Sunday, October 31, 2010

CBC Great Pumpkin Festival 2010

Cambridge Brewing Company had one serious Halloween party last night! 30 pumpkin beers from CBC and other guest brewers were on tap, along with a menu full of creative dishes using pumpkin in some fashion. It didn't end there either, the whole restaurant and courtyard were decorated, many came decked out in costume, and at 10 pm they tapped a giant pumpkin full of beer! There was a $10 cover, it cost $1.25 for most samples, and we had to wait 1 1/2 hours in line to get in, but it was well worth it. A highly recommended event for next year -- just come early.

Allagash Ghouleschip, Score: 7
probably had the biggest buzz going.

American Flatbread Cornucopia, Score: 5
overly spiced and muddled.

Cape Ann Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout, Score: 7
a more alcoholic version of one of my favorite beers.

CBC Black Magic (Cask), Score: 9
espresso and chipotle, two of my favorite flavors in beer!

CBC Ich Bin Ein Kurbisweisse, Score: 10
simply fantastic. one of my favorite styles and the just nailed the pumpkin syrup you add in. sour and sweet -- kelly and i could drink this by the pitcher full.

CBC Punjabi Pumpkin, Score: 6
curry used barely registers... probably a good thing.

CBC The Great Pumpkin Ale, Score: 6
seemed like CBC's version of pumpkin Bud Light.

CBC The Great Pumpkin (Giant Pumpkin), Score: 4
flat and real earthiness to it. nice to see i wasn't the only one that struggled with the whole pumpkin keg concept. very fun though.

CBC The O.P.P., Score: 6
a sour porter with a little spice. odd but not bad.

CBC The Pumpeter!, Score: 7
a black and tan with their porter and great pumpkin. pretty good.

Elysian Hansel & Gretel, Score: 6
certainly do taste the ginger.

Iron Hill Pumktoberfest, Score: 6
one of the most over-the-top spiced beers of the night.

Jolly Pumpkin La Parcella, Score: 6
a sour that didn't quite mesh.

Rock Art Imperial Spruce Pumpkin Stout, Score: 7
a very textured imperial stout. good.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, Score: 7
solid, if a little unexciting.

The Alchemist Uncle Daddy, Score: 9
this was very good. a saison without spices, and none were needed.

Wormtown Pumpkin Ale, Score: 7
my first from this worcester brewer. light and sessionable.

Friday, October 29, 2010

ProPho: The best of Oktoberfest beer

Falling for an old style
By JOSH SMITH October 13, 2010

The Oktoberfest style of beer actually predates the first Oktoberfest celebration of 200 years ago. The other name by which this ancient style is known gives us a hint of its true roots: Märzen.

In the days before refrigeration, it was nearly impossible to brew quality beer during the hot summer months. Instead, Germans brewed beer for the summer in March (or Märzen) and then stored the beer in cellars and caves filled with ice. The last of these batches were typically consumed in October, in time for the barrels to be reused for fall brewing. Eventually, inclusion of the style in Oktoberfest festivities became a natural fit.

The characteristics of the Oktoberfest/Märzen style were also shaped by history. Beers with higher alcohol levels preserve better and, as a result, Oktoberfest beers typically register a healthy 5-7% alcohol by volume. While a decent amount of hops are also used to help preserve the beer, after aging for three or four months the beer will mellow to have a decidedly malty tilt.

For the best representatives of the style we'll start, of course, in Germany, with a brewery that traces its roots back to Munich in 1417. HACKER-PSCHORR'S ORIGINAL OKTOBERFEST is deep red in color with a husky malt aroma that is distinctly German. The flavor is of nutty and caramel malts, but has a light, silky mouthfeel that allows one to drink another. Another personal flavor is PAULANER'S OKTOBERFEST- MÄRZEN. The toasted malts have a little more heft to them, but a balanced flavor also provides drinkability.

SPATEN OKTOBERFESTBIER UR- MÄRZEN is another widely available German Oktoberfest, albeit a fairly one-dimensional one with a building sweetness. AYINGER'S OKTOBER FEST- MÄRZEN is a little better with malts that taste fresh and crisp, a lighter body, and cleaner mouthfeel. WEIHENSTEPHANER FESTBIER is unquestionably the most unusual Oktoberfest I've had from Germany, with far more bitterness than a typical Oktoberfest. Still an enjoyable beer, but hardly true to style.

