Copy Cat: A ‘Best Beer’ List Loves IPAs, ABV. Again.

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Last week, Zymurgy, the official publication of the American Homebrewers Association, released its latest update to its annual “Best Beers in America” list.

The compilation of top-50 beers, voted on every year by readers of the magazine, typically stands out slightly from other such lists from Beer Advocate or RateBeer because of general lack of imperial stouts, which so often dominate other polls. There were seven this year and one imperial porter.

Despite that difference, Zymurgy’s voters do have one thing in common with just about any other “best beer” list you’d find – they love IPAs.

zymurgy best beers-ipa and dipa

After last year’s dissection of Zymurgy’s list, I took additional data with hope to better analyze the outcome of historical votes, offering context to any shifting preferences and patterns from over the years.

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My Mount Rushmore of Beer

beer-rushmore

Set high above our bars and breweries, sculpted in the granite of personal history, lies a metaphorical place that stands the test of time as a “shrine of beerocracy.”

It’s Mount Rushmore … only my repurposed symbol of fermented freedom. No longer do Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln emblazon its side, but rather my own heroes, representing the people who have shaped my past and influenced my future with beer.

Today, along with a collection of fellow Mid-Atlantic beer bloggers, I’m sharing who should be remembered for the impact they’ve made on my beer drinking world. So let me introduce you to the dignitaries of my Mount Rushmore … of beer.

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A Month Worth Remembering: October 2014 Beertography

bud_cameraOctober has now gone by, which means it’s time for my regular roundup of beertography from the last few weeks.

It’s been an exciting month and many of my photos reflect more about my activities and travels than artistic side. I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing in this ongoing project, as I’m proud to say that I was recently nominated as an “Instagram account to follow” by my colleagues, many who are vastly more talented than I. I’m actually giving a presentation today about my beertography.

Below you’ll find some of my recent photos, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. If you like these, you can find all of my beertography on Instagram or in my running archive.

All my shots are taken with my iPhone 5 unless otherwise noted. Let’s see what October had to offer…

A Trip Out West

almanac-farmers reserve citrus-lemon-beer-beertographyI visited Seattle at the beginning of October, which led to a variety of photo opportunities and reflections about what it means to travel. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Kopi, my brother’s chocolate lab. Late in the morning, I’d plop down on the front porch alongside her and take in the sun.

Now I know what Ed is talking about.

Exploring at Home

world beer fest-durham-beerEvery October, All About Beer magazine hosts the World Beer Festival here in Durham, NC. It’s a wonderful chance to try new beers, especially from the fast-growing in-state brewery scene. I spent half the festival drinking North Carolina-based beers.

Oddly enough, my favorite sample from the event was probably a dry-hopped cider by Bull City Ciderworks. They use Cascade and Galaxy hops which gives the cider an unforgettable aroma of tangy tropical fruit and citrus.

(Coincidentally, my beertography is so popular, festival organizers stole a photo from me)

Mission Accomplished

two roads-two roads brewing-no limits-hefewiezen-beer-beertographyI ran my first half-marathon in October, taking part in the Bull City Race Fest with thousands of other runners. I’m happy to say I was actually a little faster than the time on my watch, but happier to have the right beer to celebrate with when I got home.

Upping My Game

oskar blues-ten fidy-imperial stout-beer-beertographyHere in Durham, we’ve got a reuse art center, the Scrap Exchange, that’s kind of like a Salvation Army for random and unwanted supplies like tiles, paper, electronics … anything.

I’ve been inspired by other photographers to try and incorporate more setups for my beertography. With this shot, I used a shiny filing cabinet drawer and foggy window pane from the Scrap Exchange to capture light from outside. I’m still horribly low-tech, so I used a couple umbrellas to apply shading and reflect light.

Brewing Pal

brewcatThis isn’t a special shot, but I love that I have some company for my brew days at home. Even if it is a little creepy.

I look forward to what November has to offer! As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Your Glassware Did What? A Sensory Experiment of Time and Temperature

mad scientistBeer may be my passion, but in recent months, I’ve come to learn that a beer can sometimes only be as good as the vessel in which you enjoy it.

A shaker pint glass does the trick in a pinch, but when it truly comes to experiencing a beer to the highest degree, it’s important to consider what you pull from your cupboard. While I’ve shared my thoughts previously on the importance of glassware, I’ve was recently presented a serendipitous experience to explore how the method of drinking our beer impacts our senses.

