Friday, April 25, 2008

Beer of the Week

My god, this winter has been so goddamn long that I'm starting to lose it. I feel like I live in Canada, except that I don't have guaranteed health care and I never got good at hockey. It's a good thing that Minnesota has finally started cranking out some decent brews to get us northwoods faithful through.

Flat Earth Brewery, a new St. Paul brauhaus that I mentioned back here, has been quietly invading bars and liquor stores around the Twin Cities Metro. Last night I had the good fortune to share a few pints with a good friend at the Sample Room, a Northeast Minneapolis institution of which Chef and TV Personality Anthony Bourdain had this to say:

that's another good one. I'm sure his business model wasn't, 'There's a huge demand here for traditionally made pâté, so I'm opening!' It was more like, 'I love pâté, I want to make it old-school, I'm going to create the market and hopefully people will join me.'

Indeed the Sample Room prides itself on its homemade and interesting foodstuffs, and takes equal care to make sure their taps are interesting and fresh. As a local, fresh, and delicious brew, Flat Earth's Belgian Style Pale Ale made the cut.

The beer pours a clear and beautiful amber color with a minimal white head that leaves considerable lacing along the way.

The beer has a faint yeast smell mingling with a sweet fruit aroma. It has a very dynamic nose that refuses to fade as one is drinking the beer.

A medium body ripe with tight bubbles awaits you as you quaff the ale, greeting you with a little yeast up front, some carmelly biscuity malts in the middle, and very subtle finishing hops in the back. The malts will hang on until the finish, but the final taste is quite dry, with notes of grain.

The alcohol is a touch low for the style at 5.2%, but that makes this beer all the more chuggable, with enough flavor to keep you coming back, but not too much as to overwhelm the senses.

Congrats to Flat Earth.

Links of Interest:

Flat Earth

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beer Pressure

I was at the liquor store recently, perusing the stacks, when I happened to overhear a conversation from a Frat Boy type, and his not quite as preppy, skateboard-hoodie wearing friend. The stageplay was approximately this:

Frat Boy walks down aisle of refrigerated beer and promptly and decisively selects a six-pack of Corona light.

Hoodie Friend is taking his time, mulling over the selection at hand. After some time he selects a 12-pack of Pilsner Urquell.

Frat Boy makes a face of disgust and confusion usually reserved for finding a dead hippopotamus in your suburban backyard.

Frat Boy: What the fuck is that?!?

Hoodie Friend: What?

FB: Seriously, what the fuck are you drinking?!?

HF: It's Czech.

They both walk to the register. FB checks out and pays with cash. HF pays with a credit card, which is taking a small amount of time.

FB: Seriously man, what the fuck are you buying!?!?

HF is not making eye contact with FB and does not respond.

There is lesson to be learned in this exchange: don't let anyone make you feel bad about drinking the beer you want, especially when the beer you want is so obviously superior that you probably shouldn't even dignify their comments with a response (I'll also point out that it's not 1985, and Pilsner Urquell is a fairly common beer available at almost every liquor store in America).

When someone mocks you for drinking beer from a champagne bottle, take it in stride. When someone announces the superiority of Budweiser, let it slide. When someone offers you a Mich Golden Light, run and hide.

The bottom line here is that you do not have to bend to their Beer Pressure! You are your own individual and no one has control over your taste buds but you. Just say no!

To illustrate point, please consult the following video. I'm sure that the kid in this can relate...his friends are trying to get him to drink Budweiser.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

After a weekend of revelry, it was nice to enjoy Sunday on a beautiful rooftop deck in downtown Minneapolis. Of course, sharing the deck with some friends and delicious beer really took it to the next level.

I usually hold off on the Wits and the Hefe-Weizens until the weather gets truly sticky, but this has been a long hard winter, and a day in the sunshine called for a sunshine beer. The sunshine this week was provided by Mother Nature and Mothership Wit via New Belgium Brewing of Colorado, perhaps best known for their Fat Tire beer.

The Mothership pours a hazy yellow color with a minimal white head. It smells of corriander, typical of the style, with hints of orange and other citrus.

