Archive for IPA

Beer Counselor #1

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by cueball

“I don’t know what I want, just give me your favorite beer.” – Many, many customers

Hello, fellow beer travelers, this is the first installment of the Beer Counselor. Whether you are a craft beer geek, craft beer server, or craft beer newbie, I hope you can enjoy the friendly advice I plan to dispense here.

For the first question I want to take on “just give me your favorite beer.”  As a bartender I here this from customers a lot.  Honestly, that is a horrible thing to ask your beer server.  Don’t do it.  Please don’t do it.  It isn’t that is a bad question, it is an incomplete question.  If you go to any good craft beer bar, Craft Tasting Room is one such place, tell the bartender or server what beers you like or what kind of tastes you like.  They will give you recommendations and let you taste a couple of different beers and let you decide.  You can also get a flight with a few recommendations from the bartender and really explore a few beers at once.

There are two reasons “just give me your favorite beer” is a terrible thing to ask a bartender.  The first is taste is completely subjective and if your bartender is a beer geek he may have really weird likes.  What I like, another beer geek may hate (hoppy beers, sours, smoked beer, etc.).  I’m a beer geek, and we may like weird things that you will detest.  At any given time, there might be some single hopped American IPA, a lambic, or a smoked beer that I really love on tap.  If your favorite beer is Samuel Adams Lager or Stella Artois, and this is your first time tasting a sour, you probably won’t like it.

True story (anyone who works in a craft beer bar has similar ones), one Friday or Saturday night a customer tells me has never been to Craft before and is just getting into craft beer.  He asks me what my favorite beer is, I tell him and he says, “Great let’s go with that.”  I try to explain that this beer is a sour and give him an idea of what it tastes like.  Before I offer him a chance to sample it, he cuts me off and says, “Just give me the beer.”  I say, “OK” and get him his beer and he pays for it.  I go to help another customer, but out of the corner of my eye I see him flag down another bartender and gesture to his beer as if it is crap and ask for another beer.  Now, I’m sure instead of learning the lesson to ask for help from people who know a subject better than you do, he blamed me for giving him a bad beer.

That leads to the second reason it is a bad question.  Your bartenders and servers are there to help you have a good experience.  We want you to get a beer you like because if you get a beer you like and have a good time, you will give us good tips and you will come back. If you help us a little bit by giving us some parameters to advise you, we can help you a lot.  I don’t know if the guy I tried to help had a good experience or not, but I don’t remember seeing him since.

That is what this is about, you having the best experience you can when you go into a craft beer bar.  Whether you have been drinking craft beer for years and love rauchbiers or you heard about these crazy IPAs from a co-worker the other day and you really want to try one, let us help you find something you’ll like and enjoy.  So, in a nutshell tell your bartender what you like if you don’t see anything you recognize on the tap wall and ask for samples.

One last thing, be open to trying different things.  You may tell your bartender what you like and they will come back with something that doesn’t look anything like what you described.  Trust me, taste it.  If you have a good bartender who knows everything on the tap wall and knows what you are describing, he may surprise you with something you did not think you would like, but is actually perfect.  That is the joy of craft beer (and most anything actually).  Being pleasantly surprised and expanding your world just a little bit.

Until next week.


Musings on creativity

Posted in art with tags , , , , on August 8, 2014 by cueball

All artistic and creative endeavors are attempts to push the limits of the chosen discipline. 

Right now in the world of craft beer (yes, brewing is a creative endeavor) the India Pale Ale (IPA) style has been pushed to and past its limits in hop taste and alcohol content.  The IPA, particularly the American strain, is naturally a hoppy beer.  A quick primer, if you make a beer really hoppy you have to increase the amount of malt in the beer to keep the beer’s taste balanced enough to make it drinkable.  If you increase malt you increase the available sugar for fermentation which increases alcohol content. 

Many brewers have pushed the hop bitterness and alcohol content to such a level in their quest to make the hoppiest IPAs possible they are in some sense not making IPAs. 

The creative instinct is to always push to find new ways of expressing the same ideas or take an existing idea and push it all the way and past its limits.  That is how something new and different gets created. 

Bebop for example was created as an extension of traditional jazz and took the blues forms of jazz, increased the speed of the blues making the solos dizzying virtuosic performances while at the same time trying to find the most important notes in the music and attacking them at jagged sideways angles. 

Back to beer, the stout style was an extension of the porter style in 19th century England.  It began as a slightly darker and higher alcohol porter known as a stout porter, but slowly displaced the porter style entirely and became known as just stout.  Today true porters are rare, but stouts are ubiquitous. 

That brings up the other thing about creativity.  As it seeks to push the limits and find new ways of expression it inevitably destroys something that came before.  Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  While it is true that two forms of the same artistic discipline can exist simultaneously, it is also true that one of those forms has to become the dominant form over time.   

What is the drive that makes artists and creators push the limits to find and create the next wave?  Is it a natural rebellion against the status quo? Or is it an innate restlessness and curiosity that constantly seeks new input and knowledge? 

The answer is probably a little of both.  Certainly not all creators are overt rebels, but any true act of creation is an act of rebellion.  Also, all creators have a little curiosity hardwired into their brains and personalities.  Overtime the artist ages and matures and as they do, one of two things occurs:  get comfortable with what they are doing and start “mailing it in” ceasing to push the limits of their creativity or they become more confident in their rebellion and intentionally push to find new ways of expression and make their audience think and become a little uncomfortable. 