But what about the proliferation of American-brewed Oktoberfest beers? Now-adays it seems nearly every craft brewer makes an Oktoberfest, with a great deal of variation across the style. I think PORTSMOUTH'S OCTOBERFEST best follows the spirit of its German brethren with its ability to check the bready malts with some light herbal hops. This helps to create the lightness and drinkability you need in an Oktoberfest. My other favorite is BERKSHIRE'S OKTOBERFEST LAGER with its sweet, slightly spiced nose. Indeed, this seems to aspire to be a pumpkin beer, and a robust one at that with 6.8% ABV! Berkshire is certainly pushing the limits, but I love this beer.

Other options worth picking up include the strong but balanced THOMAS HOOKER OCTOBERFEST LAGER. LEFT HAND'S OKTOBERFEST has a more traditional maltiness, but stops short of being overly sweet. While a step below any of these four, SAMUEL ADAMS OCTOBERFEST, HEAVY SEAS MÄRZEN, and VICTORY FESTBIER are undoubtedly all readily available at your local package store. Move quickly if you haven't gotten your fix of Oktoberfest beers yet — winter warmers are right around the corner.

I would be amiss not to check in about the other exciting fall happening: the first annual Providence Craft Beer Week. Feedback seemed overwhelmingly positive, with events taking place throughout the city the first week of October. I got a chance to try BERKSHIRE'S SOUR/IMPERIAL STOUT BLEND on tap at the Avery, SOUTHERN TIER'S UNEARTHLY DOUBLE IPA at Julian's, and DOGFISH HEAD'S THEOBROMA chili beer at Brown's Graduate Center Bar. Throw in some freebies from the brewers and these were some fun events.

Capping it off was Beervana Fest in Cranston, the most extreme festival I've ever been to. Seemingly every brewer brought their Double IPA or Imperial Stout, many times after having been aged in wine or bourbon barrels. Highlights included BROOKLYN'S '07 BLACK CHOCOLATE STOUT, DUBUISSON'S PÊCHE MEL, and OMMEGANG'S BELGIAN PALE ALE. With speakers and entertainment throughout the night, gourmet food from Julian's on hand, and a pretty respectful crowd, this festival was a joy to attend. Kudos to all the organizers of what we hope will be many more Providence Craft Beer Weeks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ProPho: Get ready for Providence Craft Beer Week!

By JOSH SMITH | September 29, 2010

With the weather cooling down and the Oktoberfest 200th anniversary celebration in full swing in Munich, October just feels like beer drinking season. So it's only fitting that the first annual Providence Craft Beer Week will take place October 1-8.

The festivities are patterned on the massive Philly Beer Week that originated in 2008 and now draws visitors from across the country to the Greater Philadelphia area over the course of 10 days in June. More than two dozen cities have hopped on board with their own local beer celebration. And now Providence is going to join in on the party.

Each night bars and restaurants across the city will host different craft breweries, Oktoberfest celebrations, beer dinners, and neighborhood pub crawls. To cap it all off, on Friday, October 8, the Beervana Fest will take place in Cranston, showcasing more than 200 of the world's best craft beers. With events being added by the day, it seems there will be something for everyone during the course of the week.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Julian's is up front beating the drum for Providence Craft Beer Week. Together with the Avery and E&O Tap, the neighborhood bars are teaming up to create the "Beermuda Triangle." Fourteen different brewers will host special events each weeknight. And since none of the bars is more than a three-block walk from each other, this is one Triangle you should be able to navigate your way around.

While each bar will have their own approach to these special brewery nights, Julian's events are a good example. Four tap lines will be dedicated to the guest brewery, while a representative will be on hand from 9 to 11 pm to give away some freebies. For any craft beer enthusiast, the chance to talk beer with knowledgeable people from inside the industry is a pretty exciting opportunity.

It's an all-star lineup too. Monday is arguably the best craft brewer for the canning category, Oskar Blues of Colorado. On Tuesday, the always creative Dogfish Head Brewery is bringing beers using such eclectic ingredients as rice, pumpkin, and blackberries. On Wednesday Julian's will welcome western New York's Southern Tier and my absolute favorite pumpkin beer: Pumking. And on Thursday, New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing is coming to town with its executive brewer, David Yarrington, two vintage beers, and two special series beers.

Dan Henry, a field manager for Smuttynose, summed up the excitement around these events: "The people at Julian's treat beer in a way a lot of people don't." So when Smuttynose offered to bring a couple of rare vintage beers to the event, Julian's jumped at the opportunity. "Our vintage beers have done a spectacular job aging," Henry said. "Many taste like a totally different beer. They have mellowed with a different body to it, going the way of a fine sherry." I'm sure he is right, but want to find out for myself.