And honestly, I think this latest experiment offers a rather curious take on the matter.

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Birth of a Brewery? Another Look at Sharp End Brewing

Sharp End Brewing-logo

If you’re getting into the professional brewing game these days, there are probably two things to know, and Drew Perez is fully aware of both of them:

  1. “Everyone and their mother is creating a craft brewery right now.”
  2. “Lots of people are into IPAs, especially imperial IPAs because they want bang for their buck.”

But there’s a third aspect that brewers with professional aspirations hopefully certainly realize. It’s what sets Drew and his friends with Sharp End Brewing apart.

“Even if everyone is getting into [brewing], not everyone is creating great beer,” he said. “I want us to be well situated in what we can do when we’re ready to do it.”

Sharp End Brewing-Crew

The whole Sharp End Crew (from left): Steve Aiello, Anthony Apollo, Drew Perez and Frank Apollo.

Last week, I introduced you to Drew and Anthony Apollo, two of the guys behind Sharp End Brewing, an enthusiastic group of homebrewers from New York working their way to commercial beer production. I heard about the pair through a friend, who told me about their “Brewing Bad” exploits and my interest was piqued. But what really got my curiosity was when I found out they wanted to eventually take their homebrewing operation pro.

Of course they do, you may think. In this age of Pax Beervana, it’s easy to get in the game when you’ve got a five-gallon system at home, a dream and a Kickstarter account.

But these guys are not naive, even if they are relatively new to the beer industry.

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Birth of a Brewery? From ‘Breaking Bad’ to Breaking Pro: An Introduction

Today we meet the guys of Sharp End Brewing, an enthusiastic group of homebrewers from New York working their way to commercial beer production. Next week, we’ll delve a little deeper to highlight some of the details and steps they’re taking to get there.

Breaking Bad-Brewing Bad-Sharp End Brewing

 

The chemistry called to them.

It started with cooking batches in backyards and wherever space was available. The hope was that it ended in their own laboratory, with shining, stainless steel equipment all around them as recipes bubble away.

The parallels between the friends of Sharp End Brewing and hit TV show Breaking Bad are hard to ignore. But from the beginning, that was kind of the point.

“We were all sitting at this bar for Oktoberfest and talking about the show and beer we would brew for it,” said Anthony Apollo, one of four homebrewing friends with Sharp End who hope to eventually take their hobby pro. “It was around the time Breaking Bad was wrapping up and we thought ‘let’s make a couple beers to commemorate it.’ ”

Led by Drew Perez, the most tenured homebrewer of the bunch, the friends brainstormed recipes and came up with their “Brewing Bad” six-pack, parodying names of characters and other thematic aspects:

  • Mike EhrmanStout – Chocolate coffee stout
  • Holly (Walter White’s baby) – Winter warmer
  • Chili P – Pale ale with chili powder
  • Walter Weiss – Belgian wheat
  • SchraderBock – Eisbock
  • Los Pollos Hermanos – Mexian-style lager

However, after starting on the series of beers, Anthony and Drew, along with Anthony’s brother, Frank, and friend, Steve Aiello, decided their operation to simply create the one-off beers to share with each other might provide them a greater opportunity: to make it in the beer industry.

Opening a brewery isn’t an uncommon business proposition anymore. At the end of 2013, there were 3,699 active ‘permitted breweries’ by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. That includes 172 in New York, where the friends are spread between New York City and its suburbs.

Sharp End Brewing-brew day

From left, Steve Aiello, Frank Apollo and Drew Perez watch wort boil during a brew day.

But what separates the ambition of Sharp End from other upstart brewers is their realization of their situation and the industry at-large. At a time when some are rushing to get in, they’re waiting.

There’s no Kickstarter campaign and no meetings with banks for loans. There’s just hope that in three to five years, they’ll be in a position to follow their dream.

“Right now, we’re creating as many beers as we can come up with and competing them as often as possible because that’s the best way we’re going to test our process and recipe creation,” Perez said. “Every time we bottle something, we bring it to a local bar and have all the staff taste it and be as critical and mean as possible so we can find out if it’s any good.”

Sharp End Brewing-Crew

The whole Sharp End Crew (from left): Steve Aiello, Anthony Apollo, Drew Perez and Frank Apollo.

The Sharp End group isn’t shying away from certified feedback, either. After winning a silver medal for a winter warmer in an American Homebrewers Association competition through the Philadelphia Homebrew Club, the friends are entering three beers into this year’s National Homebrew Competition: their Eisbock, an Irish red brewed with raspberries, and “Blood Rage,” an imperial IPA made with blood oranges.

