Beer Restuarant Nirvana


Are you the kind of person that rates a restaurant by how it handles its beer? I am, at least I will always make that observation. Some have will have great food but really not take their beer selections or presentation very seriously - having the same six beers week after week and then only a couple that I would find drinkable - sorry Bud (anything).

Then others, even while they may have an excellent beer selection - hard to find beer selections, rotating beer offerings - they only use the American shaker pint glass. Ah, and so close.

Then a high-end restaurant will have an excellent food menu, great beer selection, use of the proper glass to deliver you your favorite Belgian triple, only to charge you $15 for the pleasure.

I now know that a beer-food nirvana is possible, I have been to the mountain top and the view is awesome. Perhaps I've been nieve or maybe its just where I live and the brewpubs close by only offer average beer. There have been some exceptions, like Dogfish Head in Rehobeth, Delaware but mostly only average.

While on a business trip I had the chance to follow up on a recommendation from a friend and fellow beer geek. He lives closer to the Evolution Craft Brewing brewpub in Salisbury, MD and has raved about the food. I knew the beer and loved what they have been doing. So our group was in the area and looking for a place to dine for the evening but I'd already decided where I was going - Evo.

It was all that I'd envisioned it to be. Not only many of the beers I've come to know but at normal prices. Their prized beers were given due respect, served in nice tupip glasses. The food was great as well, organic local ingredients with many good choices. Plus, the waitress could talk beer. Unusual and in-line with everything else about this place.

I too and now an evagelist for the Evo brewpub in Salisbury. If you are ever in the town or even near it, looking for a great place to eat and who has full respect for their beers, make the diversion, it will be worth it.

Stone's Smoked Porter

So how do you decide what beer to bring home with you? The label? The beer style you keep going back to? The brewery? Do you simply trust that a brewery is going to do the right thing with a beer? I do, of course. That was my thinking when grabbing this beer. Chipotle peppers, really! I've tried the peanut butter porter and the Berger Cookie brew - both with some trepidation. Some love these but to me they are trying too hard to get noticed. Its not about the beer. Hey, its me, not you. Ah, but its Stone Brewing. A brewery you just trust not to get too deep into gimmicks.

Labeled as a smoked porter, you have an idea of what you going to taste. With the chipotle peppers as a wild card - well its going to be smokey and chili pepper hot. The question, how hot?

This beer is meant to be enjoyed with food. While there is much written about pairing spicy food not much is be found on pairing spicy hot beers. Wegman's has a good article on pairing beer and food concepts. I think is would be best to contract the spicy character of this beer and complement to smokey flavors. Grilled meats would be perfect - burgers or brats.

Tasting notes:

Appearance - Dark brown not black in color. Good cream-colored head that stays around for awhile.

Aroma - the roasted malt you expect from a porter with some obvious smokey aromas.

Flavor - this is what get you, a nice gentle smoked flavor, a hot pepper grabs the back of your throat but isn't painful. No doubt about it, you'll notice the pepper in the beer. The flavor and affect lingers

Mouthfeel - a medium body with good effervescence.

Aftertast - no doubt, you get the chipotle pepper dominating the pallet and it persists.

Overall - at 5.9% ABV its not quite a session beer but you can drink this awhile. Again you will notice the pepper, a bit more than you might expect.

Recommendation - If you like hot spicy food, this is a beer you'll enjoy with gusto - if not, leave it alone.



Green Flash Hop Head Red Reviewed

The Hop Head Red comes from Green Flash Brewing of San Diego CA. BeerAdvocate lists its style as an amber ale but according to the label and the ABV it reads more like a big American India Pale Ale. The HHR is Amarillo dry hopped and logs in at 7% ABV and 70 IBUs.

Some tasting notes.
Appearance: Copper colored with cream colored head.
Aroma: not a big hoppy nose as you might expect.
Flavor: big spicey hop with dry finish.
Mouthfeel: medium body, good effervescence.
After-taste: Amarillo dry hops sticks with you all the way down and then for some time after that.

Final word, I am not familar with Green Flash Brewing only having a few samples as part of a flight. This beer is a very nice IPA, with good spice and hop flavor. I had it with a spicey spaghetti with red sauce and it complimented the meal very well.

Definately recommended.


Sawtooth Nitro - Pour Hard, Admire & Enjoy

Sawtooth Ale Nitro by Left Hand Brewing is an interesting twist on a traditional beer. Here are four reasons you'll love this beer and one why you may not.

