Visiting Flying Dog

I personally love to visit breweries.  I live roughly two to three miles from DC Brau, so it’s not to hard to visit a brewery about any timeRV I want.  I don’t actually get over there that often, but it’s nice to know I can.  I’ve tried to visit other breweries when I can.  I’ve been to Victory twice; although, I’m not certain they allow you to tour it.  I’ve been to Brooklyn; however, it was probably one of the worst tours I’ve been to.  Therefore, I was really hopeful my first time up to Flying Dog would be exceptional.

Flying Dog is a pretty popular brewery in the area, and they apparently love to give back to the restaurants that carry their products.  The GM at the restaurant I work at knows I’m a really big fan of beer, so he let me know about a special manager trip up to tour and taste at the brewery.  Thankfully, because my GM is awesome, he got me on the trip.  I was told to meet at the restaurant at 10 AM to catch my ride up to the brewery.  I wasn’t really sure what the ride would be like, but I was hopeful it wouldn’t be too bad because car sickness is a big problem of mine.   Arriving at the restaurant, I was extremely excited to see the Flying Dog RV parked on the corner.

Flying Dog boardThe RV is evidently the transportation Flying Dog sends out for these type of events.  The RV had some comfy seating around the perimeter, chalkboard paint for the walls, and (most importantly) two kegs of Flying Dog brew.  Ironically, the day before, another group from the restaurant had gone out and basically kicked both kegs.  Before we had even managed to pour a beer for every member of our group, we were totally out of beer.  Seems ironic on a trip all about beer.  Thankfully we managed to get some bottles on the way up to compensate for the empty kegs.

Getting to the brewery, we were immediately ushered into the tasting room to get to our free and unlimited tasting of some of the different brews they had available at the moment.  There were plenty of beers on tap that were a part of their standard line-up; however, there were a few interesting brews as well.  Flying Dog has been working on their single hop series of beer and, while I’ve had a few of them, the two they had on tap I hadn’t had before.  Their beers with brewkettleGalaxy hops and Nelson Sauvin hops were really good.  The barrel aged Gonzo porter was amazing and, having never had their coffee stout (Kujo) before, I was quite pleased with it as well.  The other beers were pretty good as well; however, I promise you I didn’t have the International Arms race beer.

After quite a bit of tasting, we headed off to tour the brewery.  If you read my review of my visit to Brooklyn, you know I got angry about how bad their tour was.  Thankfully, Flying Dog does a much better job.  They start you off on a wall full of different paintings related to the different things that got their brews brewing.  Everything from how their founder got the idea from climbing K2 to pictures relating to the great brews they’ve made and are making.  My visit to Brooklyn brewery involved standing in one room while a guy on a ladder pointed at different stuff and then we left.  At Flying Dog, we walked around the entire place.  We were shown all the different brew kettles, the hops, the fermentation tanks, the bottling, and the packaging.  They left no stone unturned.

Tour guideWe headed back to the tasting room for a few more good beers, and I couldn’t leave without picking up some rare bottles.  I grabbed a vintage bottle of their Horndog Barleywine from 2009 and a bottle of a brewery only St. Eadmon Belgian Dark Ale.  Don’t worry I’m sure there will be some reviews forthcoming.  Finally, right before heading out, we got to meet the CEO Jim Caruso.  I’m not going to say it was some crazy experience, but it’s cool to say I shook his hand.

In the end, I should have eaten a lot more that day because things got a little hazy on the way home; however, it was a great trip and I’m really glad I got to go on it.  If you haven’t been to Flying Dog before, you definitely need to get up there.  I’m sure they are slightly more limited on their tastings, but it was a nice place full of nice people.  Oh and the beer is really good!

