Dec 31 2016

The Best Music of 2016 and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings

Here’s a final list for 2016 for you to not care about. These are my top ten favorite music albums of the year and, of course, their beer pairings.

These are simply the albums that I enjoyed the most, and the beers didn’t need to be new to the world, just to me and right for the album.

(Previous “The Best Music of XXXX and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings” posts: 201520132012201120102009.)

 

In no particular order:

Blackstar and Dreg Pirate Roberts (Mixed Fermentation Ale)

david-bowie

David Bowie – Blackstar
Blackstar was an amazing postcard from Bowie as he disappeared at the beginning of the year. It is strange, challenging, and everything that isn’t walking gracefully into the sunset. His voice sounded strong and clear. His notes clean and measured like pallbearer’s steps. He lived dozens of lives within the one he was given. Bowie was as rare and unstable as the elements at the end of the periodic table. The fact that he wasn’t immortal is almost impossible to reconcile.
Favorite tracks: Lazarus, Blackstar

Barlow Brewing – Dreg Pirate Roberts
This is a repeat from 2014 (the first time I’ve done that), but it would be hard for me to have a pairing list without this beer. It won a gold medal in the National Homebrew Competition this year, and I was in Baltimore during the conference to pick up my medal. It was a four year old mixed fermentation sour that was aged in a barrel for 2 years, and that aging with gentle funk and sour notes made it a perfect pairing with Blackstar.

 

A Moon Shaped Pool and Acidulous Hop Trip (Sour IPA)

radiohead
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
A Moon Shaped Pool found the band becoming more orchestral. The buzzing fridge is still there, but swelling strings provided the lift that once came from guitars. Although it appears that I am the only one that finds the new version of True Love Waits, which took 2 decades to come into being, to be drained of life and the desperation that it deserves. You can believe differently, which is fine. It just makes you wrong. The album is very good and very human. The latter isn’t always synonymous in the art of Radiohead.
Favorite track: Burn the Witch, Ful Stop

Devils Backbone Brewing Company – Acidulous Hop Trip
This was a collaboration brew that I did with Jason and his crew at DBB. I was very happy with how this one turned out as it was a commercial brewery collab of mine that finally mirrored the insanity of my homebrewing creations. For further information on that beer, read about it here: Acidulous Hop Trip – Tart IPA with Devils Backbone.

 

Teens of Denial and Very Hazy (N.E.I.P.A.)

car-seat-headrest
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Although this list is in a random order, Teens of Denial was without question my album the year. Will Toldeo is clearly a student of music, and this album is spilling over with hooks and lyrical insights that are perfectly placed and painfully self-aware. Whether acting as simply character in his songs or speaking as himself, Toledo is quite conscious of his situation and surroundings, but still somehow perfectly captures the beginings of adulthood when you can do no right, but you still keeping trying.
Favorite tracks: Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An), Fill in the Blank

Tree House Brewing Company – Very Hazy
The New England IPA style has gotten a ton of beer geek attention during 2016, and there’s a good chance that you either love them or you hate them, and where you live is factor in your opinion, as well. I don’t dig the look of the cloudy junk that some breweries are putting out, and I couldn’t in good conscious serve something like that myself but, if done right, the “style” is delicious. Very Hazy was sent to me by a friend, and it was bright and lightly bitter with absurd amount of grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors. It pairs perfectly with Teens of Denial, which documents the transition through awkwardness that some of us never completely age out of unfortunately.

