Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guinness Black Lager - Beer Review

Guinness Black Lager is the first lager ever released by Irish brewery. They wanted to make a lager that shared the same flavors as Guinness, but had a light refreshing taste. Do the boys like this twist on the classic recipe? What do they think about the fact that you are supposed to drink it straight from the bottle? And, most importantly, what is Mark Smith doing back on the show.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

West Michigan road trip Part 3

This is the third installment of my west Michigan travel blog series, but this is a continuation from my first entry.

After we left Hopcat in Grand Rapids, we headed to a new brewery called White Flame Brewing Company in Hudsonville, MI.  It dubs itself as a "nanobrewery", with five beers on tap.  The taproom seats 48 customers (according to their Facebook page) and their beer is only available on tap.
White Flame tap handles

I ordered a couple samplers for us so we could try all of their beers.  I didn’t take any tasting notes, but I do recall thinking that for being a new brewery, their beers were well made and for the most part, enjoyable to drink.    I also liked the taproom.  It had a nice wooden rustic feel to it, and I felt comfortable to be there.  While I don’t necessarily think White Flame is worth a separate trip by itself, it is certainly worth a stop on any west Michigan beer tour.  However, if I lived in Hudsonville, I would be a regular at White Flame.

Next we headed to Saugatuck Brewing Company in Douglas, MI (bordering Saugatuck, MI).  This was our fifth stop on our tour this day, so everyone excluding our driver was pretty well lubricated by this point.  I think we entered the pub a little too loudly!  We bellied up to the bar and I ordered a sample of every beer they had on tap.  14 tasting glasses later and there appeared to be what looked like a color chart of beer lined-up in front of us.

While we were explaining what our Better Beer Authority shirts were to random customers, the bartender introduced us to one of their brewers who happened to be sitting at the bar next to us.  He offered a tour for us, but only David and James took him up on the offer.  The rest of us were too busy sampling all of the beers.  James and David said they got a great personal tour from the brewer.

beer samples at Saugutuck
A few of the beers on Saugatuck’s tap list seemed gimmicky to me;  Serrano Pepper Ale, Neapolitan (ice cream) Milk Stout, and Not Your Granny’s Ginger Ale.  But I will be the first to tell you that these beers were anything but gimmicky.  The Serrano Pepper Ale was well made, had a crazy pepper aroma and taste, yet it still was not spicy.   The Ginger Ale beer really tasted like a beer, not a ginger beer as often found in the Caribbean.  The Neapolitan, for me, took the, ice cream cake that is!.  It was the surprise beer of the trip for me.  True to Neapolitan form, you could taste all three flavor elements, strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate.   I bought a 4-pack later to send home.  And the bottled version is just as great as the tap version.

Neapolitan Milk Stout (photo by Saugutuck brewing)

Saugatuck was one of the many breweries we visited that I had not heard of before, but I left a big fan of theirs.  Some cool things at the brew pub facility to note:  A dart league, a brew your own beer program, a large ballroom for rent, and not to mention how good the food looked. I highly recommend a trip to the brewery while on the west side of the state.  

As if we hadn’t sampled enough beers throughout the day, our “work” wasn’t done.  We then made the short trip to Holland, MI to finish ourselves off at New Holland Brewery.  We were unable to get in contact with anyone from the brewery, so our visit was “unofficial.”  We were excited to visit New Holland nonetheless; we had heard the brew pub was a lot of fun, and James really likes the Poet oatmeal stout.

The bar was crowded, and a live band was playing, amazingly enough, we were able to get a spot at the bar and order a few samples to try.  Then we saw it!  Das Boot!  Sitting underneath the bar was a two liter glass boot made famous from the movie Beerfest.  I had to have it.  So I ordered a Das Boot filled with Mad Hatter IPA. Only $16 for two liters of fine American craft beer ($75 more if we broke the glass).  Better judgment would have suggested we filled it up with Full Circle Kolsch…but our judgment was impaired by an entire afternoon of sampling beer after beer.
Das Boot!

