Holy Crap Where Did We Go?

You may have noticed that we stopped updating for a while. Or not, since we have less readers than a photography magazine for the blind. It’s not that we stopped caring about beer, or drinking it for that matter – in fact, my beer consumption has handsomely increased these past few weeks – we’ve just been swamped with summer stuff, like vacations, moving, camping, and waking up on the side of the highway minus 3/5th’s of a kidney. Well, at least for one of us that’s true.

So what is in store for Beer Essentials? NOTHING. Because we’re changing the name and relaunching this blog as – wait for it – Renegade Beer Attack. Starting now! Can you feel the winds of change already blowing your mind?

So I’ll admit, when I first got internet service back last week, I was toying with the idea of abandoning this blog like I did my red-headed son at the post office a few years ago, but something drew me back in. Something new, something powerful, something unexpected. Like a sign from God, just as my mouse was lingering over the “delete account button”, this vision appeared on my screen (actually my Gmail box):

Cue halo and choir of heavenly angels singing in chorus – holy shit, Brooklyn Detonation Ale! Brooklyn Brewery had to have known I was having such a shitty month, because they took what was already my favorite beer and upgraded it – call it Blast! 2.0! A 9% hoppy behemoth that I didn’t think could ever exist – like Shia LeBouf’s acting career – that will be available exclusively on tap at my favorite bars in a few weeks. It’s like praying for rain in a drought and getting Hurricane Katrina. Naturally, the first thing I did upon hearing about this heaven-send was email my Brooklyn Brewery contact and see if I could get on the list for the awesome release party. Still waiting to hear back from him, but then I remembered something – at the Buzz Bomb release party several months ago, I ran into Brooklyn Brewmaster Garret Oliver, and over a pint of aged Dark Matter, casually mentioned how much I loved The Blast, and how he should make it more readily available. Did I have a hand in inspiring him to create this epic brew? Probably not, but I like to pretend I’m important.

I’ll be covering the release party if I can get on the list, and I’ll keep you updated on when and where you can find some Detonation Ale, but in the meantime, Tony and I will be hitting up the very excellent Mission Dolores in Park Slope tonight for our Thursday Power Drinking Series. Come by and mention Renegade Beer Attack and get a round on us (him), plus see if you can defeat the master (me) in a game of Connect Four. I’m undefeated, I warn you, and I only get better the drunker I get.

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Beer Festivals! NOT Frat Parties!

Hey Everybody…

Sorry…I’ve been pretty busy, or maybe just really lazy to post. So let me knock in a couple posts tonight. This one will be short…

This won’t be a total review of the BrewFest Festival Mike and I went to a few weeks ago. If you want a review, check out Mike’s review here. This is just going to be what not to do as an organizer to a beer festival and then I’ll show you a real beer festival.

First thing not to do…DO NOT have an odd mix of breweries. Mostly because Budweiser was there and their semi-craft beers. Most of these breweries are against what Bud stands for. It’s all about taste and freedom and whatever. I may be wrong but companies like Bud and Coors is the same reason why I have to go to Canada to get a McCaffrey’s Irish Creme Stout. ALSO…where was Dogfish Head? Seriously…they never showed. Heck, they were at the little Coney Island beer festival. Maybe they didn’t approve of Bud being there…HA!

Next thing not to do…Invite the world!!! Wow 12,000+ people. Not enough beer and not enough cheese for burgers. Seriously…who plans to sell 10,000+ burgers but only brings 500 slices of cheese??? FAIL!!! On a more important note, kegs began to kick by the onslaught of thirsty college kids. No, not really college kids, but I did feel like I was at a frat party with all the drunk hipsters in flip flops and sun hats. “DUDE…Frisbee!!”

Quickfire time: Music blew, food lines too long, a section for non-beer?!? We’re on an Island…what can go wrong! Early entry tickets. People cutting lines for beer (hehe)!

