A CANniversary!

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2015-12-27_202742092_A31A2_iOSToday is National Beer Can Appreciation Day.  Apparently canned beer was born on this day in 1935 in Richmond, Virginia (so says Wikipedia).  So the beer can is 81 years old today.  I celebrated by drinking a stout in a can.  I enjoyed a Silverback Stout from The Unknown Brewing Company in Charlotte, NC.  You can read my review of this stout on my Recent Reviews page.  The concept of a canned Stout is a relatively recent phenomenon – at least as far as I know – but it’s a welcome one.  Traditionally Stouts are bottled in 12, 16.9, or 22 oz. bottles…..and for the most part, the 22 oz. bomber is primarily (although not exclusively) associated with a Stout.

Cans on the other hand, seemed to reside on the other side of the beer neighborhood, living with the lagers, ales, and lighter beers.  Cans are associated with portability and travel, as the chance for breakage is practically nil as compared to our trusty friend, the bottle.  Cans are simple and need no additional tooling like a bottle opener.  Now I do remember the “olden days” when cans didn’t have the pop-top/pull-top and you did require a can opener or church key- but thats in the past and we’ve progressed in our canned beer technology.

Fast forward to the last couple of years and we’re seeing the proliferation of canned beer through the craft beer wave.  Some breweries are exclusively canned operations (Oskar Blues for example), while others are dipping their proverbial toes into canning (Founder’s has a few of their offerings in cans).  Our friends at The Alchemist in Vermont even go so far to suggest that you drink their Heady Topper from the can – it’s printed on the can!!  Even “Crowlers” (large cans) are becoming more popular as another option to a Growler.  Crowlers are sealed like regular cans, so the beer can supposedly last longer than in a Growler.  There are even companies whose sole mission is mobile canning –  a canning operation on wheels and they travel to small breweries who cannot afford to buy their own canning line and turn their batches of beer into canned beer which find their way to local store shelves.  I’m aware of such mobile canning operations in Michigan, Indiana, and Vermont and I’m sure there are others.

In the Stout world, I’m seeing my local NC breweries get “can fever”.  One brewery, Aviator Brewery of Fuquay-Varina, NC has a 12 oz. canned stout called Night Jump, which is a Barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout that clocks in at 13%ABV!  Now that’s a can of beer!  I’m getting a few of those and putting them in the beer fridge for the summer!

In commemoration of the beer can, the next time you are at your favorite bottleshop or grocery store and are perusing your favorite malted beverages, take a few moments and give a little love to the canned offerings – they’re not your father’s cans anymore!!

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Support your Local Brewers and Bottleshops

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As I sit here enjoying my Miller’s Toll imperial stout from Raleigh Brewing, I’m thinking about our local beer economy.  The proliferation of local brewers and bottleshops is both fantastic and concerning.  It’s great that we have more choices and more opportunities to sample our local brewmasters creations but at the same time, as in all businesses, there is a breaking point as to just how many of the same business can exist in a given geographic area.  Take bottleshops for example.  In a 5 mile radius of my house, there are at least 5 locally owned bottleshops, a Total Wine, a Whole Foods (with an excellent craft beer selection), and a Lowe’s food store with a Beer Den.   That’s doesn’t count the local grocery stores who make an attempt at carrying local craft beer.  I’m not complaining mind you; I’m just concerned that one of these days the craft beer wave we’ve all been riding will crest and there will be a natural consolidation.  Some will close, some will merge.  On the brewery side, North Carolina seems to be one of the nationwide hot spots for craft beer.  At some point, I expect to see a similar contraction.  Owning a brewery isn’t cheap and there is a decent capital investment involved.   Money must be made.  As real examples, there have been a couple of local restaurants with a focus on beer that have closed.  The customers were there…..just not enough of them to make it profitable.

I’m not sounding any imminent warning bells; what I do see are the warning signs of a saturated marketplace.  We must continue to support our local brewers and bottleshops.

