Tag Archives: micro

Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer

The “middle” of the craft beer market is dead.  Successful craft brewers caught between the mega corporations like AB InBev and the nimble locally focused brewers are either selling to the big boys (e.g. New Belgium Brewery) or downsizing (e.g. Boulder Beer).  Heck, even the big boys are getting out of the craft beer game after realizing that nationally distributed craft beers are not really attractive to a consumer with hyper local choices.  Yes, I am looking at you Constellation Brands.

Instead of forking over money to a faraway brewery that might actually just be a faraway mega corporation, make your beer consumption as local as possible.

Better yet, make your beer consumption a direct affair.  Buy your beer directly from the brewery.  Do not involve a distributor or a retailer.  Make every dollar go to the brewery.  It can make a difference.  The most successful new breweries—over the past five years or so—seem to be the ones who operate with a taproom as their primary source of revenue.  Why?  It cuts out the middle man and avoids the headaches of distribution.

Even when you buy local beer at the grocery store it potentially involves a number of middle men.  In some states it is possible for your local brewery to “self-distribute” but this is a hard road and really only works in a hyper local type of market.  Even in this instance there is the retail outlet’s need for some level of profit.

Going further, make your beer consumption a packaging neutral affair.

The old saw about recycling an aluminum can is that it saves approximately 95% of the energy compared to creating an aluminum can out of virgin ore.  This is usually equated to running a light bulb for an entire day or watching a television for a couple of hours.  Calculate a different way, recycling one pound of aluminum (approximately 33 cans or a “dirty thirty” of PBR) saves around 7 kWh of electricity.

However, even recycling that aluminum can uses energy and contributes to a global supply chain that uses a lot of energy.  The aluminum supply chain, unfortunately, does not have a 100% recovery rate as evidenced by the number of cans I pick up along my usual cycling route in a given week.  Removing any volume from this supply chain is an environmental win.

By utilizing a reusable package, in this case a glass growler or “meowler,” removes aluminum packaging from the waste/recovery stream.  I am sure that there is a calculation to figure out how many times I need to use a growler to compensate for its own production costs in terms of energy, but given that I have owned the same growler for almost five years I am going to consider those costs accounted for several times over.

The goal is to buy beer that is made locally, purchased directly from the brewery, and in packaging that is reusable.  Local, direct, and packaging neutral.  It’s the future.

Upslope Brewing Company India Pale Ale

I recently wrote about Upslope Brewing’s Pale Ale and today I am going to regurgitate some thoughts on the same brewery’s India Pale Ale:

Upslope India Pale Ale

What? A pale ale and an India pale ale? What the heck is going on here in the world of generously hopped ales?

The general difference between the two beers is that an IPA will be hopped to a higher degree and contain more alcohol relative to volume, e.g. the IBU and ABV ratings will be higher. This is not true in all cases as the style guides for beer have been blown apart in the past few years.

Upslope’s IPA actually tastes like a breed of beer I am going to refer to as Colorado pale ale. Why restrict ourselves to monikers created during a time when there were not 3,000 breweries in the United States? The beer has a little more body than a traditional pale ale, but it’s also hopped more and comes in with a greater boozy punch than a lighter pale ale. Colorado pale ales have a bigger hop bouquet than a traditional IPA, which is the result of using newer varieties of hops like Citra, Amarillo, and so on. It’s a distinct beer, in my opinion, that is typified by Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale.

Upslope’s IPA falls short of the benchmark set by Dale’s Pale Ale in one primary area: the hop aromas and flavors are kind of muddled, which when you think about it is the sole reason for an IPA to exist. It’s about the hops, man! There is some resin and some citrus, but nothing really shines through as the signature note of the beer. Honestly, it’s the same problem I have been struggling with recently when it comes to my homebrew recipes for a House Pale Ale. The hop profile is either over the top—usually from a single hop recipe—or muddled—the rest of my recipes using a blend of hops.