Perez, who has been homebrewing since 2010 and spent three months apprenticing at Chelsea Brewing Company, said Sharp End’s eclectic range of contest entries is helping to fine tune the niche of what the group would eventually like to create. In the long run, he said Sharp End would have one flagship beer, four seasonal offerings and two rotating one-offs to offer variety. What those beers will be is yet to be decided.

For Perez, the key is immersing himself in beer knowledge, from reading Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer over and over, to listening to every podcast created by the Brewing Network. He also studies previous award-winning homebrews to guide his own recipes.

“When I get really passionate about something, I study the crap out of it, so I’ve been lending the books to everyone else and making them read them, too,” said Perez, who works off a 5-gallon all-grain system and is teaching Anthony, Frank and Steve to brew. “I want to be able to have them ready to make the same beer if I’m not available, even if it’s important that we each have our specialty.”

Sharp End Brewing-Brew day 2

Sharp End Brewing and others gathered in February to brew their blood orange IPA for the National Homebrew Competition.

For Apollo, that’s numbers. While each member of Sharp End continues their normal “day-to-day” – from graduate studies to consulting and chemistry – he’s slowly planning the means to set up an initial nano-brewery as a proof of concept before considering outside funding.

In the meantime, it’s about creating batch after batch in backyards and driveways, working toward their dream of opening Sharp End Brewing.

“Once we decided we had this opportunity, it was one of those moments where everything in life came into focus for a brief period,” Apollo said. “Now we’ve got plans.”

Have questions about Sharp End Brewing and their future plans? Post them below to have them answered. You can also visit their Facebook page to receive updates on progress and view photos of brew days and more.

Related: Birth of a Brewery? Another Look at Sharp End Brewing

Sharp End Brewing-logo

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

 

Brew EDU: 3 Ways to Better Know Brewing (Now at Home!)

brew edu_bookworm_beerToday’s guest post comes from Blake Daniels, a stay-at-home dad with a passion for the simple things in life. You would most likely find him spending quality time with his family, brewing and enjoying beer or mowing the lawn.

Bio_Pic_blake_danielsOver the past few years, I’ve become more interested in the craft beer scene. I’m always amazed at the creative (and tasty) brews that smaller-scale breweries produce. Knowing that most beers are made using four ingredients – water, malt, hops and yeast – makes drinking a brew full of complex flavors all the more impressive.

This newfound respect got me to try my hand at brewing my own beer. When I started, I assumed it would be difficult to match the quality of commercial brews, but it turns out that homebrewers everywhere produce high-quality, award-winning beers in their kitchens and garages using beginner-level equipment.

During my short time as a homebrewer I’ve learned some valuable lessons that might help you avoid a few rookie mistakes that I made.

Do Your Homework

After struggling to make it through my first brew day, I knew that if I didn’t take the time to learn more about the brewing process, I would end up dumping most of my beer (and money) down the drain. I found that the ‘must-read’ book for every homebrewer is The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian.

joyOfHomebrewingThis book is a great resource for new brewers, offering a look into the history of beer-making, providing clear explanations of every step in the brewing process and even includes well-tested recipes to help you get started. I’m certain that the knowledge I gained from reading this book saved more than one of my batches of homebrew.

If you haven’t decided to start homebrewing yet, there are plenty of other reasons to do some beer-related reading. Checking out brewing books to learn how beer is made and the characteristics of different styles can enhance your beer-drinking experience and give you a greater overall appreciation for beer. There are also magazines like BeerAdvocate and DRAFT that are focused on the industry in general in case you just want to keep a pulse on the world of beer.

Start Off Small

Beer_KitI was so excited to start brewing beer that I ran right out and bought myself a nice new five-gallon brew kit. This is a standard amount of beer that many homebrewers make, so I figured why not dive in and brew with the big boys? However, making that much beer isn’t a small investment when it comes to time or money and when my first few batches came out less than stellar, I was having second thoughts.

Looking back I really wish that I had started off with a smaller one-gallon size kit that would have allowed me to get used to the brewing process before I stepped up to larger batches. Making smaller batches of beer also gives you the opportunity to express your creativity as a brewer. Another thing to keep in mind is that darker, roasty beers like a stout can hide some flaws, as can something like an overly hopped IPA. If you’re nervous about making beer, look into styles that give you wiggle room.

