Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: My year in beer, part 2

In my last post I discussed all the breweries of note in 2013 and ones to watch for 2014. I had originally intended that to be just a subsection of a larger year-in-review blog, but I got a little carried away (for good reason). This time I’ll be looking at everything else: local beer news, events, trends, this blog, etc. So let’s get to it:

Local beer story of the year: Mahar’s closes

If you’ve been around the Albany beer scene for any length of time, no doubt you’re familiar with the now closed Mahar’s Public Bar on Madison Avenue. It opened in 1989, years ahead of the current craft beer craze. It was recognized by countless beer magazines, websites and historians as being one of the best place for beer in the United States. It offered 30 beers on draught and a whopping six casks (a beer bar with one cask is still pretty rare). I was a regular there from 2009-2012 and racked up about 250 beers on my “tour.” I got my t-shirt, a free case of Samuel Smith’s beer and entry into the “mug club” whereby all my drafts were discounted (I never did get my actual mug, though). Fun fact: their beer tour still lives at the Allen Street Pub.

It’s a shame this bar was forced out the way they were. From what I understand, the landlord – BMT Management – decided not to renew Jim Mahar’s 24-year-old lease and gave him the boot in order to start their own upscale pub in the same place.

The “Madison Pour House” was originally announced with a spring 2013 opening, which was pushed back to the fall. As of this writing, construction is still incomplete and no opening date has been announced that I’m aware of. Will I patronize the new venue? I will definitely give it a look at least once. However, I can’t imagine I’d become a regular since I now work nights and my former drinking buddies aren’t around anymore.

Fortunately, there’s been a second Mahar’s location just south of Albany in Castleton-on-Hudson for a few years now. I’ve been there several times, and it’s a lovely venue, but doesn’t have quite the selection the Albany location had (though they do have more food options). I even started a tour there and I’m up to about 40 beers. It’s been entirely too long since my last visit. I promise to give them a formal review in 2014.

Four new breweries!

 The Capital District beer scene just keeps on growing. As great as it is to see new drinking venues like The Bier Abbey, it’s pretty exciting that there are now four new breweries that want to open up shop here: Honey Hollow Brewery; Green Wolf Brewing; Rare Form Brewing and Ravens Head Brewing. Actually, make that five new breweries if you count…

Shmaltz opens their own brewhouse

The Shmaltz Brewing Company, who had been client brewing at Olde Saratoga Brewing Company for years, finally opened their own 50-barrel brewhouse in Clifton Park this July. I was at the grand opening, manning the table for my homebrew club, Albany Brew Crafters. I was quite impressed by the facilities and the tasting room. I’ll give the brewery a proper review sometime in 2014. Their new “Death of a Contract Brewer” black IPA  is excellent. I hope they will make that part of their regular offerings.

Additionally, Shmaltz sold the rights to their “Coney Island” line of craft brewed lagers to Samuel Adams. It’ll be interesting to see what Jim Koch and company do with that lineup.

BBC Day 1 023a

Speaking of Samuel Adams, I was able to visit their headquarters in Boston as part of the 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference (or #BBC13 as it’s known in social media circles). This was by far the most exciting beer-centric event I’ve ever been to. One of the most memorable moments was tasting a variety of the world renown Samuel Adams Utopias alongside Jim Koch. While that beer was interesting and impressive, it didn’t blow my mind the way I had been expecting. However, the experience itself did.

The Beer Bloggers Conference was a three-day event that encompassed so many activities that I can’t do it justice by simply summing it up here. Check out my blogs and videos of all three days here:
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
2013 TAP NY (56)
 TAP NY is still #1

As much as I love beer and attending beer-centric events, I’m actually getting sick of beer festivals. Most of them are produced and promoted by distributors with their employees handling all the pouring. These events are fine for regular people who just want to spend an afternoon getting drunk, especially in the summer. However, for hardcore beer nerds like me, I prefer something more brewer-centric and that’s what makes the TAP NY beer fest vastly superior to all other local beer festivals (I’m not sure it can compete with the GABF or SAVOR festivals, though).  I didn’t even bother attending any other beer festivals this year, not even Saratoga Beer Week.
If you’ve never been, I highly recommend checking it out. For a good idea of what it’s like, check out my blog and videos from the 2013 festival.

The Year of the New England-style IPA

Back in late 2011, word spread like wildfire about a new canned IPA out of Vermont called “Heady Topper.” A friend of mine gave me a can of it for Christmas that year and I reviewed it on January 1st of 2012. Sure enough, it wound up being the #1 beer of 2012 for me. While I still like Heady Topper a lot, I’ve noticed a lot of other IPAs from the New England states have been garnering as much buzz as that beer did and for pretty much the same reason: they were hard to come by and their palettes were quite similar.

Thanks to friends in the area that love to make road trips for beer, I was able to try several beers that are, in my opinion, so comparable to Heady Topper that they could be mistaken for it, including:
Maine Beer Company Lunch 002

Hill Farmstead’s Abner
Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Double Sunshine IPA
Maine Beer Company’s Lunch
Otter Creek’s Double Dose IPA (made in collaboration with Lawson’s Finest Liquids)
New England Brewing’s Gandi-Bot IPA

What do all these beers have in common? They all have a lush, citrusy, juicy aroma; hazy dark orange bodies; a palette that’s juicy up front but very bitter on the finish with herbal/spicy qualities of garlic and onion. The mouthfeel is always thick, soft and smooth making them quite refreshing and highly drinkable. They all garnered high ratings from me.

