Smashing Pumpkins

In addition to consuming a really just stupid amount of commercial pumpkin beers, yesterday I brewed my second pumpkin beer of the year. In addition to last year’s stand-out, Symphony of Decay, I decided to brew a Pumpkin Pie Porter. I added the same 4 pounds of pumpkin puree that I added to Decay, but I decided not to roast either addition out of laziness. Decay just entered its second week of bottle-conditioning and PPP has just started fermenting. I’ll be interested to see how this year’s Decay turned out, as it was much closer in color than last year’s and had the pumpkin spice aroma addition doubled. We’ll see how these turn out.

Craft Beer People Are Soft As Baby Shit

How soft are craft beer people? I actually thought about putting a disclaimer at the start of the post roughly equivalent to #NotAllMen, but then I realized 1. this is my personal blog, I can say whatever I want and 2. I don’t need any fedoras.

I love beer, especially what we call “craft beer,” and if you’re reading this blog you probably do, too (or you’re my mom). But I am developing a growing tumor on my brain thanks to “craft beer culture.”

For those of you who don’t know, I recently got the opportunity to write for Deadspin, an excellent sports site and member of the ubiquitous Gawker Network. My article on pumpkin beers got more traffic than anything else I’ve ever written by an exponential margin. It was an opportunity that I came upon thanks to my friend, Will, who writes the daily “Drunkspin” column on beer for Deadspin. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would love the chance to do it again. The only very minor, and very small, dark cloud was the comment section (naturally). For the most part, the commenters were polite, or at least funny and some even offered great suggestions for new beers to try. This is, at its heart, why comment sections exist and why craft beer is so cool. It is a wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions with people I don’t know about a topic I’m passionate about and hear their’s in return. As I will go on to state later, I think thoughtful discourse and discussion is exceptionally important to the growth and maturation of craft beer as an industry and as a – shudder – culture.

…But then there’s fucking clowns like this guy:

smartass

That top paragraph/disclaimer was my attempt to address an inherent flaw in my ranking without making it too boring, and wrapping in a little joke at the end. All reviews are by their nature subjective. Those of us who enter into doing them, do so knowing that 1. people will disagree with you unconditionally, and 2. you need to bring objective criticisms to the table. The comment itself doesn’t bother me, nor to do I believe for a nanosecond that this kind of anonymous douchebaggery is limited to my article, craft beer, or anything else. A brief look at GamerGate can tell anyone with functioning brain cells as much (so, basically everyone outside of #GamerGate). The comment does, however, provide a nice jumping in point for the primary thrust of this post: craft beer people are soft as baby shit (and it’s an issue of culture).

In the example of “papaturf,” the mere exclusion of a beer that is not distributed anywhere within 500 miles of me renders my opinion immediately invalid. Ignore the fact that I’ve been passionately involved with craft beer since I was old enough to drink it (and financially sound enough to afford it); and ignore the fact that I am capable of making my own beer, have read numerous books on the topic, and have a functioning knowledge of both the art and science of zymurgy; and ignore the fact that I’ve refined my palate over literal thousands of beers – good, bad and meh; and ignore the fact that I took the time out of my life to drink (to completion, mind you) twenty-fucking-seven different pumpkin beers and then write nearly 3,000 words giving thoughtful analysis of them (with objective criticisms and attempts at humor to make the reading not dry-as-fuck). None of that matters, though, because Schlafly isn’t there (as an aside, I’ve had Schlafly Pumpkin Ale and it is very good, but I omitted it because I would be relying solely on my memory of the beer and that is a disservice to anyone reading a recap of it).

Additionally, the second most common comment revolved around my extremely low ranking of Pumking, what is widely regarded as the “best” pumpkin beer by “craft beer people.” My low ranking of this beer also eliminates any possible credibility I have. With good cause, too, considering how ruthlessly I lampooned this beer (emphasis added):

26. Southern Tier Pumking
Too bad. This is traditionally one of my favorites, and I’m willing to give Southern Tier, a fairly respectable outlet, the benefit of the doubt that I just got a bad bottle, but that bottle was undrinkable. The aroma is great—pie crust mixed with pumpkin puree and vanilla—but that’s where my praise stops. The heavy, overpowering vanilla mixed uneasily with a medicinal sweetness and a pungent, lingering bitterness; the whole thing felt artificial and gross, right down to the metallic aftertaste.

