Archive for beer 101

Beer Counselor #3

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , on April 22, 2015 by cueball

growler beer

Growlers are awesome.  While I am obligated to say so because of my day job, I actually do believe it.  Growlers allow you to get fresh beer from your local growler fill station to enjoy on your couch, by the pool, on a picnic, or wherever your beer drinking heart desires.

The growler originated sometime late in the 19th or early in the 20th century as a way for workers to enjoy a beer on their lunch breaks.  The modern half gallon glass jug version started in the late 80s with the Otto Brothers Brewing Company in Idaho.  At least that’s the story and it’s good a claim as any so we will go with that one.

Regardless of where or why they were created, growlers have become an integral part of the craft beer movement here in the United States.

So, you’ve gone to your local brewery or growler fill station, purchased a new growler, and gotten your favorite beer.  You’ve grilled out with friends and shared your growler and it now stands sad and empty.  What do you do?

First, rinse it out with water and then wash it.  Unless you are a home brewer (if you are a home brewer you already know how to clean a growler) you probably do not have a stiff brush that can get down into the bottom of the growler and scrub it clean.  However, if you rinse it out after its contents have been emptied into your belly, you should not need to use a brush.  The best way to clean it is to drop in a dollop of cleaning detergent (best is unscented and non-bleach based), run warm water to fill it to a little less than half.  Hopefully you have not thrown away the cap because now you are going to reseal it and shake it.  After a few seconds pour out the contents and then rinse it out until there are no more suds.

Once you rinse out the detergent you will need to rinse it with sanitizer.  That’s to eliminate odors and any other bugs that will affect the taste of your next fill.  You can get a good sanitizer from your local home brewing shop.  Most sanitizers are simple to use: place a little in the growler and fill with water.  Just follow the directions on the package on how much you will need to sanitize the growler.  Usually, once the sanitizer is introduced to the growler you pour it out again and then let it air dry.  Once it is dry it is ready to be filled again.

Work GrowlerNow, the growler is cleaned and sanitized.  You are ready to go and get it filled.  Here is a last bit of advice that will help improve the taste of the beer and will help the growler station not waste beer in the form of foam:  If at all possible cool the growler off in a refrigerator or in a cooler before you bring it to get filled. This can be hard especially as the weather turns warmer in late spring and summer.  Now, if you come see me or my compatriots at Craft, bring your growler and have us put in the cooler for you as you have a pint and maybe a bite to eat before we fill it.

As I said, this does two things.  One, it keeps the beer from changing temperature drastically which will affect the taste at the end.  Two, it helps the person filling it by getting the temperature of the glass (or metal) close to that of the beer, keeping the beer from foaming up too much during the fill.  Now, you want the growler to be cool, not frozen.  If ice forms inside it will also affect taste.  That is the one of the reasons you should not freeze your glasses at home when drinking craft beer.

Once you have the growler filled and you take it home, in my opinion, you have about 7-10 days to drink it at its optimum taste, if you don’t open it.  If you do open it and have a pint and then put it back in the refrigerator I would say you have another 2-3 days before you affect the taste.

If you do these things you will take care of your growler and give yourself many good beer experiences.


Beer Counselor #2

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2015 by cueball

I get a lot of questions about beer styles.  We have a lot of people who are just getting into craft beer or have gotten into craft beer but think IPA is the only craft beer and it is certainly the only one they have ever drank. So, this week, I will describe the major beer styles.

Beer is primarily broken up into two major categories:  ales and lagers.  Now, lager beers are bottom fermented (for the most part).  They ferment at cooler temperatures and for longer periods.  That makes them clearer, crisper, and cleaner in appearance and taste.

Ales are top fermented and the first style of beer discovered.  They ferment at a higher temperature, close to room temperature and have a shorter fermentation time.  They tend to have a fruitier aroma and more complex taste and the yeast can sometimes hang around giving a cloudier appearance.

Now under each of those groups there are numerous styles.  This will not be a complete list.  There are far too many styles and substyles for a beginning craft beer drinker to absorb.  Depending on who you go to for information there are somewhere over 70-90 different styles.  For a complete list here is the Beer Judge Certification Program and the list from the Brewer’s Association.


