Friday, December 30, 2011

Holiday Hike 2011

What, you may ask, would get 18 middle aged guys up from a food induced coma on the day after Christmas to hike to the top of a mountain? That’s easy: More food and beer.  What would get them to do it for over 20 consecutive years?  Tradition.  That’s what the originator and organizer, Dan Mirro, would say.  Danny has been doing this holiday hike since 1989 when he and some friends were building a deck onto his house in Pomona, NY.  The house boarders Harriman State Park and when they were done, to celebrate, they climbed up a nearby mountain and had a cook out. 
Since then the number of participants has varied from 6 to 20, but the tradition of a holiday hike with a party at the top of the mountain has carried on thanks to its originators.  I have been lucky enough to join the group for the last three years.  And I have come to look forward to it as much as I do Christmas. 
The hike usually starts at Danny’s garage which is referred to as “Base Camp”.  That’s where the beer, hot dogs, burgers and buns are packed into everyone’s back packs.  A few die hards will crack open a beer before we depart but I find it hard enough hiking up the mountain sober.

 We begin by walking down Ladentown Road which passes some well-preserved historic homes.  Danny usually gives the history of each house and the role it played in the tiny village of the same name.  He points out Michael Laden's store where, in the early 1800's, chairs and baskets made from wood and reeds gathered from the mountain constituted Rockland  County's first industry.
We also pass a newly built Hindu temple that looks as though it was dropped from space and landed in the middle of these Victorian era homes.   Next, we walk through a summer camp and up a poorly marked trail to a dirt road. 
The road runs underneath power lines that run right through the Park.   Shortly after, we take a well-marked trail up Lime Kiln Mountain.  There is not much talking as we make our way up, stopping often to catch our breath and rest our sore knees and backs. 

It’s about 2 miles from base camp to the top of Lime Kiln, but it feels a lot longer to folks carrying the brunt of the food and beer.  By the time we arrive at the summit, we’ve worked up a good sweat and a big thirst. 
So, T-shirts are hung up to dry and a fire is started promptly for grilling.  The first beer, a Coors Light, tastes awesome after a climb like this one.  The visibility on this day is great and the NYC skyline can be seen more than 30 miles away.

The group is spread out on the trail and the stragglers make it up about 15 minutes after the first arrivals.  Everyone is in good spirits as we toast each other, talk about how Christmas was and listen to Led Zeppelin on somebody’s IPod. 
Burgers, dogs and sausage are cooking on the grill.  Potato and pasta salad make for great sides.  Of course. there's ample beer to wash it all down. Someone even thought to bring dessert!
The hike down can be a challenge if one is clear headed.  It can be a little dangerous after a few beers.  Last year, the trail was covered in snow and there were a couple of  minor casualties.  I had only one fall on the decent this year.  Actually, it was more like an unintended, slow motion squat.  I lost my balance on a rock and caught myself on one leg which promptly gave out and deposited me slowly into a pricker bush.  I carefully de-thorned myself, got up gingerly and made it back to base camp in one piece. 

The few cuts I received and the soreness in my thighs the next day were quickly forgotten.  But the memories of good times at the top of the mountain will last all year. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Beers 2011

This Christmas was memorable for a lot of reasons. We were able to get our lights and decorations up a full 2 weeks before the big day. That allowed us to enjoy the festive look of the house leading up to the holidays.  My brother and his wife put on a fabulous dinner for about 20 members of the family.  And my brothers and I were able to try several of the best Christmas beers available this season.

In all, we had about eight different holiday beers.  Some were just too plain to mention. Others were too different not to mention.  And then there were a couple that were “outstanding in the field” of seasonal brews.  This being the season of hope, let’s start with the best: Abita Christmas Ale.  You wouldn’t think that a place like Louisiana that never gets snow would make a strong Christmas beer.  But you would be wrong.  Everything about this beer made it perfect for a cold afternoon by the old Yule log.  It pours a dark brown with little to no head. The first whiff is of roasted malt.  That malt flavor comes through in the taste as well.  I’m surprised that it tastes lighter than it looks.  It goes down smooth like a fine wine.  There is just a touch of bitterness at the finish.  Those Cajuns can really do Christmas.

