Wednesday, August 27, 2014

De Struise Brouwers Black Albert (2007 Vintage, 13% ABV!!) | Crafty Beer Reviews: Ep. #300

Review 300!!! I can't believe it finally has happened! Thanks so much for everyone's support and a HUGE thank you to the Better Beer Authority crew new and old!! Please make sure to watch this and enjoy! Cheers!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Victoria, B.C. More than just whale tours and gardens.

Victoria, B.C was the second leg of my Pacific Northwest vacation.  I took a floatplane from the South Vancouver Sea Plane Terminal to Victoria’s Inner Harbour. The smooth flight took 30 minutes and the scenery from the air was breath taking.

After landing in the harbor and walking around it at a mellow pace, I checked into my spacious room at the Victoria Inner Harbour Marriott and headed out and about in British Columbia’s capital.  The first thing I did was find an oyster bar with a nice view and decent views.  The name of the place escapes me, but it's not worthy for a beer blog, even though I enjoyed my self there.

For dinner that night I occupied a bar stool at the Garrick’sHead Pub after reading on Beer Advocate that they had a lot of craft beers on tap.  I had a plate of shitty nachos and a couple good pints of local beer.  The tap list was extensive and worth checking out.

The next morning I took it fairly leisurely until I walked around the wharf and waited in line to get lunch at Red Fish, Blue Fish.  No beer served here, but that doesn’t matter.  The chowder and fish sandwich I had were very good and provided a good soaker for what craft beer adventures lay ahead.

The Red Dog. Fried Salmon Sandwich

A few months ago we did a Brew & A with Adem Tepedelen, author of The Brewtal Truth, Guide to Extreme Beers.  He is a resident of Victoria and told me if I ever find myself there, he would show me around.  Knock knock! ed note: go buy the book! makes for great gifts.

One major issue with breweries in Victoria is that they generally aren’t allowed to have a tasting room unless they are a brew pub.  You can get a few samples of the beer in their store front (if they have one), growler fills and merchandise.   Having Adem as a tour guide and his connections was mighty helpful getting me in to the breweries and being able to sample their beers

One brewery people told me was a must try was Driftwood Brewery, which was our first stop.  We were greeted by Head Brewer Tim Fukushima.  After our introductions, we headed for the walk-in fridge where tap handles were attached to the outside.  I had a sample of the White Bark Wit, a solid, to-style example.  We then walked into the fridge where our noses were attacked by hop aroma; as this is where the hops are stashed.

kegs waiting their turn to be filled
beer centrifuge 
Beer in hand, Tim walked us through the active brewery.  One person was cleaning kegs, another was brewing, while one of the owners was showing clients their new centrifuge.  We stopped at a brite tank and Tim gave us samples of an ESB right out of it.  It was so fresh and tasty, I was ready to go swimming in it.  Afterwards we stopped at the growler fill station again and I got a pull of Fat Tug IPA, easily the island’s best IPA and one of the best in the province.  Tim gave a great insiders tour and I am really appreciative of his time; as well as Adem’s.

Right across the parking lot is Hoyne Brewing.  We stopped in briefly so I could have a couple samples.  The one that stuck out to me was Dark Matter.  An easy drinking, yet flavorful black ale.

my own personal warning sign?
Next stop was Lighthouse Brewing Company, one of the older craft breweries on the island, forming in 1998.  Brewmaster Dean McLeod took us around the brewery much like Tim did at Driftwood.  I think the first beer I started off with was Switchback IPA.  As we walked around the brewery, Dean was telling us of all the expansion plans, their yeast project and brewing schedules.  It’s a lot to manage, so I was grateful for the time he took for us.

Lighthouse Fermentors

beer waiting to be distributed
Again, I was fortunate to try beer from the brite tanks.  First I had a pilsner, then Numbskull Imperial IPA, which had yet to go through its last Mosaic hop addition.  It was fantastic as is.  I finished the tour off by having a glass of an experimental vanilla stout that was excellent.  I really enjoyed the tour at Lighthouse.

