is just floating over your tongue. I actually had to slow myself down or this beer would have disappeared in only a few drinks. Lots of sweet and toasted malts in the aroma and flavour. A little holiday spice with a touch of chocolate coming through before finishing with a slightly piney bitterness. At 6.7% ABV, it's actually on the lower end for a Strong Ale, but that's part of what makes it such a drinkable beer.

This year's label is titled "Lost in the Loud" by local Bend, Oregon artist Avlis Leumas who's goal was to "create balance with opposites: as serene and quiet as the piece is, there is movement and activity everywhere”.

Deschutes Brewing - Jubelale (2011)

Whilst digging around in my cellar, I found a bottle or two of Jubelale from 2011 and its aged very well. The colour is a little lighter and the head is not as fluffy and dissipated quite quickly. There's a lot more toffee and roasted malts in the aroma and flavour then the one from 2013. The finish is less bitter (as would be expected since hop bitterness drops off quickly as a beer ages) and has been replaced with a stronger roasted coffee flavour. The mouthfeel is a little thinner, but still quite creamy and smooth. I'll definitely have to put a few away from this year to age.

The label art for this release was a collaboration by artists Cara Thayer and Louie Van Patten which "explores a painted dialogue of human forms". It was further explained that "the hand-knitted mitten and scarf reflect the handcrafted character of Jubelale, while the snowball in motion evokes the fleeting nature of winter".

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Two

Goose Island - Sixth Day

Goose Island has only recently started distributing to Texas, so this is holiday beer that I haven't had before. According to the website, they "change the recipe slightly so that you have something special to look forward to" which is what Anchor Steam has been doing with their holiday seasonal since 1976.

I was surprised that it was labeled as a Brown Ale (albeit a Festive one) based on the colour in the glass and I had to let it warm up quite a bit before more characteristics of a brown ale began to emerge. Aromas of sweet malts, red licorice with a slight scent of herbal hops. Flavours of molasses and fruity esters to start which then gives way to hints of bitter chocolate in the finish. The alcohol content is 8.3% which left a bit of burn going down. But there was also an odd stringent bitterness that carried through from start to finish that dominated too much for me to enjoy it. The Bottled On date shows Sept 13 which is not that long ago, but I've tasted that same flavour in other brown ales that have been sitting around too long. A little disappointed in this one, but perhaps it's better when fresh.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December Glass Nights at the Ginger Man

The Ginger Man has released their list of glass nights for the month of December:

4th - Rahr Brewing - Winter Warmer
11th - New Belgium - (Seasonal)
18th - Boulevard - Nutcracker
25th - Merry Christmas (bar opens at 6:00pm for those alone or tired of your relatives)

The glasses are available starting at 6:00pm and only one glass per person with purchase of the beer of the day. As always, the glasses are subject to change and only available while supplies last.

There is also a couple of Brewers Nights this month:

Karbach Brewing - Tuesday, December 10th @ 6:00pm
Green Flash - Tuesday, December 17th @ 6:00pm

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer One

St. Bernardus - Christmas Ale (2010)

This is one of my all-time favourite holiday beers, so it's no surprise that I started with it. However, this is a bottle from 2010 that has been resting comfortably in my beer cellar for the past three years. Holiday beers often have higher ABV and sometimes include strong flavours of spices, fruits and sugars and a little extra time can help to calm things down and balance it out. I also just enjoy seeing how beers change as they age.

There was still plenty of carbonation when I popped the corked and the head dissipated down to a thin layer of bubbles in the glass. It has such a wonderful aroma of dark fruits, sweet malts and holiday spices that are also carried over into the flavour. It tastes of plums, dates, and apricots with sweet caramel malts along with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg in the finish. All that combined with the bready flavours from the St. Bernardus house yeast and its like a slice of my Mother's Christmas cake in a glass. And although it's a hefty 10% ABV, the past few years in the cellar have helped to take the edge off and give it a smooth and creamy mouthfeel.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas

