Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Clipper City Engulfed by Heavy Seas

Interesting bit of news out of Baltimore today, in that the city's own Clipper City Brewing Company seems to be making a move away from that name and will now be branding all of their beers under the not-so-new Heavy Seas moniker (they've used the name for a lineup of beers under their banner for years already).

The new logo, as seen here, will adorn all bottles, and while the still-fairly-new Mutiny Fleet of 22oz. "big beers" (big in both bottle size and ABV) will remain and continue to grow, several of the more standard Clipper City beers will see major label art changes and even slight name tweaks. broke the news today and has even more details on these and other developments from Clipper City/Heavy Seas, including new beers, soon to be retired beers and more, and you can click here to get all of the info direct from them.

Hopback, beer, Baltimore, Maryland, Clipper City, Heavy Seas, Mutiny Fleet

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

Every craft brewery should have a mixed twelve pack. It just doesn't make sense to not have one: you get to put three to six offerings from your brewery into one package in an effort to turn a consumer on to as many of your products as possible. Plus, you're maximizing the chances that said consumer finds something that they like and would purchase again. If someone picks up a six pack of a particular brewery's IPA for the first time and hates it, the odds of them returning to that brewery to try a different style have decreased greatly. But, if they pick up a mixed twelve pack and hate the same IPA, yet really like two or three of the other styles that are included, then the pack has done it's job and that consumer will likely return to you to purchase the styles they did enjoy.

These mix packs are also a great investment for folks like myself who like to try a lot of different beers but don't want to blindly spend and potentially waste money on multiple six packs in fear that they may not be very good. For example, the Brewer's Lunchbox from the Fort Collins Brewery, which we will discuss in further detail shortly, was a no-brainer: $16 to sample two bottles each of six different styles from the brewery, or I could've spent $50+ on individual six packs for each style. Sure, I would've ended up with a lot more beer from the latter, but what's the point in that if I end up not liking two or three (or more) of the styles?

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: the Fort Collins Brewery out of (you guessed it) Fort Collins, Colorado. They don't provide much in terms of company history on their website (save for the fact that they are expecting to complete construction on a new brewing facility and restaurant slated to open in May 2010, but that is more company future than it is company history), but they do provide what is one of the more unique mixed twelve packs that I've seen available, at least in terms of the styles offered within, which include an American Wheat Ale brewed with pomegranate juice, a Schwarzbier, a Rauchbier, a Red Ale, an American IPA and an American Stout. Here are my brief thoughts on each:

Kidd Lager (Schwarzbier) - A nice deep brown to black color with chocolate, caramel, earth, smoke and perhaps even some brown sugar all balanced quite nicely in the aroma. The flavor is not as sweet as the aroma would lead on but definitely gives off a chocolate vibe and has a nice smoked, burnt finish. This one is very drinkable and is a nice winter, session-type beer.

Chocolate Stout (American Stout) - Pours near black in color with a nice chocolate milk-esque creamy head. The aroma has a mix of slightly burnt malt, a hint of licorice and some cocoa, while the flavor takes on a harsher tone with the burnt malt and what seems to be more bitter than sweet chocolate notes leading the way. A good beer overall save for what was a surprisingly thin mouth feel for a stout.

Z Lager (Rauchbier) - Copper color with a big white head. This one gives off scents of grass, caramel, smoke and some bacon (yes, bacon). The flavor leans toward the sweet side with the caramel playing nicely off of the grass and sometimes floral taste that comes through. Smoke is indeed present but much more subtle than anticipated for the style, which makes this one of the more universally appealing rauchbier's I've ever had. Pretty good stuff again here, but I personally would've liked to have seen a tick more of a hearty smoke presence in the flavor.

Rocky Mountain IPA (American IPA) - Hazy copper color with lots of web-like residue clinging to the glass...nice. The aroma is an excellent blend of pepper, pine, fruit juice, bread and earth and the flavor is similar, but sweeter and juicier, with a bit of fruit shining though amongst the pine notes. Hops lead for sure but don't overpower or distract. The finish takes on a bread-like taste with a tiny bit of the pepper coming through. Big thumbs up for this IPA.

Major Tom's Pomegranate Wheat (American Wheat Ale) - Slightly cloudy darker golden color, with passable but faint wheat, grain and pomegranate characteristics in the nose. The flavor thankfully steps it up a notch from the aroma, with the wheat and pomegranate coming through much more pronounced for a taste that's sweeter and that has more pep in it than expected, yet also provides a slightly dry bread flavor at the finish. Not bad overall but nothing memorable. Decent across the board with no major flaws. Tasty yet unimaginative, I'd say.