There is a reason many of the most successful musical acts best music came at the beginning and the start of the middle phase of their careers.  That is when they are still taking chances and trying to push themselves as well as the music.  As they get older, many artists become stuck doing the same songs over and over again.  Not just playing the old hits, but recreating them time and time again in the guise of new music.  That isn’t just due to losing their artistic fire, but the more successful they become the more business depends on their success.  Once you become an industry instead of an artist, it becomes a lot harder to take creative chances on a new album.  If it doesn’t sale, jobs will be lost and houses will be sold. 

Art and creation are destructive rebellions that push the limits of their discipline.  Sometimes watching those limits be pushed in real time is disconcerting, but in retrospect it is always fascinating. 

Beer Styles and Beer Plans

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by cueball

Taking a little time from writing about writing (I’m always thinking about it), let’s talk about beer styles.  Now remember, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) held competitions in 84 separate categories in 2013 and the Beer Judge Certification Program lists 80 different beer styles not counting mead or cider.  There are a lot of styles to choose from.

I plan on writing more about beer this coming year and I have been trying to think of what beer style I like the most.  Certainly, the style I’ve drank the most is the pale ale mostly of the American variety.  Every brewer, particularly every American craft brewer has a pale ale.  The India Pale Ale (IPA) variety has become the workhorse and flag bearer of the American craft beer movement.  This year alone the IPA category had 252 entrants in the GABF competition.

Yes, I like pale ales and IPAs in particular, but I don’t know if it’s my favorite.

Now, my favorite individual beer for a few years has been (was?) Sweet Josie Brown Ale from Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh.  I have also drunk a vat of Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale from Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC.  Those are both great beers and you I would have made the argument a couple of years ago that brown ales were my favorite style.  I’m not so sure.

Over the past two years I could have made the case for rye ales, porters, stouts, tripel, dubbel, abbey ales, Saison, beire de garde, and Scotch ale.  Currently, I’m in a big barley wine phase.

This is why I love beer.  The possibilities.  Some of those beer styles are similar and some of them have tastes that have very little in common.

So, here’s the thing.  I don’t want to have a favorite style.  Here is what I can do.  I can pick a style a month, and drink primarily beers from that style.  Try to explore the different ranges of expression in each brewer’s interpretation and find one that I really like.

Looking in my refrigerator right now, I have a 22 oz. quadrupel, a 22 oz. imperial stout, a marzen, an ESB (extra special bitter), a porter, a brown ale, and two IPAs.  All but the quad were brewed in North Carolina.  So, today I think I will go to my locally owned and operated beer establishment (Dragonfly Wine Market) and buy a six-pack of one style.  I’ll decide once I get there what style I’ll choose.

I’ve never been one to sit down at the end of the year and review my life and then set a plan for the following year.  Until now.  This beer writing is part of a larger plan of writing that will hopefully take me to the next phase of my life.  Be that in Cleveland County or elsewhere.  There are things I want to do and “there is a long way to go and short time to get there.”

Beer Tasting Notes: HopLanta

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2013 by cueball

HopLanta Tasting Notes


What It Looks Like

A brilliant golden honey appearance.  The head is white and pretty significant.

What It Smells Like

A lot of citrus from the hops with little pine and fruit from the Vienna malt.  The balance is towards the malt (this is an IPA).

What It Feels Like

A light summery body.  Almost too light.

What It Tastes Like

A hoppy beer like most IPAs, but it isn’t overly hoppy as some drift towards.  The malt is either subtle giving good balance or nonexistent. I think it is just really subtle because it is an old world malt, Vienna.  Pretty good balance.

Do I Like It

If you are an American craft brewer you or expected to have an IPA unless you are Ommegang or New Glarus and you are off making your wonderful Belgian styles.  That means your IPA will not stand out unless it is truly great or truly awful.  All the rest fall in that vast gulf in between.  This beer is on the good end of that vast gulf.  Not great, not terrible, but good.  I will definitely drink this again if I see it on tap somewhere just to find out if it is better than what it tasted like from the bottle.  A good beer, but there is nothing that stands out in it.  It doesn’t do anything different like Highland Brewing’s Devil’s Britches nor is it so hoppy as to be undrinkable.  That isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t necessarily good either.

Beer Tasting Notes: Single-Wide IPA

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by cueball

Single-Wide IPA Tasting Notes


What It Looks Like

It has a nice bright golden color with a pretty white head that showed very good retention.

What It Smells Like

A very distinct hop presence with good citrus and floral character, but it is not overwhelming. A really inviting aroma.  Hops: Zeus, Bravo, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Citra (via Boulevard Brewing Company).

What It Feels Like

It has a medium body with good carbonation.  Again, everything about it is very inviting and it is a very easy beer to drink.

What It Tastes Like

I did not get a lot of malt taste, but there is a caramel background to it.  It is an IPA so it is hoppy and bitter, but not to an overwhelming degree.  It leans towards the hops but the malt presence is enough to make it taste balanced and go down easy.

Do I Like It

Sometimes during the winter you want a big robust winter ale or a stout, but sometimes as the winter is dragging on to its end you want something that reminds you of sitting on a porch during a spring afternoon watching the flowers bloom.  This is that kind of beer.  Everything about reminded me that winter was coming to a close and spring would be here soon.  I want to find more of this during spring and summer and test out my theory.