I don’t think I could’ve criticized Pumking any softer than that; I even made excuses for the beer/brewery and praised aspects of it.

And this is the crux of my argument: everyone is entitled their opinion, and I enjoy when people disagree with me and can make valid retorts to my comments, but people in-and-around craft beer (i.e. “craft beer people”) needs to grow a thicker layer of skin. Where this stops being about me (because the irony of me whining about comments that disagree with my opinion isn’t lost on me) and starts being about “craft beer culture” is when the discourse shifts away from any thoughtful analysis and cocoons itself in self-aggrandizing, bubble-building bullshit. Returning to my friend Will, he wrote an article today talking about Coronado’s Idiot IPA. This is a beer I reviewed here, and thought was just okay – a tinge better than mediocre. Will’s article essentially says the same thing; his writing style is a sort of framed stream-of-consciousness that moves from point A to point B, but takes a circuitous route. As such, his article takes an aside that criticizes some members of “Craft Beer Movement™” (a playful dig and including the craft beer pundits, like, you know, me and him) who pretend that beer without alcohol would be just as awesome. It wouldn’t. Will’s critique is tongue-in-cheek and done largely against a strawman, and he weaves into his criticism of Coronado, saying basically we don’t really need another 8.5% ABV basic DIPA.

This well-argued, if largely innocuous, critique drew the ire of the people at @craftbeer (a wonderful name to use as a microcosm of “craft beer people”):

They go on to call Will’s writing “sensationalist garbage about beer” and accuse him of “ripping craft beer a new one in every article” and of selling “controversy and call[ing] it journalism.” First of all, beer reviews aren’t fucking journalism. Journalism’s for war-correspondents and the guy who has to stand outside in the hurricane to tell us it’s raining. Beer reviews are just opinion-slinging. That, of course, doesn’t make this sheltered perspective any less idiotic or – to my point – toxic.

Criticism is necessary for craft beer to mature. There are over 3,000 breweries in the United States currently. People are questioning whether or not the market can sustain that number. I think it can, but I also think 50% of those breweries will be closed within 5-10 years. The reason being is that “craft beer culture” has become little more youth soccer, participation trophy, glad-handing bullshit. In fact, the only major, vocal critic of craft beer right now – who isn’t an industry insider – might be Will. And it is the close-minded “be nice to everybody, because we’re all a family, and everyone’s trying really hard and we’re all in this together” nonsense that will end up causing those breweries to close, because no one has the balls to tell them, “Hey, your beer sucks.” People just stop buying their beer and then that’s that. “Focusing on the positive,” to use @craftbeer’s terminology, is akin to turning a blind eye to the negative. It’s perfectly okay to pile on Bud-Miller-Coors, but to say all Lagunitas’ beers taste like IPAs is beating up on the little guy. The little guy… who just opened a second production facility in Chicago and whose owner is a douchebag.

Speaking of Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas, he complained when Sam Adams released what they marketed as a West Coast IPA (Sam Adams’ Rebel IPA). Magee took to Twitter and accused Sam Adams of “targeting” tap handles (specifically, Lagunitas’ because no one actually gives a shit about this “craft beer movement/family” nonsense unless it affects their bottom-dollar). That’s not “targeting” someone’s tap handles, that’s called releasing a fucking beer in a fucking style that is fucking popular in order to make some fucking money. But, of course, since Sam Adams is bigger than Lagunitas it’s considered “bullying” in the craft beer culture. To the rest of world, it’s called business. But business is a dirty word in the “Craft Beer Movement™,” and that is exactly why I believe those breweries I mentioned above will go belly-up. Everyone wants to believe that craft beer is some kind of magical utopia where demand will always outpace supply, and there won’t be a need for competition and everyone can make money, and everyone can open a brewery after 2-3 decent homebrew batches, but back here on planet Earth that just isn’t the case.

