About Gregory Nagel

Greg Nagel is a beer, food and travel writer based in North Orange County, California.

Anchors, Oars, and a Green Flash | A&O’s First Beer Dinner

11713720_10207507331666231_4974723395755362688_oOf the many beer dinners I’ve attended and written about, there’s one thing I learned: Nobody likes to read about them. It’s sad really, with the amount of work put into the beer world colliding with a kitchen, and a staff that is on its toes for hours. I promise keep it brief, and show you pretty pictures, if you’re good.

Notable? The location. A&O Kitchen+Bar is nestled in the Balboa Bay Resort with a relaxing view of Newport Harbor and million dollar yachts parked a food-fight away. Location? Unbelievable. Also notable? The brewery phoned this one in.

Fullscreen capture 7222015 113644 AM.bmpIt’s smart to preview a beer dinner in advance; look up any specific beers, ingredients or preparations one hasn’t tried. A beer dinner can be a learning experience as much as it is fun. When four out of five beers on the menu are IPA, red flags, flare guns and tornado alarms go off in my head. Even as a hop-head, I will start out by saying 4/5 IPA’s at a beer dinner is horseshit baffling. I do think it is possible to execute such a dinner, preparing dishes that play off subtle hop notes and alcohol intensity. Lets just say I walked into this beer dinner looking for things to improve.

11731671_10207507330826210_5652225023129678161_oAs A&O’s first beer dinner (ever) and my first time there, I’m in media-mode, absorbing the ambiance and jotting down notes. A&O has a brilliant set of servers, smiling, prompt and thoughtful. My +1 for the evening is Chris Walowski, Smog City Brewing’s ex-brewer who recently took up a biomedical job in the area. It’s great to get second opinions on the pairings and always great to chat about beer things with a beer person.

11053051_10207507331506227_987788644536921173_oOyster Shooters, fried chicken skin, fried blue cheese balls (and a bread ball injection thing?) are passed as the sun sets and guests arrive. Chicken skin easily wins round one, but the beer served threw us for a loop. Normally, a beer rep should say “Hi, I’m from this brewery and you’re drinking this.” The guy with a Green Flash shirt sat with a glass twice the size of ours and said nothing during the reception. Although the menu said “Jibe Session IPA”, we had serious doubts surrounding it’s sessionability. With Belgian yeast esters on the nose and some alcohol warming on the finish, safe to say we were served Le Freak, Green Flash’s Belgian IPA (listed as “Le Freake” on the menu for the 3rd course). The beer is mildly oxidized and is not bursting with the usual hop flair Green Flash beers seem to have.

11053636_10207507329586179_3990557888106167181_oCourse two, however, saves the day. “It’s a deep fried Avo-Crab Hushpuppy,” mentions my seat-mate, Priscilla Willis of shescookin.com. Three components of the dish, Sriracha caviar, sweet dundeonous crab and the perfectly fried greenish ball of crab flash chef’s brilliance. Soul Style IPA brings just enough tropical panache to highlight the sweetness of the crab and offer a needed palate cleanse. IPA and Sriracha is always a win in my book.

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Course 2 – The most flavor ever squeezed into a 12 inch space.

Further courses, A&O’s chef Rachel put on a clinic; the beers, not so much.  With the second, it made the dish unbearable. Imperial IPA paired with the most flavor ever squeezed onto a plate? The uber-sweet booziness of the beer paired with intense braised rabbit and funky cheese fondue was too much to take. Looking at Green Flash’s portfolio, some of the beers they don’t sell any more (Rayon Vert or Saison Diego) could have paired perfectly. Not only is a beer dinner a chance for a chef to try fun stuff, it’s also a chance for the brewery to do the same. Why were there no Green Flash Cellar 3 beers? Natura Morta Plum for instance, might have had enough acidity to cut the richness of the next three dishes (which were all crazy delicious, but not enhanced by the beers paired).

I do hope A&O continues to get into beer, because wow, chef Rachel brings one hell of a lot of fun to a beer dinner. My only hope is they get a brewery that takes Orange County seriously.

The Fest Inside the Fest | GABF’s Farm to Table Pavilion (Now “PAIRED”)

With SAVOR behind us, let’s rewind to an unexpected pairing at the Farm to Table Pavilion inside the Great American Beer Festival – or – I can’t believe I typed 1700 words about what?

Photo credit Davis Tilly Photography http://www.davistilly.com/

The Kitchen Denver – Photo credit Davis Tilly Photography http://www.davistilly.com/

Within three hours of flying into Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, I witnessed someone nearly choke to death. “Don’t fucking give him the heimlich! He’s taking in air!” yells travel buddy/media compadre John Holzer at the bar. The hostess speed dials 9-1-1 as the poor bastard horks air, bent over like a jackknife. His buddy, jaw agape, starts lumberjack-pounding him on the back. “He’s choking worse than John Elway in the 1990 Super Bowl,” I say while looking around…wondering if I’d effectively trolled any locals.

Holding his curly hair under the bar, ‘Choke-man’ makes one last gasp as his buddy jabs at his back. He must have found the secret eject button, as a distinct splatter-noise on the ground preceded the sound of his lungs filling with air all at once.