No doubt Heady Topper pioneered this niche style which I like to call the “New England-style IPA”, and other breweries in the region are doing their best to emulate it. Sure, each has unique features and some are better than others, but you don’t have to be a Cicerone to tell there’s a commonality to these beers. I’ll be curious to see who else jumps on this bandwagon in 2014.

My most popular blog posts of 2013

I started writing for the Times Union’s “Beer Nut” blog back in April. I’ve tried to post a new blog every Monday and I don’t think I’ve missed a week. I always try to write about topics I think the readers will enjoy reading. I especially enjoy posting “open thread” blogs asking for reader feedback which generates a healthy discussion of ideas. Looking at the site statistics, these type of blogs accounted for half of my most popular posts in 2013:
caption this!

#10 Can you really argue taste?
#9 What beer do you pair with Thanksgiving?
#8 Is Bud Light America’s session beer?
#7 Brewpub review: Brown’s Brewing Company
#6 How would you rate the Albany beer scene?
#5 Top 10 best beers under 5% ABV
#4 What are the best readily-available stouts and porters?
#3 Caption this!
#2 Top 10 best canned beers to bring to Saratoga Race Course
#1 “Local” is NOT a synonym for quality

NOTE: I was really surprised that my “Great Macro Lager Showdown” post didn’t crack the top 10. That was my personal favorite blog of the year. It was certainly a fun and educational experience. I thought the statistics would generate a lot of discussion, maybe even controversy. I guess you had to be there.

Adventures in homebrewing

Since this blog is about my year in beer, I figured I should do a quick summation of all the homebrews I made this year:

Trap In Black IPA – This was originally supposed to be an American Black IPA brewed with Trappist ale yeast (hence the name). But the yeast, for whatever reason, wasn’t viable, so I re-pitched with WLP001 “California Ale Yeast” and it came out really well.

Weeknight Wheat 2013 – I really enjoy brewing and drinking hefeweizens. They are ideal to have in the fridge at all times during the summer. This was an authentic Bavarian-style wheat I’ve been brewing for a few years now.

The REAL Trap in Black IPA – Essentially the same recipe as the first batch, but this time I used more viable yeast…. sort of. The yeast started off fine, but somewhere along the line it got really strained and the end result was a highly phenolic brew with all kinds of off-flavors. I seemed to dislike it more than anyone, and I actually gave a lot of bottles away since other people said they liked it. One of these years I’ll get this recipe right.

Peach Raspberry Mango Wheat – The exact same recipe as the Weeknight Wheat, but this time I threw some frozen mango in the fermenter and some peach and raspberry concentrate flavors. It essentially tasted like Snapple. I entered it into the Schoharie County Sunshine Fair and it won Best in Show! Will definitely brew this again next summer.
albany ale (8)

Crème de la Lawnmower – A basic cream ale kit, no frills. I kegged it entirely too early. It was ok.

Chadtennial IPA – I took the first kit I ever brewed and gave it another shot, but this time I swapped out the hops for all Centennial hops. It turned out pretty good, though the gravity was too low to truly be an IPA. I tried an experiment where I filled a growler with the beer and dropped in a slice of habanero pepper. This was inspired by tap-only release of Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA with habanero. The result wasn’t so much good or bad as it was interesting.

Strawberry Wheat – You always see so many fruit-flavored wheat beers, but you almost never see strawberry wheat beers. I decided to make my own using fresh strawberries that I had frozen myself for a few days. Even after a while in the fermenter, the beer didn’t have that much of a strawberry flavor – mostly aroma and tartness. I cheated and added some strawberry flavor concentrate, but it tasted weird. Wasn’t a fan.

Albany Ale – Inspired by the Albany Ale Project and the Albany Pump Station’s revival brew of a 100-year-old recipe, I decided to make my own. As I mentioned in a blog back in October, my friend Scott and I homebrewed side-by-side all-grain and extract recipes. I was hoping for a decent, drinkable beer, but this wound up being surprisingly tasty and highly drinkable. Everyone who’s tried mine has really seemed to enjoy it. I’m thinking of doing it again next fall, but as a lighter version with less extract, corn syrup and sugar.

Chad’z Chocolate Cherry Chile Porter – Another re-tread of a homebrew I had already made. Last time around I used just a little bit of frozen cherries and a small, red jalapeno in the boil for a minute or two. This time I used a large, green jalapeno in the boil for 15 minutes, cocoa nibs instead of cocoa beans, and sweet cherry puree instead of frozen cherries. I brought this to the family Christmas get-together and everyone really enjoyed it. I’ll be entering this in The Ruck’s upcoming homebrew competition, as well as….

The Super Secret Homebrew – I can’t say anything about this beer or otherwise it wouldn’t be a secret. The only thing worth mentioning is that it was brewed with Scott “Handsome Guy” Veltman of Ommegang. Once it wins all the awards next month I’ll reveal all ;)

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