My Road To Cicerone No. 1

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2014 by cueball

I recently passed the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam and have started on my “Road To Cicerone.”  As part of that I have started working through the German Beer Styles Course Cicerone released this year.  As part of the work book each unit has a set of activities at the end. The end of unit one asks the question, if you could write a law similar to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law for your country, what would you include in it?

Ask any beer geek about the Reinheitsgebot , and he/she will tell you about the three ingredients (yeast hadn’t been discovered at the time).  The idea of it is still used in marketing with the idea that it points to quality and simplicity above all else.

The problem is the law was not written necessarily for the sake of beer.  Yes, I’m sure Duke Wilhelm IV wanted to drink the best beer possible, but the idea of restricting beer ingredients was done to at least a great part in order to prevent price competition between brewers and bakers for grains.  That way the price of bread would not get outrageous for the people.  By restricting brewers to barley malt, bakers were given the only access to wheat and rye keeping the prices of those grains as low as possible.

So, if I were creating a beer purity law for the United States, I would say I cannot because the way the laws of the United States are set up hands control over alcohol to the states.  So, for my Beer Purity Law of North Carolina, I would not start with the beer itself. I would start with the distribution and tax system that governs beer and alcohol in this country.

  • Lift the self-distribution cap from 25,000 barrels to 60,000. If any brewer produces over 25,000 barrels, that producer is forced by law to use a third party distributor.  That not only increases the cost of the beer, which will be passed on to the consumer, it also takes away many of the producers brand rights meaning they lose control of much of their own name.
  • Reduce state excise taxes overall and specifically cut excise taxes for breweries producing less than 60,000 barrels by 50%, 60,001 to 2 million barrels by 25%, and 2 million barrels and above by 10 %. Currently, North Carolina taxes small brewers at a rate 8 times that of Colorado and California.

The goal would be to promote and protect local and (usually) smaller breweries by reducing their tax burden and making it easier to distribute their beers without having to rely on a distributer.

As an aside in 2013 there were 2,768 American craft brewers, as defined by the Brewer’s Association, and they produced 15,302,838 barrels of beer.  That is an average of 5,528 per brewer.  The vast majority of craft brewers in this country are small.  They are even smaller in North Carolina with the 91 breweries producing on average 2,895 barrels.

For all the talk of the craft brewing explosion in the United States, most are of the small business variety.  To promote the growth of those breweries they need special consideration.  The brewers who need the most protection are the ones producing from somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 barrels.

Now for the purity law, the ingredients. The rules for the ingredients would be simple, you have to have a grain bill containing at least 51% barley malt.  I believe codifying any restrictions on ingredients that are not harmful if ingested stifles the creativity that is the craft beer movement’s great advantage over the big industrial brewers.

This is a good start.  More to come.

Advertisements

My Road To Cicerone No. 2

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2014 by cueball

“If you were going to make an American IPA using only German hops, which hop variety do you think you would choose for the flavor and aroma additions and why?” – Road To Cicerone German Beer Styles Course Discussion Question

The thing I love about The Road To Cicerone series are the discussion questions at the end of each unit.  On unit 3 about German hops the above is the question asked.  These questions are about getting you to really think about each subject in a way to help you truly understand how each part plays into the whole of beer and beer culture.

My answer is Hallertauer Mittelfruh hops for flavor and Tettanger for aroma.  The Tettanger hops will provide the familiar American IPA citrus and grass aromas. The Hallertauer will give the beer a nice spicey and herbal flavor with notes of cedar/leather/tobacco. That would provide an interesting taste alternative in a world of piney and citrusy American IPAs.

This and the other discussion questions not only highlight the different ways each of the four ingredients can be swapped in or out to affect the taste of the beer, it also highlights in a small way, what I think is the next wave of craft beer innovation in the US.

Brewers have spent the last ten years pushing the boundaries of beer making them hoppier, heavier, and boozier.  As the outer limits of those experiments are being reached the next step is the softening of the lines between styles and their traditional ingredients.

Home brewers (many of whom have and will become future brew masters) have long experimented with swapping ingredients from one brewing tradition into beer styles of another brewing tradition.  This breath of experimentation has created new styles or sub-styles like the Belgian IPA or black IPA.  Not only are traditional ingredients being shuffled around into different styles, ingredients that until now had not been used in beer or hadn’t been used in beer in a century are being brought back.  The next phase of growth in craft beer will see the blurring of styles and the creation of new ones.