As if this isn't reason enough to venture to the West Side, the other points of the Beermuda triangle have some pretty amazing brewers lined up. The Avery is will have Providence's own Trinity Brewhouse on Sunday, Heavy Seas on Monday, Harpoon Tuesday, Smuttynose Wednesday, and Wachusett on Thursday. Over the same five nights, E&O Tap will welcome Redhook, Blue Point, Cisco, Abita (of Louisiana), and Ithaca. It's especially encouraging to see local businesses engage in collaborative efforts such as these for the sake of the Craft Beer Week.

The Beermuda triangle is just the beginning. Consider:

• On the other side of town, the Wild Colonial Tavern has lined up four evening events of its own: Harpoon (Monday), Cisco (Tuesday), Dogfish (Wednesday), and hometown favorite Narragansett (Thursday). Narragansett will be bringing Fest, their new Oktoberfest beer, among others.

• English Cellar Alehouse is a fitting place for Maine's Shipyard Brewing and its traditional, English-styled beers on Monday night. Next come Cisco, Victory, and Wetten Importers.

• If you are lucky enough to have access to Brown's Graduate Center Bar, Cisco (Saturday the 1st) and Dogfish Head (Wednesday) will make an appearance.

• New York craft brewer Blue Point will be dropping in at Harry's Bar and Burger on Wednesday.

• Union Station Brewery will be throwing an Oktoberfest celebration on Friday, while Loie Fuller will have Oktoberfest beers on tap and German food available all week long. Bring your best authentic German costume, if possible.

• The Apartment will welcome Long Trail, Shipyard, and Pennsylvania's excellent Victory Brewing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, respectively.

• Snookers will see Shipyard, Long Trail, and Wetten Importers (of such notable beers as Delirium Tremens and Kasteel Rouge) Tuesday through Thursday.

• Vermont's Long Trail will also be at Scurvy Dog on Thursday.

• And Pawtucket is getting into the act with Doherty's East Ave Irish Pub hosting events each weeknight, including what promises to be a fantastic beer dinner with Peak Organic of Maine on Wednesday.

The week culminates with a massive beer festival on Friday at the historic Rhodes-On-the-Pawtuxet in Cranston, Beervana Fest promises to be a seriously good time. From 6:30 to 10 pm, the ballrooms of the Rhodes will be transformed with 1000 beer enthusiasts in attendance.

Tickets are $40 in advance or $45 at the door and entitle you to a tasting glass, festival guide, bottle of water, entrance into educational seminars and, of course, 2-ounce pours of some of the world's best craft beers. By my count more than 200 beers will be available from the 30 domestic brewers and even more international brands present.

I caught up with Dan Keating of C&C Distributing Services, one of the organizers of Providence Craft Beer Week. "What sets the Beervana Fest apart is the adventurous beers that brewers are bringing" Dan said. "Some of these beers, Cisco's Woods Beers, for example, are interesting beers of which only a handful have ever been made. It is rare to see any one of these beers on tap, but here you will have the opportunity to try a few side by side."

I couldn't agree more; the beer list for Beervana is chock-full of rare styles and vintage brews. A few of the beers I'll seek out include: Berkshire Sour Imperial Stout blend, Brooklyn Local 1 from 2005, De Dolle Stille Nacht Special Reserve from 2000, Hariestoun Ola Dubh 40 (as in years aged in a whiskey barrel), and Trinity Decadence Imperial IPA in a cask. I could go on but, with my word limit quickly approaching, you'll have to do some searching of your own.

Two educational seminars will also take place during the festival. Tod Mott, head brewer for Portsmouth Brewery of New Hampshire, will speak about his lengthy brewing career that includes creating the renowned Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout. The other slot will feature Don Feinberg, founder of Ommegang Brewery and Vanberg & Dewulf Importers, a beer distributor that has helped bring illustrious Belgian beers such as Saison Dupont and Scaldis Noel to Rhode Island.

So if all of this sounds like a good time to you, tickets are being sold at Nikki's Liquors, Julian's, and Brown's GCB in Providence, and Track 84 in Warwick. I hope to see you there!

