New Doc Shows Blood, Sweat & Beer of Bringing a Brewery to Life

BrewGentlemenSo, you say you want to open a brewery? A new documentary available online today may make you rethink that plan. Filmmakers Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin follow four men (three from The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company in Braddock, PA, and one from Shorebilly Brewing Company in Ocean City, MD) as they navigate the hurdles of launching a micro-brewery. Or, more accurately, the perils of being a small business owner in modern-day America.

Blood, Sweat & Beer is the tale of two breweries that begins with the worst of times: Shorebilly Brewing’s owner Danny Robinson is facing financial destitution following what appears to be (and eventually—and subsequent to him changing the brewery name to Backshore Brewing Company—proves to be) a meritless trademark infringement lawsuit from a Tshirt company using the same DBA name. A shortcoming of the film is that we never know for sure if Danny is just a bad businessman (he’s also owner of a nearby restaurant, so I’m assuming not) or just someone caught in the cross hairs of a judicial system that hinders small business growth at every turn. For example, Danny worries that he’ll lose his home and personal property, meaning his business structure is not a corporation, which is pretty much Business 101. It’s hard to be interested in him as a brewer when we only really only see him through the lens of his legal woes.

The more interesting story—and where Blood, Sweat & Beer differentiates itself from documentary predecessors American Beer and Beer Wars—is that of Brew Gentlemen owners Asa Foster and Matt Katase and head brewer Brandon Capps as part of a larger narrative about the demise and rebirth of manufacturing in America. Braddock was a former steel mill town outside of Pittsburgh that never recovered from the bust of the early 1980s. While Pittsburgh proper has come back, Braddock is still trying to figure out its recovery. The documentary then visits similar boom-to-bust-to-beer towns across the country, scoring interviews with brewers and politicians and brewer-politicians (Hello, Colorado Governor and Wynkoop Brewing founder John Hickenlooper) and bolstering with statistics on the tremendous growth in craft brewing. The Braddock brewery is the center of a business resurrection, and the support of the town is paramount to the success of the brewers and their dream of being small business owners in America.

In the end, this film shows just how darn hard it is to open a brewery… and also how incredibly rewarding it is. You really feel the love of the craft beer scene and why so many of us love being a part of it. You root for the up-and-comers and recognize the many faces of established breweries. If you are in the beer scene or just a rabid craft beer drinker, you will definitely see a friendly face or six in Blood, Sweat & Beer. And if you aren’t inspired to launch a business, you may be pulling out your homebrew kit by the end of the 70-minute viewing. Or at least polishing off a few of your favorite beers shown throughout the film.

You’ll be rooting for these little guys to win. And to be able to make more great beer.

Blood, Sweat & Beer is available today in regular or deluxe editions on iTunes and other major online platforms or on DVD via the film’s website.


A Guinness IPA? You Betcha!

GuinnessNitroIPAI asked the million dollar question: Why do European brewers feel the need to create IPAs for the American hop heads driving the market?

Behind the bar was Domhnall Marnell, from Guinness, who had just handed a select group of beer writers and industry peeps a can of Guinness Nitro IPA. His lilting Irish accent belied the achievement of the American premiere of the beer at The Growler Bites & Brews on Stone Street (a lovely bar, even if it does require crossing FiDi Bridge and Tunnelers to get to it).

While acknowledging the merit of the question, he quickly dismissed it as “much ado about nothing,” noting that innovation has always been a trademark of the Guinness brand. After all, if it weren’t for Guinness, it’s possible that nitrogen might never have been used as a carbonation for beer.

There’s been a lot of discord in the craft beer community about various buyouts of existing brands and mergers among others, but a growing discontent is also starting to register among those of us who like the purity laws, be they Germany’s strict Reinheitsgebot or simply a traditional saison recipe handed down from one generation to the next at Brasserie Dupont. We may love our 100 IBU American-style IPAs (India Pale Ales), but we respect the diversity that craft offers us and we don’t want to see European style go all Levis jeans and Nike shoes (to offer up a metaphor).

Well, here’s the good news. Despite the presence of five (FIVE!) different hops in the Guinness Nitro IPA, the beer weighs in at a relatively paltry 44 IBUs. The only hops used throughout the brewing process is Admiral, with Celia and Topaz being added at mid-boil. While the company is boasting about its dry-hopping with Challenger and Cascade, the truth is they are infusing the dry hops rather than actually doing traditional dry hopping. This is reflected in the nose, which gives off very little of the distinctive aromas beer drinkers expect from a dry hopped beer. (For more on the brewing of this beer, check out the four-minute video courtesy of Guinness, below).