Walk down the beer aisle at your grocery store or beer store and you'll notice the shelves, the floor and all other available space is now filled with stacks of holiday beers. My beer cellar, fridges and pantry are usually overflowing at this time of year as well (much to my wife's dismay) as I pick up bottles of my usual holiday favourites and any new ones that I've yet to try. With all this beer around me, I've wanted to do some sort of Christmas beer series for the past few years and I'm finally getting around to it. Although I'm calling it the Twelve Beers of Christmas (I know, not exactly original) I may certainly surpass that number of posts based on the number of holiday beers on the market right now. Perhaps next year I'll change it to a Beer Advent Calendar which would give me twenty-four, but I'm getting ahead of myself as I haven't even managed to complete the first of what will hopefully be at least twelve posts before Christmas Day. Anyway, my plan is to showcase my favourites as well as some of the new ones to the Houston market. Feel free to list your own favourite holiday beers in the comments. And if you're really feeling the holiday spirit (I'm sure there's some sort of pun in there), you can always send me a few of your favourites. Cheers!

Ginger Man Christmas Beer Tasting

The Ginger Man in Houston is hosting its annual Christmas Beer Tasting on Saturday, December 7th at 3:00pm.  Tickets are $40 per person and available now.  Sadly, I will be out of town that weekend, but I have enjoyed a few of their previous ones.  Based on my past experiences, a taxi or designated driver is most likely necessary as holiday beers are typically quite high in ABV.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Independence Brewing Beer Dinner at Sonoma

Sonoma in the Heights did a great job with hosting their first beer dinner featuring beer from Independence Brewing on Wednesday night.  It was an intimate gathering on their rooftop patio and although it was open to the elements, the large fireplace kept the area warm and the rain managed to stay away until the dinner was over.

Bootlegger Brown was served to guests upon arrival before serving the first course of red snapper ceviche paired with White Rabbit.  The zesty citrus flavors of the Belgian Wit were light enough to compliment the delicate flavors of the fish without overpowering it.

The second course was a cheddar cheese soup with caramelized onions and Andouille sausage served with a pesto crostini.  Austin Amber was paired with it and quite frankly, I think the best pairing of the evening. The caramel malts added to the richness of the soup and enhanced the caramelized onions.

Slightly sweet malt flavors go well with meaty pork dishes and hoppy bitterness often amplifies saltiness, so Stash IPA was the perfect beer to pair with their pork loin wrapped in applewood smoked bacon.  A hoppy bitter finish also helps to clear the palate when eating dishes with fat such as bacon and creamy sauces. The pork loin is actually a regular item on their menu and I highly recommend it.

After the large portions that we had already received, I was glad to see that the final course was not a heavy and sweet dessert.  Instead, the Convict Hill Stout was served with small portions of cheeses and chocolates.  Chocolates are a natural pairing with a big oatmeal stout like this one, but I had never tried it with cheeses.  The Barely Buzzed is an espresso hand-rubbed cheese that was absolutely delicious and went well with the roasted malt flavors.

Thanks to Sonoma for hosting and looking forward to going back there and trying some of there other regular offerings.

Monday, November 18, 2013

St. Arnold Beer Dinner at Baker Street in The Woodlands

Well, it's short notice, but if you live in The Woodlands, then this may still work for you. The Baker Street Pub & Grill in The Woodlands is hosting a Beer Dinner tonight at 7:00pm. It's a 4 course dinner paired with 4 different beers from Saint Arnold for only $30.  Rumour has it that they'll also have multiple releases of Bishops Barrel on hand. Call Serena at 281-362-7431 for more details.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Independence Brewing Beer Dinner at Sonoma Wine Bar

Sonoma Wine Bar in The Heights is hosting a Beer Dinner featuring beers from Independence Brewing on Wednesday, November 20th.

