Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Red Drum, not for beer lovers

2.14.11 Red Drum GastroPub Restaurant (or what trend is hot now)

Well, I was looking for a topic to write on and was going to write about the upcoming Brewvival and preparation for this event, but we stopped at Red Drum last night after dinner for a beer. Red Drum was at one time, in the dark ages of Charleston, called Red Drum Gastropub and they had a decent tap list at the time. Recently, they changed their name and I think I know why. When the word pub appears in the name, you don’t expect $30+ entrees. I have not eaten here in a while and didn’t really buy into the hype when it opened, the food was good, not outstanding, and the pricing was equal to fine downtown restaurants.

Now onto why I decided to bring this up, the beer selection was ok, but this is obviously a trendy bar scene where cocktails and more common swill rule (they have Dos XX on tap). First off, the beers were $6 for a Coast pint, and $7 for a Stone IPA pint, didn’t see too many people drinking the good beers anyway. Second, with this pricing, you would think they could afford to hire a bartender that could remember the 4 rotating taps. With help from the other bartender, I cajoled the rotating taps out of them, but there was a new beer I was afraid to try, it was called Westbrook which I assume is some new flagship from Westbrook Brewing or a blend of every beer they make. This happens a lot and it usually goes like this:

Thirsty Patron: What do you have on tap?

Uninformed Bartender charging $7 a pint: Coast (or fill in any other Brewery here)

long pause, awkward silence as the Patron waits for the bartender to finish the sentence

Thirsty Patron: Coast what?

Uninformed Bartender charging $7 a pint: Yes, Coast; it’s a local brewery

Now at this point, the Thirsty Patron has 3 choices, move on to a different beer, play Beer Roulette, or inform the Bartender of his/her mistake for which you will be entitled to Surly Service the rest of the night which is usually short as I tend to move on from these places.

(please note for reporting accuracy, shortly after the cap had been lifted on, hate to say it, High Gravity Beers, the response usually was “Yes, Coast; it’s a High Gravity Beer”

And to be totally trendy, they have wine on tap. Call me a traditionalist, but I like my wine to come from a bottle. So, one more place I don’t need to go. Oh, and their hours suck, I guess when you are charging that much, you don’t need to be open earlier than five on a Weekend if you are located in Mt. Pleasant.

Trivial Items, might as well get my full rant out:

The Valet parking is an effort to make this place seem high brow

There was a four door Porsche in the parking lot, enough said there.

Unless your Bobby Flay or Mario Batali (ie Famous), you don’t need your name in the restaurant title. It’s not like there are five Red Drum’s in Mt. Pleasant. Reminds me of Steve Martin in the Jerk “Oh, this is the best pizza in a cup ever. This guy is unbelievable. He ran the old Cup 'o Pizza guy out of business.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Westbrook Brewing 2.5.11

Westbrook Brewing 2-5-11 http://westbrookbrewing.com

With news of the Westbrook Brewing tasting room opening, we ventured out to meet our friend Peggy and to see if in fact we have a new place to get our fill of craft beer. Several other friends also showed up to check it out.

Parking lot was full, but street parking could be had on a miserable weather day. Main doors enter into an oval shaped bar in the middle and counters around the perimeter with stools so even at fairly full capacity a seat could be found. There is a sign partially obscured by patrons showing what is currently on tap including the main reason for my visit; brewery exclusive small batches. Upon arrival, they were pouring 5 beers: 2 of the 3 main beers White Thai and IPA were on and 3 others Belgian IPA, Citra Pale Ale (interest perked up), and Belgian Porter (we had missed the Oatmeal Stout). Overall, the place is really nice, and a far cry from most start-ups.

Now, to actually get the beer was another thing all together, we waited behind a couple of people at an open space at the side of the bar, but were told we needed to go to the front area because they had no change (cash only today) and tasting tickets could be had. Sat there for a few minutes, but we actually needed to go by the register and not the taps. So after a thirsty wait, I have two samples for each me and my wife and tickets for more. It was explained to us that the tickets were due to lack of change, but tickets actually seem like a good idea if you are not going to pour all the samples at once.

