Straight to Ale invades the Florida panhandle

 As many of you know, before relocating to the Redneck Riviera known as Panama City, Brewticular was a resident of the state of Alabama (Roll Tide!).  At that time the beer scene in Alabama was abysmal.  The best beer you could find was probably filtered into pure H2O before it was shipped.  Thanks to organizations like Free The Hops, Alabama is no longer in beer exile.
 
As a result of the hard work of craft beer enthusiasts, Alabama has changed its laws and many breweries have opened up.  Today Brewticular would like to briefly comment on Straight To Ale out of Huntsville, AL. While Brewticular is not sure if NASA commissioned these beer geniuses to craft extraordinary ales, he does know that they are setting the mark for craft beer in Alabama.
 
Straight To Ale began production in 2009, and is exceeding expectations in a state where NASCAR and Bud Light have previously reigned supreme.  Their success has allowed them to expand beyond the city of Huntsville, all the way down to the craft beer desert of Panama City.  Brewticular recently sampled several servings of Monkeynaut IPA, Lily Flagg Milk Stout, He Ain’t Heffe, and Saison Du Roquette.
 
While these were all above average brews, the Lily Flagg Milk Stout caught Brewticular’s attention.  Similar to most craft beer enthusiasts, Brewticular was first introduced to milk stouts by Left Hand, which will always hold a dear place in his heart.  However he commented highly on the craftsmanship of Straight To Ale for making a bold and flavorful milk stout.  If you have not yet tried anything from Straight To Ale, we strongly suggest you make your way down I-65 and stop by STA tap room for a great experience.
(Photos coming soon)

Hop Scotch

“The last time I turned down a beer, I didn’t understand the question.” (modification of a quote by a friend of John Hansell)

I’ve only met a few beers that I didn’t like.  I seem to prefer stouts and barley wines recently, but Belgian beers rarely disappoint and I would never shy away from a Scottish or Scotch Ale.  I even really dig the Black IPA. DIPAs, for the most part, don’t really float my boat, save The Alchemist’s Heady Topper and Lawson’s Finest Double Sunshine.  Pliny the Elder is also a fantastic beer, especially on tap at the source, but in my humble opinion, not up to the taste of Heady Topper and Double Sunshine.  I’ve tried countless other DIPAs and struggle to understand their appeal.  Obviously, there are those, including the Brew Sirdar that absolutely LOVE the DIPA and need very little provocation to expound on the virtues of this monstrosity of a beer.  For me, the double IPA is one of my least favorite beer styles, although that doesn’t seem very true when TheBrewSherpette and I drive 6+ hours to Vermont, about every 6 weeks, to replenish our stash of both of these Vermont beers.

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I prefer to drink my Heady Topper out of my Alchemist glass that holds exactly one can Heady Topper.  Despite the adamant warning to “DRINK FROM THE CAN!!!!” it seems a bit suspect that The Alchemist sells a branded glass that holds exactly one can of the beer.  I understand Mr. Kimmich’s command to drink from the can, but choose to ignore it on the grounds that once I’ve purchased the beer, it is mine to do with as I please.  I dig drinking beer from the glass of its brewery, I guess it’s a character flaw.

Heady Topper is not the prettiest beer I’ve ever seen.  Although there are far less chunks than in years past, it’s still a cloudy beer and, truth be known, one of the things I like best about it.  Perhaps I’ve fabricated it in my mind, but when I drink Heady Topper, I have a sense that I’m drinking a beer that was designed to taste great with little regard for anything else.  Color?  Clarity?  My mouth doesn’t care about either of those qualities and once the beer hits my tongue, the memory of what the beer looked like gets drowned in the bliss of what it tastes like.  Candidly, Heady Topper could be neon-purple with red chunks swimming in it and I would care less if it tasted the same.

Immediately, a big bouquet of floral hops blossoms from the glass, alerting EVERYONE in the room’s nose that you’ve just opened a Heady Topper.  Co-mingling with these strong floral notes are also grassy and tropical notes that add some complexity and depth that “tractor-beams” your mind into orchestrating a mouth full of the beer.  The first sip is bodacious and juicy, full of citrus and bitterness – a monumental hop rush. The alcohol – 8 percent by volume — is well hidden.  This beer slides down and drinks easy.  A 12+ hour round trip for a style of beer I don’t generally dig makes perfect sense by the second sip.  This shit is great, please excuse the vernacular.

It becomes obvious to me after two cans of Heady Topper that any comparison to another beer is ridiculous.  This beer is great.  PERIOD.  There are other great beers also.  Some people think there are beers greater than Heady Topper.  Some people prefer Shemp over Curly.  Some people like pie over cake.  I think that we can all agree, in principal, that The Alchemist’s Heady Topper is great.  All that is left is to argue is the measure of its greatness.  I think it’s a 12+ hour round-trip winner.

