It’s Been a Long, Long Summer

posted on November 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm by Ken Valley in Craft Beer,Homebrewing

Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest

Sometimes life just wears you down.  Beer helps, but it doesn’t help you get any of that time back.  Here’s a quick summary of my beer-related life over the summer:

  • June 15-23 – Vacation to California, where we traveled to San Francisco and Los Angeles.  It was the first time I have had any Russian River beers, and I see why they score so high.  I tried the gambit of the specials, like
    • Pliny the Elder
    • Damnation
    • Supplication
    • Consecration
    • Redemption
  • July 4th weekend – brewed several beers, including two sours: a Tart of Darkness clone, and an Oud Bruin, both of which turned out great (they were put in bottles a few weeks ago)
  • July 11 – Had a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Red at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia.  Need I say more?
  • September 4 – Enjoyed Sweet Baby Jesus from DuClaw Brewing for the first time in Washington D.C. – A peanut butter porter.  It was pretty tasty.
Dan Carey hard at work

Dan Carey hard at work

  • September 28 – Iowa City’s Northside Oktoberfest – the event was rainy, so there wasn’t a lot of room for everyone under the tent.  New rules put in place by the state made the event less fun.  The biggest issue with this year’s event was the 1 oz samples for several of the premium beers were 5 or 6 tickets (at 50 cents per ticket).  Does this mean that the entire 20 ounce bottle is worth $50?  No, it isn’t, so I would appreciate equalizing the ticket per sample price to be more reasonable based on the bottle price.
  • October 4 – Oktoberfest at Millstream Brewing – delicious beer at a cool place.
  • October 15 – Hit up a place in Santa Monica (West 4th and Jane) that earned me a Founder’s Badge on untappd.  Maybe not cool for you, but it was for me.
  • November 16 – Took the 3 hour trek with a couple friends to New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin.  We took the “tour”, and had the guide explain a bit more about the brewery.  The coolest part of the trip was we saw Dan Carey, the brewmaster, sipping on several different Thumbprint series beers in the QA Lab.  He waved at our group (since they were like fish in a fishbowl), and just a small part of me wanted him to step out for a photo op.  We creepily stalked him for a while before we packed up our beer and left.
  • And, pretty much the whole fall we tailgated with the crew, the Keg Totem at each home game.
  • Oh, and remember the Brew-B-Q?  We plan on having some of the barleywine we brewed at our upcoming holiday party.  It ended up being 12%, and has been aging since then.

How was your summer?  Any great stories to tell?  Let me know!

 

Brrrfest 2013

posted on February 4, 2013 at 9:32 pm by Ken Valley in Craft Beer

Brrrfest 2013

Brrrfest 2013

Last Saturday, a few friends and I went to Brrrfest 2013.  Once again, like many of the recent beer events, this one featured a “Brewmaster” session, with advanced entry.  If you read my post about what to look for at beer events, here’s what I saw at Brrrfest:

It was a very fast entry to the event.  As soon as we walked into the building, ID’s were checked, then we dropped off our tickets and picked up the event tasting glass and program, then went to stand in line.  As soon as the doors opened, all 400 Brewmasters got into the event within 5 minutes, which was great.  There was a ton of room for the first hour, and my friends and I could go explore the different brewers and reconvene to discuss the highlights.  The glass was a commemorative one, but I do wish it was a globe or tulip style, instead of the kolsch-style glass.

The Sparely Populated Brewmaster Session

The Sparely Populated Brewmaster Session

Although the written program didn’t highlight any special beers, the vendors at the event had a large selection of beers.  I was a bit disappointed several of the bigger names in brewing weren’t at the event (Samuel Adams, Founder’s, and Stone Brewing to name a few), but the Iowa breweries, including several new breweries, represented very well.  In my opinion, two of the best breweries at the event were Peace Tree (in Knoxville, Iowa) and Van Houzen, a new brewery in Newton, Iowa.  Peace Tree had three different ice beers, made from three different flagship beers (Rye Porter, Belgian Blonde, and Hop Wrangler).  They were very good, and unique to the event.  Van Houzen had several of their beers on tap, and when I went to try the one in the program, Symphony Imperial Double Chocolate Stout, I noticed the rest of the lineup: a Double IPA, Belgian Tripel, and Robust Belgian White Beer, all 8% ABV and higher.  Talk about some heavyweights!  I had a chance to try them all, and they were great.

