Friday, October 30, 2009

The Beer Works in Lowell, MA

While in the Boston area on business, I had the opportunity to check out The Beer Works at their Lowell, MA location. I was travelling that day with Scott, my company's manufacturer's representative in the area. Scott was kind enough to take my picture in front of the old brick building of the Beer Works before we entered after a day of selling.

With plenty of interesting beers on the menu we, started off with sampler flight consisting of four beers of our choice from the fourteen house beers listed. We found those beers pretty good enough, so we decided to sample four more with dinner. After that, I really wanted to sample a few more, or have a least a pint or two of my favorites. But Scott, who was doing the days driving, was clearly pacing himself to drive home, so I figured he would appreciate if I restrained myself, too. Of course, dealing with drunk factory sales people is part of any manufacturer's representative's job description. But my sixth sense tells me my company's management would be less than enthusiastic about one of their sales people getting shit-faced on a sales trip and posting the story on the Internet, so it's probably a good idea I stopped when I did.

Anyway, I was fortunate that Scott knew a lot about beer. And while two sales guys together are rarely at a loss for words, it was a lot of fun chatting away about the beers we drank that night, as well as some of the other beers we've had in the past. If I would characterize The Beer Works beers, they tend to go for the maltier session styles, and create something very drinkable, yet flavorful, with a few interesting wrinkles. Here's a run down on what we tried that night.

A really solid Octoberfest beer. Very fresh tasting, with a little caramel tasting malt, and well balanced herbal hop bitterness at the end.

There's a very noticeable level of pumpkin and pumpkin spices like cinnamon and clove in this light ale. It's pretty noticeable, but pretty well blended. They almost over do it, in my opinion, but in the end, this works pretty well.

Red October
I'm going to resist saying something "clever" like, "I'm sure glad I hunted for this Red October" or some other lame movie tie-in. But hey, this was another solid beer, being rather malty and rich with a little roasty, toasty malt. What resulted was very smooth and drinkable.

Dye House IPA
Have you ever gone out on a first date was someone and found her restrained, nuanced, with a character hard to identify, and were intrigued enough to go on a second date, only to finally realize that this "subtle sophistication" was her really not being all that interesting or alluring? Well, this beer did that to me, as I had a second sampler of this, thinking I missed something on the first go around. I hadn't. It's light, a little resiny and that's about it. It's a lot like the local Harpoon IPA. Except for Harpoon IPA is really enhanced by a floral component in the hops, which the Dye House IPA seems to totally lack. I've been out on the East Coast for only two days, and already I need a West Coast brewer to hit me in the face with a bunch of hops.

Milk Stout
Another smooth Beer Works offering, and yes, milky tasting, too. Nice little dark roasted malt bitterness at the end. It's another subdued beer, very easy drinking, and that's a good thing.

Kentucky Common
This was Scott and my favorite beer of the night. It's a Common aged in Bourbon barrels. Another smooth tasting beer, with a very noticeable woody taste, and a dry finish. You might think this would be a highly complex tasting alcohol bomb, but it checks in at around 6% abv, and has clean, uncluttered taste. We both found this very unique and memorable. I've said it before and I'll say it again, beers like this that make visiting places like The Beer Works worth the effort.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dusty and Crusty at the Rogue Ale House

A few days ago, Ross Baechle, who's involved in "Marketing / Athlete Services" e-mailed me to spread the word about Dusty & Crusty, a Cheese and Barley Wine Pairing being held at Rogue Ale house November 16. I'm afraid he didn't respond to my question about how "Athlete Services" fits into Rogue's plans, so this may forever remain a mystery. But you can never go wrong with beer and cheese, and the event looks pretty yummy.

Hosted by Sheana Davis of the Epicurean Connection, 7 years of Rogue Old Crustacean Barleywine will be paired with artisan cheeses from Delice de la Vallee, Rogue Creamery, Widmer Cellars, Carr Valley Cheese Company, Bohemian Creamery and Mato St. George.