  • Lagers – Malty and darker than pilsners.
  • Pilsners – Crisp, light, and a brighter hoppiness then lagers.
  • Bocks – Similar to pilsners, but maltier.


  • Pale ale – The style that started the craft beer revolution in the United States. Light appearance with a touch of hop bitterness and flavor.
  • IPA – A pale ale with more hops and more alcohol. Originally created to withstand the trip from England to India in 18th and 19th centuries. Adapted by American brewers to be as hoppy as humanly possible
  • This is the biggest question I get: What is the difference between a pale ale and an IPA.  I often get told by customers I like pale ales when what they mean is I like IPAs.  They are different categories and have different attributes.   First level beer nerdery:  knowing the difference between an American IPA and an American Pale Ale.
  • Brown ale – Maltier and darker than pales. More toasty and chocolate in taste then pales but still has a good hop presence.
  • Porters/Stouts – Really dark in color and little to any hop taste. Can be sweet are really dry in taste.

Then there are smoked beers, sour beers, Belgian style beers and other random hybrids.  Smoked beers use malt that has been smoked with some type of wood.  Sours are usually made sour by some type of wild yeast or bacteria introduced during the fermentation process.  Belgian style beers are a variety of fun sours and fruit based beers that deserve their own blog post.  Hybrids are beers that combine the yeasts and fermenting processes of lagers and ales.

If you are a craft beer newbie this should be a good start in craft beer.  If you want to go even more in depth I would recommend the Beer Judge Certification Program website and the website to get started.  Those are good resources for anyone at any level of craft beer nerdom.

Bar Tour: Olde Hickory Tap Room

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2014 by cueball

Occasional Dispatches by Cueball and Eightball from bars around NC/SC.

Olde Hickory Tap Room, Hickory, NC

This is hopefully the first of occasional bar reviews from our journeys around North and South Carolina.

This first dispatch is from an impromptu Martin Luther King, Jr. Day visit to Olde Hickory Tap Room in Hickory, NC.

First off, it was an insanely beautiful and unseasonably warm January day.  If you have never been to Olde Hickory it is in a great spot in downtown (or is it uptown?) Hickory.  For a holiday at a business district restaurant there was a pretty good crowd, but we were able to find two good spots at the bar.

The place has a good dark oak beer inspired décor.  We did not have to wait too long for our bartender to find us and get us started with a menu and some beer suggestions.  We both started off with the Stone Brewing Double Bastard.  It is a nice big American Strong Ale weighing in at 11.2% ABV.  Luckily for Mr. Lankford (Eightball), who was driving, they properly serve such a big beer in a smaller Belgian Goblet.

We started the food off with the Pub Chips with Beer Cheese Sauce as an appetizer.  The chips were seasoned nicely and the cheese sauce was good.  I will say I prefer that sauce to ranch.

Once we finished our first round and were waiting for our sandwiches to arrive we had a cool discussion with our bartender and she went through a few of the beers we might like.  She offered us a taste of among others the Olde Hickory Brewery (OHB) Death By Hops.  I tasted it, and loved it.  Lankford on the other hand doesn’t like IPAs or the taste of really hoppy beers.  The bartender did point him into another direction and he settled on the OHB Hickory Stick Stout.  I loved the Death By Hops, but I thought it would overmatch my sandwich and selected the OHB Table Rock Pale Ale.

I ordered the Black Bean Burger with fries and Lankford got The Martin, a jerk chicken sandwich on sourdough bread, with fries.  The food did come pretty quickly and my sandwich was pretty good.  Maybe the patty was a little over cooked, but I actually like my vegetarian patties a little past well-done.  Lankford seemed to enjoy his since it went quickly.  The fries were not really hot, but it was during a bit of the lunch rush and they were probably sitting under a heat lamp for a few minutes.  However, they were still seasoned well and crisp.

If you have read any of the things I’ve written about reviewing things in the recent past you know I don’t like star systems or any other kind of ranking system, but I think recommendations should be much simpler:  would I recommend this to a friend.  So, yeah, I would wholeheartedly recommend Olde Hickory Tap Room to a friend.  Cool spot, cool atmosphere/décor, and knowledgeable bartenders.  I would love to go back one night especially when they have music and take a date (don’t laugh, that could happen).  That said, if you are passing through or near Hickory and need a nice meal and a good beer it is a great place.

