Beerded Ladies

water + hops + malt + yeast + blog

This website is devoted to craft beer reviews, sudsy events, brewery tourism, stunning beertography, bad puns, offbeat beer pairings, dispatches from behind the bar and general beverage snobbery where we can apply terms like "biscuity" and talk about hop profiles.

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Filtering by Tag: Beer Review

Fresh, Cool Lager Beer

Happy Lager Day, beer geeks and gals!

Today we join together to celebrate Lager Day, the annual holiday honoring the bottom fermented brew enjoyed for generations upon generations. As soon as the Germans brought lager bier to the US in the mid-19th century (lager means "storage" in German), Americans fully embraced the beverage, cranking out barrels upon barrels of the stuff. Lighter, more refreshing and lower in alcohol than ale, its British predecessor, lager cooled the mouths and warmed the hearts of entire families, leading to a boom in beer consumption and production throughout the country. In New York, breweries popped up by the dozen, dotting the avenues of Brooklyn from Bushwick to Flatbush. The brewing industry was pulling in upwards of $8 million in revenue per year by the 1870's, all thanks to crisp, bubbly lager.

Bavarian beer gardens attracted tourists and local families alike, providing relief from cramped tenements and helping recent immigrants to adjust to their new home while still preserving the cultures they left behind. German-style saloons quickly became the standard drinking venue, continuing the tradition of "free lunches" -- salty sausages, pretzels, mustards and pickled vegetables that no doubt encouraged a thirsty palate. These saloons, like the Colonial-era taverns before them, also served as a meeting place for Eastern European immigrants, many of whom were intellectuals escaping political repression. As the 1800's gave way to the 1900's, there were countless pamphlets written, protests organized and ideas debated over steins brimming with golden lager. 

But that was the past. Today, most of the lager (Hell, most of the beer, period) we consume is of the watered down, corn and rice fueled, "American Light" variety, enjoyed not over a heated political discussion but alone, in front of the blaring television. Blech. To celebrate this venerable drink and right the wrongs of lager's 20th century turn for the gross, we're listing a few of our favorite craft lagers (in no ranking order). Follow the links to view their Beer Advocate ratings, then track them down, crack one open and, in the spirit of our rabble-rousing foredrinkers, step on that soapbox add your own two cents to the forum. Cheers!

  1. Prima Pils by Victory Brewing Company (PA)
    A lesson in German simplicity with an American hop twist. A thing of pure beauty.
  2. El Steinber by Anderson Valley Brewing Company
    Roasty, chocolately and toasty. A well-crafted winter lager.
  3. Pandamonium India Pale Lager by Speakeasy Ales & Lagers
    A real win for the Speakeasy crew, as well as for the lager's bat-wielding Giants namesake. Big, bold and crisply drinkable. 
  4. Shift Pale Lager by New Belgium Brewing
    Bisquity malt and subtle hop aroma make this canned lager a perfect outdoor adventure companion. 
  5. Session Lager by Full Sail Brewing
    Clean, smooth, refreshing and comes in adorable stubby bottles from a 100% worker-owned Oregon brewery.
  6. Krampus Imperial Helles Lager by Southern Tier Brewing
    Warn your taste buds... the Krampus is coming! Juicy, hoppy and boozy, this imperial pilsner packs quite the punch. Great for snowy nights by the fire.
  7. Baba Black Lager by Uinta Brewing Company
    Smoky, with a hoppy bite and clean finish. A nice, sessionable choice for a chilly Autumn evening.
  8. Jan Olympic White Lagrrr by SingleCut Beersmiths
    This American pale is rich with peppery spice and sweet orange blossom. A choice brew for Belgian, Hefe and Saison lovers looking for something lighter.
  9. Narragansett Lager by Narragansett Brewing Co.
    Come on, who doesn't love a tallboy of 'Gansett?? My favorite of the American light lagers, this good ol' boy is best enjoyed ice cold on a hot day. 

Beer Here!

Homebrewklyn & The Mighty Fem-Ales

D. Robert Wolcheck for  Brooklyn Exposed

D. Robert Wolcheck for Brooklyn Exposed

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of attending Homebrewklyn, a homebrewer’s contest and tasting presented by Rally Downtown and sponsored by everyone’s favorite homebrew shop, Bitter & Esters. The Saturday afternoon affair was held at the breathtakingly beautiful Green Building on the (admittedly scummy) banks of the Gowanus Canal and featured dozens of homebrewing Brooklynites rearing to share their latest batch with a crowd of thirsty ticket-buyers. Upon walking in, my initial impression was “Hell Yes!” My fellow festival-goers stood in stark contrast to the majority of beer events I attend -- they ran the gamut from the expected industry folks and recognizable beer geeks to run-of-the-mill Moms and Dads who happened to wander by to groups of girls (yes, girls!) happily imbibing tiny glasses of Peach Saison and Hibiscus IPA. I was happy to see so much fitting diversity at this decidedly grassroots fundraising event.

The crowd at Homebrewklyn.

The crowd at Homebrewklyn.

I was even more pleased when I glanced over the brewers ballot (everyone was encouraged to vote for their favorite homebrew in a crowd’s choice runoff) and noticed more than a few female names on the list! I immediately made my way over to Kate Boicourt’s booth and offered my empty glass up for a fill of her Venus de Gowanus Black Ale. Fantastic - nicely hopped, with toasty coffee notes and a smoky finish. Kate and I got to talking and after I dropped a few BeerdedLadies.com coasters on the table, she told me that she and her good friend Sheri Lyn brew together -- or at least conspire to brew together -- under the name FemAles. She was passionate about craft beer, homebrewing and getting more women into the scene. I sensed the urge to blog coming on and quickly exchanged info, intent on setting up a Beerded Ladies & FemAles homebrew tasting/interview/explosion of the likeminded minds.