That is not say that Upslope’s IPA is a bad beer in any way shape or form. Quite the contrary, but the bar for this particular “family” of beers is pretty high in the U.S. right now when you consider how much effort is being expended to brew varying pale ales. Overall, it’s a middle of the road result:

Two Mug Purchase

Steel Toe Brewing Provider Ale

The first beer I drank from Steel Tow Brewing was big and brassy—Size 7 IPA—but Provider Ale was a totally different experience:

steel toe provider

At only 5% ABV and 15 IBU there is little “big” about this beer. It is also hard to categorize. It’s not a wheat beer, even though it pours with a golden straw color and is unfiltered. It has some sweetness and the hop notes are floral as opposed to resinous.

If you were looking for an analog I would suggest a cream ale like New Glarus’ Spotted Cow or Galena Brewing Company’s Farmer’s Cream Ale. These are both light beers that pour like a wheat beer but have a very different flavor that is hard to categorize.

These beers are actually quite hard to pull off from a technical standpoint because there is little hop flavor and aroma to “hide” behind when off flavors present themselves in the malt body of the beer. I have also found these beers to be heavily influenced by the temperature at which they are fermented. It might be the exact same recipe, but the fermentation spent a few days at a temperature higher or lower than ideal which leads to a totally different beer. Trust me, I have brewed Northern Brewer’s Speckled Heifer partial mash kit a few times and each batch tastes noticeably different. Not bad, but definitely different.

If Provider Ale and Size 7 IPA were poured side by side a person would be hard pressed to know that these beers were from the same brewery. It is a very different approach to beer in each glass:

Two Mug Purchase

Dry Dock Brewing Co. Amber Ale

Amber ale is one of the founding styles of the craft beer movement in America—think about Fat Tire Amber Ale or Samuel Adams Boston Lager which shares a lot of traits with amber ales while being a lager—but it has gotten overshadowed in recent years with the explosion of IPAs and derivative pale ale styles.

Dry Dock cans an Amber Ale:

Dry Dock Amber Ale

The beer may carry the title Amber Ale, but the brewers describe it as an extra special bitter (ESB). This may be a stylistic choice as most consumers see the word bitter in a beer and run the other way. While that is an unfair critique, this beer does have a muddled character.

Overall, the beer lacks life. The malt body comes across flat, the hops are indistinguishable, and there is an unpleasant sour taste. Not tart like a true sour beer. More like something was spoiled. Not pleasant.

I find it fascinating that I really liked the beers I had in Dry Dock’s Aurora taproom, but I have so far found the beers from its production brewery to be lacking or stylistically something I find offensive. Yes, I am looking at you hefeweizens.

Whatever it was Dry Dock’s Amber Ale failed:

Zero Mug Purchase

Upslope Brewing Company Pale Ale

What is a pale ale anymore? Is it an IPA or an ale or something different? What is an American ale? I do not know, but I see the term pale ale get put on a lot of different beers.

Upslope Brewing’s Pale Ale definitely pours like you would expect:

Upslope Pale Ale

Is apple pie a weird vibe to get from a beer’s aroma? The first few whiffs of this particular ale and I was thinking about fall baked goods. I get strange aromas from beer and it definitely puts me in a mood when drinking. Apple pie is not bad, per se, but odd.

The malt body of the beer is really light, so it does not support a ton of hoppiness which is not present. I would contrast this with a Dale’s Pale Ale that was much hoppier, maltier, and darker all while retaining the name pale ale. Interesting.

It makes you think how far craft beer has come in the U.S. in a few short years when a fairly well made pale ale in a can, like Upslope’s example today, is not catching the industry on fire because so many other breweries are putting out well made beers. It also helps that stylistically this ground has been trod pretty well by late-2014.

This was a real solid play on the pale ale field:

Two Mug Purchase

Dry Dock Brewing Co. Hefeweizen

During my marathon tour of breweries in the Denver metro area—one day, six breweries, two visits to the Basic Kneads food trucks, and a wicked good falafel—I visited Dry Dock Brewing Co. in Aurora, Colorado. I came away with a good impression of the beer even though my stay at the taproom was relatively short for a variety of reasons, flagging endurance at the midpoint of the brewery marathon being the prime suspect.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Dry Dock’s beers in cans, so some of that golden liquid came home with me. First up is the Hefeweizen:

Dry Dock Hefe

I am reluctant to say anything about a hefeweizen because I never have anything good to say. This beer came in a sampler, so considered it a sunk cost of getting the other three beers.