For the final stop on the tour, Adem took me to a new gastropub that had just opened a few days before, The Drake Eatery.  They had a very good beer selection and I have no doubt this will be the hub of craft beer in downtown Victoria.  The beers were from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.   It was a really well rounded list from IPAs, sours, stouts, Wits and more.  The service was very good as well, so not that many kinks need to be ironed out for such a new place.
beer list at Drake

For Dinner I went by myself to the Bank and Bard.  An old style Scottish pub (like tons of them in Victoria), with a revamped food menu and a beer focus on British Columbia.  The bartender was very nice and helpful in helping me choose food and beer.

I really enjoyed Victoria.  I highly recommend a trip there.  The weather was perfect in early August. Next time I go, I'll check out the rest of Vancouver Island.

Be sure to check out Adem's book and consider purchasing it. Many people have made an effort to drink every beer in the book, I recommend trying to see how many beers from it you can knock off.  Buy the book here

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Brew & A with Synek Draft System

One of the more recent Kickstarter campaigns that is making noise this summer is the Synek Draft System portable draft beer system.  We caught up with Eric Stoddard of Synek to ask him a few more beer geek questions that weren't already in their Kickstarter video.

image courtesy of Synek
Better Beer Authority (BBA): Breweries have to get licensing to be able to sell growlers and beer to-go, it is all dependent on local alcohol laws.  Where will the Synek fit in as a to-go vessel as far as legal jargon is concerned?

Synek's Eric Stoddard (ES): It will vary from state to state and country to country. Fortunately, we've found that it is completely legal in almost every state and most countries that we are targeting. Typically, if your state allows for growler fills, it will allow for SYNEK cartridges to be filled.

BBA: Tell us your background in craft beer?  What are your favorites.

ES:  I'm a native to Cleveland, Ohio so my favorites are definitely from Great Lakes Brewing Company. If I had to pick only one, I would go with the Elliot Ness Amber Lager. It's a great beer for any occasion.

BBA: You are targeting home brewers, whose average yield on their home-brews are five gallons.  The pouches are one gallon, so the problems with bottling still remain; how can we completely eliminate the bottle?

ES: It can take 30-60 minutes to fill and prime the bottles from a 5 gallon batch. It takes less than 5 minutes to fill up 5 cartridges. The time savings are huge! Plus, our cartridges take up have the space as an equivalent amount of bottles, so you can store even more beer.

BBA: Any personal stories involving the Synek machine that really got you excited about the project, such as turning a flat growler into fresh beer?

ES: Really, the most exciting moments have occurred through the community that has formed around SYNEK. We have Kickstarter backers that have called dozens of breweries to reach out on our behalf. They have devoted a lot of time to helping us and it couldn't make me more excited that I can help them in return!
click this link to see the Synek Draft System Kickstarter campaign.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Road Trip to Richmond, VA Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

We took a trip to Richmond, VA on June 14th.  Here is video 1 of 2.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Brew & A with Twinpanzee Brewing Company

Twinpanzee Brewing Company is a brewery in planning for Fairfax County, VA.  The Better Beer Authority has interviewed some big, established breweries this year such as Sixpoint and Stone; but we wanted to reach out to head brewer and founder Antonio to what it is like to start a brewery during its inception and see how things are coming along.  Twinpanzee just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help finance their dream.
image courtesy of Twinpanzee

Better Beer Authority (BBA): You’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund Twinpanzee Brewing Co., a nano-brewery in planning in Fairfax County, VA.  Do you have a specific site located yet?

Twinpanzee Brewing (TB):We're currently still looking at sites all around the Fairfax County area and hope to have a home for Twinpanzee Brewing Co. before September. We were initially tempted to start a brewery out in Fauquier or Loudon Counties, but decided to work really hard to start Twinpanzee Brewing Co in my hometown county of Fairfax County.

BBA: How did you start brewing?  

