Monday, November 28, 2011

Hand-Made Casks In Charm City

Wet hop bud in my hand
OK, so I was gone for a while. Sorry. It's what I do. Where did I go and what did I do? Is that really what you want to know, or do you just want to hear about how this all affects you? It's OK, that's natural. Nothing to be ashamed of there. In fact, where I was the week of November 21st could possibly affect you. If you're lucky (more on that later). But last week I was on Thanksgiving break like the rest of the country. But I didn't go anywhere. Family came to me this year. What a beautiful weekend to visit Atlanta, huh? So I am sorry for the long absence, but I am sure that you were busy too.
You will notice: Beer first, reading second

But the week before last, I went to Baltimore to visit Heavy Seas Brewing and make some casks. Their resident cask guru, Steven, was there with  a table full of ingredients--many from his personal garden--for us to choose from. More importantly, though, he was there with his expert opinion. Without him, for example, I would have probably killed an IPA with juniper berries. I mean, how many juniper berries would you add to 10.8 gallons of beer? Two? Twenty? I mean, that's a decent amount of beer, and why put anything in the beer if you aren't going to taste it, right? (Turns out the correct answer is five juniper berries.)

Signed, sealed and soon-to-be delivered
So first we made the IPA casks, one for me, one for another bar owner. We were using Loose Cannon that was in the conditioning tank. That beer is great, and I was not interested in hopping it to death. I mean really, can't we just stop trying to act like over-hopped beers are "awesome". It's like nobody want to be the lone dissenter to say, "I don't think there was much artistry in killing this beer with an obscene amount of hops". So I will be that guy. Hey, I can make food so spicy that you will go blind for a few seconds after you eat it, but that doesn't make it good. Same with beer. No one is going to take away your beer-lover credentials if you admit that tongue-curling bitterness that makes it impossible to taste anything else for six hours does not make a beer "great". There, I said it. And if you put too much Simcoe hops in a beer, it tastes like a giant cat just pissed all over your face. I like hoppy beers as much as the next person, but some people out there are making garbage and passing it off--with an incredible price tag!--as liquid gold. So I went the other way with this cask, adding bay leaves, rosemary, cardamom and the juniper berries I mentioned. All were in very small and judicious amount to not completely erase the taste of the Loose Cannon. And then, just in case you thought I had gone soft on you, we dry-hopped it with wet, east coast Cascade and Centennial hops. How did we get wet hops in November? They were frozen. The dry hopping is to compensate for the diminished hop flavor you get in a cask serving as opposed to a standard, gas-driven draft system. I think this beer is going be incredible.

Below Decks in whiskey cask
Cask number two was their Below Decks Barley Wine. I added cocoa nibs, cinnamon chunks, red oak chips and dried persimmons. That cask was dry-hopped with Brewer's Gold, a low-alpha acid hop, also grown on the east coast. The persimmons were from the brewer's own back yard, and the one ingredients he said he hoped we would select. I have very high hopes for this one too. Once these casks are ready, they will be shipped to Atlanta for some special events. Stay tuned. I also brokered a deal with the owner of the brewery to fly this cask guru down here next year for a meet and greet with folks like you. He will make some special casks himself, then come down once they are ready to talk to you about them and, well, drink them of course. You will love this guy. He knows his stuff big time.
Below Deck in wine cask

After the brewery visit, I went to D.C. for a football game. If you watched the Dallas Cowboys win in overtime against the Redskins, I was at that game. It was a friend's gift from his wife, and as his only friend who loves the Cowboys (he is a 'Skins fan), I got to go along. Thanks Stephanie! You rock. The seats were Row 1, 50 yard line, seats 15 and16. Just look at the pictures I took from my seat. Not too shabby. Like I said, she rocks.

Anyway, I am home now and back to my usual tricks. So here are this week's beer events:
50-yard line seats, Row 1

  1. Deckard's is tapping a firkin of Rogue Mogul Madness on Wednesday. This will be the first application of what is called a cask "widge". Want to learn about what that is? Better be at Deckard's on Wednesday. This thing may revolutionize how we pour and enjoy cask beer for the rest of our lives. No, I am not kidding. I learned a lot about the "widge" in Baltimore. Plus, that beer is going to be delicious.
  2. On Friday, there will be a mass assortment of Heavy Seas beers at The Fred Bar. Draft specialties will include Smoke on The Water and Hop Haarvest, plus some of the usual suspects. The bottled beer line-up will see Greater Pumpkin, Hop Haarvest, Davy Jones Lager, Smoke On The Water, Letter Of Marque, Below Decks 2010 and Siren Noir 2010. There also might be a case of Plank One, but I need to check on that to be sure. I will be there, along with Kevin from Heavy Seas. So if you have any questions for me about my cask-making experience, or for him about the brewery in general, this Friday is your chance to ask any and all of those questions. I think that we are going to have a firkin of something too, so expect a full reminder later this week with all of the beers detailed.
Here is a preview of next week:
    1. Cask in Cumming on Tuesday, December 6th. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for details.
    2. I was kind of close to the quarterback....
    3. Also on Tuesday, Deckard's is doing a Sierra Nevada blow-out. There will be some rare Beer Camp beers on draft, the new Ovila Quad, plus tons of other stuff they have been saving for just such an occasion. Again, mark your calendars and stay tuned for more details. This one is going to be killer. You should find a designated driver if you are smart. And judging by your choice in internet reading material, you are a genius.
    That's all I can think of for now. Have a great week everyone.