The restaurant, now completely standing while watching, sighs and sits like they witnessed a healing at church.

“I’m okay…water just went down the wrong pipe,” Choke-man says, stroking moisture down his beard, purple-faced, dripping with sweat and embarrassment. His buddy plops down a fifty at the bar and they both leave in a hurry. “Thankfully I didn’t have to see a dude die right before GABF,” I say to the bartender. “Indeed,” she says, polishing a glass, nonchalantly, “who the hell chokes that bad on water?”


 

As with all great travel-stop traditions, I always stop in The Kitchen Denver for a lamb burger before the Great American Beer Festival. This practice started the year I sat next to Dave Chichura, the “HBIC” of Oskar Blues Brewery (now at Eddyline) at the time and split some littleneck clams over canned beers and fishing stories. The burger, dolloped with roasted red pepper relish and bitter greens, is a call to Denver, and more importantly, a great base to lay before drinking fifty-or-so 1oz beer samples in an afternoon.

The Kitchen Denver is sort of an odd duck with the beer crowd during GABF week. Nearby places like Freshcraft or Euclid Hall are packed to the gills with ninety-minute waits. At The Kitchen, there’s always an open spot at the bar and the food/beer situation always warms my post-flight gullet. Their beer selection and proper glassware is always on point.

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The Colorado Convention Center – Reverse trashbear juxtaposition

Back to the splatter at hand, my appetite has completely vanished. Good thing too. I scored a Farm to Table Pavilion ticket inside the GABF for tonight. Think for a second about the odds of getting a ticket to GABF that sells out in minutes, then nabbing an elusive Farm to Table ticket. It’s a fest inside the fest, except filled with award winning beers paired with James Beard nominated chef-driven food. It’s akin to finding the winning lottery numbers on Wonka’s Golden Ticket, then winning free beer for life, naked.

I leave half of my lamb burger uneaten, carefully chug the rest of my Blind Pig and walk straight to the Colorado Convention Center a few minutes walk away for press credentials. Denver’s gusty winds sweep me down the busy 16th street mall towards the giant blue bear on 14th and Stout.

This year, GABF’s Farm to Table is going to be farm…to table…to hand….to mouth…to….uh…hotel bed, to early morning jog. Badge around neck, I speed walk past the sick kilted ducks blowing bagpipes to get my appetite back. The fest starts in fifteen minutes.


P1060722The Great American Beer Festival is exactly how it sounds. Four sessions of the event sold in a measly thirty-two minutes (in 2014); 48,000 tickets in all. 3,500 beers are poured from over 700 breweries. The Farm to Table event inside is host to 450 and costs an additional $140  per person – 14 tables in all.

Denver itself buzzes during GABF. With beer events from 8AM til 2AM daily, the festival can almost seem like a side-show. Some show up to the city and get crazy at the many walkable breweries, taprooms and brewpubs.


P1080585Just like a kid running to the lunch line in junior high, I’m the first guy at the Farm to Table Pavilion. A brief memory of raspberry coconut zingers and fruit punch-stained lips flashes through my head. I was totally that dork years ago. Crazy to see thirty years later I’m still that kid, now entrenched in the beer world doing the same shit, except now it’s a tart Raspberry Berliner Weisse, or an earthy CoCoNut Porter.

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I do have to admit, I’m a cynic when it comes to big food pairing taste events like this. Out of the fourteen tables set out today, I bet seven will be some kind mediocre slider with way too much bun. Four will be some kind of poké/wagyu/whatever on a partially stale chip. The rest? A plastic salsa cup with pork belly, short rib or some other wild game some hip new chef shot in the wild, cleaned and rubbed with grannies famous ten-spice blend. Bonus points if there’s some duck confit, terrine, or foie. At basically $10 a table, anything is possible and I hope for the best.

P1080613In before the beer-soaked horde, it’s fun to watch chefs putting the final touches on food prep. Beer bottles at each station are poking their necks out of buckets looking like refreshed kids at a public pool…perhaps saying, “hey guys, what’s going on inside this GABF?”. The hall smells vaguely like bacon amid the voluminous high ceilings. I circle the hall quickly and see where to drop anchor first, then chuckle as my statement quickly turns into a stupid pun.

P1080588Two guys, possibly twin brothers in their forties unload a mesh bag of oysters on a bed of dark, moist seaweed right in front of me. I pause as they slice it open. The twin with the sideburns grabs an oyster from the pile, shucks it and slides it over to me on a cocktail napkin, grinning. Without saying a word, I sip the liquor off the top, tilt the shell back and chew it up…naked. My GOD. Do I whip out my phone to take a photo? Do I ask for another? What’s the fucking protocol here, man? Who knew my first sip of liquor inside the GABF would be a dash of briny oyster juice.

P1080589The table sign reads, “Terrapin Rye Cubed Triple Rye IPA 10.7% ABV paired with Marin Miyagi Oysters on the Half Shell.” I grin and nod, thinking the pairing is a joke. “Pairing contains shellfish,” hahaha!

“A 10.7% Triple Rye IPA paired with oy-oysters?” I stu-stutter like my car is being towed. Terrapin’s beer rep bats her lashes and grins, “I know, right?”

