Welcome Jester King to North Texas

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

The best thing about this space is being able to introduce new beers to readers, something they might have overlooked or has just arrived. Even better than that is introducing new brewers, especially when they are home-grown right here in Texas. They may not be local, but Austin’s Jester King Craft Brewery has arrived in North Texas.

Jester King is the venture of brothers Michael and Jeffrey Stuffings and their associate Ron Extract. They spent this past summer building a brewhouse in the Hill Country right outside of Austin (complete with an 8000-square-foot beer hall for events and parties) and began brewing beers about six weeks ago.

The Brothers Stuffing are starting out bold and big, not only putting a lot of money into facilities but they are already producing enough beer to push product across the state. Far from conventional or even “safe” beers most new brewers follow, their initial lineup just months after opening includes Franco-Belgian inspired farmhouse ales, an English mild, a rye IPA and liberal applications of various products aging in whiskey barrels.

Already, Jester King beers have begun appearing at selected craft beer-friendly establishments such as The Common Table, the Meddlesome Moth, Flying Saucer (Fort Worth and Garland) and the Ginger Man (Fort Worth). This list is certain to grow, especially when bottling operations are set up and running.

Two beers are to be found locally: Commercial Suicide, a 3.3% ABV English-inspired dark mild ale, and Wytchmaker, a 9% ABV rye IPA that is as bitter as a witch’s tongue. I am especially fond of the Commercial Suicide, a style much overlooked by craft brewers, with a full-bodied roasty flavor that has faint hints of cocoa and provides the best session beer one could ever want.

Availability: Draft only right now, limited to the accounts listed above but that list should grow quickly. Bottles of 750-ml barrel-aged beers should follow soon, also destined for North Texas, as well as 12-oz bottles of their other products.

PS: The brewery website seems to be having some trouble lately, but they can still be found through their Facebook page.

Cheers!


Originally published November 14, 2010, at Examiner.com

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First of the Moveable Yeasts: Weedwacker

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

This past summer, Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing announced one of the boldest experimental commercial brewing ventures ever heard of in Texas beer history.

They named this undertaking the Moveable Yeast series. Under development for a couple of years, the plan is to take four of their ordinary production beers and brew each with a contrasting strain of yeast that is atypical for the given style. The results? Risky, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The first of the series was released just recently, named Weedwacker. This beer has the base malt and hops recipe of their Fancy Lawnmower—which technically is a koelsch style—but fermented using a Bavarian hefeweizen yeast. A select few (such as this sample from the Meddlesome Moth in Dallas) were also dry-hopped with just a touch of Amarillo hops.

The result is equally bold and style-defying. It is light yellow and hazy served from a cask, with a heavy fresh yeast taste that lends a lot of lemony citrus. It has the slightly sweet malt flavor of the Lawnmower but with a grassy, almost fresh funky hay element. Although it has Czech and German roots, this beer may be able to pass for an authentic light Belgian farmhouse style.

If you can, sample this one with the regular Fancy Lawnmower side by side. I would call this first installment of the Moveable Yeast a success, and look forward to the others yet to come. And props to the Saint Arnold brewers for being willing to experiment.

Availability: Draft only, and released in very limited quantities, so it will disappear quickly. Found at the usual beer-heavy spots like Flying Saucer, Ginger Man and a few others. The dry-hopped versions were apparently distributed randomly, so ask which version they have.

Cheers!


Originally published August 28, 2010, at Examiner.com

The other IPAs: Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

If there ever were an “official” American beer style, my vote would be for the IPA. American craft brewers and consumers (especially West Coasters) have rabidly expanded the style and, using hops unique to the New World, made the IPA their own.

This beer is all pine and citrus, sometimes strong but always very sharply hopped. However, there is another style of IPA that, well, is the “original” style—that of the British beers, who indeed invented the India Pale Ale style. We do not see many of these over here in the US, so enamored are we with our own bitter beverages.

As a fan of these British-style IPAs, I am more than happy that Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado, chose to follow this style instead of just brewing another hop-bomb. From what I gather, that is actually the rationale behind the decision and the name: Director of Brewing Operations Joe Schiraldi once retorted something to the effect of “any monkey can throw 400 pounds of hops in a kettle and call it an IPA.”

Thus, we now have Left Hand’s 400 Pound Monkey, an “English-style” IPA. This one lacks the sharp bitterness of American native hop species, using the more earthy and subtly floral UK hops instead. A toasty malt base keeps it drinkable, and a tart and bitter finish reminds you it is still an IPA, but this is a soft and moderate ale that is easy to drink without being aggressively hopped for the sake of hoppiness.

Being 6.7% ABV, the 400 Pound Monkey still works well at any dinner table. Compare it to Belhaven’s Twisted Thistle, and it has easily found its way into my normal fridge rotation.

Availability: Found just about in all better beer bars, pubs and retailers, as Left Hand enjoys almost as wide a distribution as New Belgium or any other Colorado beer.

Cheers!


