01 Jan 2010 @ 12:13 PM 

This post was originally going to be for this month’s Session, #35: “New Beer’s Resolutions, but I canned it. It’s a cute topic, but I can’t do it. I don’t believe in looking back at mistakes. To learn from your mistakes is paramount, to dwell on them is folly. They are done and I won’t revisit them, but rather stay positive with their lessons in mind and move forward to greater achievement.
The future!
At the same time, I feel like resolutions are bunk. The number one way to not get something done is to make it a New Year’s Resolution. If you want something to get done, you need to roll out of bed in the morning and do it. Screw tying it to the calendar. Just get up and go.

I also won’t attempt to make any predictions about what could happen in 2010. The problem with predictions is that they are based on the past; they’re based on our current knowledge set and our current environment. We cannot forsee individual random events or, even more importantly, what will be invented that will change the world in the next 12 months. It’s impossible and fruitless to speculate. You can only be ready for anything and enjoy the ever-living-crap out of it.

But! The dawn of a new year is an opportunity to look forward to all of the wonderful things to come that you DO know about. Here’s my personal list of things to come in 2010:

Homebrew and Competition

After withdrawing myself from homebrew competitions for a while, I plan to get my feet wet again to see what comes out of it. I’ve had some rather snarky judges in the past that have made me feel rather jaded about entering competitions, but in the spirit of “I’m going to start a business.” I’ve decided to say screw-all to the critics, throw my hat back into the ring, and wait for the Gold Medal to arrive in the mail. If the rest of my big bold headings work out as I expect them to, this will also be the last year I enter into homebrew competitions.

Here’s where my beer is going:

  • 2010 Winter Brew Bash, Carrboro NC: Start local, right? These guys are working hard to have what appears to be a really incredibly non-traditional homebrew competition. What I like about it is that it is built around a homebrew tasting, so that brewers and the public alike can come in and try all of the beers that are entered into competition. It’s a lovely PR event for homebrew and has the possibility of getting a lot of new people involved in the hobby. At the same time, I love sharing my beer with other people and it’s a good opportunity for that, as well. Finally, as far as I can tell, it’s not tied to category, and thank god for that, because I don’t fit inside categories well.
  • LoneRider Brewery‘s Brew It Forward: Another style-less competition, where the prize involves getting your beer made and sold. I’m not sure when this is coming up – spring sometime – but they’re so close to my house that it seems ridiculous to not send them some beer.
  • National Homebrew Competition: My opportunity to play to style and send something out, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll get a feedback sheet from a judge that doesn’t make me want to punch them in the throat.

2010 Craft Brewers Conference Panel Presentation: I’m a Social Media Guru Now!
One of the things that I am both looking forward to and slightly terrified of is the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference where I will be part of a panel presentation entitled Storytelling 2.0: Social Media as Conversation with some colleagues that I feel rather starstruck about. Fullsteam’s Sean Wilson (one of my co-panelists) posted a nice up front review of what we’re attempting to do. Here’s the selected excerpt from our draft pitch that sells it best:

It’s time to stop thinking of Twitter, Facebook, and blogging as simple extensions of your press releases. Storytelling 2.0 will help you discover your own unique voice, and connect, build, and bond with your fan base. It’s time to talk with — not at — your audience.

Craft brewing is story-driven. Each individual brewery has a unique story to best engage its customer base. Social media empowers your brewery to include enthusiasts in that story, giving them access to your narrative voice in an unparalleled way. Well-crafted updates, photo postings, and personalized responses engage your customers, giving them a chance to see inside your operations and meet the characters in the story first-hand.

By the by, I hope nobody ever calls me a social media guru. I don’t use it enough (I’m sure my wife would argue that I use it way too much) – on purpose – because I feel like it’s easy to spam and therefore achieve negative impact through annoyance, but I think that automatically takes me out of “guru” running.

As we work on the conference panel over the next few months, you’ll probably see a few columns here about social media and how it pertains to breweries. These columns will not be meant as part of the presentation or may not even be related, but it’s the best way I have to work through things. At the same time, I hope that my ramblings will be useful to the internet/brewing community at large.

Know Your Brewer Re-Launches

We haven’t said a whole lot about this yet, but I am working with Sean over at Fullsteam on a little project that I think will turn out for awesome. Know Your Brewer, a website that was originally focused on North Carolina Beer as part of Pop the Cap 2.0. The site provided the basic template and early content for the North Carolina Brewers Guild website NCBeer.org, which I’m also helping on, but that left a domain and a concept unoccupied. I’ve somehow managed to convince Sean to let me help retro-fit Know Your Brewer for a new life.

The re-launch is coming and it’s coming nationwide. I’m not yet sure of our official re-launch date, I can say that I think it will be pretty terrific. The site will focus on the men and women behind craft beer – the people that make it, the brewers – and look at their beer and their breweries through their eyes. We’re hoping to have writers and bloggers across the country interviewing brewers from across the country, with lots of added content – recipes, Q&A, etc, all in a regular weekly format.