Why You Will Love This Beer

  1. Its simply a great ale. Made with four malts and three varieties of hops - its made great and tastes great.
  2. At 5.3% ABV its a great summer brew - not quite a session beer - you can have more than one and still cut the lawn without hurting yourself. As matter of fact, it will go down so smoothly you will want another. That leads to the third point.
  3. Its so smooth it will slide down without too much thought. Its the nitro!
  4. It is quite a novelty, the nitro used in an ale, that your friends will think you are quite the beer expert. Especially when you explain the nitro thing to them.

Why You Won't Like This Beer

  1. Well there is only one reason you could possibly not like this beer, it is too smooth (see point three above). Nitrogen, rather than CO2 makes a beer very smooth as it slides down the back of your throat. You may know this phenomenon if you've ever had a Guinness Stout. Its the nitrogen that make that beer so smooth, with beautiful flowing creamy head. Its familar in a stout but not an ale.

Two More Points

Before I let you go there are two things you need to know that may change your mind if you try this beer and think its not for you. You do have to pour it hard - meaning get your glass planted and pour the beer right down the middle until it is completely poured into the glass. It is firmed stated on the 6-pack - Step 1 - Pour hard, Step 2 - Admire & enjoy. Its fun to watch the head grow and change as the strata rise and fall. Left Hand Brewing has a nice video demonstrating the technique - its worth giving it a go.

Secondly, be willing to try it again. Many beers I have come to love I didn't like the first time I tried it. Its strange how a beer can grow on you after the second try. That was that way with this beer for me.

About Nitrogen in Beer
Left Hand Brewing has put together a nice write up about using nitrogen in beer. Its worth the time.

Tasting Notes
Sawtooth Nitro is listed at 5.3% ABV and 27 IBUs. It pours a lovely amber to almost copper color. If you pour it according to instructions, at a 90-degree angle down the middle of the glass or as they put it - hard - you will notice a frothy cream colored head explode, build and then quite down. With the nitro, the mouthfeel is unusual but pleasing - not harse at all. You get some hop aroma and flavor but not too heavy on either.

Lagunitas Night Time Ale


A 22 oz offering from the folks in Petaluma CA. Night Time is a dark ale, Beer Advocate calls it an American Black Ale or black IPA, that clocks in at 65 IBUs and 8.2% ABV. It received a 91 pts at BA and rAvg of 4.1 which is quite good.

I found this a good beer that I think just by the name, you have to sip at night. Right? At 8.2% ABV its good to share with a friend who appreciates a good beer. Many big dark, hoppy beers need to be sipped slowly - this one is no different. 

My tasting notes: 

Appearance - Black in color with tan head quick to dissapate.

Smell - hops-forward with hints of coffee. 

Taste - hop bitterness on the front of the tongue that stays with the drink. A bit of molasses. Much like you might describe a hoppy porter.

Mouthfeel - Some effrvesance but a lighter bodied beer than you might think being so dark.

Overall - a nice drink. Another brewery you trust to do the right thing with a beer.  


Maine Weez Poured


Maine Beer Company is a relatively new install to my part of the world - a welcomed one. My first experience with one of their beers was one found while on a trip to Harrisonburg Virginia. I liked that one, so trying their MO was an easy decision. Again, a very good experience. So what about the Weez? The MBC has not disappointed to date, so I wanted to try the next beer I had the ability to try - Weez.

Weez is dedicated to the brewers cat (thus the whiskers on the label) of the same name. I'm not a cat person but I wouldn't let that get in my way of a good beer.

When tasting a beer, consider it in an orderly sequence - appearance, aroma, flavor and then mouthfeel.

I didn't know what to expect with this beer - its an ale - so thinking its an golden to amber in color. Wrong! Its a black IPA. It pours black with a thick light brown head. And the head lingers. The second thing I noticed was the rush of hops that rushes out of the glass.

Okay now you've got my attention. 

So in order, some tasting notes:

appearance - black pour, brown full lingering head.

aroma - full of hops, coffee, chocolate. Nice - gets your attention. 

flavor - citrusy hops, roasted coffee and a bit of chocolate on the finish. 

mouthfeel - medium body, good effervescence but not over powering. After you swallow the mouthful the bitterness of the hops lingers with a malty sweetness.

overall - another great Maine Brewing beer, easy to recommend. This would be great with a burger, ribs on the grill or a slow sip in the evening.  


So, as goes their motto, "Do what's right." I recommend you try this beer and brewery.

Southern Tier Goat Boy

This is Southern Tier's Imperial Weizenboch. A weizenbock is a strong wheat beer originating in Germany.

A bit of background on bock beers is found at Wikipedia.