The Crowd at Brrfest

The Crowd at Brrfest

After the event, I asked my friend Macy her thoughts.  She said, “The greatest benefit of attending an event like Brrrfest is that you have the opportunity to meet new breweries that you weren’t aware of before the event, yet still get to rub elbows with the brewers from some of your favorite breweries. The mix of exploration and celebration of expertly brewed beer makes for an event that is too good to miss! I’ll definitely be attending again next year.”

Based on this year, I will too, Macy!  Did you attend Brrrfest?  What was your favorite beer?

Coralville Brrrfest 2013 Tomorrow

posted on January 25, 2013 at 11:58 am by Ken Valley in Craft Beer

Brrrfest 2013

Brrrfest 2013

If you haven’t heard yet, Coralville’s Brrrfest 2013 happens tomorrow. I’ll be there at noon for the Brewmaster session, so I hope the planners took my suggestions into consideration. Hope to see you there!

A Visit to Two Rivers Brewing in Easton, PA

posted on January 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm by Ken Valley in Craft Beer

Two Rivers Brewing

Two Rivers Brewing

Over the holidays, I was excited to go East to visit the family.  Even more so, after pledging on Kickstarter, I was anxious to visit the new brewery in Easton, Pennsylvania: Two Rivers Brewing.

The brewpub serves a New Orleans-inspired menu, with staples like Gumbo and Poutine.  At the time of our visit, they hadn’t started brewing beer yet due to a re-planning of the brewery floor (full tanks are heavy!).  They were, however, serving a lot of very local beers (within 30 miles), including a few from Weyerbacher, the other Easton brewery.

Our party tried the gumbo (great!) and duck fat fries (better than great!) as appetizers.  The ladies each ordered a seafood dish, while the guys ordered different sandwiches on the menu.  All of the food was outstanding, and the brewery quickly became a favorite with our group.

After our meal, I spoke with Troy Reynard, one of the owners, and told him how excited I was for them.  I mentioned that all I wanted for Christmas from my entire family was the $500-level Kickstarter experience, which included a brew day with the head brewer.  The head brewer is Wayne Milford, whose last job was a brewer at Dogfish Head Brewing.  The brew day experience is a bit different because it includes a bit of creative freedom from yours truly, and I am excited for them to begin brewing and have the opportunity to take part.  We finished off the evening with Troy giving me the additional Kickstarter rewards, which included a growler (which I lent to my brother-in-law), a pint glass, a nice t-shirt, and other assorted swag.

We had a great time in the historic building-turned-brewery, and I look forward to visiting them every time I make it out to the East Coast.  Have you had a chance to check out Two Rivers Brewing?  What did you think?

A Beer Lover’s Plea to Beer Event Coordinators

posted on December 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm by Ken Valley in Craft Beer

At a Recent Beer Event

At a Recent Beer Event

I have a few suggestions to beer event coordinators.  Just note that I’ve never been on the planning side, so all of my ideas are from the point of view of the patron.

I’m a beer lover.  I try all sorts of beer, and spend quite a bit of time and money finding great beers.  I brew my own beer, try exotic beers, and have a general appreciation for all things beer.

This brings me to the beer event.  In most cases, the main beer tasting event can last 3-6 hours, and has beer vendors who distribute locally where the event is hosted.  This part of the event, the main event, is great for folks who are new to beer or haven’t tried a lot of different styles or breweries.