That day came a few weeks later when Sheri, Kate, Hayley and I met up under a beautiful oak tree in pastoral Fort Greene park. Ok, I don’t know if it was actually an oak tree, but it was beautiful none-the-less. The AleWives brought samples of their homebrew and Hayley and I brought a notepad, a voice recorder and eager palates. Kate’s Venus de Gowanus went over extremely well, as I knew it would. Hayley, the stout fan that she is, dug the black pale ale's distinct roastyness and crisp finish. When Sheri -- who’s spicy, juicy BondoncaBLANC Blonde got my fan favorite vote at the contest -- busted out a bottle of smoked chocolate porter salvaged from a previous batch, I knew this was a match made in craft beer heaven.

 

Kate's Venus de Gowanus  BPA.

Kate'sVenus de Gowanus BPA.

We sipped and chatted and talked for awhile as the sun set behind us. The FemAles both work for environmental agencies, a fact that lead to an interesting conversation about brewing & science, water’s integral role in the brewing process and the advantages of New York’s famously fresh supply.

Kate told me she got her start when she first moved to New York. Her Maryland-based brother gave her a kit as a gift, one of those prepackaged get-ups with packets of yeast and a jar of malt syrup. Although she’s learned a lot since then -- and now uses all grain, of course -- she still remembers that first batch fondly and wishes she could find those mystery ingredients again.

Kate takes a sip.

Kate takes a sip.

Sheri, on the other hand, cooked up her first homebrew down under, on the other side of the globe. While studying for her Master's Degree in Australia, she volunteered with Seven Sheds Brewery in Tasmania. No syrups for this girl -- Sherri started off with whole grains and fumbled her way through several unsuccessful brewing attempts before mastering the hobby. Still, though, Sheri bucks style confines, evidenced by the not-so-blonde blonde presented at the event.

 

Sheri talks beer. 

Sheri talks beer. 

The Fem-Ales have combined forces before, brewing up a provocative titled IPA called Bitches in Space. The brew’s apt name was derived from an imported hop strain with a particularly otherworldly moniker.

All jokes aside, hanging out with these two talented homebrewers was everything us Beerded Ladies hoped for. Meeting other women who care as deeply about craft beer as we do is pretty special, and I hope for many more breezy afternoons just like this one. Breaking news: Sheri and Kate (alongside fellow accomplished homebrewer Shannon Bowser) have just announced that they will lead a WOMEN’S ONLY HOMEBREW CLASS at Bitter & Esters next month! Be sure to sign up for the class here, beerded ones. Maybe we’ll even collaborate on a Beerded-Ladies-Fem-Ales brew -- better start thinking up some clever names now!

Brewse Cruise

Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA

Craigslist is a funny beast. It has been proven to successfully lead its follows to an overpriced apartment, a couple of creepy roommates, a like-new Ikea shelving unit or a casual encounter. And sometimes it can lead a person to a private tour of Victory Brewing Company lead by co-founder Ron Barchet. 

To make a long story short, my friend Emma was selling some vintage lamps or something arbitrary on Philly's Craigslist and was contacted by an interested buyer who happened to have a @victorybrewing.com email address. She inquired, found out it was Ron Barchet's wife and, as a good friends should, told her about my blog. Next thing I knew, I was on a Chinatown bus heading South towards the city of brotherly love.

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While the Downingon, PA facility isn't currently offering pubic tours due to 24/7 production, Ron and his wife welcomed us to the sprawling operation with open arms, dousing us in free pints and showing us personally around their impressive property. The taproom itself is worth the trip -- its a giant space, filled with beautiful custom woodwork and bits and pieces of retired copper brew kettles shipped over from Germany. It's also -- and more importantly -- filled with a ridiculous amount of taps pouring the freshest one-offs, limited batches and flagship styles Victory has to offer!

Brewing up some PA goodness in the backroom!

Brewing up some PA goodness in the backroom!

Ron immediately greeted us with a firm handshake. Before I knew it, the pints started flowing and a crisp and perfectly balanced Swing Session Saison was in my hand. This Belgian Pilsner, bright with carbonation and spicy with black pepper and lemon zest, went down fast and easy -- a true session beer. Ron began telling me about his background and unlikely path towards brewing (a common story in this industry). He opened Victory with his best friend since 5th grade, Bill Covaleski. The two began homebrewing in the 80's, and several years later, Bill convinced Ron to quit his day job in finances and join him in the pursuit of great beer. The goodnatured, faithful friend agreed and went off to an apprenticeship with Batimore Brewing Company. It was during that short stint in Baltimore that Ron fell in love with traditional German brewing. He then took a trip to Germany and completed intensive training at the Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan, initiating a strong German partnership that continues to this day through hop exchanges, equipment trades and a wealth of shared brewing knowledge.

Ron Barchet gives us a detailed tour of Victory's brewhouse.

Ron Barchet gives us a detailed tour of Victory's brewhouse.

When Ron returned, joined Old Dominion Brewing Company in Virginia, expanding their production exponentially and increasing his skills as a brewmaster. Bill was in Baltimore, adding German styles to their repertoire and learning as much as he could about the business side of brewing. After a few years making beers for other folks, Bill and Ron decided to return home to Pennsylvania to open their very own brewery. Starting as a brewpub outside of Philadelphia, Victory Brewing poured its first pint in February of 1995 and has been turning out a growing lineup of great brews ever since.

Since expanding, Victory has relocated their main production outfit to some buildings adjoining the brewpub and is in the process of moving their major brands to a new piece of acreage down the way. The brewpub facility is used to produce one-offs and specialty beers, as well as to house the bottling plant and barrel storage warehouse. The automated, winding bottling line is impressive and extremely efficient, paying testament to Ron and Bill's business mindset. I was particularly struck by the barrel aging room, where Bill giddily told me about the the retired Chardonnay, Heaven Hill Bourbon and red wine barrels infusing their delicious remnants into richly decident gallons of Storm King stout and Golden Monkey Belgian ale. Barley wine, too, like the patiently aged bottle Ron dropped off at my table while I had my post-tour lunch. Nicest guy ever? Probably.