 

Coloring Book and Funky Gold Mosaic (Dry-hopped Sour Ale)

chance-the-rapper
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
At first, the mix of gospel and rap left me feeling uncomfortable with Chance’s latest mixtape. I couldn’t shift gears between the two, and that confused me for a time. But in revisiting the work of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?, I remembered how gracefully he transitioned between jazz, gospel, classical, and urban arrangements in a way that the world wasn’t quite ready for at the time. I’m not comparing the two, but with patience and a bit of slow rewiring of my brain, Coloring Book became one of the most rewarding albums of the year for me.
Favorite tracks: Blessings, All Night

Prairie Artisan Ales – Funky Gold Mosaic
I bought two bottles of this beer while on vacation, and I was excited to try it as I had had others from the Funky Gold series and they were amazing. The first bottle was awful. It was enteric and it took me an hour to get the baby diaper flavor out of my mouth. On a hunch, I let the second bottle age for almost 6 months, and it was wonderful when I finally cracked it open. Mosaic is an unusual hop in that it can stand alone and have the complexity that brewers can only usually achieve through the mixing of other hops. Funky Gold Mosaic had a beautiful funk character that balanced well against sour notes and the danker compounds of that hop which don’t usually pair well brett and lactic acid. It shouldn’t work, but it does and that is a perfect segue to Chance’s latest mixtape.

 

Blond(e) and Savage (100% Brett Table Beer)

frank-ocean
Frank Ocean – Blond(e)
The lead up to the release of Frank Ocean’s latest album created a hype that was hard to surmount, and the first few listens left me confident that Blond wouldn’t equal Channel Orange. But I gave the album a lot of spins while I was at the track and it finally just clicked. As the sun set each evening, and I was running in circles between day and night, and the subtle ambiguity of Ocean’s songs won me over. Blond lives in the first few moments of waking up when the lines between dreams and life, man and woman, and desire and disgust are blurred. In a world that has become painfully boolean, this was a gift.
Favorite tracks: Self Control, Pink + White

The Veil Brewing Co. – Savage
The Veil has become one of sexy breweries for beer geeks, and I finally got a chance to visit them in Richmond during a homebrew competition. I tried a few of their insanely hoppy Double IPAs and those were fine, but Savage is what knocked me out. Savage is a 2.7% table beer that was fermented only with brettanomyces in wine barrels. This was a beautiful, golden beer with crisp notes of hay and citrus that was a masterful show of brewing skill. The beauty and simplicity of this beer makes it great company for Blond.

 

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service and Oktoberfest

tribe-called-quest

Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
After the passing of Phife Dawg, I assumed that a new Tribe Called Quest album was impossible, but they delivered something both amazing and true to who they are 18 years later. This is old school rap with the members trading verses like you learned in grade school. While their style is tried and true, the topics are of the moment. They effortlessly transitioned between gentrification and race relations with the smarts they’ve always shown and the wisdom that has depended over time.
Favorite tracks: We the People…., Melatonin

Sierra Nevada/Mahr’s Bräu – Oktoberfest
The collaboration Oktoberfest between Sierra Nevada and Bauhaus Regale made this list last year, and their latest collab with Mahr’s Bräu was equally wonderful. Oktoberfests often work out tasting too…..something. Too caramel. Too hoppy. Too something, which ends up being distracting for me. The malt here was perfectly bready and full of crisp cereal grains. This oktoberfest also brought Record hops  to my attention, and I’m curious to see if this marks a return for this child of Saaz and Northerner Brewer hops. Bringing back traditional methods and ingredients to this beer, it pairs perfectly with the newest, and last, Tribe Called Quest.

 

A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings and Luponic Distortion Series (American IPA)

beach-slang
Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
I have a soft spot for Beach Slang. There’s too much Replacements in James Alex’s songs. Too much adolescent angst and alienation. But those were also the emotions that we all needed this year. We needed to remember that, “We’re not lost, we are dying in style. We’re not fucked, we are fucking alive.” We are, indeed, Mr. Alex.
Favorite tracks: Future Mixtape for the Art Kids, Atom Bomb

Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Luponic Distortion
Firestone Walker is no stranger to my lists, and they’ve earned another entry this year with their Luponic Distortion series. Brynildson and company are taking risks through the mixing of new and unusual hops, and you can either feel they are bold in doing so, or afforded the luxury of doing so by their size and reputation. Some of the Revolutions are better than others, but I applaud their experiments that swing from South African to German-influenced. These raw, but thoughtful, experiments pair well with A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings. And some middle-aged ones, as well.

