Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Best Beers in America - 2011

Zymurgy Magazine, the official magazine of the American Homebrewer's Association, has, in their latest issue, released their 2011 list of the best beers in America.  The selections are made by Zumurgy readers and, according to them, "A record number of votes were cast this year, with 1,306 different beers from 433 breweries represented in the poll."

And the winners are (A 'T' before the rank indicates a tie):

1. Russian River Pliny the Elder
2. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
T3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
T3. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
5. Bell’s Hopslam
6. Stone Arrogant Bastard
7. Sierra Nevada Celebration
T8. Sierra Nevada Torpedo
T8. Stone Ruination
10. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
11. Stone Sublimely Self Righteous
12. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine
13. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
T14. Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
T14. Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
T16. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
T16. New Glarus Belgian Red
18. North Coast Old Rasputin
19. Bell’s Expedition Stout
T20. Deschutes The Abyss
T20. Left Hand Milk Stout
T20. Odell IPA
T20. Samuel Adams Noble Pils
T20. Surly Furious
T20. Troegs Nugget Nectar
T26. Rogue Dead Guy Ale
T26. Samuel Adams Boston Lager
28. Anchor Steam
T29. Bear Republic Racer 5
T29. Ommegang Three Philosophers
T29. Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
T29. Three Floyds Alpha King
T29. Three Floyds Dark Lord
T34. Avery Maharaja
T34. Dogfish Head Indian Brown
T34. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
T34. Three Floyds Gumballhead
T38. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
T38. Lost Abbey Angel’s Share
T38. New Belgium La Folie
T38. New Belgium Ranger
T38. Oskar Blues Old Chub
T43. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
T43. Great Divide Yeti
T43. New Belgium 1554
T43. Russian River Blind Pig
T43. Ska Modus Hoperandi
T48. Alesmith Speedway Stout
T48. Dark Horse Crooked Tree
T48. Green Flash West Coast IPA
T48. Summit EPA
T48. Victory Prima Pils

So, did your favorite beer make the list?  Also, how many from this list have you had yourself?  Since this is a list of the 'best beers' available from American breweries, you might want to start working your way down the list, trying any you haven't had before, so you can see what all the fuss is about.  I've had 28 of the beers on this list.  I guess I'd better get busy trying the rest of them. 

It was no surprise to see Russian River's Pliny The Elder take top honors again.  That makes three years in a row that it's topped the list.  I've had all but two of the top 12 beers listed above but, apparently, I need to pay more attention to Bell's.  They'll be on my mind the next time I visit my local bottle shop. 

In addition to ranking the best beers, the Zymurgy poll also ranked American breweries.  Here are those results:

1. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.
2. Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, Mich.
3. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, Calif.
4. Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, Calif.
5. Russian River Brewing Co., Santa Rosa, Calif.
6. Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.
7. New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colo.
8. Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams), Boston, Mass.
9. Three Floyds Brewing Co., Munster, Ind.
10. Oskar Blues Brewing Co., Longmont, Colo.
11. Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, Ill.
T12. Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma, Calif.
T12. New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, Wis.
14. Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Ore.
15. Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, Ohio
16. Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colo.
17. Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, Colo.
18. Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver, Colo.
19. Victory Brewing Co., Downington, Pa.
20. Surly Brewing Co., Minneapolis, Minn.
21. Rogue Ales, Newport, Ore.
22. Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles, Calif.
T23. Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, N.Y.
T23. North Coast Brewing Co., Fort Bragg, Calif.
T24. Bear Republic Brewing Co., Healdsburg, Calif.
T24. Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, Colo.

My personal preferences would have ranked a few of the breweries there a bit higher.  For exmple: Firestone Walker Brewing & North Coast Brewing should have ranked higher (though I'm not sure who I'd 'bump' lower to make that happen).  But, as this is a nationwide poll, I can't expect everyone's tastes to match mine. 

Further poll results, including which brewery has the best portfolio and what the best import beers are, take a look HERE on the Homebrewer's Association website. 