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If you're headed to Philadelphia, I heartily recommend paying Ron and the rest of the Victory team a visit. Victory is one of those craft breweries that manages to balance a dogged dedication to the small/traditional/independent craft beer ethos while also enjoying distribution in 29 states, a strong brand presence and growing sales. Their new 40 acre space will host both an expanded production facility as well as a gathering space where Ron hopes to have live music and events. We can't wait to get in on that. Cheers, Ron!

50 States of Beer: Florida

Jai Alai IPA, Cigar City Brewing Company 

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Flor-i-dah! I almost for-got yah!

Ah, the Sunshine state. Who doesn't love a good trip to Disney World? A rousing visit to see the grandparents? An airboat journey through the Everglades, where a quietly stern man named Bubba propells you and your drunk family through the alligator-infested waters. Oh that's just me? Okay, okay. On to the beer!

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The Brewery

If I had to review a Florida beer, it'd better be a Cigar City brew. Lucky for me, I was able to acquire a few cans through online craft beer outlet LetsPour. The stuff has gotten quite a reputation amongst the geekiest of beer geeks, and I was ready to dive in.

The award-winning Tampa Bay brewery was founded by Joey Redner (son of infamous Tampa "Strip Club King" Joe Redner... but that's another story) and began operating in 2009. In a 2010 CraftBeer.com article, Redner describes his local boy brewing dreams and tells the story behind the brand's peculiar name.

Back when my dream was still just a dream, I concluded that my hometown of Tampa hadn’t always done the best job exporting its unique history and culture. I wanted to educate people about the town I loved as much as I grew to love craft beer. I made up my mind that spreading the word about Tampa and its Cuban-American heritage and its past as the world’s leading producer of cigars would be an integral part of what I’d do at Cigar City Brewing.

Redder sure poured all that love and pride into his beer.  Today, Cigar City occupies a 15 barrel brewhouse in a 6,600 square foot warehouse space in Tampa's Carver City-Lincoln Gardens neighborhood. In addition to their production facility, Cigar City offers brewery tours and runs a tasting room where thirsty visitors can pick up a pint or grab a growler filled with one of their many styles. There's like twenty different beers! And that's not even counting one-offs! Unreal.

 

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The Beer

The Jai Alai IPA is one of Cigar City's flagship brews. The citrusy IPA is named after the great Spanish sport of Jai Alai, in which somebody has this plastic sicle thing and they kind of play a high speed game of catch with it, or something like that. My Trinidadian grandmother loves watching it and other old people love betting on it from little rooms perched above the court. Either way, the sport's namesake beer is goddamn delicious.

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Pouring a foggy honey orange with a creamy, frothy head, the Jai Alai is all tropical and citrus on the nose. This stuff is super juicy -- pineapple, mango, passionfruit, awesome. But don't be fooled by the fruit -- at 7.5% ABV and 70 IBUs, this is no casual beach sipper. It comes in juicy on the palate, too, with a burst of grapefruit hoppiness giving way to sweet malt. The finish is smooth and the hops stay fresh and juicy throughout -- no pine or resin on the back of the palate, which is exactly how I like it. If all IPAs could taste like the Jai Alai, I'd die happy. And drunk. And obese.

Moral of the Florida story: grab a can of Jai Alai IPA, bet on some Jai Alai with my grandmother and enjoy Cigar City's incredibly diverse line of delicious craft beers. 

Next up is Georgia! Because that's the way the alphabet goes! Hurray!

Serious Cider

A craft cider that surprisingly stands up to its maltier compatriots.

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A few Saturdays ago, I was stumbling around the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market after enjoying a leisurely early morning off-leash stroll around Prospect Park with my pup, Miko. After picking out a fresh, disgusting dog bone from the butcher stand, we wandered over to a stand I had never seen before -- Bad Seed Hard Cider. They were perched right next to the cider donut stand, so I'm not sure how I missed them before -- I'm a big fan of those little donuts.

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Now, I wouldn't describe myself as a cider fan. I'm about as interested in cider as I am wine -- it's not that I'm against it, just not so into it. A cold, crisp glass of cider or white wine has its place: a hot, muggy Summer day or a September afternoon spent apple picking in the country. But, I wouldn't order one at a bar. No, sir.

Despite my prejudice, something about Bad Seed caught my eye. Maybe it was the adorable typeface on the label or the cute apple farmers behind the counter. Whatever it was, I'm glad I stopped by. Bad Seed features a sizable fleet of styles most cider drinkers couldn't dream of -- things like Belgian-style cider, a bourbon barrel aged variety and a hopped cider called "India Pale Cider" or "IPC." Craft cider? This is a thing? Apparently. Maybe it's a marketing ploy to pull us craft beer geeks off of our high hoppy horses... but it worked! I picked up a bottle of IPC and ran home to give it a try. 

For a more in-depth, better written review of Bad Seed, check out this awesome Edible Brooklyn  article .

For a more in-depth, better written review of Bad Seed, check out this awesome Edible Brooklyn article.

While they don't have a website, with a little research I dug up an Almanac Weeky story that explains a bit of Bad Seed's background. Devin Britton and Albert Wilklow started the operation in 2012, housing a fleet of 150-glasson tanks on their Highland, New York property. Devin's a cook and makes all the recipes while Albert grows the apples. Like all great craft brewers, these fellas clearly aren't afraid of a little experimentation. Besides the requisite fruit, the ciders feature an array of other add-ins, like orange peel, coriander, wine and wild yeasts and of course, hops.

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The cider pours a hazy tangerine-yellow, topped with a tiny bit of white head. The aroma is a little sweeter than I expected, with some grassy notes from the hops. It's fruit forward, with a big punch of sour apple juice that overwhelms the palate at first. Then comes the hops, cutting a clear path through the sweet-and-sour apples to thankfully dry out the whole experience. The citrus and the apple play nicely together on the palate and the cider smoothes out by the finish. I could have done with a bit more hops, but that's me and as I said, I'm not much of a cider. This cider does do a great job of balancing complex flavor with universal appeal, which isn't an easy feat. Hats off to the creators.

