Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

I’m baaaack! ***

The past couple days have been challenging for a lot of people. One of the things I double down on whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or sad or bewildered or [enter predicate adjective of your choice here] is gratitude. Some days, I may only manage to be grateful for beer (or running water)! The past month or so, I’ve had a great number of people, businesses, organizations and things for which to be grateful, but not a lot of time to share with you, my loyal readers!

So, take a break from the “noise” and please allow me to thank a few folks.

#1. The Pink Boots Society

PBS exists to support women in beer; more specifically, they provide educational opportunities for women in beer through seminars, peer-support, mentoring and scholarships. About two months ago, I saw a post for one of their more audacious scholarships called Beer, Bratwurst & Beyond: a trip to Bavaria/Germany with most expenses paid, including airfare. I plan at some point to write more in detail about the application process, but I submitted the day the application was due and gave no more thought about it. Typically, the PBS scholarships I have considered were a few hundred dollars (keep in mind that as a writer, I wouldn’t typically qualify for their advanced brewing programs), so I truly doubted I would ever receive a scholarship worth several thousand dollars. However, a few weeks after the submission deadline, I received a call from Kris at PBS letting me know I had been selected alongside five other amazing women! We have a “pay it forward” component, and I hope to be working on a piece for publication along with sister scholarship recipient Monica Mondragon (a laboratory/QC manager and assistant barrel manager at Santa Fe Brewing Co.), whose technical expertise I will heavily lean on in the article we’re writing together.

But I never would have undertaken this trip without the underwriting of PBS. So thanks to these women, and look for a NYC chapter launched by yours truly in the coming weeks/months! (If you are a woman in beer, please become a member here; dues are only $35/year or $25 if you’re still a student.)

#2. Tom Conrad and Treasures of Europe Tours

While the tour itself was, in fact, open to men, the only males on the trip turned out to be our German-speaking bus driver, Karl-Heinz, and our tour guide, Tom Conrad. Tom was affable and unflappable. He really went over and beyond to make this a great tour. While there were a few hitches, he was flexible enough to make allowances for a group of women who didn’t always want to stick to the letter of the tour’s itinerary. Without expressly asking him, I got the sense that Tom is a one-man show (or nearly) at his company, and I am all about supporting the independent business person, especially now that our political climate is bound to shift in favor of ever larger corporate entities! Please please please… if you are looking to do a tour (he has what appears to be an awesome Christmas markets tour

Side note: I visited a German Christmas market many moons ago and its beauty literally made me cry in ecstasy… full disclosure: I had just returned from living in the Soviet Union for four months, so my emotions were highly charged for any stimuli!

—so even if beer is not your object, there’s plenty more adventure that awaits you), hit him up!

#3. The Town of Spalt, Germany

Never a fan of the "selfie," I took many on this trip, including one with the Mayor of Spalt.

Never a fan of the “selfie,” I took many on this trip, including one with the Mayor of Spalt.

This quaint village in Bavaria pulled out all the stops for us… they even threw a parade! No, not really. I mean, the parade was real but it was for their yearly Kirchweih festival, an annual celebration of the town’s church raising (that feels more like an autumnal May Day, replete with music and maypole!). However, they put us up front and made us the signature guests so that it did truly feel as though the parade had been created just for us.

Spalt mayor Udo Weingart and deputy mayor Alfred Zottmann were a delight as our self-appointed ambassadors. While the parade was for the town, they made us guests of honor (of which not the least benefit was we received the first pours from their ultra-fresh—and freshly made—Saumarkt Bier). We were also given a private tour of the Spalt Hops Museum, a lovely German dinner and access to a rockabilly-style concert in the beer hall later that evening. All-in-all, the city set the bar high on what to expect from German hospitality.

#4. Boston Beer Company and Barth-Haas Group

The food and beer that followed made this table setting look practically rustic!

The food/beer that followed made this table setting look practically rustic!