All of quickfire has a story but that is totally taking me away from what’s important…beer. So BrewFest was not great but it was an adventure. But what am I comparing this to? We’ll a good friend of mine, Brad, sent me a link from his hometown of London, England. The Great British Beer Festival!!! Just look at it…done right. Beer is there in abundance. It’s also a lot cheaper, although you do have to buy each beer, but that is okay. I’m not paying for beer I don’t care for (Budweiser). It is also handled by an organization that loves beer, CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale). Basically they are about CASK beers where fermentation naturally makes the bubbles in beer and not a brewer forcing CO2 into it. This festival is in August and I really wish I could go. Definitely check out the website and pictures from last year’s festival. The only complaint might be the music…but hey, when I was in London and walking down Portabello Road (yes, of Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomstick fame), I heard a street band play “Don’t Look Back In Anger” by Oasis with pots and pans. Pretty good…

TV on Beer

Or maybe it should be “beer on TV”. Whatever the case, it looks like someone else realized that beer is big business and managed to do what I’ve been itching to do for a year – create a television show centered around beer. From Beernews.org::

Beer is the drink of the masses. If you look into a glass of beer you can see the past, present and future of mankind. Cicero lauded it, Genghis Khan fought for it and now Discovery Channel celebrates it with a world premiere series, BREWED, exploring the culture, history and variety of beer.

Meet Sam Calagione: maverick entrepreneur, family man and owner of Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. As an ambassador to the world of craft beer, Sam travels the world to experience what every culture brings to its own special brew.

In BREWED, Sam shows viewers the other side of the bottle, sharing the stories of beer sub-cultures as well as exploring life inside The Dogfish Head Brewery. BREWED goes behind the scenes at Dogfish Head as Sam’s merry band of creative brewmasters concoct new taste varieties.

A part of me is upset that the very similar show pitch I’ve been perfecting for a while is now worthless, but a part of me is also happy that the intriguing world of craft beer is finally getting mainstream attention, giving it a much needed weapon in the battle against the big corporate fizz brewers.

In my show pitch, I envisioned Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery performing hosting duties – he is smart, media-savvy, and just generally interesting – but I absolutely LOVE the choice of Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head – he is the closest craft beer gets to a mad scientist. And not in a supervillan kinda way. More like a “Let’s make a 24% ABV super-IPA because fuck it, we can” sort of way. If anyone in the beer industry has a story to tell, it’s Sam, from his exploits excavating ancient bowls and cups in order to recreate 2,000 year old brew recipes, to opening NYC’s first super-brewpub with Russian River and Mario Batali, to starring in the Beer Wars Movie (which, despite its title, contained a startling lack of Stormtroopers). So the show should be at the very least entertaining, although I worry that the exposure it gives to Dogfish Head might result in either a shortage of the extremely tasty stuff (its hard enough to get now as it is), or *gasp*, a sale of Dogfish Head to one of the mainstream big brewers. But I have faith that Sam and Discovery know what they’re doing. What do you think?

And in case you’re wondering, no, this does not spell the end of my beer show pitch. In fact, after a little tweaking and a lot of drinking, I believe that the exposure that this show gives craft beer will get other networks salivating for a show of their own, and guess who’s ready to step up to the plate with a great, fleshed-out idea? The guy who created Man Vs. Food. Yeah, you’re probably right.

Brewfest Review

I apologize for the tardiness of this update, I’ve been drinking a lot of beer lately, and you know when you’re drinking and you just don’t feel like doing anything other than watching Ninja Warrior reruns? That’s been my affliction since Saturday. But I bravely overcame it this morning (I ran out of beer) so I figured I’d write up a recap/review of Saturday’s Brewfest event held at Governor’s Island, which, to my surprise, was not the setting for a remote secret laboratory where the governor conducts morally-questionable biological experiments on prisoners. Why I thought that would exist, I don’t know, I’m fucked up in some ways, more so than beer can ever fix.

So the event, yes, let’s talk about it. This was my first Brewfest, so I went in with few expectations, and ending up leaving feeling a bit… well, annoyed – but I’ll get to that later. The setting for the fest was ideal – a field with a lot of open space. Let’s face it, you could have held this thing in a prison yard and it would have been an ideal setting. By the way, there actually was a prison on the island, but I’m fairly certain most of the prisoners weren’t allowed to attend. Carnival-style booths flanked the perimeter of the field, each featuring a different craft brewery offering anywhere from 2 to 6 unique beers. At the north end, a stage was set up for bands to perform on during the event, and to the east of that stage, food stands featuring Heartland Brewery burgers, pizza, and pretzels (HB was the main sponsor of the event, according to my ticket.)

