craft breweries

Get me a Porter — Stat!

Posted on Updated on

Somebody call me a porter.

OK, you’re a porter.

No, I mean get on the phone and order the best-tasting porter in the world. I’ll give you a tip on how to get started … dial 5 1 2.

Not only is 512 the area code for Austin, Texas, but it happens to be the name of (512) Brewing Company, crafters of the greatest porter ever made.

Of course, they have a huge advantage over other porter-makers out there. Their not-so-secret ingredient, the pecan, was falling off the tree right outside the brewery’s front door. So they added it to the mix, and voila, the (512) Pecan Porter was born.

Pecan trees are plentiful in Texas. It is the state tree, after all. But what the brewers at (512) do with it is special. And it’s not just pecan pie in a glass, though that sounds pretty darn good.

The Pecan Porter from (512) is a perfect blend of sweet pecans, dry malts, and just enough hops to balance it all out. The beer definitely ranks toward the sweeter side of the beer spectrum, but it isn’t what I would call a desert beer like the Southern Tier Crème Brule. No, it’s more for enjoying before, during, and after the meal.

In fact, everything from (512) Brewing Co. is delicious any time of day. Two weekends ago, we visited the brewery for a tour that began at 11 a.m. – the perfect time of day to start enjoying their porter, IPA, alt, and pale ale, which happened to be the four on tap during our visit.

Hugh trys to get that firkin barrel open.
Hugh works hard to get the firkin barrel open.

Check that, there was also a nitro Pecan Porter on tap, which tasted almost like the regular version, but with Champaign bubbles added. And at the end of the tour, or host Hugh pounded a tap into a firkin barrel of the porter, which had a more earthy taste than the standard version, most likely because of its fermentation process.

As many of you know, I’m a fan of the porter. My standard, go-to beer is the extremely partakable Breckinridge Vanilla Porter, which can usually be found in my fridge. Others that I really enjoy include the Anchor Porter, the Sweet Baby Jesus chocolate peanut butter imperial porter from DuClaw Brewing Company, and the Shade Grown Coffee Porter by Real Ale Brewing Company. The latter was often on tap at our favorite pub in Dallas, Trinity Hall. And when the bartenders saw me walk in the door, they immediately started pouring one for me. But no one shouted “Norm!”

One of my favorite porters from the past was the Honey Porter that Sam Adams used to make about 20 years ago, and then stopped for some reason. Or at least I can’t find it anywhere. So when I visited the brewery in 2005, I filled out 14 comment cards asking what happened to the honey porter. I guess I should have filled out a few more.

Another one I can’t seem to get often enough is the Elementary porter from Three Brothers Brewing Company. That beer is so good, I filled a growler of it last year and drove it from Virginia to Texas and gave it to my Dad as a Christmas present. Upon tasting it, he promptly forced everyone in the room to have some, including my then 17-year-old nephew. Way to go, Dad.

If you ever find yourself in Austin, be sure to make a trip to (512) Brewing Company for the tasting tour. Perhaps the best part about the entire tour is the approach the employees at (512) have toward everything – drink more beer. Oh, and try the Pecan Porter … it’s the best porter in the world.

— Eric Van Steenburg

The Brewery Crawl of Good Intentions

Posted on Updated on

Deacon Don once said to me, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I know he wasn’t the first person to say that, but it was the first time I’d heard it. And, of course, it came immediately after I apologized to him for failing to do something I’d promised. Nice guy, that Deacon Don.

Well, the brewery crawl in Washington, D. C. last Saturday was also paved with good intentions. Instead of making it to five breweries that afternoon we made it to … one. Well, one and a half. And we finished the day at a pub that had about 150 craft beers on tap and another 300 in bottles. So that counts, right?

At least the extremely unofficial brewery crawl started the way it was planned – with a trip on the train to Bluejacket brewery in Southeast D.C. near the once again prematurely quite Nationals Park. And if there was one place to go (no, not National Park) it was Bluejacket.

Ladies and gentlemen, here's Ryan, our Bluejacket brewery tour guru and co-owner of the space for the next 30 years.
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Ryan, our Bluejacket brewery guru.

First of all, the brewery had 20-something of its own beers on tap. Now, often a brewery that has a high quantity in variety is trying to make up for a low quality of the beer. To demonstrate how it works the other way, consider Franconia Brewing Co. in McKinney, Texas. It has only has three beers on its rotation – a lager, a dunkel and a hefeweizen. But if you want the best true Bavarian-style beer west of Texarkana, then Franconia is your brewery.