Retro Red (Red Ale) - A nice crisp ruby color with a soapy beige head. The aroma leads with caramel and slightly burnt malt and is complimented by some darker fruit and juicy hops. This continues in the flavor with even more roasted burnt malt throughout, some smoke in the middle and hops mostly noticeable at the finish. Another nice job by Fort Collins. Hearty and sweet, and I really dug the subtle smoke flavors that came out at times.

The big winners here for me were the Kidd Lager and Rocky Mountain IPA, with the Retro Red lagging not too far behind those two. I definitely see regular purchases of these in my future, and I'd be happy to drink all six styles again. I'd say the Brewer's Lunchbox is definitely worth checking out, as there is something in there for everyone, and there's a good chance that you'll find at least one beer (and hopefully more) that's to your liking...

Hopback, beer, Fort Collins Brewery, Colorado, Retro Red, Red Ale, Major Tom's Pomegranate Wheat, American Wheat Ale, Kidd Lager, Schwarzbier, Rocky Mountain IPA, American IPA, Z Lager, Rauchbier, Chocolate Stout, American Stout, Brewer's Lunchbox,

Stone Brewing Does Europe?

Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of the Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, CA, has been using his Twitter account over the past few days to hint at some big news regarding Stone. Well, the news just hit and it looks like Stone is exploring the possibility of opening a brewing facility in Europe. Very interesting indeed. If this does actually happen (and it very well may not), it could re-write the book on American Craft Beer production and distribution.

A comprehensive video explaining their thought process, where they're at and where they'd like to get to with this project was just posted on the Stone Blog, so I'll let it do the rest of the talking:

Stone to open a Brewery in Europe? from stonebrew on Vimeo.

Hopback, beer, Stone, California, Europe, Greg Koch

Monday, December 21, 2009

TTB Find of the Week: Flying Fish Exit Series Goes to Twelve Ounces

In what I personally see as a great move, New Jersey's Flying Fish Brewing Co. appears to be taking their Exit Series to twelve ounce bottles. For those that don't know the story behind these beers, they each "focus on a unique aspect of an individual exit" of the New Jersey Turnpike. The series seems to really be taking off for the brewery and this is the next logical step in getting the beers into the hands of more consumers.

The Exit 4 label seen here was uncovered today on the TTB site's approved label list. No word yet as to if each beer in the series will be given twelve ounce status or if it will only be select offerings that carry over from the standard 750ml bottles.

While I tend to find much of the regular Flying Fish lineup to be mediocre, the Exit Series has certainly renewed my interest in the brewery. Exit 4 (an American Trippel) was very good, Exit 11 (a Hoppy American Wheat) was even better and I've had a bottle of Exit 1 (Bayshore Oyster Stout) in my fridge for some time now and it has been calling out my name recently.

Check back often for updates on availability of other beers from the series.

Hopback, beer, Flying Fish, New Jersey, Exit 4, American Trippel, Exit 11, Hoppy American Wheat, Exit 1, Bayshore Oyster Stout, Exit Series

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Don't know why, but I'm a sucker for any sort of Christmas beer: slap a Santa Claus, snowy landscape or a decorated tree on the label and chances are I'll buy it. Damn you, cheap marketing ploys. Of the myriad of Christmas-time offerings from American Craft brewers, there are of course a handful that really stand out as the cream of the crop. One of those is Our Special Ale from Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. It's been a few years since I've enjoyed this one, but it's a whole new experience regardless. This may be the 35th Anniversary of OSA, but Anchor changes both the recipe and label each year, and each year OSA fans rave about what a great beer that particular year's batch turned out to be. The concoction for 2009 is no exception.

It pours wonderfully, with a murky brown ruby body and a somewhat creamy beige head that leaves thick rings of soapy residue on the glass.

The aroma and flavor are, for lack of a better term, like Christmas in a glass. There's a healthy dose of molasses, brown sugar, cinnamon and spruce, with perhaps a bit of pine as well. Throw in a touch of caramel and even some cocoa in the back for good measure. Everything just noted is balanced impeccably for a unique and impressive aroma. The flavor remains balanced yet allows for some of the characteristics to breathe through a bit more. Molasses leads the way up front and blends with a bit of a fruity flavor, while the finish is dry and a bit earthy even from a bit of roasted malt, but also a bit spicy from a dose of cinnamon and even a pinch of nutmeg. Spruce and pine mix in throughout the entirety of each sip but shine the most in the middle and just before the finish.