Dinner includes three courses plus a reception beer and desert. Tickets are $45 per person (plus tax and tip) and seating is limited.  Contact Sonoma to make reservations at (713) 526-9463.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Houston Press October BrewFest

The Houston Press presented their first BrewFest back in May and they're had so much fun with it that they decided to do it again. The next Houston Press BrewFest takes place on Saturday, October 5th from 2pm ~ 7pm at Silver Street Station (the same location as last time). About 30 breweries will be serving up about 110 different beers on tap and from the bottle. There are General Admission and VIP ticket options available and both include eight 3oz sample cards. The VIP ticket also grants you access to a special area with another dozen or so beers and appetizers. Further information about ticket options and prices is available online, but the prices do increase the day of the event. A complete list of the beers being served is also available on their website. There isn't too many beers on that list that will make the average beer geek swoon, but it is a great festival for people who are just getting into craft beer as they can try a variety of styles in one place. There will also be bands playing and local food trucks available. Don't worry about any rain that may be in the forecast, the venue is an old large warehouse, so you'll be doing your beer sampling indoors.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Belgian Style Oktoberfest at Café Brussels

Café Brussels is serving up a special Oktoberfest menu from Oct 3rd to the 5th. For $45 per person, you'll enjoy a 3 course dinner paired with Belgian beers:

Hors d'oeuvres - Potato and Endive Soup or Salade Leigeoise paired with Blanche de Bruxelles

Entrée - Mussels a la Biere with Frites paired with Estaminet Premium Pils or Pork Chop with Brussels Sprout Stoemp paired with Maredsous 8

Dessert - Crème Brulee paired with Rodenbach Grenadine

Call (713) 222-6996 for reservations.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October Glass Nights at The Ginger Man

The Ginger Man has released their list of glass nights for the month of October:

2nd - Rahr Brewing - Oktoberfest
9th - Real Ale - Oktoberfest
16th - Southern Star - Bombshell Blonde
23rd - Brooklyn - Post Road Pumpkin
30th - Ballast Point - Sculpin IPA

The glasses are available starting at 6:00pm and only one glass per person with purchase of the beer of the day. As always, the glasses are subject to change and only available while supplies last.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

2013 TX Craft Brewers Festival Review

The continuing expansion of the craft beer industry in Texas was certainly evident at the 2013 Texas Craft Brewers Festival last weekend in Austin. There was 39 breweries slated to attend and though there was a few last minutes cancelations (5 Stones Brewing, Independent Ale Works, Brigadoon Brewery) due to "unforeseen circumstances", it was still a bigger list then any previous years. And since a lot of the new breweries don't have a very wide distribution, it was a great opportunity to try beers that may not make their way down to your area.

The festival took place in Fiesta Park just East of downtown which has a large covered pavilion in the middle that provided shaded seating, stage for the band and later on in the afternoon, cover from the torrential downpour that moved through the area. As with most beer festivals, there was a VIP package ($70) and General Admission ($20) and there's always a spirited debate on various beer forums whether the VIP access is worth the extra cost. Typically included with a VIP package is access to the festival earlier then the general admission ticket holders and access to special release beers. Other potential perks sometimes include special bathrooms, food, t-shirts, glassware, etc. In this case, the VIP package included entrance to the festival two and half hours before general admission with full access to all beers being poured in the booths (with the exception of the scheduled releases) as well as a t-shirt and commemorative glass on exit. During the early access time, a lot of brewers were wandering around under the covered pavilion area and pouring from pitchers and talking with people. This was definitely the highlight of the VIP access as the beer they were pouring didn't require any tickets and you were able to talk directly with the brewers and other brewery representatives. Based on some early complaints I read, I think the value of the VIP access was what you made of it. I specifically moved around the pavilion, seeking out brewers I hadn't met before and beers I hadn't tried. I certainly haven't been to a festival that provided that level of direct interaction with brewers or festival access that much earlier then general admission. In fact, the majority of the beers I tried that day was during the VIP session.

Overall, it seemed to be a well run festival and I don't really have too many complaints. I know there was a few people not happy with the policy of no kids allowed and I witnessed a group of people oddly refused entry with their pretzel necklaces ("NO food or snacks allowed!" proclaimed the rather over-zealous volunteer guarding the entrance). The sample glass was 4 ounces which I think is a little too large of a sample size. That's quite a bit to drink down before moving on to the next booth or very wasteful if you didn't finish and poured the remaining few ounces out on the ground. I like the option of one ticket for a 1 ounce sample and two or more tickets for a larger pour that I've seen at other festivals. Considering I saw a few kegs run dry before I left early, they may have lasted a little longer with smaller samples sizes. The lines were typically short and moved well, but since they had brewers hanging around the area in front off their booths to talk with the people, it was sometimes a little crowded and made it a little confusing about where the line actually was. A lot of complaints with VIP packages often comes down to the cost and perceived value (I've even seen people calculate out the cost per ounce of beer they consumed at the festival, then compare it to buying beer in the store or bar). For me, attending a festival is not about how much beer I can drink for the least amount of money, its about the overall experience. I sampled quite a few beers I hadn't tried before (and wouldn't typically get the opportunity to), met new brewers, reconnected with old friends, mingled with other festival goers and then managed to grab a cab just as the rain began. I was granted a media pass which included VIP access, but based on the great experience that I had, I would not have regretted my decision had I purchased the VIP package.