So, is there bad news to go with the good? Not really. The beer is a reasonable English IPA, with the novelty of being – per the company slogan –  “Supremely smooth. Unmistakably Guinness.” The beer employs the same yeast that is used in the stout, so there’s no mistaking it for another brand. And the nitrogen adds an element of surprise: It was comical as we experienced IPA drinkers were gingerly pouring the Nitro IPA into our glasses, expecting the foam-up that occurs from a CO2-infused IPA. Domhnall bemusedly had to cajole us into pouring our beers more quickly, assuring us that the beer would not foam over the glass. It didn’t. However, there is still a wait for drinking a Guinness IPA, only it’s on the back end, not the pouring end. The distinctive caramel head that forms in a Guinness Stout is also present in the IPA; the cloudy beer clears to a deep amber after about 90 seconds.

This is not a beer that will win over any hop heads. However, it is a beer that many Guinness drinkers will enjoy. At 5.8% ABV, the IPA is a “big” beer by Guinness standards (the stout is traditionally around 4% when served in Europe) but still fairly sessionable by American IPA standards.

So, is nitrogen going to take over IPAs the way that it has stouts? Unlikely. At least not stateside. The NO2 reduces the bitterness and bite that most IPA drinkers have come to expect. Palate fatigue aside, I think this is more of a “gateway” (and you know how much I hate that term) IPA for people who don’t really like IPAs. Although there are a couple other brewers experimenting with nitrogen-infused IPAs, I don’t think the mouthfeel is as compelling as with a stout. Plus, there’s the reality that bars aren’t going to take over their few nitro lines with an IPA. Guinness has its trademarked widget ball in cans, meaning bars can easily stock the cans in lieu of (or in addition to) draught.

If this is what the European IPA market looks like, I’m on board. A parallel style that hearkens to tradition over bandwagoning onto an already over-saturated American IPA presence. And your Guinness-drinking friends will love it.


How I Spent My Summer Vacation

DIYBeerBrewingIn the words of one Mr. John, the Bitch is Back!

Seriously though, while I appreciate the concern some loyal followers had for me during my unintended hiatus, I’ve been really busy. That’s an excuse, and I’m hoping to get back into a rhythm now that it’s less than 90 degrees in my writing space (i.e. an unairconditioned apartment in Brooklyn).

Among my greater accomplishments this summer:

  1. I went to Asheville, a great beer town; I am pretty sure I’ve found my retirement spot, which is either in the city or slightly west in the Hendersonville area. (Expect a blog update soon, which I will link back to here.)
  2. I went to the Adirondacks (a mixed blessing of a trip, but some very cool beer happenings happening… again, will try to have a post very soon).
  3. I wrote a book! My DIY Beer Brewing book is now available for purchase (more on this below).
  4. I got a belligerent adolescent boy to do copious amounts of homework.
  5. I helped judge the third-annual North American Guild of Beer Writers Writing Awards.

I also completed many paid-for blog posts and dealt with the ongoing evolution of my grown daughter (dissed by a studio, finding first love, getting interest from a new studio, preparing to graduate college… it’s a marathon, not a sprint, apparently!). Not to mention my own evolution (I ain’t dead yet).

But this post here today is about my new book! More than a year ago, I was asked to ghost write a homebrew book. It was extensive and I put in a great many hours. It wasn’t the first book I’ve ghost written, so when I completed the work, I cashed the check and moved on. After a few months, there were a few editorial updates which I completed somewhat grudgingly (by that point, I had new deadlines to fulfill). Then, nothing. I rarely search for my ghost writing; I figure once it’s out of my hands, it’s out of my thoughts.

Fast-forward to this spring, when a new publisher (Rockwood Press) had taken over the project from the old publisher (which never published the original book). They wanted to streamline considerably what I had written and asked me to do extensive rewrites. I complied… and cashed the check. Pretty soon thereafter, lots of editorial activity. Soon, it appeared that this book was actually going to print, with daily check-ins from graphic designers and clarifications on a few of my sidebars. I pitched in and worked through weekends (for no additional pay, I might add). I did so because it’s in my nature to do good work. Maybe that’s why I tend to be broke all the time!

Then I received an innocuous, brief email from the publisher: “Would you like accreditation?”

That was the entirety of the email. I thought, “Whoa! Are you giving me an author credit?!?” What I wrote was, “If you’re offering me an author credit, then, yes. Thank you.”

