SMaSH Beer

THE SESSION #125— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

This month's theme is SMaSH Beers and is hosted by Mark Linders at Bend Beer Librarian. The question posted by Mark is SMaSH beers (single malt, single hop). 

I jokingly asked myself if single malt and single hop beers can be considered a “thing” (trendy, etc.) until we have coffee-infused, barrel-aged, and fruit SMaSH beers.
— Mark Linder, Bend Beer Librarian

Really, There is a SMASH Beer

I enjoy the topics that people come up with for these BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY themes. Sometimes the strike a familiar cord and I can't wait to jump in and begin sharing my thoughts on whatever the topic chosen. Then other times, I have to admit, I simply let the theme go, like a gentle breeze that was here and it's gone. Then there are even some times I'll begin writing with some clever — I think it's clever — take on the chosen topic, never to finish it. I hate that, but it happens all to often.

But SMASH beer? I thought I'd heard of everything under the beery sun but that... is it a term, a style, a joke? Mark obviously is a home brewer and SMASH beers seem to be a style that is popular among that group. So I had to do a bit of research beyond what Mark had provided in is introduction.

Rate Beer

Rate Beer knows that SMASH is a real thing! They list 50 beers under the label of SMASH beers. 

I can say I haven't had any of these beers noted as SMaSH beers. Nor do I think I could find any at my local beery shops. That isn't to say that I haven't had a single malt, single hop beer, it's just that it wasn't identified as such. Honestly, I've seen brewers promote the fact that they were multi-malt and multi-hop more often. Southern Tier is an excellent example.

Draft Magazine

Draft Magazine declares the perfect SMASH six-pack in their Sixer: SMaSH beers piece. Of these six, three were ID of SMASH and three did not. So perhaps I have had a SMASH beer and didn't know it.

Reviewing my list of unique beers tasted on my Untappd account, I didn't find anything referencing a SMASH beer. Entering "smash" into the Search and scrolling through that list, I didn't I'd any that I've had nor would have easy access to.

Conclusion

So, my conclusion is this:

  1. I didn't know SMaSH beer was a style — formal or otherwise — but I do now it is
  2. I do know that when I see one, I will very intentionally try it
  3. And perhaps I will update my notes for this writing when I have this new expanded thinking of SMASH

 

 

Imported Beer: One Opinion

THE SESSION #122— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

This month's theme is Views on Imported Beer and is hosted by Christopher Barnes at I Think About Beer. The question posted by Christopher is based on the writer's location, either North America or otherwise: 

  • For American and Canadians: What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?
  • For Non North Americans: How are American beers (imported into YOUR country) viewed? What is their place in your market?

In The Beginning

It seems like so long ago now, probably because it was, when I first began exploring the world of beer. It wasn't anything like a study, but a casual curiosity. A good beer was Michelob, a special beer was Becks. I felt the need to stand out from my peers, so mine was the dark one. Imports were premium beers — for those who wanted to treat themselves to the finer things. I still remember my beer epiphany, the moment I had a really good beer. I've written about this before, but I do like to think about it again. A bar in Baltimore, a bit of time before a weekend conference, a bartender perhaps wanting to upsell me. Nonetheless, I was interested in learning more. So he suggested this English beer, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale. Smitten, I was. After that, nothing was the same. It was difficult to find this beer, but I did. It was more expensive than my normal beer. So it was on special occasions I would bring home a 500 ml. bottle. That must have been around 1991.

Fast Forward

I began working in a local fine wine, beer and spirits shop that was opening just a few minutes from my house just over nine years ago. It was a move to help pay some schooling bills and thought to be a temporary job. I gave it two or three years. Right! That was nine years ago. Why am I still there? Well two things really, I enjoy the people and two, I enjoy learning about the stuff. All of it, wine, spirits and especially the beer. And the good beer (some call it craft) business certainly has changed over this time.

The more I learn about beer, the more I realize I don't know. There are many people who are willing to teach. And, I'll have to say, I've done a lot of study on my own. Grin!

So, good beer began with me as imported. Then the American scene has grown up, again. And we don't have to look across the pond to find good beer, there is plenty to be found on our own shores. And for that matter, right in our own backyard. It continues to surprize me the number of small town breweries are popping up. And they are producing some really good beer.

Do Americans Need Imported Beer

Do we still need to seek our "good beer" fix from imports? Of course not. But I still often do. That is, because the American beer scene has started a new beer revolution, that has caused me to learn more about the beer I'm drinking. And if you haven't noticed, many of those great American beers have Old World names, referring to the classic European styles from our brewing legacies. Oatmeal stout, kolsch, altbier, gose, guese. Check out the Beer Judge Certification Programs list of beer styles. How many were founded in Europe and are now taking on an American swagger.

Last year we celebrated the 500 year anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, aka the German Purity Law of 1516. Some of the interviews of contemporary German brewers described were how hand-tied they felt from the restrictions of that law and the need to brew to those simple list of ingredients to remain in the German brewery associations. They wanted to break out and explore the world of ingredients like many of the new American brewers. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head stated in an April 2016 The Daily Meal article that, "The reinheitsgebot is nothing more than modern art censorship."

Now that the good beer movement has introduced and attracted partakers to what well made beer is like, many are willing to venture beyond the IPA and discover the classic styles, whether from to old-country or domestic versions. Pilsner is making a comeback in America. Of course it is, it is a great beer.