Friday, September 27, 2013

New Mobile App for 2013 GABF

There's an all new mobile app available for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) this year and it already appears to be significantly better then the one released last year.

An interactive map of the convention floor displays the locations of the brewery booths and allows you to add breweries to a “My Breweries” list which also marks them on the map, making it easy to remember and find the breweries you want to sample. And as you visit and sample, you can check off the breweries, makes notes and rate the beers you try. The beers being poured will be released on Oct 9th and its strongly suggested you update the app via WiFi before attending the festival (trust me, you definitely want to update before as the cellular reception and mobile data speeds is terrible in the convention center once the festival gets in full swing).

The app is available for download now from Google Play and Apple iTunes.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

2nd Annual BeerFeast at the Sugar Land Flying Saucer

The Sugar Land Flying Saucer's 2nd annual BeerFeast takes place under the big tent on the Sugar Land City Hall Plaza on Saturday, October 26th from 1pm ~ 7pm. Over 40 breweries will be represented pouring over 60 different beers plus rare and limited edition beers will be tapped throughout the day.

General Admission tickets are $30 and available for purchase online or at the Saucer and will increase to $40 the day of the event.  Tickets include a tasting card good for 12 samples and BeerFeast tasting glass.  Additional tasting cards can be purchased for $5 each.  There is also a designated driver option for $15 which allows your non-drinking friend to tag along with you and get free soft drinks.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Beer Hunter - The Movie

I think anyone who's interested in craft beer (at least, for more than just the past couple of years) knows who Michael Jackson is. And if you don't, for shame! An English journalist and author of many books on beer (and whiskey), he is widely credited with being responsible for generating the worldwide interest in craft beer.

"No one did more for craft beer then perhaps Louis Pasteur" -- Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing

Michael Jackson's The World Guide To Beer was first published in 1977 and inspired many beer drinkers to reach beyond their domestic macro lagers for more flavorful and interesting brews. The beers featured in his book were categorized into style groups based on local customs and names which later became the basis of the beer styles still used today to categorize and judge beers.  In 1990, Michael hosted a British TV show called The Beer Hunter in which he traveled to different countries to showcase their beer culture.  Unfortunately, despite its popularity, it was not renewed for any additional seasons, but Michael continued to be known around the world as The Beer Hunter.

Beer Hunter - The Movie is comprised mainly of footage shot during 2004 by a film crew following Michael to various countries for tastings, speaking engagements, beer dinners and simply enjoying a few pints at his favourite local. Its then finished with follow-up interviews shot last year with many of the people featured in the original footage. Its not so much a documentary of Michael Jackson's life, but more of a snapshot of what it was like to be the most well known and influential person in craft beer. Unfortunately, Michael passed away in 2007 at the age of 65 after suffering from Parkinson's disease in secret for over a decade, but his impact on craft beer will continue indefinitely.

The DVD is available for order online for $20.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rahr Brewing Beer Dinner at BRC Gastropub

BRC Gastropub is hosting a beer dinner on Wednesday, September 25th featuring four courses paired with beer from Rahr Brewing:

Course 1: Fried manchego and heirloom tomatoes paired with La Grange Farmhouse Ale
Course 2: Smoky shrimp and grits paired with Blonde Helles Lager
Course 3: Caramel lacquered pork belly paired with Oktoberfest Lager
Course 4: Choco coffee whoopie pie paired with Ugly Pug Schwarzbier

The costs $45 (plus tax and tip) with a seating at 6:30pm and 8:30pm.  Contact BRC at 713-861-2233 to make reservations.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Dual Beer Glass

Watching a bartender incorrectly blending the beers together while trying to pour a Half and Half was the inspiration for the Dual Beer Glass from glassblower, and founder of the Pretentious Beer Glass Company, Mathew Cummings.