Originally published June 2, 2010, at Examiner.com

Mysterium Verum: A Real (Ale) mystery

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Welcome to the newest hot trend in craft brewing: barrel aging. Certainly, beers have been aged in all sorts of spirits barrels for a long time but now it has found its own submarket in the American craft beer scene.

Aging beer in a barrel does many things. First, it allows a beer more time to age and mature, which can help lagers and some of the stronger, harsher beers considerably. Second, the barrel beer ages in can impart a flavor as the beer extracts essential oils from the wood. And, of course, along with the nature of the wood comes the flavors of its previous contents.

Because of the time commitment, barrel-aging by nature produces a premium and limited-edition product. What is surprising is the scale at which some of the established Texas craft brewers are embracing this trend. Gone are the days of a handful of barrels obtained for a specialty release—nowadays, “aging rooms” are being planned at breweries.

Blanco’s Real Ale Brewing has already released what they are calling their Mysterium Verum (“Real Mystery”) products, which are already appearing locally on tap. This is a somewhat vaguely defined series of aging their normal portfolio of beers in barrels with a variety of spirits, wines and woods for a fantastic myriad of effects. Already seen in Dallas have been their barrel- aged Coffee Porter, barrel-aged Real Heavy and their “Kraken” (barrel-aged Sisyphus).

Likewise, Fort Worth’s Rahr & Sons—who due to a new roof are only about two weeks from brewing once again—is also planning not only barrel-aging some specialty products but also establishing a dedicated aging area in their revised brewery space. Already, their Winter Warmer Christmas seasonal has had tremendous local success in past years aged in whiskey barrels.

Saint Arnold of Houston has already experimented with barrel-aging their stout, and doubtless now in their new brewery will have the space to pursue more. Even tiny upstart (512) Brewing of Austin has aged their Pecan Porter in an extremely limited hand-bottled edition that is worth more than gold right now.

Barrel aging has its benefits and drawbacks, and pairing styles of beer with particular casks is as much an art form as brewing. But experimentation is what craft brewing is all about.

Availability: Both Real Ale and Rahr & Sons have plans to package their products in 22-oz bottles very shortly, which is a natural format for these limited-edition beers.

Cheers!


Originally published May 12, 2010, at Examiner.com

Finally in Texas: Kulmbacher, the original eisbock

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Yes, I have a wish list of beers I want to see available for sale here in Texas. And today, that list is one beer shorter.

We now have Kulmbacher Eisbock stocked in Texas coolers, from the Kulmbacher Brauerei of Kulmbach, Germany. Kulmbacher is a relatively rare style known as an eisbock, or “ice bock,” that takes advantage of a quirk of chemistry that ethanol does not freeze solid until a temperature of –173°F.

According to the story, the eisbock was invented accidentally when a barrel of recently brewed bock beer was left to freeze outside during a cold winter. As the water freezes long before the alcohol, it can be removed as a solid block of ice and leaves behind a much stronger, more concentrated beverage. (If you have at all been following the recent BrewDog alcoholic arms race, this is the method they are using to achieve such high-gravity products.)

Kulmbacher is everything a good doppelbock is, only intensified. It pours a deep brown-black with a sweet and malty aroma, and the taste is heavily caramelized and roasted. Sorghum elements are present, as are deep, rich flavors of prunes, raisins and figs. However, even with a strength of 9.2% ABV, it remains smooth and never harsh or hot with alcohol.

Current Texas law prohibits our local breweries from producing eisbocks, as the method described above is technically distilling. And even with its luxurious flavor and alcoholic strength, Kulmbacher still pairs well with a meal of roasted beef or bird, heavy on the campfire.

(Possibly even more exciting than finally getting Kulmbacher locally is the fact this beer is brought in by the Shelton Brothers distributors of Massachusetts, a major importer of European beers, now available in Texas. Can EKU, Cantillon, Fantome and dozens of others be far behind?)

Availability: Bottles are now found at better liquor stores and pubs; I would assume draft accounts are soon to follow. A bit spendy, as a six-pack usually retails for around $16, but worth every penny.

Cheers!


Originally published February 19, 2010, at Examiner.com

Top 10 beers of 2009

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Of course, everyone puts out a “top ten” list this time of year, so break with tradition?

This list of mine is not necessarily of the best beers available commercially today, nor are they essentially new beers brewed for the first time in ’09. This is a list of what I consider the best beers to make their first appearance on the local North Texas market this year just past—beers worthy of not only a second chance but fine beers you should be purchasing on a regular basis.

10. (512) Pecan Porter. Only just recently trickling into our market, this offering by the Austin-based brewery is hopefully a good omen of more to come.

9. Big Sky Moose Drool. Already a staple and a legend in other states, this is a great, satisfying rich brown ale that I find really easy to drink any time.

8. Abita Andygator. I love bocks, that should be no secret; and this is a fantastic maibock made by an often overlooked brewery nearby in Louisiana.

7. Harpoon Leviathan (Imperial IPA). Harpoon debuted strong in our market this year, and their Leviathan series is a much anticipated addition.