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Trip To Silver City Brewing

This past weekend we had a bit of nice weather, so I decided to jump on my motorcycle and take a trip to a brewery I hadn't had the opportunity to visit yet.  That brewery was Silver City Brewery & Restaurant in Silverdale, WA.  I could have taken the Bremerton ferry from Seattle to get to Silverdale but, since I live a bit farther South and it was a nice day for a ride, I decided to take the waterfront route along Dash Point to Tacoma and then on through Gig Harbor, Oak Harbor and Bremerton on Highway 16 and Highway 3. 

I arrived at the brewery, surrounded by fast food joints (Mickey D's, Jack in the Box, Skippers, etc.) and set adjacent to a mall with places like Kohl's and Macy's Furniture Gallery.  It was an oasis for those seeking a real brewpub (as opposed to the pale imitation that is Red Robin, just a few doors down - does that place EVER clean their tap lines?)

I took a seat at the bar and ordered an Indianola IPA.  The first sip had a bit of a 'yeasty/homebrewey' kind of taste, but it soon passed and presented a fairly well balanced IPA.  A bit on the sweet side and a bit light on the hop bite for my tastes, but as my regular readers know, I'm a serious hop-head.  It had a sweet caramel malt and floral hop aromas (subdued).  I was preparing to order some food, but learned that Silver City's happy hour is 7 days a week.  I was a bit after 2:00 and their happy hour started at 3:00, so I decided to nurse in Indianola a bit, and wait until happy hour to order food. 

The Taps At Sliver City Brewery & Restaurant

When happy hour arrived, I stepped things up on the beer side, ordering a Whoop Pass Double IPA.  This 9% deep copper colored IPA is the stronger and hoppier counterpart to Indianola.  It had a nice grapefruit/orange citrus aroma with just a bit of caramel and brown sugar type sweetness in the background.  Assertively hoppy, this is my type of beer; grapefruity and piney with just enough malt backbone to support the assertive hoppiness. 

I paired my Whoop Pass with a bowl of Silver City's Gumbo and a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw.  Though not traditional Southern style, the gumbo was pretty good, with andouille, chicken, red peppers, onions and served over rice.  And their 'small' happy hour bowl wasn't exactly tiny (though for $5.99, it shouldn't be.  I'm used to lower prices for happy hour soup servings - but smaller portions too). 

The pulled pork sandwich with slaw was also good ($5.99 also).  Not too heavy on the BBQ sauce, which I like, but it may have almost been too light on the sauce. My first few bites were a bit on the dry side.  I find that getting the BBQ sauce to pork ratio correct for a pulled pork sandwich can be a challenge.  There are varying opinions on how much sauce is enough - how much is too much, etc.  I think the best solution would be if more restaurants started going ligher on the BBQ sauce, but including an extra side of it for those who want more.  The bun was firm but not hard and the slaw had the right amount of dressing; not too much or too little. 

Wanting to finish with something a bit lighter, I switched to Silver City's Hefewizer for my last beer.  I was preparing to use lemon in my Hefewizen, as I often do with American-style Hefe's, but I was pleased to discover that Silver City's Hefewizen, which I had never had before, was a German Style Hefe.  I don't use lemon on German style Hefewizens, so I put the lemon wedge aside and enjoyed.  They did a decent job with this one.  I've had better Hefes, but the traditional clove and banana notes were there, along with a nice wheat malt character with a medium body.  Very refreshing. 

We haven't had a whole lot of great weather so far this summer, but I hope I'll have more opportunities to visit other breweries in the state this year, so I can share my impressions with you.  I'll have to start figuring out which brewery I'll visit next.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brewing An IPA For A Competition

Brewing is an art, and all art has critics. Beer is no exception. Of course, just like art, the way a beer is perceived can vary from person to person. Our taste buds are unique; we don't all experience flavors in exactly the same way. So, when brewing an IPA that must appeal to the masses, what type of malt and hop profile do I shoot for? Do I want more Earthy/Piney hop character or would a more grapefruit/citrusy hop aroma and flavor win over more people? Shuld the hops fully dominate, or do I want a more balanced IPA with a slightly sweet malt character to compliment the hops?

