I Homebrew

Posted by SirRon | Friday, May 27, 2011

I homebrew because I can tell people I make my own beer. I homebrew to recreate beers that I enjoy. I homebrew to make beers that I can't access, to make beer styles seldom made by commercial breweries, to digress from traditions, styles, and recipes. I homebrew to make alcohol. This is a concept that seemed cooler when I was twenty, but I make alcoholic beverages in the same place I sleep. I homebrew because that is still a little cool.

I homebrew because it is easy to make good beer. With a little over a $100 investment, anyone can make about fifty standard bottles of delicious beer. For another $30, another fifty bottles can be brewed. But I don't homebrew to save money. I have hundreds of dollars worth of brewing accessories in my garage. I homebrew as a hobby. I have a several thousand dollar, digitally controlled, brew sculpture in my garage. I control temperatures during brewing to a single degree. A Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time -- has nothing on my brew stand. My homebrewing equipment has a plaque with my name on it.

I homebrew for the feel, the flavor, and the aroma. Malted barley soaked in hot water can be intoxicating to the senses. I homebrew to make malty English-style beers. I homebrew to make strong, no-rules Belgian-style beers. I love Belgian-style beers. I homebrew to play with hops. I like to create strong, hoppy beers. I homebrew to add hops midway through the boil, after the boil, and while the beer in is the fermenter. I love hops. I grow hops in my yard.

I homebrew because I respect maltose, enzymes, yeast metabolism, and ethyl alcohol. I homebrew because I can make great beer and know something between a Master's Degree and absolutely nothing about any of those items. I homebrew to play with IBUs, Lovibond, and original gravity. I love my refractometer. I homebrew because I can experiment with malts, hops, yeasts, and adjuncts. I find yeast attenuation interesting. I homebrew because I like science. Except brewing is also art. Beers are designed. Equipment and recipes can play only a small part of the finished beer. Techniques play a nontrivial role. I homebrew to satisfy my inner mad-scientist. I like dialing my fermentation box's thermostat to create clove or banana flavors in my beer. I homebrew to stick it to The Man. I homebrew to flip my nose at The Reinheitsgebot.

I homebrew for the personal experience. But brewing with a friend is even better. I homebrew with my wife. I love the communal nature of brewing. Stirring the mash. Sampling past batches. I love sharing my knowledge, and I love learning from someone else. I homebrew for the fellowship. What is your favorite beer? I homebrew to brew your favorite beer with you.

This piece was meant as a finale for American Craft Beer Week. Perhaps I procrastinated just a bit in getting this published. Homebrewing isn't about haste. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to craft, ferment, and serve a beer finished beer. I homebrew because it is hard work. Patient work. Rewarding work. It's not about just a means to an end, but the end is pretty good. I homebrew for that.

Grand plans are noble, although also a grind. I intended to use today’s theme to challenge myself to create some food pairings for the beer I selected (intended = it didn't happen). But excuses are for losers. To preserve my masterplan, I'll do my best to churn out a few relevant paragraphs on beer and food pairings. And I'll still be drinking. So except for the possibility that I didn’t get raptured today, I’d say I’m still winning.

The rise of craft beers, miles apart from America’s industrially produced light lagers, has recently spawned a trend of beer and food pairing. Breaking into the mainstream has been slow. Wine is the sovereign food partner of fine dining. Every respectable restaurant has a wine list. Selections and quality of sommeliers can make or break a great restaurants’ reputation. Wine's place with food is based on its acidic, strong, and complex flavors. However, I question if the myth that wine is a superior food companion is not largely based on legacy.

Wine, crafted with arguably a superior ingredient -- the grape, is a one-dimensional beverage. All wines taste like fermented, aged grapes. Beers while crafted with more pedestrian ingredients -- grains and hops, are multidimensional beverages. Brewers craft their beers by tweaking the balance of malty sweetness and hop bitterness. Furthermore, flavor complexity is tailored using different types of malted grains and limitless amounts of adjuncts. Both wine and beer can utilize either naturally occurring or cultured yeasts to covert sugars to alcohol, but the yeast in beer making plays such a large part in the finished product’s flavor profile it can act as an important of an ingredient as  the malts and hops.