But Bluejacket didn’t follow the typical quality-quantity mold. Of the beers our little group of three then six beer pros sampled that afternoon, none were poorly made. Oh sure, there were some that might not have been in our flavor palate such as the sour beer for me or the rum-aged something for Matt. But even those we could tell were like every piece of cooked meat in Oklahoma – well done.

We arrived right after the 2 p.m. Tasting Tour had begun, so we had no choice but to sign up for the 3 p.m. Tour, find a seat at the bar, and prepare for the next tour by enjoying some of the brewery’s finest offerings.

For me, it was the beer called Mexican Radio – a superb tasting stout that Bluejacket describes as spiced and sweet. I could definitely taste the sweet milk chocolate and a hint of vanilla in this well-balanced imperial stout. I did not taste the Ancho chilies that the descriptor claimed it has, which was fine by me. I’ve never cared for smoked or spicy beer.

My IPA-chugging companion chose to begin with the Spectre – an American IPA that had just a hint of citrus and white wine to counterbalance the relatively mild hoppyness (46.5 IBUs) of its IPA foundation. While my friend usually prefers her hoppyness about twice that much, she was highly complementary of the Spectre.

The large format Darling Buds Mosaic -- a wet-hop pale ale.
The large format Darling Buds Mosaic — a wet hop pale ale.

By the time 3 p.m. rolled around, we were joined by friend Matt and three others on the Tasting Tour. Our host, tour guide, and all-around good guy, Ryan, provided the perfect combination of beer knowledge, good humor, and plenty of tastes of their beer. In total, we got to try five different concoctions from the brewery – an IPA, a Porter, a Sour, a Lager and a rum-aged Brown Ale (at least, that’s what I think it was, but after five generous tastes, who can really tell … but I know it had rum).

As previously mentioned, each beer was extremely well made. The lager was one of the best I’ve had, with a full, rounded mouth feel that reminded me of the excellent Vienna Lager from Community Beer Co. in Dallas. The porter was so good, every single person on the tour liked it – even the IPA chuckers in the crowd. The sour was a huge hit with everyone in our group who preferred that style of beer – which was one person.

An hour later, we’d seen every fermenter, cask, mash tun, barley bag, yeast lab, storage locker, and refrigerated room of this multi-level warehouse-turned-brewery. We really couldn’t have asked for any more. But Ryan was kind enough to raise the bar (get it?), and handed us a large format bottle of their Darling Buds Mosaic – a wet hop pale ale. And if you want to know what “wet hop” means, just ask. I know because I’ve been on the Bluejacket Tasting Tour.

— Eric Van Steenburg

The Extremely Unofficial D.C. Brewery Crawl

Posted on Updated on

About once or twice a year, my IPA-swilling friend and I have been known to create our own pub crawls. Typically we use public transportation to hit four to five different pubs, have a taste or two of the beers they have on tap that the other places don’t, then finish off the day with dinner out – a burger for me, of course. This coming weekend we’re taking it one step further.

Announcing the entirely and extremely unofficial D.C. brewery crawl.Logo - DC Craft Scenen

Based on my early calculations, forecasting, estimating, reviewing, scheduling and some well thought out guesswork, the plan for this coming Saturday afternoon is the following:

First, take the Metro from our Dupont Circle area lodging to Bluejacket brewery located in southeast Washington between the Navy Yard and the now empty until next baseball season Nationals Park. Bluejacket has free tours at the bottom of the hour starting at 10:30 a.m. But our goal is to get in on the 2 p.m. tasting tour (there is a $29 fee per person) that has a behind-the-scenes view of the brewery and five tasting pours, including one from a barrel. How could we pass up that?

Next it’s back on the Metro to head north toward 3 Stars Brewing Co., which is just a few blocks from our train stop. I’ve got my eyes on three of their brews – the Southern Belle brown ale, the Winter Madness winter warmer, and the Pandemic Porter, an American Imperial porter. I’m pretty confident that in the future the Pandemic Porter will be the mandatory preventative to curb the spread of Ebola.

From there we walk a little over a mile to Chocolate City Beer, where I will tell them the importance of updating one’s website. While the brewers and/or webmaster at Chocolate City are saying on their site that they’re ready for spring, the rest of us are pulling out our long-johns because we know cooler Fall and Winter is what’s up next. And because the website needs a refresh, here’s hoping the beer offering this weekend has also been updated. Check back next week and I’ll let you know.

