Double Booze Review: Oak Aged Beer

In honor of American Craft Beer Week, we went in search of some truly unique American beers and found these two: the 18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA from Great Divide Brewing Co. and Funky Jewbelation by Schmaltz Brewing Company.

Two oak aged beers from Great Divide Brewing Co. and Schmaltz Brewing

Aging beer in wood barrels isn’t a new practice.  Before cheap production of glass bottles became possible as a result of the Industrial Revolution, nearly all beer was stored in wood barrels right up until it was served. If it took a few months for a brewer to sell a barrel of beer to a bar owner, then another month to transport the barrel from an eastern brewery to, say, a bar in a distant frontier town, and then another month or two for the bar’s patrons to drain the barrel, a beer could easily end up taking on an aged flavor simply as a matter of circumstance, if not by design.

Despite historical precedent and the widespread use of barrel aging in wine and liquor, finding a barrel aged beer in a modern grocery store or beer distributor can be tough. Though I can’t say I’m surprised. My initial reaction from both of these beers is that they’re more challenging than your average porter, or even IPA. These aren’t beers that you can sip absentmindedly while doing or discussing other things. These beers demand attention.

18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA

The Great Divide Brewing Company is based out of Denver, Colorado and has, apparently, been around for about 18 years now. Great Divide produces 21 different brews, though they don’t seem to have one that you could call their flagship label (like how Rogue has Dead Guy Ale, or Magic Hat has #9).

The 18th Anniversary brew is aged in American and French oak, which gives it an earthy undertone beneath the hoppy high notes. The result is complex, almost to the point of being overwhelming. This is an interesting beer, and I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not sure I’d order a full pint of it.

Funky Jewbelation

This funky brew is a blend of six different Schmaltz ales aged in whiskey barrels (73%) and bourbon barrels (27%). The result is a nearly 10% ABV dark beer that has an almost wine-like sweetness and a great head.  Individual notes and flavors  are tough to sort out and identify probably due to the six different beers mixed together. The result is muddled, but overall pretty drinkable for a dedicated dark beer lover. Truly, it is a novelty beer that you’ll probably drink once and enjoy. Schmaltz has some way better seasonal offerings that I would go for instead.

Though neither of these brews are great, it’s good to see that American craft brewers are taking risks. Even within the craft beer niche, it’d be easy to settle into a pattern of bold but repetitive IPAs and chocolate stouts. So as this year’s American Craft Beer Week wraps up, go out and find a beer you’ve never tried before. Try something odd or different sounding. Someone was bold enough to craft this fine beer, you can at least be bold enough to sip it.

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Film Friday: Mad Men

At long last Mad Men is back! A couple episodes into the new season and we’re as happy as Roger Sterling in a pool full of Stolichnaya, which is why we’re taking this opportunity to bend the rules on our Film Friday series. So sure, Mad Men isn’t a film, but after 4 seasons the character development is outstanding, the writing is absolutely on point, and the editing and camerawork are downright cinematic. Besides, it’s our blog and we’ll do what we want.

So suppose for a moment that for the past five years you’ve been consciously avoiding AMC and shunning their programming lineup. Maybe you’re under the impression that this “Mad Men” thing that people keep talking about is some gruesome spinoff of Angry Birds. But now you’ve seen the light. You read something online that changed your mind, or that cute girl at work was talking about the show, or maybe your friends and family staged an intervention, because they love you and want you to be happy with your television choices. Anyway, you’ve decided that you need to start watching this Mad Men show and through the miracle of Netflix you can start right from the beginning.

While I wouldn’t recommend going drink for drink with the characters onscreen, we find that the show’s more enjoyable with a strong drink in hand. As such, here’s a guide drinking along with Mad Men, season by season.

Mad Men season one with a Martini and Vodka Gimlet

Season 1: Martinis and Vodka Gimlets

Still steeped in the glamor and buttoned-up culture of the 1950’s, the first season of Mad Men begins in 1960 – the Drapers and the Sterlings sip traditional alcohol-heavy drinks in their favorite clubs, at home, and at work. More importantly, these period-appropriate cocktails will sooth the shock of some characters’ blatant sexism. But as the final scene of season 1 implies, the shows writers have a higher opinion of the female characters than do many of the male characters.