So yes, imported beer does matter. It is a great teacher of history, technique, ingredients and geography. For example, as much as you hear about terroir is important to wine, the same holds true with beer. Try an American made pilsner, then have one from Germany or a Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic. Same style, far different beer experience.

I recently taught a beer tasting class where the focus was on four iconic beers, three of which were imports. The purpose being that many of the beers we enjoy today have a lineage back to Europe. In order to fully appreciate the beer being produced and offered in pubs and bottle shop today, it is best to understand from where they came. 

Final Thoughts

The era of industrial American light lager not only reduced the choices of what beer drinkers were offered, it turned many off to beer, period. With the establishment — or re-establishment — of an American good-beer industry and culture, beer drinkers are exploring and expanding their tastes. And while Americans are being introduced to classic styles after our IPA binge, brewers are leading the way with their versions of the classics, take the list of gose that has been introduced and become so popular during the last few years. The concern that foreign brewers are keenly aware, are the Americans are doing such a good job of it!

Beer on the Road: Reading & Lancaster

 

Business and personal travels took me to Pennsylvania, specifically Reading and Lancaster. I had been to Lancaster on other adventures but Reading was new. Providence had provided and I would have time to explore some of the local beer. I am glad to say I have some very favorable reports to log.

Beer Reconnoiter

This is the first time I've spent any time in Reading PA, at least enough to explore the local beer scene.  I use an iPhone app called BreweryMap (it also has a web version) to quickly learn the landscape for the local breweries.  I have found this application very useful when visiting a new location. Bring up the app and it will show you all the breweries in the vicinity. Move the search area around, touch the "search this area" tab at the top of the screen and pins will pop up showing you local breweries. Touch the information icon and up pops the list of useful information such as current beers, telephone number, website and even address useful for finding your way to the brewery. I also find the favorite beer-geek-tool — Untappd — very useful for this as well and did use it to find local venues and recent beers being served there. I'm assuming that if you're reading this you already know about Untappd.

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Spirits in Lancaster

This large room serves as tasting rooms for both Thistle Finch Distillery and Wacker Brewery in Lancaster PA

Reading PA

Chatty Monks

Brian & Matt - ready for some beer at Chatty Monks

Brian & Matt - ready for some beer at Chatty Monks

Good fortune, Chatty Monks popped up at the top of the list, had excellent Beer Advocate ratings and was within an easy drive or healthy walk from my hotel. I engaged a couple colleagues to join me and we were off. While not a big place, the beer — as you would expect by the name — very much had a Belgian-style focus. They had a quite decent menu with a range of styles. Being it was my first time here, I chose a flight of three five-ounce pours — Revelation Dark Ale, Belgian Blonde, and Belgian Dubbel. All were quite good and true to style. So good, I ventured on for a full pint of the Endoplasmic Reticulum IPA at 7% ABV and 77 IBUs — venturing away from their solid Belgian-styles. Again very good with some very interesting hop notes on the finish. 

Chatty Monk beer menu

Chatty Monk beer menu

Besides the beer, the other qualities that would bring me back to Chatty Monks was their staff. They were very engaging and friendly, quick to offer a sample when questioned about a particular beer. Not always do I go for the background music of a place (see Adroit Theory article), being a product of the Beatles era and nearly set in my ways, but it suited my boomer tastes just fine with eclectic selections ranging from Led Zeppelin to Gary Clark Jr. The food was definitely above average pub food and I would be quick to recommend the tuna tacos.

West Reading Tavern

After a full day of sitting and listening to a variety of presentations, my butt could stand little more. I had a couple of hours before the evening banquet and Untappd told me of two places nearby with excellent beer. I had time for just one and it was right next door to Chatty Monks. A brisk 20-minute walk later I was at West Reading Tavern. Untappd reported that they had Hardywood Gingerbread Stout on draft (94 pts on Beer Advocate). I knew this brewery, having had several of their beer at Savor 2016 and also picked up some bottles in Harrisonburg VA on another trip. The beer I'd once had was the bourbon barrel version and was obviously more complex than the regular edition, but it was a great beer in its own right. It was a nice neighborhood bar with locals bouncing in and out. With a friendly and engaging bar staff. I finished my 10-ounce tulip and I was soon trekking my way back to the hotel for the evening banquet. The other place I'd hoped to get to, but did not, was Mike's Tavern. Untappd informed me that they had Rodenback Alexander (98 pts on Beer Advocate), a Flanders red ale that has been on my wish list. A bar too far and one I will have to leave till my next time in Reading.

Lancaster

Lancaster Brewing

Lancaster Brewing been menu

Lancaster Brewing been menu

I had visited the Lancaster Brewing brewery and restaurant a couple of years ago. At the time, their flagship beer was their milk stout — big, creamy and a touch sweet. This is fitting being that they are in the heart of Amish country. The brewery facility and the restaurant are located in the historic Edward McGovern Tobacco Warehouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, in Lancaster, PA. A great place for a 21-century brewery.

This trip we had lunch and a beer at their tap room. Their beer selections seem to have grown and become more complex since I visited last. My tastes have become more complex since then as well, instead of having their signature milk stout I opted for their Imperial Jo Milk Stout, (I'd been in that mood lately) logging in at 8% ABV. It was a good beer, I enjoyed it, but unfortunately I only had time for one.

