Fall seasonal beers fill an interesting niche, bridging crisp, easy-drinking summer brews with richer, heavier holiday beers. What makes an autumn beer an autumn beer? There's no consensus. Pumpkin beers, obviously, are a popular offering. But breweries are also making everything from light sour beers to deep stouts. Our staff tasted 13 fall seasonal beers from breweries throughout the U.S. and picked our favorites. (Full disclosure: Some of the beers were mailed to CHOW as samples.) Here are the six that were the most popular. READ MORE
Evidence that home-brewing has stepped out of the basement and into the mainstream is everywhere. Williams-Sonoma now carries one-gallon home-brew kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop. A recent New York Times article noted that membership in the American Homebrewers Association has doubled since 2006. And now, San Francisco is home to Brewlab, a unique collective that helps home-brewers distribute their beer to members through a CSA-like mystery grab bag of brews. READ MORE
It looks like 2010 is going to be another great year for beer, full of interesting collaborations, a big anniversary for Sierra Nevada, and whatever else brewers decide to throw in their kettles and serve. Here's some of the stuff we're looking to try in the coming year.
The wax-topped "Reserve Series" of beers by the Deschutes Brewery in Oregon tend to be really good, and the latest release of "The Abyss" is unsurprisingly delicious. Though it sounds overly fancified—brewed with molasses and licorice, barrel-aged, high alcohol content at 11 percent—the beer is surprisingly restrained and balanced. There's no black licorice slapping you in the face. The finish is dry and, unlike other "imperial" versions of beers that can be way over the top in booziness, this one is scarily easy to drink for a high-ABV beer. It's best sipped solo, but it does taste pretty good paired with chocolate coins.
Deschutes' The Abyss, $12.99
Agwa De Bolivia, a new liqueur made from coca leaves is now available for about 40 bucks a bottle. The company's website says it'll give you an “AGWABUZZ” like no other by activating the "various coca leaf alkaloids ... with lime to mimic the 'oxygen buzz' experienced when chewing coca leaves or drinking coca-leaf tea at high altitude in the Andes; it tunes you in." Yet, all the cocaine alkaloid is removed. From the press release:
"Wild Bolivian coca leaves are hand-picked at 2000 meters in the Andes and shipped under armed guard in 2000 Kilo Bales to Amsterdam to be macerated and de-cocainized. The potent high strength flavor formula is reduced to 60 proof, bottled and then shipped around the world in a more conventional format."
Consumers tend to imagine wine being produced at a bucolic Napa vineyard by a guy in an apron, but that’s not necessarily so, says the Hungry Beast in “How Wine Became Like Fast Food.” Wine and spirits stores like Total Wine and BevMo! are making and marketing their own private-label wines now. “Such brands are highly lucrative,” writes Keith Wallace, “with profit margins often 20% higher than comparable wines.”
The trend isn’t limited to dedicated booze stores: “Trader Joe’s has its ‘Two Buck Chuck,’ Wal-Mart has its Alcott Ridge, and 7-Eleven has its Thousand Oaks Vineyards.” Retail chains love the private-label wines because Joe Glug-a-bottle starts to associate this wonderful grape beverage with the company that introduced him to it—and is tempted to stop by more often to get more.
Last week WhiskyFest blew through SF, leaving behind a trail of dead. Joking aside (though seriously, the stuff will slay you after a few hours if you don’t force yourself to dump after tasting), there were more than 200 whiskeys to sample from all over the world, many master distillers on hand to talk about their products, and, well, a lot of those profusely sweating guys who always seem to show up to beer and spirits festivals. I concentrated on the domestic offerings, leaving the many great Scotches and other imports for next time.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Death’s Door Spirits: Out of Wisconsin, this small-batch distiller is named after the passage between Washington Island and the Door County Peninsula. It uses organic grains, and makes a “white” whiskey. The perfectly clear spirit is made by double distilling, resting the booze for three weeks, then popping it in oak barrels for less than 72 hours. It picks up some whiskey flavors, and even has a sweet suggestion of reposado tequila. Would be fun to experiment with in cocktails that call for gin, or to make something odd like a white Manhattan. They were also pouring a very good, creamy, almost buttery gin, with lots of botanicals but no overwhelming juniper bitterness.
