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The Visual Art of Craft Beer Part 1 – My Top 5

March 25, 2011 2 comments

New and...improved?

There has been quite a few stories in the beer press lately that have really got me thinking about beer artwork.  There’s the new look of Red Hook (check out this post on Washington Beer blog), a new label design for one of my favorite beers of all time – Stone Imperial Russian Stout (see this post at beernews.org), the North Coast Brewing logo upgrade (the old logo has always been a favorite of mine) and most notably the new Upright Brewing Four Play label that has been subject to much controversy (please check out this article on Beervana).

When I first started thinking about it I was leaning toward the fact that there really aren’t that many labels/logos out there that are especially noteworthy.  There’s a few that really jumped out at me right way, but for the most part…far too many exist that fail to catch my attention.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I discussed it with friends, the more epiphanies I had and the more I realized just how wrong I was.

The Classic. Is is better?

There’s actually a lot of breweries out there that are putting serious attention toward their image.  Clearly, this isn’t surprising.  Anyone possessing even the slightest bit of entrepreneurial savvy knows how important branding can be to creating a successful business.  Here, in my Visual Art of Craft Beer Series, I plan to discuss some of my favorites.  Hopefully, in doing so, I will open up the floor for debate.  I’m sure there are a bunch out there that I either don’t know about or have simply overlooked.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to present them all in this initial article, so the debate just may have to wait.  Start thinking about your choices now and see if I end up agreeing with you.

The following is my top 5.  This is not limited to logo alone.  I feel that if it were, the scope of this exercise would be drastically diminished.  This includes not only the straight forward logo of a brewery but the labels of all, most, or some of their bottles/cans/mini-kegs/what-have-you.

5) Three Floyds Brewing – FFF does not mess around.  They make some of the most unique beers in the country and their labels follow suit.  In may ways, they remind me of Garbage Pail Kids.  All have a comic book/cartoon like quality.  Some are lighthearted and humorous, others are dark and disturbing, all are well designed and fun to look at.  I’m not sure whether I like the Clockwork Orange themed Moloko Stout, Zombie Dust, or the Dark Lord (above) the best.  No matter how you look at it, they are all undeniably bad ass.

 

4) Southern Tier Brewing – The logo above isn’t very glamorous, and it by no means is the sole reason why I have put STB in the number 4 position, but I must say that I’m a very big fan of it.  I find it to be very slick, clean and simple, yet highly effective.  The tools of the trade encircled by the ingredients of the trade.  Classic.  I’ve often thought of having a variation of that logo tattooed on myself.  Good logo aside, the continuity and simplicity of all of STB’s label designs is so well done that I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to find them being celebrated in HOW Magazine (or something similar).

 

 

3) New Belgium Brewing Lips of Faith Series – Take a minute to gaze upon the above image.  Tell me you wouldn’t want a full size print of that framed and mounted in your living room.  It’s beautiful…and it’s just a beer label.  I could have posted a picture of almost any LoF label and it would be equally stunning.  Whomever is behind this is really doing fabulous work.  Give them a raise.

 

 

2) Stone Brewing Co. – This logo is absolutely unmistakable.  It may not be number one on my list but it’s very possibly the number one most recognizable beer logo in craft brewing.  It’s bold, like Stone beers and the attitude of the owners/brewers.  If you’ve ever taken the time to read the lengthy, screen printed text on any of Stone’s 22oz bottles, you know just what I mean.  Stone is hard fucking core and their dark, devious mascot exemplifies that to the t.

 

1)  Flying Dog Brewery – Can someone please explain to me how FDB got Ralph Steadman to illustrate all of their imagery?!?!  Whether you like his style or not, this has to be the most lauded, continual collaborative effort between a brewery and a world-famous artist of all time.

Yeah, I guess I do sort of get how FDB pulled this off.  Supposedly the owners of the brewery were friends with Hunter S. Thompson.  It’s quite clear that his influence is felt throughout much of FDB’s advertising and marketing campaign.  Since Ralph Steadman is most famous for his work with Hunter S. Thompson, in lies the connection.  God knows how much money they must dish out for his work, but I for one thing it’s worth every penny.

RateBeer Drops Annual Awards for 2011 – Kills Washington.

January 27, 2011 1 comment

Uber is Washington's top beer bar in new rankings

Oh yes, the annual RateBeer.com awards are upon us. Every year in January, beer nerds come out from the woodwork, run a regression analysis, compute multiple methodology, average the cosign – plus tangent – and come up with these pretty rad rankings. Bon appetite.