The reason Sam Adams is bigger and more successful than Lagunitas is because Jim Koch is a businessman and Tony Magee is not. The reason craft beer crashed in 90s is because a bunch of people who weren’t businessmen (or who were businessmen but not brewers) thought what everyone in the “Craft Beer Movement™” seems to think now, and they opened up a bunch of shitty breweries that produced shitty beers and they lost their life’s savings. Whether you make missiles or artisinal libations, rule number one of running a business is know your fucking market. Passion and guts and camaraderie are great, and they can take you a long way, but money goes farther.

And to be clear, there are parts of craft beer culture – like I mentioned at the outset – that I absolutely love. I love meeting with local brewers and talking with brewery reps and bar managers and just other beer geeks about this awesome thing that we all enjoy… but it is time for Craft Beer – that’s fucking all of us – to start doing some self-examination. There are legitimate issues within craft beer. Dann Paquette’s tweets exposing “pay to play” in Boston bars immediately comes to mind. This is the kind of topic that should be covered by beer writers and pundits and not relegated to a series of drunken tweets.

If I may go back to GamerGate, the video game industry is in the midst of a very painful, very public identity crisis. In business world this would be called a paradigm shift or a change in the market. Video games have exploded beyond their niche market. And some of video game’s toughest (and smartest and most articulate) critics are the one’s coming under fire from the old guard who want to keep things the way they are. In no way am I saying @craftbeer’s small hashtag-tantrum is comparable to GamerGate (or the threats/violence therein) or that Will Gordon is craft beer’s Anita Sarkeesian. What I am saying is that there are lessons to be learned from the video game industry’s explosive growth-spurt, its increasing ubiquity, and the subsequent backlash of its former niche-core. There are parallels to be drawn in how the industry, and the side-industry that reports on and critiques it, grew together and became intertwined. There are issues of ethics in video game “journalism” (opinion-slinging), they just happen to having nothing to fucking do with GamerGate or its victims. Craft Beer as an industry would do well to not ostracize its outspoken critics or their sometimes-harsh opinions, because in doing so, they would lose a valuable voice in the discussion: that of the dissenting opinion.

 

To close with some cliches/platitudes: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat. The unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined beer is not worth drinking.

Pumpkinmania, Runnin’ Wild

Pumpkin BeersJust got back from Craft Beer Cellar Braintree and after dropping a stupid amount of money on beer, I came back with 16 pumpkin brews (plus a couple stouts). Not all sixteen are pictured above.

As you’ve probably figured out, I’m a huge pumpkin beer fan. I plan on reviewing all of these beers and possibly a couple others since I didn’t see the Smuttynose, Dogfish Head or Buffalo Bill’s pumpkin ales. Any other pumpkin beers I should add to make it an even 20/25?

 

I’ll also be brewing my maple pumpkin ale this week. Very excited to try that again this year with a little more talent in my game.

 

Some Days You Just Need A Beer

As the title says, some days you just need a beer. Tonight’s beer is Out of Bounds Stout by Avery Brewing out of Colorado. The label depicts a skier traversing a back-country slope. I had the privilege to get stranded in Colorado while on a snowboarding trip. A big storm hit Boston and delayed our flight home; my dad, brother and myself spent the weekend in Denver and made a trip out to Avery’s brewery. Avery is fantastic. The majority of their beers are just killer.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. Summer was busy, which is to be expected. Birthdays, BBQs, camping trips, weddings, and (unfortunately) funerals. As this is, ostensibly, a homebrewing blog I didn’t feel much need to update it since I hadn’t been brewing very much. The last two brew-days I’ve had were group brews with the Metro South Homebrew League. I’m hoping to squeeze another one in this week after Sunday’s semi-successful session. The club bought two barrels from Jack’s Abby, and we’ve brewed a Belgian Dubbel for one and a Flanders Red for the other. It’s shaping up that the Belgian barrel will get some kind of stout next.