Preparation W

Haha, not what you think!  The “w” was beautiful…dark, aromatic, sweet…

It took a few days to get ready for the first brew day on the Sabco BrewMagic 350.  The system had been relocated, and this was the test day.  Worst case, the price of the grain and the cleaning/sanitizing agents would be the cost of this lesson, and best case, five gallons of Milk Stout could be in the pot at the end of the fermentation rainbow.  TheBrewSherpa has many years of homebrewing experience, both in all-grain and extract, but this system offered a fantastic opportunity to expand his brewing expertise and get me up and running in a hurry.

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With temperatures soaring, near 100F with heavy humidity, this might be a challenge, but nothing would stop us today.  We had cleaned and sanitized the barrels, lines, false bottoms, hoses and the chillmaster, pretty sure we had all the supplies we needed.

Light ‘em up, and we were heating up the hot water/sparge vessel in anticipation of moving hot water into the mash tun.  With the bottom of the mash tun filled with hot water to about 1″ above the false bottom, we added the grains and continued to bottom fill until the grain was submersed.  All went well as we circulated the water through the mash for an hour, prior to moving the wort to the boil vessel.  Adding water to the hot water/sparge tank, we rinsed with grain until the desired amount of wort was ready to boil.  TheBrewSirdar was displeased with the lack of hops addition to the boil, however, our east coast Milk Stout was destined to be low on the IBU scale.  Lactose was added at this point and the boil proceeded without hitch for a hour.

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Milk Stout Recipe (available upon request)

The biggest challenge was found to be in the transfer of liquid from the boil tank to the fermenter.  We were able to reduce the temperature of the wort from its 210F to below 80F, but not without seating the water hose into an ice chest while running the final wort through the Chillmaster, and thereafter seating the fermenter in ice to achieve our desired pitching termperature of 68F.

So now we wait to see how well we did, waiting for fermentation to begin and looking forward to kegging this brew.  Any thoughts on the value of secondary fermentation?  It seems as if there is an active debate regarding fermentation and racking….

Oh, the spent grains are in the process of becoming dog treats for Lester and Odimus!  Here is our guaranteed doggie-approved recipe:

L & O Treats

2 cups spent grain
1 cup flour
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg

Alex cookies

Preheat oven to 350F.  Roll out dough and use cookie cutter or form random shapes, bake for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 225F and bake for 3 more hours (to assure that the treats are dry).  Store in containers, do not need to be refrigerated.

Lester cookie 2

The Beer Bloggers Conference 2013 – Boston

TheBrewSherpa and TheBrewSherpette are readying themselves for the BBC13 (Beer Bloggers Conference) in Boston, Massachusetts.  Ready yourselves for updates on the state of the Craft Beer industry, beer blogging trends, saucy tidbits, and maybe some private glimpses of a deep sea fishing adventure in the works out of Gloucester.  My grandfather painted many world-class seascapes from bases in Gloucester and Rockport, MA.  Further, we may visit old stomping grounds on the Cape…just a lil more summer fun!

SABCO BrewMagic

Thank you, Dad.   You were a beer drinker, audiophile, master chess player, photographer, Opera lover, foodie, and overall affecionado of the good life.

Here I stand, with a SABCO Brew-Magic bought in your memory, as a fellow beer lover.  We set up the system, ran water through it, and purchased all grains to brew our first beer.  In your memory, a Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University, we will not shy away from a challenge.  Our first beer will be a Milk Stout, and we do not intend to shy away from the challenge.

Thank you, Dad, for all the good genes, both peaceful and restless, that made me the person I am today!

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Field of Dreams

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If you build it, (they) will come.  There is no greater proof of this message than in the fields of Greensboro, Vermont.  Nearly one mile up a dirt road, sits an old farmhouse and a nondescript barn.  Lush green fields surround the area, and the grass sways pensively in light breeze on this hot June morning.

Hill Farmstead Brewery is open from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Wednesdays – Saturdays.  We left Warren, Vermont at around 9:00 am, meandering a mere 60 miles to Greensboro with a goal of not being the first ones at the Brewery.  After several stops, we motored up the dirt road to finally reach eyeshot of the Brewery.  A traffic jam ensued, with cars parked on both sides of the road, people walking through the fields.  A large white tent sat at the edge of the parking lot.  First thoughts were dire:  a private party to which we were not invited or a special event requiring tickets which we did not hold.