Here is the deal: hefeweizens are known for having prominent notes of banana. I loathe bananas. I can’t stand the smell, taste, texture, and almost sight of that ghastly fruit. It’s probably bordering on a phobia.

Hefeweizens taste like banana, clove, straw, and barnyard ass that has been left to stew for a few weeks in the mid-summer heat of a county fair. Nasty. Other people with opinions on beer that I trust do not come away with this impression at all, so I know that the problem lies with me.

I refuse to even offer a rating of a hefeweizen because I will be less than objective in my criteria. Your experience may vary.

Upslope Brewing Company Belgian Style Pale Ale

Anything other than India Pale Ale that skews toward the “lower” end of the beer scale is a good thing. Increasingly, you see “session” pale ales and generally easier drinking pale ales cropping up all over the place. It’s nice to have an option to supplant the curse of insipid light lagers as the summertime beer of choice.

I had some of these same hopes for Upslope Brewing’s Belgian Style Pale Ale:

Upslope Belgian Pale Ale

Sure, it’s heavier than a lot of “session” pale ales at 7.5% ABV but the mild bittering (30 IBU) meant that it might drink a little lighter. No such luck. This beer was packing a spicy punch that was the direct result of coriander being prominent in the ingredient list.

Coriander needs to come with a warning label when used as a brewing ingredient. It seems like there is a knife edge “bliss point” with this particular spice. Too little and you do not taste it among the other flavors. Too much and it feels like coriander, coriander, coriander…

In this particular example we have a case of going too far over the edge in comparison to the rest of the beer. Coriander is supposed to have a citrus character and the flavor may have been enhanced by a Belgian strain of yeast that highlights those same flavor notes. Think about it like a flavor supercharger.

Brewers need to be careful when incorporating spices into their beers that can provide a lot of flavor punch similar to hops. Prior to the use of hops beers were spiked with lots of spices like wormwood in a style called gruit. Gruit fell out of favor as hops came into play because hops have a preservative quality that helped ensure beer was drinkable past a certain consume by date. However, some of these ingredients get used in addition to a normal hopping and the impact is overkill. It’s a lot similar to beers that get dry hopped. Sure, the IBU rating is not very high but there is a ton of hop flavor and aroma that amplifies the effect.

High hopes crashed themselves on the shoals of coriander overkill:

Purchased One Mug Rating

Upslope Brewing Company Craft Lager

Upslope Brewing Company from Boulder, Colorado was a new name to me as I perusing the refrigerated cases at the liquor store in Steamboat Springs. My knowledge of Front Range breweries runs toward the Denver metro and ends about there and as a non-resident I am not too unhappy with that performance.

Started in 2008, Upslope Brewing has a year-round lineup consisting of five beers and a rotating lineup of special releases. One of the year-round beers is Craft Lager:

Upslope Craft Lager

It’s a light lager with middling alcohol (4.8% ABV) and almost no bittering (15 IBU). When it’s cold it goes down easy and that is about all that you remember.

Utilizing a mild hops like Saaz for such a small amount of bittering leaves little aroma or non-bitter flavors to be exhibited. A light lager seems like a perfect blank canvas to experiment with some subtle flavors that might get lost in a beer with a more malt heavy body. I have seen this style used to showcase rose hips, ginger, peppercorns…the list goes on for a while. Some of these experiments were successful and others were less so. Some were even non-qualified disasters.

This beer was inoffensive to the point of being boring. It’s really no different than a hundred other lagers out there. If what you want was the bare minimum in beer flavor just pick the cheapest option out of the cooler and call it a day. This lack of any character is actually something that experts think is afflicting the German beer market. Sales of beer and consumption have fallen a lot recently. Experts peg the reason being the wide proliferation of a few similar styles of beer. Basically, beer is boring in Germany and consumers want something with a little excitement.