I’ve already done interviews at a couple of breweries and I have a half-dozen more scheduled in the next few weeks. It’s been a ton of fun talking to brewers about their work, how they got into it, and what they enjoy the most about it. It’s been a ball and I can’t wait to share it.

What you see there isn’t the final design, but it’s on its way. Look for an official announcement here (and, of course, on Know Your Brewer) soon. In the meantime, we’re recruiting writers – are you interested? Let me know!

Announcing the Location of Mystery Brewing Company

Finally, in either the second or third quarter this year, I will be making the announcement on the geographical location of my own startup: Mystery Brewing Company.

At that point, the blog will likely go through a slight transition where you end up hearing a lot more commentary about startup issues. On of my major criticisms with startup brewery content I have found, read, and yes, even paid thousands of dollars for, is the lack of practical detail. I get a lot of “you need to fill out TTB forms and apply for licensing.” And while it’s true, it’s not necessarily as helpful as telling me what forms are around, what information they tend to expect, and what pitfalls I should look out for. Not to say I’ll be posting how to fill out your TTB label forms here, but I will, whenever possible, post practical information about the startup process specifically pertaining to startup breweries in the hopes that others coming after me will find something useful. I believe that the future of the industry lays in continuing spread of the individual small brewery, rather than the continual creation of more megabreweries, and I hope that I can help the industry in the right direction.

Back when I was in high school, as a miserable teenager, I remember somebody taking me aside and telling me: “Remember these days, because these are the best days of your life.” And then I remember thinking, “Oh god – kill me now.” They were wrong. Totally and completely and in all ways possible: wrong. They were not even remotely the best days of my life. Every year that I’ve been alive, things have just been better and better, more fun and more awesome, and I can’t imagine that changing now. I’m looking forward to 2010, for all of these reasons up here and the hundreds of reasons that I haven’t found out about, yet.

Happy New Year, everyone. It’ll be a great one.

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 15 Jul 2009 @ 4:41 PM 

Last night, I went to multi-brewery beer dinner. It’s the first time I’d gone to a beer dinner that wasn’t hosted at a brewery and also the first since I started writing here. Overall, I had a blast, but it got me to thinking: What exactly makes a successful beer dinner?
Beer Dinner Menu, Spice Street, July 14, 2009
Certainly, there are two easy starting points: Good food and good beer. Without those, you are doomed to fail, but if that’s the only thing you’ve got, I think you’re only coming out at mediocre. So I tried to come up with a little list of what I think makes (or would make) a beer dinner exceptional.

Have brewery reps present. Last night, we had brewmasters from two of the four breweries represented on site (Triangle and Lone Rider, and a rep from a 3rd (Natty Greene’s). They came around to each table as their beer was being served and talked a little bit about the style, how they thought it would pair with the course, a little about what was going on with them for business and everything. It was a wonderful touch, and the 4th brewery was noticeably absent when their beer was poured. If brewery reps aren’t available, at the very least, have a beer connoisseur or cicerone available to go around to each table to talk to people about what they’re drinking and eating.

Be thoughtful with your pairings. I really enjoyed the menu last night, but we had what I would consider beer pairings for wine people. I’m not trying to be disparaging, here, but it was organized in a very familiar way. Light beers went with seafood. Dark beers went with red meat and chocolate. It’s traditional, and really mimics the way most people pair wines with food. To be fair, if you’ve got a wine-friendly crowd that’s fairly unfamiliar with beer/food pairings, this is probably a great way to go. Myself, I like it when you actually work on the flavors available in the food and the beer together for an end result.

For instance, one of the pairings last night was Lone Rider’s Shotgun Betty Hefeweissen with a hop-marinated scallop and frisee salad. This is a traditional pairing. I’m not sure it really worked. Without doubt: the beer was excellent and the scallop was excellent, but the beer scrubbed the rather delicate flavor of the scallop off of your palate entirely. They were both great, but they weren’t great together. It might have been really interesting to see Lone Rider’s Deadeye Jack Porter paired in this instance; using the dark roasted flavors (and probably lower carbonation) to play against the light flavors and somewhat spicy flavors in the scallop to create a whole new sensation across the palate might have been really fantastic. Mind you – I haven’t tried it. It might suck. But I think getting that kind of non-traditional pairing right is a step toward creating a fantastic beer dinner.

At the same time, you can’t really beat chocolate stout and chocolate cake together, traditional or not. Damn that’s tasty.

Give people information. I think it’s important to remember that craft beer still has a really small market share and that to population at large, craft beer – much less beer/food pairing – is something entirely new. Giving people information – especially printed information – that they can refer to during the dinner and even take with them afterward, is tantamount in getting them to enjoy themselves and come back for more later. Tell them what they’re drinking, what to expect out of what they’re drinking, what to expect from the pairing, and where to find the beer later. (Presumably, they know where to find the food.) Education is key. There are three related reasons that so many smart people are into wine: 1) There is a lot to learn. 2) There are readily available resources to learn about wine. 3) Smart people like learning. Craft beer fits into the same mold. Exploit it.