One thing I am interested in, which is why the discussion question put my brain into over drive, is the reintroduction of the traditional European and noble hops into American style beers.  What does using Hallertauer or Fuggles do to an American IPA or a black IPA or an American style stout?  It goes back to how styles and traditions are blurring as long as brewers continue to try to innovate and find something new and don’t get bogged down into making and serving the same beers over and over simply because they sell.  As I’ve written recently, brewers should use their seasonal beers and special releases to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.  That is the only way to find the next pumpkin beer.

Tasting Notes: Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB

Posted in beer tasting with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2014 by cueball

Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB

7.5% ABV

How was it tasted:  Growler from Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop

Extra Special Bittters are a somewhat misunderstood beer style.  I often get the question when we have one on tap, “What is an ESB?”  I usually describe it as a malty ale without a lot of hoppy flavors.

Winter Storm is dialed up as an imperial ESB and becomes a winter warmer beer.  This works great because the style is naturally un-hoppy (in the American hoppy sense) and lends itself carrying the spices and alcohol favored for winter warmer beers.

It pours a nice dark copper, tawny color and you get a lot of malt, alcohol, and the earthy herbal hops aroma.  It has a full bodied mouth feel and good carbonation.

To the important part, the taste.  At first taste the carbonation makes it light on the tongue at the front end with the hop bitterness.  On the back end you get the earthy herbal hop taste and the malty/bready taste and a nice alcohol warmth. This is a very good beer to curl up with on a cold winter night in front of the fire while reading Ernest Hemingway’s First Forty-Nine Stories.

I have decided if I’m going to be doing more beer reviews I need a way to rate the beers. I have chosen tap handles.  Zero to one tap handle means don’t drink.  Two to three tap handles means it is drinkable, but try to find something else.  Three and a half means it is a good beer.  Four to four and a half means it’s a damn good beer.  Five (which will happen very rarely) is beer nirvana.

Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB come in at a nice four.

Differences With No Distinction: Pumpkin Beer

Posted in beer with tags , , , , on November 3, 2014 by cueball

pumpkin

Sometimes I wish all brewers followed the Reinheitsgebot.  Most of the time I feel the purity law is an artificial governor on innovation and creativity in beer brewing.  However, sometime in September and October as yet another pumpkin beer was being forced fed into the craft beer world, I began to think limiting what brewers can brew with can be a beneficial thing.  The Reinheitsgebot began as a tax law and a way to protect bread makers by protecting the wheat supply, but it has lasted as long as it has because it helps ensure quality beer.

I have two primary problems with this year’s pumpkin beer season.  One, it lasted too long and two there were too many.  Pumpkin season started in August this year.  Maybe the first pumpkin beers appeared just as early as last year, but they all seemed to appear at the same time this year. Every brewer tried to be the first to get their pumpkin beer out to the masses. My problem with that is as far as I can remember August is the heart of the summer.

There are two retail pressures that push brewers to bring out their pumpkins so early.  The first is beer is a perishable product.  Once it is made it has a shelf life and as a brewer you want it sold and consumed before it goes bad.  If someone drinks a bad bottle of your beer it doesn’t matter if they drank it a month after its prime tasting life.  That person just knows your beer was bad.

The other retail pressure is in a crowded market place, the first is sometimes the most successful.  Getting your product out in front of consumers before all the other available beers affect their perception of you is very important to your success.

So as a matter of pure business I understand why this year it feels as if pumpkin beers (ostensibly a seasonal beer) have been out since June.

The other problem I have is as a seasonal beer, pumpkin beers are supposed to be special.  However, with so many on the market, their uniqueness is lost.  It becomes difficult to distinguish one pumpkin from another at a certain point.

Like most seasonals, pumpkin beers started because some brewer said, “Hey, look at all these pumpkins about. I bet I could make a cool tasting beer if used some of them.”  That modern honor goes to Buffalo Bill’s Bay Area Brewery in Hayward, CA who started brewing their Pumpkin Ale in 1985.  That actually did make them special. There were few and they were all unique. Now, I can bet you, the next pumpkin beer you drink will taste of nutmeg, cinnamon, and all-spice.  There maybe a few more hops here and a little more carbonation there, but you get the point. (Here is a nice quick history of pumpkin beers.)

When I think of seasonal beers I think of something special and almost experimental.  If I drink two seasonal beers from two different brewers I want there to be a distinct difference not a difference with no distinction.

Look, right now the same can be said of most of the most popular styles, like IPAs.  I understand this is business and pumpkins are hot.  I work at a place that went through two kegs of pumpkin beers in about a week.  These pumpkins (and IPAs) are making a lot of money for people.  It’s just that, as a lover of all beers, I think sometimes a bunch of any one thing is a bad thing.

What Kind Of Week Its Been

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2014 by cueball

Work Growler

It has been a week and I offer this bit of advice:  Don’t do what I did.  If you leave one job to take another, please take a week between jobs.  Try not to do both at the same time and give yourself a break.