Is she implying that the pairing might possibly be terrible? Does she know it’s crazy good? As I witnessed the bag opening, I assume she doesn’t actually know…right?

I’ve had oysters with fresh Murphy’s off the coast of County Cork, Ireland. I’ve had oysters with an old fashioned cocktail in Los Angeles. In Georgia where Terrapin Beer Company makes beer, do they prefer 125 IBU palate-wreckers to wash down delicate bivalves?

P1080587Tom Montgomery, one of the guys behind Monterrey Fish Market in San Francisco, turns the key and unlocks my second Miyagi shell, scooting it my way for another spin. I’ve always found that eating oysters is like kissing someone for the first time. With beer? It’s like kissing someone for the first time while drinking beer, which makes it exponentially more titillating.

P1080611The first oyster a mere peck, my goal for number two is to get to second base. I lick my lips and bite the corner of my lower lip while lifting up the green marbled-patina shell, making eyes with it. Edging closer, I admire its plump-pearlescent body shining back at me, eyes now crossed as I sip the liquor off the top and swish it around my mouth. My salivary glands burst as I take the slightest sip of beer to chase: rye spice, sweet malts, juicy hops and salty oyster brine coat my mouth as I swallow…eyes rolling as I lick my teeth clean.

Making eye contact with the beer rep, I pour a little bit of her beer into the deep oyster shell and nod, replacing the brine now in my belly.

Flicking the raw beast around my mouth, I bite down, noting its firm body. The slick texture exudes a subtle melon-cucumber note with a slight metallic twang; similar to tasting a Moscow mule in a copper mug. Sea salt washes over my memory banks and causes a good three-second daydream of me duck-diving a wave while body surfing back home in Newport Beach. Before gulping it down, I add a sip of the triple rye IPA to the cement-mixer that is my mouth and pause with Denver’s sunset suddenly blinding me outside the thirty foot tall glass windows. Wow, I can see the Rockies from here.

The silky spa like flavors implode into a super salty umami bomb. Chewing slowly, I swallow every last drop. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I don’t bother.

“Spitters are quitters” I think to myself, tossing the shell in a trashcan and downing the rest of the beer. I exchange cards with Terrapin’s beer rep. “I had my doubts, but goddamn that was memorable.”

“I know, right?”

“What are the odds that two things fly from California to Denver, meet in a huge beer fest and one eats the other?” I ask, innocently trying to keep the conversation going.

“I’m not from California,” she says.

I choke-cough and move on to the other thirteen tables, then step out into the main festival, joining 11,999 of my closest friends. Damn. GABF is awesome. Farm to Table? Not to be missed.

The Beer Negroni | OC Celebrates Negroni Week

Crafting a good beer cocktail isn’t wizardry. Nor does it have to be gimmicky. As a true beer geek and homebrewer at heart who loves a good classic cocktail, I took it upon myself to put together a few cocktail classics with beer as a major component. The first one in my series is the Beergroni, because Negroni week is June 1-7!

IMG_0068The Negroni is a call to Florence, Italy. With a cigarette in one hand and a Negroni in the other, this bitter apéritif is usually sipped before a big meal. Traditionally equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, my first taste of this classic cocktail brought me back to my first time sipping a Stone Arrogant Bastard…the inspiration for this drink.

For the Beergroni, I broke down the flavor components and stripped out the ones that can be replaced by a particular beer. Instead of sweet vermouth and botanicals in gin, I chose the rich malt backbone and hoppy finish of an Imperial red ale. For the heat, I chose a clean lower ABV Acai spirit vodka made by Veev. It’s subtle fruity note balances out the drink without too much booze. Veev is also a carbon-neutral spirit producer, which is a good conversation starter while marrying a local beer with an earth-friendly booze.

The Beergroni Recipe

Chill a glass before starting. Combine ingredients in shaker over crushed ice. Shake openly with vigour to expel beer gas without explosions. Strain into chilled glass, add orange peel. Proper glassware: Lowball glass use cocktail ice. Martini glass or high stemware, ice optional.

Want to get involved in #NegroniWeek for charity? Try the Negroni at these local places!

 

The Bruery Turns Seven | Copperversary Ensues

01ecf2acede3a19993b9e36219646093ef5e65137cWith petrichor still looming from the tall eucalyptus trees surrounding the Phoenix Club, a snotty rooster crows from the other side of the fence. “Is this the hoarders line?” asks a girl in a rainbow-banged unicorn wig. I nod, contemplating my sweater situation as dark clouds swirl around this chilly May morning. A horse whinnies nearby as the line snakes three-feet closer to check-in. Next thing you know, a German-style SheGoat will jump out of a bush and get into some Mischief with an Atomic Kangarue.

I’m not even in The Bruery’s 7th Copperversary and the day is already surreal.

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Hoarders be like

0173d0c107b5ba234228800109511e791090d1a747Der Phoenix Club is beer festival ground zero these days and it’s easy to see why. 37 breweries plus ample stockpiles of The Bruery’s beers are free flowing around the perimeter; and it doesn’t seem crowded, despite 1,700 guests. There’s ample shade, nice bathrooms and even a playground for the Black Tuesday drinkers.