The room was bright and clean as were the faces that served us. If in Lancaster, this deserves a stop and a beer.

Wacker Brewing & Thistle Finch Distillery

A Wacker Brewing flight

A Wacker Brewing flight

Again, going to the trusty BreweryMap app, I discovered that Wacker Brewing was within easy walking distance from our venue. We had some time and the desire to explore the town, so off we were toward Wacker. An interesting note, for me anyway, is that my paternal grandfather's nickname was Wacker. I don't any more than that, it just was. I didn't know it until we later did a tour of the building, but this was once a tobacco warehouse, too — like the Lancaster Brewing building. Sturdy of build and character. As usual, I did the flight which was comprised of all six of their offerings (see beer menu pic below).

In the same building as Wacker Brewing was Thistle Finch Distillery.  A somewhat symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, they even shared the tasting room with separate bars across from each other. We were about to leave when we noticed the distillery tour about to start. We walked all of twenty feet and joined the tour. It was during the tour we learned that Lancaster at one time had a bustling tobacco industry. As smoking preferences shifted from cigars to cigarettes, the Lancaster tobacco business fell out of favor, too. Now, many of the those fine warehouses have been converted to other uses, such as breweries. They offer a variety of rye whiskies, a gin and vodka. Well, we didn't pick up any other fine spirits, I did grab a couple of the Bittermilk Bitters that were offered for sale there. I'm experimenting with the addition of bitters to certain beers and found these had some interesting ingredients such wormwood and being aged in bourbon barrels. I knew these were unique to the area so I didn't want to pass up the opportunity.

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Wacker Brewing

The beer tasting flight is composed of all six of these beers on tap

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Thistle Finch

Rye whiskey is their signature spirit but they also produce gin and vodka

Checkers Bistro

Checkers Bistro and Avery Vanilla Bean Bourbon Barrel Stout

Checkers Bistro and Avery Vanilla Bean Bourbon Barrel Stout

While walking around Lancaster, enjoying the beautiful day and town, it came time to think about lunch. We passed by Checkers Bistro, walked in to check the menu and atmosphere. We were impressed. The menu was upscale, both food and drink. We opted for the Checkers Apple Salad, which must be one of their signature menu items, and I had the Peking Duck Tacos with Chinese Barbecue Duck, Wonton Taco, Guacamole. I mention this because the food was excellent.

The beer menu was not extensive, but balanced in styles, chosen to pair with their foods, and offered choices from local breweries and across the country. Being attracted to big beers, I asked for the Bourbon Barrel-aged Vanilla Bean Stout by Avery Brewing Co. Bottom line, excellent food, beer, staff and decor.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

Iron Hill Brewing

Iron Hill Brewing

Next was lunch at Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster. My first visit to an Iron Hill Brewery was in 2014. Little did I realize at the time, but there are a series of these scattered across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and one in Delaware. I counted 12. There were several sporting events taking place in Lancaster during our stay and when we were looking for lunch, so were they all. The place was packed, but amazingly it didn't take long to be served. 

Still on a stout rampage, I asked for the Iron Hill Brewing Russian Imperial Stout. Really exceptional. According to their poster near the entrance, this is their most awarded beer. The food was very good, all around. As I'd mentioned, we had visited another Iron Hill venue three years ago and I don't remember being as impressed by their beer then. I was this time.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I had an wonderful beer and spirit laden adventure in a couple of beautiful Pennsylvania towns. Beer has come a long way, with craft breweries and artisanal distilleries popping up in many towns across the country. And the liquids are good and getting better as these shops mature and get better at their craft. Hand crafted beer, spirits, even bitters — life is good.

A Deeper Shade of Brown

Brown by any other name is still the same color but not necessarily the same beer

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THE SESSION #120— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

This month's theme is Brown Beer and is hosted by The Fatal Glass of Beer

The colour brown has certain connotations, some of which I won’t dwell on. But used in reference to beer, it can signify a kind of depressing old fashioned-ness - to refer to a traditional bitter as ‘brown’ seems to suggest it belongs to a bygone corduroy-trousered era. As breweries who pride themselves on their modernity focus on beers that are either decidedly pale or unmistakably black, the unglamorous brown middle ground is consistently neglected.

So for Session 120, let’s buck the trend and contemplate brown beer. This might be brown ale, or the aforementioned English bitter; it could be a malty Belgian brune, a dubbel or a tart oud bruin; even a German dunkel might qualify.
— The Fatal Glass of Beer

What Is Brown

Brown my any other name is still the same color — marrone, marron, bruin, brun, bruin, braun or brown—or is it. And beer styles may be similar but still very, very different. Some brown or brownish beer styles include: Oud Bruin, British Brown Ale, American Brown Ale, Brown IPA, London Brown Ale, dunkel, dubbel. So its a wide field. Brown is not black but a brown ale can be black. Take the Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron for example.

Touring Dogfish

I had the pleasure of touring the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton DE a few years ago. Part of the tour took us by the Palo Santo Marron wooden tanks. These were impressive to stand near. It has been reported that the barrels costs $140,000 and were questionable whether those costs would ever be recouped. The founder, Sam Caligione (Youtube: his take on Palo Santo Marron), said in a New Yorker magazine article (see reference below) that if worked for a publicly owned corporation that he would have been fired for this move. I assume they have paid for themselves, but it does make for a good story.

