Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's All About the Belgians (their beer, at least)


Happy Belgian Independence Day*!

 Yeah, I didn't know either. But July 21, 1831 was the day that King Leopold was crowned as the first king of the new country of Belgium. Before that, they were part of the Netherlands. Evidently that wasn't working out for them.

 This might be a more exciting "faux-liday" for me than Cinco de Mayo. While I do like tequila (in fact, it's one of the few hard liquors I truly enjoy drinking), I love, love, love my Belgian beers. What a better reason the celebrate them!

 The photo is of the three most recent Belgian beers I've had the immense pleasure of drinking recently. Okay, one of them is a Belgian-style beer, but it was really good, so I'm including it.

 Gulden Draak (center, taken last year at Stubbies & Steins) might be my favorite beer ever--except that it's over 10 percent ABV and thus I don't drink it often. But it's so delicious! Caveats: it's not for "hop heads," nor for those that don't like boozy beer. This is a sweet, complex, strong dark ale. Very smooth, caramel taste. This is a beer to be savored, really enjoyed. I like starting out with one of these, or having one after dinner. According to its website, the Brewery Van Steenberge is the "only operational brewery left in the Meetjesland." In northwestern Belgium, part of the Flemish region, where they speak Dutch. Strangely, "meetjes" is Dutch for "old women." So this is the land of old women? Old women that like good beer, obviously!

 On the left (the one most recently drunk of the three), is a Gulden Carolus CuvĂ©e Van Der Keizer Rood (Red). A birthday present I held onto for a couple months, it's a Belgian strong pale ale, although I didn't find it excessively hoppy (I think American-style IPAs are throwing off my impression of what the rest of the world considers to be a pale ale). Still very strong (10% ABV) and spicy, but not nearly as sweet or unctious as the Gulden Draak. I really enjoyed it. I definitely could taste the spiciness. The Brouwerij Het Anker is also in the Flemish region of Belgium, in a city called Mechelen.

 The faux Belgian on the right is Ovila Dubbel, from Sierra Nevada brewery. The Ovila project is three beers (the Dubbel, a saison, and a "quad," ) that Sierra Nevada is brewing with monks in California. A portion of the proceeds from sale of these beers goes to the monks' attempt to rebuild a 12th century Spanish medieval Santa Maria de Ovila chapter house in Vina, California. William Randolph Hearst purchased and dismantled the crumbling ruins of the old monastery in Spain and had them shipped to California in 1931, planning to use them to build a house, but later gave them to the state. A Dubbel is malty Belgian-style beer, originally brewed by Trappist monks. It was lighter than I thought it would be, but I'm not sure how many Dubbels I've actually tried. Very smooth, very drinkable.

 A "quad," by the way, is a Quadrupel, another Trappist Belgian ale. Related to the Dubbel ("double") and the Tripel (duh), the name comes from the levels of malt used in the brewing process. In this case, they use four times more malt than they would in a Trappist "simple." The Ovila Quad is scheduled to come out in November of this year.

 (*On a non-beer, but very Belgian note, read here why comparing Belgium to Iraq "isn't far off the mark." Turns out, not too many Belgians celebrate Belgian Independence Day, sadly.)


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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Swamp Head gets a shout-out from Florida Trend, plus their Saison du Swamp


The business magazine Florida Trend highlighted a few Florida breweries in today's Daily Pulse, including our very own Swamp Head (with a very nice photo of cofounder Luke Kemper):

Swamp Head started when Luke Kemper returned to Gainesville from beer-crafty Colorado and wound up starting a brewery with a family friend who was a skilled home brewer. He now sells from Jacksonville to Sarasota. And there's honey — from local bees, it brags — in a few brews.

  I've been more than slack lately on sharing my beery news, but my friends and I did attend Swamp Head's special event, Saison Saturday, where they sold their first-ever bottled offering, Saison du Swamp. I bought two of the limited-release bottles and have drank one so far. It is delicious! I know I should keep the second one, but I'm afraid I'll won't be able to hold off. Dry but still fruity, with that saison funk, it was definitely easy to drink.