6. Real Ale Shade Grown Coffee Porter. Neither new nor new to our area, this fall seasonal makes the list for being made available in bottles for the first time ever.

5. Belhaven Scottish Stout. What took Belhaven so long to think of brewing a stout? Bye bye, Guinness!

4. Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale. A surprise addition for a “best of” list, given that most entries are most often high-gravity and super-robust, but this is the amber ale executed just perfectly.

3. Rahr & Sons Bourbon Barrel-Aged Winter Warmer. Also not a new addition (especially as Rahr is a local brewer) but a return to using Maker’s Mark for their aging barrels plus a slight tweak of the recipe this year guarantees the “Whiskey Warmer” a slot in my list.

2. Fuller’s Prize Old Ale. A gorgeous, flavorful, complex beer that can really convince you to become a fan of the old ale style.

1. St-Feuillien Tripel Abbey Ale. I have a small spot on my mantle where I set the bottle of the best beer I’ve had recently, only to be replaced when something better knocks it off. This bottle is still on my mantle.

There’s my list (and it was a close contest between #1 and #2). Let the arguments commence, and have a safe and happy New Year!

Cheers!


Originally published December 30, 2009, at Examiner.com

A new life for Gale’s Prize Old Ale

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Old ales are so named for two reasons. First, they are among the oldest of the British ale styles, brewed for centuries before the pale ales and porters became popular with the public.

The other reason for the name is that they are often well-aged after brewing. Also known as “stock ales,” old ales were generally higher-gravity beers cellared for at least a year, and used by publicans to blend with newer, fresher beer for a more well-rounded flavor (or flavour) that pub patrons enjoyed.

One of the greatest brewers of English beers in general, George Gale & Co. Ltd., was purchased by the Griffin Brewery in 2005. Griffin is best known for the popular Fuller’s line of British ales and associated pubs in the U.K., many of which we already get here in Texas and have for some time.

But this version of Prize Old Ale is new, also in two different ways. This is newly arrived to Texas, which has never seen Gale’s products before, and the 2007 dated edition on shelves now is Fuller’s first attempt to re-create this historic Gale beer. And they’ve done a mighty fine job of it.

Prize Old Ale pours a deep red-brown with an aroma that is malty sweet, vinous and slightly papery. Aged for two years before bottling, the beer is slightly oxidized—which adds to its complexity rather than being a fault. The taste is sweet but not cloying, with almost a port or sherry nature, maybe even fruitcake. Malt is king here, with elements of red grapes, dark cherries, plums, figs and maybe old pipe tobacco.

Like bocks, old ales are a particular passion of mine that we don’t see enough of. This beer might pair well with roast beef, but at a sneaky 9% ABV (none of which is detectable in the taste) it is better left as an after-dinner sipper in place of a brandy.

Availability: Sold in single 500-ml bottles for about $5 to $7 each at better beer bars, British-style pubs and better liquor and grocery stores. As it is now a Fuller’s product, it should enjoy the same wide distribution of their beers.

Cheers!


Originally published August 21, 2009, at Examiner.com

Welcome to the microbrew revolution

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

424155_10150617909143983_147484638982_9175819_1939426867_nYou are probably unaware of it, but a revolution has been brewing for years right under your nose. That revolution has become known as the craft beer movement, also called the microbrew revolution. You may ask, “You mean those fancy beers right next to my Bud Light?” That is precisely what I mean, only more so. A commercial boom has created an industry this past decade of small and local breweries across the United States, producing close to 100 different recognized beer styles and a few that defy classification. Some beers are historically Old World (re: Europe) styles, and many are uniquely American.

Elevating microbrewed beer

You may also ask, “Why should I care? Nothing’s better than my Corona Extra!” To this, I must respond: Do you prefer choice prime rib or fatty ground chuck? Parmigiano-reggiano or cheese from an aerosol can? Fresh herb-grilled chicken or something resembling a pre-fabricated nugget? So why should your choice of beer be any different?

Wine took this step years ago. Fine wineries began distinguishing their wines from mass-market products, and began to compete with the finest wines available from Europe. Today, American wines enjoy an elevated status, prized in exceptional restaurants that devote separate menus and a focus just for wines—all the while carrying nothing but generic afterthoughts of bland beer brands. There is no reason why beer should not share the same status as a fine vintage.

Craft beer (as opposed to the national brewers) now claims about 8% of the total U.S. beer market. There are roughly some 1400 brewers of various sizes across the nation, ranging from large regional microbreweries to tiny brewpubs, some packaging in bottles and cans and others available only on tap through a local restaurant. The flavors offered in these products can be worlds away from what we have been conditioned to believe that beer should taste like.

You may already be a fan of microbrewed beer, or you may be loyal to your lifelong favorite brand. All I ask is to keep an open mind and open palate, and don’t be afraid to try one of those “fancy” beers every once in a while.

As always, I am open to comments, suggestions, opinions, questions or news about all beer at paul@scientist.com.

Cheers!


Originally published February 7, 2009, at Examiner.com.