The beer is medium bodied with a crisp, tangy taste and a nice blast of carbonation. There are definitely hints of lemon and spice, an the brew finishes with a zip, slightly less sweet than a Hoegaarden.

Mothership is not the best Wit in the world, but it's damn good for an American version and another strong outing from New Belgium.

Links of Interest:

New Belgium Mothership Wit

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beer Tax

A California assemblyman is proposing an amendment to the state constitution to raise the beer tax 30 cents per can or bottle ($1.80 per sixer or $7.20 per case if you scholars did the math).

I guess I don't have a problem with taxing beer in order to help pay for some of the enforcement and health issues that beer brings, but the "per can" tax is a bit excessive, especially since it taxes beer and not wine or liquor. Let me propose an alternative method of taxation to suit Assemblyman Jim Beall's needs.

For argument's sake, let's assume that all beer is 5% alcohol, and all wine is 11% alcohol in order to hit the mean of both beverages.

Since Mr. Beall wants to get 30 cents per 12 oz can, what he really wants is 30 cents per 0.6oz of alcohol, which is the real cause of the aforementioned problems. Since a bottle of wine is usually 750ml or 25.37oz, and has an assumed alcohol content of 11%, that would mean that at Mr. Beall's level of taxation, every bottle of wine in the state of California would carry an additional $1.40 in taxes or $16.80 per 9-liter case.

According to the Wine Institute, in 2007 California sold 192.1 million 9-liter cases in the US alone. Being that California is about 12% of the US population I am allocating 23,052,000 of those cases to California, not taking into account that Californians probably drink more wine per capita than Texans.

That would mean that California wine's share of the tax would be $387,273,600, which does not include French, Italian, Chilean, Australian, or Argentinian wines.

So there you have it Mr. Beall: in order to make this tax more equitable, go ahead and propose a $387 million tax on a highly visible, wealthy, and beloved California industry.

Unless that is, are you beholden to this industry? I mean, I'm sure that some of your wealthy San Jose supporters own vineyards, or stakes in vineyards. I'm sure that you wouldn't want to piss them off! Also, I'm willing to bet that a large portion of your donors enjoy drinking wine, being that people with higher degrees and salaries seem to gravitate towards wine. You probably don't want to piss them off either!

Advocating for this bill could easily be seen by your competitors as a cheap shot to raise state capital by targeting the poorer "Joe Average" beer drinking population while letting the industry and your donors, who are much more able to pay mind you, off easy. You wouldn't want to do that.

My suggestion is this: stick to your Democratic guns and advocate the much more progressive $387 million tax on Napa Valley.

See how that works out for you.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Due to another action packed week, I did not have time to write a proper BOTW, so you'll just have to accept another BOTWE in its place. Rest assured, this BOTWE was worth the wait.

Due to an anti-clerical attitude in France in the 19th Century, the Catsberg Abbey Community relocated into Belgium, just a few kilometers away from their original home. The monks acquired some land in the village of Watou, and set up shop worshipping God, and also making cheese. Apparently the monks missed their native soil, however, because when the religious climate improved, they decided to abandon the Belgian operations and return to France in 1934.

The cheese making had required the monks to set up a factory in addition to their abbey. When the monks left, the cheese factory was acquired by Evarist Deconinck and expanded.

After World War II, the monks of the Trappist monastery St. Sixtus, decided they wanted to commercialize their beer to reach a greater audience, and happened to meet with Mr. Deconinck. After some negotiation, they reached an agreement where the monks would brew beer within the abbey for themselves, and a few taverns in the immediate area that were associated with the monastery, while Mr. Deconinck would contract brew their recipe for consumers under license for a period of 30 years.

A brewery was constructed next to the cheese factory, and with a little help from the brewmaster of Westvleteren, the Sixtus beers were born.

