Monday, March 31, 2014

Fat Head's Hop JuJu Imperial IPA (Gold Medal @ GABF!) | Crafty Beer Reviews: Ep. #224

It's been awhile since I posted here, but I review one epic beer from Fat Head's! Hop JuJu might just be one of the best DIPAs in the Ohio area.....and the US! Cheers and please comment, rate and subscribe on YouTube!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Schlafly Brew & A with co-founder and CEO Dan Kopman

courtesy of Schlafly Beer
Over the last few months, The Saint Louis Brewery, makers of Schlafly Beer have been doing a lot of beer events in The Better Beer Authority's home turf of Washington DC area.  I reached out to their sale's rep Mike Harbin for an opportunity to interview someone at Schlafly.  He introduced me to Tom Schlafly, co-founder & chairman of the board, at a recent event in Arlington, and co-founder and CEO Dan Kopman graciously took time to respond to our questions.
Below the interview is a list of where you can find Schalfly events in the Washington DC area in the week leading up to SAVOR.

Better Beer Authority (BBA): Schlafly is now very well established on the craft beer scene, was there any resistance from Anehiser Busch when you first opened in St. Louis?

Dan Kopman (DK): Where do I start!  In general AB did what they could to protect their long term significant market share in StL.  At the legislative level they placed restrictions on our ability to operate.  We wanted to sell beer at the Brewery – The Schlafly Tap Room.  In order to get them to agree to this we had to agree to a limit on production and a ban on distribution.  Over 15 years we were able to have these restrictions removed so that today a brewer in Missouri can brew without limit, sell on site and self-distribute without limit.

They also protected their 70%+ market share.  Much of this was well earned.  They were so good to so many accounts that there was no incentive for a bar or restaurant to sell Schlafly Beers.  However, sometimes they got a little heavy handed and blocked our access to the market.  There are many stories and today I just smile about the past.

BBA: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale is one of the best pumpkin beers on the market; a personal favorite of the BBA, even people who are not fans of pumpkin ales enjoy it.  By August, the market is flooded with pumpkin beers from what seems like every brewery on earth.  Can Schalfly Pumpkin Ale still be successful with so many other choices available in that limited timeand shelf space?

DK: I think this is all about expectations.  We will continue to focus on making a great Pumpkin Ale; our approach to this style will continue to be about making Pumpkin Pie in a bottle.  We are confident that while there will be many new entrants into the market, consumers will continue to include ours in the mix of different beer that they buy from August to November.

BBA Richard with co founder Tom Schlafly
BBA: You have started canning beer under “CanSessions”  IPA, American Brown, and Black Lager.  Are these beers and packaging designed to entice the tailgate crowd or non craft beer drinkers?  FYI, I bought a six pack of Black Lager for my Super Bowl party.

DK: Our first beers, Schlafly Pale Ale and Schlafly Hefeweizen are session beers (4.5% and 4.4% respectively).  So our motivation was to bring attention to session beers with new styles.  We also wanted to start to can our beers so we had a fit.  We are watching how this is going to develop.  We now have Pale Ale, Hefeweizen and Summer Lager in cans.  We will see.

courtesy of Schlafly Beer
BBA: Schlalfly brews about 50 styles of beer each year, how do you decide which ones are for your local market, and which ones get sent out of market? For example, here in Northern Virginia, we a ton of Koslch, and specialty beers, but to our knowledge we haven’t seen the Oatmeal Stout which is a year round offering? (editor's note: we do, in fact get Oatmeal Stout).

DK: We will brew 70+ unique recipes this year.  Many of these are one off beers for special events or trials for new hop varieties or new malt suppliers.  I will be doing a salon at SAVOR on Hop Trials.  My goal is to get distribution for all of the beers that we sell in bottle, can and keg in all markets and to make our one off beers available for special events.  Given the number of beers from all breweries available today this can be challenging so we sometimes have to make some choices.