As a quick example, Saint Arnold Brewing Company recently replaced its lowest selling beer (Texas Wheat, an American-style Wheat) with an altered version of one of its more popular beers (Fancy Lawnmower, a German-style Kölsch). The brewery now has two beers with the exact same recipe, but fermented with two different yeasts that yield very different tasting beers. In a recent newsletter, Saint Arnold reported selling as many kegs in a week and a half of the new replacement (Weedwacker) as it did of Texas Wheat in a whole year.

With an unrestricted amount of flavor profiles, beer is unmatched in potential flavor pairing combinations with food. Beer can also leverage its carbonation to lift aromas and clean your palate between samples. Wine is challenged by spicy foods, pickles, asparagus, etc. Your local wine merchant may have thousands of wines to choose from, but only a small handful of them would even be acceptable for that coconut-curry Thai dish.

My first beer pairing education came from a session by the Texas Culinary Academy in 2005. The chef giving the seminar demonstrated the three C’s of beverage pairing: Cut, Compliment, and Contrast.

Cut: Spicy foods can be cut by malty sweet beers, like an English Pale Ale or a German Marzen. The richer the food, hoppy beers can clean the creaminess or fattiness from your palate. Dry stouts can even cut through the richness of a sweet chocolate dessert.

Compliment: Beer really shines as a food pair in this category. While wine basically enhances foods with acidity, beer can provide a subtle compliment to a food’s flavor. Belgian beers spiced with orange zest and coriander provides a great compliment to salads. Japanese beers brewed with rice are perfect companions to pieces of sushi.

Contrast: Like wine, any food that is enhanced with acidity can be adjusted to provide a good contrasting food pair (imagine something that tastes good with a lemon squeezed on it). Fish and white wine is a good pair, as is a light-bodied pilsner. However, no contrasting pair may be as sublime as a raw oyster and a dry stout. I first had this pair at SAVOR in 2009, where the Choptank Oyster Company was shucking fresh oysters. I made several trips through the line with samples of some of the best stouts and roasty porters in at the event.

Whether beer or wine, food pairing promotes the kind of creativity that I love when cooking. It also encourages a more thoughtful and enjoyable eating experience. In the end, my originally planned post probably would have been more enjoyable for me than it would have been for you (kind of like beer reviews, eh?)

Day 6
May 21, 2011
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Namaste (Milton, DE)

Website/Bottle Information:
"A Belgian-style White made with dried organic orange slices, fresh cut lemongrass and a bit of coriander. This beer is a great summer quencher.
Namaste was originally brewed at our brewpub in with our friend Leo from Birra del Borgo in Italy as a tribute to our friends at 3 Fonteinen brewery in Belgium, who had devastating production loss (1/3 of their annual production!) at their brewery in 2009. You can read more about the original brewing of this beer here on Sam's blog."

Serving: 750mL bottle
Style: Witbier

IBU: 20
ABV: 5.0%

He Said:
I haven't poured a beer from a 750mL bottle with as light and fluffy of a head as this one in a long time. The beer is very effervescent. All the carbonation really carries up aromas of the lemongrass and coriander that the beer is brewed with and some musty funk that it probably wasn't brewed with. I'll admit that if I hadn't used it in several homebrewing recipes, I wouldn't know coriander's aroma though. Some citrus is detectable, but it seems to be more from the yeast and not the oranges used in the brewing of Namaste.

I am always impressed with the incredible balance of each Dogfish Head beer. Even their hoppiest IPAs have a malty sweetness to perfectly balance the bitterness. Namaste is no different. Hops are present in the perfect amount to balance the beer and keep the flavor profile dynamic from start to finish.

Namaste is lemony, light, and refreshing. If I had attempted to craft some food pairings, I think this would have gone great with a salad incorporating some citrus. It would have also gone equally well with a chicken quesadilla.

I generally attribute the term "Namaste" with yoga or new age-type activities. Tonight this beer was enjoyed while bathing two little children, which is probably the furthest from that lifestyle. Translated, "Namaste" means greetings or good day. I think I'd say this is a pretty good day.