The brewing agreement was renewed in 1962 for another 30 years, but was ultimately terminated in 1992 following the formation of the International Trappist Association (ITA). The ITA, an association of Trappist Abbeys insisted that to bear the Trappist name, the beer must be produced within the abbey. Rather than adopt the changes necessary to be labeled "Trappist" the commercial beer was renamed and is marketed under the St. Bernardus name in reference to the name of the Abbey founded by the original fleeing French monks, "Refuge de Notre Dame de St Bernard."

A recent addition to the St. Bernardus cannon is the Witbier. Created by legendary brewmaster Pierre Celis (the creator of Hoegaarden), the beer pours a cloudy light yellow color with a fine white head.

It has a distinct yeast smell mixed in with whiffs of lemon zest and coriander. The smell is actually quite noticeable, even after the initial pour.

The taste is an earthy spice in the front and malt and yeast in the back. I'm not sure exactly what the spice is, other than to say it has an earthy character like clove, but not exactly.

It's medium to light bodied and really smacks off the palette, almost too chugable. The carbonation is airy and the tartness is just enough to really notice before being smoothed out by the yeast.

This beer is new to me, and I've only had it in a bottle. I look forward to finding a bar with a beautiful patio and drinking this beer the entire summer. Cheers to St. Bernardus and Pierre Celis!

Links of Interest:

St. Bernardus

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Happy New Beer, etc.

On Monday, brewers around the country got together to commemorate the ending of Prohibition by drinking some beer. The event is no doubt historic, and deserves a celebration, but there was something in the CNN article covering the event that stuck in my proverbial craw.

The article featured the "anti" side of the celebration, a spokesman from the alcohol industry watchdog group, the Marin Institute, who stated, "[Beer] is the product of choice for underage drinking."

Beer is not the "product of choice" for underage drinking. Wine is not the "product of choice" for underage drinking. As a matter of fact, nothing is the product of choice for underage drinkers because they don't have choice.

Choice is the thing that we deny underage drinkers. The cannot walk into a liquor store, peruse the aisles and decide on beer versus whisky; they take what they can get.

To demonize beer in this context is to remove responsibility from parents, teachers, mentors, and law enforcement and lay it at the feet of a beverage and its makers who are in the business of selling it and are legally authorized to do so.

To demonize beer in this context is to remove responsibility from groups such as Marin Institute, certain religious groups, and politicians looking to score easy points for the social and cultural climate they create around alcohol and beer.

We could be creating media literate youth; we are not. We could make alcohol part of the greater fabric of our culture, and leave it to our social groups to regulate and educate; we are not.

Alcohol is a luxury product, that is, it's something that we don't necessarily need. It is not housing, infrastructure, fuel, water, or electricity. As such, we should be giving consumers more credit in policing themselves. If we want people to use alcohol responsibly, then we should be be given the responsibility of showing our youth that in context.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Being that there was no Beer of the Week last Friday, we have to make it up to you loyal readers with a beer of exceptional quality from this weekend. To do so, I reached once again into the Belgian section of the local liquor depot and pulled out a selection that is both delicious and easily attainable.

Located in the town of Dinant, the Leffe Abbey was founded by the Premonstratensian Fathers in 1152 and was originally named the Abbey of Notre-Dame. The Fathers changed the name of the Abbey in 1200, drawing the name from the river near which the Abbey sits.

The monks have brewed ales on this site at least as far back as 1240, the date of the first written record mentioning the brewing activities. The brewing operations continued unabated until 1789, when French revolutionaries declared the Abbey property of the state. Although the Abbey was sold off here and there, brewing mangaged to continue on site until 1809.

After years of scraping by selling ink, incense and other trinkets, Father Abbot Nys met with brewer Albert Lootvoet and decided to restart the Abbey's brewing operation in 1952. Although since acquired by international brewing giant InBev, the Abbey still receives royalty payments for their famous brews.

Our BOTWE is probably the most easily procured of the Leffe portfolio, Leffe Blond.

The Blond pours a light Amber-Orange color with a nice tight white head. The smell is yeasty with a sweet smell reminiscent of ripe bananas.

This Leffe has a full mouthfeel, smooth, almost oily with the perfect amount of carbonation. I would call this medium-bodied, about where you'd expect a Belgain blonde.