TB: I started brewing in 2006 (after the birth of my twin boys) with one of those small Mr. Beer kits. The Mr. Beer kit was a great way to learn the basics about brewing along with learning the importance of being very clean.  Once I tasted my first homemade brew, my thirst for more information just grew and I started reading as much as I could about home brewing. The online version of John Palmer's How to Brew was my early bible in feeding my knowledge of brewing. Within a year my wife bought me an all-grain kit from an online store as my Christmas present, which opened new doors in flavor combinations and controlling how and what you brew. The more I brewed, the more I learned and the more I wanted to try out new styles and new flavor combinations.

BBA: At what point did you decide your beers are of good enough quality to compete in the craft beer market?

TB: Back in 2012 & 2013 I had been partnering up with a buddy to buy brewing ingredients for my homebrews.  Because of my friend's generosity, I was able to try out new styles of brews and tweaked some of my recipes.  Each batch of beer was split 50-50, which allowed him to not only enjoy his half, but to share with his friends and family.  I shared my half of the beer with my own friends and family. The more people that tried my beer, the more feedback I received which helped me to update and refine my recipes.  The overwhelming response to my beer was "your beer is good".  The wife and I sat down one night while enjoying some a few homebrews and thought, "If our beer is that well received, why not try to go pro?".  Opening a brewery has been a dream since I first got into homebrewing and seeing the look of enjoyment on people's faces as they drink my beer is something I truly love.

BBA: How did you get into craft beer in the first place?

TB: It was trying my first Sam Adams lager in college that made me realize there's something more flavorful than a Budweiser or Milwaukee's Best.  Back then I didn't know the term "craft beer", but I did know the beer I was used to drinking paled in comparison to that Sam Adams brew.  My love of craft beer developed further after I finished graduate school and I traveled around Europe for over a month. I still remember being wowed by the amazing beer offerings from small historical breweries in Belgium and Germany and was amazed at the history and art of brewing. 
Antonio, the twins, and Antonio's wife

BBA: According to your Kickstarter video, you’re going all in.  What will make Twinpanzee stick out above other up and coming local breweries?

TB: Twinpanzee Brewing Co will be different from other local breweries in the Fairfax County area because we have deep roots in Fairfax County and are one of the few self-funded minority & family owned breweries in this county. I'm deeply rooted in this area as I was born, raised and educated in Fairfax County and I continue to live in the area with my wife, parents and twin boys.  Twinpanzee Brewing Co will be as unique as we will constantly create new brews with unique flavor combinations that have had us jokingly describe some of our creations with the phrase, "Reinheitsgebot be damned!".  Because we live in Fairfax County, we will also continue to work and give back to our local community, schools and charitable organizations.

TB: One of the perks you can get from pledging $2,500 is a private dinner party for two with “decadent home made Moroccan food made by a real Moroccan….”  I must say, that is quite a unique offering; is there Moroccan heritage in the family?

TB: We most definitely have some Moroccan heritage in our family: My beautiful wife is from Morocco and is one of the BEST chefs I have ever met.  She can cook up some of the most delicious traditional Moroccan meals and has one of the most discerning palates that she can successfully reproduce almost any dish/style of food. She's my first level of quality control and has helped me tweak and improve my recipes as well as coming up with some ideas for unique brews.

BBA: You are hosting a tasting event in Arlington on July 12.  How many of these have you done, and what do you take away from them?  Are people giving honest critiques?

TB: Although the July 12th event is our first official Twinpanzee Brewing Co tasting event, we have been pouring our beer for thirsty beer aficionados for many many years.  Just a month ago, we were invited to bring our beer to a friend's party where the esteemed Ambassador to Belize was the honored guest. The Ambassador, his family and friends all enjoyed our beer and provided their thoughts on our tasty brew.  We love honest feedback and critiques.  Each time we share a beer we ask for honest feedback, as it is an essential way to continually learn/hone our skills.  We believe that the only way to make your audience happy (and to keep them coming back) is to set aside your ego and listen to both positive and the negative critiques.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brew & A: From Grain to Growler VA brewery film

The Better Beer Authority recently reached out to Megan Troy and Aaron Stanley from Take A Penny Productions of Alexandria, VA to find out what the driving force was to create From Grain to Growler - A Virginia Craft Beer Documentary.  With a recent successful Kickstarter campaign, they are now ready to put the finishing touches on the project.