She Said:
Color - Golden

Carbonation - Very bubbly

Smell - Citrusy, Belgian

Taste - To be fair, I have tasted this beer before and enjoyed it even more the first time. The lemongrass and citrus flavors totally shined through in my previous tasting. This time those flavors are present but aren't as powerful (aging? storage issues?). I still enjoy Namaste's light bubbly taste that doesn't stick to your palate. The beer is a cool and refreshing treat for a hot summer day. I recommended this beer to friends after the first time I enjoyed it and would do the same now.

I would be remiss to not take a day during this week long celebration to recognize some great national events planned to promote, much like American Craft Beer Week, the culture and community of craft beer. Last year I included a list of notable some notable national events. This year I’ll be attending one of them.

On Saturday May 30, 2009, I was among the 1900 craft beer enthusiasts who gathered at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. to sample 136 beers from 68 American craft breweries paired with 32 food items for the 2nd annual craft beer and food experience, SAVOR. The event, hosted by the Brewer’s Association, is the premier food and beer event for American craft beers. I'm just saying -- it is an awesome event.

Here is how I plan to experience SAVOR this year.

Wednesday: Fly into Providence, R.I. 
This is my airport of choice when traveling to the Northeast. First of all, flights are inexpensive. Second: Dinner at Al Forno. I’ve eaten at Al Forno more than I’ve eaten at many of my favorite restaurants in Houston. Much like many of my favorite restaurants, I’ve only ordered one main dish from the menu: The Spicy Clam Roast. This is a plate of longnecked clams, served in their shells, each with a spicy sausage slice and onions. The clams are set around Al Forno’s mashed potatoes and everything is topped with a tomato-based sauce. I'm confident that this dish was sent directly from the seafood gods. 

Thursday: Long Island's North Fork and Atlantic City
We then head to New London, CT and catch the ferry to Long Island. Our North Fork itinerary always includes a few winery stops and lunch at P.J. Lobster House in Port Jefferson, NY. This year we’ll be sampling at two wineries I’ve never visited, Bedell Cellars and Paumanok Vineyards. Both are listed in Palate Press’ recent Nine New York Wineries to Watch. Port Jeff is the prototypical harbour city on Long Island and has a Northeastern small town charm that makes it a popular tourist destination. P.J. Lobster House was recommended to me when I worked a few seasons at nearby Stony Brook University. This half fish market, half restaurant has unbelievable prices, superb service, and very fresh seafood. 

Normally at this point in the journey we stop in NYC for a few days. This year our schedule is tighter so we are heading to Atlantic City to shorten our Friday drive to Washington D.C. I scored a reservation to the somewhat mysterious Chef Vola’s a day before they received a 2011 James Beard Award, something I knew nothing about before finding their elusive phone number on Yelp. 

Friday: Rehoboth Beach, DE and Washington D.C.
From Atlantic City we travel to Cape May, NJ to take the ferry to Delaware. Our plan is to spend the afternoon at Rehoboth Beach on their boardwalk before heading to Washington D.C. that evening for SAVOR. Oh yes, and Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats is going to happen while in Rehoboth (I at least have to restock my Dogfish liquors from their distillery there).

And SAVOR should be a pretty good time too.

Day 5
May 20, 2011
Williamsburg Alewerks "400" Ale - Jamestown 1607-2007 (Williamsburg, VA)

Website/Bottle Information:
"'400' Ale commemorates the founding of the first Virginia Settlement and with it, the founding of the American brewing industry. Beer was an essential component of everyday life in Jamestown, only the security and shelter provided by the triangular shaped fort and the cultivation of edible (no doubt including barley) crops outranked the production of beer in importance. Fresh water flowing in local streams and the recently excavated well provided a source of potable water, but beer and other 'processed liquids, primarily beer' were the preferred drinks.

This ale, like the ales of the time, is brown in color. This beer may be more robust than 18th century brews, a liberty we choose to take. How could we possibly do justice to so important an event of 400 years ago, with anything other than a truly robust, full flavored contemporary 'Imperial Brown Ale.' Cheers."