Season 2: Cuba Libres and Heineken with a side of Utz potato chips

I must admit, that of the four full seasons so far, season 2 is my least favorite. However, 3 & 4 more than make up for it and there are important plot points in season 2 that will be important later on. We went with Heineken and Utz for this season because both brands are featured as clients of the Sterling Cooper ad agency. But with the Cuban missile crisis looming at the end of the season, we figured the politically pertinent Cuba Libre would make a good fit.

Season 3: Old Fashioneds and French 75s

Season 3 is back on track with quality writing, compelling stories, and masterful filmmaking. This season is one of triumph, tragedy and strife, which made our selections more difficult. There is a birth and a death, which led us to the French 75. A celebratory drink, the French 75 is champagne-based, but also takes its name from a First World War artillery gun. And in episode 6 an altercation with a lawnmower inspired the selection of the Old Fashioned, a somewhat gory muddled drink.

Season 4: Irish Coffee and Dempsey Cocktail

We figure that if you’ve gotten this far you’ve probably missed some sleep, so wake yourself up with an Irish Coffee and soldier on. You’re on the home stretch. Once you’re awake, switch to the Dempsey Cocktail (which we’ll be posting in a few days). Named for the legendary boxer Jack Dempsey, this drink fits in with season 4’s combative themes. As Don battles with Betty and Sterling Cooper Draper Price go head-to-head with a rival agency, we see the characters at their best and at their worst. In fact, in one of the show’s many examples of highlighting historical context, episode 7 takes place the same night as Muhammad Ali’s second match-up against Sonny Liston.

Season 5 is off to a good start and we’re super excited to have new episodes to look forward to. As the season progresses, leave us suggestions in the comments as to what your drink of choice is for this season.

I Prefer the Term Traveler: Walt Disney World

We, Matt and Shanna, spent five days over-eating, waiting in lines, occasionally relaxing, and drinking (when the cocktails seemed palatable) in Florida’s Walt Disney World this February.  We came for the animatronics, food, and warm weather, and left with a Kermit hat and a well “researched” theory on how to drink in Disney.

This theory consists primarily of what not to drink. As it turns out, we skipped a lot of opportunities to imbibe because, to our dismay, 80% of all booze on offer at the parks are cheap light beer (mostly the unholy triumvirate of Bud, Miller, and Coors), sugar & juice concoctions topped with a drop of booze, or variously flavored frozen abominations fraudulently sullying the name margarita. But fear not dear reader, for though our noses were held high in the air, they did lead us to a handful of truly magical beverages. Continue reading

IPTB Video Episode 1 is live!

Some of our regular readers, and especially those who follow us on Facebook and Twitter, will no doubt have picked up on our poorly concealed secret project. For the past several months we’ve been putting together the very first I Prefer the Term Boozehound video episode, and we’re finally ready to share it with you. Episode 1 features a beer tasting with Shanna, mixing a Bronx cocktail with Matt, and an interview with Whiskey Daisy & Stella Can-Can from the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.

We learned a lot making this episode, and we’ve definitely got a lot to improve on for Episode 2. But rest assured that Episode 2 is coming, and hopefully not far off.

Also, be sure to watch all the way to end for an added bonus.

2011 Pittsburgh Rugby Brewfest: Recap & Photos

With Thanksgiving, Gløgg, and a nearly comatose long weekend behind us, it’s time at last to take a look back at this year’s Brewfest hosted by the Pittsburgh Rugby Club. Held on November 19th – seemingly ages ago now – in the Saddle Ridge/Bar Room/Steelhouse complex at Station Square, Brewfest brought together nearly 30 breweries including local talent, national brands, and international giants.

2011 Pittsburgh Rugby Brewfest

Initially Shanna and I wrote to the organizers to ask about covering the event (read: mooch free VIP passes) but almost immediately we were offered the opportunity to serve on the panel of judges. Now, as booze bloggers I can see how we might be mistaken for authorities on the subject. However, our blogging process has generally followed the three step method of research, taste, and post. In this way we’re learning and exploring booze right along with our readers. We never claim to be experts, just thirsty. And yet, when asked if we’d like to drink as much fantastic beer as we possibly can, provide our opinions for serious consideration, and not pay a dime – why, it’s as if the word “no” never existed.