In many cases, in addition to the main event, there is also an earlier experience (1-2 hours earlier) with fewer, limited tickets, sometimes labeled a “Brewmaster” ticket.  It is usually almost twice the price of the general admission ticket.  The crowd of people who attend this earlier event are folks just like me.  A lot of event coordinators advertise the “Brewmaster session” by stating things like “an extra hour (or two) of tasting” and “a better tasting glass”.  Unfortunately, to beer lovers like myself, this usually doesn’t justify the expense.  The reason for this is because we are looking for an experience.  Let me break down several ideas that could help turn this “Brewmaster session” into a true experience for beer lovers like myself.

First, the glass is much better than the standard tasting glass (which also needs to change to a mini-goblet or mini-tulip, instead of the mini-pilsner), but it needs to be a goblet-style or tulip-style glass.  Some of the events I’ve recently attended were handing out kolsch-style glasses, which are long and slender.  Most beer lovers prefer rounder glasses (globes or goblets), or tulip-shaped glasses because the beers we want to taste have better flavor and aroma and tend to taste better in these glasses.  Tactually, these glasses feel great in the hand and help us form a bond with the beer in the glass.  Or, if possible, allow us to bring our own glass, as long as it fits certain guidelines.

Beyond that, the extra hour isn’t as important, especially if we wait a long time in line to enter.  At a few of the recent events, by the time the last few “Brewmaster” patrons had entered, 20 minutes later the general admission began.  As a suggestion, try to speed up admission by checking ID’s and giving wristbands while people are waiting in line.  Also, if there are other items we could do ahead of time while waiting (filling out raffles, etc.), let us know so we can take care of these tasks before getting to the front of the line.  This way, a crowd of 500 can easily be in the event within minutes, allowing everyone to go try any special beers the vendors have.

Once inside, we would like not only a map of the vendors, but highlight those who are bringing special brews to the event.  As a matter of fact, many of the beer vendors can put away their flagship beers, and save them for the main tasting event.  Unless the beer is new to the area, almost everyone at the “Brewmaster” tasting session has more than likely tasted your regular lineup.  We want an experience, and new or interesting beers are exactly what we are looking for.  And why wait to serve special beers until later in the day?  The people who love your beer and will more than likely go out and buy it are here now, during the “Brewmaster” session.

Now, the point I want to make, if I haven’t made it clear, is that at beer events, we are looking for an experience.  We want to make sure we remember this event for a long time.  The way this happens is not through a magic glass or more time to get drunk, but by enjoying great beer with other beer lovers, and as a patron, we want to make sure you focus on that when planning your next beer event.

Got any other ideas?  Think I’m full of it?  Tell me what you think!

Samuel Adams Utopias 10th Anniversary

posted on November 14, 2012 at 11:05 pm by Ken Valley in Beer Reviews,Craft Beer

Utopias 10th Anniversary

Utopias 10th Anniversary

This past weekend, I had a unique opportunity.  A friend of mine had the chance to buy a bottle of the 10th Anniversary Samuel Adams Utopias.  Before the beer is complete, it undergoes quite a bit of a process; in addition to the standard beer ingredients there are also several sugars added (i.e. maple syrup).  There is then a long fermentation time, utilizing several yeast strains, finishing with champagne yeast since it can handle the higher alcohol content.  After it is done fermenting, it clocks in at a whopping 29% ABV.  It is then aged in casks that previously held bourbon, rum, tawny port and ruby port.

All of this equals a very complex beer.  There were three of us who tried it, and each of us has different experiences.  One tasted a smoky maple flavor, another tasted a sweet vanilla and maple flavor.  For some reason, I tasted a bit of banana flavor, with a lot of strong vanilla hints.  It was very alcoholic, reminded me of a whiskey, and burned all the way into the stomach.  It was definitely not for the faint of heart, but for a beer lover like myself, it was great.

Have you tried Utopias?  What did you think?

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