The Bruery and I must have similar taste in local beer, as most of the 37 breweries representing are personal favorites. The first beer to wet my glass is MacLeod’s 3.5% English Bitter, Session Gap; gravity poured from cask and has miraculously dropped bright. They should teach classes on fest-cask to the rest of the breweries here, although I’m pretty sure the secret is simply wearing overalls, like every day, to everything.

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Smog City Prom Pose!

Walking the perimeter, seeing friends, getting hugs, snapping pics, eating. Tripping out on some of the guest breweries without lines. Tripping out on some of the guest breweries with big lines. Monkish, with batch two Selah and Rare Beer Club exclusive Rara Avis? No line. Noble Ale Works with a brewery walking distance from the Phoenix Club? Medium line. Rare Barrel creating a huge line by not pouring until 2pm? Genius. The Bruery truck’s line that extended into the festhalle tent instead of having multiple pouring stations as in years past? Baffling. Terreux with almost no line? Concerning. Colored balloons to note where things are? Festive.

017d14138c6a15854235094754068d9e94f40329b8Three favorites of the day: Smog City Steamfunk Brett IPA, Monkish Selah 2.0, Sour in the Rye w/Peach, and holy hell…way too many good beers. This fest could have gone on for days.

Overall, The Bruery knows how to party. A very fun beer festival and put together well! Beachwood BBQ’s food is always on point. The Reserve/Hoarders Society guests are always well behaved and courteous. The venue is made for drinking beer. Coffee and tea inside? Holy hell yes.I heard estimates that they raised over 40K for the Boys and Girls Club.

Thinking out loud: Now that The Bruery is 7, I look forward to seeing what Terreux will bring. Increased production and quality? I’m curious what Terreux’s Jeremy will bring to the “beer’s gone wild” game. As a beer-flavored beer enthusiast, I’m also curious if the beer development will start to cross from innovative to gimmick (cola, plastic margarita and old fashioned beers, anyone?). I’m interested to see how the lack of Tyler King will impact things. One thing is for sure: The Bruery seems to evolve at the same rate as beer geeks willingness to reach for something new…and with that, I can’t wait to see their next seven years.

 

Not All Shandies Are Evil | Q&A With Rob Widmer of Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.

Shandy: A spritzy summer sipper mostly consisting of wheat beer and fizzy lemonade. Although the style is much bigger in Europe and the east coast, popularity for the shandy style is slowly creeping west as hop-impaired Californians reach for lower ABV options. The problem is, most are disgustingly sweet and cover up any redeeming flavor of beer. I got a chance to sit down with Rob Widmer of Widmer Brothers Brewing and chat about their new summer seasonal over a few beers. Is Widmer’s new offering a lip-smacker? We’ll see.

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Rob Widmer, photo @beerandbaking Jessica McNew

First things first, pronunciations. is it pronounced “Vidmer” or “Widmer”? I’m also curious how you pronounce “Hefeweizen”…

Widmer with a W. We pronounce Hefe it haif-uh-vites-sen or “Haif-uh” for short.

You’ve been brewing your Hefe for almost thirty years (since 1986), is this the first time you’ve done a variant? 

When we started in 1984, our very first beer was a German Alt Bier. It’s a little roasty, dry, and dark.. in the 80’s there was light beer and there was dark beer…Most people didn’t want anything to do with dark beer. My brother Kurt was over in Germany and got the yeast from a famous Dusseldorf Alt Brauerei and we were circling the drain with this dark beer, so we decided on a blonde wheat beer. I was in microbiology at the time and had no confidence that we could maintain two yeast strains. We brewed the weizen bier with the wrong yeast strain (Alt Bier) and people loved it. With the Hefe being cloudy, it really caught peoples attention…it blew peoples minds. So, yes, thirty years later, the Hefe Shandy is the first variant we’ve done with the Hefe.

Is the Hefe Shandy the same wort as your Hefe with different hops and lemon juice? 

It’s close, but it’s a separate brew with the same basic malt bill. It’s brewed to be a little over 4% with natural lemon flavoring with a new hop varietal called “Lemon Drop” that has a very nice lemon peel/zest character. We also carbonate it a little higher because it’s a summer seasonal, low alcohol and not sweet. We were going for a session-style beer lemonade…a dry and refreshing shandy.

When’s the last time you brewed at home?

Funny you ask! I’m kind of a gearhead and started geeking out on homebrewing, then I read about 1 gallon brew in a bag and it took me back to making beer. My original objective was to create a kit to give employees to go home and brew their own. I try to invite people in the brewery to brew one gallon batches to get the process down. No matter what you job is, I want everyone to brew. All the local sales guys do brew in a bag. Straub, Widmer’s OC Distributor, recently installed a three barrel brewhouse and they want us to come down and brew.

What made you want to make a shandy? 

We wanted to try something radically different. Obviously we’ve done a lot of radical things over the years for a big brewery. We get first crack at a lot of the new experimental hops. The Hefe Shandy is replacing my beer…the Citra Blonde Session Ale.