 

Is the Is Are and Bear Witness (Oud Bruin)

diiv
DIIV – Is the Is Are

I don’t think that all 17 tracks of DIIV’s latest album are necessary, but there’s beauty in the depths that Smith digs into with his sound. For all the talk over the last four years about the new direction for the band, Smith produced something that sounds a lot like DIIV, but isn’t a bad thing. The circular scales and subtle hooks are immersive, and for an album that swirls around the drain of addiction, it sounds gorgeous. This was a year that needed a few hooks delivered by sewing machines rather than sledgehammers.
Favorite tracks: Dopamine, Valentine

Three Notch’d Brewing Company – Bear Witness
I was lucky enough to be a part of two beers that came out of Three Notch’d brewing this year. The first was a delayed variant of the Brettadocious beer we released last year, but it was aged on sour cherries. It was, quite simply, called Cherry Brettadocious, it was a big hit at the Top of Hops Beer Festival in Charlottesville. The beer that made this list was one that I played a much smaller role in and it was called Bear Wtiness. The beer was the idea of Levi’s at Three Notch’d to use the then empty wine barrel that contained some of Brettadocious, and to fill it with a dark, malt-focused wort to sour into a oud bruin (or Flanders brown ale). I merely supplied some thoughts and feedback, as well as the brett and souring bacteria for the beer. It was Levi’s baby and the resulting beer was dark and sour with dark fruit character and hints of caramel and sherry. A perfect paring with the complicated spinning of Is the Is Are.

 

Adore Life and Classic Saison

savages
Savages – Adore Life
Without question, the best live show I saw this year was the Savages at the 9:30 Club in DC. While this album is varied and challenging, their live show was a clinic on sound by a group at the zenith of their powers. Gemma’s guitar work created a wall of sound that never stopped as she kept pushing and noodling betweens songs, as well. It was as if the whole performance was one continuous feast and I walked away with full eyes and ears.
Favorite tracks: Slowing Down the World, The Answer

Blackberry Farm Brewery – Classic Saison
This brewery out of Tennessee surprised me with the simplicity of this saison. Just about every brewery has a saison, and they often have unusual herbs, spices, or weird peppercorns. It was amazingly nice to drink a beer in that style that was just a perfect love letter to the Dupont saison. Not a quirky variant. Not an attempt to be a clone. Just a seamless beer to pair with an amazing live show.

 

My Woman and Golden Swan (Wild Blonde Ale)

angel-olsen
Angel Olsen – My Woman
I wasn’t familiar with Olsen before this album, but her wit and wisdom quickly made me a fan. For all of her playfulness, the songs are focused and straightforward. Many of her tracks are fearlessly sparse, too, as is the art of a someone confident in their craft and voice. The simple romanticism of “Show me the future, Tell me you’ll be there,” still lingers, as does the entirety of My Woman with me.
Favorite tracks: Sister, Shut Up Kiss Me

Pen Druid Brewing – Golden Swan
Pen Druid is a local brewery to me, only an hour’s drive away, but since they’ve got no distribution, it took me some time to finally swing by to try their beers. Pen Druid Brewing focuses on mixed and wild fermentation, barrel fermenting and aging, and spontaneous fermentation. They use a (relatively) small 5bbl system as well as an oak mash tun and open oak barrel fermenters. I tried a half dozen of their beers that day, and all were interesting and well crafted. My favorite was the Golden Swan, which was a delicate blonde ale with herbal notes and a hint of lemon. I look forward to more beers from Pen Druid as their obsessions match my own. This beer pairs wonderfully with the long, slow jam in the middle of the song “Sister.” Cheers.

 

Honorable Music Mentions:

Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Mitski – Puberty 2
Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Honorable Beer Mentions:

Champion Brewing Company – Fruitless
Green Bench Brewing Co. – Petit Provision
Westbrook Brewing Company – Key Lime Pie Gose

 

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Jul 28 2016

Kickstarter Breweries: Where Are They Now?