If you're around NYC, head to your local market and ask around for Bad Seed Cider Company. I'm thinking their bourbon barrel aged cider ought to be pretty damn good... like vanilla ice cream meets apple pie with a pool of Makers Mark on top? Yes, please. 

50 States of Beer: Delaware

Positive Contact Imperial Belgian-Style Witbier, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

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It's no secret that Dogfish Head in Milton and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware is one of my favorite breweries of all time. They were one of the first craft beers I tried, and I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Sam Calagione's sweet little wacky brewing tactics. He's a good looking, down home man who loves adventure and good beer. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

The Brewery

Dogfish Head began in 1995 in Milton, DE. Sam was a craft beer pioneer, favoring collaboration over competition and believing that the consumer simply wanted more choices and more creativity, so why not give it to them? He also was a significant player in revising many of Delaware's liquor laws to allow craft brewers the ability to pursue their dreams without having to jump through all the complicated hoops that come with setting up a brewery in a Puritan New England. His efforts shaped the way craft beer was viewed and seriously impacted the craft beer boom.

You can read an in-depth review of Dogfish Head's brewery and brewpub in my December Brewse Cruise, so I'll spare you the redudancy and just say that if you haven't been: go. Go on a beautiful summer day and taste everything. You won't regret it.

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The Beer

Positive Contact is special release under Dogfish Head's newish music collaboration series. This peculiar apple cider infused imperial wit is the brainchild of hip-hop producer Dan the Automator and is sourced from 300lbs of fresh pressed Fuji apples. Here's an adorable video about the release.

I enjoyed this beer at the Jersey shore on a windy Memorial Day afternoon. The beach was the perfect backdrop to the brew's crisp sweetness and its full bodied juiciness came through as warm and bright as the May sun.

The beer pours a hazy, rich honey color with about two inches of creamy yellowish head. I immediately noticed a Saison's amount of spice -- cilantro, coriander, a little white pepper, fresh cut grass -- on the nose. I liked the way the apple juice integrated with the classic Belgian wit's sweet malt, but be warned -- this is not a beer for a hophead. The aroma  features a mild amount of floral hops but I couldn't detect much on the palate as the fruit took precedent over any bitterness. The heightened, champaign-like carbonation balanced out any potential medicinal qualities associated with its 9% ABV, which was a nice surprise, although I was expecting a more sour-like body instead of the deep sweetness that ran rampant on my tongue. Enjoyable, for sure, but I doubt I could drink more than one glass in a sitting.

This post is brought to you by the letter D, and concludes our stop in our nation's tiniest state. Next up: Georgia. Finally time to drink that Terrapin I've been hoarding away!

50 States of Beer: Arizona

Hoppy Valley Session IPA, Phoenix Ale Brewery

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Beggars can't be choosers, especially when they're East Coast beggars in search of a South Western beer. I stumbled upon this mild Arizona IPA while visiting family in Salt Lake City and immediately scooped it up to fill the gap in my sequencial 50 States of Beer quest. Hooray for Arizona! Um, or whatever.

The Brewery

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According to its own website, Phoenix Ale, opened in mid-2011, is Phoenix's newest brewery -- and I believe it because I can't find much information about them. So far, they've released six different ales, all traditional English-style and unfiltered. The current fleet ranges from a watermelon wheat to an imperial porter with a couple hop-centric efforts in between. The baby brewery is the brainchild of Gregory Fretz, a local Phoenix resident and former beer sales rep. After fifteen years hawking other people's craft brews, "Fretzy" (below, with Brewmaster John) decided to make a go of hawking his own. Living the dream, Sir.

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The 15,700 square foot brewery is located three miles East of downtown Phoenix and holds a 20 barrel, three vessel automated system custom built by Oregon's JV Northwest. They offer free tours and tastings so be sure to stop in and let Fretzy show you around if you're in town.

The Beer

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I tried this cold 22oz bottle of Hoppy Valley on Mother's Day, hence the flowers. It's labeled as a Session IPA, coming in at 3.9% ABV, allowing me to purchase it cold from the grocery store in SLC. While the brewery claims it's an American IPA, it tastes very English to me, with more malt than hops and a piney backbone. The pour is a nice amber with about a half inch of quickly diminishing cream-colored head. The aroma is American for sure -- grapefruit and a little fresh grass, but the mouth feel is smooth and light. The malt tempers the initial hops, pushing the aforementioned pine to the back of the palate and providing a overall lager-like experience, with bready notes and hints of molasses. Not my absolute favorite Session IPA, but a solid choice for a cool, pleasant day -- might pair well with a leisurely baseball game or an afternoon fishing trip.

Now that I've conquered Arizona, I'm back on track and heading towards Delaware. Dogfish Head, take notice: I'm coming for you. Unless, of course, I bump into an Arkansas brew along the way...

-MH

50 States of Beer: Connecticut

Mystic River IPA, Cottrell Brewing Company

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Connecticut! New England conservatism and antiquated puritanical liquor laws come to mind. My parents count themselves amongst the 3,580,709 residents of the Constitution State and outside of politely trying my suggestions, they're not much for craft beer. My dad will dabble in Brooklyn Lager, but that's about as micro as I've seen around there. Not the most fruitful beer state, right? Wrong! 

Imagine my surprise when I read that there's an entire Connecticut Beer Trail filled with tiny, regionally distributed breweries just waiting to lead you on a tour! According to the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut is home to at least fifteen independent breweries and just as many brewpubs. Connecticut craft beer is brewed with the same love and care exhibited by their more established neighbors and it shows. Enter Cottrell Brewing Co...

