Monday, February 26, 2007

Friday is Beer blogging day...

Stan over at Appellation Beer came up with the great idea of making Friday beer blogging day. It gives us beer geeks a chance to collaborate on beer tasting. This Friday, March 2nd, a bunch of beer bloggers from around the world will join together to taste and rate a stout of their choice. I have narrowed it down to three beers - please help me decide which one to rate - maybe I will just rate all three!

Ipswich Oatmeal Stout
Victory Storm King Stout
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Your vote counts, help me choose.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Welcome Cambridge Center for Adult Education...

A warm welcome to my students from the beer tasting course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Feel free to post a comment to this post about your favorite beer from week one of our first class. Anything in particular that you liked about this beer?

Just click comments and let me know what you think.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Open source beer...

Free, well I mean open source beer. Check out Harry Lanman's article from the February 18, 2007 Boston Globe about a group of students and artists that are producing and marketing the first open source beer.

They got the idea from discussions about open source software. Open source software producers maintain that customers live with software and use it regularly, so they should be able to tweak it and work out the bugs. Standford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, the champion of open source software has written extensively and eloquently on the subject.

The Linux operating system and Mozilla Firefox browser are two examples of successful open source software. Richard Stallman, who manages Linux licenses once opined "think of 'free' as in 'free speech,' not 'free beer.'" He and others understand that software costs money to make and that one should be able to recoup those costs to pay the bills. However, they maintain that the knowledge that went into it should be free and shared with the public.

When the students announced their open source beer, they called it "free as in free software."
Check out the full article here:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sam's cup overdoith...

The Boston Beer Company, aka Sam Adams unveiled their newly designed "ultimate" beer glass. I like good glassware as much as any other beer geek. I have my Pavel Kwak rounded bottom glass, authentic glasses from most of the Trappist brewers, nonic British pints, etc. To put it simply, all beer should be served in the proper glass.

When I first read the title of the article, I thought it was some kind of joke, perhaps the brewery created a 20 foot giant glass for marketing purposes or something. However, as I read on, I came across this line of nonsense: "According to the company, the new Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass is the first glass specifically designed to showcase beer as brewers intended." What the hell does that mean--every other brewer who has designed a glass for their beer had no intention of showcasing the beer as the brewers intended. One visit to any reputable beer bar in Belgium will disprove this jackass statement.
I included the above image of a Westvleteren 12 in an authentic glass to prove my point.

Ok, maybe this is the first beer glass designed specifically for a Boston beer company named after a colonial patriot that is run by a brewer with the initials JK. I can accept that, and The Boston Beer company brews very good beer, but to say that Sam Adams has revolutionized the beer glassware industry is no more than a bunch of marketing horse pucky. Were they "world renowned sensory experts" or marketing/sales experts that designed the glass? Did I mention they are $30 per 4 plus shipping and handling? The glass is interesting, but I wouldn't call it ground breaking...perhaps wallet breaking.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Golf and Good Beer...

Ok, it is that time of the year. I just picked up a six pack of Sam Adams Double Bock--arguably their best beer--and that means spring is on the way. I know, I know, winter in New England extends well into April, but hope springs eternal this year. I can't help but think about sipping a nice cold one after a round of golf.

Golf and good beer, these are two things that you would expect to be synonymous. Golf was invented in Scotland and any single malt scotch drinker will tell you that the Scots know good malt. Scottish brews are generally not mass marketed in the United States, but there are some outstanding Scottish beers. Orkney Skullsplitter, Belhaven Scottish Ale, Caledonian 80, Blackfriar, and McEwans all come to mind.

Of course the beer I equate most with golf is Belhaven St. Andrew's Ale, a great beer and one of the most revered golf courses in the world. Obviously this is not always the case. Budweiser was the official sponsor of the Ryder Cup at The K Club in Ireland. Now how sad is that. It really is a disgrace, but it just goes to show you how powerful Budweiser is as a brand. Come on, Smithwick's, Guinness, Murphy's...anything but Budweiser in Ireland would have been fine.

The official beer sponsor of the PGA is Amstel Light (and Buckler non-alcoholic beer). This is a step up from Budweiser, but certainly not the best available and not an obvious pairing with golf. Although I guess it does make sense for an outdoor sport that is generally played in the heat to team with a lighter, easily drinkable beer.

I prefer something more substantial, a beer with a little more soul. I find that pale ale's (both American and British) like Sierra Nevada, Smuttynose Shoals, Ipswich, Samuel Smith's, and Fullers London Pride all offer a certain rawness, character, and thirst quenching refreshment that perfectly suits the 19th hole. Other styles such as hefe-weizens, witbiers, kolschs, and traditional lagers all offer great refreshment and drinkability.

When you play a round of golf, you don't just go out hacking away and chasing a little white ball around...well, hopefully you don't. Golf is a sport that brings people together. It is a chance to escape the doldrums of everyday life, to spend 5 uninterrupted hours with your friends, surrounded by beautiful landscapes and in most cases nice weather. So when you finish your round and head to the clubhouse or local pub, don't end the day settling for a sub-par, run of the mill beer. As you kick back to reminisce about that one incredible ball you hit out of the rough on the par 4 11th hole, drink a beer worthy of that shot and a great day out on the links.

Image: Adare Manor Golf Club, Adare, County Limerick, Ireland - est. 1900.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Beer Haiku

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that generally has three lines. The first is 5 on (roughly translated as syllables), then 7, then 5. Most true haiku makes a reference to a season, but I am using my poetic license in these beer haiku. Give it a try, post your beer haiku...all the kids are doing it these days. Here are four to get you started:

Westvleteren 12
Fine ale brewed by monks with love
The best in the world.

