Monday, April 29, 2013

It's a Longshot

Yeah, a longshot.  That's exactly what Zack Adams, Dave Anderson, and James Schirmer must have thought as they entered their home best homebrews in Samuel Adam's annual Longshot American Homebrew competition.

Now in its 10th year, the Longshot competition crowns three homebrewers, including one Samuel Adams employee, as champions.  These winners have their beers commercial produced and sold in a Samuel Adams variety 12 mix pack.  Out of thousands of entries, it's truly a high honor to earn the praise of Jim Koch.  I salute these guys and their beers.

It's a Longshot...

Beer Flower Wheat by Jason Schirmer, CA - a wheat beer brewed with hibiscus and exotic flavors

Magnificent Seven by Zach Adams, CT - an Imperial IPA with seven different hops 

Strawberry Lager by Dave Anderson, OH - a summer lager with hints of fresh strawberry

This year's winner are exceptional beers. It would be an accident if I were to make something so good.  I especially enjoyed the Magnificent Seven.  The hops really aren't there at first sip, but later cascade over you and linger well after the glass has left your mouth.  Fabulous stuff.

Do you think you have would it takes to win the Longshot?  Well, there is still time to enter if you have something really good sitting in your basement.  No time to make this year's contest?  Fear not, I'm sure it will be around in 2014.  Start brewing, experimenting, and tasting now.  Jim Koch is looking for the best and it just may come from you.

Note: Samuel Adams provided me with bottles from this year's Longshot winners.  They are available now, in stores, nationwide. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

From DC, With Beer

This past weekend, we traveled with our good friends Gary & Teri to Washington, DC.  Last year was Boston and this year, it was our nation's capitol.

Across the Pool

Gary & Teri share our love of adventure, food, and beer.  This winning combination makes for a breakneck and incredibly enjoyable long weekend.  Whereas we about froze in Boston, the weather in DC was superb.  Everyday was close to 70 degrees and the skies were clear and blue.  The weather was just about perfect.

And we are off

Getting Around

Uber is Uber Cool

Although we rode the metro rail a few times, we used Uber more.  Uber is an app-based private vehicle professional driver taxi service.  Need a ride?  Fire up the Uber app.  GPS locks in your location and a quick press of a button can summon a taxi, black sedan, or black SUV.  A fare estimate gives you an idea of what you will pay based on your destination, so you have a pretty good idea ahead of time of the cost.  Since Uber keeps your credit card on file, no money or tips are shared with the driver.  It's all included.  

The fares were reasonable.  The drivers were quick, the vehicles very clean, and the convenience was fabulous.  Uber is available all over the US.  If you are interested in signing up, use this link to get $10 off your first ride.  In full disclosure, if you take advantage of the link, Uber will credit my account $10.  I don't know anyone at Uber, I 'm just passing on what I think is a pretty cool service.  

Where did we eat & drink?

We stayed on Capitol Hill, so we did our best to check out places relatively close.  Josh Bernstein, through Instagram, highly recommended The Churchkey and Meridian Pint.  I tend to take beer author's suggestions very highly, but we sadly didn't have time to check either one out.  Next time, they are definitely on our list.

We started off at The Dubliner, which is about a stone's throw from Union Station.  

The Dubliner

We stopped in for lunch one day and after dinner drinks the next. Service was fast and friendly, and the food was pretty good.  I wouldn't call the beer selection stellar, but they had a few local brews I had not had before including Sea Change from 3 Stars Brewing Company in DC.

Although I don't have any pictures, the 201 Bar was an interesting stop.  Catering to a younger crowd with a rather contemporary take on a traditional pub, we almost turned away as we were looking for a quick bite for dinner.  With more couches and large chairs versus tables and chairs, it seemed food might just be an after thought.  We were wrong.  Again, service was attentive and thorough and the food was quite good.  The beer list was also fairly long and varied.  I was able to again try something new in the form of Duck-Rabbit's Milk Stout.

We swung into the Black Rooster after a fairly long and grueling afternoon of walking.

Black Rooster

The Black Rooster probably hasn't changed much through the years.  It's narrow and deep footprint was bustling with a mixture of young and old clientele.  The service was again top notch and the beer list fairly decent.  Although the pub grub menu didn't suit our fancy, it was a comfy spot to catch a pint.  I'm glad we did.

The Elephant & Castle is a chain pub and as luck would have it, we liked it.  It might have been the fact we were one block from the White House on a perfectly sunny day eating lunch outside.  It might have also been the fact they had a fairly large tap selection and took it upon themselves to serve beer in the proper glassware.  Whatever the reason, it was a great spot to have lunch and then return again to for pints.

Elephant & Castle

Lunch was full on bangers and mash.  

Bangers & Mash

I love bangers, I love mash, and I love baked beans.  Add in a pint of Fuller's London Porter and I'm set.

Fuller's & Boddingtons

Although the Elephant & Castle is obviously very "chain-ish," it still made for a great time.  Our lunch service was great, but our bar service suffered later in the day.  That being said, I would still swing in for a pint of DC Brau's Pale Ale if I were passing through.