For the greater story, jump over to an excellent 2004 article by the New Yorker entitled A Bitter Brew which describes the story of the journey to Paraguay, the discovery of the wood behind the beer as well and the man behind the wood (and beer).

A Big Drink

My first experience with this beer was not a pleasant one. The tasting notes on the side of the bottle suggest caramel and vanilla. Remembering my first sip all I could think of was a huge black licorice bomb, which at the time I thought was too big and not pleasant at all. I had purchased a four-pack, so I had three more to level out my opinion. The second seemed more mellow, but still a big beer. By the time I'd finished the fourth, I was a convert. Now it is one of my favorite beers and high on my DFH list of brews. To drink one, it is an opaque black beer (darker brown) and pours a big tan colored head that quickly fades. As read on the label, you get notes of caramel, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate. At 12% ABV you are going to get some boozy character, but it is a very well balanced beer. There are hints of the wood but not overpowering like you might expect. BeerAdvocate labels is as an American Brown Ale and rates it at 93 points.

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The Tree & Its Wood

The barrel was more than a year old, but the wood smelled freshly milled. A sharp, spicy, resinous scent came off it, like incense and mulled wine. To stand up to its aroma, Calagione said, he had filled the barrel with a strong brown beer. It was made with three kinds of hops, five kinds of wheat and barley, a dose of unrefined cane sugar, and a sturdy Scottish ale yeast. It had a creamy head when poured, like a Guinness stout, and contained about twelve per cent alcohol—two and a half times as much as a Budweiser. Calagione called it Palo Santo Marron. It was an extreme beer, he said, but to most people it wouldn’t have tasted like beer at all. There were hints of tobacco and molasses in it, black cherries and dark chocolate, all interlaced with the wood’s spicy resin. It tasted like some ancient elixir that the Inca might have made.
— A Better Brew, The New Yorker (2008)

Palo Santo wood is highly prized for its properties, even before it became famous for its beer improvement characteristics. In an article 11 Things You Never Knew About Palo Santo, it describes when Spanish monks first discovered the wood and experienced its ability to seemingly cleanse and heal, they named the tree “palo santo,” which means “holy wood” or “the wood of the saints.” The tree grows in the South American rainforest and its scientific name is bursera graveolens, or “a bag of oil” and the naturally aromatic wood from this truly unique tree is used in several ways for energetic and healing purposes. Its primary use is to burn small palo santo sticks as incense (which you can find find online at such places as Amazon.com). On the hardness scale, it is measured as three times harder than oak and one of the hardest in the world.

Palo Santo: The wood, barrel, and beer

Palo Santo: The wood, barrel, and beer

Final Thoughts

I find this beer fascinating not only as a wonderful drink to enjoy, but also for the effort exerted to bring it into being. The fusion of the wood and beer, ancient culture and domestication makes me pause as I sip it in — and not only because its 12% ABV. Not all browns are created equal — this certainly is a deep shade of brown.

Roadtrip: Millstone Cellars

 

Nested in the rolling hills of northern Baltimore County Maryland, Millstone Cellars makes for an excellent day trip and musing while enjoying well crafted ciders, meads and cysers.

In October 2016, my family and I visited Millstone Cellars in Monkton, MD, north of Baltimore. With the beautiful fall weather beaconing we needed a road trip and Millstone had been on my mind for some months. I had heard their story at least a couple of times from various beer podcasts I listen to regularly. I later asked them about some of these interviews and here are two: Beer Sessions Radio (08.23.16) and Cider Chat 

Millstone Background

MillStone is about discovery and re-creating. It began in 2003 when Curt Sherrer acquired an old grist mill. In 2011, after careful restoration, the mill was brought back to life to function as a classroom for rediscovering traditional, rustic ciders and sharing that knowledge with the curious at heart.
— Millstone Cellars - History

It was A Beautiful Day

It was a beautiful day with perfect weather for a ride in the country. My son and his wife were seeking a road trip and I'd mentioned my desire to get to Millstone at some point. It was decided, and we were off for a ride in the country. Monkton is just north of Baltimore MD with roaming fields and forests, horse farms and new and old towns and buildings. The Millstone building is an old mill, as you would expect, that had been purchased by the family some years ago. Wondering what to do with this grant old stone mill, someone decided to make ciders would be a good idea.

While the mill has been renovated, it still needs some work but that even added to the ambiance. Still, it is grand building and has its own story to tell. Their website offers a study on The Water Mills in Monkton if you are interested in the history of the mill.

We decided to take in the guided tour of the mill and a tasting their ciders. I don't know much about the creation of ciders but do love the way wood works it's way into barrel-aged beers. Barrels were everywhere — in just about every available spot — and for good reason, all of Millstones products are barrel-aged using barrels from a variety of previous lives — bourbon, rum and other spirits.

My interest was peaked when I discovered some of the ingredients they use as curious flavor enhancers, a few of which I learned to identify in dendrology class back in forestry school. Spruce, spicebush berries along with more common grocery store supplies like ginger, rhubarb, raspberries and some familiar beer staples — hops. 