The individual chambers of this hand blown glass keep two beers separated until the drinker takes a sip. At that point, I'm not sure if the two beers will then get combined in the glass anyway, or if the twisted design of the interior wall keeps them from spilling over into the other chamber. There is also the added bonus of being able to see the colour and smell the aroma of the individual beers which is typically lost when blending beers. Due to the nature of handmade glassware, the dimensions will very slightly but the glasses are approximately 5~6" tall, 3" wide and hold 10~12 oz.

I'll admit, I am curious about them, but at $35 each (or 4 for $125), I'm not sure if I'm curious enough. The Pretentious Beer Glass Company also produces a variety of other pretty cool hand blown glassware that's designed specifically for craft beer. You can order these and see all the other glassware on their order page.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Brewuniversity in Session at Central Market

Brewuniversity is now in session at Central Market and their hosting a variety of beer related events over the next few weeks including hands-on cooking classes, demonstrations and beer dinners where you can learn how to incorporate beer into recipes, enjoy meals paired with local craft beers or simply learn more about craft beer in general.

The Sip & Stroll takes place on Thursday, September 12th from 5:00pm ~ 8:00pm ($10 w/ commemorative beer glass) and allows you to casually work your way through stations spread throughout the store.  Stop and sample the unique beer and food pairing at each station and learn more about why they were paired together.

Beer dinner featuring beers from Karbach Brewing on Saturday, September 14th at 6:30pm ($65).  This six course meal features the following dishes and beer pairings:

•Mussels steamed in Sympathy Lager
•Karbachtoberfest Beer Battered Fish with fresh Cole Slaw
•Roasted Salmon, Roshambo Belgium IPA Butter Sauce and Sautéed Spinach
•Hopidillo Marinated Shrimp Tacos
•Spicy Seared Tuna over Scallion Sticky Rice with a Three Chile Vinaigrette and Rodeo Clown
•Cherries of Fire Ice Cream Sandwiches.

If you'd like to learn how to cook with beer as well as tips on pairing beer with different dishes, then you might enjoy their Beer - It's What's For Dinner class on Wednesday, Sept 18th at 6:30pm ($65).  You'll actually get your hands dirty making and then enjoying:

•Cheese-stuffed Jumbo Shrimp with Bacon served with a Farmhouse Ale
•Jicama, Apple, Fennel, Sweet Pepper & Orange Salad with Hard Cider & Mint Vinaigrette served with an Apple Ale
•Lamb Chops with Roasted Fennel & Portobello Mushroom Risotto served with American Porter
•Winter Warmer of Spiced Pumpkin & Cranberry Muffins served with Winter Strong Ale.

Most people have heard about pairing cheese with wine, but how about with beer?  The Artisanal Cheeses Paired with Craft Beers class will teach you exactly that. Janet Fletch, author of Cheese & Beer, will lead you through an evening of sampling American craft cheeses paired with local American craft beers on Thursday, Sept 19th at 6:30pm ($50).  I actually already have a copy of her book and I think it's excellent.  Cheese and beer pairings include:

•Saint Arnold’s Lawnmower with Mozzarella Company Mozzarella
•North Coast Brewing Le Merle with Vermont Butter & Cheese Cremont
•Green Flash Hop Head Red with Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Toma
•Ommegang Abbey Ale with Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise
•Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
•Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout with Point Reyes Bay Blue

Representatives from a variety of local and national craft breweries will also be in store to pour samples and talk about their beer at various day and times.  Check the events calendar for a complete listing of breweries and days, but a few local Texas breweries includes:

Karbach - Sept 11th, 13th & 18th @ 4pm ~ 7pm
No Label - Sept 13th @ Noon ~ 3pm
Independence - Sept 14th @ 11am ~ 2pm
Rahr - Sept 19th @ 4pm ~ 7pm
Real Ale - Sept 19th @ 4pm ~ 7pm