Another standout was the Chocolate Bock from Sam Adams’ holiday pack.  It had the same dark pour as the Abita, but with a sweeter smell and taste.  I detected caramel and licorice in my first sip.  It made for a nice after dinner beer that went well with dessert.
The surprise of the night came from Anchor Brewing Co.  I love the unique taste of their steam beer, but I felt their holiday ale was just a little too much holiday spice for me.  My brothers agreed that the spices overwhelmed everything else about this beer.  I’m sure there are holiday partiers drinking this beer by the case load, especially out in San Fran.  But here in New York it missed the mark.

Luckily, we had other great beer and lots of delicious food to enjoy.  I hope that everyone out there was as lucky as I was to be with family for the holidays.  So to all, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Mad Elf on Christmas Eve

Sticking with the Elf theme this week, I selected a Mad Elf Ale from Troeg’s Brewing Co. for my Christmas eve beer.  Troegs is located in Harrisburg, PA and makes some fine beers, including their double bock called Troeginator that I plan to review this winter.   

This beer pours a copper brown with a minimal head that disappears quickly.  I can smell a feint cherry scent.  First sip: nice malty taste with a little alcohol bite at the end.  I’m not surprised that it has an 11% ABV.  I would prefer if it had a little bit of a head. I can’t say that I taste any cherries other than a feint sour finish. It would have been nice to have a little more maltiness to off set the boozy bite. 

Overall, I’d say this is a nice holiday beer but I’ve got many more to sample before this Christmas is over.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bad Elf Winter's Ale

I was lucky enough to get a gift certificate to my local bevy as a gift recently so I put it to good use by purchasing a few holiday beers.  The first one I’m breaking open is an English Ale called Bad Elf brewed by Ridgeway Brewers.  I must admit I didn’t buy it based on any previous knowledge; I just liked the mischievous looking elf on the label.
It pours an effervescent gold with a healthy head.  The hops in this ale are the first thing my nose picks up. It smells like a fresh IPA: hoppy and sweet.  I think I’m going to like this one.  First taste: Wonderfully complex.  I taste cloves and hops and spices.  There is a fine bitterness lingering in the back of my mouth.  It’s hard to nail down which spice I’m tasting.  I’m gonna need to take another swig.  Between the scents entering my nostrils and the flavors running around my tongue it is very hard to nail any one ingredient down.  The only thing I’m sure of is that I like this beer.  I have to resort to the distributer's web site to discover what I’m enjoying so much.  It says that “English malt is masterfully balanced with an astounding 45 ounces of fresh hops – including English Cascade – per barrel.” That explains the hoppiness but not the spiciness.  Unfortunately, they do not divulge the recipe for this holiday ale.  I’ll have to just use my imagination and conjure up a mix of holiday spices fine enough for Santa’s badest elf.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

How Beer Saved The World

Being a teacher, one of my favorite types of movies are documentaries.  I recently reviewed a three part series on PBS called Prohibition.  A good friend sent me this link to a documentary about how beer effected human history.  I thought other beer lovers like myself would like it.  Hope you enjoy it.  Now, let's all do our part to save the world a little each day.  Cheers!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grand Cru Homebrew

By Brian,

My son, Sean, & I spent Saturday afternoon on our second batch of home brew: A GRAND CRU.
The best definition I could find for a Grand Cru is: "Grand Cru was originally a designation that a winemaker gave to an exceptional batch/blend” - something that knocked his socks off so to speak. As European wine harvests can be quite variable, this is a designation that may not be made every year, or even for several years, or even at all. It has evolved from a designation of exceptional quality to a marketing label. As brewing is more dependent on the skills of the malting house and the brewer than the season's weather for the production of fermentable sugars, it always was curious to me that brewer's would include "exceptional harvest" as a beer descriptor. My hunch is that it is an attempt to attract folks that appreciate fine wine to cross over and try craft beer - it is a marketing descriptor and an attempt to attract wine consumers, nothing else. Whereas brewers have much more control and can brew typically all year long, a winemaker has one shot per year.  I don't consider wine better than beer (or the other way around), just different. I would say the designation "Grand Bière" or "Grand Fermenter" would be a better description for a product that a brewer was exceptionally proud of.

