Sunday, August 22, 2010

"I Can Really Taste The Fred...."


Greetings from North Carolina. I am in Charlotte helping with the training for our new store here that opens on Tuesday, August 31st. Brewniversity credit seekers should seriously consider making a trip up here some day. There are too many beers to mention that are not available in GA that we will have up here. Green Flash, Foothills, Olde Mecklenburg, Great Lakes, Bear Republic and Big Boss are just a few that I can see from where I am sitting. Speaking of where I am sitting, I am just beneath what appears to be the 9th wonder of the world, a 103 inch high-def plasma TV. No, that's not a typo. It's pretty ridiculous. I think that the only thing that overshadows it is the beer selection, but that is probably because I built the beer selection. If I built this TV I would be pretty proud of myself too. If it falls, it will definitely kill anybody in its way.

But, ladies and gentlemen, no giant TV or incredible beer selection in the world can steal my enthusiasm away from the upcoming release of a special new beer. On Friday the 13th, four of us from the office got to go to Red Brick and brew a batch of beer. It should be ready for release some time in September (maybe for my birthday...?). We did not choose Friday the 13th on purpose, I swear, and it is actually cooler that it just worked out that way. So naturally we would reference that in the name of the beer, right? No. The name that we are using, like the Friday the 13th brew date, chose us. Fred Brick. That's right, Fred brewed a batch at Red Brick, so it will be called Fred Brick. Sometimes things just fall into place and finally makes sense in an otherwise chaotic and f**cked up world. Thank you, Fred Brick, for restoring my faith in cosmic synchronicity. But I suppose you want to hear more about the beer than some hippy-dippy gibberish about forces of nature that don't exist in the first place.

Fred Brick is the brain-child of a meeting between Red Brick's brew master Dave McClure and I. We agreed that our coolaboration beer needed to address a few issues:

One was American brewing pride. Until some marketing team came up with "light" beer in the 70's, there was only one indigenous American beer style. In the middle of the 1800's, lager brewing was starting to get very popular. Technology made cool fermentation more accessible and consistent, and people liked the smoother flavors it produced. Then someone in California struck gold, literally. As tons of people headed west for the Gold Rush, they took their brewing with them. People historically don't forget about beer, regardless of the circumstances. How long do you think you could keep a bunch of hillbillys stuck up in the mountains prospecting for gold without any beer before they said, "To hell with this shit!"? Right, a couple of hours, tops. And if you tried to stop them from leaving, they would beat your ass. That is as true today as it was then. Hillbillys are a dangerous bunch if they don't have any beer. The problem is, they don't get much less dangerous once they start drinking. And they drink all the time. You gotta be careful with them. My advice if you ever find yourself around a bunch of rednecks is to leave a case of beer on the floor, put the race on the TV and slowly walk towards the door. If they see you, throw a copy of Hustler at 'em and run like hell. But back to the beer...

So these prospectors were making beer with the lager yeasts popular back east, but there was no available cold storage for fermentation. Undaunted by this (they were a notoriously hardy bunch), they just fermented their beers with lager yeast but in a warm environment. The kegs had a lively carbonation level and made a substantial hissing sound when they were tapped. That, folks, is the most common assumption for the origins of the term "Steam" beer. The hissing sound alluded to steam being let off, and a beer style was born. As the number of breweries dwindled in the subsequent century, every Steam producer but one had gone out of business. Once extremely common, Steam beer itself was on the verge of total extinction. Only the now-iconic Anchor Steam remained, and it is now the definition of the style. On a side note, that particular beer is very under-appreciated these days. I had a few the other day and could not for life of me remember why I stopped drinking it. But more on that later....

Another thing that we agreed on is that the newer trend of using only one type of hop in a beer was worth investigating. Most beers use a few different hop strains in combination in order to develop the flavor they are looking for in their beer. The only drawback to that is that you never really get a good idea of what any individual hop tastes like on its own. That doesn't meant that single-hopping is the wave of the future, just that it is an interesting educational exercise. Dave aptly chose an older hop strain over the newer varieties that are all the rage these days. The choise of Liberty hops was, in my opinion, perfect. This beer is about history and learning, not about following hot trends. I can't wait to taste the beer, as I am sure you can imagine.