Who knew a lesser-known founding father could have such an impact on the larger beer world! The makers of Sam Adams have an on-going relationship with one of the largest hops farms in the Hallertau region, and the folks at Stanglmair family farm offered up one of the best—and least expected—visits of the entire trip when on a drizzly post-harvest day, Stefan Stanglmair (a 21st-generation hops farmer; yes! you read that right: his family has been farming hops since 1722!) gave us a rousing tour followed up by a to-die-for food-and-beer-pairing dinner that capped off a week of already over-the-top-amazing experiences. It’s wonderful that a company, which has grown so dramatically over the decades that the Brewers Association has had to change its own definition of “craft beer,” gives back to the community that loves beer so much.

As Germany’s Barth-Haas Group sponsored the outing and dinner, I thank them heartily for what was possibly the highlight of my trip. (And as I plan to write more on this topic with Monica, I’ll just leave it at that!)

#5. Various German Trade Organizations

While the list of breweries we visited is too extensive for the purposes of this article, I would be remiss if I didn’t single out two of Germany’s trade organizations that generously gave of their time (and possibly monetary support, a rare overture towards Americans from the heart of Europe): Private Brauereien Bayern (Bavarian Association of Private Breweries) and Managing Director Oliver Dawid, who helped lead an animated discussion over lunch at Pyraser Bier (note: German website); and Bierland Oberfranken (Association of Breweries in Upper Franconia) and Managing Director Bernhard Sauer. Vielen Dank!

#6. Various American Beer-Related Businesses

Finally, last but not least, are a trio of other breweries that helped support the tour and a three more businesses that work with brewers to get the beer made, stored, delivered or otherwise served up to a loving beer public. They include:

If you’ve read thus far, you may wonder if I’m being paid to mention any of these folks. I am not. I am under no obligation to them whatsoever. But at a time when there’s a lot of anger and finger-pointing going on, it’s important to remember to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. That’s the kind of debt that takes nothing from the recipient in terms of payback: A little time, a little open-heartedness, a hand held out to shake in earnest. And a robust, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” (Cue Elvis, as I’m leaving the building.)

Please check back (or subscribe by email at left—scroll down for mobile—so I pop up in your inbox to notify you of my infrequent updates!) for more on my German adventure.

*** So, here’s the thing about being a freelancer: You have to work to get paid. I take some umbrage at being called a “blogger,” because the reality is this is my blog. Look how often I am here, which is not a lot. I have other blogs, too, and I’m not there much either. I don’t have the luxury to be a blogger very often, as I am working as a beer journalist. Sometimes I have a bit of time to jot down some notes, but if I have a great idea for a beer-related article, I’m trying to pitch it to a publication that nets me more than this humble blog ever could. But I have missed you all, and I continue to be grateful for your attention and support!

Brewer's Choice 2010 - 21

Closing Out July Good Beer Month with Good Beer, Super Craft Beer Fest

The annual event known as #JulyGoodBeerMonth closes out the season with couple of “good beer” events that are worthy of your time. All month long, NYC bars have been scheduling beer-centric programming; along with NYC Restaurant Week, it’s a way to boost patronage during the dog days of summer where even getting out in this heat takes a seemingly seismic effort.

But July ain’t over until the last tankard-drinking pirate sings (or something like that), so be sure to get your brew on before the celebration ends and we’re just staring down the barrel of August in hopes of a beach day and September.

And apparently downtown is where you want to be! First up, tomorrow night (Thursday, July 28th) is one of the city’s best beer tasting events (my second favorite after NYC Beer Week’s Brewers Choice): Edible’s Good Beer. Somewhat shockingly, tickets are still available. I’ve noticed with my own slate of events that I publicized that many events that should be easy sells simply aren’t. My political viewpoint is that rents have gotten so damn high in this city that no one has disposable income to spend on events, but I can tell you flat out that at $65 ($70.60 with the ticketing fee), Good Beer is a great buy. Taking up in a new location (180 Maiden Street) and running three hours (6-9PM), Good Beer offers up 20 food purveyors (including Burke & Wills, for which I personally vouch having partaken of their fore-mentioned NYC Restaurant Week menu last night!) and two-dozen-plus beer, cider and spirits makers (including the soon-to-go-gypsy KelSo Beer Co.). As always, I recommend you get there on the early side, although in years past Edible has managed a well-run event with plenty of food and drink for all.