Serving: 22oz bottle
Style: Imperial Brown Ale

ABV: 6.5%

He Said:
In keeping with the travel theme, "400" Ale is a bottle we picked up in 2007 while visiting Jamestown and Williamsburg. If you skipped the "Website/Bottle Information" above, then you missed a nice story about the role of beer as settlers landed in the New World.

I was reminded this was a brown ale while trying to detect its aroma prior to my first sip. It has very little hop profile and smelled bready (malty and yeasty). The flavor was good, but I found it a little hard to objectively assess a modern Imperial interpretation of an 18th century beer. When I checked Beer Advocate, most reviewers noted a strong sour flavor. In our bottle, the sourness must have completely gone away. I found "400" Ale to be much more pleasurable than BA reviewers that opened this in 2008. I'm just glad the beer was still enjoyable after five years in the cellar.

She Said:
Color - A dark, almost opaque brown with a tinge of red.

Head - Minimum white head. Lightly carbonated. Tiny bubbles.

Smell - Sweet, maybe a cherry bourbon smell (without the boozy notes).

Taste - Smooth and delish! This is a tame beer, but it is packed with a chocolate/cherry flavor. The beer finishes with sweet darker chocolate notes. The beer is very good, and I'm sad to see it go. I would buy more if it was still available.

What a tribute to Jamestown 1607!! (editor's note: TwoPints has a bachelors degree in history. Can you tell? :)

The "Mother of All Beer Weeks" is not only a celebration of craft beer and those who make it, but just as importantly a celebration of the American craft beer culture.

Most people attribute the offset of the modern day American craft brewery to be around 1980 when pioneer Fritz Maytag finished modernizing Anchor Steam in San Francisco, CA. Soon after, Ken Grossman opened Sierra Nevada in Chico, CA. The beer geek counterculture at that time was small and somewhat fragmented, and it would be another decade before the American craft beer scene began to take shape. Growth during the 1980s and 1990s was slow due to the outdated post-Prohibition laws most states, some which still exist. Even today, many craft beer enthusiasts don’t have access to the local options available in Portland, Asheville, or Denver. However, the common denominator for all of us is the pub.

Local pubs offer beer enthusiasts an opportunity to experience top offerings from around the country (and World). Great pubs play a huge role in fostering the growth of local beer culture. In Houston, TX, we are fortunate to have a distinguished homegrown pub like The Ginger Man that has been synonymous with beer culture since the mid-80s. The uniquely cool Petrol Station and notable chain Flying Saucer have also been beacons during the development of Houston’s craft beer scene.

This afternoon I am scribbling this blog post on a notepad from a bar stool at one of the best cocktail bars in America. With Anvil Bar & Refuge’s accolades for cocktails, I guess it is easy to overlook that beer guru Kevin Floyd may be the most knowledgeable and influential craft beer minds in Houston. Anvil may be hated as enthusiastically as it is praised, but Houston is lucky be able to claim such great cocktail and beer minds as Anvil co-owners Bobby Heugel and Kevin Floyd. I imagine there are a lot of sleepy bars that would gladly trade for a piece of Anvil’s hype.

As Houston’s craft beer venues increase in number, so does the city’s beer culture in strength. Craft beer bars aren’t the place to grab two shots and a light beer before heading home to the family. Craft beer bars are a subset of bars just as “foodie finds” are a subset of restaurants. Great bars educate consumers about what is being served and the brewery where it was crafted. The growth of these venues is intriguing because instead of dividing up the existing faction of beer enthusiasts, the base seems to be growing. I predict we are not seeing the pinnacle in 2011, but we are merely in the upward segment of the craft beer popularity bell curve. More or less, this prediction is literally almost virtually scientific law. Fact.

Day 4
May 19, 2011
Uinta Brewing Cockeyed Cooper (Salt Lake City, UT)

Bottled 03/23/11

Website/Bottle Information:
"Launch into the exquisite flavors of bourbon with splashes of vanilla. Watch for currents of dark chocolate and dried fruit. Generous amounts of hops and malts make for a smooth journey from start to finish. Decadent desserts and aged cheeses make superb companions."