BBA: Our local Schlafly rep, Mike Harbin, connected us to you.  He has indicated that you will be in the Washington DC area to brew with Blue Jacket Brewery, and have a dinner event at Lyon Hall in Arlington, VA the next night (March 3/4). Hopefully some of us at the BBA can make it. What is it like connecting with fans outside of your home turf?  Any funny stories from the road you would like to share?

DK: Connecting with customers in the DC and NY metro areas has been fantastic.  This includes ex-pats from our region who live in these areas and the many others who we have met and are discovering Schlafly Beer.  We are really focused on brewing great beers that are true to the style.  We believe we have a strong foundation in classic European beers styles, much like a classically trained chef.  This allows us to build on new styles but with that same commitment to quality.

I know it is past and I hope you were able to attend the dinner.  There are events going on in DC as I write and I will be in DC for events around SAVOR.  Mike can get you all the details.

Here’s a list of the events we currently have scheduled for week of Savor –

courtesy of Schlafly Beer
BBA: You are now Missouri’s biggest independent brewery after the recent acquisition of Boulevard brewery by Duvel Moortgat.  Is that important to the beer drinkers of Missouri?

BBA: Size is not a metric that I use to determine long term success.  When we first opened we could never imagine a day when AB would not be, well AB.  We were not going to be the largest brewer in StL.  So, despite the changes I am much more concerned about the sustainability of our Brewery and our ability to continue to create value for all of our stakeholders and great memories [to look back on]!

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Brew & A with Coronado's Rick Chapman

Coronado Brewing Company has been a long standing brewery in San Diego.  They just launched into the Washington DC/Northern Virginia market and The Better Beer Authority couldn't be happier.  After reaching out to  CBC's PR staff, Rick Chapman, co-founder of Coronado Brewing Company happily answered our questions.

Rick (L) and Ron Chapman courtesy of CBC
Bettter Beer Authority (BBA): Welcome to the Washington DC area, including Northern Virginia.  What led you to decide to start distributing here?  What are your expectations?  Will there be any launch parties?  

Rick Chapman, co founder Coronado Brewing Company (CBC): Virginia and Washington DC are a great fit for us, not only with the growing number of craft beer drinkers but also in filling in our states along the eastern seaboard. Adding Massachusetts a few weeks ago really put us on a map. We’ve known for a long time that the beer stores in cities like Arlington and Alexandria are top notch and have been asking for our beers for awhile now. 

Launch parties. Not sure yet! Stay tuned...

Courtesy of Coronado Brewing Company
BBA: From reading your website, it appears CBC took a slow and steady growth approach.  Within the last couple of years, you went from a 5,000 barrel house, to a new one that can brew up to 60,000 barrels a year; were there any reservations in taking up such a large expansion?

CBC: Although we’re based in Coronado, we have an additional production facility in the Tecolote Canyon area of San Diego. This tasting room and production facility can brew up to 30,000 barrels. We needed to make sure we had a certain amount of strength in our home market of Coronado and San Diego before expanding nationally. VA will be our 16th state. Our restaurant is now filled to capacity almost nightly, our production facility is up and running. 

By the end of the 2013 we were rated as one of the top improved brewers in San Diego county by the Reader, who said “it seems they have adjusted to their new digs behind delicious beers like Coronado’s 17th Anniversary IPA and the new bourbon barrel-aged Stupid Stout.”

BBA: You recently did a collaboration with Cigar City Brewing out of Tampa, Fl, Jurata Baltic Porter.  Have you done many collaborations before?  What are the benefits of doing these?

CBC: We’ve done a collaboration with Maui Brewing called Hibiscus IPA and Jurata is our second collab with Cigar City. The first was brewed in Tampa as The Last Spike last fall. Then the guys at CCB came to San Diego for a few days and we brewed the Jurata Baltic Porter together. It was especially cool to work with CCB because they’re knowledgeable in styles we may not see a lot like the Baltic Porter which is rarely seen in warmer climates, but the response has been off the hook.

Collaborations are fantastic for 2 reasons: one because it puts your brand’s name out there in markets where your collab partner may be stronger, and two because the brewers learn so much from each other. Brewing is a collaborative process anyway and it’s really fun to come from different coasts and experiences with ingredients to push other to experiment.