So on the day of the event we arrived at Station Square just before the doors opened for an hour of VIP-only access. The Brewfest was spread out over three interconnected establishments, each starkly different in atmosphere and décor from country saloon to dance club to sports bar. Now maybe I’m exposing myself as a 25 year old grumpy old man, but I really much preferred the VIP hour to the chaos that followed. For that first hour we were able to take our time, talk to the brewery reps, and be heard without shouting to the person next to you. You know, an atmosphere that’s generally conducive to tasting and judging good beer. But as the place filled up, the music got louder, the lights got dimmer, and the lines got longer. I began to think that this must be were frat parties go when they graduate.

Before

After

All that aside though, there was a tremendous sampling of beer on hand. Big names included Guinness, Blue Moon, Magic Hat and Sierra Nevada alongside national craft breweries like Harpoon, Great Lakes, Brooklyn, Southern Tier, and Rogue. And though a few of these larger-scale labels brought some pleasant surprises with them, these are essentially known quantities. A Brooklyn Lager, while one of the better lagers on the market, is no different at Brewfest than the dozen or so I’ve knocked back in a bar. I was really more interested in the local boys, and with good reason. Among the Pittsburgh-based brewers we sampled beers from The Three Rivers Underground Brewers, Penn Brewery, Duquesne Pilsner, Milkman Brewing, and The Church Brew Works.

Local champs Milkman Brewing

Hops are definitely on the rise, as they have been for several years now. Despite autumn and winter traditionally being stout season, a large percentage of the contenders were hopped-up IPAs. Last year’s champ, actually, was Southern Tier’s 2xIPA. They made a strong showing again this year, along with the IPAs from Great Lakes and Rogue. But without question, this year’s winner was Milkman Brewing’s Peppercorn Rye Ale. Having sampled over a dozen beers after visiting the Milkmen’s table and letting a week slip by before writing this article, I wish I could give you an accurate description of the winning beer. Suffice to say that it was bold without overpowering, strong enough to be noticed in a sea of IPAs, but complex enough to delight the tongue. I certainly would take any opportunity for a second taste.

What made Milkman Brewing’s victory all the more impressive is knowing that at present the brewery consists of four individuals who are essentially home brewers. Milkman Brewing is not currently a commercial enterprise, though you can help change that. The Milkmen (and Milklady) are running a Kickstarter to get their operation off the ground. At time of publishing they have 50 days left to reach their goal and are going strong at just over 25% funded. They still need your support though. IPTB has already pledged $30 to help ensure that we’ll have a reliable source for that fantastic Peppercorn Ale and you should do the same.

Overall, despite crowds and loud country music, the 2011 Brewfest was a fantastic event. Anything that puts good beer in the hands of people who truly enjoy it can’t help but result in a good time. Not to mention the heap of money and food that was donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. If you have an opportunity to attend next year, do so. And make sure to put up the extra $10 for the VIP pass.

In the mean time, check out the rest of our photos below.

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Kickstarter Alert! Milkman Brewing

This past Saturday Shanna and I had the honor of serving as judges at the Pittsburgh Rugby Club’s annual Brewfest. (We’ll post more in-depth coverage in a day or two.) Almost 30 breweries came out, both local, national, and international. However, my top-rated beer and the winner of the festival came from right here in Pittsburgh. Milkman Brewing Company is currently a small homebrewing operation with dreams of becoming a small microbrewing operation. They’ve launched a Kickstarter to help defray their start-up costs, and are off to a solid start. But they still have a long way to go.

If this weekend was any indication, the Milkmen have the chops to create something very special and delicious here in Pittsburgh. All they need is a little help. There’s no minimum donation, but the more you give, the more swag you end up with. Check it out and hopefully we can get these guys – and one lady – off to a running start.

Contribute to the Milkman Brewing Kickstarter here!

Milkman Brewing Company

Super Cool Stella Artois Ad

In addition to being incorrigible boozehounds, Shanna and I also have a healthy interest in film, art, and other aesthetic endeavors. This ad from Stella Artois is tremendously well designed and executed. The fact that it’s for an exclusive beer club is just a bonus.

We’ll have a new full post up soon, so stay tuned!

Barley Wine Ales

Veering away from the world of liquor and cocktails for a moment, a few evenings ago Shanna and I found ourselves perusing the recently appended beer section of our local Giant Eagle supermarket. These have been popping up in Giant Eagles lately, along with the much maligned wine vending machines. This is a significant step forward in Pennsylvania’s restrictive liquor laws, which have remained largely unchanged since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. But that’s a subject for another article.