The taste is slightly sweet, with a definite yeast presence; although, not to the extent of say, Unibroue offerings. You taste those bananas and perhaps pears, with a slightly bitter and spiced finish.

While some may not consider this a session beer, its relatively reasonable ABV (6.5%) and easy drinking medium-body make it ideal for sipping in the crisp spring air. It's not the best Belgian blonde you will ever have, but it definitely sets a standard.

Links of interest:


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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Beer Pairings, Wine Pairings

A recent article in the Texas based Star-Telegram reviewed a new book titled: He Said Beer, She Said Wine.

The book feature noted Sommelier Marnie Old, and Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, discussing which beverage goes better with food, and suggesting pairings for your entertainment.

You can read the entire article should you so choose (I might purchase the book), but here is a small list of featured pairings to get you started:

Sushi and ...

Beer: A wheat beer such as Avery White Rascal. The malty backbone stands up to wasabi, but it's subtle enough not to drown sushi's delicate flavors. About $10 a six-pack, at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake, Market Street, some Majestic stores, Whole Foods and Hall's Grocery.

Wine: A French Champagne such as Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne. Flavors are complex but won't overwhelm sushi's subtle flavors. About $45, at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake; Applejacks Liquors ; Liq-O-Rama in Saginaw; Majestic liquors at 1004 N.E. Loop 820, Fort Worth; and some Tom Thumb stores.

Sirloin steak and ...

Beer: A brown ale such as Chimay Premiere. Calagione considers a complex, fruity brown ale a better match than a dry, tannic red wine. About $11 for a 25.4-ounce bottle, at Central Market Fort Worth, Market Street, some Majestic stores, Whole Foods and Hall's Grocery.

Wine: A Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon such as Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon. Classic match for steak on the grill: a big, complex red. About $50-$56, at the Fort Worth and Southlake Central Markets, Two Bucks Discount Beverage Center, Liq-O-Rama in Saginaw, Market Street and some Tom Thumb stores.

Glazed ham and ...

Beer: An English old ale such as Theakston Old Peculier. Sweet and salty flavors need a smooth, mellow beer partner. About $7-$9.50 a six-pack, at Central Market Fort Worth, Fossil Creek Liquor, some Kings Liquors stores, some Majestic stores, Cost Plus World Market in Grapevine, Market Street and Hall's Grocery, Dr. Jeckyll's Beer Lab.

Wine: A delicate pinot noir such as Sanford Pinot Noir. A soft, silky red for a salty-sweet meat. About $30-$32, at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake, and some Tom Thumb stores.

Scallop ceviche and ...

Beer: A traditional or new-world light lager such as Full Sail Session Lager. A light, warm-weather beer for a light, warm-weather dish. About $13 for a 12-pack at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake, Whole Foods, Market Street, Hall's Grocery and some Majestic stores.

Wine: A New Zealand sauvignon blanc such as Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Lively tartness stands up to the citrus that defines this trendy dish. About $15-$18, widely available, including major supermarket chains.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Strong Beer growing Stronger

According Euromonitor International, both brewers and regulators are keeping a close eye on the increasing market share of "strong" beers, classified as those having an ABV greater than 6%.

While the article focuses on India, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe, as a Yankee I can definitely report that strong beers are on the rise stateside as well.

While they may never get to the Indian level, where three of the four top beer brands are considered strong beers (one of which is subtly titled "Knock Out," a branding strategy that I'm sure social conservatives in the US would love), the number of "strong" offerings from importers and domestic craft brewers are certainly growing.

The article also mentions consumers drifting towards these strong beers because they believe them to be a better value, a sentiment that I can agree with. With fuel and raw material costs driving up the price of craft beers, strong beers seem to offer a strong craft made flavor, while competing more with the price point of wine (where they look cheap) than the price point of Pabst.

As the American economy continues to swoon, and the price of crude continues to increase, look for American craft brewers and consumers to move their tastes towards stronger beers. Hopefully the Federal government see this as a sign of the times, and not a new stream from which to extract extra tax revenue.

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