BBA: So, there are a few breweries in San Diego (86 by my last count), is it becoming more difficult to find shelf space and tap handles than it was a few years ago?

CBC: Coronado has been a staple here for so long, and our customers love and know us so we have a good presence here. We recently had a limited edition barrel aged stout where we had 240 bottles produced and they were gone within one day. That said, we do see a growing number of brewers entering the market and we love the growth we’re experiencing in our friendly market. You see our tap handles along side many great brewers in SD and you can’t argue with that kind of success.

you won't find the tasting room empty very often.
 Courtesy of Coronado Brewing Company
BBA: I visited the new Knoxville Street production location and tasting room in February 2013.  One of my favorite aspects of visiting brewery tasting rooms is trying one-off batches, or test batches.  Is this the craft beer equivalent of a focus group?  

CBC: That’s a good way to look at it, however we don’t let our customers taste anything that hasn’t been thoroughly vetted by our brewers so by the time they taste it at the production facility, it’s ready for market. 

We cater to a great crowd of regular visitors, mostly after work, who are treated to a different food cart every night. We throw open our loading dock door, and the customers can buy local fare from BBQ to fish tacos to grilled foods. This vibe lends itself well to a casual restaurant. We offer a great variety of foods this way while we focus on the beer, and the food trucks benefit from exposure and customers.  

Our production facility has all our year round beers on tap including Coronado Golden Pilsner, Orange Avenue Wit, Islander IPA, Mermaid's Red, and Blue Bridge Coffee Stout. Idiot IPA is part of our Crown Series. In April we’ll bring back our popular Frog’s Breath IPA (part of the crown series too). Then in May, we’ll have Sock Knocker. All these will be available nationally on draught and in 22 ounce bottles.

BBA: What is the craziest beer CBC has put on tap at any of their tasting rooms?

CBC: Our most unique beer is one we entered in the ProAm contest at GABF last year (where we won a silver medal for our Black Sails IPA). It’s called the Señor Saison, and it’s a saison made with jalapeño. Our brewers had to remove all of the seeds from jalapeños, a common commodity down here in Southern California, so that the beer had all the jalapeño aroma, but none of the heat, and it was awesome. Then for an event we held to kickoff San Diego Beer Week, we served it with “Senor Saison” Aguachile. Citrus and jalapeno cured tiger shrimp, sliced cucumber, smashed avocado, and cilantro on blue corn crisps.

BBA: Your logo depicts a mermaid with a mug of frothy beer.  What beer is in her mug?

CBC: Mermaid’s Red Ale of course!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Blind Taste Test

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Brew & A with The Mad Fermentationist (Mike Tonsmeire)

For this Brew & A, we reached out to Mike Tonsmeire, AKA The Mad Fermentationist. Mike is known for his homebrewing blog and for his work with Modern Times Beer out of San Diego. Even though he is a consultant for the barrel program at Modern Times, he actually lives on the East Coast. Beyond his homebrewing and production endeavors, Mike is also a great appreciator of sour beers. He has upcoming book that delves into the world on American sours. A few of us caught up with him after a lecture he gave and were happy he agreed to take part in our latest Brew & A article. 

Better Beer Authority (BBA): Sour beers have a very polarizing effect on people. If someone were to try one out for the first time, is there a beer you would recommend over others as a sort of "gateway" sour beer? 

Mike Tonsmiere (MT): I don’t think there is a single beer I could recommend to everyone who wants to get into sour beers, it all depends what sorts of clean beers you enjoy drinking. Sour beers (in America especially) exist in a huge range of color, maltiness, strength, and hoppiness. Recommendations are also tricky because so many sour beers are produced in small quantities and so aren’t available widely.

Here’s a few with good distribution:

Sour (not funky): Bahnhof Berliner StyleWeisse

Funky (but not sour): Orval

Fruity/Tart: Lindemans Framboise or Kriek

Your best bet is to go to a good local beer bar that pours samples, and try as many sour and funky beers as you can to determine what works for your palate. In the same way that it can take time for your taste buds to adjust to drinking high alcohol spirits, some people need repeated exposure to adjust to the acidity of sour beers. If the sourness is too much for you, consider cutting a sour beer with a bit of saison in the glass to temper the acidity.