As you walk through the mill, you notice the barrels were marked with chalk-inscribed notes of its contents and all-important dates. The sunlight played across the floor and walls of stone, wood and plaster. Various works from local artists were displayed throughout added to the playful nature of the old mill. At the end of our tour we were invited to their tasting table. Some of their ciders and meads were available for testing — some not, adding to our curiosity. I have tasted spruce tip beers before and enjoyed some, particularly the Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo. We didn't get to taste their spruce infused mead so as a birthday gift we purchased a bottle and walked off to their back room to further enjoy our bottle, the views, warming sun and great company. Off to the side of the main mill structure, they have added portions of another rustic building, with open sides for taking in the landscape. A few couples were enjoying the tasting room, making me think this was a regular resbit for local fans. As a beer aficionado, I had to grab the hop infused cider to take home for future exploration — merely research mind you. All of their bottles come in clear 750 ml glass with a wax sealed swing top. A classy touch for these well crafted concoctions. 

Millstone Cellars is a farmhouse cidery that crafts all oak barrel aged dry ciders. We focus solely on the production of rustic style ciders, cysers and meads, heavily influenced by the native yeast, microbes and local growing conditions. We source all of our ingredients within 150 miles of our cidery as well as growing and foraging our own. We strive to distill and preserve all things that make our region and climate unique, then present it to you in a bottle of cider.
— Millstone Cellars

Conclusion

The day waned and our hunger grew. Asking about local dinner options, our tour guide recommended The Manor Tavern. If you do get to Millstone Cellars and are looking for a fine meal afterwards, it is highly recommended. A road trip to Millstone Cellars is a great way to spend an afternoon. The road getting there is half the fun. The ciders and meads, the old mill all work together in crafting a synergistic experience.

 

Beer on the Road: Adroit Theory

 

Holiday Get-Away

During the Christmas holiday, my wife and I took a couple of hikes near Harpers Ferry WV. We usually like to plan a First-Day Hike on New Years Day and have been doing this for the past three years. After the Holiday bustle and too many cookies, we need to get out for some intentional moving. Taking-in nature and working our legs is always good therapy. As usual, it often includes a good meal and a beer or two.

Savor 2016

Adroit Theory Brewing has been on my beer-travels list for a few months after experiencing some of their beer at Savor 2016, in Washington DC. I later listened to Mark Osborne (owner) and Greg Skotzko's SAVOR 2016 Seminars talk on Advanced Beer and Cheese Pairings. SAVOR is an excellent evening of tasting beer from around the country but nearly as valuable are the salons where experts talk and even demonstrate (see Cooper's Dance: Wood and Beer) topics on beer. If you've missed the event, you can go to the SAVOR website and listen to any of these salon presentations.

Adroit Theory is tucked away in a small northern Virginia town of Purcellville VA. The ride from Harpers Ferry WV to Purcellville is a beautiful experience. Two lane country roads, large spreading wineries — one after another — small towns and incredible views.

After becoming initially aware of them at SAVOR, they had my attention. I later discovered some of their beer at the Midtowne bottle shop in Harrisonburg VA.

Time at the Taproom

After listening to their seminar and seeing the art work on the bottle labeling, a couple of things become clear — these guys come from the dark side. Their entire brand has an intentional occult flare. To be honest, that bothers me a bit. Beer names include: Black Celebration, Black As Your Soul and Love of the Damned. So, I had to get past the branding to enjoy their incredible beers. I've talked with some beer-geek friends who can't get past the gargoyles on Stone Brewing packaging to try their beer. He will have a real difficult time with Adroit Theory. And the beer is the second point. They really take their beer seriously. All of them are just a bit different. As they say out loud, "We make esoteric beers with an emphasis on barrel aging."

They offer 3 ounce tasters and 10 ounce tulips of all their beers on tap, plus they can fill growlers (yours or theirs — nice touch). While there, I had a taster of Love of the Damned, an old ale brewed with port must and Lux Bourbon, a wheat wine aged in bourbon barrels (I still had a two-hour drive home), plus I purchased a couple 750 ml bottles to take home. Any of their beers I've tasted have been exceptional.

Closing

 If Dogfish Head is off-centered, I'm not sure how you would describe Adroit Theory. They are a small brewery, doing big beers with a unique touch. They are a bit out-of-the-way but worth the detour (or intentional journey) if you're in the area. I will be on the look out for their beer when I get back to Harrisburg or near Purcellville. 

Adroit Theory Brewing Company is a new nano brewery specializing in esoteric brews with an emphasis on Barrel Aging. Located in Purcellville Virginia in Loudoun County. Industrial-chic taproom (open Thursday-Sunday) with craft beers at the bar & growlers for takeout.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 11

Schneider Weisse Adventinus Weizenbock Tap 6

While this beer doesn't have Christmas or Winter in its name, this is a classic winter wheat beer. This is such a great Christmas-season beer because this style traditionally was a seasonal beer, brewed in the cool season, up until Spring, then put away until the cool season later in the year. Plus, it perfectly fits the Christmas beer profile, full of flavor, ruby color and higher ABV. 

The Beer

The Schneider Weisse website is in Germany (there is the option for translations to English). 

...full-bodied, dark ruby-colored... warming, balanced and soft. The oldest weizdock in Bavaria - since 1907! Its powerful body in combination with its malty sweetness offers real depth - a brilliant combination, perfectly tasty. Fits well to hearty, dark roasts and sweet desserts.

Schneider Weisse Tap 6 Unser Aventinus scores a 96 points (world class) on Beer Advocate.