Kickstarter Inspection

It seems like the peak for breweries utilizing Kickstarter was back between 2011 and 2012. Social media was full of homebrewers wanting to live the the dream, and you could support their fantasies for a mere $25 to $50 and, in exchange, you’d get some swag and vicarious bragging rights. Mostly the latter. 

I don’t think any of us really expected these breweries to necessarily thrive. It is hard enough to be a successful brewery for many reasons, and many of those reasons have nothing to do with beer. Owning a small business is a tricky game of spinning plates, and it takes a skill set that doesn’t overlap with the ones required for actually making beer. But the naive hope was that if a few people, with a small amount of disposable income each, could get these breweries over the hump of initial investment, then darwinism would sort the rest out.

Spurred by seeing an article today where someone I backed made an ass of himself, and I’ll get to that later, I decided to revisit beer-related Kickstarters that I backed.

Mystery Brewing

Mystery Brewing Company (Funded July 23rd, 2010)
Mystery Brewing continues to thrive in Hillsbourgh, NC under the leadership of Erik Myers. I had “virtually” met him through a round of the old Iron Brewer competitions, and he seemed like a serious and driven guy. This was, by my reckoning, a good Kickstarter, although I’m not sure it was needed for Mystery because he was going to succeed regardless.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.

Pipeworks Brewing Company

Pipeworks Brewing Company (Funded January 1st, 2011)
Pipeworks Brewing is alive in Chicago, IL. and looks to be cranking out a lot of different styles of beer. I had a friend in Chicago pick up some of the initial beers offered to me through the pledge. He enjoyed those beers and gave his seal of approval for this brewery. Props to Pipeworks for making it in a city that has no shortage of quality beers at its disposal.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes

Wilderness Brewing

Wilderness Brewing (Funded August 4th, 2011)
Wilderness Brewing is the poster child (perhaps milk carton child) for floundering once getting funded through Kickstarter. Mike and Nate have left a lot of angry people in Kansas City with their lack of communication as much as their failure to thrive or produce anything at all. After raising $41,000 dollars for their brewery, they disappeared. These guys had the heart to start a brewery, but obviously none of the other skills. This one hurts because I even interviewed the Wilderness Brewing guys to support their campaign, because I liked their story. If I led anyone to pledge to this train wreck, I apologize. I know the shame of all this must be strong and demotivating to them, but they’ve never done the right thing in apologizing with a finality that would bring about closure for pledgers.
Worthy Pledge?: No.

Short Snout Brewing

Short Snout Brewing (Funded November 17th, 2011)
Short Snout appears to have had some fits and starts. In this interview/article I uncovered about Short Snout, it appears that things didn’t go to plan, so Brian took some time off to refocus and take another swing at opening a brewery. From the silence since that, I assume things fizzled out again. Brian is another acquaintance from Iron Brewer, and it was a no-brainer for me to throw him a few bucks. It doesn’t look that things worked out, but it appears that he gave it a good try. Hopefully he’s still chugging away at it, or at least has come to a place of peace for having tried.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.

Brenner Brewing

Brenner Brewing Company (Funded June 12th, 2012)
Brenner Brewing is in Milwaukie, WI, and still making beers. I even stopped by their table at GABF and said hello to Mike Brenner to congratulate him. This one is a success, but yesterday’s article about beer shaming gave me some pause. In it he says:

“Mike Brenner, the owner of Brenner Brewing Co., 706 S. 5th St., is an intentional beer shamer without any shame in being one.

“The people who come to a brewery and order a Bud or Miller are just trying to be a**holes,” says Brenner. “I always try to be nice and offer them our German pilsner, but if they push me, I’ll say, ‘Wait! I DO have a Miller Lite.’ Then I’ll grab a glass and start to unzip my pants like I’m gonna p*ss in it.”

Brenner believes buying a local beer is a choice that impacts more than a person’s taste buds.