It definitely seems like there’s two beer markets in Orange County. Grocery store beer buyers vs. bottle shop beer geeks. I’m guessing that most of your volume is on the Grocery store side, so a Citra-hopped beer might not do as well as a shandy. 

I’m going to miss Citra, but I think the Hefe Shandy is going to do well in the summer months. I think the pendulum has swung back where a lot of people are reaching for refreshing German-style beers like a helles, pils or hefe. 

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photo @beerandbaking Jessica McNew

Tasting notes:

The shandy is exactly as described. If you’re familiar with Widmer’s Hefe, it still has that classic American wheat beer backbone, pouring cloudy with a fluffy white head that hangs out for a while. The carbonation drives some herbal and lemon zest aromas up through the glass rapidly. Being a light, dry beer, I found it to be highly chuggable. The hops are noticeable and add a pleasant bitterness to balance things out. My wife (who adores Widmer’s Hefe) gave Widmer’s Hefe Shandy her stamp of approval and said, “I would probably buy that.”  The beer is available throughout summer. After trying other shandy side by side, I noted Widmers as being the most dry, natural tasting and easy to drink version. Pair it with lighter fare such as salad, ceviche, or grilled fish.

 

 

All the Barrels Roll Out for Firestone Walker’s Micro-Fest

Event in San Luis Obispo County Has only barrel aged beer, wine and booze at historic ranch. – By Greg Nagel

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The Historic Santa Margarita Ranch Barn – courtesy their website

IMG_9215With an event like From the Barrel‘ by Firestone Walker, irony sets in quickly as I realize we’re all just a bunch of booze sitting inside wood. At the historic wooden-planked Santa Margarita barn (in San Luis Obisbo County), every beer, spirit and cocktail has spent time in a wooden barrel. The guests? Dressed to the nines in prohibition-era fashion and, well, also surrounded by staves of lumber.

Session beer drinking since noon, my suspender-hooked suit pants and bow tie are providing some gentle, yet pleasant asphyxiation, I feel like this thing could all burn down with one careless flick of a cigarette.

Twinkly lights strewn across the dusty floor guide my way to the first beers of the night. Societe and Russian River are sharing a table like nephew and uncle at a roadside farm stand. Societe’s The Highbinder (American wild ale) next to Russian River’s Beatifiation? As a man of constant sorrow, I take a sip and whistle dixie. It’s hard to see the color in the low lights, but it does appear to have blushed from touching my lips. What a tart! The Highbinder gives me subtle wood; French oak wine barrel I presume. I pucker. It’s wet and unscrupulous. I get to the bottom and go for thy neighbor. Temptation sets in as our eyes meet. Does The Highbinder stand up next to Russian River’s bottled seductions? Absolutely. Beatification nearly blows my wad, so grab a smoke outside to relax.

Credit - CA Brewmasters Book

Credit Nick Gingold – California Brewmasters Book

The walkways are tight as I politely move about the barn. Rock steps tunnel the side entrances and juxtapose the gams propped up by throwback stems. The gentle plucking of a stand-up bass rhythmically blum-blum-blums throughout the night causing a few bleary-eyed people to dance. Outside, a bonfire flickers light across the way, highlighting cloche hats, pearls, fur and sparkled gowns. I flick my smoke safely and head back in.

“There’s no better way to feel like you’re back in the 1920’s than when your phone has zero bars.” – Overheard near the bonfire

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Guy on the right did the ‘reelin’ you in’ move at least three times to random ladies before Billy Idoling it.

 

The little devil on my right shoulder whispers something about rye whiskey and I tell him, “just one.” Three Highspires and a Templeton Rye later, the angel on the left whispers something about “food.”  Thankfully, there’s an abundance. I’m not much of a fan of sliders, so I sure as hell heist four or five ahi-poki chips and some sort of seafood bruschetta near the back window (completely surrounded by cats, by the way).

P1080906Wanting desperately to avoid a hangover before a long weekend, bourbon barrel aged beers are being avoided at all costs. Why drink a beer that had sloppy seconds with a bourbon barrel? As I get older, my craving for bourbon instead of bourbon tea-bagged beers continues to grow. It’s all about the blend and this event has the best…but I’m still not biting.

As the night fiddles away, the crowd grows thin. Ladies get loose enough to smoke some robusto-sized cigars. Suspenders are snapped, violently. 10 P.M. comes, and so does my bus to Paso Robles. Where did the night go? Angel’s share, I suppose.

———————

From the Barrel is now in its fifth year. It’s a great event with some heady drinks – only way to conquer it is to divide, sip and dump what you’re not thrilled with. Firestone Walker puts on some seriously great events and this ads to their line up. I’ve long been a fan of niche-type events (hello, firkfest!) but this sets the bar pretty high. I’d guess 95% of the people here are dressed up! It was classy, tasty and unique! I will be back! Thanks Firestone Walker and LA Beer Bloggers!

Disclosure: This was part of the LA Beer Bloggers Trip, FW paid for a bus full of press to attend a weekend of educational experiences. From the Barrel kicked off the weekend.

How Sour is Your Sour Beer?