All photos courtesy of Take a Penny Productions

Better Beer Authority (BBA): Who was the driving force behind SB604? What restrictions are still in place for craft breweries that need further legislation?

Take a Penny Productions (TAP): SB604 was supported and lobbied for by the Virginia Craft Brewer's Guild. Now more breweries have been able to get started, at a smaller level, because of the revenue they can generate in being able to sell the product on-site in a tasting room.   Another important bill was SB430, which concerns the definition of a "farm brewery."  This bill allows breweries to have the same rights as wineries in Virginia, and Lickinghole Creek CraftBrewery and Rusty Beaver Brewery are both taking advantage of this, by growing a combination of hops, barley, fruit, etc. on their brewery land, and using it in their product.  These two pieces of legislation have been pivotal in the Virginia Craft beer industry.  

BBA: Once the film is complete and ready for distribution, how do you plan to distribute it?  

TAP: Right now our distribution model is purely digital - and our initial plan is to release the film in September, after we screen it across the state for VirginiaCraft Beer Month in August.  Those who donated to our Kickstarter campaign will get an earlier release for being early supporters of the film. 

BBA: How did you become a fan of craft beer? 

TAP: Aaron: I learned about craft beer in college at James Madison University.  My first Virginia craft beer was Starr Hill's Amber Ale.  From there, I started to get more exposure to different styles like IPAs and stouts, and that was pretty much it for me.   Since then, I've been to tons breweries across the US and abroad, trying new beers and learning as much as possible about the industry.  
Megan: Craft beer was something that I really enjoyed as soon as I was introduced to it.  I was lucky enough to live in Charlottesville, where we had a craft brewery and a lot of availability in bars and pubs. A few years ago I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, and thus have to have gluten-free beer. We homebrew different gluten free beers and try to experiment with different styles. I'm hopeful that in the future we will see more craft breweries releasing gluten free beers soon.  

BBA: I’m sure you have sampled many beers from all of the breweries you are featuring; are there any beers that stick out among the rest?  

TAP: The great thing about Virginia craft beer is that each of the breweries has it's own following and niche - and there is a lot of diversity in the styles of beers being brewed.   One of the places you see this is Virginia's great beer festival culture - it's an opportunity to try a lot of beers, and figure out which styles and breweries are the most suited to your palette.  One brewer we interviewed said it best - "my favorite beer is the one in front of me!"

BBA: Growing up in Northern Virginia, there was a disconnect with the rest of the state.  After going to college in Richmond, I saw the disconnect from the other side. Is there that same disconnect in the Virginia brewing industry?

TAP: I think that before SB604 it was much harder to open a brewery.  Now that so many more have been able to open, it seems like the community has grown bigger and stronger, and that geographic restrictions don't really apply. All of the brewers travel across the state to meet the other brewers, collaborate on new beers, and help those that are just starting out.  

BBA: Which Virginia breweries do you see becoming regional and potentially national brands within the next 5-10 years?

TAP: It's hard to say what each of them will do, because so many are finding their place in the market. I think that quite a few of them have the potential to become big brands. As you can see from the medal count at the Great American Beer Festival, Virginia beer is up-and-coming.

BBA: Why make a documentary about Virginia beer, what sets it apart, from say, Michigan, Oregon, where there are documentaries about their longer standing beer culture beer cultures?  

TAP: We saw a great story here in Virginia when it comes to craft beer.  I think in a lot of ways, Virginia has lagged behind other states, but if you look at the way the industry has grown, they are making up for lost time.  I saw some figures the other day that showed an increase of craft beer drinkers nationally of around 22% from 2012 to 2013, whereas Virginia's number was above 50%.  I think the breweries are creating great jobs, giving back to their communities, and creating great local products for their consumers - and it's a story that needed to be told.  

To see the Grain to Growler Kickstarter campaign, click here.

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