Our brewing kit came from Midwest Supplies LLC in St Louis Park, MN and they describe their Grand Cru as "a combination of spicy German hops, coriander, orange peel and honey which creates a unique Belgian white beer".
First, THE BREW: This typically takes up to 3 hours to complete the home brew. It consists of boiling the water, adding the hops, malt, coriander, orange peel and honey at different points during the malting process.

Second, THE FERMINATOR: This is the most frustrating step because it means we must wait 3 weeks before we can bottle. Then comes the painful step of waiting up to an additional 4 weeks as the sugars which are added just prior to the bottling, add carbonation.
7 WEEKS! Why can't some mad scientist create a brewing process that  works in 5 minutes? 7 WEEKS! I COULD BE DEAD IN 7 WEEKS!

Fortunately, I can also go to the basement and try our first home brew. Our Father & Son Chocolate Stout was brewed in late September, bottled on October 15th and has been our featured beer for the past 4 weeks. Each week our "LIQUID GOLD" has gotten just a little better. Some members of my family and I held a Stout tasting contest on Thanksgiving and although our stout didn't come in first, it didn't come in last either.

January 28th. 7 weeks from now can't come fast enough.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Ales at The Brewhouse – South Norwalk Connecticut

My wife’s company Christmas Party was held at the Norwalk Aquarium this Thursday night.  It was a great place for a party but, as expected, there was a limited selection of beers at the event.  So to appease her craft beer loving husband, Doreen agreed to make a pre-party pit stop into The SoNo (South Norwalk) Brewhouse which is practically across the street.  We walked into a large dining area with long communal tables filled with revelers from some other company’s holiday party.  This area was separated from another smaller dining area by a low wall and a huge copper vat.  As it turns out, The Brewhouse hasn’t brewed their own beer in over a decade, but they kept the shiny equipment to give the place a “brewery” feel. I must say it worked. 

But all the atmosphere in the world can’t make up for a mediocre beer list.  Here the Brewhouse shined as well.  The selection from the taps was standard stuff but their list of bottled beer was first class with microbrews from Abita (Louisiana) Allagash (Maine), Magic Hat (Vermont) and Unibroue (Canada). It was the Holiday beers from around the world that caught my attention though.  I started with a  German double bock called Ayinger Celebrator which is brewed in the Bavarian town of  Aying, just 10 miles from Munich.  This dark, malty beer has a nice foamy head and a smooth, sweet taste.  Doreen had an Innis and Gunn Original that is aged in oak Bourbon barrels in Dunbar, Scotland.  The whiskey flavor takes a back seat to the strong vanilla notes and it carries a 6.6% ABV. 

My next selection was from Belgium: Corsendonk Christmas Ale.  Corsendonk makes one of my favorite brown ales and I was looking forward to trying another style from this historic brewery.  Monks started making these Abbey-style ales in Oud-Turnhout  back in the 1600’s.  The Christmas ale held up their great tradition.  It was dark but not as malty as the bock or their brown ale.  This beer had a nice blend of malt and spice that put me in a holiday mood.

Our Holiday beer adventure ended in San Francisco.  We split an Anchor Steam Christmas Ale before walking across the street to the Aquarium.  This ale had more of a Christmas spice thing going on.  The bartender explained that Anchor has been making a Christmas Ale for 36 years, which is ancient by US standards, with a different recipe each year.  It did not have the dark complexity of the European beers, but it did get us in a festive mood to enjoy partying with the fishes. 

Overall, I'd have to say this is a great brew pub.  I was particularly impressed that every beer we tried was served in matching glassware.  They picked the right beers for the season and it helped to make our Christmas party that much better.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meetup at the Captain Lawrence Brewery

This weekend I organized a visit to The Captain Lawrence Brewery in Pleasantville, NY with 10 members of the Tristate Beer Lovers Meetup.  My friend Steve and I arrived a little early in order to get a lay of the land before the others got there.  The brewery is set in an industrial park in a non-descript warehouse.  As we walked up to the entrance, we couldn’t help but notice dozens of wine sized empty beer bottles lined up on a picnic table and nearby windowsill.   On closer inspection, I noticed that these were not CL bottles but other great craft beers from all over the country.  There was a bottle of Alaskan beer and others that I recognized as being hard to find, limited releases. 