Quick notes on the beers available:

White Thai: this was the best sample of this beer I have tasted, don’t know if it is the brewery atmosphere or the freshness, but it was interesting enough to want more

Citra Pale Ale: This is (was) a great beer for citrus fruit aromatic hop fans, sort of a Imperial Sierra Nevada, well done with aromas to die for (This was my choice for a growler)

Belgian IPA: I have a keg at home so I was not stoked to try it, this is really not a Belgian style IPA, but it is a good IPA for someone who likes a very hop forward resiny style. The Belgian yeast got roughed up pretty good by the hops. I don’t get any of the dry mineral crispness usually afforded to Belgian IPA style.

Belgian Porter: Again, the use of the word Belgian sort of confuses me as I found this to be a fairly nice strong porter (friend got a growler of this).

IPA: We did not get to sample this as it ran out prior to our third sample, this confused me somewhat as I would think it would be easy to get it back on tap quickly, I assume they didn’t want to tap a new keg so late in the day, but they are a brewery.

Also, should be noted the Citra Pale kicked after my growler pour, so were down to 3 beers on tap, would have disappointed me if I walked in at that point.

+++ For me anyway was to have 2 beers from them that you won’t find anywhere and got to admit I liked both of them. Other plusses, it is a inviting place to sample beer, and less than 10 minutes from my house.

---- Definitely were overwhelmed with the crowd, and the list of beers needed to be upon entry, also, if one kicks, you have to go delete it or better yet get another keg or a the next small batch. Beer knowledge, part of the brewery experience for me at least is talking to the people making the beer and this did not happen. Not to beat a dead horse, but they should fill any growler, no law against it and it just makes environmental sense.

So, I wish them luck and success, and I most certainly will be back. On a side note, they have 10 taps on each side, assuming they double up, this still means they hope to have 10 beers on at some point?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blind IPA Tasting aftermath

Blind IPA Tasting aftermath by the Beer Guru

The following beers were included in our blind tasting:

Avery IPA

Bear Republic Racer 5

Bells Two Hearted Ale

Coast HopArt

Lagunitas IPA

Smuttynose IPA

Southern Tier IPA

Stone IPA

Sweetwater IPA

Victory Hopdevil

For fairness, all beers were sampled in the bottled form, and an effort was made to get the freshest beer by ordering most within the last two weeks (how long they were at the distributor is out of our control). All beers were placed in the chiller at the same time to attempt to keep the temperatures the same. When I first put this together, I wanted representation from the major IPA (call them mainstream if you want) producers. We had a contest if you could identify them all, you would get a growler and your tasting fee back, this prize went uncollected as it was quite difficult to distinguish a number of the beers. We also did a non scientific voting for the top three of which about half the participants (17 total) turned in their votes.

I had my suspicions about which beers would show well and purposely picked at least two that I believed to be underrated in most people’s eyes (Sweetwater, which gets a bad rap because 420 and Blue are everywhere, and Smuttynose, whose big beer series is one of the better made value series on the market). My suspicions on one of the top beers ended up being correct, as Bells Two Hearted was voted number 2 with 25% of the voters picking it number #1. The overall number one ended up being Sweetwater also with 25% of the voters picking it, but with more number twos than Bells. Third place was close enough to basically call a tie between Racer 5 and HopArt. Speaking of freshness, the first bottle of Racer 5 didn’t seem to be on to me, but the later bottles were back to what I expect.

The voting with points and first place votes in () and a simple 3-2-1 point system:

1. Sweetwater: 23 (4)

2. Bells: 19 (4)

3. HopArt: 14 (3)

4. Racer 5: 13 (1)

5. Southern Tier: 10 (2)

6. Stone: 7 (1)

7. Hop Devil: 5 (1)

8. Smuttynose: 4 (1)

Lagunitas: 4 (0)

10. Avery: 0 (0)

I am sure Avery was in a lot of peoples top 5 if I would have went out that far; it is a well-made example of the style and the new packaging is great in my opinion. The truth is when sampled together, a lot of these beers are quite similar. In the presence of other aromatic and hoppy beers, Sweetwater was harder to pick out with its signature grapefruit flavors. In my opinion, the closeness of these 10 well- made beers was very apparent with very few people disliking any one beer. It is funny how when it is not blind, people will totally rank on beers they don’t find acceptable, but when it may possibly be their favorite beer, they are more accepting and open. Mission accomplished.