We didn’t talk to anyone on official BBA business, but did meet a few bar patrons who seemed nice.  Upon walking out, I wanted to buy a Das Boot as a souvenir.  Luckily no one was working the merchandise area and I saved $75.  I am also not sure how I would have brought it on the small plane back home.

This was the end of our first full day, and we were tired!   We made the hour-plus drive back to Kalamazoo and sacked out, ready to go at it again the next day,

Beers sampled during this portion of the trip:
White Flame
Black IPA
White Shoes Pale Ale
Sugar g IPA
Pale Otter Porter
Oatmeal stout

Tap list at New Holland
Oval Beach Blond
Delilah DeWylde-Berry Wheat
Maggie's Irish ale
ESB Amber
Nippy Nutmeg Bonfire brown
Neapolitan Milk Stout
Pier Cove Porter
Black Pale Ale
E ale
Singapore IPA
Hop on a Blonde
Not your Granny's Ginger Ale
Serrano Pepper Ale

New Holland
The Poet
Mole Ocho
Mad Hatter IPA
Full circle kolsch
Dragons milk
Blue Sunday Sour

Monday, May 21, 2012

West Michigan part 2

Outdoor stage at Dark Horse

Day two started off a little sluggish for us.  The previous day we had visited 6 breweries and were slated to visit 4-6 more on this day.  With pancakes in our stomachs and a visit to Starbucks under our belts, we were on our way to Battle Creek, MI, cereal capital of the planet, and home to Arcadia Ales BrewingCompany.

David had coordinated with Tim Surprise, owner of Arcadia Ales, to meet us at the Arcadia Brew Pub around lunch time.  Tim informed the bartender that he was running late, so we hit the bar!  I ordered a sampler tray of all 13 beers they had on tap for all of us to share.  We also liked their food menu and a few of us ordered lunch.   They have a smoker on premises, so there are a lot of BBQ options.  James had a brisket sandwich that was really good.  Beer and BBQ, how can you not love this place?
13 samples from Arcadia

Arcadia Tap List
During our meal and drink sampling, Tim showed up, so James and David chatted with him for a bit.  He introduced us to Rick Suarez, one of the Arcadia Ales sale’s reps.  Rick had us laughing a lot.  After we were finished eating and drinking our beer samples; Tim was ready to take us on a tour.  He told us the tour was better with a beer in hand, so we each ordered a full pint of beer to take on the brewery tour Tim gave us.  

Tim introduced us to head brewer Stacy Block, one of the first female brewers I have ever met.  She is proof gender doesn’t define brewing; only craftsmanship and hard work.  She then explained the process of brewing at Arcadia; which is uniquely different than most breweries.  I will refer to their website for their brewing process as I won’t do it justice in my explanation.

Peter Austin Brewing system
Tim granted us access all over the brewery.  We dug our hands through the spent grains and hops, check out the open fermentation tanks, watched labels get placed on a specialty beer, and took a look at their canning line which they got from Maui Brewing Company.

spent hops and grains
Arcadia was a good visit for us and I would recommend going for some BBQ and suds any time.  Our favorite beers were Loch Down, Whitsun, and the ESB.

Next we headed to Marshall, MI for visit Dark Horse Brewing Co.  For some reason, this was the brewery I was most looking forward to.  It did not disappoint.  As we walked into the cozy brew pub, the smell of pizza hit my nose instantly (there is a large food menu with a lots of pizza).  The second thing we noticed upon entering the taproom was the ceiling.  It is covered from wall to wall with mugs hanging for their mug club program.
Mugs from mug club

After securing a table, we fell into our normal routine of ordering a sampler of every beer they had on tap and explaining to random patrons why all five of us were wearing Better Beer Authority t-shirts.  Our waitress, whose name I never got, was great.  She introduced us to Dave, one of the brewers who agreed to take us on a tour of the brewing facility. 