For more information about these and other classes and to make reservations, please see the Central Market Houston Cooking School website.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Texas Breweries at 2013 Great American Beer Festival

The brewery registration for the 2013 Great American Beer Festival filled up in under 2 hours, leaving many well known and past winning breweries locked out from being able to register. A wait list quickly grew and although a lot of those breweries were eventually offered spots on the convention floor to pour their beer, they weren't necessarily able to enter any beer for the competition, leaving them to decide if it was still worth it for them to attend. For people who have attended past GABF tasting sessions, booths for some big name breweries may be noticeably missing this year. It will be interesting to see what changes will be made for the registration process next year since the number of craft breweries is only continuing to increase.

There are currently 652 attending breweries listed on the GABF website (as of August 1st), but it does not specifically indicate if all of them will be in the convention hall.

UPDATED: As of Oct 1st, the GABF website now indicate 624 breweries will be pouring beer on the convention floor with the following 36 breweries from Texas:

(512) Brewing Co.
903 Brewers
Adelbert's Brewery
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.
Austin Beerworks
Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery
Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.
Cedar Creek Brewery
Circle Brewing Co.
Community Brewing Co.
Cornel's Brewing Co.
Deep Ellum Brewing Co.
Flix Brewhouse
Freetail Brewing Co.
Hops & Grain Brewery
Humperdink's Restaurant & Brewery
Independence Brewing Co.
Karbach Brewing Co.
Lakewood Brewing Co.
Live Oak Brewing Co.
Namaste Brewing (Whip In)
No Label Brewing Co.
North By Northwest Restaurant and Brewery
Pendernales Brewing Co.
Peticolas Brewing Co.
Pint House Pizza
Rahr & Sons Brewing Co.
Real Ale Brewing Co.
Revolver Brewing Co.
Rogness Brewing Co.
Saint Arnold Brewing Co.
Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner)
Texas Big Beer Brewery
Texian Brewing Co.
Uncle Billy's Brew & Que
Zio Carlo Magnolia Brewpub

Assuming this list is now correct, there will be 36 Texas breweries this year, up from 30 in 2012 and 22 in 2011.  As a recap, the following Texas breweries won medals in the 2012 GABF competition:

Gold Bottle Rocket Uncle Billy's Brew & Que - Lake Travis Kellerbier or Zwickelbier
Gold Shiner Oktoberfest Spoetzl Brewery German-Style Märzen
Gold Shiner Bock Spoetzl Brewery American-Style Dark Lager
Gold Shiner Bohemian Spoetzl Brewery German-Style Schwarzbier
Gold Royal Scandal Peticolas Brewing Co. Classic English-Style Pale Ale
Silver Hans' Pils Real Ale Brewing Co. German-Style Pilsener
Silver Firemans #4 Real Ale Brewing Co. Golden or Blonde Ale
Silver Iron Thistle Rahr & Sons Brewing Scotch Ale
Bronze Uberbrau Humperdinks Restaurant and Brewery American-Style Amber Lager

Good luck to all breweries who have beer entered in the competition this year and I look forward to sampling it on the convention floor.

Friday, August 30, 2013

3rd Annual Texas Craft Brewers Festival

The 3rd annual Texas Craft Brewers Festival, the only beer festival organized by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, returns to Fiesta Gardens in Austin on Saturday, September 28th from 2pm ~ 8pm.

Tickets range in price from $20 for General Admission to $70 for the VIP Package and are available for purchase online.  The General Admission ticket gets you through the gates at 2pm and includes six 4oz sample tokens and a commemorative tasting cup. The VIP Package provides entrance to the festival 2.5 hours earlier for a special 'Meet & Greet' session with brewers, first access to limited edition beers, festival t-shirt, festival pint glass upon exiting festival, six 4oz sampling tokens and commemorative tasting cup. Your designate driver can tag along with you for $10 and enjoy complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. Extra tasting samples will be sold at the event by the pair for $3. Depending on the beer, a 4-ounce pour may require one or two tokens.

The number of craft breweries in Texas has continued to increase and thirteen breweries will be attending the festival for the first time (10 breweries made their debut last year).  And because of recent changes to the beer laws in Texas, brewpubs are able to attend directly this year.  The beer list for this year's festival is not yet available, but will be announced soon.