Another 30 minute walk should land us at Atlas Brew Works, where I will congratulate them on having a great social media presence, but explain the importance of having at list of all the beers they make on their website. So what we’ll be tasting is a mystery. However, the brewery is open until 8 p.m., so if we start running behind, we’ll make this our last stop and simply switch the order with …

DC Brau Brewing Company. The reality is the last three are all within about a mile and a half of each other — walkable for us, or an easy cab ride if necessary. I am sure my hoppy half’s eyes will light up when she sees On the Wings of Armageddon, an Imperial IPA that the brewers claim has an “intense hop character.” For me, the Penn Quarter Porter looks to be up my alley, though I’m willing to take a chance on the mystery beer that is the current “on-tap draft-only release.” And speaking of alley, DC Brau makes a point of mention on its website that the brewery is it located behind the post office and “you will need to go down the alley and turn right.” Roger.

After that, it’s a manageable walk and then another train ride back to our Dupont Circle headquarters for either dinner or a place to quietly pass out.

So if you’d like to join us on our pilgrimage this Saturday, drop me a line and we’ll make it an “all-play.”

— Eric Van Steenburg

Beer Beer Everywhere, And Not a Drop to Drink

Posted on Updated on

The challenge: Cover a beer festival for your beer blog without drinking any beer. Wasn’t that one of the Labors of Hercules?

If not, it could have been. For I have sniffed the hop … seen the foam … stared down the barrel of the beer … and emerged sober. Thank you.

More than 30 breweries were on hand at the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival, the first time it has been staged in both the fall and the spring.
More than 30 breweries were on hand at the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival, the first time it has been staged in the fall.

Unfortunately, an old back injury has curtailed my beer drinking for the moment. Oh, codeine, thou art a heartless bitch. Unless, of course, you’re my brother, who strongly recommends consuming alcohol while on codeine for that “extra kick.” To each his own, I guess.

For me, it was better safe than sorry. So off to the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival I went last Saturday, knowing there would be no tasting in my future. Still, I had my designated drinker alongside, and she’s always game for trying a pint or three.

No pints at this Festival, though. Instead it was miniature plastic beer mugs that the volunteers were more than hoppy to fill to the top. That easily made up for the fact that the $35 entry ticket only got you 12 tastes. But each tiny mug looked to be about 4 ounces. So that meant three pints of delicious, high ABV, craft beer for each Fest-goer.

Based on the crowd’s actions by the end of the festival, it seems a few people might have found a way to extend their 12 tastes a little longer. And that’s one of the benefits of attending a beer festival and not drinking any beer – crowd watching.

In fact, enjoying the antics of the attendees was as much fun as tasting all the delicious beer. I lie. But it was still fun. And I got to mix and mingle with lots of cool people.

Talking Heads tribute band Start Making Sense had the crowd rocking by the festival's end. Or maybe it was just the beer.
Talking Heads tribute band Start Making Sense had the crowd rocking by the festival’s end. Or maybe it was just the beer.

There were former students Allyson and Katie. There were current students Alexa and Nikki. There were colleagues (all from Management, hmm) Brad, Bill and Eric in attendance, the latter two clearly having a good time throwing French fries at unsuspecting festvalees despite their lack of aim. And there were cool bands.

As I predicted, Start Making Sense, the Talking Heads tribute band, stole the show. Not only did they sound close to perfect, the lead singer even worked hard mimicking David Byrne. The crowd loved it.

Of course, by that time, the festival was winding down and everyone had had their fill, and then some. My IPA-swilling friend, for example, got to taste her 12 samples, and made a pretty good dent in my pristine quota. And it was obvious D.J. and Tyler had found a way to flex their muscle to get a few extras here and there, and there, and there, and there.

As for me, I had a blast. And that’s what makes the burgeoning U.S. craft beer scene so freakin’ great. You don’t even have to be a craft beer drinker to experience the joy of what it means to finally have great beer in this country. And that joy is contagious.

Fortunately, the reason of my codeine dependence is not. So in a few weeks, I’ll be squeaky clean and ready to jump back on the wagon, uh, off the wagon … um, DRINK BEER.

Cheers!

– Eric Van Steenburg

Countdown to Rocktown

Posted on Updated on

We are officially less than 48 hours away from the first ever Fall version of the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival, happening this Saturday, Sept. 20 in Harrisonburg, Va. But if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, you’d better hurry because sales end at 11:30 p.m. on Friday.

Typically a Spring event, this year organizers decided to put on a Fall edition of the Beer & Music Festival. And who can blame them? With more than 3,000 craft beer fans descending on downtown Harrisonburg each year, it wasn’t really a question of whether there should be a second one each year, but when it would finally happen.

Well, this is the year. Already, 32 breweries have registered to share their crafty concoctions with grateful attendees. You’ll be able to sample beers from Three Notch’d to Three Brothers, from Bold Rock to Stone Brewing, and from Blue Mountain to Starr Hill to Anderson Valley.