What really makes this beer what it is might be the mouth feel. Carbonation is kept at lower levels which leads to a medium bodied, heartier, chewier beer that just feels traditional, like you should be taking your mug of OSA from the bar and pulling up a chair next to Ben Franklin and Paul Revere in a Colonial tavern. A bit nerdy? Perhaps, but it is what it is.

You want to try this beer. Really. It's that good. Spices are not over the top and invasive as they are with, say, Harpoon's Winter Warmer, but they're not subtle either. Everything just blends together and hits the mark across the board, and the end result is a great beer to enjoy either with friends and family during the holidays or all by your lonesome next to the Christmas tree and fireplace.

Hopback, beer, Anchor, San Francisco, California, Christmas, Ale, Our Special Ale

Monday, December 14, 2009

BIG Plans for Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary

With their uber-hyped Life and Limb collaboration with Dogfish Head still trickling into certain markets, Sierra Nevada has decided once again to smack it's fans upside the head with some incredibly cool news for it's 30th anniversary in 2010: more collaborations with some of the pioneers of the craft brewing industry, with proceeds from said beers going to select charities. See below for more details in the official press release, but if you're looking for rumors about the beers, Brewed For Thought notes that the collaboration with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing looks like it may be an Imperial Stout, the third beer may be brewed with both Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt and the fourth may be a barrel-aged blend of existing Sierra Nevada beers. Again, these are all rumors, but they all sound pretty intriguing to me.

And now for the full release:

Four collaborations for Sierra Nevada's 30th.

Chico, CA (12/14/09)--Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. will mark 2010 with a yearlong celebration of the trailblazing brewers who helped transform America into the world's most exciting brewing nation. Next year is the 30th anniversary for the Chico-based brewery, and Sierra Nevada is teaming up with the founders of the movement to benefit select charities and beer drinkers across the country.

March of 2010 will see the first of four beers in a series of collaborative projects with America's craft-brewing pioneers: Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing; Jack McAuliffe, founder of New Albion Brewery; and authors, homebrewers, and beer advocates Fred Eckhardt, and Charlie Papazian. Together, this group is credited as 'the men who launched a thousand breweries;' and without them, our current day craft-beer-renaissance might never have happened.

"We wanted to pay tribute to the original pioneers who helped me and hundreds of others get started," said Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman. "Few people in the craft-brewing world have accomplished more than these guys, and we thought it might be fun to get the original crew together and make something special."

This project will begin where craft brewing started--Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. Maytag bought the historic brewery in 1965, and his vision for American beer changed everything. In December 2009, these pioneers gathered at Anchor to catch up, reminisce about craft beer's beginnings, and share their vision for the project.

"I feel honored to sit at the table with these guys," said Grossman. "Without the help that these guys gave me in the early days, I never would have gotten started. Each of them has shaped craft beer in some meaningful way, and without them, who knows what American beer would be today?"

The beers will be released periodically throughout the year, starting with the first release in March, and continuing until Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary on November 15. These limited-release 750ml cage-and-cork bottles will be available at select retailers and beer-centric bars.

These beers will be much more than a tribute: Proceeds from the project will go to benefit select charities chosen by the four pioneers.

Sierra Nevada started in 1980 with a humble hand-built brewhouse and some interesting ideas about beer. Today it's America's longest-running craft startup, and boasts the number-one best-selling craft brand in the country--the legendary flagship, Pale Ale.

A lot has changed in the generation since Grossman first met these brewing pioneers. When Sierra Nevada first opened its doors, there were less than 50 breweries in the United States. Today, there are more than 1,500 craft breweries in operation, and American brewers lead the world in variety of styles, innovation, experimentation, and quality.

I'd get in line for these now if I could. This just sounds like an amazing project all around. How about that 30th Anniversary logo, by the way? Stunning.

Check back often for more details as they are released from the brewery...