So, my long journey to my first beer book has come to an end. It’s a very well put together book, if I do say so myself. It’s definitely for the new homebrewer or possibly for a former homebrewer in need of a refresher course. The graphics bring my text to life, and the design team did a great job with the layout. If you want to show me some love, buy it here (and if you purchase on a Kindle—I cannot vouch for the quality of the layout/design elements on an e-reader—please be sure to scroll through to the end, as that’s how Amazon now determines sales for payment). I don’t get royalties, so there’s nothing monetary in it for me at this point. But I’d love for this book to be a success and to read a few reviews on the website. It’s also available through other major publishing platforms: Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo.

Thanks for your support, and happy homebrewing this fall!

Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below!

Better than “Light”: Seven Beers You Can Imbibe Without Blowing Your “Diet”

Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below!

Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below! Photo credit: Pinterest (that’s long form for “pint,” amiright?)

Standing in line for yesterday’s 32-mile Great Saunter hike around the rim of Manhattan, I was chatting up some other walkers when the topic of “what do you do for a living” came up. My poor attendance to this blog aside (sorry readers), I am still, in fact, making my money from writing about beer. I also noted that my attendance at the Great Saunter after an absence of five years (see? my blog posts are more frequent than my marathon-level walks!) was because my weight has gotten out of control and I need to “make some changes” to my lifestyle.

The reality is that if you’re in the beer world, you’d better have an exercise plan. There are several “universal” truths about being a beer writer:

  1. You drink too much. Whether by sheer quantity or just daily life, those of us who make our living in beer drink a lot. As in every day. As in, we do tastings in the morning. As in, no—unlike oenophiles—we don’t spit. Part of the reason why this blog has been on hiatus was my desire to cut back on my drinking. I literally can drink for free on a daily basis; not a good choice.
  2. Beer doesn’t make you fat… but calories do! I say this a lot, because there’s a bit of a public relations war vis a vis whether the carb-heavy world of beer contributes to weight gain. For whatever reason, Americans seem to think that carbohydrates are the enemy; add in alcohol (both carbs and protein weigh in at 4 calories/gram; whereas alcohol is 7 calories/gram; a gram of fat is 9 calories, meaning alcohol calories are more akin to fat than carbs) and beer can pack the calorie density of a mega-protein bar (cue Mean Girls reference here).
  3. If you’re fit in the beer world, that is due to exercise and not diet. I have seen skinny women downing bread and cheese with their beers, so it’s not about calorie control. A friend of mine who is a rep for a boutique importer spends (the warm) half of the year running and the other (cold) half of the year playing ice hockey. This is basic dietary science: burn more (or at least as many) calories than (as) you consume and you will (maintain or) lose weight. I have put on 10 pounds for each year (i.e. three) I’ve been writing about beer on a more-or-less full-time basis because I don’t burn more calories than I consume. And I, too, like bread and cheese with beer!

Back in the queue: The man I was talking to stated, “I suppose you don’t consider light beer an option,” to which I replied, “What’s ‘light’ beer?” I was being facetious, because I knew what the guy meant. Shortly thereafter, we were separated before I had the sense to recommend some “better than light” beers.

To me, “light” beer is far worse than decaf coffee. Decaf may be pointless in terms of a caffeine high, but “light” beer still packs quite the punch in terms of calories. And while there are good decaf options for flavor, beer marketed as “light” typically is a low-cal version of a better beer. The quintessential example of this is Budweiser: The full-calorie version of the beer (143 calories for 12 ounces – note: all calorie counts in this article are for a 12-ounce beer; 5.0% ABV) is better (in so far as a mass-market lager can be) than its pretty crappy Bud Light (110 calories; 4.2% ABV). At least Heineken attempts to differentiate its full-calorie beer (166 calories; 5.4% ABV) from its sister, Amstel Light (99 calories/3.5% ABV).

But all these beers run the taste continuum from “pretty bad” to “just okay.” And chances are that if you’re drinking Amstel or Bud Light, you’re gonna drink a lot more than one… pretty much negating any benefit from calorie control.