The style known now as bock was a dark, malty, lightly hopped ale first brewed in the 14th century by German brewers in the Hanseatic town of Einbeck. The style from Einbeck was later adopted by Munich brewers in the 17th century and adapted to the new lager style of brewing. Due to their Bavarian accent, citizens of Munich pronounced "Einbeck" as "ein Bock" ("a billy goat"), and thus the beer became known as "bock". To this day, as a visual pun, a goat often appears on bock labels.

Bock is historically associated with special occasions, often religious festivals such as Christmas, Easter or Lent (the latter as Lentenbock). Bocks have a long history of being brewed and consumed by Bavarian monks as a source of nutrition during times of fasting.

That is why you see a goat associated many time with this beer style, for example the Ayinger doppelbock is often accompanied with a small white goat toy hanging off the bottle.

  • Dark amber color
  • Good persistent tan colored head
  • Good malty sweetness
  • 7.5% ABV
  • 2 varieties of hops
  • 5 types of malts
  • Described as color: deep ruby
  • Bitterness low to moderate
  • Aroma banana sweet malts
  • Flavor caramelized bananas
  • Bready with mild sweetness

How it ranked:
89 pts at Ratebeer

86 pts at Beer Advocate

Personally, I liked this beer and found it very drinkable. It has the characteristics of a good German wheat beer but really, in my opinion the German offerings are the best in the world at this beer style - they should be, they invented it.


Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down IPA

Lagunitas is one those brewers you know that you can trust to produce a great beer. This a beer that has been around for awhile but has that strange name. There must be a story here.

This is what Lagunitas has to say about this beer:

We brewed this especially bitter ale in remembrance of the 2005 St Patrick’s Day Massacre and in commemoration of our 20-day suspension that followed. The ABC conducted an undercover investigation of our brewery, finding us guilty of operating a “Disorderly House.” We did the crime. We did the time. We got the bragging rights.”

Legend goes back to 2005, when Lagunitas use to have a regular Thursday evening beer tasting. Some of the partipants were seen smoking marijuana on the site. This led to a police investigation which eventually resulted in a 20-day suspention.

It pops in at an aggressive 9.75% ABV and 66 IBUs. It has received excellent ratings on the major sites:

91pts at Beer Advocate

98pts at RateBeer

If you want to get more behind the beer and the unusual name, Beer Street Journal offers a more in-depth story behind it.

So here is the bottom line, the beer is great. You'll notice the dark amber color as it pours with a nice tan, persistent head. It has an excellent hop-forward flavor which mellows in the finish. Nice citrus with a blend of caramel.

As with many of these seasonal Lagunitas brews, you need to get while you can because they don't stay on the shelves long and when they are gone - well the opportunity has been lost.


Beer - a four course meal

I recently stopped into one of my favorite pubs (I like pub or tavern better than bar, it has a more classy sound to it) Lures Bar and Grill in Crownsville Maryland, to taste some of their recent additions to their beer menu (that sounds classy too, beer menu). I've come to like a bit of something to eat with my beverage(s) so ordered one of the happy-hour specials.  This places offers a paddle as four, five-ounce pours. So how do you choose your four from a list of 20 or so. Well, first, I'm looking for something that may only be offered on draft and not available at package stores. Then I eliminate those that I've had before. I want something new - usually. Then I started to think, how will this decision accompany my small meal.

So I then came up with a plan. One beer as an adventure, one as an appetizer, one that would pair well with my meal, and one for dessert. Walla, I've turned a small plate of ahi tuna into an experience - well in my mind it was.

For the adventure, I choose the Brooklyn Hammarby Syndrome Ale – made with spruce fronds (I've read that spruce tips were used as a bittering agent before and a as a substitute for hops) and honey adds a tasty citrusy pine and some sweet notes at 8% abv. Working in the forest business for all my professional life this interested me. It was good and as expected - interesting. A good choice.

My appetizer was the Victory Dirtwolf with Citra, Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic hops at 8.7% abv. Victory never disappoints. 

For my main course I had the Flying Dog Horn Dog barley wine with notes of raisins, dried fruit, brown sugar and caramel at 10.2% abv. It did pair well with the ahi tuna and wasabi. Flying Dog is another of those breweries you know you can count on.

For dessert the Boulevard Smokestack Series Chocolate Ale – described as a smooth layers of dark chocolate intertwined with threads of caramel, vanilla, that rounds to a bittersweet finish 9.1% abv. This beer surprised me. I love the Boulevard Smokestack Series so I trusted the brewery. The chocolate beers I'm used to are the heavy stouts or porters - which I love. This was much lighter and as such, very drinkable. I savored the experience and hope to find this beer again some day.