  Swamp Head's tasting room is nicely-sized, with a bar and three high-top tables that looked like they were made from slices of cypress knees. They're open Wednesdays-Fridays, 4-8 p.m. and have beer on draft and growlers to take home.

  On a fashion note, I also bought a t-shirt, purple v-neck with the Swamp Head logo on the back that is made of the softest, eco-friendly cotton. LOVE IT. 

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gainesville's Swamp Head Brewery Opens Tasting Room!

The fine folks at Gainesville's own Swamp Head Brewery have opened a tasting room! Starting yesterday, Wednesday February 23, the tasting room is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 4-7pm. It's important to note that for now, it's CASH ONLY.
They plan to start offering growlers in the future! Yay!
Swamp Head Brewery LLC
3140 SW 42nd Way
Gainesville, FL 32608
(352) 505-3035

My favorite is the Cottonmouth, a Belgian wheat beer; it's crisp and light. My husband likes the Stumpknocker IPA (of course). But what I really want to try and haven't found yet is Wild Night, their honey cream ale. If you're in the mood for a sturdy stout, their Midnight Oil coffee/oatmeal stout is... well, pretty damn stout. As much as I love stouts, I'm not a huge fan of coffee stouts--that's too much of a good thing, I think.

  You can find Swamp Head beers served at several bars and restaurants around Gainesville (and other locations throughout Florida), but they're often serving only one or two styles. To have the full option available directly from the brewery is exciting. If you're in the area, you should come out and support your local brewer. 

I first tasted Swamp Head beers at a Children's Miracle Network fundraiser at a hotel my friend Kelly works with (Residence Inn, new and nice--no, really). When my friend Gail got married about a year ago (with a reception at that same hotel--thanks, Kelly!), Swamp Head provided the brew.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Waiter, this water is dirty! Wait, this is beer?

Walgreens is now selling their own private label beer and wine. Not surprisingly, it's really, really cheap. Like, Natural Light-cheap. reports (and provided the photo above) that the beer, Big Flats 1901, is brewed by Genessee in upstate New York for Walgreens. Now, I've actually had Genessee Cream Ale, and it's not good. Not that I ever imagined a beer by Walgreens would be good, but now knowing the origin, I'm positive.
As if any more proof was needed that this is going to be a terrible beer, the photo does it for me. THAT'S BEER? It's not even yellow. It's ... I don't know. There's a pinkish cast to it.
Being a former Natty Light drinker, I can attest to the attraction of really, really light beer. It's perfect for, say, post-yard work. You come in from the 98-degree heat of summer, just finished with mowing the lawn, and the lightest beer possible is a quenching drink. But THIS? This looks like bad water.
On the up side, it's apparently being sold at $2.99 a six-pack. Which is exactly what a sixer of Natty Light used to cost. FIFTEEN YEARS AGO.
If it becomes available locally, I may have to try it, just in order to know of what I trash-talk.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Defining "Craft Beer." Again. And How It Made Me Think of The Cure.

Beer writer Andy Crouch has a thoughtful post up on his blog, titled "Is It About Beer or Beer Politics:  The Brewers Association's Baby Step." The Brewers Association (BA), whose stated purpose is to "promote and protect small and independent American brewers" is changing their definition of "small" as it relates to craft brewers. From the press release:

  "In the BA's craft brewer definition, the term "small" now refers to any independent brewery that produces up to 6 million barrels of traditional beer. The previous definition capped production at 2 million barrels."

  The press release goes on to mention that this change allows the popular and still-growing Boston Beer Company (maker of Samuel Adams beers, many of which I love, by the way) to keep its membership in the BA as a craft brewer. I don't know if this is the only reason for the change, but they're the only brewery named. In his post, Mr. Crouch writes that there's a sizable portion of the craft brewing community that doesn't think Boston Beer Company belongs, and equates them with mega-brewers like InBev (makers of Budweiser beers and much, much more). He, on the other hand, applauds the Brewers Association's decision, calling it inevitable. "Like a woman who is perpetually turning 29, Boston Beer has been coyly telling everyone that its beer production numbers were below two million barrels per year for at least a few years after many people believed it likely blew past that number." Mr. Crouch goes on to talk about the definition of "small" and "craft beer," as well as the rising voices of pro-exclusionists.