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After all, we had just arrived at Ratebeer.com’s 2013 “Best Brewery in the World”, as well as “Best Brewery in Vermont” and “Best Brewery in New England” (http://www.craftbeer.com/news/brewery-news/hill-farmstead-brewery-named-best-brewery-in-the-world-2013).  We were at no ordinary place.

Fully expecting to be turned away, we were ushered to a parking spot and informed that this was a special bottle release which was originally scheduled for May 26 and was postponed due to weather.  We lucked into the following:

Madness and Civilization #1:  a special blend of various bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts and imperial porters.  500mL. Limit 6 per person.

Madness and Civilization #2: from a single bourbon barrel having held a unique blend of 6 different threads for more than 16 months.  375mL. Limit 1 per person.

Civil Disobedience #6: a blend of wine barrel aged and wild versions of Sankt Hans, Clara, Flora, and Juicy.  375mL. Limit 6 per person.

At 11:30 am, this Vermont field was abuzz with discussion of the unique liquids to be released shortly.  “Crispy beer geeks” (I cannot take credit for that term…. See http://eviltwin.dk/) huddled together waiting until noon at which time sales would begin.  Shaun Hill was busy in the barn, pacing back and forth, and wandered out at about noon.  He was focused, and appeared to avoid much direct interaction with the line of the faithful.  He instructed us to count backwards, in order to determine how many people had gathered and to gauge the appropriateness of the bottle limit.

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We were 102 and 103 on line, and it seemed to end at around 150.  So the fun begins.  A makeshift plywood tent had been placed at the beginning of the line of the faithful, and we proceeded, one by one, to step up onto the platform and approach Shaun Hill.  He was seated behind a table, greater than life.  I admit, it was daunting to approach him.  Preparing my order so that I did not babble, I was ready to order the full bottle limit.  Hindered by the “cash only” policy, TheBrewSherpa and I had to revise our totals to allow for the growler fill part of our trip. 

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We were fortunate to have been selected to attend the Festival of Farmhouse Ales, to which Shaun smiled and seemed excited.  Camping in Nirvana with 200 like-minded beer aficionados, tasting the some of the best beers on the planet, is an event to be anticipated with great joy.

The growler fill line was even longer.  We hailed from New Jersey, and others near us on the line came from Scranton, Pennsylvania and Worcester, Massachusetts.  Beer talk was free flowing, and the hours faded as we traded stories.

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Growler’s filled, we headed to a local shop to pick up some Jasper Hill Farm’s cheeses (http://www.cellarsatjasperhill.com/).  After all, Jasper Hill was one of Shaun Hill’s 20th century cousins, and beer and cheese pairings are an experience in themselves.  Pairing Shaun Hill’s beer with local cheeses was an opportunity not to be missed.  Shaun Hill and the Jasper Hill Farm have already collaborated on Jasper Hill’s Winnemere, a cheese washed in a Hill Farmstead lambic-style beer, and these friendly neighbors are likely to figure out more ways to collaborate (http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Beer-and-Cheese-Collaborations).

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All in all, an amazing day, senses filled with beautiful sights, sounds, smells and tastes.  Thank you, Shaun Hill, for all you have done for craft beer. 

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I Ain’t Mad at Cha

Ok, I admit I had a less than attractive mental image of what a “mad taco” might infer…

On a very recent beercation to Vermont, with the goal of visiting Hill Farmstead (http://www.hillfarmstead.com/), The Alchemist (http://www.alchemistbeer.com/), and finding some of Lawson’s Finest Liquids (http://www.lawsonsfinest.com/), thebrewsherpa and I ended up in Warren, Vermont.  Yes, anyone can visit two of these three breweries producing world-class beers, but there is no public location for Lawson’s.  Sean Lawson continues to brew quietly from a private location, and distributes his beers locally at a few select resellers or restaurants/bars.

We arrived at his largest “distributor”, the Warren Store (802) 496-3864 in Warren, Vermont, the night before his weekly delivery.  No Lawson’s available until the next morning, however, we were able to taste some across the street at the bar located downstairs in the beautiful Pitcher Inn.  Smoked Maple Lager collaboration with Jack’s Abby Brewery (http://jacksabbybrewing.com/) was tasty, a bit too smoky for me, and just right for thebrewsherpa, was enjoyable outside near the sound of the creek.  We also tried a glass of Spring Fever Session IPA.  Next stop, the Localfolk Smokehouse, in Waitsfield, VT (802) 496-5623, had the same Lawson’s on tap.

Last stop, The Mad Taco in Waitsfield, VT (http://themadtaco.com/) (802) 496-3832, in search of the famed Double Sunshine IPA.

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Hm.  I admit I was worried, with limited signage/visibility, construction obscuring the entrance, a disappointing can/bottle list (we already had purchased four cases of Heady Topper in Waterbury):

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and the feeling of being in Mexico.