20 Most Influential Beers


If you enjoy intellectual conversions especially when beer is the topic you will have a lot of fun with the banter over what are the 20 most influential beers of all time. The original article was first posted at First We Feast on January 10, 2013. A rebuttal, The REAL 20 most influential beers of all time, was posted the next day on the Zythophile blog.

Really, which real beer drinker wouldn't like to add at least one name to that list. While the post is somewhat dated, a year before this post, the banter is exciting and the replies after the article is at least as interesting. So, if you are at all interested in the history of beers and assigning the label of one of the most influential beers of all time to any of these, you will enjoy the time spent reading these two articles.


Bourbon County Stout in a Paper Cup


Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. A beer that has created a lot of beer buzz, no pun intended. Meaning, this is a much sought-after beer and that of those pursue great beer will seek out. Its number 12 on BeerAdvocates Top-250 list. Even with all the "buzz" I had a four-pack firmly in my grasp but couldn't pull the trigger on a $30 purcase with Christmas looming. Regrets? Perhaps, but been able to put that behind me.

So I found a single at a newly discovered and recommended shop. I'd been waiting for just the right moment, the perfect occasion, the deserving person to open this beer. We've had a weekend planned to explore the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia with another couple we've known and thoroughly enjoyed their company.

The February day was cold, windy and raining - and we enjoyed every moment - touring the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, watching bald eagles, sika and white-tail deer. Breakfast was an experience at Cindy's near Cambridge, MD, a little restaurant just tucked away off the highway and time - still a favorite to local eastern shore hunters and families. Lunch was another hideaway at Mallards at the Wharf in Onancock, VA with incredible waterfront views, excellent seafood, and even some surprize Alesmith ale.

We were preparing for dinner at Bill's in Chincoteague VA and while waiting for the ladies to get ready was the perfect time to open the prized beer.

Now this was a wonderful, little hotel where we were staying for the evening. I looked around for glasses because a beer and moment deserved to be poured into a glass. None was to be found - except paper cups. Paper cups, but the beer and the moment was waiting. So paper it was.

From the moment I pried off the cap I could smell the rich aroma of the bourbon that I've come to love and expect from these beers. I poured slowly, savoring the momoment.

With many highly anticipated moments such as Christmas morning the expectation is exciting and the experience comes and goes quickly. I have learned to slow down, pause, contemplate, breath, enjoy. I had one-half a beer in my cup. I took in the aroma, holding it in. Sipped the dark, thick liquid. Meditated on the flavors swirling across my tongue.

The moment, the beer came and went. But I still have the memories. Perfect!

Plan Your Meal

I've been reading a lot about how to pair beer with meals. And it seems to me that if you have a beer with every course that could be three or four beers. Perhaps, more than you would normally have during the course of an evening and still maintain a decent conversation with friends and then drive home without an incident.

And so I thought it would be great if a restaurant would offer smart portions of a variety of beers so that you could have one with each course. And then it dawned on me - they do - they call them samplers, flights or paddles.

So think carefully about what you will be eating for the evening. What will taste best with a spinach and arugula salad with goat cheese. Ah, perhaps the hefe-weizen. On to the main course. I feel like the chicken with wild mushrooms in a wine sauce. A strong ale with some bitterness, a spicey saison or the smoked porter. And for dessert, the flourless chocolate cake - the chocolate stout will go just fine.

So the complete meal is planned. And the sound of the smoked porter sounds so good I think I will have two. Now bring on the first course.

Beer, No-Part-Time-Passion

In the beginning there was beer - and it was good. 

Okay, it was sometime after that but it was along time ago and it was good. It had to be because they kept on making it. And making it better ever since. By some accounts it may have even been the purpose of civilization itself - our ansestors needing to stay in one place long enough to grow the ingredients for this wonderful, live-sustaining drink.

Sometime after that, just about six years ago I took on part-time work at a soon-to-open wine store. At first this action was simply to bring in some extra money to keep up with tuition bills. I knew I was going to learn a lot about wine but I had no idea this work would change me so profoundly. I was paired with some very smart people who knew a lot about wine - fine wine. This is a very nice store, meant to cater to a more sophisticated clientele.  And beer was secondary or perhaps even less. That was then.

Something has happened over these past six years.  For one, while the wine store has been doing well, the beer industry has been extremely well and has changed in some dramtic ways (up from a low of 89 breweries in late 1970s to 2,538 as of June 2013, source Brewers Association) . More importanly, I've changed. I've learned a great deal about a great many things in the wine/beer business - how to appreciate very nice wines, the workings of a retail business, working with a variety of compatriots and making many new friends/customers. And I've learned far more about emerging beer.  