The Weizenbock Beer Style

The German's are proud of their language and its proper usage, so they off the correct pronunciation as ”veye-tssen-bock"

German Beer Institute states, "Comparable to the barley-based regular Bockbier (see there) a Weizenbock is the strong version of an unfiltered Weissbier or Hefeweizen. It is usually made with 60 to 70% wheat malt (German law requires that a Weizenbier, regardless of strength, be made from at least 50% wheat). The other 30 to 40% tend to be so-called Pils, Vienna or Munich malts. These are pale to amber, and sometimes slightly caramelized barley malts that give the beer a full-bodied mouthfeel, a rich and satisfying malty finish, and—depending on the barley malt's color—a more or less opaque appearance. While regular Bockbiers are lagers, Weizenbocks are all ales. They are fermented with a special yeast that gives the brew a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor." 

Beer Advocate offers a great description for this beer style. 

A more powerful Dunkel Weizen (of "bock strength"), with a pronounced estery alcohol character, perhaps some spiciness from this, and bolder and more complex malt characters of dark fruits.

All About Beer

Few beers combine so exquisitely several different stylistic profiles as does weizenbock. Bavarian hefeweizen and dunkelweizen are known primarily for their natural haze, yeasty texture and extraordinary palette of top-fermentation products. Weizenbock expresses all the banana, clove and vanilla aromas and flavors of its less formidable brethren. These are tempered by a firm background of malt.

TAP6 Unser Aventinus is brewed in Kelheim, Bavaria, part of the Schneider Weisse portfolio. Its has the claim as Germany’s original “wheat doppelbock.” The foggy mahogany hue is topped with a creamy beige head. The aroma bustles with banana, raisin, chocolate, cherry and licorice. This is followed by earthy flavors and dessert-like spiced banana bread, molasses and malt. 

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 10

Schlafly Christmas Ale

All the senses will be filled with this Christmas beer. Spices, high ABV, gorgeous mahogany color. Schlafly is Missouri's oldest and largest craft brewery, right in the heart of St Louis and beyond.

The Schlafly Tap Room first opened its doors in 1991 and proudly holds the distinction of being the first new brewpub in Missouri since Prohibition.

CHRISTMAS ALE is a warming winter ale that blends the spices of the season with sweet caramel malt.  Orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves are added for spiciness.  We use honey in the fermentation process, which raises the ABV without producing too much heat from the alcohol content.

Many breweries produce richer, higher alcohol beers for the winter holiday season, bolder than their year-round offerings.   The inspiration for this beer came from spiced holiday beverages such as wassail and mulled wines. Around the holidays, the sweet and spicy aromas, not to mention the booze, in such libations tend to smooth the rougher edges of enjoying each other’s company and spreading goodwill.

Available: November-December

ABV:   8.0%   |   IBU:   30   

APPEARANCE: Deep copper, bright
PROCESS: Spiced with orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves
HOPS: Magnum (PL)
GRAINS : Pale, Caramel, Munich, Chocolate, Honey
YEAST: American Ale
SRM: 30

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 9

The Bruery 9 Ladies Dancing

This is one of the classic Christmas-season beers that should be on every beer lovers short list. Each year has been a different day from the song —The Twelve Days of Christmas — with a beer-take on that particular verse. As stated in The Bruery’s own description, this ninth edition is based on the Italian dessert ladyfingers.

THE BRUERY 9 LADIES DANCING — This beery homage to the classic Christmas song, 12 Days of Christmas began in 2008. Then, A Partridge in a Pear Tree was just the first in the 12 Days/Years of Christmas Series. That beer has since been retired as have many others in this series. So, if you want to try this beer, first hurry, because supplies are dwendling, and also, it won't be reproduced next year... And perhaps not for another 12 years.

Here’s a pick me up for the latest verse in our Twelve Days of Christmas series. Inspired by flavors and ingredients found in tiramisu, including ladyfingers, 9 Ladies Dancing mimics the Italian dessert by whipping together flavor combinations and layers of its own. This includes notes of vanilla, chocolate and coffee – clearly the leading ladies in this rich, dessert-like beer.

Food Pairing: Sartori Espresso BellaVitano cheese, roast turkey with bacon-cranberry chutney, spiced parsnip and sweet potato mash. The cotillion plus one. A bite of tiramisu.

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Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 8

Flying Dog Naughty and Nice

The first reference to this pair of yin yang beers was from 2015 Christmas season. The names make reference to your Christmas list and whether what gifts Santa will be bringing youth is year. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find our who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus… la , la, la… You know the rest.

In 2015, the Naughty beer was Belgian-Style Dark Ale brewed with cinnamon, star anise, orange peel and habanero peppers for a bold mix of heat, citrus and spice.  Any, yes, it was hot. 

For 2016, Flying Dog has come back with their Naughty as a Egg Nog Ale “with subtle sweetness and a palate full of holiday spice and bourbon, this beer can standalone as your dessert course all season long.”

The 2015 Nice was a Golden Ale that paid tribute to the Belgian brewers. It had a fruity nose and was a bit sweet and crisp. From feedback, many chose to be Nice rather than Naughty in 2015.

The 2016 Nice edition has changed directions again to quite friendly quaff, a Holiday Milk Stout.  

The beauty with of this pair is you win either way, you can be naughty and nice and enjoy the results.