These are the types of things I must consider when crafting my latest IPA recipe; since this beer will be for a competition. However, this will be a non AHA/BJCP-Sanctioned competition. That makes a difference. Why?

BJCP Certified judges must adhere to a strict set of rules when judging in an AHA/BJCP-Sanctioned competition. A beer cannot be judged on personal taste or simply how well you 'like' it over another entry. Each beer in an AHA/BJCP-Sanctioned competition is judged on its own merit by a specific set of criteria and how close the entry comes to meeting the definitions of the particular style category the beer was entered into for each of those criteria.

Also, in an AHA/BJCP-Sanctioned competition, there can be no style variations. For example, you could not enter, for example, an Imperial IPA or a Lavender IPA into the IPA category as defined by BJCP. Imperial has its own separate category and using Lavender would place any entry in the 'Specialty Beer' category, since it would not meet the 'classic' definition of an IPA.

In the competition I'll be entering, there are no such restrictions. Want to make a Cotton-Candy IPA? Go for it. How about an Oaked Honey IPA? That'd work too. So I also need to decide if I'll make a more traditional IPA for this competition, or if I'll get a bit more creative and add one or more special or unusual ingredients.

I'm planning to brew the IPA sometime this weekend, however, so I need to make my decisions and finalize my recipe soon. If I manage to win the competition, my IPA will likely become one of the very first beers to be brewed by the Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, which is pretty exciting. So wish me luck!

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The 2012 NHC Will Be In Seattle/Bellevue

The 2011 National Homebrew Conference (NHC) just wrapped up in San Diego; and it ended on a high note.  Why?  Because it has been announced that the 2012 NHC will be right here in Seattle & Bellevue, Washington!

That's great news and means I have absoultely no excuse to miss next year's NHC, and neither do you! 

Get into the spirit by watching this Pre-Conference video, which talks about the thriving homebrew scene in the Seattle/Puget Sound area:

Pre-2012 Seattle/Bellevue National Homebrewers Conference Video from WAHA on Vimeo.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The 33rd Annual NHC Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the kick off for the 33rd annual National Homebrew Conference (NHC) in San Diego, CA.  I wasn't able to make it to this year's conference, but for those who can, there's a lot going on.

Happening right now are a bunch of pre-conference activities, including:
  • Brewery tours
  • Beer pairing breakfast
  • Beer pairing dinner
  • 30th St. pub crawl
  • Hornblower afternoon beer cruise
  • Golf at Riverwalk Golf Course
For details on these and other pre-conference events, take a look HERE.

There's also a Pro-Brewer's night, which offers attendees a private beer festival within the conference with 1800 of their closest homebrewing friends, clubmates, and professional brewers from across the country. This year, there’s also a pro-am competition taking place. Just to add to the fun!  The theme for this year's Pro-Brewer's night is Fun in the Summertime (Now, if only we could get a little Summer here in Seattle!) 

See HERE for a complete list of participating breweries for Pro-Brewer's night. 

Do you belong to a homebrew club?  The Club Night is for you.  You can attend just for fun, or get a booth for your homebrew club.  You can sign up for a booth space by contacting Roger Morrissey at, and provide him with the following information:
  • Club name, city and state
  • Contact person’s name, email and phone number
  • Do you need power?
  • Do you need more than 10 ft x 10 ft space?
  • Do you want to share a space?
  • Do you need a table?
  • Approximately how many beers will you have on tap and/or in bottles?
  • Approximately how many members are coming from your club?
  • Are there any clubs that you want or do not want to be situated beside your booth?
See HERE for the complete list of participating clubs. 

You can also drop by the Hospitality Suite to sample homebrews, talk with suppliers, etc.  The HS moves poolside after the conference's evening events.  You can look HERE for a list of participating clubs. 

I have some friends in San Diego now having fun.  I'll have to try and make sure I can join then for next year's fun.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Selecting A Keg Can Be A Challenge

Have you ever ordered a keg or been asked to supply a keg of homebrw for a party?  Whichever way you decide to go, it can be an agonizing decision to make.  If you order a keg, what do you get?  There's a nearly endless supply of beers to choose from.  You can save money if you go with a local brewery - if you have one.