What about you? Outside of “good beer” and “good food” what makes a good beer dinner into a great beer dinner for you?

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 01 May 2009 @ 10:02 AM 

I am not, by nature, a beer reviewer.

In heaven, there is no beer.

In heaven, there is no beer.


Don’t get me wrong: I love beer. But I also love words. I have a difficult time with how most beers are described to people – I think they’re done in terms that are really inaccessible to the average layman drinker. (“Hoppy,” for instance, might be the worst adjective ever for a beer, in my mind. Hoppy, eh? You think? Because otherwise they’ve made gruit? Good work.) On the other hand, I’m not sure I can do any better – thus my reluctance to review beers.

However! I’ve had four beers over the last 7 days that aren’t very widely accessible, and they really need mention. Here they are, in chronological order.

La Muerta, Freetail Brewing: I was lucky enough to snag a bottle of this from Scott Metzger of Freetail at the end of the Craft Brewers Conference. I was visiting good beer-loving friends that weekend and as part of my host gift to them, we shared the bottle. The important thing here is that Freetail doesn’t bottle. It’s a brewpub in San Antonio. You could see where the indent on the cap from the emily capper. Awesome. Inside? Big lush imperial stout. Lots of great coffee and smoky notes – like lots of black patent rushing across your palate. Hops were balanced really well to not overwhelm nor be overwhelmed by roasty toasty goodness. You can only get this stuff in San Antonio, TX. If you’re near by go support your local brewpub. They make some quality material.

Paul’s Day Off, Duck Rabbit Brewery: This is a limited release from Duck Rabbit – on tap only around North Carolina. If you’re in the RDU area it is your duty to find this beer before it disappears. Here’s a quote from the brewery’s press release:

Earlier this year owner and brewmaster Paul Philippon gave himself a much needed day off. The other brewers at Duck-Rabbit took this lull in supervision to brew a special batch of beer to celebrate the day. When Paul returned he was greeted with Paul’s Day Off fermenting away in the tank. Paul’s Day Off is a Farmville style black ale. This beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and unsupervised. The beer is brewed with a variety of 7 different malts and a large dose of American hops. After fermentation the beer took a vacation in 23 year old pappy van winkle barrels before going back into the tanks for a final dry hopping of Nugget, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Chinook hops. The beer weighs in at around 9% and displays a big aroma of citrus, pine, vanilla, oak, and bourbon. The flavor shows layers of depth with hops, malt, and barrel character all melding together . The beer will be available draft only in North Carolina. We hope you enjoy Paul’s Day Off as much as we did, because who knows when or if Paul will ever take another one.

No joke. It is magical beer. The complexity of this brew is astounding. You’ve got big rounded malt flavors, coffee, chocolate, bourbon, smoke, vanilla, a fantastic big floral character from the hops. It’s a full journey inside your mouth. It also doesn’t feel a bit of its 9% ABV. It’s a drinker, to be sure. If you can, find some of this before it’s all gone.

From Plow to Pint

From Plow to Pint


Sweet Potato Beer, Fullsteam I got a chance to try out Fullsteam’s Sweet Potato beer at a “Tweetup” last night. It’s not what I think you’d expect from a sweet potato beer, and for that it’s better. You think sweet potato pie, or sweet potato casserole or something, you’re thinking sweet, marshmallows, allspice and all that crap, right? Not in this beer. No spices. It’s sweet potato. I asked brewmaster Chris Davis about it and he said, “I’m not sure how many fermentables I’m getting out of them [the sweet potatoes], but it [the beer] is getting most of the color, a good deal of the body, and a whole lot of aroma from them.” It’s a really fantastic beer – caramelly and earthy at the same time. It’ll be a real treat when they open doors and this is finally available commercially. I should also note that they’re “Rocket Science IPA” was damn, damn tasty.

LoneRider Shotgun Betty LoneRider was also at the “Tweetup” – another local startup available in an increasing number of venues around the triangle. Shotgun Betty is their flagship, a Hefeweizen. It’s always a real pleasure to get a good clean wheat beer – this one was very crisp and very refreshing, despite big banana and clove notes. I usually find big estery wheats to be a little cloying, but this was very clean. It’d be a great drinker on a hot summer afternoon.

I really wanted to speak to DeadEye Jack – their porter – which I sampled, as well. But I’m under the impression that it had a coffee addition this time around that isn’t usual. It was incredibly tasty, but I’d hate to give a wrong impression about their beer, especially as I appeared to get both their Twitter feed and the name of their product wrong when I was Tweeting about it yesterday. Good heavens, how embarrassing. Beer giveth and beer taketh away.

Unfortunately, 99% of the internet won’t be able to find these – at least not today. But the time is coming. With any luck, all of these guys will fare well with the craft beer market and you’ll have your day of being able to find one, or many, of these excellent brews. If you’re local to any of them, it’d be a crime not to track some down. Do it!

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Categories: beer review, RDU
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 May 2009 @ 10 53 AM

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