High West Distillery: First off, you have to give some props to these people for not only starting a distillery in Utah, but also starting a ski-in distillery and pub. More importantly, they are selling some very good ryes. Since the company is only a few years old, High West’s own stuff is still aging. In the meantime, it’s been blending other distilleries’ booze to great success. I liked the Rendezvous Rye, a blend of a 6-year-old, 95 percent rye and a 16-year-old, 80 percent rye. It’s strong and spicy, with some vanilla in there. It’s not chill-filtered—a process many distillers put their whiskeys through to remove oils that will make the whiskey appear cloudy when it’s cold. Skipping the step leaves a little more texture in the Rendezvous and flavor in the finish.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey: Stranahan’s is a great microdistillery in Denver. Its Colorado Whiskey is aged in charred American white oak whiskey barrels, and contains both floral Scotch qualities and some of the brown-sugary spiciness of bourbon, with some hints of smoky, leathery, earthy funk in there too from, well, who knows. Like High West’s Rendezvous Rye, this is not chill-filtered. Don’t be scared off by the 94 proofage—it’s fiery to be sure, but still totally sippable.
Shmaltz Brewing, of Coney Island lager fame, debuted its new, blood-red beer at last Saturday’s second annual beer and music festival, Freaktoberfest. A packed crowd of craft beer fans partied at the Public Assembly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sampling a range of great mostly local brews.
Shmaltz’s beers are always tasty, and they were being poured in abundance. But a new discovery was the New Hampshire-based Smuttynose’s Farmhouse Ale. A little maltier than I was expecting, it was golden in color and nice and spicy-yeasty. Tasty ’til the last swallow. There’s something great about farmhouse ales and Saisons when the weather turns wet and cool. They’ve got enough body and funk to keep you warm and stand up to heavier foods, but are still fresh and crisp tasting, like the fall air.
An absurdly enthusiastic mass of beer geek dudes practically mobbed Dogfish Head craft brewery’s Sam Calagione as he stepped into the Blind Tiger Ale House in NYC last night. For more than a half hour, the Delaware-based brewer was locked in pivot position, distributing gratis pints from the bar to his many admirers, who pumped his hand and had him pose for pictures. The Dogfish event, which featured 25 (!) of the company’s beers on tap, including some real obscure ones, was one of the most hotly anticipated events of the NY Craft Beer Week festival that kicked off last Sunday.
Calagione, a tanned, rugged guy (he once modeled in some Levi’s ads) with a bro-style friendliness, has become the de facto spokesman for the current craft brewing craze. His beers are easy to market and get excited about, in large part because of their J. Peterman-inspired marketing. Check out some of last night’s pours:
Chateau Jiahu: Developed from a recipe found in 9,000-year-old preserved pottery jars in the Neolithic village of Jiahu, China, using pre-gelatinized rice flakes, wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, hawthorn fruit, chrysanthemum flowers, and sake yeast.
Pangaea: An ale brewed with an ingredient from every single continent, including crystallized ginger from Australia, muscovado sugar from Africa, Antarctic water, Belgian yeast, and exotic grains.
Theobroma: “Based on the chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras” that contained residue of some boozy chocolate drink enjoyed by 1200 BCE partyers. Containing Aztec coca powder and nibs, honey, chiles, and annatto seeds.
Especially in a recession, there’s something great about the kind of armchair travel you can do from your barstool. Or, as Calagione proclaimed as soon as he had extricated himself from fans to stand on the bar, “The great thing about craft beer, is you can upgrade from the shittiest wine, and for the same price … try the shit from small, independent breweries!” Well said.