Total Acidity vs pH by Jeffers Richardson at Firestone Walker

by Greg Nagel @OCBeerBlog

Back on an old episode of Four Brewers, we sampled some Barrelworks beers and noted something we haven’t seen before on a beer label, “Total Acidity.” We cracked jokes at our ignorance, “how much more acidic can it get? Uhhh, like 7.”

Over twitter, we got some response from Firestone Walker, but we shrugged it off as Barrelworks seems to be the only people using this format in the beer world. (Here’s the show for reference! )

[Download here if player is flakey]

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Recently, Jeffers Richardson, director of brewing operations at Firestone Walker Barrelworks, tied me to a chair at 10am on a Saturday in their cannery dungeon and forced his acids in my mouth, 10cc’s at a time. With a cooler full of Barrelworks beer sitting nearby, I put on my trust underpants and went with the flow.

People often mistake aroma for taste. Acidity is just the measure of acid in a solution (or soil). There’s two ways to measure that, pH and tactile acidity. In terms of tactile-wise, it’s a sourness on the tongue. One reason we use TA instead of pH is pH can be affected by buffers, so you don’t get a true measure of taste of acids. Just think of our bodies, if we eat all acidic foods, we don’t become acidic as we have buffers to break that down. PH is literally the measurment of hydrogen ions. Every time a free hydrogen ion goes into solution, pH lowers.  – Jeffers Richardson of Firestone Walker

In front of me is a place mat with four taster glasses filled with clear liquid. “Don’t drink!” yells Jeffers, as I secretly sniff each one. “Taster glass one is lactic acid, taster two is acetic acid and number three is citric acid…we couldn’t get Malic acid so use that fourth for water,” he continued.

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Dropping Acid Breakdown

Lactic Acid – This is what gives most sour craft beers their sourness. It is created by lactic-acid creating bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus. At low levels, it’s soft and not really harsh (no burning sensations). I noted aromas of wet sugar and raw baked goods prior to baking. On the sides of the tongue and back of the throat, it is perceived as tart and sour. Plug your nose while swishing it around your mouth to avoid aromas: you can taste the sour sensation. Some mentioned it tasted like Greek yogurt, which is interesting as lactic-acid bacteria is also responsible for creating yogurt. Someone else noted it tasted buttery.

Acetic Acid – More harsh and punchy when found in beer. This acid is caused by acetobacter, which needs oxygen to survive.  At any level, it smells like vinegar or pickle juice. It is quite rough on the palate with noticeable burning sensations while swishing it around and swallowing it. Breweries consider acetobacter a spoiling agent. Some Flanders-style beers, such as Duchesse de Borgogne have small amounts of acetic acid to perhaps mimic properties and complexities of wine.

Citric Acid – More of a wine or mead thing, but it has a Sweet-Tart candy character. In homebrew shops, you can typically buy an “Acid Blend” that contains Citric, Mallic and Tartaric acids which can adjust acidity in wines. Not harsh.

Tasting Three Total Acidity (TA) Levels of Lactic Acid

Measuring sourness with three T.A. Levels as reference points

tongue_mapLevel 4 TA Lactic Acid: Slight tinge of numbness to the gums and roughness to the cheeks and big sourness on the sides of the tongue.

Level 8 TA Lactic Acid: Felt like my tooth enamel was coming off. Rough cheeks, mouth wateringly sour.

Level 12 TA Lactic Acid: Instantly caused the inside of my mouth to feel dead, like rubber. So sour I couldn’t taste it due to its offensive nature.

Next: I was presented with three Barrelworks beers and tried to guess the Total Acidity of each (at gunpoint).

AgresticBeer 1: Agrestic Ale (2014): Starts out as DBA (minus the barrel union) and undergoes primary fermentation at Barrelworks in Buellton. Once complete, it undergoes secondary in 87% French oak / 13% Freedom oak with Brettanomyces and two strains of Lactobacillus. My perception was a nice tannic/oaky beer. I plugged my nose to taste the sour and focused on what it did to my cheeks, teeth and gums. I thought it was in the middle of 4-8 and I picked 6. Actual TA? 6.6. 

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 Beer 2: Lil Opal (2014): One thing I love about Barrelworks beers is the level of oak. It’s a definite calling card for their beers I’ve tried thus far. Lil Opal is a truly wild Saison with juicy notes of citrus and tropical fruit like pineapple. Are the flavors and aromas yeast or barrel driven? Regardless, It’s a refreshing beer with a sourness that cleans up your teeth nicely with a little bit of gum tingle. I picked 5. Actual TA? 4.01.

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Beer 3: SLOambic (2014): Olallieberry jam and oak all up in your business. I find it hard to say Olallieberry, so I just call it LOL-Berry. The berry itself is blackberry in appearance and grows in Central CA. I’ve long-loved the Framboise style of Belgian beers (raspberries) but this may dethrone it! Tons of jammy berry character with an aggressive sourness that bites at my teeth enamel and roughs up my cheeks. I thought it was a little bit less than the TA 8 sample and I chose 7.8. Actual TA 8.7. LOL-Berry! 

After all that acid trippin, I was fed crackers as they untied me and forced me into the Firestone Walker barrel room. After fifteen minutes smelling boozy wood at 50 degrees, I was left to fulfill a life of religious consciousness.