I Just Felt Like Posting About Food and Beer

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2014 by cueball

I just made this recipe I got off of tonight:

  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 pounds potatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • Combine the onions, celery, potatoes, and dill weed in a slow cooker; drizzle the olive oil over the mixture. Pour the vegetable broth into the slow cooker.
  • Cook on High until the vegetables are tender, about 6 hours.

I was surprised at how tasty this was despite its simplicity.

What really worked was drinking a Denver Pale Ale from Great Divide Brewing.  Because it is and English-style pale ale, the more mellow hoppiness paired really well with the dill weed and the Earthy nature of all the root vegetables.

Perception and You, A Kind of Love Story

Posted in beer with tags , , , on January 16, 2014 by cueball

Perception is an interesting thing when you are reviewing something.  When you taste a beer, a wine, go to a restaurant, or watch a movie, are you reviewing the thing you are experiencing or are you reviewing its representative?

I recently read the book The Beer Trials and one of its central theses is that perception effects your enjoyment of a beer (or wine or book or movie).  If you paid $10 for this 750 ml bottle of beer, it must be good.  It is certainly better than that $1.50 12 oz. bottle.  By conducting blind tastings of 250 beers the authors proved that sometimes our perceptions driven by the cost, availability, and the advertising are completely wrong.

This is the same in any other creative enterprise.  The perception of a thing affects how many people rate something and how much they enjoy it.  A new television show coming on HBO is often perceived differently than a new show premiering on network television.  A book self-published by an unknown writer or even just published by a small independent press will be perceived differently than the latest novel published by Random House.

It is actually quite interesting to think about and watch how advertising, price, and availability work to effect the perception of a product.  In some circles, the more you advertise, keep the price low, and make ubiquitous a product the more it is desired.  In other circles, products with those markers are avoided.  Beer is the perfect example.

There are you mass-produced pale lagers which are the kings all over the world.  They are advertised endlessly, they are sold at a low price, and they are everywhere.  To some people that signals good enough and that is all they buy.

On the other hand you have a certain section of the craft beer movement where products that are never advertised, expensive, and almost impossible to find are the beer most coveted.  That is partially why Pliny the Elder and anything from Westvletern often get voted the best beers in the world, they are intentionally in short supply making everyone want one so that they can say they drank it and look at how cool they are.

Our perceptual bias is fueled by how we define ourselves and how think we are defined in the minds and eyes of others.  Too many people carry around a book so others can see that they are reading it or drink this beer so others can see they are drinking it.  Fooling yourself about who you are and what you like is silly.  It will just make you unhappy.  Defining yourself through other’s eyes is a fool’s errand because the only things you can control are your actions.  You can never be sure how any of the things you do will be perceived by others much less control how they are perceived by others.  That is not to say you should not care what other’s think, but that you cannot let the desire to influence what other’s think about you to define your behavior.  Be a nice person and respect other’s opinions, but do not let those opinions take you down paths you do not want to go.

Thinking About Beer Flavors

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2014 by cueball

Not caramel flavored beer, but the flavor components of beer that you like the most.

Last week 2014 began I read many “2014 _____ Resolutions.”  You know, “2014 Literary Resolutions”, “2014 Television Watching Resolutions,” and many more on many subjects.  One that I read really got me thinking.  It was a 2014 Craft Beer Resolutions article.  I believe it was in All About Beer or Beer Advocate.  Regardless, one of the resolutions was to make a list of your favorite beer flavors.

That seems simple enough.  What are the flavors you look forward to most when drinking a beer?  Except for me it is not that simple.  The flavors I like in a beer depend upon the style the beer is, what the beer is trying to be, and ultimately how all the flavors of that particular beer work together.

My default is probably pale ale or even brown ale.  I prefer both in the American style which means I like them a little hoppier then the traditional English styles.  So, that suggest I like the flavor of hops, but which hops.  That would be the brighter, more piney, more citrusy American hops.  Of course if the beer is too hoppy it takes the taste out of balance it doesn’t work and I won’t like it.  A good way of thinking about it is to think of it as a salad.