More information, including a map of the location, is available on the festival website.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wear Your Support for Texas Craft Beer

Show you support Texas craft beer by buying and wearing this awesome T-shirt featuring the logo of 50 members of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild

The T-shirt is available for order online in a variety of sizes from Outhouse Designs.  They will also be available for purchase at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival next month and hopefully soon at various breweries around the state.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Annual Belgian Beer Tasting at The Ginger Man

In honor of Belgian Independence Day (July 21), The Ginger Man is hosting their annual Belgian Beer Tasting on Saturday, July 20th at 3:00pm. Tickets are $40 per person (including tip), but seating is limited, so call 713-526-2770 to make your reservations. 

I've attended a couple of these in the past and always had a great time, but keep in mind that most Belgian beers are quite strong, so pace yourself.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Brew Fest at Watson's House of Ales

Watson's House of Ales is hosting their first annual Brew Fest on Saturday, July 20th from noon to 6:00pm.

Although a post on their Facebook page firmly declares "Houston ONLY brews!", they apparently mean the very greater Houston area as the list of attending breweries not only includes Saint Arnold, Karbach, Buffalo Bayou and 8th Wonder, but also Lone Pint (Magnolia), Southern Star (Conroe), Fort Bend (Missouri City) and No Label (Katy).

It looks like a great opportunity to taste and compare beers from all the local breweries in one spot and the Watson's Facebook page hints at special casks from No Label and Karbach. Festival attendees will also get to vote for their favorite brewery and the winner will get a tap at Watson’s and be featured for a happy hour. Tickets are $25 for 16 samples and are available for purchase at the pub.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Victory Brewing Beer Dinner at BRC

On Wednesday, July 17, BRC Gastropub is hosting a beer dinner featuring Victory Brewing.  The four-course menu and pairings includes:

Prima Pils - Melon salad with candied bacon, mint syrup, watercress
Summer Love - Pink peppercorn crusted tuna with strawberry salsa
Hop Devil - Jerk pulled pork with plantain chips, cotija, cilantro, red onion purée, chorizo sauce
Ranch IPA - Peaches & cream semi-freddo

There are two seating times for dinner (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and the cost is $45 per person (plus tax and tip).  Call BRC at (713) 861-2233 to make your reservation,.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Battle of Texas Beers at Hubbell & Hudson

Hubbell & Hudson in The Woodlands will be hosting a Battle of Texas Beers this Friday, July 5th and Saturday, July 6th. Everyone who votes in the "Texas Beer Drinker's Choice Awards" will be entered for a chance to win prizes, including a special Hubbell & Hudson Viking Cooking School hands-on cooking class featuring local brews.

A special preview event takes place at the Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen (located at 4526 Research Forest Drive) on Friday from 6:00pm to 9:00pm with live music and a chance to sample some of the breweries before the Battle of Texas Beers which takes place on Saturday from noon to 3:00pm at the Hubbell & Hudson Market (located at 24 Waterway Avenue).

I've been to a few past events at Hubbell & Hudson and they have a great beer selection in their walk-through cooler and I always find some great cheeses and other delectable food items to pair with them.  Definitely a worth a visit.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Draftmark In-home Draft Beer System

I had never heard of the Draftmark tap system until I was contacted by them recently to see if I was interested in receiving one to try. For those who are also unfamiliar with it, the Draftmark is a new easy to use self-contained in-home draft beer system from Anheuser-Busch InBev. Dispensing beer from a disposable 1 gallon bottle without the use of CO2, the Draftmark easily fits on the shelf in your fridge in about the same space as a 12 pack of cans. Its actually small enough and light enough that you could take it with you to a party, camping, etc. An insulated carrying bag with freezer pack around the bottle would actually be a pretty good add-on for it.