OK…..back to my Miller’s Toll.  My thanks to the fine people at Raleigh Brewing for their incredible product. 2016-01-17_202724095_62749_iOS

Back to Black

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In my last post, I reviewed my taste testing of Vermont DIPAs.  While that was enjoyable, I’m happy to get back to the Stout world.  I came back with a bang: I sampled Alesmith’s Hawaiian Speedway Stout and Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout at a local Bottleshop (thanks Wine and Beer 101- Raleigh!).  They poured 8 oz. glasses in order to give as many people as possible the chance to sample some Speedway Stout variations that don’t make it to the East Coast on a regular basis.   I fully support their position – part of the attraction to craft beer is the camaraderie and community of a common interest.   Well done, Wine and Beer 101 – Raleigh!!2016-01-08_172652000_CF4D9_iOS
As far as the samples, I enjoyed both variations (above left, Hawaiian, above right, Vietnamese Coffee).  I need to figure out how to critique draft pours better…..or perhaps I shouldn’t critique draft pours at all!  Bartenders tend to maximize the liquid and minimize the head – except for Guinness.   I lean more toward wanting an inch of foamy head as part of the presentation, as I can get some excellent aromas from the foam.   I liked the Vietnamese Coffee a tad better than the Hawaiian, but that’s really splitting hairs.  After the tasting, I now know that I’d like to get a bottle of each so I can really have a chance to taste and savor them a bit more!

As for my weekend tastings, it was a Michigan weekend, as I sampled Dark Horse’s Plead the 5th from Marshall, MI and Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout from Kalamazoo, MI.   Visit my “Recent Reviews” page to read my comments on each.

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Something different….

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I’m usually all about Stouts, but my business travels have taken me to Burlington, Vermont over the past couple of years.  Aside from being an incredibly beautiful place, Vermont is also a beer mecca and Burlington is right in the middle of the action.  I was able to visit the hallowed Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, where I spent considerable time roaming the aisles.  Thanks to the Bevvy, I can now proudly state that I have stood in line for Heady Topper there – I was able to buy a case – and proceeded to pack it carefully in my suitcase for the trip home.  Thankfully, my friends at Delta didn’t search my luggage that day!

Thanks to my travels to Burlington, I now have a connection (thanks Darren!).  I recently traded some excellent North Carolina stouts and IPAs for some Heady Topper, Second Fiddle, and a can of the elusive Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, as well as some local Vermont stouts.  Since I had three of the best IPAs around, I took the opportunity to conduct a blind taste test along with my 2 sons.  My wife was our bartender and she each gave us a small glass of Heady, Second Fiddle, and SoS.   I know our friends at The Alchemist counsel us to drink Heady straight from the can, but that would have compromised the blind part of the test, don’t you think?

I must say that I was surprised at the results.  Out of the three, I had only tasted Heady Topper before, so I was feeling confident that I would be able to pick Heady out of the three.  Boy was I ever wrong!   My sons and I compared and contrasted the three – the aroma, the taste, the aftertaste, the color, the mouthfeel- and each of us wrote down our preferences in order.  Trying to find fault in these three beers is near to impossible – it was more about taste preferences and being closer to perfection than finding fault.  But doing a side by side by side taste test requires you to rate and rank the beers.

To the Fiddlehead team – congrats!  Second Fiddle was the winner, followed closely by Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine and Heady Topper.  Not exactly what I expected!  All three of them are incredible beers.  After sending my boys back to South Carolina and college (respectively) each with a can of Second Fiddle and a can of Heady, I’m looking forward to enjoying my last can of Second Fiddle!    When summer comes, I’m going to find a way to add a bottle of Pliny the Elder to the taste test!

A couple of takeaways from the sampling:

  1. I really enjoyed doing this with my two boys (both of legal drinking age for the record).  I tried to convey the concept of tasting and sampling beer for enjoyment versus drinking beer to drink beer.  That’s one of the reasons I like stout beer so much – more on that in a future post!
  2. Comparing like beers is not an easy task!  It really takes some concentration to consider the all of the tasting parameters.  It was really fun (and eye-opening) to see that my expectations were blown away.

Have you ever been surprised by a blind taste test?  Tell us about your experience!2016-01-01_010027874_B1D53_iOS