Last week I started working at Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop while I was working at Lowe’s.  That would not have been too bad if I was getting more than 4 hours of sleep per day.  I stuck around to help the store do inventory.  That meant being up at 5 a.m.  By the end of last week I was ragged out and exhausted.  I now have a true understanding of the effects of sleep deprivation.  After a couple of days off, lots of sleep, and home projects that required no real thinking this week was great.

First, it is just fun serving and talking about beer.  I finally get to use all the random beer knowledge stocked in my brain for good and not my own personal drinking.  Second, we have a good team. From Dan and Alyson down through the rest of the team, we are a solid team that gets along with each other.

I’ve made the right decision.  That isn’t in doubt for me, but I would be lying if I said on Friday when I drove over to Craft that the thought, “I quit my safe job at Lowe’s, what the hell am I doing?” didn’t float through my mind repeatedly.

Anyway, my favorite beers we have on tap right this moment are:  Lonerider Brewing Sweet Josie Brown Ale, Greenman Brewery IPA, Granite Falls Elephant Peanut Butter Ale, Howard Brewing Lake Fever Black IPA, and Blue Mountain Dark Hollow.  Come by soon if you want to try these because once the kegs are empty we bring something else on line, but you’ll end up liking those just as much.

Now that I am actually sleeping like a normal person and my life has settled down a little, I’ll be back to writing most if not every day.  I’m making progress on my Road To Cicerone German Styles studies.  I will hopefully wrap that up in the next month or so and then start on the British curriculum.

I’ll be heading over to Craft this afternoon, see you soon.

Over 1000 Words (What!?) On Why I Took A Job At Craft Tasting Room

Posted in beer, life with tags , , , , , , on October 16, 2014 by cueball

“Well, I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.” – Rob, High Fidelity

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot today.  Today, I gave my notice to Lowe’s Home Improvement in Shelby, NC so I can essentially go and become a bartender (It is more complicated than that and I will get into that later.).

I’ve been thinking about that quote because, since announcing this move, I’ve been getting some well-meaning advice and concerns from friends and family.  I think the reason for this is, for most people this seems like something that has come out of the blue and seems to be a lark.  A move that makes little to no sense because it seems to be a step down from what I am currently doing.  My past history probably contributes to that feeling.

While this particular job, bartending at Craft Tasting Room and Growler House in Charlotte, did arrive on my doorstep suddenly, the planning for a move like this has been ongoing for at least six months.  Actually, it started before that.

In the last year, I’ve applied for two jobs at Lowe’s and I got neither.  The first that I applied for, was for a job with the Lowe’s Foundation that had the same description as the job I held at Foundation For The Carolinas.  I would kind of be doing the same work I left 6 years before, which is a whole other set of issues that were thankfully avoided.  I didn’t even get a telephone interview.  I do not even know if I really wanted the job, but I knew I had the skills to do the job.

Not even getting an interview forced me to rethink many things.  I decided to stop and reevaluate what it was that I truly wanted (mostly I knew I didn’t want to stay at Lowe’s on the sales floor for much longer, but not much more) not just as a job but how I wanted to live. That sounds like a bunch of new age bullshit, but I felt myself falling into patterns that were dangerous for my mental and physical health. Let’s put it this way, I really like beer and bourbon.

So, I rededicated myself to my rudimentary study of Zen Buddhism and mindfulness training while actually taking the time and effort to think about my life from the ground up starting with the most basic question, “How do I want to live my life?” This was not some abstract philosophical question.  This was a day to day logistical question of what a normal day for me would entail in my perfect life scenario.  Once I had that I moved to the specifics of where would I live to have this life and what would be doing for work to have this life.

There were four places I would like to choose from to eventually settle permanently:  the Triangle, Charlotte, Asheville, or Denver, CO. Then I had to figure out what kind of job would I have to live this perfect life scenario.  To get to that I thought long and hard about what skills do I have and what are the things I like.  Then I tried to manufacture a way to combine those things.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you can probably guess the job/jobs that will provide me with this life scenario I created involve writing and beer.  Here is the problem, there was no direct line from the job that I have to the type of work that I want.  The last six months especially have been about doing what was possible working a full time job with shifting hours to train and prepare myself for getting the work I eventually want.  At some point I was going to have to make a choice and make short-term sacrifices to get to where I wanted to be.

So over the course of a week almost a year ago, I actually set out a path for myself with what I wanted my life to be like and how I planned to get there.