We spent the day assiting the Red Brick guys as much as we could without getting in the way. To be honest, brewing is not a super-exciting process to watch. There is a lot of machinery and pumps and fluids, but the skill comes in how the brewer makes these items perform. Proper measurements are needed and temperatures maintained, but many of the steps take a considerable amount of time. It was a great experience and all of us learned a lot. The Red Brick guys were great, and I encourage you to visit them some time. If you do, you absolutely have to go to Hankook Taqueria around the corner. This place makes the greatest tacos, but they are filled with Korean food. Yes, I am talking about Asian tacos, and they rocked the house.

Once the beer was headed for the fermenter from the brew kettle and the yeast was being transferred, we were heading out. But not before we took a spin on the tricycles they use use for trike racing. Take a look at the new slide show to see what our day was like. Expect a big to-do surrounding this beer's release. All parties involved will be at Metropolis, and we will have the brewer's log and everything like when we did the Hop Secret 393 events. Stay tuned here for more details.

Another thing we were discussing is the recent craze towards "extreme beer". I am over it. So totally over it with every fiber of my being. When did we stop enjoying judiciously flavored beers and only be impressed when our taste buds are absolutely assaulted? When did people think that just because a beer is overpowering that it is good? For example, how many people actually can understand and enjoy reading James Joyce's Ulysses? Just because it is a difficult and cumbersome read does not make it a masterpiece. Ulysses may be a masterpiece, and massively over-hopped, oak-aged, 12% ABV gargantuan beer might be too. But how many people can actually say they understand Ulysses vs. people who just say they do to look smart? I am not saying that people who enjoy extreme beer don't know what they are talking about when it comes to beer, I am saying that it takes a little more than a high alcohol content and a crippling IBU level to impress me these days. I have actually been wondering if the people who make some of these extreme beers actually like them. Or do they just know what will sell for a high price, and secretly laugh at the people who rush after the every train-wreck of a beer and throw all of their money at it? Did Joyce know what he was doing all along by writing the virtually un-readable novel? Well, we're still talking about it today....

So Dave & I wanted to give folks a reason to pause in the manic world that is 21st century brewing, and to consider what craftmanship means for a change. Why did we stop drinking the beers we used to love? Not because they don't taste good, that's for sure. We stopped because we had a lot of shiny new toys to play with, so the perfectly good ones we had got ignored. That's right, we were spoiled rotten and acted like children. Waaaa! I want a Belgian yeast in EVERYTHING! Waaaa! I want hops that taste like paint remover! Waaaa! I don't want to drink any beer that I haven't had before. Waaaa!

These breweries have been making great tasting beer for years, but a lot of people could not care less about it unless it annihilated their taste buds. I don't get it. If we don't get it together and realize what quality beer tastes like again, the future looks bleak. What image are we setting for the brewers of tomorrow? This next generation of brewers are looking at the current landscape and seeing trends that are very alarming in my opinion. How many great beers will be lost as these people build their futures on the next wacky gimmick to come down the line? Sound far fetched? The once common Steam beers almost went extinct. Anybody like to learn from history's mistakes? I do. There, that's my two cents. Thanks for listening. I hope that I didn't offend anyone. But if I did, I meant everything I said. Sorry that you don't like it.

So that is all I have for you for now. Don't forget that Georgia's newest brewery, Jail House is about to arrive at Taco Mac. If you want to meet the people behind it and taste their beers, they will be at Metropolis on Wednesday the 25th. Unfortunatley I will still be in NC. I hope to be back in time for the twin casks of Bell's Porter & Two Hearted Ale on Friday the 27th at Metropolis. Those are going to be tasty. Maybe I will see you there. Have a great week.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Team Building Was A Blast! Get It? A Blast!


So we had a planning meeting for some important fall stuff last week. We were treated to the wonderful facilities at Barnsley Gardens in Adairsville, GA. Where is Adairsville? You know where Cartersville is? Keep going. It is up there a ways, and might as well be a suburb of Chattanooga. Why were we going there for a meeting? Because of the beautiful golf course and the opportunity to treat our General Managers to a leisurely 18 holes. In 100 degree weather. with a heat index of 105. The sun was basically about 10 feet from your face and making you wish you were dead, and that someone would come by and find a way kill you again.