For dinner our last night, we ate at Charlie Palmers.  Only a few steps from the Capitol, we had high hopes.  The service was sadly uneven.  Somehow, one of the five waiters who swung by our table never took it upon themselves to take drink orders and went right into the entrees.  It was sporadic and really weird.  The food, however, was great.  As can be expected, I had a bone-in ribeye.  It was served with family style stewed spinach and an array of mustards.  Although no one thought I would finish it, you, dear readers, I'm sure knew I could.

Although the service was uneven, I would try it again.

So, is that it?  You go to DC and just eat and drink beer?

Of course not.  We had some Scotch too.  Seriously, we covered a lot of ground and saw a lot.  We also, after a lot of badgering from Gary, did something I had never done before: rented Segways.

When traveling, I try to avoid looking like a tourist.  It's bad enough lugging around a camera.  Climbing abroad a Segway with a bike helmet strapped to my head isn't exactly my idea of low profile.  Add in thousands of walking visitors on crowded sidewalks and you have an experience where 30% of the passerby's think you are cool and the remaining 70% think you are some kind of asshat.  I try to avoid being an asshat.

20130427-IMG_0248

Case in point.  

Truthfully, they were a lot of fun. They are intuitive and very easy to operate.  Yeah, I about saw Gary taken out by a tour bus, but hey, I'm here to learn from other's mistakes, no matter how big of a mess they make.

In between the Segways and a lot of leg power, we covered all of the major monuments and even fit in a National's game who, by great chance were playing our Cincinnati Reds.  I won't bring up the scores, because Gary will go back into mourning.

Let's get ready to play ball!

The Jefferson Memorial:

Jefferson Memorial

The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery:

Tomb of the Unknowns

The Lincoln Memorial:

Lincoln

The Vietnam Memorial:

Reflections

The World War II Memorial:

The Pacific

And of course, the US Capitol:

US Capitol

Speaking of which, we had a great staff-led tour of the Capitol.  Although I grew up in Northern Virginia, I had never been in the Capitol.  I've been about everywhere else, but never there.  I'm glad I finally crossed it off my list, as it's not every day you get to stand on the Speaker of the House's balcony overlooking the mall.

View from the Balcony

No matter your political persuasion or pull, the history and gravity of the work being done there, both past and present, is staggering.

Washington, DC is an amazing city and in the course of 4 days and 3 nights, we covered a lot of it (even if I had to swallow my dignity and do part of it on a Segway).  

I will leave you with some further photos.  I would explain each, but they are fairly self explanatory.  Plus, sometimes less is more.  

National LE Memorial

DC Court of Appeals

Reagan

Down the Mall

From the Speaker's Balcony

Inside the Rotunda

Old Supreme Court Chambers

The National Amphitheater

Towards Lincoln

Eternal Flame

Grave Markers

Through the Columns

WW II Memorial

The Castle

Capitol at Night

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stone's Vertical Epic: The Tasting

Beer from the Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, California, is stellar, praiseworthy, and seriously epic.  It's no wonder we've travelled cross country to visit their brewery and bistro gardens twice and our local, Boston's, is the two time "Most Arrogant Bar" award winner.  

Starting in 2001, Stone started an eleven year brewing mission to release an "epic" beer on the date where the day, month, and year matched.  The beers were Belgian-inspired and meant to be cellared from the first release on 02-02-02 to the final on 12-12-12.  At the end, they were to be enjoyed one after another at a tasting.  The series was aptly named: Vertical Epic.

As with most great things, I arrived late to the game.  Actually, really late.  I think the first bottle I held on to was 2009.  Every year I bought two bottles.  One to drink and one to save.  Thankfully, with the help of the fellow Backyard Brewer, Dave, we were able to score 2006, 2007, & 2008.  

Stone Vertical Epic Series

Not only did I arrive to the hunt late, I about derailed it.  Somewhere along the line, I accidentally drank one of the early releases…go figure, but Dave saved the day again and had it replaced.

With 2013 upon us, we decided to do something we don't normally do: have a proper beer tasting and a structured dinner.  Usually it's mad dash brewing and random nibbling.  For our Vertical Epic tasting, we were going to do things right.

As I nervously opened the first bottle, I was relieved to hear the reassuring sound of "psssst".  I have never had a six year old beer and was glad it at least sounded good.

First Bottle Opened

 With nine of us in an attendance, everyone was able to get a pretty good pour.

First pour

With glasses full, we settled into a routine of me, reading the label…which oddly enough, got harder as the night went on.  I chock it up to small print.  We then toasted, and toasted and toasted...

Cheers!

With each round we talked about what we liked.  I would say we also talked about what we "didn't like", but there was no "didn't" on the scale.  It was more of what we liked and what we liked more.

The Tasting Group

Although we hadn't amassed the full vertical series, it was still fun just going back six years.  Funny enough, Zach, our youngest brewer wasn't even 21 in 2006. Youngn'.