So, what can you imbibe and still watch your calories? First, let’s assume you don’t want to do a 32-mile hike or run a marathon every week to burn the extra calories that beer can put on. Second, let’s assume you want to drink “good” beer (the idea of “craft” beer is really in flux, especially as formerly defined “craft” beers are bought by huge conglomerates like AB-InBev). Third, let’s assume you have a drinking strategy:

  • Are you looking for a buzz? You might want to consider efficiency over calories. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA packs a whopping 450 calories, but at 18% ABV, you’ll probably only need one… assuming you can stop at one.
  • Are you looking to drink all day? You are at the beach or by the pool and you just want a slow imbibe. Go for a low-ABV beer or… drink a great stout. People forget how lovely stouts are in the summer because it’s easy to think “dark beer for dark days.” However, stouts improve as they warm, so you can drink much more slowly. If you drink one Left Hand Milk Stout (180 calories; 6% ABV) an hour for four hours, you’ll be better off than drinking eight Bud Lights over the same time frame. Full disclosure vis a vis “craft” defined loosely: Guinness Stout on draught is one of the lower-calorie beers: only 125 calories; 4.0% ABV (most bars are going to do a 16-ounce pour, so expect your pint to cost you 167 calories).
  • Are you looking for flavor? A gose, lambic or Berliner Weisse will be super refreshing and full of fruity flavors. Tart, crisp and just right for warm weather drinking.
  • You either come prepared with BYOB or know how to read a label. One of the big problems with knowing how many calories you’re drinking is that very few craft beers publish their calorie counts (something the “light” beers capitalize on). However, they do typically have alcohol-by-volume (ABV) on the label. Obviously, the higher the ABV on a beer the higher the calorie count. Efficiency aside, you’ll want to slow your beer intake with lots of water to stay hydrated on summer days.

So here are the seven beers I think are “better than light.” The conditions were that they had to be roughly 10 calories per ounce or less and beers I’ve actually tried (note that the calories are “best guesstimates” based on published research). Also, on principle, I disallowed any beer with “light” in the mix (thus, Sam Adams Light isn’t recommended). If you can’t find my beers in your market, here’s a great breakdown of beers by calories, total carbs and ABV. And please share your “skinny” beers in the comments. Happy drinking!

  1. Anderson Valley Brewing Highway 128 Blood Orange Gose: 126 calories/4.2% ABV. A beautiful gose with intense flavors and amazing body.
  2. Evil Twin Brewing Bikini Beer: 81 calories/2.7% ABV. For hopheads! You’d never guess drinking this that it is so low in calories. The true poster beer for “tastes great, less filling”!
  3. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Vielle Saison: 126 calories/4.2% ABV. Another bright sour beer that is widely available.
  4. The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse: 93 calories/3.1% ABV. I’ll take the sour beer behind door #3! Such flavor for a beer that has fewer calories than Corona Light!
  5. Abita Brewing Amber Ale: 128 calories/4.5% ABV. The most calorie-dense beer on this list is also one of the more “efficient” beers if you’re looking to get a bit more buzz from your beer.
  6. New Belgium Brewing Skinny Dip: 110 calories/4.2% ABV. A solid blonde with solid efficiency.
  7. Telegraph Brewing Petit Obscura: 113 calories/3.7% ABV. Another sour beer you might want to try if you can find it.

Best Balm for your Beer: Keeping your lips in shape for winter imbibing

LipBalmsAs autumn sings her last chorus, the season is quickly shifting into those chilly months where many of us situated in the Northern Hemisphere have to deal with the reality of chapped lips (I suppose the same applies to the desert regions of the world). While women beer drinkers may suffer the conundrum of whether to drink wearing lipstick (The Bitch is soooo not gonna go there), the reality is that you want to protect your lips while still being able to drink a great craft beer.

So, in the honor of science, I have undertaken the very subjective task to testing leading lip balms with regards to how they hold up under the stress (and taste and aroma) of drinking beer. This is actually something I’ve wanted to explore for a couple years now, ever since I figured out that some of my random lip balms really interfered with my joy of drinking. I figured there are probably tangible differences between brands, so I set out to find the most popular brands and rank them accordingly.

The parameters:

  1. I only tested one beer against all five balms. The beer I chose was Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA, which I purchased in bottles from my local bodega. I shop there pretty regularly, and I often get the Belgian IPA. I didn’t want to go with a beer that I didn’t know well; I also didn’t want to pick a wildly hoppy or malty brew. The Raging Bitch Belgian is strong enough to cut through mild flavors, but not so overpowering as to blow my palate out before I got to balm number five.
  2. I drank from a glass. I chose a standard goblet that I picked up (I didn’t steal it, I swear) from Lucky Pie in Denver when I was there earlier this month.
  3. Balms were chosen based on ubiquity: I picked major brands (with one notable exception, see below) and I tried to get as neutral a balm as possible (i.e. minimal scent, flavor). I deliberately avoided anything too “girly,” not because “girly” is a bad thing, but because healthy lips are not gender specific. I also didn’t want to choose some new age Brooklyn-based lip balm that sells for $400/ounce and can only be bought on Bedford Avenue. Think ChapStick, not PigLardLips (I made that up… I think).
  4. Balms were tested for four main characteristics: Scent (and how that scent affected the beer), Feel (greasy, smooth, sticky, etc.), Taste (both in terms of licking my lips and in terms of affecting the flavor of the beer), and how much of a Smear was left when my lip touched the goblet.

