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: Brewery Reivew

Brewse Cruise

Carton Brewing Company, Atlantic Highlands, NJ

One frigid, hungover Sunday in March, upon strong urging by a certain Augie Carton, I made a blurry trek into New Jersey to check out Atlantic Highlands' Carton Brewing Co. As you might remember, these folks sponsored our January trivia night and killed it on the Springsteen round. But of course.

Their delicious, hand crafted brews range from simple sessionable perfection (Boat Beer) to wild, high gravity experimentation (Regular Coffee). The brewery itself is tucked away on a quiet little street in a tiny town within a mile of where many of the Carton crew were born and raised -- true hometown heros and a very inspiring story. It's no wonder that Augie and the rest of the Carton team are so dedicated to brewing on premises -- their brewery is only a stone's throw away from the tasty water source they all know and love.

"It's the difference between being local and claiming to be local," Augie explains. "It's knowing the water."

The tour begins downstairs in the brewery. Jesse showed us around the place, a brick, 100+ year old building that dates back to a New Jersey far removed from the likes of Snookey and Bridgegate. The original building, they think, was once used to store the tents of traveling revival groups who camped on the shore each summer, spreading the Methodist gospel. Now, however, the building stores a slick 15 bbl brewhouse and a cozy upstairs tasting room that brims with thirsty locals each weekend.

The brewhouse is small but functional, running at full capacity to churn out just enough beer to satiate the tri-state masses. The "Tippy," Carton's pilot system, produces brewery only batches, giving the brewers the space to experiment with new recipes or to learn about the potentials of individual ingredients through the "School of" series, educational beers that focus on a single hop strain. It's worth visiting the brewery just to get a sip of one of these limited Tippy brews.

Deeper into the building, down a twisting basement stairwell, lurks the barrel room -- a real sight to see. Of particular note are the Laird's Apple Jack barrels housing Pumpkin Cream Ale, infusing the spicy-sweet, bubbly brew with notes of sweet apple cider and boozy liquor. The Laird distillery -- the oldest continually operating distillery in America -- is also just a few miles down the road, adding yet another layer of local flavor to the Carton family.

I was struck by how the Carton team's passion for great beer co-mingled so closely with their intense hometown pride. This is craft beer at its best -- a drink for the people, by the people, produced to facilitate conversation, community and lots of love. Bravo.

Brewse Cruise

Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY 

A few weeks ago, my dad turned the big 7-0 and like the golden child I am (yeah, right…) I organized a giant surprise family getaway weekend to Cooperstown, New York. Why Cooperstown? The man had religiously watched 70 complete, start-to-finish MLB seasons and had never visited the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite living within driving distance for the last 15 years. Unbelievable! Really, a travesty. Thus, the idea for a big birthday blowout celebrating both the end of summer and the boys of summer seemed appropriate. My brother joined in and set up a fishing trip on Lake Ostego, my mom rented a couple of lakeside cabins for the whole brood and we were off, heading five hours North on dusty back roads to the town that once produced the bulk of our nations hops: Cooperstown, New York.

As always, my beer geekdom trumps most everything and I knew I just had to incorporate a stop at Brewery Ommegang into the birthday weekend. “He’ll love it!” I assured my mom, conveniently leaving out the fact that Brewery Ommegang is famous for their delicious line of rich Belgian-style ales (Dad’s a tried-and-true lager lover from years back, occasionally branching out to a pale ale on a special occasion with much coaxing, but definitely not a witte guy). “Who doesn’t love a brewery tour??”

The answer? No one! I called up to the brewery to inquire about getting a private tour and hooking my dad up with a cake at the café for a pre-tour lunch and they were more than accommodating. At lunch, my niece and nephew scarfed down the pomme frites as the adults daringly ventured outside their beer comfort zones, sipping on the new Game of Thrones inspired Take the Black Stout (my sister-in-law embraced her nerdiness and took home a whole case) and enjoying the spicy Hennepin Saison and smooth, malty Rare VOS Amber I recommended.

A family toast featuring bother Billy.

A family toast featuring bother Billy.

After lunch, we gathered in the tasting room, a beautiful little nook abutting the café. Brewery Ommegang is more of a campus than your standard brewery – no back lot, industrial park, 30 barrel outfit, this operations has grounds. The surrounding rolling hills are dotted with hop vines grown by nearby Cornell University in an effort to combat the region’s debilitating blight. The café itself is a veritable estate, with a busy retail shop, a tasting room and a large restaurant with giant, communal tables. As soon as you walk through the heavy wooden doors, you’ll immediately know why HBO contacted Ommegang to propose their Game of Thrones partnership – it just makes sense. The place was packed but we managed to pony up to the bar and grab our adorable little tasting glasses, reading them for the six pours to come: Witte, a creamy and lemony Belgian white ale; BPA, an excellent 6.2% ABV Cascade-hopped take on a pale ale with a Belgian twist; Rare VOS, a rich amber with a hoppy bite and dry finish; Hennepin, a deceptively strong and deliciously bubbly Saison; Abbey Ale, a Trappist Dubbel flavored with dark cherries which blew my dad’s red wine-loving mind; and the aforementioned Take the Black Stout, a creamy Belgian-style stout brewed with four different dark malts, star anise and dried licorice root. Needless to say, we were well satiated and ready for a nap at that point.

The brewery grounds.

The brewery grounds.