Naughty

With subtle sweetness and a palate full of holiday spice and bourbon, this beer can standalone as your dessert course all season long. adding cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla beans into an ale that even Belsnickel could find enjoyment in. This 8.4% ABV treat is also a great pregame beer for any Naughty holiday activities, so let the vicious cycle continue.

ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: 8.4%

AVAILABILITY: Mid-November

HOP BITTERNESS: 25 IBU

SPECIALTY MALTS: Oats

HOPS: Perle

YEAST: Chico

Nice

Slight sweetness from the lactose follows behind a rich chocolate malt profile. Give this nicety a whirl with creamy cheeses like brie and camembert or with dark chocolate desserts.

ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: 7.3%

AVAILABILITY: Mid-November

HOP BITTERNESS: 20 IBU

SPECIALTY MALTS: Roasted Barley, Chocolate, Caramel, Oats

HOPS: Perle

YEAST: Chico

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 7

St Bernardus Christmas Ale

While not one of the official Trappist breweries, St Bernardus, none the less, is a great abbey-style brewery with many favorite beers in their offerings. Their famous Abt 12 is rated 98 points and the Christmas Ale is not far from it at 93 points on Beer Advocate. Like many winter seasonal beers, this is a high alcohol content at 10% ABV beer so caution is given.

Shortly after the Second World War, the Trappist Monastery St.Sixtus in Westvleteren was looking for somebody to commercialise their beer because they did not want to do that themselves anymore.

They gave a license to the cheesefactory, and Brewery St.Bernard was founded. The brew master from Westvleteren, Mathieu Szafranski (from Polish origin) became a partner in the brewery and brought along the recipes, the know-how and the St.Sixtus yeast strain.

We started selling the trappist beers under the brand names Trappist Westvleteren, St.Sixtus or even later Sixtus.

During a period of 46 years we brewed and commercialised the beers, while the monks continued to brew for themselves and for sales to 3 pubs in the neighbourhood, amongst which In De Vrede, just next to the monastery.

In 1992 the license came to an end and since then we are brewing the same beers, with the same recipes, but under a different brand name: St.Bernardus.
— St Bernardus website

ST BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE is a dark seasonal brewed in the classic 'Quadrupel' style of Belgium's best Abbey Ales. (10,0 % ABV) Similar to all the beers from our brewery, it greets the drinker with the signature aroma of the St.Bernardus house yeast strain (in use since 1946!) Rivaling the complexity of the St.Bernardus Abt 12, St.Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice and marzipan that are highlighted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars. The perfect companion to enjoy a cold winter evening, with or without the company of your friends!

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 6

Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo

While this beer has been on many of my lists, it must be included as a Christmas beer as well. The spruce flavors and aroma is nothing short of drinking in a Christmas tree.

While DFH describes it as “sessional”, at 7.5% ABV I'm not sure that qualifies by definition, but it certainly does by drinkability. Spruce in a beer may not be for everyone, but I still remember my first full drink and finishing my first bottle and thinking, “That was not enough, I want another one”. And by my definition, that does qualify as a sessionable beer.

DOGFISH HEAD PENNSYLVANIA TUXEDO — A spruce-infused pale ale, Pennsylvania Tuxedo pays homage to the flannel-suited hunters and gatherers who dwell deep in the backcountry of north-central PA. A dry yet doughy malt backbone lets the hops and spruce shine while still balancing out the bitterness, making this one an easy sipper.

Brewed in collaboration with family-run outdoor clothing company Woolrich, Pennsylvania Tuxedo is a sessionable concoction with a grassy citrus kick complemented by the resinous conifer notes of fresh green spruce tips. We went into the forests of north-central Pennsylvania and Georgetown, DE, to pick these fresh tips ourselves.

ABV: 8.5
IBU: 50
Release: November
Original Release Date: 2014
STYLE: Pale Ale

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 5

Sierra Nevada Celebration

While many beers associated with Winter or Christmas time are big in alcohol and spice, Celebration moves in another direction and is actually an American IPA or as the label states, “Fresh Hop Ale”.

The start of Celebration season is a festive event. We can’t start brewing until the first fresh hops have arrived, but once they have the season is officially under way! First brewed in 1981, Celebration Ale is one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA and one of the few hop-forward holiday beers. Famous for its intense citrus and pine aromas, Celebration is bold and intense, featuring Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops—honoring everything we have at Sierra Nevada.

FRESH HOPS are the freshest dried hops to come from the fields, typically within seven days of harvest. Over 90% of the world’s hop harvest happens between August 31 and October 31, and these hops are used throughout the calendar year. Can hops possibly be the same on November 1, one day after harvest, as they are on July 25, nearly one year after growing in the fields? The answer is no. We think of hops like dry kitchen spices—the flavor of thyme or rosemary right after the jar is opened is far more intense than it is six months later. The same can be said for hops. There are ways to control the way hops age and to reformulate and readjust as some of the aromas fade, but there’s nothing like the magic of the first bales of hops as fresh as can be.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 4

Stone Enjoy By 12.25.16

Stone has served as the epitome of west coast IPAs, big, bold and very hoppy. Over the past few years, a new IPA style has gathered much of the beer drinkers imagination, commonly know as New England IPA.

The one key characteristic of this new take on IPA is that is it unfiltered—meaning you'll find yeast and other particulates flowing around in your beer. Brewers like to borrow from each other and we beer drinkers are the beneficiaries.