If you go with homebrew, there's a whole other set of considerations.  Do you have a batch ready?  Do you have enough to supply the party?  Are you willing to watch a whole batch of your homebrew disappear in just a few hours - much of it to people you may not even know? 

A homebrew 'Cornelius' Keg

In the time before microbreweries and the proliferation of homebrewing, when the keg you'd find at 95% of parties would be Bud, Bud Light or Coors, this was not an issue.  Nobody knew what good microbrew or homebrew was, so everyone was content drinking the same old crap as always.  If you were lucky, your party host would splurge and perhaps get Heineken or Henry Weinhard's instead of Bud.  Ooh, fancy! 

Choices, Choices:
In most of today's beer markets, you can find a local keg source that will have a wide range of options for you to chose from, possibly even including some exotic choices from overseas.  We're fortunate here in the Northwest.  We have distributors that can get an amazingly wide variety of different beers in kegs from across the country and around the World. 

Going through a distributor, an unfortunate necessity in much of today's beer market, can mean wider selection of beers from farther away but it also means higher prices.  So the farther away you want your beer from, the more it's likely to cost you.  For example, I'm in Seattle, WA.  If I want a keg of Avery IPA (Colorado), it'll run me about $235 for a standard 1/2 barrel keg.  If I want to go even farther away, Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock (Germany), for example, would be about $225 for a 1/4 barrel keg (half the size of the $235 Avery keg from Colorado). 

If I go more local, but still through a distributor, the price drops a bit.  For example, I could order a keg of Elysian The Immortal IPA (Seattle, WA) for about $190 for a standard 1/2 barrel.  That's still a bit on the high side though, since we're still going through the distributor. 

Going Local:
The best way to go for ordering a commercial keg of beer, if you have the means, is to go to a local brewery.  We have several in the Seattle area, so when I need a keg I have some choices to make.  Going directly to the brewery instead of through a distributor can save you a lot of money. 

For example, that keg of Elysian The Immortal IPA from Elysian brewing right here in Seattle would be $190 through the distributor.  Directly from the brewery, however, the exact same keg of beer is only about $125 - $65 less.  That $65 saved could be used to order another 1/4 barrel from the brewery. 

So, if cost is your main consideration (and if your local breweries just happen to have some pretty darn good beer), it's really the best way to go.  The cost is much lower, and for the exact same beer you'd pay more for through a distributor. 

Going With Homebrew:
If you are a homebrewer, or you know a homebrewer, you have another option.  Rather than ordering a keg from a distributor or local brewery, you could supply some of your own homebrew or ask a friend to supply the beer for your get together. 

As mentioned above, there are a few different considerations if you'll be supplying homebrew as the kegs for a party/event.  Do you have enough homebrew available at the moment to supply what's needed?  If so, are you willing to part with all of that beer; as most kegs get pretty closed to drained at most get-togethers I attend.  Is the beer you have appropriate to the event?  For example, you don't want to serve up a keg of homebrewed Belgian Farmhouse Ale to a group of people who are used to or expecting something more along the lines of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or worse, to a group of sports fans who are used to Bud and simply won't appreciate the hard work the homebrewer has put in on the beer. 

Several years back, I had the opportunity as a homebrewer to supply the beer for a friend's wedding.  It was a lot of work, but it was my gift to them.  I supplied 5 gallons of IPA, 5 gallons of Raspberry Stout and 3 gallons of non-alcoholic Root Beer.  Seeing a group of party guests enjoying your homebrew can be a really satisfying experience and worthwhile if you know those you'll be supplying the beer for will appreciate it. 

If you have the means, and if you know your party/get-together guests will appreciate the extra effort, go ahead and break out a keg of homebrew for your next party or get together.  If you don't have the means, find the best keg ordering option you can; be it a distributor or a local brewery, and try to order a beer those attending will enjoy.  If it's a special event, perhaps spend those few extra dollars and get a keg of imported beer from Germany or Ireland or Belgium.  Whichever way you go, make your selection one that everyone can enjoy - don't just shop for your own personal tastes. 