“If you drink Miller, Pabst or even Goose Island for that matter, you’re pretty much just an ignorant piece of sh*t who doesn’t care about your own community,” he says.”

To give him the benefit of the doubt, I can hope that this is a planted article by big beer, or perhaps he’s playing loose and trying to drum up some indie cred and get some free press. But, in hindsight, this isn’t the kind of brewer and maturity that I would have liked to support.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes, from a successful business perspective, but increasingly less so from an idealogical perspective.

Burlington Beer Company

Burlington Beer Company (Funded November 30th, 2013)

This Kickstarter was specifically earmarked for barrels and kegs for Joe’s new brewery, Burlington Beer Company. Joe is someone I knew through Iron Brewer, but also Twitter. Backing Joe wasn’t a difficult decision because I knew he would be successful because he had already been successful. He had been cranking out experimental homebrew batches while brewing professionally for both Dogfish Head and Evolution Craft Brewing Company. I still haven’t made it to Vermont to visit, but I will someday. 
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.

 

Is there a common thread here? The Iron Brewer Competition cost me a lot of money. (Kidding.)

These were the halcyon days of beer start-ups, and everyone’s naiveté for living the dream as a brewer was only matched by our ignorance of how terrible a model a nano-brewery is to the long term success of a business. I have little regrets overall, but there is a reason why small businesses go through the process of creating a business plan and are subject to review by investors and banks. The ease in throwing $25 towards a Kickstarter is part of the allure, but it doesn’t require the vetting process that larger investments should have and you should adjust your expectations accordingly. 

I always thought about these pledges as entertainment. If you play the lottery, I hope you are playing it for the thrill. Because winning the mega bucks is a longshot and, with the many points of failure over time, supporting a successful brewery might be even worse odds.

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Jul 7 2016

American IPA – Hoppy McHopface

I made an American IPA for the Starr Hill competition and, in the interest of sharing my recipes and current processes, here is the quick story:

A local brewery was throwing a IPA homebrew competition and I decided that it was and good time to play around with a new hop and yeast. I had found some Idaho 7 hops, which it seems has subsequently been renamed 007: The Golden Hop, and I wanted to play with them as they reportedly had a orange/apricot/herbal flavor with hints of black tea.

Coincidentally, I had seen a tweet from Nathan Smith about a week before my brew day where he mentioned that he was enjoying a new IPA from Heretic Brewing:

 

Luck was not on my side as I had come across some Cashmere hops a few months before from PH Farms and had made a nice APA with them, but had none left for this brew. After a quick side conversation with Nathan, he mentioned that Cashmere is its own beast in terms of flavor components, but that it is a cross between Northern Brewer and Cascade, so using a mix of those hops might be worth a try.

In the interest of deviating from my standard IPA malt bill, which is usually a 50/50 base malt mix of American 2-row and Maris Otter, I followed the Heretic model and swung towards more American 2-row and added some crystal 40L.

The new yeast was the Wyeast London Ale III, which wasn’t a new yeast to me, but it was the first time I was planning to use it in an IPA rather than an English ale. The commercial and homebrewed London III IPAs that I had tried, the yeast did an extremely good job of accentuating the malts in the beer, but it can come at the cost of a beer that never truly clarifies and stays murky in the tradition of the New England IPA. (Which isn’t to say that this yeast strain is the primary reason that those IPAs remain cloudy and, as I call them, “some pulp.”)

The brew day was straightforward and easy. There’s little excitement in IPA brew days. (The process and recipe are at the bottom of this post.)

Finished beer:

In terms of hop contribution to the beer, this one ended up very mild. Despite adding 6 ounces of the Idaho 7/Golden Hop from whirlpool to dry hop, there were only a small amounts of the citrus fruits I expected and a light background of the black tea. Perhaps I got an abused bunch of the hops, and as homebrewers we always get the worst hand-me-downs, but I was underwhelmed by their flavor and aroma presence. If you are wondering if this might be the next hot IPA hop, I’ll tell you “no” from this first experience. I think it would be great in a Belgian pale ale, a saison, or a pale lager base. I may have named this Hoppy McHopface, but it was not, indeed, hoppy.