Our Youngest Brewer

Our favorite year? 2006.  It was the best, hands down.  It was so good, we were dying to have more.  For me, 2011 is a solid second.  It had a wonderful spicy hit thanks to the inclusion of chile peppers.  Deilcious.

Toasting our trip through the 06-12 @stonebrewingco Vertical Epics

Now not only was this a once in a lifetime tasting, it was dinner, too.  What else do you have with a hearty round of Belgian beer, but a healthy dose of prime grade bone-in rib eyes.

The Ribeyes

Thanks to the searing heat of the Weber Grill Center, the steaks cooked hot and fast.

Lighted Knobs

Although it may seem daunting to grill as many steaks as you have fingers, it really isn't.  Ensure a hot grill with a uniform temperature across the grates.  Next, check with your guests for preferred level of doneness.  I had 2 medium steak eaters.  The rest were medium rare.  The goal is to take all of the steaks off at the same time, so I started the medium steaks a few minutes ahead of the rest.  I kept the medium steaks anchored to the far left side of the grate to not get them mixed up with their medium rare brethren. 

Ribeyes Down

After removal from the grill, allow the steaks to rest a few minutes and then serve.  

Dinner & Friends

Empty plates and bones gnawed clean of meat signified a successful meal.  It was also nice for a change to eat together as a group sitting down. 

As we tend to do, we trekked to the backyard to get a group shot.  I'm not quite sure what we were laughing at in the first shot, but it was such a candid and honest shot, I had to post it.  It was probably Brian cracking a joke.  He has that look.

Somesone said something funny

In the end, we regained our composure and promptly broke the lens.

The Backyard Brewer's Vertical Tasting

We left for the night with full stomachs and another chapter of memories in our never-ending journal of Backyard Brewing Society gatherings.  A beer tasting with friends is a great idea and is one we will try and repeat in the future.  Stone has posted homebrew recipes for each of the eleven releases and Eric pitched a great idea in creating our own "time shifted" vertical tasting.  

It is really a rewarding experience to sit with friends and taste rare and unusual beer.  It's hard to describe how much fun it is.  Tastings can be done with one friend, or they can be done with a clown car load of friends.  Sometimes these gatherings are great and others, they are truly epic.  I suggest you plan one with a friend today.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Summer is Coming…Samuel Adams told me so

Summer is coming. @SamuelAdamsBeer promises!

It may only be late April, but that doesn't mean I can't imagine it's summer.  Thankfully, some warm sun and the Samuel Adams Beers of Summer Variety pack helps me along.

This summer's set features not only the stalwart, Summer Ale, but two new styles: Blueberry Hill Lager and Little White Rye.  

Summer Ale

Zoë immediately glommed on to Blueberry Hill.  I'm usually not one for beer made with fruit, but Blueberry Hill was just subtle enough to suit my fancy.

Although I'm always excited to try something new, Summer Ale holds a special place in my heart.  Yeah, a lot of beer folk groan that it's only mid-spring and summer beers are already hitting the shelves.  Whatever.  I really don't care.  Summer isn't just a time of year, it's a state of mind and frankly, I didn't hear anyone complaining when all of the rich malty holiday beers hit the shelves way before Thanksgiving.  For me, this time of year is like welcoming back and old friend.  Hello, Summer Ale.  I've missed you.

Before I go, I would be remiss in not mentioning the tragedy in Boston from just a few days ago.  Boston is a beautiful and historic city steeped in culture.  Part of the culture is beer and part of beer is Samuel Adams.  In 2012, Samuel Adams was the official beer sponsor of the Boston Marathon and celebrated by brewing a special commemorative beer: the Samuel Adams Boston 26.2 Beer.  The tradition and beer continued into 2013.

Jim Koch announced today that Samuel Adams is donating all profits of the 26.2 Beer, as well as donations at the Boston Brewery, to the Greg Hill Foundation.  These proceeds will immediately start helping those victims and families impacted by the devastating events on Monday.

We all play to our strengths and that is what Boston Beer is doing tonight.  Cheers, my friends, a speedy recovery.  Stay safe.

Note: Samuel Adams provided me with a sample of the new beers in the Beers of Summer Variety Pack.  Obviously, the opinions of said beers are my own.  Which is good.  It goes without saying I'm fairly opinionated.  I will probably pick up another pack this weekend while we stain the deck.  It's how I roll.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Relatively Wordless Wednesday

Wings…flame….smoke

Grilled & Smoked Chicken Wings

KGB…not my favorite Russian Imperial Stout, but still drinkable, comrade.

Greetings, Comrade, don't mind if I do.

The Baltic Porter from Smuttynose.  A sweetness made up of raisins and cherry takes off the subtle bitter edge of chocolate and coffee.  Superb.

Smuttynose Baltic Porter

Tally-Ho…no notes on this, but memorable in that it's a barelywine from Adnams.  A rarity in England as beer is taxed on every tenth percent of ABV.  Beers over 7.5% ABV are taxed even more.  I wonder if that's why it's 9% in the US, but only around 7% in the UK.

Tally-Ho

To steal a closing quote from my friend, Bruce.  Enjoy your Wednesday.