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Beer, Beer Everywhere, But Only Some To Drink

Seattle Beer Week 2011 is a wrap; and boy did it wear me out.  I started the week strong, hitting several events per day the first 4-5 days, but faded a bit in the end, only hitting one event per day for the last few days.  Then, far too soon, I had to be back to work. 

This is what happens when you give Mrs. Beer Monger too much beer.

Back to the Brew:
Beer-wise, however, it was time to get back to focusing on my homebrew.  Luckily I managed to arrange things where I didn't have any brewing, bottling or kegging planned during Seattle Beer Week.  I had a batch of IPA that went into the primary fermenter on May 1st and batch of Oktoberfest lager that went into its primary fermenter on May 8th.  Both were good to go until at least May 28-29. 

Unfortunately, I didn't quite get to them on the 28th or 29th, but did manage to get everything taken care of yesterday (June 1st).  I moved my IPA from its primary fermenter to a keg and force carbonated it.  I wanted this beer to be ready for my annual crawfish boil this month.  I took a hydrometer reading to verify the beer had fermented out all the way and then gave the sample a taste.  It was flat and warm, of course, but otherwise pretty darn good.  Nice and hoppy, which I Love.  I may even dry-hop this batch in the keg to give it even more hop aroma. 

Time to get kegging.

Next, it was time to keg my Oktoberfest Lager and let it start its 3-month lagering period prior to carbonation.  As with the IPA, I tasted the hydrometer sample.  Wow!  Being the first lager I'd ever made, I wasn't sure what to expect, taste-wise, as this point in the process.  It tasted great; comparable to other commercial Oktoberfest beers I've had.  This is extremely encouraging, since I still plan to let this beer lager (age & improve) for three full months before serving it. 

I also still had a keg of Chamomile Ale in my fridge.  I bottled the other keg a few weeks ago for my last homebrew club meeting.  Now that the Chamomile Ale has had some time to mature a bit, however, it's gotten pretty good too.  The carbonation level is right and the Chamomile flavor comes through nicely. 

Ready to Drink?:
So, I now have three full kegs of beer in my beer fridge: the Chamomile Ale, the IPA and the Oktoberfest Lager.  At the moment, however, the only one of them that's 'ready to drink' is the Chamomile Ale.  I did 'quick carbonate' the IPA when I kegged it last night so it would technically be drinkable by tonight, but I plan to wait on drinking it until at least this weekend if not a full week. 

I have to wait until September to enjoy what these ladies are enjoying.

The Oktoberfest Lager, while it did taste great when I kegged it, still needs to lager.  I really don't want to rush things with this one.  A one-month lagering period would probably be sufficient, but I really want to let it go the whole three months and not start serving it until September 17th, the first official day of Oktoberfest in Germany this year.  Perhaps I'll have to do it up right and make a full, authentic German meal to go with it on that day.  J√§egerschnitzel anyone? 

What's Next:
Now I'm ready to brew again.  I can't do another lager yet, because I just don't have the extra fridge space for the fermenter.  I have been rather experimental with a lot of my brews so far this year (Chamomile Ale, my first ever Lager, trying the 'batch sparge' method, etc.), and I'd like to continue that trend. 

In all my years of brewing, I have never made a Barleywine.  A lot of patience is required for a good Barleywine.  It's not something that can be rushed, and I want to make sure I do it right.  So, I think my next batch will be my first ever Barleywine style Ale. 

I have a lot of things to consider, recipe-wise, but I have a feeling I'll want to shoot for a darker, maltier Barleywine.  I'd also like to try oak aging it.  I don't want to spend the money for an oak barrel right now, however, so I'll just use Oak chips (soaked in bourbon, of course).  I don't have a brew date yet, as I'd like to soak the oak chips in the bourbon for, at minimum, 2 weeks and, as I said, I'm still formulating the recipe.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.