Serving: 750 mL bottle
Style: American Barleywine

ABV: 11.1%

He Said:
This bottle came by way of a Beer of the Month club, which like a craft beer bar is another great way to try beers not available at your local beer merchant. I've never tried any beers from Uinta, and to be honest I've never really noticed the brewery until I researched it for our United States of Beer Project (Uinta finished #2 in Utah to
the Utah Brewers Cooperative).

The packaging on this beer is awesome. The label was designed by a local artist, and the 750 mL bottle even has a punt!

The barrel aging is quite evident on the nose, as are sweet and hop notes that are expected in a 11.1% ABV barleywine. Cockeyed Cooper was aged for six months in Heaven Hill rye bourbon barrels. Judging from the taste, six months may have been a little too long, but I'm not complaining. The front end of each sip is very oak-y; almost drowning out the typical sweetness of a barleywine and masking most of the beer's malt and yeast flavors (until the beer got closer to room temperature). The finish was very hoppy. A transition from intense wood to intense hops proved to be somewhat challenging to the palate.

Despite these nit picks, I still enjoyed this unique offering. Cockeyed Cooper is a great example of how American brewers are continuing to explore the boundaries of what the industry considers "craft."

She Said:
Aroma - Chocolate

Look - Head was minimal, white, and creamy. The color was translucent chocolate with a red tint.
Taste - The first taste is bitter and carbonated that almost over-powers anything else. The finish is drier than expected with cigar notes (dark and bitter). Overall there is a chocolatey taste to the beer. The booziness of the beer burns going down and left me with a dry mouth feeling.

Cockeyed Cooper is not my favorite. I feel like I sucked on a lot of bark (not that I've ever done that).

Sometimes when I sit down, queue up something on the TiVo, and open a beer, I feel like I am single handedly saving the World. And why shouldn’t I?

I work for a cancer hospital. I get paid to reduce the energy and water use of our facilities. I even donate to my university’s athletic program. In my spare time, I literally drink my carbon footprint to oblivion.

For decades brewers have reduced waste by sending their spent grain to be used as animal feed or fertilizer. Modern facilities are beginning to utilize energy efficient brewhouse designs to offset the enormous heating and water demands of a commercial brewery. Efficient boilers are being implemented to reduce the fuel required for steam generation, boiling, etc. Around 45% percent of the brewing process’ total energy is spent in the brew kettle during the boiling stage of brewing. Once this heat is produced, efficient breweries take steps through heat recovery devices to capture and reuse it in other processes or to convert the heat to usable energy that can power other devices.

Over 90% of beer is water. Furthermore, to make a unit of beer, it typically requires 4 or 5 units of water. Process water reduction, recycling water from process to process, and wastewater recovery are beginning to be implemented by commercial breweries to protect this natural, but finite resource.

Many breweries have also minimized their environmental impact by implementing sustainable business practices (e.g. purchase materials made of 100% recycled content) or by purchasing from suppliers utilizing sustainable farming practices (e.g. minimize fertilizer use, purchase local ingredients, no-till production).

Today we open a beer from Rogue Brewing’s Chatoe series. Rogue is considered by some to use gimmicky marketing ("Brewed using... free range coastal water" -- awesome), but Chatoe Rogue is the real deal. The brewery grows its own barley and hops for these beers. The beers are brewed onsite and include no chemicals, additives, or preservatives. Now if they could only get on the development of wormhole technology so mine doesn’t have to be delivered across the country using fossil fuels…

Day 3
May 18, 2011
Chatoe Rogue First Growth Creek Ale (Independence, OR)

photo courtesy of beerinfo.com
Website/Bottle Information:
"We made this beer with our own hops and barley. Malty aroma, dark mahogany-brown in color with a rich, malty sweetness that finishes dry on top of a lush cherry flavor.

Brewed using 8 ingredients: Wheat, Rogue Barley Farm Dare and Risk Malts, Rogue Hopyard Revolution Hops, Montmorency Cherries, Pacman and Belgian Yeast and Free Range Coastal Water.