The Brewery

Pawcatuck's Cottrell Brewing Company was founded in 1996 by Charles Cottrell Buffum, Jr., the great grandson of printing press manufacturer C.B. Cottrell. Brewmaster Charlie decided to open his microbrewery in the same warehouse that once housed the elder Cottrell's factory. As an homage to his family, Charlie dedicated his award winning flagship brew, Old Yankee Ale, to the colonial-era Cottrells famous for purchasing much of Connecticut & Rhode Island from the Native Americans. Today, Cottrell Brewing is a tried and true Mom & Pop business boasting a range of styles, limited but growing distribution and a strange but mesmerizing promotional video (see above).

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The Beer

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Cottrell Brewing's Mystic Bridge IPA happened to be the closest CT brew I could find on tap and thus became my Connecticut representative. It pours a dark, honeyed amber, topped with a good amount of cream colored head. The aroma is subtle grapefruit with some grass and a hint of rich sweetness from the malt. Upon sipping, this IPA is resolutely East Coast, with crisp citrus fading into an earthy muddiness coating the palate. The hops are there, but they're not smacking you across the face. Malt kicks in near the end to provide a slightly sweet caramel finish that dissipates pretty quickly. The hops don't exactly cut the malt -- it's more like they work in tandem to give this beer a depth you won't find in many lighter body IPAs. The result is less about balance and more about a solid but simple IPA that can stand up to about any culinary situation. And at 6%, the Mystic is fairly drinkable, too. And, um, somebody wrote a song about it.

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This stop on the 50 States journey has been fittingly short and sweet, just like Connecticut. Up next: Dogfish Delaware! 

-MH

Brewse Cruise

Uinta Brewing, Salt Lake City, Utahimage

Uinta Brewing Company is one of those little boutique-y breweries that you want to love before you even taste their beer because they're small and earnest and 100% wind powered... so it's a good thing their beer lives up to it! The odds are truly against these guys -- Utah closely monitors the distribution of higher ABV beers so instead of bucking the law like our friends at Epic, these guys have decided to make do with the laws God (er, his followers...) gave them. In accordance with my theory that creativity often flourishes under constraint, Uinta's line is straight forward and sticks to sessionable style codes while still producing some tasty styles and interesting flavor notes.

The brewery, stashed away in an industrial office park near downtown SLC, features an inviting taproom with wooden tables, a circular bar and a selection of sandwiches ordered deli-style with golf pencils and a notepad. I was dissapointed to learn that Utah doesn't allow flights because of some BS "vessel per customer" law -- an unavoidable bummer, especially in a low ABV brewery. 

Their naturally lower ABV beers are a notch above their attempts at an sessionable IPA or coffee porter. The Wyld Extra Pale, at 4.0% ABV and 29 IBUs was the best of the litter. Lemony on the nose with a subtle floral hop aroma, it's medium-bodied with a piney beginning, some caramel malt and a citrusy but fairly dry finish. Playing it a big close to the chest and definitely drinkable and good with a meal.

I revisited SLC in May and was able to catch a fresh batch of Sum'r Ale, which lived up to everything I had read about it. The use of Sorachi Ace hops give this refreshing brew a bready, buttery quality that pairs nicely with a warm day/a bbq/watching my nephew play baseball while trying not to get caught drinking beer in a public park in Utah. The nose is all soft lemons and rich biscuit -- like a light lager with the subtle sweetness of a true golden. Well done, Uinta.

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If you're in the area, I'd say swing by Uinta's facility before heading to Epic to get your feet wet. Oh and it's pronounced U-IN-TAH. You're welcome.

Addendum: Now that Uinta has broadened their distribution channels, I've been enjoying and recommending their delicious higher ABV brews all over New York. Their Hop Notch IPA kills it and packs an amazing hoppy punch - don't pass this one up if you spy it on draft at the local pub.

50 States of Beer: Colorado

White Rascal Belgian Witbier, Avery Brewing Company & Dale's Pale Ale, Oskar Blues

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Ankle deep in my quest to review a representative beer from all fifty of these nifties, I found myself face to face with a state so saturated with incredible craft breweries that I could barely count them. Actually, I definitely CANNOT count them... That's why my Colorado post has come down to a tie! 

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The Breweries

Avery Brewing Company was founded in Boulder, Colorado in 1993. Head brewmaster Adam Avery grew his business from a small, seven barrel capacity brewery to a nationally distributed and well respected craft beer outlet. They have a wide range of year round brews as well as a rotating roster of seasonals. I spent some time in Boulder a few summers ago and visiting Avery's taproom was high on my todo list. They offer free tours seven days a week, no reservation necessary, and walking through the sprawling outdoor brewery is inspiring to say the least. They've recently amped up their barrel conditioning program so be sure to check out the rows of wine and whiskey barrels patiently incubating delicious special brews. Check out the virtual tour in the video above for a glimpse of their space. And don't forget the cask canning line! Team cans FTW!

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The craft classic, Dale's Pale Ale, (or as my brother lovingly calls it -- DPA), is produced by Oskar Blues Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado. Since its 1997 brewpub start, Oskar Blues has become a microbrew titan, with widespread national distribution and a brand new brewing facility in sunny North Carolina. 

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After local success peddling killer homemade suds and Southern fare at Oskar Blues Brewpub & Grill in Lyons, CO, owner Dick Dale Katechis took the business a step further and installed a primitive canning plant in a rickety barn next door. As such, Oskar Blues holds the esteemed title as the first American craft brewery to can their beer. At first, the guys canned each beer by hand using a table-top machine. Just imagine that dedication. Now, of course, their canning line is gigantic and way automated (see below).

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One can visit both the brewery and the little brewpub, as I did back in 2010. Here's a picture of my Mom posing with one of Oskar Blues' handsome servers. Please excuse the picture quality -- the photo was taken after a couple flights.

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The Beers
First, the Avery. I enjoyed this fine witbier out of a chilled can, straight from its little metal mouth. It was a beautiful Monday afternoon, so I grabbed my dog, a few cold ones, some baseball mits and a friend and headed to Prospect Park. What better way to wind down the day than sharing light, citrusy beer while tossing around a softball under the Spring sun? That's what I thought.