Now as far as picking out the beers, the most we had submitted was 4 of 10 by one individual and only 1 submitted a form with 3 of 10 followed by two with 2 of 10, with six people getting 1 of 10 and as many not identifying one correct. I believe this was a palate opening experience for many. Email me if you want to know your score. beerguru@ymail.com

Blind stouts in the winter? Or maybe blind Belgians?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Brixx Mt. Pleasant- done

Brixx- Mt. Pleasant- We have lost one

11 July 2010

I know you are going to say they were done awhile ago, but they were still on life support until my latest visit. Our Brixx has consistently lagged behind it’s chain brethren in NC for some time not only in beer, but food as well.

First the tap list: SA Summer, SA Lager, Amstel, AB Shock Top, Yuengling, Guiness, New Castle, New Castle Summer, MH #9, NB 1554, Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout, Star Hill The and Love, NB Lips of Faith Belgian Pale Ale, SN Summer, and Coast HopArt. This fine selection was rounded out by three empty tap handles and four tap handles strictly for show, guess five empty would have looked bad.

I had the sampler: New Castle Summer was as expected, SN Summer was slightly better, Starr Hill the Love was ok, and had to have HopArt due to one of the phantom handles. I was at a loss to get my next pint as I chose another phantom handle and had to settle for a Dark Starr Stout, not that my first choice wasn’t settling.

In talking with the bartender, they had a lot of empty taps because they were switching kegs over. For instance he told us the SA Lager was replacing Stone. We inquire as to why and he said Stone was too heavy and too expensive, they couldn’t do any deals with it. This puzzled me because the HopArt was $6.00 a pint which seems like plenty of room to deal, second place in as many days that I paid $6.00 a pint for Coast.

Cutting to the chase overpriced discs of dough with a small circular portion of topping in the middle and no significant beer. Why not give the business to Mellow Mushroom. As Otto would say DISAPPOINTED!

The Beer Guru

Saturday, April 17, 2010

IPA tasting 4/15/10

Racer 5 was tasting pretty fresh and Maharaja was very fresh as well. Full Sail was surprisingingly refreshing with a citrussy hop effect.

Hops: Pale Ales, IPAs, and Beyond
April 15, 2010

Samuel Smith India Ale
Brewer: Samuel Smith’s Brewery Origin: Tadcaster, England Style: India Pale Ale ABV: 5.0% (45)

Full Sail Hop Pursuit (Brewmaster Reserve Series)
Brewer: Full Sail Brewery Origin: Hood River, OR Style: American Pale Ale ABV: 6.0% (55)

Victory Hop Devil
Brewer: Victory Brewing Origin: Downingtown, PA Style: American IPA ABV: 6.7% (60-70)

Bear Republic Racer 5
Brewer: Bear Republic Brewing Origin: Healdsburg, CA Style: American IPA ABV: 7.0% (75+)

Coast HopArt (draft)
Brewer: Coast Brewing Origin: North Charleston, SC Style: American IPA ABV: 7.7% (80)

Stone Ruination
Brewer: Stone Brewing Origin: Escondido, CA Style: American Double IPA ABV: 7.7% (100+)

Avery Maharaja IPA (draft)
Brewer: Avery Brewing Origin: Boulder, CO Style: American Double India Pale Ale ABV: 10.6% (102)

Hoppin’ Frog Hop Dam Triple IPA
Brewer: Hoppin’ Frog Brewery Origin: Akron, Ohio Style: Imperial IPA ABV: 10.0% (168)

Some Information on the hops you are tasting

Hops were used in continental Europe as early as the 9th century. Hops were perfected in Germany by the 13th century, and imported to England in the 15th century. Use in England had taken root by the 16th century. Hops were indeed used for their ability to balance the sweet malt flavors, but more so due to their preservative properties. The term pale ale in England dates to the 17th century and India Pale Ale dates to the late 18th century. American versions of these beers are relatively new and typically employ a more vigorous hop addition both in bittering (more towards the beginning of the boil) and aromatic (end of the boil or steeped or even in the fermentation stage).
Hoppiness: English Pale Ale – English IPA – American Pale Ale – American IPA – American Double/Imperial IPA

Sampling of some hop varieties (alpha acid in parentheses, this is a bitterness scale)

