Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 Beer Travel in Review

Richard enjoying Pliny The Younger in multiples
2014 was another great year in beer for The Better Beer Authority and myself.  The BBA took two great road trips and experimented with multiple formats for our reviews.  For myself, I went to Europe one less time than usual, but hit the West Coast two times.  Below is my, Richard Hartogs, best of 2014 in travel.  Please note only beers, places and events I went to are on this list.

Best Brewery Visit:  Modern Times Beer San Diego, CA.  I went there because a cousin of a friend was an assistant brewer there.  While I didn't meet him, I was introduced to four great beers (see below for best beer). The brewery at the Lomoland Fermentorium was spacious and had awesome artwork all over.

Sampler from Modern Times Beer
Honorable Mention:  Reuben's Brews Seattle, WA.  Great beers in a small Ballard neighborhood setting.

Best Bottle Shop:  Chuck's Hop Shop.  Seattle, WA.  My initial reaction when I walked in, "Holy Shit."  I could rant about the selection of bottles and taps, but I would never stop.  This is the best beer place I have even been to!

Honorable Mention: Charleston Beer Exchange.  I had heard great things and was not disappointed.  I knew they would have a great bottle selection, but I was still stunned to come away with some great beers.

Beer Bar:  Toronado San Diego, CA.  Yes, I scored Pliny the Younger there.  However, I was there the day before enjoying many delicious beers, with the best beertender in the world and eating pork belly skewers.

Honorable Mention:  The Alibi Room Vancouver, B.C Canada.  Big, well curated tap list from the Pacific NW.

Honorable Mention #2:  Mikeller Bar Copenhagen, Denmark. A wide variety of Mikeller beer plus Three Floyd's, Off Color and Prairie....not to mention Hill Farmstead bottles for purchase, how can you go wrong?  OK, the prices in Scandinavia are crazy expensive....that is the downside.

Beer Festival:  SAVOR Washington DC.  World Class beer and people.  Shared a beer with Jim Koch and Sam Calagione and Garrett Oliver poured me beers from their respective breweries.  And every attendee went home with a special bottle of beer.

Honorable Mention:  Snallygaster Washington DC. BA Abraxas, Fou Foune on tap?  Yes please.

had to take some home
Best Beer:  Modern Times Fortunate Islands hoppy citrusy wheat.  Forget all the session IPAs.  This beer, at 4.8 percent has an amazing hop profile while the wheat addition give it a nice body.  I would say I had beers that I would rate higher, but this beer is one I could drink every day and never tire of it.

Honorable Mentions.  Three Brothers Resolute Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout. Williamsburg Alewerks Bourbon Porter, Reuben's Crickey IPA, Maine Lunch, Three Floyd's Chevalier Bertrand du Guesclin.

Special mentions to Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and 3 Brothers Brewing for being great hosts on our BBA road trips.

Also, while I had some good trips throughout the year, nothing can touch Lance's Brewery Tour.  We were honored to conduct a Brew & A with Aaron Rice, the director of the project earlier this year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sierra Nevada Barrel-Aged Torpedo Extra IPA (NEW!) | Crafty Beer Reviews: Ep. #370

Thanks for joining me for what is perhaps the best BA DIPA I've EVER had!! Sierra Nevada is doing some amazing stuff and this is just further proof. Please don't forget to watch, comment and sub on YouTube! Cheers!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Great Pumpkin Blind Taste Test

We knew we were drinking pumpkin beers, but just didn't know which ones.  Southern Tier Pimpking, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale and Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vancouver B.C. Beer Travel blog

view of Coal Harbour
My Pacific Northwest vacation got off to an ominous start when I was detained at customs for an hour and a half at Vancouver International Airport.  I always say that Canadian border patrol are a bunch of assholes, and they took it to the next level for no reason other than the fact I knew people in Canada. But I digress; I came for friends, adventure, beer and perfect weather.

I visited three breweries in the Vancouver area and numerous beer bars.  Here is an abbreviated version of my trip.


A week and a half before I departed Washington DC, I hosted a BBA Live blind taste test with beer bloggers from around the US.  I surprised them with a beer from British Columbia, Salty Scot from Parallel 49 Brewing Company in Vancouver.  The review went well and the beer was nicely received by the panelists.  The brewery thanked us on twitter for selecting their beer to review.  I followed up stating that I would be in Vancouver a week later and looked forward to checking them out.

Chris Bjerrisgaard is the marketing manager for Parallel 49 who reached out to me after the BBA Live aired. He extended an invitation for a personal tour, I gladly accepted. My friend Jeff and I met him at the brewery and sat down for a couple beers and introductions.  The tasting room was cozy, yet extremely inviting.  The bartender was pleasant as well.

fermentors at Parallel 49
a few beers
With our second beers in hand, Chris took us on a personal tour.  It was a very active brew house and we had to watch our step. He showed us some barrel rooms, the centrifuge, packaging lines, yeast room complete with in-house yeast wrangler, new expansion plans (nothing top secret) and other things one normally wouldn’t see on a brewery tour.
Chris leading the way.  one of their barrel projects

Back in the tasting room we had a few more beers.  One of my favorites was their Hoparazzi IPL, a style I’m not a big fan of, but I really liked theirs.  Since it was summer, there were a lot of fruit and lower abv beers available including radler and wits. The mosaic hopped DIPA I had was tasty. One of the cooler things was their Infusion Tower; think of Dogfish Head’s Randall, but less of a pain in the ass for the beertenders.  The delicious infusion I had was the IPL with apple in ginger.  I was a fan. 