    PS--If you have never beer to Baltimore, it is a very cool town. I highly recommend that you check it out. Lots of great food and history and places to drink fresh beer. Next year Heavy Seas is opening their own tap house/restaurant in the city. I think it going to be a huge success. Look into it.
    That would be the ingredient table for making special casks, me, and "The Man"

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Biere de Beloeil looks tasty....
     You may sense a recurring theme here, but I have more new beer events to tell you about. But I am going to make it brief, so here goes:
    1. The Coast-To-Coast Toast is tomorrow at The Fred Bar. Here are the three new Belgian drafts that we will have pouring: Schelde Hop Ruiter, Scaldis Noel and Dupont Biere de Beloeil. You can click on any one of those for more details. Doors open at 5:00 pm, and if you are a user of the Untappd social networking site, then you will want to know that these will count towards a unique badge. If you don't know or care about Untappd, then just come out for some outstanding beers. Please be advised that these beers are not cheap. But if you have ever been to The Fred before, you already knew that.
    2. On Wednesday you can taste Bell's Two Hearted Ale from a firkin at our Lindbergh Center location. There will be two Bell's employees there: our local gal and close friend of mine, Tina, and national sales manager, Marty. There will be some Bell's Cherry Stout on tap too. If you love IPA and have not had Two Hearted from a cask, then you haven't lived. And if you haven't partied with Tina and a cask of Two Hearted, well, now's your chance.
    3. On Friday at the Decatur and Old Milton Parkway locations, you can get a Peak Organic Maple Oat from a cask, and try the New Belgium Pamela's IPA (PIPA). That is a beer that was brewed for this woman who won a contest. Seriously, I just told you all about it last week. But if your memory retention is that bad, try clicking here for the story. If you are a Brewniversity member, this PIPA is a rare credit for sure.
    4. But the big news of the day is the posting of the menu for ASHE IV. That would be the "All-Star Holiday Extravaganza" beer dinner being held at The Fred Bar on Tuesday, December 13th. Want to see the menu? Click here. Other than our traditional beginning(s), each of the beers are vintage-dated Belgian or American strong ales, some with a holiday theme. This is one dinner where we pulled out all of the stops. And our traditional beginning(s)? Homemade eggnog spiked with Rogue Hazelnut Spiced Rum, followed by a Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome. Not too shabby. This menu went out to all of our Chancellors on Thursday, and there are only about 20 seats left. If you want to go, you better get moving.  
    Don't look for me this weekend. I will be in Baltimore making special casks at Heavy Seas. After that I am heading south to D.C. for a Cowboys @ Redskins game. Have a great week and weekend. I'll be sure to take some pictures at the brewery on Friday. Stay tuned for those next week. Bye.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Three New Events!

    No, this is not your run-of-the-mill reminder about events that I have already told you about. Oh that's coming later, don't worry. But first, check out some new stuff:
    • Next Wednesday, November 16th, we have a firkin of Bell's Two Hearted Ale at Lindbergh Center. We are going to get into it at 6:00 pm. And if you like to meet beer people--and I know that you do--we will have Marty Compton in the house. Marty Compton (pictured*) is the national sales director from Bell's. He is an extremely fun and cool guy who only gets to town once or twice a year. It would be fun for you to come out and meet him, tell him how much you love Bell's beer, and how cool it would be if they sent some really crazy beers down here, etc. See, when things like that happen, then people like Marty go back to the brewery and make awesome things happen for people like us. Ever wondered who decides what beers--and how much of them--come into our market? People like Marty do. He is "the guy". Want to see Bell's flex some more muscle down here? Then come out on Wednesday and show Marty why he should make that should happen. Ball is in your court people.
    • On Friday the 18th we have firkins of Peak Organic Maple Oat to tap at our Old Milton Pkwy and Decatur locations. Riding along with those casks will be a small keg of New Belgium Pam's IPA. Here is the story behind the PIPA: At multiple events (not in the southeast), New Belgium challenged fans to determine which of their beers were blended together in a glass. Not only did they have to say which three beers were in there, but in what percentages. The winner got to go out to the brewery and collaborate with their brewers on a new beer. Some school teacher in St. Louis won the contest. I will give you one guess what her first name is. So now you have two reasons to go out to OMP or Decatur next Friday: cask beer and Pam beer. This Pam beer is in really short supply, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime credit if you are a Brewniversity member. I will not be there unfortunately. More on that next week.
    And now for the reminders:
    1. Friday. 11/11/11. Metropolis. Heavy Seas Greater Pumpkin cask. Me. Kevin from Heavy Seas. Eye patches. (HS Greater Pumpkin is a high-gravity pumpkin beer, aged in bourbon barrles. Oh, it's that good. It's better than that good.)
    2. Tuesday the 15th at The Fred Bar, the Coast To Coast Toast takes place. If you love Belgian beers, we will have three drafts that are new to The Fred: DuPont Biere de Belieol, Hop Ruiter and Scaldis Noel. (If you have had Scaldis Noel on draft at Taco Mac or The Fred, it was always a vintage batch. This one is fresh and ready to rock your world.) If you are down with the Untappd thing, then you should already know that these beers will count towards this unique Coast To Coast Toast badge. I will be there for a while myself.
    That's it kids. I gotta go. See you around.