Dave showed us the outdoor garden area with stage, before we entered the brew house.  Once inside, we saw a lot of wooden barrels that contained aging beer of various varieties.  We walked through the bottling line and into another section where he introduced us to “Wiggs,” another brewer.  Wiggs was busy finishing his daily duties, but was kind enough to talk for a few moments.  Wiggs is actually they brewing operations manager and resident hippy, according to his business card.

some good stuff aging in these barrels!
Afterwards we went into the new VIP loft that hovers about the main brewing floor.  You can only go up there if you are on a tour, or by special invitation.  It is a bar/lounge area; and it is badass.  I will save the details for you, but I think you will see it in the upcoming Michigan beer travel video from us.   The woman pouring beer up there recognized James; but not from the BBA videos.  It turns our Joanna went to high school with him in Toledo, Oh.  Random.   Wiggs joined us as we sampled even more beers.  Double Crooked Tree, Sarsaparilla 666 Stout (yes, it is made from Sarsaparilla).   

We were having a great time at Dark Horse, but alas, we have more breweries to visit.  I went into the general store to buy a six-pack of Crooked Tree IPA and a t-shirt.  It also doubles as an excellent home brew store.  When we rallied back at the car David and James came back with a gift from Wiggs, a mixed case of Dark Horse beers.  Dark Horse was already the most fun visit for me, and to cap it off with a take-home case from them was pure icing on the proverbial cake.

If I had only one brewery visit left in my life, I would return to Dark Horse.

After most of us were well lubricated, we headed to yet another brewery which I will write about later. 

We owe a big thank you to Craig Kortlandt for being our host and designated driver through our trip.

List of beers we sampled from the two breweries.

Arcadia Ales
Starboard Stout
sky high rye
Hop mouth
Loch down
Cocoa loco
Cereal killer
Imperial stout
Brigids red ale
B craft
Big finish

Dark Horse
Crooked tree
Raspberry ale
Boffo brown ale
Spinet trip ale
Too cream stout
Seven seas
Plead the fifth
Double crooked tree
Sarsaparilla 666

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

World Wide Stout - Beer Review

For Mark Smith's final review before his big move he chose a beer that was once the strongest in the world - World Wide Stout from the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, DE.

Friday, May 11, 2012

West Michigan road trip. Part 1

James Knott, Dave Engbers, Mike Stevens (L-R)

Many of you loyal BBA followers followed our trip to west Michigan through our social network sites.  So I think it is only fair to give you a more in-depth look at our trip.  I will write a few different blogs over the next couple of weeks so you don’t have to read too much (and I don’t have to write too much).

The first installment is about Grand Rapids.

We arrived at Founders in the early afternoon and went straight to the administrative offices.  I would have preferred to head to the taproom, but we had work to do!  Dave Engbers and Mike Stevens were expecting us to be ready for their interview by 3pm.

We set up in the board room and ran into a few difficulties early on.  James was stuck with a crew that wasn’t used to setting up for a camera shoot, the giant window in the board room let too much light in, and there was all kinds of beer laying around that we desperately wanted to drink, but resisted the urge.

Founders logo on conference table
After we set up the best we could, Dave and Mike came in and were immediately impressed with our set up.  Mike said it was the most lights he had seen for an interview.hey, we are all about quality.  Unfortunately one of the mics was acting funny and you can hear throughout the interview.  Before we got started, Dave and Mike offered us beers.  It was at that moment we all knew it was going to be a great interview, and as you can see, it was! 

Funny side story:  Sitting in the beer fridge in the board room, there was a bottle of MGD 64 Lemonade sitting inside as a practical joke to a new Founders sale's rep.  Dave opened it, took a sip, declared it was shit and passed it around to all of us.  Yup, it was shit!  We then drank someone's private stash of Jackie O's beer from Athens, Oh and some Founders porters.

While James, Craig and Hayes finished taking down the equipment, David and I headed to the taproom.  It was big, lively, and had a comfort to it that screamed, “this is a great place to drink!”  David and I ordered the Black IPA and the B.A Black IPA.  It was neat to taste the regular version versus the barrel aged one.  I am not a bourbon fan, nor do I like most beers aged in bourbon barrels, but the hops from the IPA cut through the sweetness enough for me to enjoy it.  When the rest of the crew arrived we ordered some samples and full pours. We had had eight other types of beer there ranging from Founders’ normal line, to more brew pub exclusives. 

one of many Founders' stouts in the taproom
Dave and Mike were at separate tables, but each holding court with various patrons.  We made sure to say goodbye on our way out, and I hope to run into them at Savor in Washington D.C. next month.   We liked them very much, and we loved the brewery.  We were welcomed with open arms, and left with smiles on our faces; and perhaps a slight buzz.