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Meh, we were here, so we readied ourselves for a beer!  But wait, do not read a book by its cover.

This place is f**king amazing!  The tap list is over the top:

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Now it was time to get serious.  The staff was knowledgeable and represented this business extremely well.  The owner is fortunate to have such dedicated employees, who worked well with us to understand the food menu, the taps, and showed us their cold smoker, the source of the excellent smoked pork.

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Thank you to Kit Perreault and Miguel Villa for a fantastic evening, great beer, great food, and great company.  Highly recommended on any Vermont beercation…it will not disappoint!

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Thebrewsherpa had the “wet burrito” and I had the tostada with pork.  Warning:  arrive hungry and thirsty for the best overall experience.  We will be back soon.  Prost!

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Belgian Beercation – September 1, 2012

So yes, it is now almost two months since we returned from Belgium…the memories are as fresh as ever.  Belgian beers, especially the big ones, even at room temperature, have become the favorites of TheBrewSherpa and TheBrewSherpette.

Going through photo histories reminded us that we never finished our blogs about the Belgium trip.  So in the interest of catching up, finally, we post a few more pictures and memories about the best beer trip anyone could ever dream of….

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Two of the best breweries that Belgium has to offer.  Neither will ever disappoint!

The BrewSherpa (sunglasses) and The BrewSherpette (Lagunitas blue shirt) with their new friends who were formerly from New York!  We enjoyed a coconut beer in a coconut shell.  These former New Yorkers now live in Belgium and Germany.

One of the best bottle shoppes in the world.  We bought some Westy XII here, along with the most amazing beer glasses ever, the Tempelier flutes!  They do mail order around the world, in case you can’t find the Belgian beer you seek in your home town.

The Grand Place, beautiful and majestic, after the beer fest tents had been removed.  What an amazing place for a beer festival!

The abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren – September 2, 2012

TheBrewSherpa, TheBrewSherpette, and their amazing Belgian friend, Dirk, took a Sunday cruise to visit the abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvletern.  The day started at Cafe Leffe, as usual, for brunch in Brussels.  TheBrewSherpa and TheBrewSherpette then proceeded to the train station in Brussels Centale to Antwerp.  Dirk met us in Antwerp and we joined him on our 2 hour ride to the abbey.  Travelling through quaint Belgian villages in the Dutch region of Belgium proved to be a scenic experience.  Corn fields, cows, sheep, and wind turbines dotted the landscape, along with bike lanes and Dutch windmills.

Thankfully, Dirk knew where he was going.  Small country lanes might have convinced the Americans that they were far from their desired destination.  Finally, we arrived at the abbey.  We were quite surprised at the crowd at the abbey shop, since it appeared, as did Oz, out of mere pastures.   The Sherpas had finally arrived at their destination.  The source of the holy grail of beer…the home of the Westy 12!  The Sherpas had, as directed by the abbey’s website, attempted to reserve a case of the weekly beer, however, the phone message lead us to the website, which, ironically, lead us back to the phone.

So, we arrived at the abbey shop, and were pleased to find Westy 12 and Westy 8 readily available on tap.  Dirk adeptly ordered us some Monk’s cheese and pate which paired very well with the beer on tap.  The monestary is not open to visitors, and the abbey shop is surprisingly modern, with vaulted ceilings, halogen lighting, and a gift shop stocked with third party toiletries.

In any case, the order of the day was to enjoy the Westy beers and to spend time with our dear friend.  Success was the result.  We had a wonderful time tasting the holy grail of beers, in unlimited quantity, and, as is customary for many beer fanatics, enjoying an amazing social experience.  Thank you to Dirk, for making this wonderful day even better!  And thank you, for the limited edition building box of The abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren as a gift (there were only 70,000 of these exported).

We will savor this piece of history and memory for many years to come, and invite you to visit us in the US so that we can return this favor of friendship to you!

VINTAGE BEER AND SODA CANS FOR SALE

Beer_Can_Inventory

We have decided to place our inventory of vintage beer and soda cans on the market.  The cans will be available as singles or in groups.  We are in the process of developing our expecting values and uploading photographs, however, in the meanwhile, please contact us if you have an interest in acquiring them prior to official marketing.  The first reasonable offer to acquire the entire collection will be the most attractive option to us.

Please note that almost all of the cans are in excellent condition (ranging from 1 to 1-), and a few may be in 1+ condition.

You can email pejaar@aol.com or thebrewsherpa.com for additional information.

PHOTOS ARE POSTED ON THE TAB PAGE ENTITLED VINTAGE BEER AND SODA CANS FOR SALE, CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS.

Thank you for your interest!

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