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Sam Adams Brewing Co – Merry Mischief

To a certain extent, I find some of the beers of the Christmas season a little frustrating.  It’s a somewhat love and hate thing. merry mischief Big bold beers are great, but there are others that rely on a bunch of Christmas spices to give them that holiday flavor.  Coming out of pumpkin beer season makes it a little frustrating.  You leave these fall beers that focus on the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.  They, of course, tend to be combined with pumpkin, but you never really taste a ton of the pumpkin on a lot of these beers.  Winter beers then come out and, some of them, just take out the pumpkin and seem to brew a pretty similar beer.  They once again have cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.  I’m still a sucker for seasonals though, so I can’t help myself when I see an interesting new bottle.

I picked this bottle up on a little bit of a whim.  When Sam Adams first started to come out with their more crafty options, I jumped on the first few that became available.  I liked that a more macro brewery was sticking with their craft roots.  I’ve missed more than a few options since then, but I couldn’t pass this one up.  The label may be the real reason why, but I was also just interested in the style.  I’d been hearing about an excellent gingerbread stout out of Hardywood Brewing Co in Richmond Va and, I also knew I would be trying their version the same weekend at my UFC and beer event.  I guess that tells you how long ago I had this beer.  Needless to say, there were some obvious differences in their attempts at the same style.

Sam Adams bills this beer a Gingerbread Stout, or ale brewed with spices, which I think was the first indication that I probably should have just left it on the shelf.  However, a big bottle under $10, and the ability to compare to another bottle kept it in my hand on the way to the counter.  Looking up the recipe, they state that the beer is brewed with the intensity and spices of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, & ginger.  It’s these spices, the same as similar pumpkin beers, that in the end had me less than pleased with this beer.

This one pours a super dark midnight black color with a fairly ample creamy and foamy dark brownish head.  There is tons of ample lacing on the side of the glass with quite a bit of residual sticky residue after the head finally dies down.  It may not be a huge amount of head, but it hangs around for a while.  The beer is obviously too dark for any sense of clarity, but you can see some very slight activity when you agitate it.  Swirling the glass also reveals that the beer has a slightly oily quality to it.

merry mischief glassThe gingerbread is certainly quite obvious on the nose.  The clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg comes across very strongly.  The beer has a very large gingerbread smell, but it comes across as somewhat pumpkinesque when combined with these other aromas.  I certainly didn’t want to smell a lot of these aromas so close to pumpkin time.  Especially when I’m already quite tired of pumpkin at this point.  Interestingly, the stout aromas don’t come out at all.  This beer is called a gingerbread stout, but the stout quality seems to be swallowed up by the rest of the spices.  The smell is quite crisp and clean overall.

The first sip reminded me of something that I really didn’t want to taste at that moment: pumpkin.  The malts kick it off; however, they aren’t too heavy or overly sweet.  Really almost all of the stout qualities seem to be rather lacking from the beer.  Part of the reason may be due to the wheat used in the malt bill.  They lightened it up just a little.  There is some slight chocolate flavor which is the most prominent stout quality you find in the flavor.  There are some slight hops in the middle that combines with some citrus flavors; however, the back half is dominated by the spices.  The gingerbread is quite noticeable; however, the clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg are far too powerful as well.  It’s got too much pumpkin remnants and not enough Christmas.  It ends slightly boozy with some rather intensified spices.

The mouthfeel isn’t overly thick, but it does lean slightly more toward a heavy feel.  There is some fairly good carbonation; however, it disappears rather quickly.  The beer is severely lacking in the stout qualities.  No roasted flavors or coffee, and you only get some slight chocolate notes.

I have a feeling my view of this beer was slightly tainted by having Hardywood Gingerbread Stout the day after; however, looking at my notes from the day before, they still aren’t positive.  When I told some people I was trying both to compare, they told me I was comparing a Ford to a Corvette.  Maybe the Sam Adams didn’t have a fighting chance with this one, but they could have done a lot more with the stout base.  If you want a good stout with some gingerbread, try to find a bottle of Hardywood.  It’s rare, but it certainly beats out this bottle.  Otherwise, I’d try a few of the other much better Christmas offerings out there.