The salient point here is that the few Giant Eagles that are now able to sell six-packs and single bottles of beer actually have a better selection than many traditional distributors. Unlike a distributor, Giant Eagle doesn’t have to invest in several cases of a product, which means they can risk offering micro brewed and niche beers that lack the wide appeal of more traditional brews. Thus Shanna and I were presented with our first opportunity to purchase barley wines.

Smuttynose and Southern Tier Barley Wines

Barley wine (also correct: barleywine, barleywine ale) is a particular style of beer which is generally only offered by smaller scale artisanal breweries. All beer is brewed from malted barley (with wheat beers brewed from a blend of barley and wheat), but the defining characteristic of barley wine is its high alcohol content. Most beer has an alcohol content of around 4-6% ABV. India Pale Ales generally sit at the higher end of that spectrum with 6-7% ABV. Barley wines, however, can range from 8-12% ABV. This puts them closer to the ABV range of most wines, hence the name.

This being our first experience with barley wine, Shanna and I chose two different brands so that we could compare the two. This, we hoped, would help us to distinguish which characteristics were unique to a specific brand and which were common to barley wines in general. We picked up a Smuttynose Barleywine Ale along with the robustly named Southern Tier Back Burner Imperial Barley Wine Style Ale. Both of these came in 22oz bottles; significantly larger than a traditional 12oz beer bottle, but not quite as large as a 750mL (or 25.4oz) standard wine bottle. Keeping in mind barley wine’s high alcohol content, one of these bottles is the perfect size to split between two people.

In the course of our tasting, what struck Shanna and I the most was the fact that barley wines in general don’t taste much different at all from other beers. In fact, the only marked difference is the extra alcohol content, which doesn’t present itself in the flavor of the barley wine the way it will in a liquor. This certainly plays a role in beer writer and historian Martyn Cornell’s assertion that barley wine, as a category of beer, is meaningless. On this point I’m not sure I agree with him, but it is easy to see his point.

The Smuttynose (10% ABV) we found to be fairly light in color and predominated by a hoppy flavor. In a blind test I would have confidently called it an IPA. When tasting, the hops hit the tongue sharply right away. They’re then joined by a smooth malt flavor. Unlike an IPA where the hops tend to overpower the malt entirely, here the two grains almost sit side by side on the palette. These two flavors step aside to allow a fruitiness to dominate the body, which transitions into a long, lingering finish which Shanna identifies with a toffee flavor. The burn of the hops underlines the whole experience until it’s the last flavor left on your tongue. Pairs well with hard salty cheeses like Manchego or Romano, and mild sweet fruits like pear.

If the Smuttynose is akin to an IPA, the Southern Tier (9.6% ABV) is more of a stout. Hops here are only barely perceptible, while dark roasted barley gives this barley wine a heavy, meaty flavor. If there is any flavor element that distinguishes barley wines from other beers, judging by these two examples it’s probably that the malt has a smoother, almost creamy character to it. Perhaps it was the influence of the first bottle, but this second selection didn’t seem to have quite as much complexity to it. The finish was short, and a bit bitter, but as far as stouts go, this barley wine holds its own. The roasted barley flavor wasn’t nearly as abrasive as some stouts can be. This paired well with more flavorful fruits like peaches, and though Shanna and I don’t eat beef I can see this going very nicely with a steak grilled medium rare.

By the time Shanna and I had finished off the two bottles we were, as Hemmingway would have deemed, good and tight. In the interest of science and thorough investigation we deemed it necessary to sample the two back-to-back. For casual enjoyment, however, I would not recommend more than one bottle for every two drinkers. An important part of boozehoundery is remembering to drink for appreciation, not intoxication.

So if you are fortunate enough to find yourself in a situation where you’re contemplating sampling a barley wine, remember to read labels. The flavors you’re likely to encounter are as varied as any brew on the shelf. But since barley wines are generally only offered by small breweries, that are passionate about their product and flavors, you’re almost guaranteed to pick up a quality drink.

If you have a favorite brand of barley wine, we’d like to know about it. Drop us a comment and let us know what you like, and how you prefer to enjoy it.