Tickets are available at Rogue Ales Public House: 673 Union Street – (415) 362-7880

Friday, October 23, 2009

Elation and Sorrow at Gomer's Liquors

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Who would have thought a liquor with a sign with such, um, character would have such a good beer selection. Gomer's in Kansas City's Westport neighborhood. There were the Midwestern standards like O'Dell's, Bell's, Schlafly, and Boulevard Brewing. Plus many beers from the West Coast and Colorado like Stone Brewing, Lagunitas, and Avery. And a strong import selection as well. I found most everything I was looking for at Gomer's, with the notable exception of Miss Poobie behind the cash register.

So with my trip out in Kansas City coming to an end, I picked up a three bottles of Boulevard Brewing's Smokestack series which was about all that could fit into our suitcase. Linda and I had a great time with my sister Leigh and her husband Keith, and really enjoyed Kansas City. And stopping at Gomer's before taking the plane home, seeing all that great beer behind the glass refrigerator doors I couldn't take with me was not just saddening, it was tragic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

We're not in California Anymore: Free State Brewing

A recent article on Free State Brewing mentioned that owner Chuck Magerl studied Bay Area brewpubs before opening Free State Brewing. If you ask me, Bay Area brewers ought to put down their out of control hop monsters and pay attention to what Chuck's doing. The beers seem to have a lot of respect for the grain, which should be too surprising from a brewery out in Kansas. Something else Free State Brewing is known for is sourcing from local merchants wherever possible. And that's good for my brother-in-law Keith, who works for a Kansas City Mexican food supplier, and sells Mexican ingredients to Free State Brewing.

Free State Brewing is at the northern end of the Midwestern college town of Lawrence, Kansas in an old, narrow two-story building. When it opened in 1989, it was the first legal brewery to open in Kansas in 100 years. It's a brewery that wears it's local Civil War-era history heavy on its sleeve, with beers such as Emancipation Pale Ale, or the John Brown Ale, named after the militant abolitionist.

The fight between pro-slavery and anti-slavery activists as to whether Kansas would become a slave state or a free state was one of the early confrontations that triggered the Civil War. Popular vote would decide whether or not Kansas would become a free state. Large groups of both pro- and anti-slavery activists poured into Kansas to decide the outcome, which at times escalated into violent confrontations, and many of these battles were centered in and around Lawrence. Finally, on January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state, less than three months before the Battle of Fort Sumpter which began the Civil War.

(Tragic Prelude by Joh Steuart Curry, depicting the militant
John Brown, and inspired by the armed conflict over slavery in Kansas)

Keith and my sister Leigh visit often, and so with my girlfriend Linda and I in town to visit, we dropped by Free State Brewing on a cold, overcast fall Sunday. Let me just ask that if you ever go there, please order some tortilla chips, tortilla, or their custard-like tort with Mexican Ibarra chocolate to help my brother-in-law out. So what did we think about their beers?

John Brown Ale
Brown ales are not the most exciting style in the world, but this one crackles with rich, roasted malt and nutty flavors like a Civil War-era rifle. Has a little grainy mouth feel to it, but that was a plus to me. We're in Kansas, it should be grainy. A really excellent brown ale.

Ad Astra Ale
From the Free State Brewing website, Ad Astra comes from the Kansas State Motto - Ad Astra per Aspera, Latin words meaning "To the Stars through Difficulties". Free State blends Pale, Caramel, and Munich malts, balanced with Northern brewer and Fuggles hops. We found the resulting brew very crisp and fresh tasting, with some sweet fruity flavors.

Stormwatch IPA
Free State uses Amarillo hops and some dark roasted malts. I found it rather grassy, herbal, and astringent, and maybe it's just me, but it tasted a lot like nearby Boulevard Brewing's Single Wide

Blue Sky Rye
It's excellent, unique session beers like this one that make finding places like Free State seeking out. Two types of rye are combined with English Pale Ale malt and dark crystal malt, with Styrian Golding and Crystal hops to balance it out. The subtle rye flavors really add dimension to this brew, and it has a wonderful honey like sweetness to go with all those great fresh malty flavors.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Boulevard Brewing Tour and Tasting

Boulevard Brewing is one of the largest craft breweries in the country and the largest in the Midwest. Of course, it is the second largest in Missouri. But it seems to have a strong hold in Kansas City, as just about every bar, tavern, and liquor store prominently displays a large, conspicuous Boulevard Brewing sign.