Providence Craft Beer Week is a pretty big deal for the city. The variety of craft beers available in Rhode Island has grown in recent years alongside demand and hasn't shown any sign of slowing. Given its reputation as the Creative Capital and the city's great culinary history, Providence is well-suited to continue to swell the ranks of craft beer converts. Craft Beer Week will only help.

Again, Dan Henry of Smuttynose: "This could be a good catalyst for the city. In the last few years I have seen craft beer grow by leaps and bounds. This week could be a great education for people and a chance to see craft beer is not going away."

Dan Keating agrees: "In my time working in beer distribution, I have seen the sophistication of the Providence beer scene grow tremendously. The city has gotten engaged in craft beer so that there is now a critical mass interested in events like this."

These are exciting times; Providence is preparing to join the class of elite New England craft beer cities and needs our support to do so. Turning out for one or more of these events is a great place to start.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

ProPho: Go Global!

Become a worldly beer drinker
By JOSH SMITH September 7, 2010

Talk of international beer typically conjures up images of German beer gardens, Belgian monasteries, and pints of Guinness. But where is the rest of the world in this Eurocentric fantasy?

Indeed, with all but a couple of shelves in the international beer aisle devoted to European offerings, you can be forgiven for this limited world view. However, in the age of globalization, beers from exotic locations are enjoying ever greater circulation, including in your local package store and ethnic restaurant.

Leading the way is Asia, where a rise in disposable income has precipitated a meteoric growth in the beer industry. But with only the weak and watery TSINGTAO enjoying any shelf presence in the US, this is one market where China still places second to its neighbors.

At the forefront is Japan, with Rice Lagers as the dominant style. Not as interesting as you might imagine, rice plays the role of cost-cutting adjunct, much like corn for US macro-lagers. KIRIN ICHIBAN, ASAHI SUPER DRY, and SAPPORO PREMIUM BEER are the most commonly seen brands, of which I prefer Sapporo. But if you are looking for more out of a beer than just its ability to wash down wasabi, KOSHIHIKARI ECHIGO BEER is the way to go. Crisp and clean, the light hops pair nicely with the more delicate nature of Japanese food.

Where Japan stands out, though, is the fact that some of its craft beers are available in the US, and not only its most popular lagers. Legendary sake maker HITACHINO NEST is the most recognized with its highly-acclaimed and very unique Witbier, WHITE ALE. While interesting, I personally liked both their tart and yeasty RED RICE ALE, and lively REAL GINGER BREW better.

There are other Asian options beyond the Land of the Rising Sun. Thailand’s SINGHA has a smoothness and balance that makes it ideal to pair with a meal. The Philippines’ SAN MIGUEL DARK LAGER is a similarly well-constructed but maltier brew. And Singapore’s TIGER BEER and Thailand’s CHANG BEER are other easy drinking alternatives. LION of Sri Lanka puts out a macro-lager of its own, but its STOUT has made a name for itself in the craft beer community. A flavorful Irish Dry Stout, this is a beer that can stand on its own merits without being paired with food.

While most of these beers will do the job, when washing down the spice of Indian food I prefer an authentic experience with a couple of good, clean Indian beers. United Breweries out of Bangalore steps up by offering three different beers: KINGFISHER PREMIUM LAGER, TAJ MAHAL PREMIUM LAGER, and FLYING HORSE ROYAL LAGER. Kingfisher and Taj Mahal have some off-notes mixed in, so Flying Horse is my pick. Clearly trying to stand out with a classy bottle replete with tasting notes on the beer, Flying Horse has a more pleasant, multi-dimensional malty backbone.

Now I love Mexican food almost as much as Indian and have worked my way through the Mexican beer scene. I prefer the darker NEGRA MODELO and DOS EQUIS AMBER LAGER for their crisp, dry, refreshing nature. The lighter and more watery MODELO ESPECIAL, PACIFICO, and TECATE come in a distant third through fifth. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t let anyone put a lime in any one of these beers.

As you might expect, African and South American beers are severely underrepresented in the international aisle. The surprisingly good TUSKER PREMIUM LAGER of Kenya is the only African beer that I have been able to find. South Africa, in particular, has some excellent beers to offer the world, such as the sweet and roasty CASTLE MILK STOUT. Someday soon, perhaps!

Similarly, the underwhelming BRAHMA out of Brazil is the only South American beer that I’ve been able to track down. This is a shame since other countries like Argentina are supposed to have solid craft brewing traditions. So whether you are traveling abroad or just down the international aisle of your favorite beer store, take a chance and bring a worldly new beer home with you.