Saturday, April 3, 2010

Welcome To The Party, Randy. No, The Other Randy!

April is shaping to up to be a busy month already. The Fred and Metropolis are already almost out of the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Fritz & Ken's collaborative beer made with Anchor. In case you did not know, those are the names of the owners of those two breweries. Fritz Maytag (of the washing machine & blue cheese making family) owns Anchor and Ken Grossman owns Sierra. Every American craft brewer and beer drinker owes a hearty thanks to those two guys for being pioneers in this movement towards more quality beer. And speaking of quality beer, the Fritz & Ken's is amazing. This imperial stout is a monster. I hope that you got a chance to taste it, because it is not widely available. We got just a few small kegs. There is one full one getting tapped in Peachtree City tonight (Saturday), and that is it. The other two locations will be out very soon, most likely tonight.

On Wednesday we will be welcoming a newcomer to the Atlanta beer scene, O'Dempsey's. Randy Dempsey is an accomplished Atlanta-area home brewer who has had his recipe for O'Dempsey's Irish Red made by Atlanta Brewing Co. (makers of Red Brick & Laughing Skull). We are going to kick off this release at The Fred around 6 pm, and he will be there to raise a toast and answer any of your questions. If space becomes an issue, we may move everyone upstairs. We will see.

The April dinner with Rogue was posted recently and is already almost full. Wow. You may notice that I did not call it a "beer dinner". Not a mistake. This dinner will feature all things Rogue: their cheeses, spirits, and of course their beer, plus some oysters flown in from a farm 6 miles down the bay from the brewery. One of the beers we will feature was made with all estate grown barley and hops. Those Rogue guys are an industrious bunch. If you want to get into this event, you better sign up pronto. If you are freaked out by the spirits aspect, don't worry. There will be one cocktail served at the reception, and some Hazelnut Spiced Rum will go into the dessert. The rest of the beverages will all be beer.

The remainder of April events as they stand right now will surround these 4 casks coming from Stone. They are leaving the brewery the week of 4/5. God speed little buddies! A lot of thirsty people wish you safe passage. I am sure that some more things will arise, and I will keep you posted as always. On that note, go ahead and mark out June 12th on your calendar. We are doing a beer festival that day. Yes, Taco Mac, along with Beer Connoisseur magazine, is hosting a beer festival in the parking lot at The Prado. The details are still coming into focus, but trust me, it will be killer. If you are unaware of Beer Connoisseur magazine, you should check it out. It is setting the bar very high as far as beer publications go. Great look, better content.

OK, so there is the slide show for Day 2 of my England trip on the right. We arrived at a brewery called Marston's in the later part of the morning. I had never had their beer, and only heard about them because of their unique fermentation system. I am going to explain it to you, but trust me, you have to actually see it to believe it. Then you have to taste their beer to believe that this thing actually works. Nothing about it makes any sense at all until you taste the beer. Here is how it works:
  • After roughly 36 hours of initial fermentation in stainless steel vats (nothing unusual here), the beer is allowed to flow down into these long, wide troughs. Hmmmm....
  • The troughs are slightly slanted so that the beer runs down to one end and through a hole.
  • That hole sends the beer into a series of hoses that are connected to large wooden barrels.
  • Those barrels are connected to each other with more hoses. They also have a goose-neck tube that goes out of the top of the barrel, back up to the trough.

OK, are you confused yet? Let me explain. The beer goes down into these barrels to finish its fermentation in wood for flavor purposes. The series of hoses is designed to evenly distribute the beer between the barrels. During fermentation, however, the gas being produced pushes the beer out of the barrels, back up into the trough, which makes sure that the beer gets re-routed back into the barrels. So one droplet of beer could start in one barrel and essentially travel into any number of other barrels, depending on fill levels and the laws of physics. Once fermentation has stopped, the beer is sent to the packaging department. The only excuse that I can think of for this system, which is called a Burton Union, is that someone wanted to increase fermentation capacity by utilizing available items (barrels) in order to avoid building a huge wooden fermenter in the days before modern metal fabrication. What is most amazing about the system at Marston's is that as the brewery has grown, they have not done away with this confusing and antiquated system. No, they made gigantic Burton Union systems that take up huge rooms in the brewery. So take look at the pictures from Marston's and try to grasp the size of this thing. Each barrel is, well, the size of a barrel. Stood on end they would be about chest high, and about 3 feet across at the widest part. There are rows of them too long to count. And these pictures are of the smaller of two rooms like this.