Hopback, beer, Sierra Nevada, California, Dogfish Head, Life and Limb, collaboration, Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, Charlie Papazian, Fred Eckhardt, Ken Grossman, Jack McAuliffe, New Albion

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Brewery mergers have been the talk of the town in recent days, so let's go the opposite direction and talk splits. A little over two years ago Tom Kehoe, founder of Yards Brewing Company, and Nancy and Bill Barton, Yards co-owners since 2001, came to an agreement to part ways. In a nutshell, Kehoe retained the Yards name and existing recipes and relocated the brewery shortly thereafter, while the Barton's held onto the Yards facility (originally constructed as a part of the Weisbrod & Hess Oriental Brewing Company in 1885) and equipment in the Kensington section of Philadelphia and formed the Philadelphia Brewing Company in 2008. The brewery now cranks out four regular beers (Newbold IPA, Rowhouse Red, Walt Wit and Kenzinger), along with a handful of seasonal offerings. I had the good fortune to sample a bunch of their stuff recently and here's how they all fared:

Kenzinger (4.5% ABV, a "golden session ale" and PBC's flagship beer) was up first and it looked amazing: a crisp golden color with a huge rocky, foamy head that lingered atop the liquid. Everything finally settles in and leaves hefty gobs of residue on the glass. Quite frankly, the head out of the bottle was actually a bit too crazy, as even the most careful of pours foamed up very easily. Regardless, this one was incredible looking.

There's a blend of sweet, subtle hop juice, some caramel and a bit of grainy bread in
the aroma, and these all carry over to the flavor where they meet up with a nice hint of pepper which hits you with a quick hop bite at the finish of each sip. Mouthfeel was maybe a touch thin, but this is a light bodied beer so that's to be expected to an extent.

Kenzinger was ridiculously easy to drink and quite enjoyable. Simple, flavorful and certainly one to revisit.

Next we had the Walt Wit (4.2% ABV, Belgian Style Wit) which poured with your typical (for the style) looking cloudy golden color and hits you with the basic wit aromas and flavors of lemon and other citrus notes, some wheat, a bit of yeast, and some herbs and spices such as coriander. The flavor brought the citrus and wheat to the forefront a bit more for a slightly bolder taste than aroma but overall everything was fairly tame. Balanced? Yes, but tame.

In terms of fitting within the style, this one did, but fell pretty close to the middle of the pack as it was average in just about every area. I wouldn't say to pass on it, but don't expect to be wowed either.

I was most curious to see what PBC's take on an IPA would be, as it's been the "in" style for some time now. Everyone's brewing them and most are going big with Double IPA's as well. I'm happy to say that the Newbold IPA (6% ABV, India Pale Ale) took one of the more unique approaches to the style that I've seen recently.

This was another one that looked amazing, with a nice murky amber color and a huge off-white head that is chunky as hell and which also left large patches of itself on the glass as it subsided.

The aroma and flavor were where this one started to stray from IPA territory, yet remained in character for the style at the same time. Sweetness and earthy malt dominated, with a good bit of fruit presence as well. Hops were in the mix for sure, but not nearly to the level that you'd expect, even for a basic IPA. They did come to the front a bit more in the flavor yet still remained tame, to the point where I'd say it even leaned toward a Pale Ale, yet not. I liked the murky, smoky undertones here as well. Weird. Good.

Interesting stuff and an odd one to pin down, but I liked it. A lot of atypical flavor and really unlike any other IPA I've ever come across.

Finally we had Joe (5% ABV, Coffee Porter) which was just released to the market in bottles and was a world apart from the three beers just discussed.

It's near black in color and had a rugged, coffee/chocolate aroma and flavor to it, yet was cut with a good amount of sweetness for balance. Come to think of it, the chocolate was actually more cocoa-like than straightforward chocolate. Coffee took over in the flavor yet still remained fairly balanced as the cocoa mellowed out a touch. A big fault of many porters is that they come at you with a hefty stout like body, but this one did not. It's certainly medium to full bodied, yet remained thin enough and spot on for the style.

I personally can't stand coffee as a stand alone beverage, but find myself liking a lot of coffee stouts and porters, and Joe was yet another one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

So there you have it. Overall I'd say there's some solid stuff coming out of the Philadelphia Brewing Company tanks with a few of the beers having some unique twists on their respective styles. When you sample four beers from a brewery and really enjoyed three of them with the worst thing you have to say about the fourth is that it was tame/average, that it's a nice place for them to be, or so I think. Hell, it's just one man's opinion, and who says I'm right anyway? If you live within their distribution area (only Pennsylvania and New Jersey right now as far as I know), pick up some of their stuff and prove me wrong...or right.

Hopback, beer, Philadelphia, Brewing, Nancy Barton, Bill Barton, Yards, Tom Kehoe, Kensington, Kenzinger, Walt Wit, Newbold IPA, Joe, Coffee Porter, Pennsylvania