At least that is how it was described to me. I did not experience any of that because, you see, I am not a golfer. I know...GASP! He doesn't golf? What is he, some sort of FREAK!? No, I am perfectly normal, thank you. Just didn't grow up in a golfing family. Seemingly normal people seemed to be obsessed with the sport, so I imagine that there is something to it. I just never picked it up. So the other options for meeting attendees not golfing were horseback riding and skeet shooting. I know how fun it sounds to ride a horse around in the tortuously hot sun, with the only thing that is hotter than you is the animal that you are sitting on, but I chose the option that involved bloing stuff up with a gun. It was what they call a "no brainer". I am sure that you have those in your field as well.

Now don't freak out on me if you are an anti-gun nut. Those people are only slightly less annoying than pro-gun nuts. I am neither. Are guns dangerous? Sure they are. Their original design, if I am not mistaken, it to kill things. Often times they are designed to kill other people. But listen, there a lot of dangerous things out there that are still legal. More people die from heart disease every year than anything else (That is a statement based purely on conjecture and here say. Anyone with actual facts can keep them to themselves. I am trying to tell a story here so butt out.). But even though heart disease is the number 1 killer in this country (?), doughnuts are still widely available. It's true, I've seen them. You can even buy a cheeseburger with a fried egg on it. No kidding. Onion rings on the side. Still legal. What the deal is here is that people are supposed to either be smart about these things, or live with and suffer the consequences. You eat doughnuts and burgers with fried eggs on them, you're going to have a heart condition. Guns are the same way. You either handle firearms properly, or you or somebody gets shot. Now, I do not support people getting shot. Except in a few cases, and those people know who they are.

So regardless of your stance on firearms--and believe me when I say this and possibly see some of you out in public: I do not care what your stance is on guns and do not, under any circumstances, desire to get into a discussion with you on the subject--I just want to say that we had a great time. What really helped matters is that it was so hot that day, they would not let the horses out of the barn. So the people previously scheduled to ride had to join the shooters because they did not have any golf clubs. This meant that all of the women went shooting, and most of them were pretty good. The majority of our group had never been skeet shooting before, including me, and we had a blast (several, in fact). I have already spoken to the boss about more firearms-based team building outings in the future. I highly recommend it. Pictured is Marie (the person who gets your e-mails regarding Brewniversity assistance) showing off some guns. Not her biceps, the shotguns on her right. Our team had the high score for the day. Notice the shady woodlands we were under? Sure beats riding a smelly old horse or getting scorched on the golf course all day.

Note: If it is too hot to let the animals out of the barn, then isn't it too hot to let a bunch of guys out on the golf course for 4 hours? Just a thought....

So once we got done shooting at--and occasionally hitting!--all of those clay pigeons, it was time to head back for the clubhouse. A quick check via text message to the golfers, and I found out that they were only on the 7th hole. By the time we got situated on the couches and tables around the bar, the golfers were just about half-way done. We lounged about watching TV, playing pool, and just generally appreciating the merits of cold beer and air-conditioning. As our co-workers came in for bottles of water, it was hard (actually it was impossible) not to laugh. These guys looked so beat down and miserable, and we were just soaking up the cool air, drinking beer and having snacks. I almost laid down for a nap, but this was a work function, so I figured I should stay awake for it. All in all, the shooters had a lot of fun & relaxtion. The golfers...not so much, but the bus ride home was interesting and I am told that we didn't leave anyone behind. Now here comes the......
Event Reminder & Update:
  1. Cask of Heavy Seas Hang Ten Dunkle Weizen Bock at Metropolis tomorrow.
  2. Cask of Oskar Blues Old Chub at The Fred on Thursday.
  3. Cask of Heavy Seas Peg Leg Stout at Mall of GA on Friday the 13th (don't be afraid of the dark...beer).
  4. Rogue 21 Ale at The Fred on the 21st (for more details, see previous posts).
  5. On Wednesday the 25th we will have the owner/brewer of our newest Georgia brewery, JailHouse, for a meet & greet at Metropolis from 6-8. Come meet Glenn and taste his Wheat, IPA and Stout. He is brewing out of an old jail house in Hampton, GA. Don't know where Hampton is? Well I told you where Adairsville is, and Hampton is...absolutely nowhere near it. Try looking at a map once in a while, will ya. What do I look like, Google?
  6. On Friday the 27th we have a cask of Bell's Porter at Metropolis. That's rare.