Saint Arnold was right
Said to drink beer not water
Show me to his church!

My favorite drink
Beer the nectar of the gods
Hops, malt, water, yeast.

Budweiser is crap
You are paying for their ads,
Water, rice, and corn.

Give it a try, post your haiku by clicking comments.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Hunting for beer and finding an elephant...

Searching for new beers is my favorite hobby...well, ok it is an obsession. I will drive 35 minutes and pay tolls to get to my favorite packie (liquor store) because the selection is incredible. Family, friends, and co-workers, who know how much I enjoy finding new beers, bring back beer for me when they travel.

I am the guy at your party who looks into the deepest, darkest corner of your refrigerator to find that one oddball beer that may be hiding back there. My first order of business at any restaurant is to swing by the bar to take a peek at the taps to see if there is something interesting on draft. You get the idea.

As you might imagine, this quest for new beers intensifies when I travel. Any first visit to a city or town is an opportunity for discovery. I sniff out micro breweries faster than my beagle hunts down rabbits in the backyard. Usually I do a little pre-travel reconnaissance work to find the best beer bars in the area. I sampled 42 new beers on my 10 day honeymoon, 24 new beers on a 7 day trip to London, and 30 new beers this spring while vacationing in Holland and Belgium for 8 days. I salivate thinking about great places like The Sunset Grill in Boston, the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C., The Yardhouse in Southern California, or t' Brugs Beertje in Brugge, Belgium.

Chasing down these new brews sometimes comes at a cost. Just because the beers are new does not guarantee that they are going to be good (unless you are in Belgium of course). I see it as a risk/reward process. For every dish soap tasting, light American lager that is included in the typical micro brewery sampler, there is a chance that one of the other 5 beers in the set just might surprise me. I hit the jackpot on November 11, 2004 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The first day of the 2004 Museum Computer Network conference had just ended and I decided to make a trip to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. The collection is housed in a beautiful Frank Gehry building on the banks of the Mississippi River. The museum had an interesting exhibition on view entitled
Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge featuring the collection of Cheech Marin. Yes, that Cheech Marin, from the Cheech and Chong movies, he has one of the largest Chicano art collections in the world -- who knew.

Well, it was getting late and the museum was closing so I decided to ask the guards at the front desk if there were any brewpubs or restaurants in the area where I could try a few local beers. One of them recalled a microbrewery somewhere on Washington Street South, but she could not recall the name. They pulled out a book of restaurants and found the place, the Town Hall Brewery. I asked if it was within walking distance, but they told me I should take a taxi. It ended up being about a mile away. I probably should have mentioned how famously cheap I am when it comes to taxis, but it generally isn't a bright idea to wander through an unfamiliar city at night.

After about 20 minutes of waiting and a 5 minute cab ride, I was belly up to the bar looking over the menu. In remarkably predictable fashion I ordered up a beer sampler and a pulled pork sandwich. There is something about pulled pork paired with beer that I just love -- it is a great comfort food combination. Surprisingly the sampler included 8 beers. So, I pulled out my Palm Pilot beer database and got to work. As you might imagine, this usually generates a few weird looks, but most often the bartender is intrigued and asks how I like the beers. All of the offerings were solid brews, but it was the seventh sample that really caught my attention.

I waited for the bartender to swing by again and asked him if the IPA was on tap all the time or if it was a special batch. He looked at me with a wry smile and immediately knew I was not from the area. "Pretty good beer huh," he said as he approached. I had only taken a couple of sips at that point, but I told him that the Masala Mama India Pale Ale was very impressive. "If you like it, you should try the cask version when you finish that sampler," he said. Asking me if I want a cask conditioned beer is like asking a kid "do you want whipped cream and chocolate fudge sauce on your ice cream." I ordered a pint of the cask Masala Mama, finished the last beer in the sampler and my dinner, and washed it all down w
ith a large glass of water to cleanse my palate.

I knew I was in for a treat when the bartender delivered the beer -- it was a beautiful amber copper color with a massive creamy head. I almost fell off of the bar stool when I tasted it. Don't get me wrong, the regular Masala Mama IPA was fantastic, but this beer was something special. Halfway through the glass I knew two things: 1.) I could not leave the bar without ordering another one, remember I was taking a cab back to the hotel, and 2.) this beer would be ranked pretty high in my database.

In fact, this tremendous IPA now sits firmly at number 15 out of over 1,4oo beers I have sampled and rated. The beer had an amazing fruity citrus and floral hop aroma and the first sip was pure grapefruit hop flavors with touches of sweet caramel malt. It was exceptionally drinkable and the glass was covered in an intricate web of beautiful Belgian lace. If I lived within 100 miles of this place, I would make a monthly pilgrimage.

By the time the bartender brought the second pint, he knew he had a convert in his midst. "I told you," he said. We talked a little more about it and he mentioned that Mike Hoops, the head brewer created the beer. It may seem kind of silly, but I asked the bartender to give kudos to Mike and to tell him to keep up the good work. I find that the art of brewing often goes unrecognized and this beer was a masterpiece.

No, I did not have a third pint that night. I had to get up early Friday morning for the conference and it was already getting late. I started the night hunting for a couple of new beers and with a few strokes of luck I ended up finding an elephant.
I did come very close to making a return trip to the brewery a few nights later, but I had more hunting to do -- although I knew I was not going to discover anything nearly as good as Masala Mama India Pale Ale. If I did, I was going to have a hard time convincing my wife to move to Minneapolis.