The festival opened at 3:30pm, unless you had a special Connoisseur’s Pass, which gave you access to the beer a full hour ahead of everyone else. Tony, Chaps and I are cheap pricks, so we sprung for the regular pass, and ended up having to wait an ungodly 10 minutes at the gate to be let in. Upon a brief frisk (I prefer my pat-downs to be thorough), we were handed a 4 ounce “tasting cup” and given a weird card with 24 stamps on it. Apparently, the original plan was to have each brewery stamp your card once, so you could only try 24 beers throughout the course of the day. Well, someone apparently forgot to tell the breweries this, because when I presented my card to the first booth, they looked at me like I had a dick on my forehead. I removed the dick and presented it again, and they just shrugged and served the next guy.

We managed to get in pretty early, so the first few booths that we visited had no line whatsoever. It was just walk up to the friendly dude behind the booth, hand him your cup, and be on your merry way, which in my opinion is the 2nd best way to run a brewfest, behind giving everyone a needle and having each brewery hand out IV bags full of beer (are you reading this Brewfest 2011??). This ease of drink acquisition was to be a brief flirtation, however, as more and more people began to arrive. We managed to hit up maybe 7 or 8 breweries close to the entrance before we encountered any real sort of resistance in the form of a line (shit!) requiring our buzz to take a backseat, as the sun beat down on us, making us even thirstier, requiring us to wait on yet another line. It was like a paradox wrapped in a conundrum: We had to wait in line for beer, which made us thirstier, which made us wait in another line for beer, which made us even thirstier. After about an hour of this shit, I started using my natural charm, not to mention all of the stealth skills I picked up watching Ninja Warrior reruns drunk, and just began cutting lines. You wouldn’t believe how easy it was either – I would literally just walk up to the booth in most instances, past everyone waiting in line, put my cup on the table, and get a refill. Some booths required advance techniques, like blending in with a large group near the front of the line, or walking up to the front with a half filled glass, acting like I had a problem with the beer, then leaning in to the guy behind the counter and saying “this beer is fucking delicious, can I have another”? You may use that technique, by the way, with my permission.

Ok asshole, we’re all proud of your line cutting techniques, so tell us about the beer. Yeah yeah, I was just getting to that. As you might imagine, we ended up trying a LOT of beer. I mean like 25 or 30 samples each. New breweries that I got to try that were pretty good were Middle Ages Brewery, Erie Brewing Co. , and Empire Brewing Co. I wasn’t impressed with Harlem Brewing Co. – their Sugar Hill beer was bland and uninspired. Although it’s widely distributed here, I’ve never had Lake Placid beer, and I was surprised by their Honey Rye – a very nice take on a style that is gaining a lot of attention. In fact, I’d say that behind wheat beers, rye beers were the widely available brew at the festival. My top 5 beers of the day were, in no particular order:

  1. Heavy Seas – Loose Cannon
  2. Kelso – Saison
  3. Innis & Gunn – Oak Aged Ale
  4. Stone – Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
  5. Left Hand – Chainsaw Ale

We were happy to see our old friend Dennis from Stone, who is becoming our own personal Candyman – he just appears in places you’d never expect. He told me to be on the lookout for Stone’s new 14th Anniversary Brew – the Emperial IPA, an all-British ingredient IPA. Our friends Mike and George from Brooklyn Brewery were there as well, but they had their hands full, as with 6 taps, including 2 Brewmaster’s Reserves (Blast! and Buzz Bomb), Brooklyn was by far the most popular tent. I was a bit disappointed to discover that not only was Dogfish Head NOT at the Brewfest, but Anheuser Bush WAS, with a rather large tent showcasing all of their “craft brands” which they either own or help distribute – Red Hook, Landshark, Kona, and Goose Island – as well as some of their own crappy offerings like Bud Light Lime and Golden Wheat. I don’t have any problem with Goose Island or Kona, but something just didn’t sit right with me having Budweiser, the largest mass producer of fizzy water, guilty of trying to run small craft breweries out of business, there.

My final thoughts on the event before I go watch Ninja Warrior 13 reruns, and the U.S. – Algeria World Cup game: The festival was fun, informative, and in general just had a good vibe to it (no punches in the face for cutting the lines), but it was oversold this year, which lead to unbelievably long lines (Tony waited, I kid you not, 80 minutes to purchase 2 HB burgers). I would have also liked to see somewhat more variety from some of the local breweries. I understand that their goal is to get people hooked on their flagship offerings, and I respect that, but a third tap with something unusual, rare, or aged would have been nice for loyal craft beer drinkers. Brooklyn and Empire did a good job with their selections, and I applaud them, so hopefully their success (Brooklyn literally ran out of beer about an hour before the festival ended) will inspire other breweries to bring more out of the cellar next year. I’m hoping that for 2011, they cap the number of attendees at 8,000 or so. One of the security staff told me there were close to 12,000 this year, and you could tell that neither the organizers, nor the brewers were prepared for those numbers. But what I go back in a heartbeat? Hell yes!