Tickets are $35.84 when you add in the service fee. Designated drivers and those underage can get in for $23.54.

In addition to the great beer, you can enjoy music from Nikki Lane and Carl Anderson. Personally, I’ll be waiting for the Talking Heads tribute band “Stop Making Sense” to take the stage.

Bring a lawn chair, some pretzels to nibble on, and a good attitude. If the lines start to get long, you’ll likely need all three.

A big thanks to Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and Three Brothers Brewing for sponsoring the event.

— Eric Van Steenburg

hdr-logo-02

threebrothers

Chucking IPAs

Posted on Updated on

With apologies to all the woodchucks who regularly read Beer-and-Burgers.com, today’s question is:

How many IPAs does an IPA drinker drink

if an IPA drinker dare drink IPAs?

And the answer appears to be 24, because that how many IPAs were served up at the Virginia IPA Challenge last Saturday at Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, Va.

It was originally going to be 28 IPAs, but apparently IPA drinkers can’t chuck that many. Besides, if my designated drinker is any evidence, 24 IPAs was enough to taste.

What a rating sheet looks like after tasting 24 IPAs.
What a rating sheet looks like after tasting 24 IPAs.

The way Cap Ale had the contest orchestrated was cool. Each IPA chucker who wanted to get in on the tasting paid $10 for a card that had numbers 1-24 in a column on the left side. Next to each number was a line for drinkers to write any comments they wanted to make about each different beer, and presumably to help them remember what they’d tasted as the day wore on. To the right of each line was a place to rate the beer from 1-5 stars. And finally, at the far right was a box to mark off so each drinker, and more importantly our heroic bartenders, could keep track of which IPAs each person had already tried.

Participants got to sample four beers every time they went to the bar, which meant six trips to the bar. Each small taste – and thankfully that’s all they were, small tastes – was poured in a small plastic cup with a number on the front. So no one knew which brewer had entered which beer. Even representatives from the breweries in attendance didn’t know which numbers were theirs.

As I mentioned, I had a designated drinker with me. That’s because, as many of you know, I prefer the more malty side of the beer spectrum. Or, as my IPA swilling friend told someone after trip number five to the bar, “he perfers ports and stouters.” Uh, that would be stouts and porters.

IPA drinking pros Alex and Mike show the amateurs how to do it.
IPA drinking pros Alex and Mike show the amateurs how to do it.

More and more people showed up as the day went along. The lines got long, but seemed to move at a reasonable clip – at least from my vantage point at a table in the back where I sipped on an Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery, and later a Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout. And when the lines got really long, people didn’t complain too much because by then they’d already made 3-4 trips to the bar. There’s nothing like downing two dozen IPAs to make people hoppy.

Oh, and after tasting 24 IPAs, each chucker placed their vote for best Virginia IPA and then got a full pint of their favorite. Not a bad dessert.

Once the first keg was kicked, the tasting stopped and the bartenders (did I mention they were heroic), tallied up the votes. The winners were announced Monday and are:

I can’t contributed to the discussion on differences and qualities of the IPAs since I was enjoying my ports and stouters, but my designated drinker wrote down that Isley’s beer was “coffee,” that Three Brothers’ was “creamy” and the Three Notch’d was “yum.” So there’s the expert’s opinion.

Regardless of your beer style preference, the Virginia IPA Challenge was a blast. Shout out to D.J. at Cap Ale House for picking the excellent beers, and his fellow bartenders upstairs for working hard to make the lines move fast and keeping everyone hoppy. And a special shout out to Denise who worked the downstairs bar by herself early in the day as the IPA crowd was starting to swell, and for keeping everybody happy.

Of course, now I’m expecting a Winter and Christmas Virginia beer challenge in December. How’s that sound, D.J.?

— Eric Van Steenburg

Calling All Hop-Heads to the IPA Challenge

Posted on Updated on

All you hoppy beer lovers out there — the ones I lovingly refer to as grass-drinkers — be aware that Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, Va., is hosting its third annual Virginia IPA Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 6 starting at noon. This event allows the everyday craft beer lover to weigh in with their opinion on Virginia IPAs.

The cost to participate is just $10, and your entry fee allows you to sample IPAs from 28 different craft breweries, or until the keg is kicked, and then get a final pint full of your favorite when you’re done. That should do ya’.

The competition ends when that first keg is empty, so be there early enough to get a taste of all the breweries in the event. Plus you can hob-knob with the brewers as they hover over their beers and try to earn your vote — kind of like a politician but with an IBU kick.

So for those of you who like your beer well-hopped and well-made, get over to Cap Ale House this Saturday for the IPA Challenge.

— Eric Van Steenburg