    *Marty Compton is not pictured. Marty McFly is pictured. Sorry, I don't have stock photos of beer salespeople on file. Michael J. Fox will not--I repeat will NOT--be at Taco Mac next Wednesday. At least as far as I know. Maybe he's a fan.

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Taco Mac: Famous For Its Deer

    That's right kids, there are no typos in the title.If you want to see what happens when a wild animal crashes through the window a restaurant during the middle of a Falcons game, click on this link. If it doesn't work for some reason, just Google (All hail the mighty and benevelont ruler! The exhalted master of all that is holy! We bow down to you Google!) "taco mac deer". A deranged--and apparently quite determined--male deer managed to get into our Alpharetta store on Highway 9 and Windward Parkway yesterday afternoon. What ensued was...pandemonium..what'd you expect? One minute you're watching the Falcons mop the floor with Indy, and the next minute a real, honest-to-goodness, large format animal is running around the reataurant. Nobody, except that woman with the baby, acted calm. OK, so by now you've watched it, so let's move on.

    But first, it was crazy when this thing made the local news. It spread to Arizona, Hawaii, and every place from here to there in about an hour. I got three phone calls from people in Michigan, California and Pennsylvania. All four local news stations went and interviewed our manager who was "on the scene" when it went down. CNN wants the footage exclusively. Tosh.0 is getting it sent to them today. (If you don't know what Tosh.0 is, it is the funniest thing on TV right now. Get with the times, man.)

    But back to the business at hand. Events!
    1. Tomorrow night you can meet the owners of Lazy Magnolia brewery (Kiln, MS--home of Brett Favre) at Taco Mac in Kennesaw. They will be there at 5:00 pm for a few hours, along with three of their beers on draft. If you don't drink in Forsyth, Coweta or Fayette counties, you probably haven't had them at a Taco Mac yet.
    2. WEDNESDAY'S RELEASE OF THE RED BRICK HOPLANTA IPA HAS BEEN CANCELLED! Beer is not ready. Totally sucks, I know. Beer's not ready, what are you going to do? If you just stand there and yell it, it won't get ready any faster. Kind of like your spouse, right? That event was on Wednesday at The Fred, in case you are keeping score.
    3. On Friday, we are tapping a cask of Heavy Seas Greater Pumpkin at Lindbergh. This is their high-gravity pumpkin beer that was aged in bourbon barrels. It is awesome, and the cask delivery treats it right. I expect to tap it around 6:00 pm. The date is 11-11-11, so that's a good reason to get out and drink a fancy beer, right? Secondly, why do you need a reason to get out and drink fancy beer? You read this blog. You like fancy beer. We know this about you. Be there.
    4. The last thing I have for you at this point is the Coast To Coast Toast. This has to do with a Belgian beer importer, their 30th anniversary, and a social networking site called Untappd. (Again, no typo. It's spelled like that.) If you know what Untappd* is, then you will want to know that this event will allow you get a special "badge". If you don't know what Untappd is, then this is an opportunity for you to get some wacky beers that have not been offered on draft to our Brewniversity memebers before. This will be held at The Fred Bar, and it starts when they open at 5:00 pm.
    That's all I have today. Watch out for this nasty cold going around these days. It's about to kick my ass any second now. I need to rest up for another week's beer events. Later.

    PS-- Mark your calendars for Tuesday, December 13th. In a few days we will be posting the menu for the All-Star Holiday Exrtravagaza IV beer dinner. This will feature a nice Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome to start, then five vintage-dated strong ales from Belgian and U.S. breweries. The list is ridiculous, and you definitely want to be there. I mean, the beer list has been a year in the making, and it is outstanding. See you there.