Amarillo (8-11) high alpha with citrus and floral similar to Cascade
Cascade: (4-7) balanced bitterness and aroma variety, pleasant floral, citrus, and spice. The American Pale Ale standard
Centennial: (9-11) mainly a bittering hop with floral and citrus notes, Cascade on steroids
Chinook: (12-14) high alpha with a resiny grapefruit aroma. Descendant of Golding
Citra (10-12) citrusy high alpha hop
Columbus / Tomahawk: (15-17) used as a bittering hop, very high alpha acid and intense aroma
Fuggle: (4-6) traditional aroma hop due to its mild aroma, darker beer hop typically
Galena: (10-13) high alpha with balanced bittering capabilities
Golding (4-6) sought after hop for bittering and aroma, traditional British ale hop
Kent Golding: (4-6) English aroma hop
Nugget: (11-14) high alpha with strong herbal aroma properties
Simcoe (12-14) high alpha with sharp piney aroma
Summit (17-19) extremely high alpha hop
Warrior (15-17) high alpha with cascade like aroma
Willamette (4-7) slightly spicy good aroma and bittering hop. American version of Fuggle

Last months British Tasting List & Info

British Isles
March 18, 2010

Fraoch Heather Ale
Brewer: Brewery Craigmill Brewery Origin: Strathaven, Scotland Style: Gruit ABV: 5.0%

Belhaven St. Andrews
Brewer: Belhaven Brewery Origin: Dunbar, Scotland Style: Scottish Ale ABV: 4.6%

Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale
Brewer: Samuel Smith’s Brewery Origin: Tadcaster, England Style: Brown Ale ABV: 5.0%

Samuel Smith Organically Produced Ale
Brewer: Samuel Smith’s Brewery Origin: Tadcaster, England Style: Pale Ale ABV: 5.0%

Wells Bombardier ESB (draft)
Brewer: Wells & Young Origin: Bedford, England Style: Extra Special Bitter ABV: 5.5%

Welsh ESB
Brewer: Felinfoel Brewery Origin: Felinfoel, Wales Style: Extra Special Bitter ABV: 6.5%

Hoppy Otter
Brewer: Otter Brewery Origin: Devon, England Style: English IPA ABV: 6.8%

Old Engine Oil
Brewer: Harviestoun Brewery Origin: Alva, Scotland Style: Old Ale ABV: 6.0%