The main system itself retails for around $49.99 with the beer refills ranging in price from $13.99 ~ $15.99.  I haven't actually seen the system or refills in the Houston area yet, but the Spec's website indicates limited availability at their various locations. The setup is very simple but does require about 4 ~ 6 hours to charge the removable battery and may take that long to chill the beer refill, so don't expect to be pulling your first pint as soon as you get the system home. The Draftmark is designed to be extremely low maintenance as there is no CO2 bottle to change or lines to clean. The rechargeable battery powers an air pump that automatically pumps air into the space between the bottle and the liner that contains the beer to essentially squeeze the beer out (no air comes in contact with the beer inside the bottle). Each beer refill includes a new spout used to dispense the beer from the bottle, so there is nothing that needs to be cleaned when changing refills. The one gallon of beer will get you about eight 16oz pints. At this time, the refills available are Budweiser, Shock Top, Goose Island India Pale Ale, Goose Island Honker’s Ale, Michelob AmberBock and Bass Pale Ale

The detailed setup instructions indicate that the first pint could be foamy (which it was), but my subsequent pours have been as well (despite trying different pouring techniques). The foam does settle quickly, but the beer itself seemed less carbonated. I'd have to try a couple of more refills to know if that's normal for this system or not. As this is a product from Anheuser-Busch InBev, the selection of beer refills is limited to their own products. I have to admit, I probably wouldn't have been interested in trying it if they didn't have Goose Island refills available. At around $16 for the Honkers Ale refill, that's about $2 per 16oz pint (a pretty good price for draft beer) or $1.45 per 12oz serving (which would be about $8.70 per six pack of bottles). Its not necessarily saving you money, but I do enjoy the ability to pour as much or as little as I want.

Overall, I thinks its a pretty cool self-contained system, but the limited availability of craft beer refills will keep it more of a novelty that I'll bring out for parties and get-togethers. I like Goose Island, but not enough to always have one of them on tap in my fridge and that's the only current refills I'm interested in. Considering you can buy a 18 pack of Budweiser cans for less then 20 bucks, I'm not sure it will really appeal to the average Bud drinker either. I think they need to expand the refill selection to include more of their premium and import brands like Hoegaarden, Leffe and Stella, as the consumer of those brands is more likely to spend the money on this type of system and continue to use it. Somehow getting actual craft breweries on board, even if it was just the larger ones like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams would be great as well, but probably unlikely. In the meantime, I'll happily finish my Honker's Ale and I'll probably try the Goose Island IPA when I find it here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hay Merchant Anniversary Party

The Hay Merchant is celebrating their one year anniversary by opening up their cellar and tapping some of that rare stuff that Kevin has been squirrelling away in the back of the cooler. The celebration is on Friday, February 15th and when the doors open at  3:00pm, the first 100 people through them will be getting a special commemorative glass.  Here is just a few of the special beers that they have announced:

Avery - Kaiser 2012
Brooklyn - Monster 2008
Dogfish Head - 120 2012
Dogfish Head - Midas Touch
Dogfish Head - Noble Rot
Great Divide - Old Ruffian
Great Divide - Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Harpoon - Leviathan Quad 2011
Harpoon - Leviathan Czernobog
Jester King - RU-55 (Cask)
Jester King - El Cedro
Karbach - BBA Rodeo Clown (Cask)
Karbach - WBA Krunkin Pumpkin (Cask)
Karbach - BBA Hellfighter 2012 (Batch #1)
Real Ale - Scots Gone Wild
Real Ale - Highlander 2012
Real Ale - Empire 2012
Sierra Nevada - Ovila Quad w/ Sugar Plums
Six Point - 3Beans
Southern Star - BBA Buried Hatchet 2010 (The WORLD’S VERY LAST BARREL of Batch #1)
Stone - Vertical Epic 8,10 and 11,
Stone - Saison Du BUFF
Unibroue - Trois Pistoles 2011
Victory - Helios

I was in there on Saturday for lunch and they had already started clearing out taps in order to make room to put all this beer on for the celebration.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

February Glass Night at The Ginger Man

The Ginger Man has released their list of Glass Nights for the month of February:

6th - Rahr (Iron Thistle)
13th - Widmer (Rotator IPA)
20th - He-Brew (Hop Mana)
27th - Sierra Nevada (Pale Ale)

The glasses are available starting at 6:00pm and only one glass per person with purchase of the beer of the day. As always, the glasses are subject to change and only available while supplies last.