Don’t Go It Alone

The homebrewing community is probably the single-most important resource that you have as a homebrewer. If you have a problem, someone out there has already found a solution.

aha_logoOne great site for all things homebrewing is the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). The AHA can help you find homebrew clubs in your area if you’re looking to meet up with local brewers. Networking with other homebrewers is a great way to expand your brewing knowledge and it never hurts to have an extra set of hands around on brew day.

If you’re the DIY type but don’t know how to get started on your next project, a great place to go is Homebrew Talk. The site has a very active forum, with posts covering a near-endless amount of topics and also offers huge databases of projects. If you’re looking to find some brew-day inspiration, BeerSmith has a user-generated collection of over 100,000 recipes that guarantees you won’t have any trouble coming up with an idea for your next batch of beer.

If you’re just getting started with homebrewing, these tips should give you a solid foundation to build upon, but this is just the beginning. Take some time to tap into all of the information that’s available and you shouldn’t have any problems taking your brewing to the next level.

 

Thanks to Blake for offering up these tips! If you’re interested in collaborating on a blog post, contact me on Twitter.
+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Can You Save Money with Homebrew?

piggy_bank-beer_money_homebrewIn my recent post on beeronomics – how the cost of bottled beer impacts your budget – I highlighted several ways beer lovers can save some cash, courtesy of Chad Lothian’s great post, “Craft Beer on a Budget.”

An original draft of that post opted to talk about homebrewing, but was dropped due to space. With some nudging from Oliver at Literature and Libation, I’ve decided to take a look at how my homebrewing has helped save me money on beer.

Surprisingly, it’s quite a bit.
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I Can Haz Brewery? Memes for ‘The Session’ May 2013

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This month’s “Session” effort is hosted by Chuck over at AllBrews. Rather than dip into the waters of beer nerdom, he’s asked a novel question for this month’s community blogging effort:

In this Session, I’d like to invite comments and observations from bloggers and others who have first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery. What were the prescient decisions that saved the day or the errors of omission or commission that caused an otherwise promising enterprise to careen tragically off the rails?

cat-lolcat-beer

The ideal assistant brewer for my business.

Technically speaking, I’m not fit to answer this question as I am but a mere homebrewer. Although I did tackle this topic earlier this week about some who make it seem easy to “go pro.”

In that vein, I believe Chuck makes an adept observation about the idea of becoming a professional brewer: “Making beer is the easy part, building a successful business is hard.” Craft beer is all the rage right now and the last thing I’d want for others to do is get involved and not be successful. Although I’m constantly pleased to see homebrewers making that shift because of their knowledge and love for beer, not simply to make money.

Either way, being a brewer, brewery owner or even a homebrewer isn’t glamorous. So I put together this handy chart to give you a better idea (click image to enlarge):

homebrew-homebrewing-think i do-meme

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

A Few Words on … the ‘starter beer’

rules 1

Most days of the week, I’ll have a beer during or after dinner. Sometimes I’ll even get crazy and have two because it’s what the doctor recommends. Or three, if I’m in Iceland, apparently.

But it’s those days where I have more than one beer I usually institute an informal rule – I have a “starter” beer. Technically, I suppose I’m following the similar methods one might use when enjoying a flight of beers. If I’m having something heavy in flavorful grains, hops or alcohol, I don’t want to shock my palate right away, I want to ease into enjoying a higher-end brew. Much like I stretch before exercise, I’m prepping my nose and tongue for a workout.

For example: I recently enjoyed/loved a bottle of Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout. At 18 percent ABV, it’s crazy boozy so I didn’t want to just dive in. To prepare my taste buds, I first had a bottle of my Poor Richard’s Ale homebrew I had sitting in my fridge. I don’t think I’m the only one who might recommend this:

starter

Typically, I’m not selecting a “starter” beer with any method other than I want it to be fairly neutral and ease me into the second beer I’m more excited to drink. If I’m having a stout, I may pour a glass of Cigar City’s Maduro brown ale or a bottle of my own chocolate-vanilla porter. If I’m having an overly hoppy IPA, just about any of my homebrews might do, including a honey-basil ale or my blueberry wheat.

The goal of this is not to get drunk. I do it because I …

  1. Enjoy beer and like drinking a variety of brews.
  2. Believe that it has some sort of impact on my ability to enjoy my beer even more.

Or, this could just be some weird, quirky beer-drinking habit I’ve formed. Everyone’s got one, right?

+Bryan Roth