Next we went to Brewery Vivant in an historic neighborhood in Grand Rapids.  Brewery Vivant occupies an old funeral home.  I will defer to their website for the history of the building, but they have turned it into an awesome eating and drinking establishment.    This was a planned stop for us, but we didn’t inform them ahead of time that we were coming.

When you enter Brewery Vivant’s pub, you walk through the merchandise area before entering the restaurant; which at one point was a sanctuary for the funeral home.  Vivant’s beer and food menu are heavily influenced from southern Belgium and Northern France farmhouses.  So we kind of had this feeling that we were in a small western European restaurant; really cool atmosphere.  One sale’s rep from another brewery said he would never go into Brewery Vivant because there are too many bad spirits.  He said he has gotten as far as the door before turning away. The only spirits we saw were behind the bar.

We had seen from the brewery’s website that they were going to be tapping a firkin of their Triomphe Belgian IPA.  We all ordered that and got a sampler of the rest of their beers.    The waiter introduced us to one of the managers on site; he gave David and James a tour of the facility.  Meanwhile, Craig, Hayes and I waited for the food we ordered to come.

The food at Brewery Vivant was great.  We snacked on raw oysters, putine with leek gravy and cheese curd, a massive amount of duck confit nachos (so good!), and a small charcuterie plate.  There wasn’t too much food left by the time James and David returned.  They said they enjoyed the tour.

At one point I noticed an outdoor area and decided to check it out.  It was really cool, if the weather had been warmer, I would have loved to stay out there.  There were a few picnic tables and two corn hole sets on the side…so Midwest of them!  Overall, we really like Brewery Vivant.  I strongly recommend going if you are big into Belgian style beers, with a local twist of course!

corn hole at Brewery Vivant!
The third place we went to in Grand Rapids was Hopcat, a beer bar that also brews a few of their own offerings.  The wait for a table on the inside was very long, so we opted for a table outside, which may not have been the best idea.  The sun was going down and the temperature was too.  We were the only party seated outside for a reason!  But we were on a tight schedule to hit three more breweries by the end of the night (that blog is coming at a later date).

The beer list is outstanding, Stone, Founders, Bell’s, Sierra Nevada, Great Lakes and many others were well represented.  We had two offerings from Hopcat, neither of which was impressive.  Come here for the tap and bottle list and you will love it.  Two of us had sandwiches at Hopcat; I was told they were good.
Holding Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous Ale to the fading sun.

My overall impression of Grand Rapids is very high. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but came away pleasantly surprised.  All three places we visited are in different areas of town; each having its own personality. Grand Rapids is up for Beer City of the Year, and my vote goes it!
It may sound odd to say, but this one a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip!  12 breweries in a little more than 2 days!

Here is a list of beers we sample at these three breweries:

Black IPA
B.A. Black IPA
Oatmeal stout (nitro)
Backwoods bastard
Pale ale
Solid gold
Centennial IPA
Party stout
All Day IPA

Triomphe (firkin)
Golden road
Milk stout
Farm du vin
Farmhand ale
Solitude Abby ale

Sage Against the Machine
Sour puss (Shorts Brewing)
Fury (North Peak Brewing)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Founders Brewing Co. - Interview Mike Stevens & Dave Engbers

Founders Brewing Company was the #2 rated brewery in the world by for 2012. However, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers weren't always at the top of the food chain. At one point, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. They took one last stab at success and it's a good thing that they did because they've been brewing tons of award-winning beers and growing at an astronomical rate on the fuel of their great recipes. Hear directly from the founders of Founders and find out why this was one of the most interviews I've ever conducted.