Dedicated to Farmers and Fermenters. GYO is a Rogue Ales term for Grow Your Own"

Serving: 22oz bottle
Style: Dubbel

25 IBU
ABV: 6.0%

He Said:
It is almost a lock that any dreamy, high concept beer is going to be a disappointment (just like my blog posts!). The bottle says they used cherries, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the nose. The beer has a slight malty sweet aroma, but almost nothing else. I either detect some mustiness or it is just that I'm imagining the aroma of the Oregon hippies that crafted this beer.

The flavor is a real sucker punch. Wow. Tart (Ha! Now I get it. Creek = Kriek. Those tricky Oregonians). The beer is so tart that it covers up some of the deeper malt flavors, Belgian yeast flavors, and any of the custom Rogue farmed hops that the label advertises. Surprisingly, the cherry tartness is not cloying, but overall it isn't amazing either.

Can I really like this beer and also be a little disappointed? That was a rhetorical question. I'm going to buy another one of these and taste it again next year. I also look forward to trying future Chatoe releases.

She Said:
The beer is red brown in color. It smells "woodsy rustic" (much like it looks, actually). The aroma does not hint at the flavor. The tartness hits your mouth with such a surprise it made me pucker and squint.
I'm reminded of the flavor of an unripened cherry. While the beer is tart to start, it is quickly goes away on the palate.

First Growth Creek Ale might age well. I'd really like to try one of these aged in oak. Think cigars and brandy.

Please put that in a sentence.
-Mr. Smokeypants

When in doubt, start with a haiku. During a week dedicated to raising awareness for craft brewing, I think it is fitting to dedicate one day to honor the hottest brewing trend since the discovery of yeast: Collaboration beers.

In the corporate world, information is guarded like the princess in a Donkey Kong game. Alliances are only struck to gain a competitive advantage over a rival business. Get smarter. Get faster. More efficiency. More money. (Less of a need for those unfocused employees penning blog posts during work hours.)

Brewing is a craft similar to cooking, except most brewers didn't learn their craft from their grandmother. Techniques have been passed down for millennia from brewer to apprentice. In this era of modern craft brewing, an extraordinary amount of knowledge sharing has taken place between brewers. Perhaps this unconventional business practice stems from craft brewers' common objective to cut into the market stronghold of the behemoth breweries. For reference, craft breweries represented about 0.05% of beer sales in the United States in 2010.

I'd argue there is something more special about the fraternity of craft brewers. Most brewers learned their craft outside of a formal school setting and began their business from scratch. Knowledge sharing was fundamental to their business' survival, and most brewers are simply willing to give back to the community that supported them during their rise. 

The craft aspect of a brewer's business also fosters sharing. As with cooking, even the most seasoned professional can benefit from fresh ideas and new techniques. Don't believe me? This is American Craft Beer Week, visit your local brewery and strike up a conversation with a brewer. Watch out though, you may talk your way into helping out during the next brewing session.

During a recent visit to Specs Warehouse in downtown Houston, I saw no less than ten collaborative offerings in the American craft beer aisle. Whether these efforts were educational, marketing-driven, or simply a celebration of their trade, I'm a happy and willing beneficiary of the experiments.

Sounds like fun, then you do it.
-Mr. Smokeypants

Day 2
May 17, 2011
Brewery Ommegang Gnomegang (Cooperstown, NY)

Website/Bottle Information:
"This delectable blonde ale is a co-creation of two famed farmstead breweries: Brewery Ommegang and Brasserie d'Achouffe. It employs five fine malts, two noble hops, and both of the distinctive Chouffe and Ommegang yeasts. You'll enjoy the smooth drinkability, fruity aromas and flavors, and warming finish."

Serving: 750mL bottle
Style: True Belgian-Style Blonde Ale
ABV: 9.50%


He Said:
We've visited this brewery in the past and have been enjoying their World-class farmhouse Belgian-style beers for many years. When I learned of this collaborative effort, I immediately pictured the metaphor described above of an award winning chef learning new techniques from another master in his particular cuisine. Such high expectations are dangerous.