In a good salad, you have your base of the greens.  For me that is usually lettuce and/or baby spinach.  Then I like to put some kind of sweet and sour combination of cherry tomatoes, beets, and/or pickles.  With that I will add some type of differentiating texture of carrots or mushrooms.  The last solid is usually red onions.  Then I try to bind it all together with oil and vinegar or maybe a little lemon to brighten it.  If I add too much of any one thing, then the salad experience I’ve created is not as good as it should be.  In this case, red onions like hops can overwhelm everything else if you are not careful.

Now, while pales and browns may be my default that does not mean that is all I am ever in the mood to drink.  I love almost all the Belgian styles ranging from wit bier to Abbey style quadruple to Flanders red.  Then again I am very familiar with wee heavy Scotch Ales,Saisons, and Biere de Garde.  I also love an oatmeal stout, cream ales, and I could go on and just list almost every beer style.  There is something in each one I like.

I think trying to list your favorite beer flavors is a limiting exercise.  These are the flavors that make us comfortable and we all default towards the comfortable.  That is why we all have a favorite pair of jeans or pair of shoes and why television networks recycle story ideas and actors to find what makes viewers keep coming back.  I think as a “craft” beer drinker knowing the flavors you like is fine as long as it is part of understanding your pallet.

I don’t think of any beer as any one flavor.  A beer may be hop forward, malt forward, or yeast forward.  Meaning the predominate flavor comes from one of those, but it is only in combination with the other flavors, aromas, and mouth feel that a beer works.  It is of course good to know what you like, but simply listing flavors can limit you in what you explore.  If you are doing it in order understand your pallet that will help you explore and find beers that you would think are outside of your comfort zone styles.  Brewers are always experimenting and pushing the limits of the styles in order to find new and different styles and beer.  Let their skill and your pallet find a beer in every style that you like.

Stuff You May Need To Know About Craft Beer

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2013 by cueball


Beer Styles

  • Indian Pale Ale (IPA) – Originally, a British Pale Ale with a lot of hops added so that the beer could last the long trip from Britain to India before the advent of refrigeration.  Now it is a hoppier version of a pale ale.  Currently, there are 3 sub-styles: British IPA, American IPA (hoppier), and the Imperial (or double) IPA (hoppier still).
  • Pale Ale/Brown Ale – The basic British tradition beer styles.  The difference between the two is the brown ale is darker (of course) and a little sweeter due to the different malts used.  As with most beer styles originating in Europe the American versions are more.  More hops, more malt, more alcohol.
  • Porter/Stout – Porters are strong, dark beers first brewed in Britain with little hop profile.  Stouts are a darker, even stronger tasting version.  Often described as chewy or meaty.
  • Pilsner – A lager.  Usually pale in color and rather light in taste.  The most popular beers style worldwide.  Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Heineken.  Often described by craft beer aficionados as “fizzy water.”
  • Lager versus Ale – This difference is due to the yeasts used to brew these styles.  The lager yeasts ferment longer, at colder temperatures, and provide a “cleaner” taste.  Ale yeasts ferment quicker, at warmer temperatures, and give off more flavors.

Style and Tasting Stuff That Can Make You Sound Kind of Smart

  • IBU – International Bitterness Units, the measurement of the hop bitterness in the beer.
  • ABV – Alcohol By Volume, how much alcohol does your beer contain.
  • SRM – Standard Reference Method, is a measurement of the color of the beer.  The higher the number the darker the beer.
  • Lacing – The bubbles left on the side of the glass from the head as you drink your beer.  A good beer in a good clean glass will leave a nice lace.

Pretentious Style and Tasting Stuff You Don’t Need To Know Yet But Might Hear If You Hang Around Any of Us Homebrewers Too Long

  • Diacetyl – A butterscotch flavor found in some beers.  If too prominent it is an off taste and signifies an unsuccessful beer.
  • DMS – Dimethyl Sulfide, definitely an off taste found in lagers that are fermented at too high a temperature.
  • Original Gravity – Original gravity.  Basically, the amount of sugars in the wort before fermentation.
  • Final Gravity – Final gravity. Basically, the amount of sugars found in the beer after fermentation.  Helps tell you how much alcohol is in the beer.