I believe its a bit more simple than I made it out to be, but the rankings are up and that means the chatter begins. I have always been a staunch supporter of the RateBeer rankings. In fact, they have led the way on a number of significant beer tours around this great globe. Lets see how they did this year.

Here are the top performers in each category and some notes about NW people performing well:

Best Beer: (Click here to see list)

Närke Kaggen StormaktsporterIf you have had this beer, kudos to you. I have looked, believe me. From Belgium to the Netherlands, you aren’t going to find it. Someday, someday. It is interesting to see Westvleteren 12 unseated. Perhaps the lore of Michael Jackson has finally left the building. For the NW – Deschutes Abyss came in at a very impressive #17. Hair of the Dog’s Matt and Adam both made the Top 100. Surprising that Adam still topples Fred.

Top Beers By Category (Click here for the list)

I am not going to spend a lot of time on these, you can review them here. Suffice it to say that the only showings from the NW were from a sake producer out of Oregon and a surpirsing top spot in dark lager for Rogue’s Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager. Yikes. While expected, its so sad to see this repeated each year. Russian River whooped some ass, once again.

Best Beer in USA (Click here for the list)

Russian River Pliny the Younger – By now, we are all familiar with this hop monster. Though we would prefer to see something with a bit more complexity, its a deliciously unmatched hop beast. As for the NW, Deschutes Abyss at #13 and Hair of the Dog Adam #43 are all that made it. Strikeout, Washington.

Best Brewer in World (Click here to see list)

Three Floyds Brewing –  I like em; hell i love em. But are they really the best? Their lengthy list of offerings and impressive showings in multiple categories (stout, IPA, pale, etc.) probably gets them the spot. My choice would have been the #2 on the list – Founders Brewing Company. Great to Hoppin Frog, Akron, OH, at #17. Great work Fred! Oregon did incredibly well: Rogue #21, Hair of the Dog #24, Deschutes #49, Cascade Brewing #57, and Upright Brewing #92 (wow). Washington = Elysian #92.  I was actually surprised not to see Black Raven Brewing on this list. I think this is a testament to the fact that Black Raven is not yet bottling. Upright is probably smaller in production, but they send bottles into various states. I think thats the ticket here (plus great brewing).

Best Beer Bars in World (Click to see list)

The Kulminator –  Its probably the most deserving, considering their iconic collection of cellar aged beers. Kudos to them for keeping this epic collection rolling. Our visit to Kulminator in March could not have been more eye-popping. The most amazing thing on this list – Avenue Pub at #8!!! Congratulations to Polly, the bar’s owner, who has worked her ass off to deserve this recognition. This is the only must see in New Orleans. This is typically a strong category for Washington – perhaps the only one where they typically overtake Oregon. This year they did the same, but only 2-0. Uber Tavern was #14 and Brouwers Cafe was #22. This is a bit of a drop for both of these two. The list also booted Naked City Taphouse, who made a daring showing last year. Nothing in Oregon made the list.

Best Brewpubs in World (Click to see list)

Brouwerij de Molen – The Windmill strikes again! This place has climbed up and up the list and I will agree that it deserves this spot. In a remote area of Holland, Bodegraven’s only beer spot is hidden inside a windmill. Inside you can enjoy excellent food, phenomenal beer and a pretty incredible bottle shop with a collection of US brews that makes me jealous in Seattle. This is a must see for anyone in Northern Europe. Great to see Walking Man make the list at #10. We finally got out there this past summer and thoroughly enjoyed this sunny spot. Deschutes Brewing was #18, Cascade’s Racoon Lodge was #48 (and will be bumped next year for the new Barrel Room) and then there is Pelican Brewing at #26. 26? Cmon man. If you have ever been to this magical surfers cove, you would spit at anyone that left this out of their Top 5. Go visit.

 

Best Beer Store in World (Click here to see list)

Het Oude Schooltje – Struise Brouwers @ The Old School – Ummm, I’m confused. I was in Oostvleteren and never saw this place! Kill me now. This is my own fault and I’m stuck with the consequences. Next time. Great to see some Washington guys on here as well: Malt & Vine #27 and Bottleworks #29. Oregon got showings from The Bier Stein in Eugene and Belmont Station in Portland, who fell all the way to #44.

 

Best Restaurant in World (Click here to see list)

Ebenezer Kezars Restaurant and Pub – This is on my list and will be visited in June when we do a brief NE trip. Tucked away in the Maine mountains in the little town of Lowell – this gem awaits. Is it shocking to anyone else that despite the NW’s extremely well-received culinary presence and beer presence, we cannot produce one beer restaurant in the Top 50? What about Brouwers Cafe? Ebenezars is just a pub, too.

 

Best Breweries to Visit in World (Click here to see list)

Picobrouwerij Alvinne Den Bier- en Proefzolder – Yes, yes and yes x 1000. This is the single greatest beer visit of my entire life. If its a little strange that we have yet to speak about this visit here on BB.com, its because I am intimidated. Timperial and I have feared drafting this inconic article for just about a year. Alvinne is located in a large barn-like space off a highway in Belgium. We arrived after closing on St. Patricks day and were awarded with private drinking stock from the owner. An unprecedented adventure. I was so glad to see Hair of the Dog Brewing on here as well at #2. Alan Sprints has done an incredible job putting together their new taproom, which is a must for any visitor to the NW. Great to also see Upright Brewing (Portland), who has a very cool tasting room where you can grab some schooners and some tunes for a few hours. Rogue, Bridgeport and Hopworks also made the list. A complete zero for Washington.

Ugh. Washington has to take a failing grade this year. I am really disappointed to see so many of the stalwarts take drops. It was very encouraging to see the locations do alright, but what about our beer?!

In short, most of our beer stays here. I think you can somewhat blame that on our alcohol regulation rules, because they facilitate a healthy market at home. But, you can see that the Oregon brewers making a name for themselves are selling bottles.

Forget Rogue and Deschutes – they are pretty big. But, think about Hair of the Dog, Hopworks and especially Upright. These guys all have bottle sales that go across state borders. That stuff helps.

In the near future, we hope to see bottles from great upstarts like Black Raven Brewing, Schooner Exact, Fremont Brewing and more. Hopefully, we can start to show the world why Washington beer is so damn good.

Until 2012.

The American Dream Is Soon To Be Realized at American Brewing Co.

December 20, 2010 1 comment

Support American goods. Support American Brewing.

On Thursday night I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with the two men behind one of the latest and greatest breweries to open in Western Washington, American Brewing Co. One of these men you will probably not be familiar with, the other…if you don’t know by name you should be ashamed.

The Players

Neil Fallon is a housing developer from Tacoma.  Quite obviously, there’s better industries to be in these days, and he’s no dumby, so the time was nigh to invest in an industry with a little bit more stability.  The craft beer industry is not only seeing steady growth in a down economy, but it’s full of kind, supportive people that hold strong values in community.  People that work together as a team, even though, technically, they are competing against each other.  This is a cornerstone of the craft beer world that Beer Blotter loves and embraces, and Neil feels the same way.

Neil knows all about building a classy space to house a taproom and brewery, but when it come to actually making beer, his knowledge is limited.  That’s where the next player comes in.

Skip Madsen is a household name in the brewing community of Western Washington, and he is Neil’s number 1.  When asked about the (seemingly) over density of breweries in the Seattle market, Neil responded, and I’m paraphrasing, “Yeah, that was a concern.  I thought about opening my brewery in another part of the country, but once I joined up with Skip, I knew we could be successful anywhere”.  We completely agree.

Skip has brewed for Pike Brewing, Big Time Brewing, Boundary Bay Brewing, and was an original founder of our beloved Water Street Brewing.  He’s the man behind many stellar beers that you may still be drinking from those breweries.  He has won many awards for his beers.  He has mild celebrity status in this area, and it’s completely warranted.

Most recently, Skip produced Breakaway IPA under Baron Brewing’s license.  Due to some personal circumstances and the fact that American Brewing seemed to be on the verge of becoming a reality, Skip stopped producing the hoppy concoction that pleased the palates of many Satellites, myself included.  I remember the first time that I tasted the grog at The Pub at Piper’s Creek.  I knew if Skip was behind it that it would be good, and it was.  Still to this day I think that that beer might have the coolest tap handle of all time.  It’s a severed hockey stick and blade.  It stands out like none other.

The Brews

I’m very excited to announce that Breakaway IPA, as we know it, will be transitioned to American Brewing and act as it’s flagship brew, and that the tap handles will come along with it!

ABC plans to break out the gate with 4 brews, but they may only have 3 done by the time the taproom opens.  Neil is shooting for a January launch.  The first beer that Skip will brew on the brand new 15 bbl brewhouse will be a blonde.  The IPA makes two, then there will be a red ale and a stout.  The fact that December is already half over is just one of several reasons why I’d be surprised if they opened by even late January, but I’m hoping they can pull it off.  The brewery and taproom are still very much under construction.  There seems to be a lot left to build and fasten.  I, personally, would be a little fearful about that very first batch on a brand new system, but if anyone can do it, it’s Skip.  Another worry is that ABC only has three fermentors, one 15 bbl and two 30 bbl.  Though that’s enough to produce a pretty good amount of product, beer takes a while to ferment, and three fermentors means only three beers at a time.  But I’m not complaining, just give me some of that Breakaway and I’ll be happy.

Though there are plans to eventually bottle, all of ABC’s offerings will initially be draft only.  This is pretty common for a brewery upstart,  just saying.

The Venue

ABC is housed in an industrial complex right across from Arnie’s Restaurant on the Edmonds waterfront.  It’s a pretty big space.  Oddly, or maybe not, the room that the brewing equipment is in seems smaller than the area that the tasting room is in.  One thing that I really like about Neil’s vision is that the tasting room will be a big component of what they do and who they are right from the onset.  Because the tasting room is still under construction, it was very hard for me to envision what it might be like when it’s done.  I asked Neil if he could think of any local tasting rooms that he may have had in mind when he designed it, or that he thinks might be slightly reminiscent of what it will look like.  He struggled a little at first to come up with one, but eventually revealed that he thinks it would be a happy medium between the very industrial (think Trade Route) and the very glossy (think Black Raven).  Sounds pretty good to me.

One aspect of the tasting room that was fully realized when I visited was the huge bay windows that separate the brewhouse from the tasting room.  Though you can really only see the top of the tanks from the bar area, it’s a pleasant reminder that you are drinking beer that was created just a matter of feet from your seat.  Another extremely bad-ass element of the tasting room will be the popcorn and hot dog machines.  Way to kick it up a notch fellas!

I think it goes without saying that everyone that knows these two guys knows that they will be successful.  This taproom is, without a doubt, going to be a serious beer geek destination on the Northside.  Keep your eyes and ears open for details about the grand opening, hopefully in January of 2011.

Notes of a Homebrewer – Start Up Costs

December 16, 2010 2 comments

Gravity?

Written By Timperial Stout

As of yesterday, DSR and I have completed 5 collaborative batches of beer on the 10 gallon gravity-fed homebrew system that we built together. Some, great success.  Others, massive failure.

It goes without saying that, in these early days of experimentation, we have learned a great deal about brewing beer at home. I’d like to share some of those things with you, just in case you are thinking that it’s about time to stop only drinking other people’s beer, and start making your own.

Also, I recently started working at Homebrew Heaven up in Everett, and am learning massive amounts with each passing day, so listen to me people!

The number one rule, when getting into homebrewing, at least from my experience, is to be prepared to spend a lot more money than you initially calculate.  Honestly, I’m not complaining when I say that.  For people like DSR and I, who absolutely live and breath beer and will pretty much do anything to make good beer, money is about as close to no object as possible.  But if you are feeling a little bit on the fence about it because of the initial investment required, your worries are legit.  Take a couple of extra months to save up.

Here’s a few things to think about when determining your budget.

Your kettle/brew pot is your baby.  Though the “magic” mostly happens in the fermentor, most of your labor will revolve around the kettle.  Make sure you get one that is much bigger than you think you need.  Boiling over is a lot easier than you may imagine, and it sucks something fierce.  I’d go with a 9 gallon pot for a 5 gallon batch.  We have a 15 gallon converted keg for our 10 gallon batches and it’s not big enough.  Also, get a spigot and thermometer installed.  Mash temps are crutial, and the Blichmann Brewmometers really makes life easy.

While on the topic of suping up your brewpot, I’d highly recommend getting a kettle screen.  Whole leaf hops just feel more official, but they can seriously be a pain in the ass to infuse into the wort.  Reusable steeping bags are really hard to clean, and chances are good that you’ll end up having to re-buy.  With the screen, you can just toss the whole leaf hops into the boil and you won’t have to worry about jamming up your spigot.  You’ll also get a better infusion of the lupilin.  The best part is, it’s a “buy once and done” item.  That, I think you’ll find, is a bit rare in homebrewing.

This leads me to my next point – you must factor in the reality that a lot of the items used in brewing are extremely fragile.  At the very least, expect to break your hydrometer, test jar, and airlocks at some point along the way.  Also, if you get at all lazy about cleaning and drying your hosing, racking cane, cleaning brushes, etc., expect to have to replace them at some point.  Our carboy brush got rusty somehow, and our raking cane hose got all moldy on the inside.  Quite obviously, these items were swiftly replaced.  After all, like I’m sure you have heard a million times before, cleanliness is everything with brewing.

The last subject I’d like to breach at this time is the dilemma of bottles vs. kegs.  Like with almost everything in homebrewing, the better option is more expensive at first, but much easier and cheaper in the long run.  Bottling sucks ass.  What do you think sounds easier, cleaning and sanitizing and filling and capping 54 12 oz bottles/30 22 oz bottles or cleaning 1 corney keg (5 gallon batch)?  You’ll have to refill your co2 tank every couple of months, but believe me, it’s totally worth it.  Yes, this may require a large refrigerator or kegerator, I know, but make it happen.  It’s almost ChristmaHanuKwanzaakah right?  Wish wisely.

Liquid Excursion, Brasserie des Rocs, Part 1

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Love the crest.

Brasserie des Rocs is a Belgian brewery from Montignies-sur-Roc (about 1.5 hours southwest of Brussels, near the French border).  They make beer that absolutely explodes with flavor.  I’ll never forget the first time I ever tried a BdR beer.  I was at Brouwer’s with For Whom The Beer Toales (our Chicago correspondent) and her family.  A Grand Cru was ordered.  The moment the succulent serum hit my lips I was 100% stupefied.  I don’t know if, at that point in my life, I had ever tasted a beer so outrageous in flavor.  I was actually very unsure of how I felt about it at first, and all of FWTBT’s family thought it was gross (not really beer drinkers).  But, I was intrigued beyond belief by that first sip, and I kept sipping and sipping, until I was certain that it was one of the greatest beers on Earth.  That was quite a few years ago, and I’ve had it many times since.  I still think it’s one of the greatest beers on Earth.  That could surely be argued, but there is no arguing the fact that it’s a Mike Tyson punch in the eye of flavor.

Allow me to highly recommend checking out the brewery website.  There is a pretty hilarious video on the front page that is narrated by a BdR beer, you know…from the beer’s perspective.  Whaa?!? If you want some relevant info about their beers you should check out the D&V International site.  I’m also going to recommend a soundtrack to your enjoyment of a BdR beer, because I know that immediately after you read this you will rush out to your local bottle shop and procure away.  Cocteau Twins collaborative album with Harold Budd from 1986, “The Moon & The Melodies”, is an absolute classic in my mind.  It has a distinctly European feel to it, combining both ambient and shoegaze, to mark a nuance laden foray into a depressant imbibing, lazy Sunday.  Every time Elizabeth Fraser’s stunning voice emerges from the densely distorted fog, you will be reminded to search for the hidden refinements in your fermented beverage.  Consider it legal mind expansion.

I was laying in bed on Sunday morning, contemplating the day before me, and like most days, beer inevitably infiltrated my thoughts.  I decided that I had a pretty serious craving for deep, sweet, complex Belgians.  I decided that a trip to Big Star Beer Market was is order, since they have a pretty bad-ass selection of Belgians, and they are mostly unrefrigerated (the cellar dweller in me appreciates that).  $40 later I had three 750ml bottles and a glass, all fashioning the BdR crest.  Needless to say, it was a good Sunday.

speechless

In this, Part 1, I will explore the 9% Brune, a Belgian brown ale.  It’s a 100 on ratebeer.com. Part 2 will see Triple Imperiale and Part 3 will see the beer that started it all for me, Grand Cru.

DES ROCS BRUNE
from Brasserie Des Rocs is a pure malt beer with no sugar added, 7 types of malt are used and 3 different kind of hops. It has a rich, complex fruit aroma full of subtleness. The taste has an impressive depth with oily development throughout the mouth. It is a deep, mystic and extremely mature beer.

Brune pours a very clear brownish-amber color and displays very lively, rapidly rising bubbles from the bottom of the chalice.  A tan head consisting of very fine bubbles rests on top and remains.  If you look at the beer from a top view you can actually see the head sizzling where the rising carbonation bubbles hit the surface.  That effervescence is definitely present in the mouthfeel, but the solution is so viscous with sugary sweetness that most of the prickling effects are greatly softened.

The scent is something to behold.  It’s so deep and complex.  How they use the word “subtleness” in the commercial description, I have no idea.  Most prominent is the dark fruit – cherry skins, over-ripe plums, prunes, all of which seem to lend a juicy, vinous, almost acidic tartness.  It is so intensely rich at the same time.  There’s caramelized sugars and toffee, like creme brulee.  Maybe I’m just baking a cake in my mind at this point, but I think there is some sweet bready maltiness as well, like pie crust.

The fact that the BdR brewers made this beer without any of the traditionally used sugar, and seemingly without any fruit what-so-ever, blows my mind.  A 7 grain malt bill is pretty complex, but there is no doubt that the yeast that was used to ferment this beer is more diligent than most humans.  I’m most curious as to the temperature that this fermented at.  There are so many esters, it was surely on the very high-end of the scale.

I would not call this beer a sour, but it seems to be teetering on the very border.  I struggle to fully explain that.  It’s clear to me that this sample is not tainted in any way.  It’s not infected.  It just tastes so much like fermented cherries, which to me are pretty tart.  The fruity esters are crazy potent, but there is a malt core beneath it all.  There’s brown sugar and a spiciness, like nutmeg or something similar.  It almost seems mulled as it warms.  I thought of spicy mango.  There is also bubblegum in the finish and a healthy (or not) dose of alcohol.  I just laughed out loud.  This beer is just silly.  You absolutely must taste it before you die.  Please help me explain it.  I’m clearly failing.

Lost Abbey Caught In The Crosshairs of Pagans, Witches, Art & Beer

The label that drove the debate.

Pagans, Witches, Art and Beer are all topics that are creating the controversy surrounding Lost Abbey’s label for their Witches Wit bottle.  This label, established in 2008, depicts  a witch being burned at the stake. Now, its creating quite a stir.

In many countries, many years ago, women who were accused of practicing witchcraft were exiled from society, tortured and in many cases, ultimately killed. So keep in mind when reading this that the label is historically accurate.

Now, for the record, I am staying out of it. This is an intriguing topic with some heated discussions surrounding it. People think this image is offensive to the pagan community and to history past. Lost Abbey views it as original artwork, something they take great pride in, like their beer. Lost Abbey/Port Brewing is one of my personal favorites. I respect the brand and the beer.

But I’ll let you decide by giving you snapshots from the NY Times article, comments by angry people and Lost Abbey’s explanation.

First of all, the meaning behind the label. Head brewer and owner, Tomme Arthur has always done an amazing job with his Lost Abbey brand, creating a story behind each beer. The artwork on the labels are the means by which he tells these stories. The back of the bottle reads:

 

Whether you’re a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you’ll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.

Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you’ll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch. In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch’s Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us.

 

The NY Times article simply states the facts and presents quotes from an outspoken member of the pagan and wiccan communities, a Ms. Noble:

 

Ms. Noble went home and wrote to her e-mail list. “Can we stop this brewer from their hate imagery?” read the subject line, in all capitals.

“Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven?” she wrote. “Such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be, either.”

Immediately, friends and followers of Ms. Noble began sending complaints to the brewery.

 

In response, Lost Abbey posted a lengthy statement on their website. Unfortunately for the past 24 hours, I have not been able to access their website, so I will do my best to summarize. Essentially, Lost Abbey stated that they did not mean to offend anyone and that the label is original artwork depicting a story. This imagery has been used in artworks around the world for centuries.

The brewery stated that they will be reviewing the label and request to make a change during their November meeting. However, its reported that a decision has already been made to change the image. At the end of this long response, the writer opened the forum for discussion on the subject. I thought this was a nice touch.

The subsequent comments consisted of statements ranging from: “Lost Abbey is great. Tomme Arthur, keep doing what your doing” to “I didn’t find the imagery particularly offensive, but the description on the bottle- specifically, Say Hello to the Prince of Darkness for us very demeaning”. Some were outraged while others backed the brewery’s right to be creative with their labels.

 

Whats your stance?

Leave a comment or email me at jess@beerblotter.com

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

 

The Match: A Night With Founders Brewing Conjures Up A Little Seger

October 22, 2010 1 comment

The bevy from Grand Rapids.

Timeless. Classic. Diverse. Words used to describe Bob Seger‘s musical gift – and wouldn’t you know, Founders Brewing’s beers. Mull that while I wax poetic. Founders Brewing has been my favorite brewer since I first dabbed a droplet of their Double Trouble IPA on my tongue, over a year ago.

Captivated, entranced and bewildered I sought out more of this unknown brewer’s stock. It took no further than my third beer, and not even a departure from one style, before I decided that this could be the one – the brewer for which my palate yearns.

 

The Backdrop.

 

Founders Brewing can be found along the Grand River, in the Western portion of the State of Michigan, in a nice little town called Grand Rapids. The mighty Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan and was once referred to as “Furniture City” because, well, take a guess. While it might not be the maxim of metropolis, it once was a heavy industrial area that thrived throughout the auto and lumber boom of the early 1900s.

As the auto industry boomed, so did Detroit’s music scene. Berry Gordy’s Motown thrived throughout the 60s and 70s, launching the careers of iconic stars like Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. We also saw Rock & Roll take a new form in Detroit. Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper and – perhaps most importantly for this article – the great Bob Seger, all saw incredible success with their raw, uncensored and blue-collar version of music’s greatest gift (um, Rock & Roll).

But like all great things, Michigan took a hard turn in the late 20th century. The adversity facing the Great Lakes State drove a major artisan sub-culture that helped bring Detroit out of the ashes. From that, we saw the birth of funk from George Clinton, which some say spawned the creation of techno – the Detroit spectacle that arose from Parliment Funkadelic melodic melodies. A new progressive culture remained.

Also, from the ashes came a focus on reviving dead markets. Once a major player in the beer brewing industry of the U.S., the beer production industry had shrunk to producing nothing more than Strohs by the 1970s. By 1985, Strohs’ brewery was destroyed and not one brewery remained in Detroit’s once vast beer industry. The company finally sold off to Pabst in 1999.

Beer came back to Michigan in the 1980s, but this time it went West. Bells Brewery began operations in 1983 in Kalamazoo, MI. After 8 years as the only (still remaining) craft beer producer, Founders Brewing joined the fold in 1991. Its funny to think that a short stretch of 50 miles of highway is all that separates two of America’s pioneering, and still dominate, craft breweries.

 

The Brewery.

 

Founders Brewing epitomizes everything about survival in the craft beer industry. Two college grads who enjoyed homebrewing decided to make a go for it, quit their jobs and make beer. After years of making balanced beers to pander to blue-collar Michigonians (made that term up), they hit the brink of bankruptcy. Realizing that they had to quit or develop their own unique niche, they decided to dump the “crap” beer and move on to a bigger challenge: “complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor.” (from their website)

Well hell yes! Nothing like a little American ingenuity and a dab of elbow grease to get the fire cooking on a damn good idea. By taking the plunge into uber-complexity, Founders risked utter decimation. Alas, they knew that separating themselves from the herd of 1990s lightly malted, pathetically hopped beers, was the way to go. They flourished.

The elusive spectacle of Founder's lore.

Founders Brewing now takes on a bevy of intriguing, mouth watering, mind melding styles. Check out their Breakfast Stout, which by the way, is made from an abundance of flaked oats, bitter and imported chocolates, and Sumatra and Kona coffee. No big deal, its only one of the most revered beers in American beerdom (again, made up). Not enough stuff? How about the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which adds CAVE-AGED (no lie) oak bourbon barrels at 11.2%. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’d hate that 100 on Rate Beer.

But alas, it was the IPAs which made me fall on bended knee. It was the sweet taste of unearthly nectar that said – “Hi, I’m beer. Know nothing else.” Founders packs a lineup of 4 incredible hop bombs. Centennial IPA is a standard used for Beer Judge training, Red Rye PA is no doubt the best rye IPA on the market (and I will physically fight you if you say otherwise. Seriously, grab a 2×4 and meet me behind your parent’s house), and Double Trouble turned my head Beetlejuice style, for about 5-6 minutes. But there was one more that I had yet to try – the gem of our 4 beer panel this week: Devil Dancer Triple IPA. Just wait, I’m getting there.

 

The Panel.

 

For our tasting panel, we selected 4 amazingly diverse styles. We tried to have no beers overlap because we wanted to savor the magnificent diversity of….NAY! we just had dumb luck and it worked out that way. Hooray random success; boo excess beer terms. The board: Cerise Cherry Fermented Ale, Porter, Devil Dancer Triple IPA and 2010 Nemesis. We proceed.

 

Cerise.

 

This one had caught my attention during a press release earlier this Summer. The beer was marketed as a “cherry fermented ale” which to me screamed “something like a kriek.” I could have not been further from actuality. I have read many that say that the beer has a slight tartness and soft fruity aroma and flavor. I’m just not there.

I had the Cerise once back in Ohio when it was fresh from the case and again during this panel, about 2 months from purchase. The first tasting opportunity brought a very rich fruit flavor that mimicked cherry soda; the panel tasting was straight blush wine. I believe that the first tasting was more of what they were going for, a fruity summery ale that packed a lot of cherry blast. Our panel version might simply have been the victim of skunk. It was interesting to see that much change in only 55 days or so, but worse things have happened.

Its not easy to diss an offering from your favorite brewer – but skip this one. I think that increasing the tartness with a wild yeast might add something to this guy, but right now its a straight fruit beer that gets easily agitated.

 

Porter.

 

Again, I have danced with this guy before. Once upon a time, I was dying of heat exhaustion after trouncing the streets of Washington DC in 99 degree weather. Lugging my baggage for 5 hours had left me screaming for a beer, and as always, I plead for something new and mind-bending.

We came across Pizzeria Paradisio in Dupont Circle and had heard of its lore. A dedicated pizza and alehouse, they offered some damn good choices across the board. One of those, was this guy – Founders Porter. I placed myself in a bubble, blocked out the heat and grabbed a pint from the tap. Delicious. One of the greatest, most complex porters that I have ever seen, smelled or tasted.

Our panel got to sample a bit of the goods. As I lifted the hood on this dark, sexy vessel of black grog, it exploded all over the place (not sure if this is sexual innuendo…still mulling it over). The beer had either been primed too much or aggressively disturbed during storage and retrieval – we shall never know. But, the beer had a much more aerated body this time around, and I like the subtle difference in how it affects the flavors.

The mass of chocolate and rich caramelized sugar prevails in this guy. This is a meal in a glass and a no-brainer for any dark beer fanatic. Get this one.

 

Devil Dancer Triple IPA.

 

The lore of this beer runs rampant. Rumors of its existence had plagued me for days, months,.. ok thats it. But still, I wanted it. When I got the call that the final bottle available at our favorite Cleveland shop had been acquired – I literally shot out of my pants. Devil Dancer: how I have waited for this dance.

The beer opens perfectly and with a moderate carbonation and maximum aroma that almost blows my eyes into their sockets. The beer pours with flawless orange-auburn hue and a slight head. We can dig in quickly.

The scent is explosive and I wonder what the hop bill must have looked like. This puppy is packing 112 IBUs and 12% alcohol, but the floral aroma hides the fermented wonder inside the bottle. Devil Dancer is an exploration through hop science. 10 different types of cones dry-hop this mother over the course of 26 days, to reach hop maxim.  Though the malt bill is designed to allow the hops to prevail, they aren’t absent from the beer. I taste a simple butterscotch or caramel flavor that gives this monster some balance.

The resins alone will baffle you. Buy every bottle you see, inject them with formaldehyde (don’t do this) and preserve them for yourself. Seriously, don’t share.

 

Nemesis.

 

What an amazing name eh? I think about this now and I say: “what’s my nemesis?” and “Is the beer trying to be the drinker’s nemesis, or its own nemesis?” Yep, we go that deep.

Black barleywine? I guess. Whatever it is, I love it.

If I had to create a beer that had to be its own nemesis, I think that I would try to pack as many aromatic malts and the brightest hops in a bottle and add a psychotically active yeast. That’s the ticket. Lets see who wins! Hahaha (morbid laugh).  Well, that’s not my own creative brilliance, because I think that is exactly what they did.

Nemesis is classified as a dark barleywine and we had some disagreement about this nomenclature. One of us called it an imperial stout (its black and 12%); one said it was a crazy ole ale (it has a ridiculous aged malt flavor) and I called it a hoppy barleywine (its 100 IBUs). Whatever you call it – you should make sure to use the adjective “spectacular” because this beer is a gauntlet of flavor.

The beer pours a deep black with almost no head. Its thick like maple syrup and has a mild burnt sugar scent. The beer develops from the first sip to the swallow, starting bitter and ending with a furious “I just ate a meal of pancakes” syrupy swarm. As the beer warmed up, I noticed that the hops became more noticeable and I thought it was a great touch. The beer somewhat resembled a dark roasty version of Avery Brewing’s Hog Heaven, though more complex and inevitably better.

If you read anything above, you can guess my recommendation. Get it.

 

The Match.

 

When we do these panels, we like to think about the brewer. Each brewer has a story behind its operation; its location, history, culture and its message are oh so important to the beer’s delivery. So, when I thought about which Michigan musician’s music would best espouse the Founders Brewing delivery – the Silver Bullet smacked me in the face.

For decades, Bob Seger has developed a musical sound that it fights for relevance, meets the needs of the everyday man, and yet strives to remain timeless with its unique character. Seger and Founders each fought from the trenches for relevance and after many years in the game, find themselves just as beloved as the day their first single (bottle) hit the market.

For me, they are both beloved because they each speak to the common man’s desire for something to love. With Seger, it was “working on those night moves” and for Founders, its working on those complex romances that fit in a glass. Kudos to you both for making Michigan proud and the rest of us happy rock & roll infused beer fanatics.

 

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