And the results follow (in the order I tried the balms; note: I was careful to remove all of the balm before trying a new one)…

Lip balm: White Labs 15 SPF

Okay, so White Labs is the outlier. They were giving these lip balms away at the Great American Beer Festival, so I figure they really should know better. Turns out, they do. This balm wasn’t half bad.

  • Scent: Smells of well-chewed Wrigley’s Spearmint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Glossy, a bit slippery
  • Taste: Very faux mint with a sweet aftertaste; didn’t seem to affect the beer unless I licked my lips
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 2nd Place. Honestly, there was one balm that was the definite winner, and one that was the definite loser (keep reading). The middle three were pretty interchangeable. I ranked White Labs lip balm as second for two reasons: one, they’re White Labs (come on!); and two, I would definitely do some serious kissing before, during or after drinking with this lip balm on. It’s a nice kissing lip balm, with little to interfere with the beer.

Lip balm: Blistex Medicated 15 SPF

Maybe there’s an unmedicated Blistex (I don’t believe there is). The medicinal quality of this (and the next) balm was not ideal for beer drinking. That said, there are times when you want more of a warming balm for your lips. So, how did it work with beer?

  • Scent: Slight wintergreen/camphor; definitely interfered with the nose of the beer: I felt like I was drinking on Vick’s Mentholatum
  • Feel: Almost none… for about 20 seconds; then my lips got so warm that I didn’t really want to drink at all; after about five minutes, the warmth died down and was no longer particularly noticeable
  • Taste: Negligible, but the beer seemed more bitter when drinking, as though a lingering sweetness in the balm was bringing out the hoppiness in the beer
  • Smear: Probably the least noticeable on the goblet

Final verdict: 3rd Place. If you wait for the burn to subside, this is a nice balm. Probably only for when you really need a medicinal edge (i.e. your lips are already chapped), but good to use in a pinch. The fact that it is only minimally greasy helps a lot.

Lip balm: Bert’s Bees with Vitamin E and Peppermint

Honestly, I think you either love Bert’s Bees or you hate them. They come in a variety of flavors; I don’t even know if this is the most neutral version available. The effect was very similar to the Blistex balm, the trade-off being that the Blistex balm seemed to have less of an effect on the actual process of drinking the beer (despite my sense that the hops were more pronounced with Blistex).

  • Scent: Slight mint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Instantly strongly warming; didn’t seem to wear off as quickly as the Blistex
  • Taste: Stale chewing gum; despite the lingering warmth, the flavor of the beer was unaffected
  • Smear: Minimal mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 4th Place. This really came down to that warmth, which is great if you’re walking outdoors during a blizzard but is rather distracting while drinking. I probably won’t give up using Bert’s Bees, because it’s my go-to balm, but I may reconsider if I’m doing a festival or drinking beers that are new to me.

Lip balm: ChapStick Original 8 SPF

When I was growing up (my age is showing), ChapStick was this nasty white clumpy stuff that we all were forced to don and we all universally hated. Well, this is not your mother’s ChapStick. Still white in color, the balm’s texture is light and protective without being messy.

  • Scent: Slightly herbal; I can’t quite place the aroma, but it’s very neutral; no effect on the nose
  • Feel: Pleasant gloss with no greasiness whatsoever
  • Taste: Very slight candy flavor, possibly vanilla; no effect on the taste of the beer
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 1st Place. This balm was a surprise. I bought it mostly because it’s ChapStick, and to do a comparison without it would be ridiculous. I didn’t expect it to be just what The Bitch ordered: It coats the lips without interfering with drinking at all.

Lip balm: Carmex Original

Uh… this was downright awful

  • Scent: Medicinal; totally got into the nose of the beer, too
  • Feel: Greasy; it felt like I’d kissed an otter that just survived the Valdez oil slick
  • Taste: NUMBING!!! Not a choice for any beer I can think of; totally leeched into the flavor of the beer
  • Smear: Noticeable lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 5th Place, but might as well be dead last. I knew this was a long shot going in, but I was disgusted by how this worked while drinking. Limit your Carmex to the ski slopes. Keep your ChapStick for your beers.