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Thanks LA Beer Bloggers and Firestone Walker for this unique opportunity! Disclosure: FW provided food, beer and transportation to the event, but wasn’t required. Hotel and take-away items were all purchased at full price on my own.

APRIL FOOLS! Adding to Anaheim: TAPS Opens Disneyland Themed Brewpub in Downtown Disney

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Guess which tap is Wookey Jack? Photo @deniserat

APRIL FOOLS!

Disneyland California Adventure has featured local craft beer for some time. When news broke this morning about the new brewhouse in Downtown Disney operated by TAPS, I strapped on my mouse ears and screamed the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme! M I C K E…, WHY? Because you love Craft beer!

The opening day taplist:

  • Elsa’s Eisbock
  • Snow Wit
  • Jane Porter
  • The Abominable Hefeweizen
  • Indiana Jones IPA
  • Jack’s Big Pumpkin Beer (seasonal)
  • Geppetto’s Barrel Aged Barley Wine
  • Merida’s Irish Red
  • Pooh’s Honey Blonde
  • Bippity Boppity Brown
  • John Smith’s ESB
  • Dumbo’s Spins DIPA
  • Chip & Dale’s Nut Brown Ale
  • Tinkerbell Tripel Tinker
  • Belle’s Beastly Biere de Garde
  • Pirates Rum Barrel Aged Ginger Beer
  • Haunted Mansion Ghost Pepper Pale Ale
  • Mr. Toads Wild Rye IPA
  • Tiki Room Coconut Milk Stout
  • Little Mermaid’s Whozits’s and Whatzits Salty Gose
  • Walt’s Watermelon Wheat
  • Song of the South Session IPA
  • Sing Sweet Nighten’ Ale, A Cinderella Blonde (served in souvenir glass slipper with optional white glove and tiarra)
  • To Infinity and Beyond Space Pale Ale
  • Peoplemover Pilsner
  • April Fools OMG LOL.

The Little Things | Firkfest 15 Recap/Braindump

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photo John Holzer, @fourbrewersshow

 

Theres a million people to thank after hosting a sold out beer festival. The obvious ones: Brewers who slave over mash tuns; using artistry to concoct flavors for a cask that may or may not work out. Restaurants, who took the time to do something different, wake up early on a Saturday and make some really tasty chili. All of that stuff…is donated, which is crazy if you think about it.

Then there’s the little things.

Bloggers, who typically cover the event with photos and brief recap, also chipped in by volunteering to help pour for the first two hours. BeerPaperLA (Guillermo & gal), Beers in Paradise (Japeth), Stick a Fork in It OCWeekly, Beer Guy LA, Worst Beer Blog, JanteZiarra, Brew Beer Blog, BeerQwest, LABeerBlog. I hope being on the other side of the table was a fun experience! I love pouring.

Some bloggers, brewery reps and volunteers loaned their homebrew stands for the restaurants to use during the event. Japeth from Beers in Paradise, Dallas from Ballast Point, Kevin Margulieux and John Ryti. Thanks Iron Fire Brewing for loaning us the canopy John Ryti brought. We’ll invite you next year!

Brewers showed up as early as 8 AM to let their beer settle while we set up the park for the event. Brandon Fender from the Good Beer Company helped put the arrows on the signage.

One of Orange County’s Gayot food critics was on water duty all day. With my idea of using a homebrew filter to refill the water instead of using a billion water bottles, he was critical at keeping everything full. Thanks Rich Manning!

Speaking of water, brewers donated kegs of water as well! Barley Forge brought their rad military looking water jugs, Noble Ale Works, Bottle Logic with a half-barrel…and others I may have missed. The H2OPS guy donated water bottles as well. I was skeptical about having him as a vendor before trying his product, but damn…it was delicious.

David Walker of Firestone Walker hand-delivered some 2015 Parabola which was released that day. I gave him the most awkward bro-hug ever! He then drove to LAX to catch a flight to the UK, because he’s cool like that. How funny to go from a cask beer fest in sunny California to the UK. I take great inspiration from his team’s beer festival, Firestone Walker Invitational which happens in May and sells out instantly because it’s the best fest in the west.

Brewers brought extra canopies for the restaurants to use. I realize this caused confusion for the guests, as many people were trying to vote for Ballast Point, which I believe was Pie Dog (we had them drop tokens correctly). Matt Olesh of the Bruery was kind enough to drive back to work to grab two more, which turned out to be just enough.

Dave Lieberman, from OCWeekly, bought me a sandwich because my nervous gut couldn’t handle chili. He also did the same at Noble’s 4th anniversary party while my wife and I poured the cask beers inside.

The volunteers themselves were comprised of friends, family, neighbors, ex-girlfriends I’m still friends with, my best man, high school friends, some of which drove down from Sacramento and flew in from Chicago to pour. I get a little misty-eyed thinking about how rad that support is. We did have quite a bit of no-shows on the volunteers, and those that showed really stepped it up to hold their pee until it hurt, skipped eating until they almost dropped and stood in wet beer to get the job done. Next year I think I’ll make random people on the internet pay a deposit if they want to volunteer because they’re flaky as fuck. Why would someone take the time to offer to volunteer and not show? That’s just silly. The volunteers worked extra hard to cover pouring and they don’t get to drink. Thanks volunteers! You guys are rad. Truly unsung.