Linda and I were in Kansas City for a few days visiting my kid sister Leigh and her husband Keith. Keith couldn't get off of work, but Leigh reserved a spot for herself, Linda, and me on the Boulevard Brewery tour. If you plan visit the tour someday, reserve well ahead of time, as it fills up a few weeks in advance.

As brewery tours go, it was pretty standard stuff. An energetic and enthusiastic guide took about twenty-five of us around the brewery, stopping at key locations to show a brief videos on the history of the brewery, or how various machines and gadgets are used in the process of making beer. We learned that founder John McDonald began construction of the brewery in 1988. This hand-made furniture maker and homebrewer turned entrepreneur when everyone told him he ought to start selling his homebrews. He even travelled to Germany to learn traditional brewing techniques prior to opening the brewery.

We also learned that all the old, red brick buildings housing the brewery have reinforced concrete inside to support the brewing equipment, which makes the brewery both tornado earthquake proof. And while the tour began in an old, dusty cellar full of beer aging in barrels for Boulevard's Smokestack series, most of the brewery is full of recently installed, shiny automated brewing and bottling equipment. While Boulevard has one of the largest outputs of any craft brewery in America, it takes a mere 12 hours for Anheuser-Busch to equal Boulevard's yearly output. That's longer than last year, when it took Anheuser-Busch just ten hours.

And of course, what most people consider the highlight of the tour, the tasting room at the end. So here's a brief review of those beers, from sampling them at the tasting room, and enjoying some more back at my sister's place. About 70% of Boulevard's sales is of their unfiltered wheat beer, which I didn't get a chance to try. I suppose any comprehensive review of Boulevard beer should include their flagship, but frankly, American wheat beers don't get me all that excited, and faced with a "so many beers, so little time" situation, I opted to try their styles that interested me the most.

ZON Witbier
It's pronounced "zone" and this summer seasonal won this years Gold Medal at the Great American Best Festival (GABF) in the Belgian Style Witbier catagory. I can see why this won, as it has a sharp, tangy citrus flavors that yield to strong notes of coriander. It's all enhanced by the tingly carbonation, and while I'm finding witbiers to be a tired, over-exposed style, this one is quite lively and really pops.

Tank 7 Dry Hopped Saison
It's part of Boulevard's Smokestack series, and according to Boulevard, you can only find it in their tap room, and on tap at selected locations in Kansas City which they didn't specify. It's too bad this is such a limited release. The brew has a lovely lemongrass aroma and the dry hopping gives it a strong herbal flavor, with some grassiness and a little lemon to boot. Another light, summer style from Boulevard with exploding flavors.

Luna Ale
Described as combination of a tradition British Brown Ale and a German Dunklewiessen, it's as weird as that sounds. I picked up all the flavors one would expect if you mixed two beers of those style together. Nutty roasted malt? Check. Creamy mouth feel? Check. Peppery yeast with some fruity esters ? Check. And put this all together and it's...ummm...well my sister really likes it. I'm trying hard to like it, but let's just say I'm still getting to know this beer.

Bully! Porter
Lot's of roasty malt goodness, with lots of bitter chocolate flavor and some detectable coffee notes, and little or no sweetness. Despite all the roasted malt, very smooth and drinkable.

Single Wide IPA
It's not a malty East Coast / UK IPA. It's not a thinly malted West Coast hop-bomb IPA. It's comes across as a middle of the road, IPA. There's a decent amount of malt to balance the grapefruity and slightly grassy hops. The mouth feel is pretty astringent. For me, I found this to be a good, change of pace IPA.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BevMo! Holiday Beer Fest

Announcing the first ever BevMo! Holiday Beer Fest to be held at Fort Mason, Herbst Pavilion in downtown San Francisco on Sunday November 15th, 2009 from 1pm to 4pm.

According to Jeff Moses, the event organizer, it's for beer connoisseurs everywhere to come and taste over Holiday, Seasonal & Special, soon-to-be-released, Beers for the 2009 California-style winter season. In case there was any confusion, the event is not limited to "winter warmer" seasonals, as he cited well over 30 styles he expects to be available at the event.

According to Jeff, "the beauty of the event for attendees is to taste all the holiday beers and other many other great beers (including many, many Belgians(there will be at least 100 special beers to taste), all in one place."

Tickets are $35, and more information and online purchasing can be found at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Running motivation can come from unlikely sources

This post was written for the folks at Run Reviews, a website that reviews treadmills.