The Stone Enjoy By series are released a few times a year. They want the buyer/drinker to focus on the fact that IPAs, as a rule, are meant to be enjoyed as fresh as possible. Therefore, Stone puts it right on the label, Enjoy By… In this case, Christmas.

STONE BREWING ENJOY BY 12.25.16 — In most cases, skipping a step is a bad thing. Not this time. This version of Stone Enjoy By IPA omits the part where we filter out the extra yeast, hop sediment and proteins that build up in beer as a natural result of the brewing process. Though it may sound like it, this missed step was no misstep. By letting this IPA go unfiltered, its peach and tropical fruit hop flavors are amplified while its golden-hued color takes on a hazy appearance. Like its filtered counterpart, this IPA is brewed specifically NOT to last, and is shipped immediately to ensure hopheads get their hands on it as soon as possible.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 3

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale

Winter Warmers are traditional seasonal beer and Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is a classic. Beer Advocate has this to say about this beer style. 

The History of Winter Welcome

Throughout history, beer of somewhat higher alcohol and richness has been enjoyed for the winter holidays, when old friends get together to enjoy the season. Wassail, a festival to celebrate winter and the beer that goes with it, predates the Christian era. Winter Welcome is vintage-dated with a special label each year, and was first shipped to the US in 1990 - it was the first imported winter seasonal beer. Serve in a traditional Sam Smith tulip or nonik glass for the holidays.

TASTING NOTES

Taste: Honey-amber colored, creamy head of small bubbles, floral aroma and delicious caramel malt flavor with great finesse. Fine hop aroma finish and a fruity note from fermentation in open-topped stone "Yorkshire Squares."

Food Pairing: Roast goose, smoked turkey with oyster dressing, rack of lamb, candied yams, Smithfield hams, fresh pears and apples, Christmas cake. Serve in crystal tumblers, or traditional Yorkshire tulip or nonik pint glasses.

These malty sweet offerings tend to be a favorite winter seasonal. Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon.

BeerAdvocate offers a description on this traditional seasonal beer style. Many English versions contain no spices, though some brewers of spiced winter seasonal ales will slap "Winter Warmer" on the label. Those that are spiced, tend to follow the "wassail" tradition of blending robust ales with mixed spices, before hops became the chief "spice" in beer. American varieties many have a larger presences of hops both in bitterness and flavor.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 2

Anchor Christmas Ale

This is probably the most iconic Christmas beer. Really, this has been a tradition for 42 years. Each year a different beer, each year a different tree. That is TRADITION! And as a professional forester, trees have a special place in my life… as does beer of course.

2016 Anchor Christmas Ale. New tree. New recipe. Same traditions. 

A deliciously smooth winter warmer with notes of seasonal spices and a malty backbone, our 2016 Christmas Ale marks the 42nd annual release of this celebrated Anchor tradition.

It is sold only from early November to mid–January. The Ale's recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. With a heavily guarded, secret recipe, Christmas Ale is a highly anticipated seasonal delight, complex and full in flavor with a velvety texture and alluring, yet subtle, spiced aroma.

The tree for 2016 is the “1,000 Mile Tree” or the lone pine found during westbound construction of the transcontinental railroad. Discovered in 1869, it was a lone pine amidst a vast and desolate landscape. The tree on this year’s label was hand-drawn by Bay Area artist James Stitt, who has been creating Anchor’s Christmas Ale labels since 1975. His charming illustration of the 1,000 Mile Tree includes a person at the top of the tree with a mug of beer, honoring an old legend that railway passengers sometimes attempted to climb the tree.

The 2016 Christmas Ale is a deep mahogany brown with a creamy, tan head and boasts aromas of fruitcake, molasses, and fresh cut wood. The beer tastes of a roasted caramel malt, with notes of spiced chocolate and nuts. And it has a rich, smooth, and velvety mouthfeel. Every year the Anchor brewers look forward to formulating a new Christmas Ale recipe and tasting the fruits of their labors. We are always excited to please beer fans with its ever-changing recipe and label. Cheers from the Anchor brewers!

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 1

Troegs Mad Elf

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" (Wikipedia) is an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days after Christmas). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. 

THE SET-UP

You may have seen a few of these juxapositions of the ye olde Christmas song singing out twelve days and twelve gifts of Christmas. Since beer is one of my favorite gifts to get and gift, I have been compelled to offer up my list—in of course, twelve offerings.

DAY ONE — Troegs Mad Elf

... perhaps not exactly a turtle dove but a great beer and a classic Christmas beer. Mad Elf, what more needs to be said. Another much anticipated seasonal favorite. Big flavors with Pennsylvania Honey and West Coast Cherries. Again, as with many winter seasonal beers, this one is big on ABV at 11%. Warning, if you want to enjoy this one you best buy early and be disciplined since it may not be available by Christmas quaffing comes around.

The holidays at Tröegs start with our inner Mad Elf momentarily taking over the brew deck. So blame “him” for this cheerful ruby red creation reminiscent of ripened cherries, raw honey and cocoa with notes of cinnamon, clove and allspice.

SPECIFICATIONS

ABV 11% | 15 IBU
Malt: Chocolate, Munich, Pilsner
Hops: Hallertau, Saaz
Yeast: Spicy Belgian
Color: Ruby Red