Avery OOBS

Out of Bounds is roasty and dry. It smells sweet and chocolaty, but the flavor is more bitter with a strong roasty flavor. The bottle states that Avery isn’t “afraid to use a ton of roasted barley and a mountain of hops to give this full-bodied stout that little extra something.” It is definitely robust, finishing dry with a little bit of sweetness. A solid beer. Not what I was hoping for, but certainly not a disappointment.

I’m planning the next beer to be my pumpkin ale, Symphony of Decay.

What’s Brewing (Haha, See What I Did There?)

Long time no thing. Yeah, I know. Get over it.

Despite not actively brewing recently, I’ve been fairly busy with beer-related activities (not to mention the usual hodgepodge of less important work-related and life-related activities). I’ll run through them in reverse-chronological order, because that’s how my brain functions.

Yesterday (6/18) – On account of our fearless leaders being too hungover from the National Homebrewers’ Conference busy with important life matters, the Mashholes homebrew meeting was cancelled. A few of the guys decided to do an impromptu get-together at Union Brewhouse in Weymouth. It was my first time there and it is a pretty solid joint with a great beer selection and good food. Parking was a little confined and I may have backed into a pole attempting a 97-point turn, but overall solid. Lots of good talk about beer, brewing, kegging and potential ideas for the club.

Also Yesterday – The beer style for the first ever Mashholes Homebrew Competition was announced, and it is the noble Pale Ale. I have yet to brew a pale ale not of Indian descent, so I think this will be a cool, straight-forward style that I’m looking forward to brewing. The competition is intra-club, so it’ll be exciting to see the different variations that people brew. Really excited about this.

Saturday (6/14) - I went over to my friend Shaun’s place to “help” him brew a Citra Pale Ale. He brought this to one of the homebrew club meetings and it is probably one of the better homebrews I’ve ever had. I mostly watched and drank his beers, but it was really insightful to see how someone else brews and where our processes/equipment differ. I ended up heading to a BBQ after that and ended up at Porter Cafe (my favorite beer bar in West Roxbury) and ran into my little brother and another brewing buddy, Joe. Joe and I talked about Wheatfest, which is a homebrew event hosted by our mutual friend Keith focused on wheat-related beers. Wheatfest is this Saturday (6/21) and I’ll be bringing R’lyeh.

Friday (6/13) – My new chest freezers arrived. One is going to be a fermentation chamber (5cu ft) and the other is going to be converted into a keezer (kegerator/freezer, 7cu ft). I’m planning to draft up the plans tonight or tomorrow and start getting the materials and parts together over the weekend. The builds probably won’t be done until end of July, so I’m using the 5ft freezer to keep some Omaha Steaks cold. I also had dinner with Matt (of Matt Brown Marzen fame) at Cagney’s in Quincy. I also went to Cagney’s with Greg on Tuesday (6/10); it’s a pretty cool spot that’s close to my house. The food is excellent and they have a decent beer selection, too. I had Be Hoppy on draft for the first time on Tuesday. Greg, true to stereotypes, had the Melonhead with a slice of watermelon.

And that about takes us back to the last brew club meeting, two weeks ago. I’ve got Bandito, R’lyeh, and Arctos in bottles now. All have been very well received. There’s some tweaks I’d make to each of them but I am excited for how well my beers are turning out now. The next brew will be that pale ale, and I’m thinking of busting out a secret ingredient for that…

 

Homebrew Review: Bandito

Oh shit, you guys. It’s that beer I never shut up about! Yes, the elusive IPA – a rarity into today’s craft beer market – has been my homebrewing white whale since my first failed attempts at the style (and its variants). It started with Suicide By Hops, an exercise in lupulin-based hubris. Completely foregoing any rational thought, I went straight for the double IPA style before even dabbling in its weaker (and therefore, inferior) namesake. I was reward with an uncarbonated and undrinkable liquid that I wouldn’t serve to my worst enemy (though I probably made my girlfriend taste it). Next I tried a black IPA, a style that is so well-defined and agreed upon that only a buffon could make a bad one… and thus Midnight In the Garden was born and subsequently withered on the vine.