OK, that is a ton of stuff for the reamiander of August. If you don't see me at these events it is because I will be in Charlotte, NC to help with our first store opening up there. We should have it open before the end of August, and a firm date is coming very soon. Credit-seeking Brewniversity members will want to make a trip up there some day. There are a lot of beers there that are not shipped to GA yet. How many? About two days worth.

Another exciting announcement is the collaboration beer that Red Brick is making with me. My contribution was to help their brewer pick a style that we both liked. I will be there when the beer is brewed, but I will basically stay out of the way and try to let the pros do their thing. So what are we making? We decided to make a version of America's original indigenous beer style: steam beer. This style was very popular during the Gold Rush, and is also known as California Common. Now most people think that Steam beer is part of the name of Anchor Brewing Co. It is not. Anchor Steam is a brand made by Anchor. Who ever heard of an anchor steaming? That is stupid. An anchor is an inanimate hunk of metal. Who would name a brewery Anchor Steam? That would be stupid too. However, Anchor Steam is such an iconic and delicious beer, it is the only widely available version of the style now.

Speaking of style, apparently steam beer used to be quite varied in its interpretations. It was so widely made in its heyday that there were lighter and darker versions, and invariably many different hops used. Now we have only one, and that is all that people know of what once was a diverse style. So we decided to make a version of a steam beer, and use a current hot trend in brewing: single-hopping. Beers are coming out now that instead of featuring a few hop varieties to flavor the beer, they are using just one. This gives the beer drinker a clear idea of what that one particular hop tastes like. This serves to educate us all to have a more highly trained palate in the long run. Victory is doing it with a series of Pilsners. Bell's does it with Two-Hearted Ale. In fact, the same hop that makes Two Hearted so good is what is most pronounced in Sierra Nevada Celebration. Get acquainted with a Two Hearted and you can understand what Centennial hops taste like, and then pick out those same flavors this winter when Celebration arrives.

The hops that their brewer picked out are called Liberty hops. This is not some new super-charged mega hop that is the darling of the geek crowd these days. These are an older and more subtle strain. If you insist on continuing to be hit over the head with hoppiness, this beer is not for you. However, if you would like some assistance in remembering what beer tasted like before breweries started trying to out-hop each other, then you will probably dig this one. In fact, we chose this style and these hops on purpose. When did we stop liking judiciously flavored beers? The answer is: We didn't. We didn't stop liking them, we just stopped drinking them. A lot of people got very caught up in the extreme beer craze, and frankly, I am over it. Do I still like really hoppy beer? Sure, once in a while. But I am done pretending that there is much perceptible difference in one onslaught of bitterness from another. Sure there are differences, but the end result is the same. Beer is about a balance of flavor between the malts and the hops. Any cook can make super spicy food that will strip paint, but how many of them can bring flavors together into a harmonious balance that exceeds the sum of its parts? That takes skill, and so does brewing beer that is judiciously flavored and well-balanced. Unlike the gun debate, I will discuss this subject openly. Because if you disagree with me, I don't really care. Drink what you like. That's what I do. Got an opinion? Real proud of you. One problem with opinions is that most people feel like they need to share them with other people who didn't ask to hear them. Why do I care what you think about immigration or gay marriage or what they should do with those crooks at {insert greedy corporate entity here}? If we agree, then there is nothing much to talk about. If we don't agree, then I probably just found a reason not to like you. What did we accomplish on either side of that scenario? Nothing good, that's for sure. So let's just talk about the weather, or sports, or that new Will Ferrell movie that you want to see. Or we can talk about beer. And if I offended anyone, just remember this: You shouldn't care about my opinions either.

OK, that's all I have for you today. I hope that you can get out to some of these events and enjoy yourselves. There are still 4 casks of Left Hand Twin Sisters Double IPA headed to us "any day" according to sources. Those should be outstanding, and I promise that they will get spread around to some stores outside of town. Stay tuned for more developments as they arise. If I go AWOL for a while, remember that I will be in NC for 8 to 10 days this month in addition to moving into a new place. Not fun. A fun trip to San Diego beer country is in the works for this fall, but not before a short jaunt to Boston for my 40th birthday in September. It's the big 4-0, and I have a great plan in place. You'll hear about it here first. Stay shady Atlanta, it's hot out there.

From My September Trip-Sierra Brewhouse

From My September Trip-Sierra Brewhouse
This is the top floor of the brewhouse, with buckets of fresh hops about to go into the kettles.