BBA: You mentioned that you helped Modern Times in their infancy get started with recipe building and now work on their barrel program. Is it difficult for you to manage that program while living out here on the East Coast? 

MT: Commercial recipe development was a lot of fun. Jacob McKean (the founder) and I talked about our vision for the beers and what sorts of constraints we’d have (you can’t produce four core beers with four different yeast strains or base malts for example). I brewed at my house in DC, counter-pressure filled six bombers of each batch to send to him for evaluation, then we adjusted and I rebrewed. Some of the core beer recipes have remained pretty true to those original test batches, while others have continued to evolve.

Luckily the three brewers actually brewing the beers in San Diego (Matt, Alex, and Derek) are great guys who are more than capable of handling things out there. While sour beers are aging there isn’t a huge amount that needs to be done. An occasional taste test, maybe a top-off or two. At this point it is mostly allowing the microbes the time to complete their ester, phenol, and acid production. Hopefully the first two batches (a brown and a red) aged in wine barrels will be ready to blend, fruit, and package by this summer. I’m planning on being out there for that.

BBA: You mentioned that on top of all your endeavors, you work in DC as an economist. Have you ever had moments where your economic background has crossed paths with your love thing craft beer? 

MT: I work on the Consumer Price Index (one of the primary measures of inflation). One of the 250+ item categories we collect prices for is “Beer, Ale, and Other Malt Beverages.” I’ve had a couple spirited debates with the Commodity Analyst about the structure of the Checklist our data collectors use to describe beers. It’s tricky as craft beer is still a relatively small part of the market, but accounts for so much of the variety.

In the other direction, my personal railing against large format bottles and the associated higher per ounce price got me quoted in the NY Times last year. I’m susceptible to it too, but a “reasonable” $10 750 is the equivalent of a $26 six-pack. Even a great deal on a bomber for $5, is more than $16 in six-pack terms.

BBA: Modern Times Fortunate Islands is a Tropical Hoppy Wheat ale.  Our travel writer Richard Hartogs loved it while in San Diego.  He said, “this is what a session able IPA should really be.”  With all the “session able” IPAs coming out, most of which seem to be lacking flavor, is pale wheat the way to go?

MT: Honestly I’m not big on style categories, especially for newly-popular flavor profiles. The line between a hoppy pale American wheat (like Three Floyds Gumballhead or Modern Times Fortunate Islands), a hoppy American pale ale (Hill Farmstead Edward or Half Acre Daisy Cutter), and a session American IPA (Founders All Day IPA or Lagunitas DayTime) is pretty much non-existent. It comes down to how the brewer chooses to get the hop character into the beer, and what balance they are looking for. The grist in these beers is often overwhelmed by the big hop character, so putting a bit of extra effort into enhancing mouthfeel and body can really help (the added protein in wheat malt for example).

At Modern Times we are focused on hop aromatics rather than bitterness, so we load in big additions during the whirlpool, in the hopback, and fermentor to achieve the saturated hop character. We have the advantage at the moment that our distribution is small, and demand is high. The importance of freshness can’t be understated for hoppy beers.

BBA: So the Modern Times Amber is labeled on the can as "dank." Can you clarify what it means for a beer to considered "dank?" 

MT: Dank is resiny, herbaceous, maybe a little fruity, but not in a bright/tropical way. It is fresh, raw, and maybe slightly green, like sticking your nose in a fresh bag of hops. It is the stickiest of the icky. For Blazing World dankness is achieved with a combination of Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand, supported by American Mosaic, and Simcoe. These are all relatively new hop varieties with high oil content that combine to produce the right blend of flavors. It took about half a dozen test batches to nail down the dank hop flavor, but we’ve continued to tweak the malt profile to get that in line. Oddly when we tried Columbus hops in the blend, a variety I consider very dank on their own, the aroma shifted too fruity. Aroma perception is very tricky science, really the only way to figure out works is to brew and adjust.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014