Chris, thank you for your time and I look forward to more Parallel 49 beers to enter Virginia!
The Infusion Tower

My friend bought prearranged tour and sampling tickets for Central City Brewers and Distillers in Surrey, BC; just across the Frazer River from New Westminster, where I stayed.  I was first introduced to Central City’s Red Racer IPA a couple years ago in Washington DC.  Do to legal reasons, the US version is now called Red Betty.  It was the best IPA from British Columbia I had on the trip.  Red Racer is also a brand they use for a lot of cycling merchandise as well.  Just visit their online store to see. 

Central City entrance
Their new facility is a 65,000 square foot behemoth for a craft brewery.  The tasting room is neat, but it didn’t feel like a place you would want to spend an awful long time in.   But by no means is it off-putting.  Before the tour I bought a sampler of four beers, the highlight was Thor’s Hammer a barrel aged barley wine.  I bought a bottle to ship home, but UPS destroyed the package. 

empty cans waiting for fills
sour project
If you have been on many brewery tours, than there isn’t really anything new to see except for the distilling operation; and that it was a clean, well organized and maintained brewery.  Oh, and I did enjoy seeing the barrel room. After the tour we went to the alternate tasting room and were given four samples of various beers, then a half pint (they call them sleeves in BC) of our choosing.  The tour and tasting were well run and even though it sounds like I wasn’t too excited about the experience, I really enjoyed it and recommend a visit.

Hibiscus Wit with Brett....I think

After leaving Central City we took a fiasco of a cab ride to Four Winds Brewing Company. This brewery was recommended by a lot of people, so it was hard to resist.  We got there around 3pm and their closing time was 4pm, which was too bad because I would have been happy staying there for a while longer.  Four Winds had a nice variety of beers available, including the just released Juxtapose IPA, and IPA made with Brett.  It was enjoyable, but I enjoyed their IPA and Pale Ale a bit more.

Tap handles at Four Winds, color coded for flights
The staff was very nice and accommodating, as were the brewer whom I met and one of the owners. Equally welcoming were the patrons in the tasting room.  Everyone seemed relaxed and happy.  The only issue I had, and this is coming as a tourist, is the location.  It is not easy to get to if you don’t have a car.  My friend and I spent a lot of money on taxis to get to and from Four Winds…though it is way cheaper than a DUI!  If you have the means to visit Four Winds, go for it.
The color blocks indicate which beer you're drinking

As I was staying in New Westminster with a friend, I was eager to try the recently opened Steel & Oak Brewing Company.  But they had been so successful, that they had run out of beer.  I was able to try their red pilsner at a local restaurant and it was a solid 8 on the BBA scale.  I haven’t had that style before, but everything about it in the name was a turn off to my taste buds, pilsners and reds, but this beer worked really well.  Given that, I can recommend any beer by them.

Beer Bars:

One of my flights at The Alibi Room
The Alibi Room bar.  
The best beer bar I went to by far was The Alibi Room.  With an awesome tap selection, including some casks, and a hell of a bottle list, I found a second home in Vancouver.  Most importantly, the staff was extremely helpful in helping me select beers from breweries that I wasn’t familiar with.  The interior had a lot of wood tones that made for a comforting environment.    The two beers that stuck out to me were Central City’s Red Racer IPA on cask with citra hop and Breakside Passionfruit sour, a Berliner Weiss.  The food options looked very good, but I wasn’t hungry enough to order anything.

Earlier in the day, my friend and I went to two beer bars in Olympic Village.  Craft Beer Market was our first stop.  It was a huge place on the south side of the Olympic Village Square.  I was impressed with the massive tap list.  I was so overwhelmed that I wanted to order a sampler; which I did.  The only hitch was that I had to order a pre-determined flight.  Since it was all local beers, I was fine with it.  I should have read the menu more carefully, as the beers for the most part on the predesignated flights are ones I would not have ordered for my own personalized flight.  I would call each beer a safe, boring selection.  It reminded me of the time I ordered a flight at Yard House in California and received a cider, an amber and some Shock Top.  Lessoned learned, but shame on Craft Beer Market anyways.  I digress; the place was cool and scenery quite nice. 
beer flight at Craft Beer Market

On the north side of the square is Tap & Barrel.  This place had a slightly more personal feel to it than Craft Beer Market.  Every beer and wine on tap was from British Columbia, which I thought was cool.  As a tourist from the East Coast of the United States, this gave me a nice opportunity to get down and dirty with the local beers.  Of course I only had time for one beer as we had to take a water taxi across the harbor towards BC Place to make our way to The Alibi Room, which also included taking a subway.

water taxi location at Olympic Village. BC Place pictured
People tell me that Legacy Liquor store on the west side of Olympic Village Square is a good bottle shop, but I didn’t go it.  Otherwise, I found some small decent bottle shops scattered around that I was able to buy ample “souvenirs" at.  Unfortunately UPS smashed my box in transit from Seattle to Virginia.  Thanks assholes.

There were a few places I didn't get a chance to visit which I would have liked to, most notably St. Augustine's Craft Brew House.
I highly recommend a visit to Vancouver, especially in late July-early August.  The weather was perfect.

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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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