They have a cooper on site (duh) to handle barrel manufacture and repairs. This is a dying craft, and one that is taught in a master/apprentice format today like it was 100's of years ago. There are only four breweries in the UK that have a working cooperage, and we went to two of them. The other we saw was at Samuel Smith's (Day 3 coming up!).

The Marston's Pedigree is their flagship beer and the only one that goes through the Burton Union. It is unbelievable, and might have been the best beer I had on the whole trip. You might expect a lot of oaky flavor, but it isn't there. Remember that the beer is fermenting in these things, so that activity keeps it from staying in contact with the wood for very long. Much different that taking finished beer and aging it in oak, which produces a much more prominent (sometimes overwhelming) oak taste.

After Marston's we headed to Sheffield, where we were staying that night. Sheffield was a cool old town, and we stayed in a modern hotel in the downtown area. After check-in we headed over to the Kelham Island Brewery, which was roughly the size of a garage. Not a king-sized garage either. The brewer, who looked like he was 16 but swore he was in his mid-20's, had an accent that made the tour a little difficult to digest, but it isn't like I haven't seen a brewery before.

Then we walked around the corner to the Kelham Island Tavern, which was the UK Pub Of The Year in 2009. Very cool place, but a little snug for 18 people to barge into at once. They had a really cool little outside area that would have been great if it wasn't February. I would love to go back in warmer months and hang out there for a while. Anyway, the strangest thing was that when I first walked up to the bar behind two of my companions, the guy behind the bar said, "Which one of you is Fred?" Now mind you, I have never set foot in Sheffield, let alone England, in my life. I can count the number of English people who I know on one hand. Totally confused, I responded that I was Fred, but how in the hell did he know that. Well it turns out that he was the manager, and his computer alerts him when anyone enters Kelham Island Tavern into the internet. I had done that prior to my trip on this blog, telling you readers what my itinerary looked like. So it is safe to assume that he is reading this too, so Hi there, Dave. You have a very cool place there and we had a great time. Give us a shout if you are ever going to be in Atlanta, GA.

Later that night we hit a few of Sheffield's notable pubs, ending up at place called Thornbridge's in the train station. We were also in some place that looked like Dave & Buster's made a baby with Ruby Tuesday's. It was weird. But Thornbridge's was really cool and there was all kinds of great beers there. I did actually order a Sierra Nevada when I was there out of curiosity. Bad idea. If Brits like U.S. craft beer, you couldn't tell at this place. That beer was old and nasty. I almost stopped drinking altogether that night. Almost. It is a shame that anyone thinks that that is what famous American craft beer tastes like. They probably think that we are idiots if that is what we think good beer tastes like. Shame. But the next time that you wonder why you can't get a certain beer from a certain brewery that you love, think of this story. Far away markets make beer more expensive, which affects demand and lowers sales, which in turn affects quality. That brewery probably wishes you could drink their beer, but if it is going to be ruined by the time you get it, why bother? I want a hand-drawn Marston's Pedigree right now, but I know it wouldn't taste like the ones I had in England, so I guess I am just going to have to deal with that and move on with my life.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, the spring weather, the blossoming trees and flowers. It sure is a nice time to be in Atlanta. Now it's time to watch the Final Four, and then tomorrow I am going to see a matinee of Hot Tub Time Machine. They serve beer at the theater in Midtown I go to. Good beer, too. See ya around.