I was hoping that after a good experience with Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils that I would feel warm and fuzzy about lagers. It was just not to be:

Purchased One Mug Rating

As a note, Upslope Brewing Company has committed to donating 1% of the revenue from Craft Lager to Colorado Trout Unlimited through the 1% for Rivers Campaign. If you are into that sort of thing.

Oskar Blues Old Chub

Dark beer can be a conundrum. To a lot of people dark beer means a heavy load of hops, alcohol, and malt body. In reality, a lot of dark beers actually tend to be light on the alcohol and hops—I am looking at the world of stouts that drink as easy as insipid American light lager. Truly, spend a day drinking Guinness or a craft doppelganger and you will understand quickly that dark does not necessarily mean big.

Oskar Blues Old Chub is not trying to hew to that convention:

Old Chub

It’s a big beer, but in all the wrong ways for this particular beer drinker. Old Chub was a serious let down after the awesomeness of Dale’s Pale Ale and the lager perception bending powers of Mama’s Little Yella Pils.

What happened? First, the beer is strong (8% ABV) and that alcohol does not seem to be balanced out or integrated with the rest of the beer. It tastes like the beer was fortified. This is not Night Train or Thunderbird, so don’t worry about ending up wrapped around a bottle of bum wine. Still, you can taste the booze with every drink.

Second, the cocoa and coffee flavors override any other flavors to the point that the beer tastes kind of like a poorly drawn mocha with an extra shot of espresso from the dregs of the Starbucks grind bin. Coffee is a hard mistress to tame when it comes to beer and few do it well—yes, Coffee Bender pulls the trick off amazingly.

Last, the beer’s aroma and flavor stick around the back of your mouth like a night in a dive bar. You wake up the next morning, cough out few wads of whatever that stuff is in the back of your throat, and taste the unfiltered cigarette that some hipster was smoking beside you. Yep, that’s what it was like with Old Chub. You can chase it with a pint of Dale’s Pale Ale and still find remnants in your throat.

It’s like a Sputnik…nope, it’s more like bong water:

Zero Mug Purchase

 

Steel Toe Brewing Size 7 IPA

In my zeal to drink the bounty of brews that I smuggled home from Colorado—many more opinions on beers from the Centennial State are forthcoming—I forgot the handful of bombers from Steel Toe Brewing that I picked up on my trip to Minnesota over the Fourth of July. Beer…hidden in the back of the refrigerator…have I committed a crime?

Steel Toe Brewing was founded in 2011 in St. Lois Park, Minnesota which is a “suburb” of Minneapolis. I do not know what qualifies as a suburb anymore since people in Prior Lake seem to believe that they are part of the Twin Cities metro area. I digress.

The brewery has a lineup that consists of four year round beers: Provider Ale, Rainmaker Double Red Ale, Dissent Dark Ale, and Size 7 IPA. There is a selection of seasonal beers, but I am too lazy to list them out on a Monday morning.

This weekend I grabbed a Size 7 IPA bomber and got to drinking:

Size 7 IPA

Despite the diminutive nature of the name—heck, even I wear a shoe bigger than size 7—this is a big, brassy beer.

Do not pick up a bottle of Size 7 and think you are going to sip it while enjoying some light snacks. This is a beer that requires boldness in all that endeavor to complete a pint. Drink it with a side of bacon or a bowl of habaneros. Do not be subtle because Size 7 does not do subtle.

The brewers at Steel Toe do not want me to say that the beer is balanced. They even go so far as to say: If you ever call Size 7 balanced we’ll kick you where it hurts (in the hop sack). Fair enough, but with the golden correlation of ABV (7.0%) and IBU (77) coming in close to balance there is something to be said for that adjective. I just won’t come out and say it because I like my hop sack the way it is…unkicked.

If this beer has a downfall it is that it is too much. By the bottom of the second glass you are starting to look elsewhere for your liquid refreshment because you need a break:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating