14 Oct 2009 @ 9:42 AM 

A nice little interviewish piece with Matt at Rock Art.

I kinda wish there were a little more specifics included about.. y’know.. why there’s no infringement, or even which billion dollar corporation he’s up against, but it’s possible that he’s not legally allowed to go into that in this sort of public appeal based on the actual terms of a lawsuit.

Still nice and worth a watch.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 14 Oct 2009 @ 09 42 AM

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Crap. I’d better be careful. Using the word “Monster” in a titular way might get me in trouble!

Le sigh.


In case you haven’t seen the news flipping around the internets over the past couple days, there’s another ridiculous lawsuit making the rounds.

This time, Hansen’s Beverage, the marketers and distributors of Monster Energy Drink have issued a cease and desist order to Rock Art Brewery in Vermont, informing them that they must change the name of their beer Vermonster because it will “undoubtedly create a likelihood of confusion and/or dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen’s MONSTER marks.” (from the Rutland Herald)

I’m not a copyright lawyer – I don’t even play one on TV – but I don’t think Hansen’s has even a shred of a case here. Unfortunately, Rock Art has a big battle in front of them, anyway. Why? Because we’re talking small craft brewery with limited resources vs. Giant Corporate Entities (TM). The easiest thing for Rock Art to do is to change the name. No money involved, right? Oh, except for re-branding the beer line that they’ve been brewing for a decade or more, getting new labels approved and printed, new tap handles, new packaging, etc. Hardly any work or cost, right? I mean. That’s like… overnight. Or months. Whatever.

It surprises me that we haven’t heard anything about the other “Monster” branded beers out there. It’s not all that hard to get a list on Beer Advocate of Monster-related beers (and note, Vermonster is not on there because I only searched for ‘Monster.’), can we assume that they also got cease & desist letters? And if they didn’t, then WTF?

Why is Rock Art being picked on? It doesn’t make any sense to me. If other breweries have gotten this cease and desist, I hope they choose to come forward and fight this with Rock Art.

Finally – who in their right mind would confuse Vermonster – a barleywine, sold in glass bombers – with Monster Energy Drink – a Red Bull knockoff, sold in giant cans? Their packaging and branding isn’t even remotely similar. I mean, in Bud Light Lime vs. Red Baron Light Lime you could see what they were talking about. This is just wrong.

Well, according to the article I referenced above, Hansen’s lawyer let slip to Matt Nadeau (nice French Canadian name there, by the way – solidarity! Yeah!), Rock Art’s owner, that they’re looking at getting into the beer market. Greeeaaat. More shitty beer.

So, this is how it apparently runs:

We have a brand named X. We would like to expand our brand X to include other products, so we will now summarily bully people out of our potential namespace, even though they have inhabited it for years before our brand X existed.

Asshats.

There’s a boycott of Hansen’s products going on in Vermont right now because of this ridiculous lawsuit, and it’d be great to see that expand. The sheer ridiculousness of this lawsuit should be addressed on a consumer level before it has the chance to cost Rock Art scads of money in court.

If I ever had the inclination to drink one of those godforsaken energy drinks, I would stop myself. Fortunately, I own taste buds.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 12 Oct 2009 @ 02 07 PM

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Part 1 of this little series happened a while back. It was my original foray into trying to figure out a good simplified set of statistics for beer. Feel free to head back there if you need a refresher.

You may have thought that I forgot all about this. In reality, I have been percolating.

The problem with my original post is that a lot of the math I’m using is fairly arbitrary. Basically, I was experimenting to try to find something meaningful. Mind you, that covers a good portion of actual statistics, but what I keep going back to in my head is that what I really want to do is come up with a good way to represent the relationships between the existing numbers in an easy to read statistic for the layperson.

So today, I’m heading back to IBUs because this, I think, is the root of a portion of the problem.

IBUs are calculated in a sensible manner… ish. The original calculation (for metric units) is meant to predict how many mg of iso-alpha acids there are per liter of beer. For example, 30 IBU = 30mg of iso-alpha acids/liter.

The non-metric unit formula – which deals with gallons – listed in Wikipedia (yeah, I’m referencing Wikipedia), looks like this:

Wh × AA% × Uaa ⁄ ( Vw × 1.34 ), where

  • Wh refers to the weight of the hops used, in ounces
  • AA% refers to the alpha acid percentage [of the hops in question]
  • Uaa is the percentage of alpha acid that is actually used during the boiling process
  • Vw means the volume of the wort, in gallons
  • 1.34 is a constant factor that adjusts the measurement to account for the use of U.S. customary units

There’s a little bit of a woogy bit on Wikipedia. They note in their text:

The bittering effect is less noticeable in beers with a high quantity of malt, so a higher IBU is needed in heavier beers to balance the flavor. For example, an Imperial Stout may have an IBU of 50, but will taste less bitter than an English Bitter with an IBU of 30, because the latter beer uses much less malt than the former.

True!

Then they note:

The technical limit for IBU’s is around 100; some have tried to surpass this number, but there is no real gauge after 100 IBUs when it comes to taste threshold.

This is where referencing Wikipedia comes around and bites you in the ass. On the other hand, it’s like someone is asking me to write this post.

The problem here is that other elements in beer do (of course) effect bitterness. 100 IBUs might be very hoppy but, as they note, the more malt there is the less the bitterness is perceivable. By that logic, if something is very highly malted you should technically be able to detect a bitterness difference above 100 IBUs. Certainly, there is a significant difference between Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA (90 IBUs) and Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA (120 IBUs). I’m having a hard time believing that the difference would be the same if it were only 10 IBUs more instead of 30. Maybe I’m deluding myself.

In any case, a measure of hop bitterness within a beer is not an accurate measure of the actual bitterness of the beer. However, the formula stated above does accurately measure the bitterness being contributed to the beer from the hops. We have to assume that there are other factors, but we’ll get to those another day. For now, let’s keep talking IBUs.

The BJCP guidelines (which are just a tick more static than other guidelines right now) show us that in the full range of beers in the world, acceptable IBU values range from 0 (at the low-end of Gueuze) to 120 (at the high end of American Barleywine and Imperial IPA). For the sake of argument, let’s consider those as our range. We have to accept the theory that there can be beers above 120 IBUs, because they can exist mathematically, but let’s call 120 our arbitrary upper limit because in order to standardize things, we need one.

Just for giggles, here’s a quick plot of all of the upper and lower limits of the BJCP beer styles, sorted by the mean IBU of each style (in green).

Far left is Gueuze, far right is IIPA. You can click it for a bigger version.

IBUs

What you can really get off of this is that the vast difference between the middle and the top vs. the middle and the bottom.

I broke all of the styles into three values: Bottom IBU, Top IBU, Average IBU. They are the stated bottom of the acceptable range for the style, the top of the acceptable range for the style, and the average of the range.

The mean of the Bottom IBUs is 21. The mode is 20.

The mean of the Top IBUs is 37. The mode is 40.

The mean of the Average IBUs is 29. The mode is 30.

So what does this tell us? That the line between “hoppy” and “not hoppy” is much thinner than it might seem when the upper end is 120. As we’ve already noted, this has a lot to do with factors other than hops, and that IBUs aren’t the best way to measure the bitterness of the beer itself, just how many hops were put in.

Okay, cool. That first part is interesting and the latter part is fairly obvious. We know we need to use IBUs – at least in part – in order to calculate an overall bitterness, so let’s see if we can breakdown the range of IBUs a little better. From this point out, I’ve actually discarded the average for anything but sorting, and I’ve put the highs and the lows together in the same variable to give us the upper and lower limit of the acceptable range all in one place.

The mean of all of the IBU values across all of the beer styles is 29, the median is 25, and the mode is 20. The standard deviation of values from the mean is ~19.

This seats the middle of the range of IBUs in beer styles squarely in the 20’s, and I would say that the average (29) probably represents what we could call our middle in terms of perceived hoppiness. The standard deviation from the mean gives us a high end of 48 – let’s say 50 – and a low end of 10. Anything above 50 would definitely be hoppy (but not necessarily bitter) and anything below 10 would probably not have any hop character at all.

If we were to break it down on this scale we could say that we have, essentially 4 categories.

0 – 10: No apparent hop character
10 – 30: Low hop character
31 – 50: High hop character
51+: Very hoppy

If we were to sort existing beer style IBU averages into these categories we would get:

0 – 10: Guezue, Lambic, Berliner Weisse, Lite Lager

10 – 30: Standard American Lager, Weissbier, Dark American Lager, Dunkelweizen, Scottish Light 60/-, Witbier, Roggenbier, Southern English Brown, Mild, Scottish Heavy 70/-, Flanders Red, Cream Ale, Munich Helles, Premium American Lager, Belgian Dubbel, Doppelbock, Blond Ale, American Wheat, Scottish Export 90/-, Flanders Brown, Irish Red, Belgian Blond Ale, Weizenbock, Munich Dunkel, Biere de Garde, Traditional Bock, Vienna Lager, Oktoberfest, Kolsch, Northern English Brown, Belgian Pale Ale, Strong Scotch Ale, Brown Porter, Dortmunder Export, Schwarzbier, Saison, Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Maibock/Helles Bock, Ordinary Bitter, American Brown Ale, Sweet Stout, Belgian Trippel, Baltic Porter, Eisbock

31 – 50: Special Bitter, North German Alt, Classic American Pilsner, American Amber Ale, Oatmeal Stout, German Pilsner, Dry Stout, California Common, American Pale Ale, Robust Porter, Bohemian Pilsner, Extra Special Bitter, Dusseldorf Alt, Old Ale, English IPA, Foreign Extra Stout

51+: English Barleywine, American IPA, American Stout, Russian Imperial Stout, American Barleywine, Imperial IPA

If we made the “low hop” cut off 29 (the average) instead of 30, Ordinary Bitter, American Brown Ale, Sweet Stout, Belgian Trippel, Baltic Porter, Eisbock would all be in the “high hop” category.

If we made the “very hoppy” cut off 48, English IPA and Foreign Extra Stout would be in the last category.

It’s close. Really close. Of course, some of the beers that end up in the hoppier categories actually end up having a much lower perceived bitterness due to the fact that they’re also very malty. Sweet Stout, Trippel, Baltic Porter, Eisbock, English Barleywine and Old Ale come to mind.

So now we have some benchmarks in place. I had been treating IBUs as a continuous scale, because it is a continuous measurement. However, if you believe that 100 IBUs is the upper limit of human detection and 0 IBUs is the lower limit, that would suggest a mid-range of around 50 IBUs. We’ve shown here that the mid-range, at least in terms of what we expect out of our beer styles, is actually a little lower than that, so we may actually have to do a little bit of normalization when we’re using IBUs in a formula to calculate bitterness more efficiently.

Next up: An IBU standardization formula and how OG and attenuation fit into the bitterness equation. (Part 3 is here)

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Nov 2009 @ 11 55 AM

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 06 Oct 2009 @ 11:22 AM 

This past weekend, as I vehemently elucidated this past week, gave us the combo World Beer Festival/Backyard Beer Festival in Durham, NC, complete with local Tweetcast. I won’t link in any of the audio from the weekend (mainly because I find it really strange to listen to myself talk – it’s like hearing myself on the answering machine, it’s all wrong), but you can go through the profanity-laden shorts over on my Posterous site.

I set out to write bit of a wrap-up of both events, but to be honest, the success and pure awesomeness of Fullsteam’s Backyard Beer Festival really blew me out of the water. Still, let’s start at the beginning.

World Beer Festival: Durham

It was fantastic to see the WBF back in its old digs at the Historic Durham Athletic Park. It’s just a nice space, and on the beautiful day that we had on Saturday it’s hard to not love walking around outside and drinking great beer.

The layout of this event was quite nice. All of the North Carolina beers (and others, more local like Georgia and South Carolina) were presented together, directly in the middle of the festival, and other breweries were fanned out around them. As usual, most of the imported beers were presented together as well as the obligatory macrobrews. It made navigation – even without a copy of the festival map in my hand (I gave it away to someone who didn’t get one) – very easy.

Every year that I go to this event, it always seems a little more crowded to me, but I’m not sure that reflects reality. It’s possible that I’m just getting more and more irritated with people being in between me and the beer. Why are all these people making me wait in line?!

The highlight of the festival for me happened to be the very first beer that I tried, which made the rest of the afternoon weirdly anti-climactic. Natty Greene’s from Greensboro brought a small keg of Flanders-style red ale that had been aging in oak barrels for 2 years. It was divine, and taking steps away from that afterwards was strange, especially as the general feel of the beer around the festival tended to focus almost exclusively toward the hoppy. Later, I got a chance to try their Cascade wet-hopped Southern Pale Ale again, and it was even more delicious than before. Awesome citrusy tang from the fresh Cascades, but quality-wise the sour red ale really stood out for me.

I was able to try a sample of Mother Earth’s soon-to-be-released IPA. It was big and hoppy, and quite nice if a little underbalanced (lots of hops!). I attempted their Wit soon afterwards, but it was totally overshadowed by the lingering hops of their IPA. I presume it is even awesomer than it seemed. They’re worth keeping an eye out for. Mother Earth has their grand opening set for October 24th.

I often approach beer festivals with goals in mind, as in “I’m going to try this particular type of beer today.” It won’t stop me from finding other styles that I enjoy, but I tend to focus on one and try to seek them out. This Saturday, that goal was Rye. Rye beers mystify me. For the most part, it seems almost like brewers are scared of rye. Maybe being able to say “Rye P-A” is just too good to pass up, but it seems to me that most of the time rye beers are so highly hopped that I can’t actually taste any rye. This stood true for every rye beer I tried at the festival. A short conversation I had with a friend of mine reveals how well this goes over.

Me: I’ve been trying rye beers today.

Him: Man, I can’t get behind it. It’s like you get a really good IPA going on and then there’s something really weird and wrong with it. Why would they ruin a good IPA like that?

Me: Or you could ask why they’re spending so much time covering up the flavor of rye with all those hops.

Him: Because it SUCKS.

I can’t say I agree.

I like the spiciness from rye, but it’s not often balanced well with the hop schedule which really just gives you a weird tasting IPA. This is a topic for a later column, but worth thinking about, anyway.

The one rye takeaway was from New Holland: Rye-Smoked Rye Doppelbock. It was not overly hopped. In fact, it was big and round and smoky and tasted almost exactly how bacon smells. I’m not sure if this is what they were shooting for, but they hit it, dead on. The first sip took me by complete surprise and then over the course of the sample I was continually more pleased with it. Is it a refreshing drinker? A pint to be had while shooting the shit with friends? Probably not. But with the right food it would be amazing.

Backyard Beer Festival

This was, to me, by far the highlight of the day. Why? Well certainly because I got to share my own beer with people. But what really made this whole experience stand out for me was the sheer enthusiasm of both the homebrewers and attendees. Sean and Chris took a good idea and executed it flawlessly. It’s especially impressive given that they did so in an incredibly short amount of time (3 weeks!) and inside a brewery that is under construction. These guys deserve every ounce of credit people can muster. It was a fantastic event.

Here’s a PDF of the brewers info sheet that was handed out to all the attendees as they came in. I hope Sean and Chris don’t mind that I scanned this in.

I can’t really take you through it from the point of view of an attendee, and maybe some of the people that attended will be willing to share some thoughts in discussion, but from a homebrewer’s perspective this was just damn cool.

A lot of people stopped to talk about the beer. They wanted to know about recipe formulation, what kind of hops I was using, what I was thinking (What were you thinking!?) when I came up with a recipe, and even about process. It was great to hear compliments about the beer and to be able to just shoot the shit about homebrew. It was wonderful to be able to taste a wide range of other people’s homebrew, as well. People really outdid themselves in this, especially in a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, it’s just now – days later – that I’m finally pairing up my memories of the beer that my wife and friends kept bringing over to me with pictures of people and the brewers info sheet to actually make a connection of exactly who made what I tried. I wish there had been more time to walk around and interact with other brewers. With any luck we’ll be able to connect at a later time.

A couple of homebrewers, I think, really need to be pointed out for their sheer ballsiness. These two guys, Austin Dowd and Brandy Callanan: they came in here with 5 months of brewing experience under their belts and poured two great beers. 5 months after I started brewing I was terrified to have my roommate try my beer much less a giant group of strangers. Those guys should get a medal for bravery.

I clearly need to stop this post, since we’re moving onto something like 35 pages now. I’d really love to hear from people who attended the event and other homebrewers, as well. Please, if you’re familiar with people who are there (or are one), send this around, shoot some feedback into discussion. I had a blast, I’m hoping everyone else did, too.

Finally, here are collected photos of both the World Beer Festival and the Backyard Beer Festival. These have been collected from various Facebook postings and other (even professional) outlets. Credit is given where it is due. I’ll be adding pictures to this gallery as I get more, so it’s probably worth checking back. I’ve tried to keep them in relative order of the day. Roughly.

For whatever reason I ended up in a LOT of pictures here (mind you – my wife and friends took some of these), and I apologize that you’re going to have to keep coming across my mug. It’s a good thing I’m so dashingly handsome.

[nggallery id=2]

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Categories: appreciation, beer festival, new beer, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Oct 2009 @ 11 24 AM

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 02 Oct 2009 @ 10:06 AM 

Today is the eve of a beer festival double-header. I’m sure everyone is just about tired by now of hearing me rail on about tomorrow’s World Beer Festival/Backyard Beer Festival marathon. I have a plan for tomorrow (and not just for a day-long tweetcast), and I thought it would be worth sharing.
Yep, it's a Beer Festival
I have a plan for myself, and my group of friends, to make it through the whole day on our feet. A lot of beer festival veterans will should know this information, but judging by the amount of vomit I’ve seen at beer fests, the ranks are many who need to follow this advice.

Beer Festival Survival Guide

Regardless of the fact that the beer festival session that you are attending is only (only!?) 4 hours long, a beer festival is an all-day event that must be planned accordingly. You may think that 2-ounces at a time over 4 hours isn’t very much beer, but you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact, because samples are so small (and rarely only 2 ounces) it is much easier to over-imbibe very quickly and turn a wonderful experience into an uncomfortable one.

Start preparing the night before

Hydrate. Yeah, yeah. It’s a party weekend, you wanna hang out and have a good time – it’s gonna be a great weekend! Beer festival! Par-tay!

Sure! Agreed. Live it up. But live it up in moderation. If you start the day hungover, it’s going to go downhill from there. WAY downhill. Have a few beers, have a good time, and have lots of water. Over hydrate today, because tomorrow you’re going to under-hydrate.

Eat well beforehand

Afternoon session? Eat a big breakfast. And some lunch. Evening session? Eat a big breakfast. And some lunch. And a decent dinner. Just eat well.

Why? Because you’re going to be drinking a LOT. You don’t want to be drinking on an empty stomach. It will end poorly. And don’t just trust that you’re going to get food there. You might! But chances are you’re going to be well into sampling before you get around to eating and by then, it’s already too late.

Wear comfortable shoes

You’re going to be on your feet for a long time. Most beer festivals don’t have any place sit down and take a load off. Yet, I still see women in high heels at beer festivals. Blows my mind. Make sure you’re going to be comfortable, it will make a difference on your whole day.

Drink water through the entire festival

Most beer festivals have water stations around. They’re not just for rinsing out your glass. Drink a few ounces now and then. If you drink 2 ounces of water every 15 minutes you’ll drink half of the water you should be consuming for the day, anyway. It’s not a lot of water, and it will keep you fresh and ready for more beer.

There’s also the added benefit of cleansing your palate. I try to drink a little bit of water every time I have a particularly heavy or hoppy beer so I can keep my palate ready for more delicate flavors later.

Don’t be afraid to dump your beer

This is huge.

If you don’t like a beer, dump it, don’t chug it.

If you’re not finishing a beer, dump it, don’t just walk around with it.

There are dump buckets everywhere for a reason. If you dump, you will drink more beer that your enjoy, and you will be a hell of a lot less likely to be over-intoxicated.

Bring something to write with/on

Most festivals will have some sort of program available for your reference, make sure your bring a pen or something to write on it with. You might find a beer that you really like that you want to remember for later. You might find a guy or gal that you really like that you want to remember for later. You might just want to remember where you parked your car. No matter what, take notes. Believe it or not, this will enhance your enjoyment of the festival.

As I’ve mentioned (ad nauseum), this weekend in lieu or written notes, I’ll be tweetcasting my World Beer Festival/Backyard Beer Festival experiences. Join me! We can all share beer notes together!

TASTE your beer

This is the most important thing.

It’s not a drinking contest. They’re not going to run out, there will be plenty of time to get lots of samples.

The whole purpose behind this event is to taste your beer. So taste it. Talk it over with your friends. Write it down. What flavors did you get out of that one? Bananas? Plums? Chocolate? Pine trees? You can get all of those things and so many more flavors. The more you talk about it, the more you will develop a vocabulary for your beer, and the more you will enjoy it.

For the love of god, take the time to enjoy it.

Plan some time within or after the festival to sober up

If you didn’t bring a Designated Driver, you are a total asshat if you leave a beer festival and go straight to your car and drive away. In fact, if you do this you are so much of an asshat you should be banned from going to future beer festivals.

Go get a pizza somewhere, or have one person stop drinking an hour or so before the end of the festival, or call a taxi, or something.

Beer Fest Veterans!

Did I miss anything? Any quick and handy tips about keeping your glassware handy and/or clean? Share the knowledge!

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 02 Oct 2009 @ 10 06 AM

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