Oh yeah, I did apply for another job at Lowe’s.  This time I applied for an Assistant Store Manager’s position at a neighboring store.  I did get an interview, but I think I subconsciously tanked the interview and didn’t get the job.  I say I tanked the interview because as I left the interview I remember thinking, “Do I want to be a store manager,” because getting that job would have put me on that path.  The more I thought about it, the more no was clearly the answer.

At that point, I knew I wanted more than to be a department manager or an ASM for the next ten years.  Watching that life unfold in my mind’s eye was as chilling as any horror movie.

This isn’t to denigrate anyone who does those jobs.  There are some people who are built to manage in retail and they are great at it, and I’ve worked with some of those people.

Not long after that, I decided to become a Certified Cicerone (I’ve earned the Certified Beer Server designation) and dedicate myself to the study of beer.

So, while this may seem to be sudden and foolhardy move on my part, it has been something I’ve been preparing myself for, for almost a year.  This isn’t a move without risk and it is not risk taken lightly or with no forethought.  To get where I eventually want to be, I need to be in the craft beer industry full time and I need to have the time and ability to really study craft beer as a product and as an industry. I believe this job at Craft is the perfect opportunity for that and it is an opportunity that met the preparation I began almost a year ago.  This is not the end point of something, it is the beginning of it.

What does all this have to do with that line from High Fidelity? This move isn’t something silly I’ve thought up and just decided to do with no conception of the consequences.  This is the first time I’ve actually thought out the direction of my life and what I really want it to be and taking this job is the second step in getting that life. Up until now, with the exception of one decision (the conscious decision to move to Charlotte after a time in Greensboro), I’ve gone with my gut during every decision.

Taking the time to think out what I want, how to get it, and the consequences of attempting to get it this time has taught me, I was a lot like Rob.  I looked around at where I was and what I was doing and I realized my guts had shit for brains.  They put me a hundred miles from ever a semblance of the life I wanted.

No life goes exactly as people think it will.  I’m probably not going to have everything in that perfect scenario I have in my head, but in the attempt to get that, I think I will get close enough to have a life that I actually like.

Rules for Great American Beer Festival

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2014 by cueball

My vacation this year has taken me to Denver, CO for my favorite event on Earth: Great American Beer Festival.  Here are a few rules I’ve developed from previous trips.

Rule #1

If you have tickets for the opening day, don’t try to get in the Convention Center right at 5:30. There will be a line.  A very long line.  It will seem endless, and it won’t be moving.  If you can, enjoy Denver, grab a bite to eat and walk around the downtown area, it is beautiful.  Then, once its 5:30 go to the line and start walking towards the entrance.  You will get in, in no time.  Trust me, I’ve learned this one the hard way.

Rule #2

Either get the GABF app for your phone or make sure you grab a program on the way in. They both will provide you with a floor map and brewery list.  It makes finding the breweries you want to try really easy.  The reason you will need a map and a brewery list is you need a plan.  There are around 600 breweries and 3000 beers at this shindig. You will not be able to visit every booth and taste every beer even if you go all three days.  Now, you don’t need to work this like the D-Day Invasion, but you do need to have some idea of where you want to start and what you want to taste.  Personally, I pick a style or two I want to try and then concentrate on then start at the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic sections.  Once I’ve spent time going through those sections I just go and find other beer to try in the styles I’m concentrating on for the night.

Rule #3

Do not wait in a long line for a taste.  Again there are 600 breweries and 3000 beers, in all likelihood if you go walk around and taste other beers the line will probably go do if it is something you really have to try.  Also, if it is a brewery that has a national distribution do not stand in line for that beer.  The only two exceptions to this rule are a special brew from a nationally distributed brewer or a brewery that has a lot of buzz and little national distribution at this point.  This year’s new brewery with ridiculous buzz is Asheville’s own Wicked Weed.  Well-deserved buzz by the way. I’m glad I’m NC local because I was not going to stand in that never ending line last night.  Long live #NCBEER.

Rule #4

Experiment.  You are in a place with almost 3000 beers. Try a style you’ve never had.  Try a style with experimental ingredients.  Try a brewery you’ve never heard of and try a couple of their beers.  If you see a booth with no one tasting a beer and one of the brewers or someone else who works at the brewery standing there looking bored, go up try a couple and talk to the pourer. You will learn so much about the beer and the brewery and you will find something new to drink.

Rule #5

Don’t taste big flavors early.  If you start the day with smoked beers, bourbon barrel aged beers, gose’s, or any other strong flavors you will spoil your taste buds for a bit.  Save those big flavors for your last tastings. You’ll enjoy them a lot more.

Finally, a bit of advice.  Use Google Maps to find food if you are not from Denver or like me have a friend who lives in Denver to go with you. My recommendation:  Sam’s No. 3 Diner.