Greenport Harbor Night At Ski Bar

Apologies for not updating yesterday, I’ve been battling a bad sinus infection that has sapped my voice, and even the generous amount of beer I administered last night hasn’t destroyed the evil bacteria residing in me. But you know what they say – if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. So tonight I’ll probably be swinging by my favorite bar in Bay Ridge (and really, the only one that respects beer) Ski Bar for Greenport Harbor Night, where 3 taps of this newly-distributed-to-Brooklyn beer will be flowing for only $2.50 a pint – The IPA, a Belgian Ale, and a Summer Ale which I have yet to try, but am excited about.

You know what else I’m excited about? My homebrewed Belgian Saison, which I bottled on Tuesday night, and should be ready for imbibing by next Tuesday. We sampled the yet-to-be-carbonated unfinished brew when we were bottling, and the smell and color were outstanding, but the taste was still getting there. Not bad, just not mature yet. Hopefully a week in the bottles with some priming sugar will turn it from a boy into a man. Yes, I endow gender characteristics to my homebrewed beers. The last batch was kind of a Susan-type beer – I don’t know why, but that’s the name that popped into my head when I thought about the beer. This one is heartier, a beer that looks and smells Like A Man Would. I’ll name it when it fully matures, but suggestions are welcome.

Summer Beers

Today I thought I’d make this blog a little more interactive, seeing as how we have no comments or discussions from our many (read: 6) followers. The topic for today is summer beers. I can’t think of a seasonal that I look forward to more than craft summer – crisp, light, often citrusy with medium hop profile, their arrival on shelves and taps in early May is the true harbinger of the warm, pleasant weather to come. At least for me it is. There’s an indescribable feeling that I get when that very first pint of summer ale touches my lips and coats my taste buds. Some might call it alcoholism in the works; I prefer to leave its mystery be and just enjoy it.

So what I want to know today is, what are YOUR favorite summer beers? While the style is mostly the same for most seasonals (light, crisp, hoppy Kolsh or Weizen, with exceptions, of course), the taste, profile, and quenchability of each individual brew is as unique as the craft breweries that make them. Below are my top 5, which are most definitely NOT set in stone, and often change week to week:

  1. Sam Adams Summer Ale – Maybe it’s because it’s the most widely distributed summer ale, or maybe it’s because of the unique, clean light hop profile accentuated by citrus peel and the very unique Grains of Paradise, but I just love this beer. On any warm, humid summer day, if you offered me water or this, 9 times out of 10 I would tell you to fill up the fish tank and give me this beer. Goes very well as a session beer too, especially when you’re drinking outside with friends on your porch, at the beach, or at one of the many patio bars in Bay Ridge and Park Slope. Outstanding, even as Sam Adams has continued to grow beyond official “Craft Beer” status.
  2. Dogfish Head Aprihop – I don’t know if this beer is officially considered a summer seasonal, but it really doesn’t matter because it is such a unique and unbelievably delicious brew from perhaps the most innovative mad scientist craft brewer on the planet – Sam Calagione’s Dogfish Head. An IPA with a HUGE nose of apricot tamed by an enticing hop aroma, this beer tastes almost exactly how it smells – delicious, a bit heavy yet refreshing, with heavenly apricot notes on the tongue that swirl away to a sharp hop bite on the backend. Definitely not a session beer at around 8%, but you can’t tell me that one of these doesn’t quench a parched throat on a hot night.
  3. Goose Island Summer Ale – Finally had a chance to enjoy this wonderful take on the Kolsh style the other day at Ski Bar. Very light and refreshing, with a nice mouthfeel and a crisp finish. I’m not usually a big fan of Goose Island stuff, but this might make me think twice about writing off Chicago’s biggest brewery.
  4. Brooklyn Sorachi Ace – This American saison brewed with the rare Sorachi Ace hop recently replaced the excellent Brooklyn-Schneider Hopfen Weisse in 22oz bottles, and is an exceptional example of a light, citrusy, high alcohol summer brew that is more a “reward beer” than a session beer. Of course, the $12 – 18 dollar price tag would probably tell you that in the first place. If you can find this on tap, it’s definitely worth getting, but the bottle refermented version is perfect to pop open on a hot summer night spent on your porch, opposite a medium rare burger in your other hand.
  5. Coney Island Albino Python – Another beer that is technically not an exclusive “Summer beer” per se, but I couldn’t leave it off this list, because no summer is complete, at least for me, without spending an entire day sitting at Beer Island on the Coney boardwalk drinking 6 or 7 of these uniquely spiced witbiers. As Santomarco pointed out to me 2 weeks ago when we were brewing, the taste of the Albino Python has morphed as of late, now reflecting an obvious upfront mint taste, which was not in last year’s version. Whether this was an intentional implementation of Schmaltz, or whether this is a result of this year’s hop harvest, it definitely lends the beer an even more unique, if not more polarizing taste than before. I still like it, but I wouldn’t mind if the next batch harkens back to the 2009 version.