  While I don't always agree with Mr. Crouch (mostly on his snobbish attitude towards us common-folk bloggers), I do agree with him on this matter, and think he lays out a good, readable argument for including Boston Beer (and other craft brewers associated one way or another with "big beer") in the craft brewing club. I think it's worth a read.

  As for me, who am I to say what is and isn't craft beer? I suppose that's why we have groups like the Brewers Association, because somebody has to draw the line. Or do they? I wonder when "craft beer" became a defined thing as opposed to an adjective, like "good beer." If craft beer is beer that's made well, with as much thought given to the quality of the ingrediants and effort into production as to how much money can be made off it, I think Sam Adams still counts as a craft brew. And frankly, I've had some "craft beers" that tasted like bottled Bud with an artful label. Not to mention that Boston Beer has done a lot to promote the idea of quality-over-quantity-beer for a long time. Kicking them out of the club isn't a very nice way to thank them.

  It's hard, when you find something and fall in love with it, and find a small group of like-minded individuals, to not become possessive. It's hard to let your special thing become mainstream. Why? Because in all honesty, that love is self-serving. Your membership in a tiny clique of people appreciating this thing made you cool. If everybody likes it, you're not cool anymore! You're just another person who likes this thing.

  I always think back to my phase in middle/high school when I LOVED the Cure. I owned their Goth-phase stuff like "Boys Don't Cry" and "Standing on the Beach." I had Cure buttons on my backpack, a Cure poster on the wall. And then in 1989, the Cure released "Disintegration" and it all blew up. There were pop-chart hits, hugely popular videos on MTV, the prom-ready single "Lovesong," and all of a sudden, everybody liked the Cure. I mean everybody. For chrissakes, cheerleaders liked the Cure! It was ruined! I quickly shed the buttons, pulled down the posters, and sneered at all the latecomers, as me and the other "misunderstood" kids ranted about how the Cure "sold out" or whatever.

  This (somewhat embarrassing) story reminds me of the craft beer snobs and their pro-exclusion attitude. They don't want craft brewers to succeed and gain wide appeal, because craft beer "belongs" to them. Only they understand how to appreciate it. But if you truly love something, shouldn't you want it to succeed? We have to let go of craft beer as our badge of coolness, let go of this idea that craft beer is a club that can pick and choose who can join. Don't we want more people opening up their palates and trying something new? Don't we want to share good beer with our friends, our family?   

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Malty Christmas!

"I wish you a Malty Christmas
And a Hoppy New Year,
A pocket full of money
And a cellar full of Beer!"
To quote a suave Christmas crooner, it's the most wonderful time of the year. And not just because it's the holidays. Some beery goodness came to us in the past few days, including the Samuel Adam's Winter Classics Pack. As in the past, it includes the delicious Old Fezziwig Ale, that I must admit I love as much for its name (inspired by the young Scrooge's generous and jubilant employer in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol") as I do for its tasty profile. Malty, chocolaty, spicy (but not too spicy), and a wee hint of citrus peel, it's a tasty holiday beer.
But what makes this year's Winter Classics Pack AWESOME is the inclusion of their Chocolate Bock. This is a fantastic beer. Roasted malts and chocolate - what could be better to a dark beer lover's palate? Only slightly sweet, the brew is aged on chocolate nibs (from some fancy chocolatier in San Francisco, TCHO) and a touch of vanilla is added. It's smooth and very rich. And, if you hadn't figured out yet, I freaking LOVE IT. I first came upon the Chocolate Bock a few years ago, sold in single 22-oz. bottles at our local ABC liquor store. I figured it was a one-time only thing, what with its silver metal "label" and all. So to see two bottles of it in the Winter Classics was a very merry present indeed.
The other beery goodness? Well, you'll have to come back for that one...

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