After the tasting, we stumbled outside to meet Sarah for our private brewery tour. The two-building brewhouse is a big barn-like structure lined with giant metal silos. Sarah led us around and filled our wobbly minds with knowledge, filling us in on Ommegang’s brewing processes and vision. Ommegang was founded in 1997 by Cooperstown locals Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, famed owners of Vanberg & DeWulf import company. As a startup company, Don and Wendy took on family-owned Belgian brewery Duvel as investors, allotting them 40% of the company. Later, as demand outdid supply, Duvel offered to purchase the struggling brewery in full, buying out the remaining 60% ten years ago and gifting Ommegang the state of the art brewhouse and café my family full enjoyed that very afternoon. Duvel continues to parent the company and their reach is impressive – Brewery Ommegang is available in 46 US states, Canada, Mexico and US Virgin Islands. While their emphasis is on traditional Belgian styles, Ommegang’s brewhouse features a small pilot system and a team of chemists excited about developing new brews and improving the old – innovation, of course, is the cornerstone of craft beer.

The brewhouse.

The brewhouse.

The pilot system.

The pilot system.

The coolest thing I learned that day? All of their beers are bottle conditioned. Whether you’re enjoying your Hennepin in Hawaii or Cancun, that sucker’s carbonation is 100% au natural. That’s some serious quality control.

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 We left the brewery full, happy and just a tiny bit more knowledgeable about Belgian beers. I can’t wait to introduce my dad to more rich strong ales that mirror his beloved Cabs and my sister-in-law continues to geek out about her GoT purchase. We made it back to the cabin safely, thanks to my amazing designated driver girlfriend, and were present and accounted for at the Hall of Fame the next morning. Birthday mission, consider yourself accomplished.

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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: Alaska

Panty Peeler Belgian Style Tripel, Midnight Sun Brewing Company

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Here we go, folks! The second stop on my fifty nifty united beers tour brings us to the land of Northern Exposure, Jewel, Sarah Palin and some pretty decent craft beer.

The Brewery
Anchorage, Alaska's Midnight Sun Brewing Company was opened in 1995 by homebrewers Mark Staples and Barb Miller. They operate a modest facility, Anchorage's only full time production brewery not associated with a brewpub. Their beers run the gamut, their style refusing any attempt at pinning down -- the kind of renegade spirit we've come to expect from the good old 49th. This is especially true when it comes to, of course, wild strains, according to a 2011 Beer Connoisseur interview.

Just as Seinfeld was a “show about nothing,” Midnight Sun’s pattern is to have no pattern. “We brew beers we want to drink,” says Barb. There is a lot of experimentation with ingredients, spices, yeast strains (25 this year) and barrel aging. They routinely make Belgian-style beers, use souring organisms, and allow Brettanomyces to make their beers wild. They also offer hoppy yet clean American styles. There are collaborations, commemoratives, anniversary brews, four quarterly Imperial IPAs, a wood-aged barleywine and two pumpkin beers.

While Midnight Sun is distributed throughout a handful of the lower forty-eight, the brewery itself seems like a really cool space and worth a visit if you find yourself up in our fair country's nether regions. Apparently the brew team keeps a tasting loft stocked with every draft beer they make and every bottle in distribution. And they hosted this rad Pink Boots event for the entire month of February! Sign me up.

The Beer
The Brooklyn craft beer bar where I occasionally trade pints for tips happens to stock two varieties of Midnight Sun in 22oz bottles. Naturally, I opted for the one with the dumbest name -- the Panty Peeler Abbey Tripel -- took her home and after some mild conversation, well, peeled her open.

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Ok, ok, I'm sorry. I'm over the name. Now you get over it. Ok, let's move on.

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The beer pours a satisfyingly rich, deep amber color with a slight but frothy head thanks to the bottle conditioning. This particular bottle was taken home warm and then chilled overnight in the fridge, so I'm giving Midnight Sun the benefit of the doubt and blaming my low head yield on the temperature disruption. 

The nose is refreshingly spicy for a tripel -- bitter orange and coriander instead of the sugary, Skittles-like scent many American style tripels exude. I also noticed layers of a bready, pit fruit yeastiness that added to the tripel's complexity. After experiencing the aroma, I wasn't wowed by the taste. The spice and sweet was extremely well balanced throughout, with subtle pear and apple softening the white peppercorn and clove, but maybe that was my issue. It didn't have that characteristic Sweet Tart lingering I was expecting. I can see this being a big plus for some drinkers -- probably thinner than me and with much better teeth -- but when I want a tripel, I kind of want a tripel, know what I mean? I appreciate the lack of sugar in the aroma, as it often masks or overwhelms the senses, but I do love that sting of sour-sweet that sits on your palate as the beer pours back. And I found this guy lacking in that department, not completely delivering the punch to the mouth the nose surely packs.

However, at a reasonable 8.5% ABV, this tripel is drinkable and smooth and should be enjoyed with a close friend alongside a crackling fire, a delicate snowfall and some fresh baked gingerbread cookies. Or you can do what I did and split a bottle with your roommate while watching Bar Rescue and eating chips. Whatever works.

- MH

Oh, and if anyone has leads on some good Arizona or Arkansas craft brews, please toss them my way! If I don't find a bottle soon, I'm going to have to skip over these As and head straight for California... Please, don't make me go to California. Not this soon.

P.S. This photo is what comes up when you do a Google Image search for "Alaska Beer"...

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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