The beer pours golden, forming a relatively small head that dissipates relatively quickly. The beers nose straight forward for the style. Distinct Belgian yeast aromas including lots of clove and maybe a little more banana than I would have expected were present. The flavors followed suit. The beer is slightly sweet and has a noticeable boozy punch. The tasting notes on the bottle mention the beer's "drinkability," so I guess it is okay if I type the term in my review.

This was a very good beer (I'm talking A- good). I wonder if it wouldn't gain a little more character after a year or two in storage. My initial impression was that this beer is too "safe" for a collaborative effort. After giving it some thought, this is a very technically sound version of the style. I assume that there are some technical aspects of the brewing process for this beer that may not slap you in the face while drinking the finished product. However, this doesn't make Gnomegang anything less than a solid collaborative effort.

She Said:
The fresh lemon zesty scent from the Belgian yeast… love it. It is like coming home -- to Belgium. It is no secret that Belgians are my favorite beers. (I drafted the whole country in the The Ferm's Inaugural Mock Draught!)

This beer is splendid! The taste is crisp and complex, and I bet this beer will age well. The lovely carbonation dances on your tongue, or goes up your nose if you take too big of a gulp.

Gnomegang is delish! I highly recommend this great collaboration.

Monday marked the beginning the nationally recognized American Craft Beer Week (ACBW). At The Ferm, we celebrate for the third straight year this great and substantial week dedicated to all things craft beer. But we aren't the only ones celebrating. For the first time in ACBW's six-year history, official events are planned in each of the fifty states.

The Brewers Association reports that the American craft beer landscape now boasts over 1,700 small and independent craft breweries (FACT!), which is an all-time high. Not since Prohibition have so many breweries been in operation. 

With so many breweries, it makes sense that the theme of our Day 1 celebration be "Drink Local." The #SLGT concept (support local, grow together) is not new to me, but I will admit I have been slow to adopt its practices. Take Central Market for example; the best fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood from around the World are flown in and available for me to buy throughout the year. The beer and wine sections are even more diverse.

With the proper mindset, supporting sustainability, buying local, and taking down the mega-national-decepticon-beast (aka The Man) is an achievable objective. But when it comes to drinking local in Houston, TX, there are several caveats. First and foremost, modern day Houston has known only one craft brewery: the venerable Saint Arnold. Only in the last three years has the metropolitan area added Southern Star (Conroe, TX) to that list of one. But recently, we lost our only brewpub (corporate chain Two Rows), gained three start-ups (No Label, Karbach, Kreuz Creek), and – this just in – once again have our first brewpub (Freetail Houston). Among the breweries now in operation, only Saint Arnold and Southern Star package their beer for retail.

So it was in the spirit of craft breweries, and more specifically local craft breweries, that I selected Independence Jasperilla Old Ale 2010 to celebrate day one of American Craft Beer Week. Let me explain.

In 2004 my wife and I attended the now defunct Texas Craft Brewer's Festival (still my favorite beer festival held in Texas). Under one of the tents (and not serving beer) we met festival organizers, Rob and Amy Cartwright, who were starting a brewery themselves. Folks, one obvious way to support local businesses is to invest in them.

Today we open a Jasperilla Old Ale to celebrate Independence Brewing Company's tremendous success and to kick off ACBW11. I sincerely hope in the coming years I'm toasting "the mother of all beer weeks" with a No Label Brewing Pale Horse or a Kreuz Creek Black Eye IPA. Hopefully there are eager craft beer enthusiasts like myself who are looking to score major cool points and free beers by helping a some start-up brewery succeed.

Day 1
May 16, 2011
Independence Jasperilla Old Ale (Austin, TX)

Photo courtesy of ron.frank @ Flickr

Website/Bottle Information:
"Brilliantly golden, Jasperilla is a unique take on an old ale. Biscuity malt flavors meld with subtle plum and berry notes, produced by a special blend of English Old Ale and Chico yeasts. Brewed once a year, and aged for six months prior to release, the Jasperilla is smooth despite its 9% ABV.

We named this beer after our dog Jasper because he has brought so much joy to our lives. We got Jasper from a local dog rescue group called Mixed Breed Rescue. He has been a constant source of smiles and kept our spirits high through many late nights and long hours at the brewery.