Brewer: Orkney Brewery Origin: Orkney, Scotland Style: Wee Heavy ABV: 8.5%

Some Information on the styles you are tasting

Beer in the British Isles goes back approximately 4,000 years when a ale made with a mix of herbs was produced in present day Scotland. Modern hopped beer was imported to England as early as the 1400’s. The name ale was actually used to refer to an un-hopped product and beer was the imported hopped product. While continental Europe mostly went the way of the lager, the UK held steadfast to their ales. Although the British Isles stylistically follow most English ales, the styles have a unique twist or have migrated to and are considered a separate style altogether. The Scottish historically used peat to roast the malt and this smoked peat flavor found and loved in so many whiskeys is present in a great deal of their beers. Irish stouts were given a boost when energy restrictions were placed on breweries in England during World War I not allowing them to roast their malts long enough for stout production. English have used the term Mild, Bitter, Extra Special Bitter, and Pale Ale. These are typically relative terms and when asked “how bitter is the bitter?”; the answer is “more bitter than the mild.” What this means is a brewery’s lineup may follow an order, but interpretations from brewery to brewery vary. Unfortunately, many historic breweries in the UK have succumbed to mergers and acquisitions.
Mild: Alcohol is usually low as is hop bitterness, this is a session beer, but it has flavor. Toasty, grainy flavors can be present and carbonation is usually low. Color can range from pale to dark brown.
Bitter: Differentiated from the mild by the use of paler malts and more hops as the name suggests. Alcohol is still low as well as carbonation.
Extra Special Bitter: Hoppy (dry) and stronger version of the bitter. Sometimes called Best, but then the regular offering may be called Ordinary.
Pale Ale: Flourished in Burton-on-Trent where the calcium sulfate (gypsum) in the water helped to extract and balance the hop bitterness. Many brewers treat their water to mimic the Burton water when producing a classic English Pale Ale. This is also thought to be a bottled version of a bitter.
India Pale Ale: Stronger version of Pale Ale brewed to make the journey to the English station in India. More hops, more malt make for a fuller bodied beer.
Old Ale: Full malt flavors set this style apart from barleywines. Alcohol also has a wider range in this style, look for dried fruit flavors and a little acidic edge.
Barleywine: English versions tend to be balanced between the malt and hops, but expect malt sweetness and some heat from the alcohol, definitely a sipping beer. Typically this is the strongest beer a brewery would produce.
Brown Ale: This beer is thought to be spun off the darker mild ales with a low hop presence and nutty flavors.
Porter: The color is brown to black and flavors are coffee, fruity, minimal to no roasted flavors, and sometimes slightly sour to match the historical tastes.
Baltic Porter: Stronger version of English Porter made to ship to the Baltic countries, some modern styles have been adapted to a lager yeast.
Irish Red Ale: These are easy drinking beers with tea like hops, look for rounded, toasted malt flavors
Irish Dry Stout: These are actually lower in alcohol and have bodies on the lighter side even though they are still very dark and scare most light beer drinkers. They are very sessionable beers usually served on nitrogen for a creamy texture.
Foreign Export Stout: As with IPA, this beer is rooted in the long voyages to tropical locales, thus a stronger beer. The long journey is no longer there, but the style remains and is still brewed and enjoyed in tropical locations around the world.
English Stout: Roasted presence is in the forefront, hops are typically well in the background for balance. Alcohol is still surprisingly low.
Milk or Sweet Stout: As the name implies, they have a larger amount of residual sugars resulting in a bigger body to counter the dry roast flavor. Milk stouts obtain this residual sugar by the addition of lactose to the kettle. Often referred to as a Cream Stout.
Oatmeal Stout: As the name implies, oats are typically added to the grain bill and this will impart more body and a smoothness that has popularized this style.
Russian Imperial Stout: High octane version of stout brewed to win over the Russian Czars. Huge roasted burnt chocolate flavors and even shows some fruitiness found in higher malt content beers such as barleywines. Alcohol should be and is noticeable.
Winter Warmer: As with most great brewing areas, a special beer is brewed around the winter holidays. This beer is usually a stronger version of the brewery’s regular offerings and can include some spices. Samuel Smith is a classic version.
Scottish Ale: long boil to caramelize the malt sugars giving these beers deep colors and rich malty mouthfeel, smoky flavors are typical, and low hop character is typical. Subdivided by their strength and sometimes still referred to by the extinct shilling system. Varieties include Light (60 Shilling), Heavy (70 Shilling), and Export (80 Shilling).
Wee Heavy: or Scotch Ale is defined as 160 shilling by the above system, stronger versions of a Scottish Ale with tea like hop character, these should be enjoyed in a snifter or an authentic Scottish thistle glass.
Gruit: Ale made with herbs and fruits in lieu of hops, style dates back thousands of years. Spices used may include yarrow, wild rosemary, heather, seaweed, pine, and any indigenous fruits and berries. Some herbs are said to have added some mind altering effects beyond the alcohol.

Daniel Island Grille 4/10/10

Short review, not much on the beer front:

Went for lunch on the first Saturday of Family Circle. Inside was empty when we got there, outside had no tables available so we settled on the outside bar. I was not drinking so my wife ordered the Ranger IPA (on tap inside @ $5.50 a pint) and the bartender didn’t fret about getting it. Service was a little slow at the bar. Other beers on tap included Sweetwater 420, Dogfish Head 90 minute, and Sierra Nevada Torpedo bottles were advertised. Nothing too out of the ordinary (obviously not dealing with the two main craft distributors). Menu is pretty extensive. We had the chicken spring rolls which were ok for flavor, but dry (overfried) and light on the chicken, could have used something to bind it together too. My wife got the buffalo chicken salad and it was served in a giant tostada, sauce was good on the chicken and she seemed to enjoy it. I ordered the steak sandwich which was served with caramelized onions and cheese. The flavor was good, but it could have used something to combat the dryness. Overall the menu is pretty extensive and the food is decent, and a good beer can be had, but don’t expect a wide selection on that front and it was pricey for New Belgium product.