And from these pictures you can tell that tell that the London III did not leave behind a clear beer. I did not expect it to be a pretty glass, but I added whirlfloc to the boil, Clarity Ferm to the ferment, and I cold conditioned the beer at packaging. So I gave the beer every chance to achieve some sort of clarity, but it was having none of that.

Hoppy McHopface

Hoppy McHopface

 

Murky McMurkface

More Like Murky McMurkface

Despite the murkiness, the yeast did its job in terms of giving me a soft and more rounded beer, although it didn’t drag the malts to the forefront like it has done in the past for English ales.

 

Brew Day: 5/8/16
OG: 1.068
FG: 1.014

Bottled: 5/22/16

12 lbs 2-Row
2 lbs Maris Otter
0.5 lb Crystal 40L

Mash: 150F for 60 minutes

1.0 oz Simcoe pellets 12.9% AA (60 min)
0.5 oz Cascade pellets 6.9% AA (10 min)
0.5 oz N. Brewer pellets 9.6% AA (10 min)
1.0 oz Idaho 7 pellets 14.1% AA (10 min)
0.5 oz Cascade pellets 6.9% AA (whirlpool)
0.5 oz N. Brewer pellets 9.6% AA (whirlpool)
3.0 oz Idaho 7 pellets 14.1% AA (whirlpool)

60 minute boil
Wyeast yeast nutrient (15)
Whirlfloc (15)

15 minute whirlpool at 170F

Ferment: 68F with Wyeast 1318: London III (2000ml Starter made)
ClarityFerm

5/20/16
0.5 oz Cascade pellets 6.9% AA (dry hop)*
0.5 oz N. Brewer pellets 9.6% AA (dry hop)*
3.0 oz Idaho 7 pellets 14.1% AA (dry hop)*
*Mixed together, then added as two different dry hop charges

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Jun 29 2016

The Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree, and the Freedom in IPA Meaninglessness

Throw shade towards the IPA “style” as much as you want, it has already conquered craft beer.

It is the flagship for most American breweries, and not having an IPA in your year-round portfolio seemingly borders on insubordination. And to further the sprawl and creep from this style, it isn’t limited to merely American and Imperial IPAs. There are red, black, white, brown, Belgian, rye, fruit, fruit peel, and session IPAs, as well. Tart IPAs are beginning to surface now, as well. (In full disclosure, I am brewing a tart IPA with a local brewery in the coming weeks so, yeah, I’m part of the problem, too.)

When any base style, or color I suppose, can be turned into an IPA, is anything an IPA anymore?

Given that rather nihilistic introduction, you’ll understand why I wasn’t immediately excited about an all IPA festival. The yearly “holiday” of IPA Day that occurs each summer only furthers the notion that history is written by the victors. I’m not a conspiracy guy and IPAs, which I really do enjoy, are not a virus leeching diversity from rows of tap handles, but their growth over the years is something that I have watched with some concern.

And if you are a west coast coaster reading this, you might scoff at an east coast IPA festival, and you have a point. Although after spending a week in San Diego last year, I was left a little underwhelmed by the state of IPAs there. While the finest IPAs do come out of the west coast, the number of unbalanced and Chinook-the-throat-destroyer beers that composed much of the rest of the west coast scene was saddening.

While IPAs have become the vanguard of experimentation for a lot of the American brewing scene, I think the first casualty is drinkability.

“What? Cool, you’ve added a new fruit/hop/grain/yeast to an IPA. No, I don’t want another pint. Honestly, I’m going to struggle to finish this one.” – Me

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

So, Saturday, June 25th, was Starr Hill’s IPA Jambeeree, which was a beer festival focusing solely on IPAs. Including Starr Hill, there were 16 Virginia breweries pouring at least two IPAs each. This netted out to over 50 IPAs with 33 from other breweries and 21 from Starr Hill alone.