So again, we’d like to know, what are YOUR favorite beers to sit back and enjoy this summer?

1st Annual Craft Beer Festival Review

Hey all,

Oh boy, what a week…

As some of you might know…I won a Raffle at Ski Bar to go to the 1st Annual Craft Beer Festival at MCU Park (Brooklyn Cyclones). I technically didn’t win. I lost regardless of how many tickets I had (For every Brooklyn Pint, you get a raffle ticket…i must have had 12-15 tickets). Mike’s friend did win (3 tickets) but handed me the prize as he is only a mild drinker. Sadly, a festival would be great for people like him to increase their beer palette.

Long story short, I beat myself up the couple nights before the festival through drink. I had a lot to do this day and almost didn’t go but after everything, this was one of my highlights of the day. So once I entered, I was given a 3 oz mug and 20 tickets. Each ticket was for a taste of whatever there was to drink. Believe it or not, (20) 3oz beers is a lot. I was surprised how many tickets I had left. Click here for a list of beers.

I really didn’t know where to start. I actually right away knew whatever I did at the festival would eventually be on this blog, so I decided on an angle…how about fruity beers? I know, I know…but I had 20+ beers in the 48 hours previous and I really needed something different. Actually my last beer Friday night was a Magic Hat #9 which has a hint of Apricot. I barely touched that pint and left it sitting at the bar 3/4 full (sad). Redemption came in a beer called Ithaca’s Apricot Wheat. A very fresh, light beer and very easy drinking. It also hits you with A LOT of apricots. This beer makes Magic Hat #9 the Coors Light of fruity beers…I really enjoyed it. I followed this beer with 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, Unita’s Monkshine and Saranac Pomegranate. The watermelon was actually good and still very full of watermelon flavor as is the Apricot Wheat. The Monkshine reminded me of a pear cider which is popular nowadays. The Pomegranate (I actually had a taste Wednesday at House of Brews) is disappointing. Basically you sit there wondering…where is the pomegranate? If you name a beer something, it better taste like it! At HOB, we actually pondered if adding POM to the drink would make it taste any better.

Once I satisfied my fruity beer need, I started exploring. My favorites were Erie’s Railbender, Ithaca’s Flower Power and He’Brew Genesis. The Railbender, honestly to me, taste like a Mcsorley’s beer. It was the first thing that came into mind. Very smooth with a mild taste…nothing over powering. Just like Mcsorley’s, you can pound down one after another. Now I can be totally wrong, which is usual for me, but I may actually go to Mcsorley’s Saturday just to compare. Ithaca’s Flower Power was definitely my favorite for the day. Another light and crisp beer but the aroma was strong and hoppy. Amazingly, there was no hoppy or bitter after taste which is definitely odd considering it is an IPA. If you see this in your market’s fridge and heading to a summer BBQ, I’d definitely pick up a six pack. The He’Brew is a series of beers made by the Schmaltz Brewing Company. All I’m going to say about the Genesis ale is that its worth trying. I want to try out the other He’Brew beers and will probably dedicate a post to them.

Well, what sometimes happens to me after a few beers is I get very chatty. I also happened to bump into a group of friends and pretty much time flew by. Along with an “All you can eat” bracelet at the concessions, so I was making some runs, and the need to find out how fast I can throw a baseball while inebriated (apparently only 57 MPH…but awesome accuracy though…yeah, it’s odd), I really can’t recall flavors, taste and aroma’s of the other beers I had. But…that’s some of the fun for later tastings. “Oh yeah! I had this before!”.

One last thing…thanks to Ski Bar and owner Scott (7314 Fifth Avenue, 73rd & 74th Street, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn) for the ticket and fun times.
-Tony W.