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It's a little grainy on the nose, which I like in a wheat beer -- unfiltered yeast and a bisquity backbone lend structure to a style that can border on flimsy or soda-sweet. The mouthfeel is smooth and juicy, as expected, and I'd imagine a frothy, white head if it were poured out into a glass. I got a lot of lemonade at first, with some herbal spice on the back end to balance it out. The body maintains a light and refreshing character throughout -- perfect for hanging out at the park. It finishes with a slightly tart, champaign-like zing that's quickly tamped down as it dissipates, leaving almost no aftertaste. Easy drinking goodness.

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[Reblogged from thegreatbeerquest] 

Oh, Dale's! How I love thee. Let me count the ways:

1. Hops! As the beautiful, iconic graphic above suggests, this little pale that could is brimming with fresh, leafy hops. It rings in at 6.5% ABV with 65 IBUs, and I can't help but love the symmetry there. Dale's hop profile runs the gamut from citrusy to piney to grassy to floral, with the strongest contender being the citrus (mostly blood orange and deep tangerine) followed by a healthy dosage of fresh cut grass at the finish. This is a serious American style pale.

2. Cans! As mentioned, Oskar Blues was the first craft brewery to can their stunning line of ales, making them the leaders in the craft can revolution. I've long been a proponent of canning good beer -- it's durable, less sensitive to light and heat, keeps the carbonation intact and facilitates easier and less wasteful shipping methods. 

3. This video! So pretty!

4. Malt! In a good Pale Ale, balance is key. Dale's takes care of this by featuring a rich, sweet caramel malt that mellows out the hops and provides a velvety mouthfeel. I'm not a big fan of overly malted or bready beers, especially when it comes to Pales or IPAs, and Dale's hits on the nail on the head with this one.

5. New Royal Pints! AKA America's first fancy tall can! 

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“Continuing to push the boundaries is what gets us up in the morning, it’s what drives us. This package is a product of that drive and passion. We continue to do what we love, toss a can in your backpack for the backcountry or a grab a stovepipe (19.2oz.) at music and sport venues. 19.2 ounces of Dale’s Pale Ale to go with your favorite band, hell yes.” says Oskar Blues Soul-Founder Dale Katechis in this 2012 BeerPulse.com article.


That about sums up my Western roundup, although it must be said that these two beers faced some tough competition as Colorado state representatives. There must be something in that ice cold Rocky mountain water that makes beer taste better, or at least produces some wacky and super creative brewers. Endless honorable mentions go to New Belgium for having a kick ass brewery tour complete with a sweet Airstream trailer parked out front, Great Divide for making amazing seasonals, Tommyknocker for recently coming to NYC with an excellent Pilsner (pictured below) and Boulder Beer for keeping it psychedelic. So much beer, so little time. 

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Next up, I'll cheers the Constitution State with a Connecticut review. 

- MH

'Tis the Saison

Your Guide to Spring Seasonals

imageIt's 48 degrees outside right now and according to my iPhone, tomorrow will get up to 61. While those numbers are far from promising, my fellow New Yorkers and I are banking on a smooth slide in to Spring this week. It just has. to. be. here. already.

The Mets have hit the field for another losing season, we're rounding out another bracket busting NCAA tournament and yesterday I walked from the LES to SoHo without wanting to die. So, it's time to abandon your porters and stouts in favor of my new favorite flavor: the Saison. 

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Historically, saisons weren't brewed to have similar characteristics. They simply referred to a group of beers fermented during the cooler months and stored for Spring enjoyment by hard working Belgian farmers. That's why we also call them farmhouse ales. Today, saisons share a number of qualities -- they're generally fruity, highly carbonated and spicy. That's why they pair so well with a sunny afternoon, Ok, there's your background. On to the drinking.

My Top Five Saisons (in no particular ranking order)

1. Brooklyn Brewery: Sorachi Ace

I love this big bottle/tap release from Brooklyn Brewery. I don't usually love Brooklyn's beers, but I LOVE this saison. Its green apple crispness, bubbly, champagne body and subtle sweetness at the finish make it the perfect companion for oyster happy hour (one of my favorite Spring time activities). It also pairs nicely with a good old New England style crab or lobster boil. If you find yourself in NYC and in need of some seaside-esque happy hour goodness, check out Lobster Joint on Houston St. in the Lower East Side. It's a little bright inside for my drinking-habit-tastes but the happy hour is on point -- $4 Sorachi Aces (all drafts, for that matter), $1 oysters & $4 lobster, crab cake or fried oyster sliders. I'm not sure how they stay in business but I'm sure glad they do. 

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Ain't nothing wrong with watching an adorable girl kiss some lobsters while you enjoy your Sorachi Ace. Nope.

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2. Brewery Ommegang: Hennepin

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Ommegang's Hennepin was one of the first craft beers I laid lips on and it continues to be one of my go-to's for a refreshing warm weather pint. Back in college, I knew a bunch of kids who worked at a cafe in the East Village. Even though they only had two taps, one was always dedicated to Hennepin and we consistently drained it. I'm not ashamed to say it went well with breakfast eggs. Nicely balanced with a mix of coriander, herbal spiciness and sweet orange peel, the mouth feel is smooth and the finish is surprisingly dry. It goes down easy and stands up well next to almost any snack. Careful with that high ABV though -- it's well hidden. 

3. Dogfish Head - Stone - Victory Collaboration: Saison du BUFF

This one took some digging to find when it was first released in 2010. I was living in Northern California and had to drive about two hours to a liquor store in a lonely strip mall east of San Jose to get my hand on a single 12oz bottle. These days, however, the collaborative saison is getting some much deserved added distribution and you can pick one up in most Dogfish Head sanctioned outlets. The beer itself is surprisingly easy going given the punch these three breweries usually pack, a quality I wholeheartedly appreciate in a saison. Not as sweet as many of its brethren, the du Buff garners a mellow, mid-palate very herbal spice kick and crisp, peppery lemongrass finish to dry it out. I'm particularly fond of the beer's limey-ness, as it cuts through my favorite early Summer snack (carne asada tacos, duh) like a shiny knife.