One of the hardest things in running is simply getting started. Every day. There's always something else to do, or things just don't feel right, and before you know it, another day has passed without getting the daily run in. How can one find the daily motivation to run and exercise?

The standard answer to this is to find some big goal and train for that. It might be to run a certain time in a race, or to complete a run of a certain distance. Lot's of people start running with the goal of finishing a marathon. Others do it to get down to a certain weight by some future date. And goal setting in this manner, where the goal is specific and time bound, does work. In fact, I have simply entered races two or three months in advance simply to give myself another reason to run over that time. So if you are looking to find extra incentive to run, setting a specific, challenging goal for yourself is a good way to do it.

But not everyone can be training for the big race all the time. Sometimes in our lives, family, work, and other important commitments take priority. What to do then? Instead, think about all the things you like to do in your life that would be better if you are in good running shape. Of course, "good running shape" means different things to different people, but you probably have a good idea what that means for you.

Perhaps you'd want to have more energy to keep up with your kids, or to maintain your energy at work. If you're like me, if you're not running, you tend to gain weight and no longer fit into your clothes, and get tired easily. I happen to enjoy drinking craft beer and eating ice cream, two foods that by themselves, do not compose a healthy diet. But I enjoy them both in moderation, knowing that as long as I'm still running, the negative effects of these foods are largely, if not totally cancelled out. Life, for me and a lot of other people, would be pretty bad without craft beer and ice cream.

So you don't have to be training for the big race to find your running motivation. Simply find the the little things in life that matter to you, and ask yourself how running would help you enjoy those things more. Once you find those things, the motivation to run will start taking care of itself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Brewed For Thought Presents Jack and Tony’s Barrel-Aged Beer Dinner

Wanted to let everyone know about Jack and Tony's Barrel-aged Beer Dinner. You can read more details at Brewed for Thought , but here's a brief summary below:

Jack and Tony’s Barrel-Aged Beer Dinner
October 15th @ 7pm ($60 per person – Reservations recommended)

Blackened tiger prawns with cajun remoulade – Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale
Mushroom stuffed chile relleno with smoky tomato coulis – Deschutes Brewing Mirror Mirror
Roast pork loin with sun-dried tomatoes and white cannelini bean stew – Russian River Brewing Consecration
Chocolate three ways: stout float, mini pot de creme and bourbon soaked chocolate cake – Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
For reservations, please contact Jack and Tony’s at (707) 526-4347.

The Session #32: I cannot run like a Kenyan, but at least I can drink like one

For this months Session, Girl Likes Beer asks everyone to "..pick your favorite beer made east from your hometown but east enough that it is already in a different country. It can be from the closest country or from the furthest. Explain why do you like this beer. What is the coolest stereotype associated with the country the beer comes from (of course according to you)?"

For runners, "Kenyan" is an adjective to describe how distance running performances relate to world class levels. For example, "John Smith's 10,000 meter time was so fast, it was almost Kenyan." This started happening in the 80's, when Kenya started regularly sending distance runners to international track meets. The rest of the world, except for Ethiopia, didn't have a chance, and Kenyan distance runners quickly dominated the world scene. Major marathons like the Boston and New York marathon often resemble Kenyan inter-squad competitions, rather than the the international marathons that they are.

While Kenya is known for great distance running, it is barely known for beer. However, Kenya does have is a brewing history I recently learned about. Kenya Breweries was founded in the early 1920's by two brothers, and by the 50's, Tusker Golden Lager became their flagship beer using Kenyan grown barley. I discovered Tusker this summer, and upon learning it was from Kenya, was intrigued enough to give it a try.

And I'm here to say, Tusker satisfies this Mzungo. (Mzungo is Swahili for "white man".) It's a bit of a change of pace for the lagers I'm used to, very clear tasting with a light hoppy bitter crispness. Yes, there's a little skunkiness in there, that somehow adds to the flavor complexity, rather than detracting from it. It has this tingly fizziness to it, like mineral water, and the beer has a refreshing palate cleansing mouth feel to it.

Back in the day, I dreamt about running as fast as the Kenyans, blazing across the rolling African countryside. Today, I'm content to plod around my suburban neighborhood, and knock back a couple Tuskers after a run.