Then this weekend (on Saturday, July 30th), there’s the New York City Super Craft Beer Festival at Watermark Bar on Pier 15 (78 South Street at the Seaport). The weather looks good for Saturday (highs in the mid-80s with a chance of a passing storm in the afternoon), and being out on the pier is as good a place as any to gain some respite over the relenting heat of summer 2016.

Produced by Merchants Hospitality, the NYC Super Craft Beer Fest will feature more than 80 craft breweries showcasing their best and most noteworthy seasonal accomplishments in beer and ciders. Watermark Bar’s food menu will be available throughout the day to complement 100+ types of beer and ciders available. In addition, for those who prefer a cocktail, the Cocktail Guru himself will be on-hand making cocktails based on some of the craft beers available at the fest.

Of special note, this festival allows readmission for eleven (!!!) hours, meaning you can come and go… have a few beers, stroll along the water, maybe chill in some air-conditioned space, come back and have a few more. Because the festival is being run with drink tickets (as opposed to “all inclusive,” which sometimes – i.e. often – means favorite choices run out well before close of day), you should be able to drop in at any point between

Unlike most festivals broken into sessions, tickets will not limit guests to a four-hour window of time but will grant them access to the pier all day to come and go as they please, with each ticket including an amount of drink tickets (you may purchase additional drinks on the pier). Plus, the beers are actually being repped by the breweries themselves (one of the reasons I so enjoy Brewers Choice is because you can converse with the people who make the beers, as opposed to some volunteer pourer who may be clueless). You can get tickets starting at a mere $15 (for three 5-ounce samples) here.

 

#CBC16 Off to a Grand and Boisterous Start

20160504_095028So, as a Craft Brewers Conference newbie, I thought I knew what to expect here at CBC 2016 in Philadelphia. While I haven’t been shocked by any revelations, I have to admit I may now be a convert to the “craft” cause on the heels of Allagash Brewing’s Rob Tod, who recently was elevated to the Brewers Association Chairman of the Board of Directors.

I have been an unabashed critic of the BA’s focus on who is and who isn’t making craft beer. To my mind, it isn’t about who is making the beer, but who isn’t drinking it: Young people by and large are more likely to opt for spirits and wine (call it the Sanders’ effect) over a stalwart such as beer. To me, I would rather negotiate for market share of the potent potables’ market than to tilt at the windmills of AB-InBev and Miller-Coors.

However, Rob pretty much summed up his (borrowed from departing director Gary Fish of Deschutes Brewery) simple mission statement: The BA is larger as a sum of the parts, and the BA defines not craft beer but craft brewers.

Let me state, that I support small businesses. I think that to shop local is the most patriotic gesture you can make. However, I don’t fault Goose Island or Ballast Point for living the businessman’s dream in a capitalistic society. However, hearing Rob talk about the BA’s influence on Capitol Hill (during an election year, no less) makes me a convert to the cause. Capitalism is all well and good, but without the BA, a lot of small brewers wouldn’t be here today. And what a shame that would be.

I hope to write more about the Conference in the coming days, but if you’re still thinking about coming out, there’s plenty more fun, friendship and important issues to share with your beer brothers and sisters.

Hope to see you here in Philadelphia.

Other news and notes from today’s CBC:

  • Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) received the 2016 BA Recognition Award
  • The Odom Corporation (Idaho) was named Wholesaler of the Year
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing launched their Beer Camp 2016 with six food and beer pairings at Time on Sansom Street
GuinnessNitroIPA

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.

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.