It wasn’t until Cheeky Bastard that I first sniffed the citrusy, piney scent of potential success. And though Cheeky was a fragrant and full-bodied brew, it lacked the bitter oopf required of an IPA. And thus, the recipe and journey towards Bandito was embarked. So here we are…

Bandito 1So how is the mysterious, elusive Western brew? In the words of my friend Jamie “pretty freaking good.” But Jamie works for tips, so let’s take that with a grain of salt… then again, in the words of Matt (eponymous marzen fame) called it “really good. [H]oppy but not like “imma kick your tongue in its ass” kind of way.” Okay, 2 for 2. We can’t rely on Untappd for reliable results, since all the check-ins are mine. So I guess that leaves it up to me to analyze…

This beer was brewed and dry-hopped with a copious amount of Mosaic hops, which is said to have a distinctly “blueberry” quality. I don’t know if I agree with that assessment, but it does impart a unique, fruity quality in both smell and taste. You’d recognize the Bandito when it walked into  the room; the aroma is strong, pungent even, with that distinctly Mosaic stonefruit/tropical fruit/blueberry aroma, backed by an ample dry-hopping of Simcoe and Cascade that supports the fruity, citrusy character without completely dominating the resiny tinge. The malts, however, are fully dominated in aroma.

But not necessarily in taste. The hops are Bandito‘s flash but the malts temper that just the right amount to provide balance. This beer is bitter – 83 IBUs – but it doesn’t scorch your tongue. The flavor profile follows the aroma nicely, that distinct Mosaic mix of fruits leading the way. I kept it consistent with Simcoe and in the flavor/aroma additions, but used Nugget for the bittering phase. I am very happy with Nugget’s ability to give a nice “rounded” bitterness that lingers, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. The malts provide a vehicle for the hops, and that’s it. There’s no sweetness to this beer except in the hops’ fruitiness.

The finish is just dry enough to encourage the next step, but leaves that hint of bitterness of the tongue that let’s you know it was there. The mouthfeel is what you would expect from an IPA, but is a tad too slick and light for my preference. I want something a little chewier without being too sweet. The beer came out hazy, which is to be expected from the extensive double dry-hopping, but still a nice burnt orange color that is probably too dark for your usual IPA. The head is white-to-off-white and make of tiny bubbles. Not too much lacing on this one (it’s pretty quaffable so it doesn’t linger in the glass long).

So what’s the Final Verdict on Bandito?

I am happy with how this beer turned out, and that enthusiasm has been bolstered by the positives from everyone who has tried it. There are a few changes I would make, though. Firstly, I’d cut back on the Mosaic, or maybe sub it out entirely for Citra. Mosaic distinctness is not exactly in my wheelhouse for flavor. I think this beer does a very good job of showcasing Mosaic’s uniqueness without letting it get carried away, I think I would be better suited with a different hop at center stage. I also want to tool around with the yeast a bit. I get the feeling that this beer will  never be brilliantly clear, so I want to try to achieve that elusive Heady-Topper-esque mouthfeel that is simultaneously creamy and dry. I have a few yeasts I want to play around with to get closer to that style. I also think I might but the Crystal 40L just a touch to get a bit more sweetness. Unfortunately that’ll only serve to make Bandito darker, but I’m not worried too much about the color. Overall, though, I think this is one of the better beers I’ve made  to date.

The recipe for Bandito can be found here, along with all my other recipes.

 

Gone Clubbin’

Short post tonight.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’d have news regarding a new homebrew club. I am happy to report that I am a proud member of the Metro South Homebrew League (aka the “MaSH Holes”) based south of Boston, MA.

We had our kick-off meeting on May 7th and our follow-up last night (May 21st). We’ve elected our officers and are getting ready to make it official with the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). It’s been a pretty exciting first few weeks, and I’m fight the urge to get over-zealous about it. I brought the Matt Brown Marzen and the Bandito IPA to the meetings and both were (surprisingly) well-received. Our group has a great mix of experienced and inexperienced brewers as well as extract/all-grain/brew-in-a-bag.

We also started talking about doing something for the New England Homebrew Jamboree, but we’ll have to see how things work out with that. I’m absolutely thrilled about all this. I’ve already started mapping out my next homebrew purchases (oh God, so expensive). I couldn’t be more excited.