Here's a sweet little video about this craft beer meeting of the minds.

4. 21st Amendment: Sneak Attack

Wild card! This sneaky little can makes its way onto shelves during the coldest months of the year when most American beer nerds are knee deep in bourbon barrel aged stouts and coffee soaked porters. I stumbled upon Sneak Attack's gleaming cream colored face last January and it surely brightened up a cold, blustery Brooklyn night. I cracked the tab, poured it slowly into a semi-clean pint glass and... Coriander! White peppercorn! Clementines! Tangy lemon! Champagne! Bubbly and refreshing but strong enough in spice to hold up against any slow cooked Winter's meal... I can't wait to enjoy this sucker alongside some Summer BBQ, come to think of it. Pork shoulder & a Sneak Attack? Fire up the grill already.

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5. Two Roads Brewing Co: Worker's Comp

 My family lives in Connecticut, so when I visit I try to vet their local "package stores" for any interesting New England-centric releases. That's how I found Two Roads Brewing Co. (Stratford, CT). It happened to be the day after Easter, so I grabbed a six pack of their freshly debuted saison, Worker's Comp, and settled down with some Chinese takeout (Yes, I know I live in spitting distance of the best Chinatown outside of China but there's just something about suburban Chinese food that makes it SO unexplainably amazing -- anyone feel me?). Anyways, this saison only enhanced my General Tso's tangy, spicy deliciousness and stood confidently by me as I destroyed some salty Chow Mein. The young brewery managed to strike a balance between juicy tropical fruit and dry, peppery clove without that all-to-familiar overpowering, palate-takeover sweetness. I especially liked the smooth pear -- subtle but persistant, soft enough to coat the tongue throughout. At a mere 4.8 ABV, I was able to down a few while still saving some room for illicit helpings of my Dad's Moo-Shu Pork and maintaining a decent level of familial conversation.

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So, while this next week attempts to flirt with the 70s, crack open a cold, spicy-sweet Saison and enjoy this Spring weather, friends! It won't be long until we're sweating into our adjunct lagers and yearning for the porter-doused nights of yore.

-MH

50 States of Beer: California

Pliny the Elder Double IPA & Great Beer/Great Wine Blonde Ale, Russian River Brewing Company

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Due to my inability to secure any beer from Arizona or Arkansas, here we come -- to the holy grail of craft beer, that sweet Western land of promise and golden haired babes... CALIFORNIA.

Of course, when put in the position of choosing a single beer to represent an entire, hop crazy, stoned blind landmass, why not go with the best? So, Pliny it is. And Pliny it will be.

The Brewery

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It's really not much to look at -- a storefront on a suburban street in Santa Rosa that empties out into a dusty parking lot filled with rough looking local boys in checkered Vans and snapbacks with worn, flipped up brims. I spent a few years between high school and college living in and around these Northern California towns and I didn't even notice RR until I moved back for grad school some years later. I think its humble brick and mortar presence is a big part of its charm. 

A pizza-heavy brewpub with as much seating as they can fit, the customers range from craft beer pilgrims to construction workers fresh off a shift to families munching on warm, saucy pizza bites. During my most recent visit, I was able to secure a spot at the bar and immediately ordered a pint of Pliny followed guiltily by a California sampler flight. My girlfriend and I were vacationing nearby and she kindly offered to drive my drunk ass up to the hotel afterward, hence the pint and flight combo. Otherwise, I would have probably fallen asleep on the bar. These beers don't fuck around.

The Beers

imagePliny the Elder is one of my favorite beverages of all time. I'm not going to waste your time with my own description, other than to say that it undoubtedly lives up to its juicy, citrusy, and hop-heavy reputation. And then some. Fresh from the tap, it pours a warm caramel with a slight, bright white head that dissipates quickly. The smell will knock you off your bar stool and the refreshing aroma is balanced by a syrupy mouth feel and crisp, grapefruit on the palate. It scored a well deserved 100 on RateBeer and its 8% ABV is conservative considering its impressive abundance of flavor. It's simply everything I ever wanted in an IPA, so sue me. 

The second beer I tasted is Great Beer/Great Wine. It's a Session ale only released at the Brewpub during the great grape harvest, usually around mid-September. According to RR's description, this smooth Blonde is brewed to give the sweaty winemakers something cool to drink after coming in from the endless vine rows.

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Wine country's blatant beauty is overwhelming yet RR's Great Beer/Great Wine is anything but, in a good way. It's crisp and malty, with a quiet sweetness and a creamy mouth feel. Not too tart and not too bisquity, it scored a 91 on RateBeer. I enjoyed the tropical fruit aroma and the pleasant, honeyed sour quality reminded me of switchel, an age-old concoction consumed by farmers at the end of a work day. I worked on a Vermont dairy farm throughout high school, so I'm a little nostalgic when it comes to antiquated country beverages. Ok,  maybe a lot nostalgic.

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So, there you have it: California. I've spent several years living in the Golden State and I can't say that I miss it. Compared to their perfect beach sunsets, the smell of ocean air, the SF Giants in all their glory and the aggravatingly cheerful disposition of flower children, I much prefer my gloomy NYC neurotics and threadbare Queens baseball. But I do miss one thing, and that's Russian River Brewing Company. Oh, and Mission style burritos.

-MH

50 States of Beer: Alabama

Snake Handler Double IPA & Flagship IPA, Good People Brewing Company

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So, I'm starting a new series in which I attempt to taste and review a craft beer from each of our fifty nifty United States (in alphabetical order, of course). For my inaugural 50 States of Beer post, I decided to sample a couple of fine canned brews out of Birmingham, Alabama.

The Brewery 
Good People Brewing Company sold its first keg in 2008, opening with just fourteen local accounts. As you might have guessed, Alabama's liquor laws were antiquated and tough, and the Good guys faced their fair share of battles.

