A look at the ‘super-alcoholic’ beer market

Founders' KBS

Founders’ amazing KBS

Look closely at the shelves of any better beer store and you’ll notice some monsters lurking. No, I don’t mean skunky beers or the latest fruit-flavored offerings posting as craft beers but brewed by the big boys, I’m talking about beers that fall into the “wine and above” level of strength.

These monsters, and I’ll define them as beers above 10 percent ABV for the sake of this column, are breeding and rising from the depths like Godzilla and his foes. They can also be destructive to drivers who take them too lightly. These beers are best when shared with friends and loved ones, not so much for chugging at the bar and getting behind the wheel. Continue reading

Spring/summer is here, time for beer

Ah, spring in New England is a thing of wonder: full of promise, renewal, dandelions, and new seasonal brews! I’ll admit right up front that I’m not a huge fan of the fruit and wheat beers that dominate in the spring and summer (Sam’s Summer might be my least favorite of their seasonals), but I’ll do my best to share the best of the rest, and I’ll even include a fruit beer or two.

I was able to taste a bunch of new brews at last weekend’s 25-table tasting at Yankee Spirits in Swansea, so kudos to them for having a varied group of brewers and cideries there. Most of these reviews come from that tasting, where I was able to sample dozens of brews (with a focus on spring offerings by local brewers, of course), and I’ll begin with a trio of hoppy offerings. Continue reading

Drink Local, Especially When on the Road

Good beer is local beer, and local beer is fresh! The jingle is true for eggs AND beer. The thing is, drinking local applies when shopping or drinking at your favorite local store/bar/restaurant AND when traveling.

About to visit Allgash

About to visit Allgash

The last GBH column discussed beer trading and how each region, or even each city, has its own “only available locally” brews. Sure, you can always find a trading partner to send you rare local specialties, but just as effective a method is to seek out all the local brews when on vacation or traveling for work. Continue reading

To satisfy beer geeks, trading is on the rise

There are now more than 2,700 breweries in the United States (probably 2,800 by now, given the almost daily brewery opening). We could easily pass the all-time mark of 3,286 (from 1870) this year or next, given that there are more than 1,700 breweries in planning. Since breweries are popping up like dandelions in the spring, eventually every mid-sized city will have a brewery and local beers will be available anywhere in the nation.

This unbelievable growth makes it near impossible to try everything. There are simply too many options, and too many breweries and brewpubs that are only available in a few zip codes. Rare beers, and the booming online beer culture, has led to a rising tide of beer trading. Continue reading

Judging homebrews isn’t as easy as it sounds

The judging sheet, our "calibration beer", and a sheet of beer faults.

The judging sheet, our “calibration beer”, and a sheet of beer faults.

Judging a homebrew is a fascinating experience. It’s fun, challenging, and ultimately quite rewarding. It allows one to really get into the nitty gritty of beer, a process that ultimately makes one a more aware and adept beer drinker.

This past weekend I was honored to be a beer judge for the fourth annual Ocean State Homebrew Competition, held at Johnson & Wales University and sponsored by JbreW. I spent Saturday helping out with logistics and Sunday judging in the front, which gave me different perspectives into such a big event.

Some might think beer judging is a dream come true, and it IS great, but I wasn’t able to just enjoy beers and write a grade. We rate the beers on five categories: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression (detailed in my July 4 column). A good judge will also then write comments for why they gave the score they gave for each section. It can be tough to be critical while remaining positive, and it’s quite the challenge to come up with different ways to say “hoppy” after one’s 10th IPA.

A big contest like Ocean State requires more volunteers than a bake sale at a southern megachurch. Nearly 40 judges worked over the two days to taste all 311 entries (placed into 28 categories). There were also 25 stewards who brought all the beers to the judges and tallied the scores, six staff, and more than 40 student volunteers and chefs to prepare meals for the crew.

I helped judge the “Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer” category, which was an adventure. Beers ranged from an American wheat with cucumber to an IPA brewed with coconut to an oatmeal stout with vodka and vanilla beans. Only one of the six beers I tasted was poor, and I really enjoyed the various flavors.

The process is relatively simple: pour a small amount into a cup, smell it, examine it, taste it, repeat. Judges then discuss the beer, noting if it’s true to its style, picking up on any of the potential off-flavors that might detract from the brew, and talking about what stood out about the beer. Everyone then writes down their comments, puts scores in each category and tallies them (maximum of 50). The judges’ scores are then averaged.

Each rating category has a different weight. In order: Appearance is worth 3 points, Mouthfeel is 5, Overall Impression is 10, Aroma is 12, and Flavor is 20. All but one beer in my group earned a 31 to 40 score, with our “Mini Best-in-Show” going to the really excellent coconut IPA.

After each of the 28 categories have a best beer, the highest-ranked judges (a topic for another column) taste all 28 winners and declare best-in-show for beers, ciders, and meads. At a big contest like OSHC, it takes two full days to winnow the field down to the winners, and those that earn the top spot have been better vetted than a presidential candidate.

Originally published on April 10, 2014

Contract brewing: good for the brewer, good for the brewery

Go to any liquor store with a decent beer selection and you’ll find enough “bombers” (22-ounce bottles) to start a war. This proliferation of beers is due, at least in part, to the rise of contract brewing, or brewing your beer at someone else’s brewery.

This relationship is mutually beneficial — it helps the physical brewery’s bottom line while allowing a new brewer to get a foot in the door for a much lower initial cost. By contracting, startups can avoid the often multi-million dollar investment that comes with building a brewery. Lower entry costs means more breweries, which means more selection, which means more hoppy goodness for all. Continue reading

Green beer is local beer

Many of us have been unfortunate enough to try a green beer on Saint Patrick’s Day, but why dye a beer green when you can make it truly green by drinking something more sustainable? Read on to find out more about how to make your St. Patty’s Day beer even greener than the meadows of Ireland.

No matter how rich your stout is, no matter how many hops are in your IPA, beer is still 85-95% water, which weighs over 8 lbs per gallon. Oh, and beer’s packaging doubles that weight, so takes quite a bit of oil to ship all that Guinness just over 3,000 miles from Dublin.

Continue reading

Style Profile: How we came to lager heads

Light lagers are the beer America is known for: yellow, highly carbonated, served as cold as possible, and almost flavorless. Amazingly, or sadly, American lagers are the best selling beers in the world. Easy drinking and inoffensive, these beers are not “bad,” as many a beer snob will opine. They’re simply bland and mediocre. Continue reading