Jasperilla is so good and smooth that you'll beg like a dog for more, roll over for a belly rub, howl at the moon... you get the picture."

Serving: 22 oz bottle
Style: Old Ale
ABV: 9.30%

He Said:
In what now may be an ACBW annual tradition at The Ferm, I opened the latest Jasperilla release today. Last year I declared the 2009 vintage to be "the best Old Ale that I have ever tasted." Check that. 2010 is the best Old Ale that I've ever tasted. Soon after release, some of the previous vintages had some sharp flavors that ended up mellowing with age. However the dark fruit aroma, sweet malty notes, and boozy heat work very well together in this version. With 9+% ABV, this is no doubt an American interpretation of the style, but the heat is nicely disguised. It is hard to imagine this beer maturing and getting even better. It'll be even harder imaging how I'm going to keep any of these around for any length of time to test that suspicion.

Independence has really hit their stride recently and is producing first class beers in a Texas market still starving for local beers. I'm proud to be an investor and to be able to call Rob and Amy friends. Success tastes very good. I'm sure they would agree.

She Said:
First look – Puppy on the bottle. This is going to be awesome.
First sniff – Hops. Yummy.
First taste – "This is what a beer should taste like!" It has deep flavors that stay in the back of your palate. If you let the beer roll around your mouth you can taste each of the key ingredients: Hops, (lots of) malt, yeast, and water. Despite its strength, the beer does not come off as too heavy and is very drinkable ice box cold or room temperature.
Overall – A delicious and wonderful tasting beer. Starting with a beer from out great State of Texas to kick off the American Craft Beer Week was a stroke of genius (editor's note: what can I say?). Thanks SirRon! Texas Texas Yeehaw!

American Craft Beer Week is a lot like Administrative Assistant Week. If you celebrate it, then you likely didn't need a specified week to appreciate the merit of the object being recognized. Since we drink seven days a week here anyway, we are giving our admin Candee a break this week, and I'll be personally posting The Ferm's daily salute to craft beer. (You guys have been getting the daily beer review email digest we send to Candee, right?). Just like the true intent of Secretary's Day, if just one non-drinker finds our blog while Googling kolache recipes and goes on to support a local craft brewer for the first time, we will have made this World a tad more tolerable.

Today, this sixteenth day of May 2011, we rise in support of the week-long celebration of pleasurable beverages and the American entrepreneurs that deliver it to our steins (via the three-tier system). Today we commence the commemoration of craft beer with recommendations and commentary for these under-commercialized small businesses. Today we sport our beer mug boxers.

This week we will explore the intricacies of beer. This week we will endorse American dream. This week we may even use words like retention, lacing, palatable, complex, awesome, and philosophizing.

However, if my words have failed to inspire you, I encourage you to check out the rousing video below.

That C-SPAN video has no doubt inspired you to drink, but now you aren't sure what is appropriate for a beer week specifically celebrating craft beers. We will now transition from Congressional speeches to the copy/pasting of definitions. The Brewer's Association defines an American craft brewer as small, independent, and traditional

Further explained:
Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

The Brewer's Association also lists some other interesting bullet points on the constitution of an American craft brewer.
  • The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.

  • Craft Brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteerism, and sponsorship of events.

  • Craft Brewers have distinctive, individualistic approaches to connecting with their customers.

  • Craft Brewers maintain integrity by what they brew and their general independence, free from a substantial interest by a non-craft brewer.
For these seven great days I have seven great ways to enjoy seven great amazing beers. Here is a schedule of how we'll be sharing our craft beer passion:

Day 1. Drink Local (Independence Jasperilla 2010)

Day 2. Celebrate, Collaborate (Brewery Ommegang Gnomegang)

Day 3. Drink a Beer, Make a Difference (Chatoe Rogue Creek Ale)

Day 4. Support Local Businesses That Support Craft Beer (Uinta Cockeyed Cooper)

Day 5. Craftbeerapalooza (Williamsburg Alewerks "400" Ale)

Day 6. Eat, Drink, Repeat (Dogfish Head Namaste)

Day 7. Drink a homebrew

Check back daily to share your craft beer experiences or just to live vicariously through mine. Cheers!