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Now for the Airing of Grievances

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Festivus may have come and gone, but I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re gonna hear about it!

Well,  not all of you. Just those who have bastardized my once craft beer sanctuary that I lovingly refer to as Winter Beer Season. So as we sit here exactly halfway through winter, it’s time to reflect on what is taking place.

See, when the weather gets colder, my craft beer heart starts to go pitter-patter. That’s because not only are we leaving the scorching heat of summer behind, but I know the sweet taste of malty adult beverages is in the near future.

Beers served during the cooler months – think Marzens, Oktoberfests, Pumpkin Ales, Dunkels, Winter and Christmas Ales – all have a slightly sweeter character than the warm weather beers because of extra malt. And what’s even better is that these beers are often lower in alcohol, allowing you to enjoy an extra one here and there.

anchor-christmas-2016
We can count on Anchor to provide a new Winter Ale every year.

What makes these particular styles feel more malty, as opposed to their hoppy cousins like the Pale Ale and the ubiquitous IPA?

Mostly because the grains are roasted longer, leading to their darker coloring. But this also makes it harder for the yeast to turn the malt (e.g. roasted barley) into alcohol. So the unfermented material stays in the beer, giving it a thick, rich feel in your mouth as you imbibe. And because the yeast can’t process as much, you end up with lower alcohol content.

About 15-20 years ago, things changed. I believe it started with Sierra Nevada and its 65-IBU offering Celebration Ale. According to the brewery, it is an American-style IPA and “one of the few hop-forward holiday beers.” Well, it used to be.

New Belgium followed suit with its 2 Below Ale that has, they say, a deliberate “hoppy palate.” Soon other breweries were soon copying these big brothers of microbreweries.

For some reason – actually, I think I know the reason – brewers of craft beer have started infusing their Winter and Christmas beers with more and more hops. Rather than the thicker mouthfeel of malty sweetness, the Winter Beer Season is inundated with an unwelcomed hoppy takeover.

Now it seems there are more uber-hopped beers at Wintertime than malty concoctions. They’re everywhere. Here are just a few examples:

 

Then, I saw the one that made my once pitter-pattering heart lock up faster than my wife’s transmission when she fails to change the oil after nine years. This “style” of the beer is enough to ring the bell of death for the hope that Winter will ever be malty again. I give you … the Winter IPA.

winter-ipa
Excuse me while I hurl.

Barf!

Is that even possible?

Yes, because that’s what Highlander did when it produced the Frozen Hill Winter IPA with, according to its website, has “loads of piney North West hops.” The brewers go on to proclaim that the “hoppy nature of this beer will make it a holiday favorite.” Well, at least they didn’t call it a “traditional” favorite, because there’s nothing traditional about an IPA in the Winter.

Where are the Winter Warmers, the Christmas Ales, the Jubelales, and the Hanukkah Porters? Oh sure, you can still find a few here and there. But the majority of beers this Winter season are hopped up more than a pro wrestler on steroids.

Given that the IPA craze has taken over, it’s doubtful that Winter will ever be the malty world of joy that I once loved. If it does, it might take a Festivus miracle.

Winter Beer Season.

R.I.P.

— Eric Van Steenburg

Feeling a Little Boxed In

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Contrary to urban legends, boxed in is neither a hotel nor a mortuary. It is, however, how things have been in the beer ‘n’ burger world the past few months. At least, that’s my excuse for not posting a new entry since March, and I’m sticking to it.

Ever have that "boxed-in" feeling? I know what you mean.
Ever have that “boxed-in” feeling? I know what you mean.

Still, I was surrounded by boxes last weekend, so perhaps that’s the reason for the boxed-in feeling. Fortunately the movers came on Monday and took away all the boxes, and the couch, and chairs, and beds, and tables … you get the picture.

Yes, I’m hooking up the team to the covered wagon and moving the Beer-and-Burgers.com headquarters from one mountain range to another. Leaving the Appalachians and moving into the Rockies. Goodbye Virginia, hello Montana.

But this time I promise my travels will not interfere with my duties as the official taster of the Beer-and-Burgers.com conglomerate. In fact, here’s a taste of what I’ll be posting in the coming months:

  • Day-by-day journal entires of the stops along our route from Harrisonburg to Bozeman, and the beers and burgers found within. Tonight — Lexington, Kentucky is about to be in the spotlight. We’ll see if it lives up to its college town rep.
  • Reflections of my favorite beer and burger experiences during the two years that my IPA swilling friend and I resided in Virginia. There were plenty. I promise to trim down the list to a baker’s dozen. But you can bet the IPA Challenge at Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, the Shocker burger at Jack Brown’s, and the first time I had the Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter from what is now known as Brothers Craft Brewing will be on the list.
  • In-depth analysis of the beer scene in our new home. I’ll tackle Bozeman first, where there are four craft breweries already in place and a rumored two more on the way. Then I’ll take on the entire state of Montana using the Montana Brewery Passport. Some people call it “Beer Country.” I’ll attempt to verify that claim.
  • The addition of a beer primer page that could act as a starting point should a craft beer novice stumble upon the blog, or a go-to page for the craft beer drinker looking to expand their range.
  • An outside expert has been hired to field thousands of questions that are submitted daily to the Beer-and-Burgers.com website. This will be accomplished by adding a new page that will answer all the questions we get about beer (approximately 28.5 percent of total questions), the burger questions (19.3 percent), and the remaining 52.2 percent that are about mostly movies, music, and sex.
  • The most important post, perhaps, and certainly the most ambitious will be my take on the recent lawsuits about trademark infringement being brought against craft breweries. I’m expecting this one to go viral. So be ready.

So there’s your taste of what’s to come. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get on the road. My IPA chugging traveling companion is staring at me, and I can’t tell if she’s ready to go or wants a beer. Probably both.

— Eric Van Steenburg

Which way do you want to go?

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We all make decisions.

Some are crucial, like … what job to take … where to live … who to marry … what to name your first child (tip #1: NOT Adolf) … and so on.

Others do not seem nearly as important, such as … what shirt to wear … where to eat dinner … how to style your hair … etc.

I put what beers to drink and what burgers to eat in the first category. They are crucial decisions that have a significant impact on your life in both the short- and long-term. At least they do for me.

Which way do you want to go?
Which way do you want to go?

See, I’m a beer snob … and a burger snob. I just wish I had the bank account to support my level of snobbery. But if you want to learn about great beers, great burgers, and great places to find both … then you should enjoy my blog.

I’m a former professional journalist, so I can usually write a little (and without too many spelling errors). And I live in Harrisonburg, Virginia — recently dubbed the Best Beer Town in the Blue Ridge Mountains by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, and a place that I swear has more burger restaurants per capita than any place I’ve ever lived (and I’m an Army brat, so that’s more than a few places).

However, my posts won’t be limited to beer and burgers in Harrisonburg. I travel often, and when I do, I drink beer and eat burgers. I’ll be supplying insights, recommendations, reviews, and occasional meanderings from all over. In other words, if there’s a place that has great beer, great burgers, or both, I’ll probably find my way there sooner or later.

So enjoy this blog. And as you do, feel free to pop open a good beer and chow down on a good burger. Because I will be. And besides, beer and burgers are two of the three major food groups.

— Eric Van Steenburg