When I was a child, I drank as a child. In beer drinking terms this was the late 1970s and college. Even then I gravitated toward the better beer of those days - Michelob or Heineken. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me - it did take me some time to grow up. What started as part-time work has turned into a passion for good beer that has been fueled by a bunch of crazy American brewers that must simply be having the time of their lives.  

Yes, I know there is a business to run, but the beers being offered today are full of variety, imagination and just good spunk. We've witnessed a transformation before our very eyes in the depth and breath of beers being offered. Every week and sometimes daily a great new beer is introduced into the world and to wide awake and waiting beer drinkers. Its dizzying to try to keep up with it but the faster it moves, the faster I want to be so I can run along side of it.   

I'm not alone. I am continually meeting others who want to trade a beer or a beer story. I have found beer is like love - the more you give away, the more you get back.

I like getting deeper into beer - it is a drink and it is a study. This no-part-time-passion has led me to document my thoughts, education, and passion through a beer blog that I've been writing for about a year. I've grown to where I was able to pass the Cicerone Beer Server exam and have taked the Certified Cicerone exam. And in the near future I want to start a traveling beer school, teaching and sharing the passion about the history, people, tastes and complexities of this thing that is called beer. Who knows where this may go but I plan on enjoying the ride.

So raise your glass with me to the Journey, the Knowledge, to Beer. 




Beer Seasons

Seasonals are a wonder to experience. It keeps life interesting that there are always a group of beers just waiting to be released. I keep telling any one that will listen, and some that don't, that this is a great time in history to be a beer drinker.

Case in point, bourbon barrel beers. Stouts, porters, dark ales, these are simply great sipping beers. The weather may keep us inside more than we would like, the sunshine is shorter, snow and ice - but the beer offerings are oh so nice.

This evening I've been gently tasting the latest edition of Migration Series by Evolution Craft Brewing - Bourbon Barrel Dark Ale. Straight forward whiskey nose and a flavor well balanced. Vanilla with a welcomed bit of alcohol bite (10.5% ABV). If I only had a fireplace this would be the perfect setting.

The thing is, my favorite store got four excellent barrel-brews in on a single day. I need more drinkable hours in the day.

So the winter beers are waning from the shelves. Pumpkin and Märzens have come and gone. But the Spring hops will be showing up soon. As I said, in the beer world there is always another season to look forward to.


Max's Taphouse


I have read Short Course in Beer: An Introduction to Tasting and Talking about the World's Most Civilized Beverage more than once and a chapter I have studied is where the author lists some on the best beer places in the USA. Of course there is Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia and it also mentioned Max's Taphouse in Baltimore. It has been on the road trip short list ever since. I tried to direct a night out with some other couples in that direction but with no success. So over the Christmas holiday my wife and I had some time and would be near Baltimore so the opportunity was presented.


It was all in was reported to be. The beer menu was excellent with many (too many for the limited time available) beers I wanted to experience. Ah, what's a beer geek to do? And I had to get some work done that afternoon so none of the big barley wines or bourbon barrel stouts. I decided on an interesting drink rather than an intentional one. Intentional in that I have been purposefully seeking out beer styles that I have yet to try. Max's had a flounders red ale that I have been seeking out but today was not the day. So I settled on a normal ABV wild ale from England - Bliss from Wild Ales. It was excellent, and went very well with the bison sliders that I had ordered for my lunch.

So my first journey to Max's was a short one and quite memorable. But like MacArther, I shall return.

Cicerone Me

Last Monday the day finally arrived that I have been focusing on for months, the Certified Cicerone exam in Washington DC. For those that don't know, a cicerone is to beer as a sommelier is to wine.

So the exam, as expected and rumored, was very difficult. There is no definitive study materials, only a syllabus with an extensive list of suggested readings. I had hoped that I could read as much of the material as possibly within the time before the exam and have a favorable result.

Then there is the off-flavor tasting exam which means taste this beer and state what is wrong and why. Not an easy task.

Essentially, you need to be expert in brewing, serving, pairing with food and drinking beer. Not only reading but experiencing the life of beer. It takes 4-6 weeks to get your results. Stay tuned.


Brew News

Source: Brewers Association

Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2012 was 15% by volume and 17% by dollars compared to growth in 2011 of 13% by volume and 15% by dollars.

2,403 total breweries operated for some or all of 2012, the highest total since the 1880s.

2,347 craft breweries operated for some or all of 2012, comprised of 1,132 brewpubs, 1,118 microbreweries and 97 regional craft breweries.

As of March 18, 2013, the Brewers Association is aware of 409 brewery openings in 2012 (310 microbreweries and 99 brewpubs) and 43 brewery closings (18 microbreweries and 25 brewpubs).