The gig was broken into two events for me, as there was a homebrew component the night before, and then the festival the next day:

 

Homebrew Jambeeree

The Homebrew Jambeeree was a Pro-Am Competition for Starr Hill and homebrewers were asked to make IPAs which could be English, American, Speciality, or Double versions. The top 25 entries would be invited to the brewery for a private tour, and the best of show winner would brew their beer with Starr Hill for this year’s GABF.

I made the top 25, which is honestly not much of bragging point, but the thrust of the tour and gig was about celebrating the spirit of homebrewing, the backstory to many a pro brewer, and letting that group geek down with the pros and industrial equipment. I had done a Pro-Am with Starr Hill back in 2010, too, so I wasn’t really worried about the actual competition and I was happy to see someone else get a chance.

Starr Hill Hops Cooler

Starr Hill Hops Cooler/Cavern

Starr Hill Brew Deck

Starr Hill Brew Deck

 

Starr Hill Bottling Line

Starr Hill Bottling Line – Yeah, You Like That

 

The tour was great and the brewmaster, Robbie, and QA Manager, Jason, were energetic and happy to answer any questions that the group had. Starr Hill has gone through lot of changes in the last few years and as the previous brewmaster left, they’ve spent a lot of time reformulating old recipes and upping their quality control game. The hard work shows, and the multiple beers I had during that afternoon were crisp and without flaws. These guys care and they are doing right by themselves and their consumers.

Starr Hill Tasting Room

Starr Hill Tasting Room

In the end, I was not one of the top 3 brewers for the competition, but I knew that would be the result as the beer I brewed had been an experiment with Idaho 7 (now “The Golden Hop”?) hops and the London III yeast strain. That one came out mysteriously mild, but I’ve run through the process and recipe in the subsequent Hoppy McHopface blog post.

 

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

Cutting to the chase, I was on the fence about attending the IPA Jambeeree, but it was definitely worth my time. Since it was, metaphorically, in my backyard, I knew a lot of the people and brewers there, and it was fun to talk shop and shit (mostly shit) with those friends. The weather was perfect, and there was a far amount of variety in beer from the participating breweries.

Starr Hill's IPA Jambeeree

Starr Hill’s IPA Jambeeree

The only disappointment for the day was the number of breweries that kicked their kegs very early in the event. I showed up late at 3pm (2 hours after it started, 3 after the VIPs got in), and three or four major players in Virginia brewing were already out of all of their beers and many of the other breweries had already pulled tap handles. Perhaps they misjudged the demand, or maybe they were truly slammed with drinkers, but it would have been nice to see everyone get a chance to try those beers.

I think my ability to enjoy the event was due to the meaninglessness of the term IPA. Taking a deep dive with a style is helpful if you are trying to wrap your head around the parameters of the category and improve your evaluation skills. That could have been done to a degree here, but the diversity of IPA types was impressive. There were double and triple IPAs, but also the Belgian and Black IPAs that you’d traditionally expect, beside fruit and rye IPAs, that many breweries are adding to their quivers.

In a strained parallel, the assumption is that Belgian brewers don’t set out to brew a double, or a tripel, or a quad. They just make beer. Some are pale, and some are dark. Some are dry and phenolic, while others gravitate towards malt and dark fruits. There’s a huge variability on the ABV side, as well. I think styles are important to guide some expectations, and they equip us with a language to evaluate and enjoy beer, but I don’t think a brewer needs to have a style in mind. Just a vision of what he or she wants to create. 

Given the diversity of the IPA category and the fact that its tie to India is more than debatable,”IPA” doesn’t mean anything anymore. And, to me, that feels good. Isn’t there some freedom in that? If a brewer wants to use “IPA” as a placeholder to brew whatever beer he or she wants, then they are serving their creativity and I’ll always respect that drive as long as they have the technical ability to construct that vision. Let’s embrace the ingenuity of American breweries and concentrate on taste rather than extremity that only, in the end, creates similarity. 

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