 Apparently, there was a release of special, oak aged brown ale that morning and the attendees brought some of their own special beers to share with other beer lovers. In order to even get a ticket for the release, people had to show up before midnight the night before and then come back early the next morning to wait on line.  This might sound like a lot of work for a couple of bottles of beer, but the regulars at these events make it into a party by bringing along and sharing some of their best craft beers.   A review of the release and the sharing can be found here.
 Steve and I entered the brewery and were pleasantly surprised to find out that all the beer they were serving was free.  I started off with their standard brown ale that I thought was good but not over whelming.  The smoked porter I tried next was very good though.  It had a nice rich taste but didn’t knock you over with the burnt maltiness. 

I took this beer with me on a tour of the brewery.  Scott, the brew master explained the brewing process and passed around examples of the malts and hops for us to smell.  He explained that this was one of the last tours they would be giving at this facility because they are moving at the end of the month to a bigger location about 5 miles away in Elmsford, NY.   Scott pointed to the huge fermentation vat and said, “We are going to be increasing our capacity five times so we needed more room for the bigger vats.”  They also will be finally producing their beer in 12 ounce bottles. 

After the tour, we went back to the tasting room to continue sampling. I tried a beer called “Family Meal” that was made with cinnamon and ginger and was impressed by its sweetness.  But it was the last beer I had called “Drew’s Brew” that was my favorite.  This one had some of the sweetness of the previous beer but with a nice IPA kick.  After going back for seconds on the Drew’s, I decided to fill up a growler to take home.  At 8.5% ABV I wasn’t going to stand around drinking this one all day long.   At this point I could have used something to eat, but I guess the brewery isn’t allowed to serve food on premises.  I did notice some more experienced tasters who brought baked goods and pretzels.  Note to self: Next time, think of more than just the beer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The worst beer in the non-contiguous United States

Wailua - Kona Brewing Co.

I bought a six pack of Wailua while down the Jersey shore on vacation this summer.  According to the label, it’s brewed in Hawaii  with passion fruit.  It sounded like the perfect beach beer.  I had one that night and it was so poor that I poured it out and put the rest of the six in my beer closet when I got home.  I broke it out tonight in order to relive just how bad it is.  I am really just trying to get a little “hair of the dog” in order to suppress a hangover from a good Thursday night in Hoboken.  That review will be forth coming.  I wasn't about to waste a good beer tonight. I figured a really awful beer will teach me a lesson.

A closer inspection of the label shows an expiration date of April 21, 2011.  That means when I first drank it in August it was already past its due date.  That’s what I get for trying to drink a beer from the South Pacific. I open it and pour it into an iced mug hoping the temperature might ease the pain.  It smells like something gone bad; like a Mexican dinner, maybe a burrito, that has been sitting out in the sun all day.  It pours like a lager with a white foamy head.  It’s very clear for a wheat ale.  The taste assaults my tongue from all sides.  There is a hint of fruit – but again more fruit gone bad.  I’m getting no discernible buzz from this beer and I’m wondering if they put alcohol in their beers in Hawaii.  I was hoping that as I drank it the taste might improve.  No such luck. It is bad throughout. 

I have had some really bad tasting beers over my beer drinking life, but this Wailua is one whale of a bad beer.  Maybe it is the lack of freshness that comes the transportation time;  though German beers have to travel a long way to make it to the States and they are some of the best I've tried.   Maybe it tastes just as bad on the black sand beaches of Maui, but people are just too awestruck at the beauty of Hawaii to notice.  Either way, I finish the whole thing in order to teach myself two lessons: 

1. don’t drink too much on a week night and

2. don’t drink anything else from Hawaii other than a Mai Tai. 

Is there a real awful beer that I'm missing? Have you tried something worse?  Let me know so I have a fall back next time I'm in the mood for a real shitty beer.