"At that time Alabama’s beer laws ranked amongst the country’s strictest and most antiquated.  For instance, the legal alcohol by volume (ABV) limit was 6%.  Despite this, Good People found a wellspring of local support.  Along with concerned citizens and the ardent advocacy group Free the Hops, Good People has helped to spur on changes to allow Alabama’s beer culture to thrive."
- GPB Website

Through it all, they managed to get some ABV ordinances passed and opened a bigger 1000+ barrel facility in Birmingham in 2010. Their distribution is currently limited to Alabama and they remain focused on being a community minded local brewery. Thank goodness I have traveling beer buddies in Birmingham, because these beers were perfect for my new series kick off. Roll tide!

The Beers
My friend Jacki brought me up two varieties of GPB -- Snake Handler Double IPA and their flagship IPA. Both are canned, which is something I'm really into these days after reading a great article in the Winter edition of Beer Connoisseur. I love the old school, graphic aesthetic of the labeling, like a craft beer version of the Miller High Life, working-class-throw-back style. You know -- greasers, etc. Very Birmingham.

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I tried the IPA first, working my way up the ABV ladder. It poured a nice copper color. It's unfiltered, so the cloudiness enveloped the glass and lingered as it settled -- always a comforting sight to me. The aroma is on the lighter, refreshing side with herbal and floral notes that easily surpassed any metallic seepage from the can thanks to the dry-hop process. The initial taste was awesomely balanced, with equal parts caramel and hops and not too piney. Very drinkable at 7.2% with 64 IBUs. Smooth mouthfeel with a bit of bitterness to the finish. I could have used a little more citrus flavor but overall it's an excellent IPA that could combat any hot, muggy 'Bama night.

The Snake Handler Double IPA is reminiscent of a punch in the face -- a really enjoyable, extremely fun and rewarding punch in the face. With 9.3% ABV and 103 IBUs, this beer is not fucking around, no sir.

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As you can see from my excellent beertography, the Snake Handler pours out a pretty, deep orange color with a dense, peachy-white head. The nose was all sticky-sweet citrus for me, which I loved. The taste follows up on the nose's promise and delivers a big bang of orange and grapefruit up front, finishing into a more piney bitterness as it leave the palate. Some good balance from the malts to keep the sweetness sustained throughout. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with good carbonation to keep it from getting overly thick and creamy -- my preference when it comes to bigger beers like this bad boy. Another perfect hot weather brew, I cherished every drop of the two Snake Handler cans entrusted to me. And then I was wasted.

-MH

Tune in next time as I attempt to peel the 22oz panties off Alaska...

Brewse Cruise

Gilded Otter Brewpub, New Paltz, NY

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A Sunday trip upstate led us to the Gilded Otter brewpub in New Paltz, NY (but don't click on that link, because their website is horrendous). The "Garden Party" featured 8 three ounce pours on an adorable little pizza peel thing. They include six of their own craft brews, one Black & Tan and one additional glass of Doc's cider to finish it off. 

The place was all quant and nice and I liked that the brewing equipment was right there in the center of the restaurant instead of hidden away in some back warehouse you have to creepily peer through windows to see. We were surrounded by some serious looking copper boiler kettles, too.

The beers, truth be told, were lacking. The Huguenot St. American Lager, at 3.8%, was mild with no bite -- super bisquity with a strong yeasty finish. Not my thing. The IPA was similarly disappointing and only 5.2%. It's lame gravity was matched by its lame hop profile, with a little bit of pine and no kick at all. I felt similarly about the Amber and the Scottish Ale -- low gravity, bland and malty. The stars of the party, if you will, were the cream stout and the pale, which were nice and drinkable. The Stone House Cream Stout had a pretty head and a smooth, roasty body (6.2%), while the Rail Trail Pale Ale had crisp floral notes and lots of fresh grapefruit on the palate (5.2%).

If you find yourself upstate on a rainy sunday, get a pint of the stout and forego the Garden Party -- it's not worth the price of admission. 

-MH

Brewse Cruise

Epic Brewing Company, Salt Lake City, UT

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Reasons Why Epic Brewing Company Rules: A Brewse Cruise Essay

  1. They're they proudest, most perfectly irreverent brewers of high gravity ales and lagers I've ever met.
    Does Epic care that its Mormonistic (is that a word?) state strictly monitors and limits the ABV of beer sold in bars, grocery stores and even state-run liquor stores? No, Epic doesn't give a fuck. They are the first brewery since prohibition to exclusively brew beer above 4.0%. And they've been successfully handing it to the man since 2010, distributing the majority of their product out-of-state while also selling an amazing variety of cold (state-run liquor stores prohibit the sale of cold beer) bottles from their tiny brewery shop in downtown SLC.
  2. Their hand-crafted, inventive line is primarily sold in 22oz bottles.
    Because you really ought to be serious about drinking this stuff. And you also really ought to share. 
  3. Their brewery features a sandwich shop the size of a closet.
    As soon as Utah's ATF laws changed to allow breweries to sell their own draft beer as long as food was also consumed, Epic installed a tiny sandwich shop in a narrow hallway. They list about a dozen snacks on a chalkboard and it's manned by a guy who looks eternally bored and claustrophobic. All so you can now enjoy a post-tour sample.
  4. They age their Brainless® on Peaches Belgian-Style Ale in imported French Chardonnay casks.
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    Are you impressed yet?
  5. Said Belgian-Style Ale is incredibly well-balanced and somehow drinkable, despite its 10.7% ABV and oak conditioning.
    Yeasty, sweet fruity notes give way to a complex mixture of hay and a little sour zing at the end. I'd recommend letting it open up like wine, maybe even decanting it. It also ages well and each release it a little different (and marked by the brewery).

When I visited Epic, the tour guide was really nice and informative and gave us an in-depth behind the scenes tour of the single building brewery. Apparently, it used to be even smaller before they bought out the Thai place next door to install their warehouse. Unbelievable. By far the best brewery experience in the great Salt Lake and worth a visit. Fingers crossed for New York distribution.

-MH

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