My neighbor helped bring a load of stuff with his truck and stayed to help set up the fence with Brad Daniels, Jon Mabe and Ron Nelson. Ron picked up extra zip ties at 8am to finish the job. Who knew 100 zip ties would not be enough?

The signs were all donated by Victor LaFontaine. You probably know him as an epic beer trader that shows up with random bottles of awesomeness wherever he goes.

My wife Erin handled all the vendor check-in and volunteers simultaneously. She is insanely such a huge support in my life and a battle axe at this event. She also took time to go to Main Place Mall to get the Chili Cook Off glasses etched.

Bobby Navarro took over the non-profit side of things last year after the group I went with first pulled out. His knowledge and expertise of running events is unmatched. He’s more than a pleasure to deal with and it’s fun to see people in the culinary/brewing world get inspired artistically by travel and education. Noble’s English Pale Ale they brought is a result of the the non profit, Inspire Artistic Minds. Check out their page, donate, attend events volunteer or even apply for a grant!

Thanks to the guests who believe that groupon beer fests are the worst. You all paid full price, which was more than fair considering unlimited tastes of chili and beer. I was going to do taster tickets, but figured that is antiquated and just one more thing to deal with. I figured if anyone could get through a dozen 2oz tastes of chili, they should get an award.

The vendors don’t necessarily need to be thanked because they got paid, but I will say I got excellent service from those that I ordered from. Empire Ice forgot to include the cold box, so they threw in an extra 20 bags to our order for free. They were cheaper than everyone by 20% as well. Eagle Portables restrooms were ON POINT. Dead-on delivery, super clean set up and take down and on time (also 20% cheaper than other bids). James Event Services which is ran by Cameron Collins (OC Brew HaHa) father in-law gave an unbeatable bid on table rentals. Their delivery and pick up was timely, fast and had great tables. The Packing House site reps were rock solid from set up to take down. The security team was also insanely professional.

The press, thanks for helping sell the event out. John Verive of BeerPaperLA and LA Times was the driving force behind my marketing. There was a LOT of LA people that did in fact drive (or train) down for the event. Erika Bolden of LA Weekly, Vivian from OCRegister and of course Cleo from OC Weekly. Hell, even YelpOC promoted the event, which was hella rad. I spent $300 on marketing, that’s insane!

The Four Brewers Show went into new territory again; doing a show from the event with Tomm Carroll of Celebrator Beer News.

I’m looking for a nice outdoor spot for next year that can hold 1000. If you have a location that you think would be rad, let me know! See you next year!

 

The Bruery Plants Roots With New Beer

IMG_8403When sampling beer, the power of suggestion is infinite. Pour a black beer and your brain gets ready for chocolate, coffee or roast. With a steaming hot burrito from a taco truck wrapped in foil, your brain tells the senses to expect a pillowy hot tortilla, juicy meats, and creamy guacamole to balance things out. “Get that mouth watering”, you brain tells your glands, counting on that luscious first bite.

When news of the Bruery’s new Belgian pale ale, Jardinier (French for Gardener) hit, my brain quickly put together the flavor profile notes I should expect in a precise, beer advocate-ish annoying way.

“It should taste like a Belgian-style pilsner-malted ale”, my brain told my senses. “It should smell fruity and spicy with some wet hay notes; because I clearly know Bruery beer aroma profiles,” my brain continued in its best drunken Todd Alstöm Boston accent.

Then my arms and hands poured it. My brain shut off and let my senses take over as I smelled it.  Nose in the glass like a bee in a bush, my nose reports back confidently, “musty rose petals, peach nectar and over ripe mango.” My simple brain forces my face to make a knowing look, nodding dorkishly with my bottom lip sticking out as if to say, “I fucking knew it,” even though I was completely wrong.

The honey-hazed beer looking back at me, I take a few sips and wait for what my palate reports back. Perplexed, it repeats the sip several times. “Is the name of the beer literal?” my brain nags. My tongue reports confidently “cherry tomatoes” to my brain and my brain is saying, “you have the worst palate on the face of the fucking planet.”

“It’s like the acidity of a ripe juicy cherry tomato, with a retro-nasal aroma-flavor of a garden-fresh tomato, you asshole!” my tongue and nose report back. My emotions tell everyone to chill the fuck out at this point. “It’s a thinking beer that tastes good,” my emotions say, trying to chill the situation like a mental fire extinguisher.

Wrapping it up, my brain causes my shoulders to shrug and lungs to sigh as the beer is now sadly empty. It commands the laptop to be opened and type these words.

Jardinier is a fascinating beer for 4.9% ABV. At first I wondered why the Bruery would make a gardeners lawnmower beer (based on the name). After sipping, that’s not the intention at all. it lends itself toward a table beer pairing excellently with fresh vegetables, salad, bruschetta and other delicate tapas. It’s refreshing, palate cleansing and most of all…interesting.

Thanks to the Bruery for a preview bottle. This beer will probably be in your hand and brain soon.