Teacher Grade: D

UFC and Beer

As I said in my post yesterday, one of the best things about acquiring rare or hard to find beer is actually turning around and sharing it with your friends.  I’ve certainly been placed in the situation where you’re a little disappointed that the people you’re sharing with don’t quite appreciate it as much as you do.  But, if you put the right people together in the same place, it can be a lot of fun.  Saturday night frequent beer reviewer guest John and I traveled over to our friend Gavin’s house for a night full of shared beer and watching two grown men try to punch each other in the face until one of them stops.  Okay, that makes it sound like I don’t really like watching the UFC.  I actually really enjoy watching the fights, so I knew it was going to be a good night.

We’ve gotten together to do this one time before.  The previous event didn’t get a post because it seemed to be a bunch of bottles that all ran into each other without really a goal or thought in mind.  We drank about everything we could that Gavin had from 3 Floyds, and we supplemented those with a few others like Heady Topper and Ghandi Bot.  This time we decided to try and outline a little more of what we would be drinking.  Much communication took place prior to the event to try and figure out what bottles would be prioritized for the night.  Many of them were selected because of our own personal tastes right now; however, a few were placed in there because of the very high alcohol content and the need to be split three ways and enjoyed by all.  Here was the end result of our planning and prepping, as well as, a few we decided to include last minute.  This is also the order they were consumed in.

1. Gingerbread Stout – Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

2. Wee Heavy – Iron Hill Brewery

3. Bolt Cutter – Founders Brewing Co

4. Pere Jacques – Goose Island Beer Co

5. Saint Botolph’s Town – Pretty Things Brewery

6. Bourbon County – Goose Island Beer Co

7. La Bk Stout – Birrifcio L’Olmaia

8. Big Hoppy Monster (oak aged) – Terrapin Beer Co

9. Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale – Three Floyds Brewing Co

10. 10 Commandments – The Lost Abbey

11. Racer X – Bear Republic Brewing co

12. White Hatter – New Holland Brewing Co

As I’m sure you can see from the list, this was no small undertaking.  These are some big beers and many of them were a first a try for us.  The night was full of discussion on both the ups and downs of each bottle.  In the end we really geeked out by trying to arrange the bottles from best to worst.  Ultimately we all had different opinions on the ordering of the bottles; however, there were certainly a few that were the best and the worst.

The Best – Ultimately Bourbon County won the evening on everyone’s arrangement.  Really the top beers were fairly similar for all of us.  It was hard to put anything up over the bold booze and complex flavors packed into the little 12 oz bottle.  I’m excited I have a four pack to age for a few years.  Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout was second on everyone’s list as well.  Having just consumed Sam Adam’s version the day before, I was most excited for this beer.  It was an incredibly complex milk stout that really tasted like gingerbread.  My biggest problem with Sam Adams was that it lacked stout quality and instead tasted like a weak pumpkin beer.  This one was all stout and all gingerbread.  Allowing it to warm only increased its impressiveness.  The beer to round out the top three wasn’t all that surprising either.  Founders Brewing Co – Bolt Cutter rounded out the top three favorites on all lists.  At 15 % Abv, it figured to be a huge hit to the head barleywine.  Instead, it didn’t pack the punch we thought it would, and it had some nice hops to help keep the beer cleaner than expected.  There were some change-ups in the lists from here on out; however, most of the beers in the middle portion all stayed in the middle.  They simply moved up or down a place or two.

The Worst – Keep in mind this is a relative term.  These beers weren’t horrible at all, but they were the least favorite relative to the rest of the beers.  Looking back at the pictures, we all had some slight differences of opinion when it came to the least favorite ones.  These were my beers that had the low marks.  Third to last came Saint Botolph’s Town – Pretty Things Brewery.  This one was the worst for Gavin and didn’t make it into the bottom for John.  I personally did like it, but I just thought everything else above it was better.  I have a feeling it may have just come in a little too standard in comparison to the rest of the beers on the list.  The second least favorite for me was a little bit of a surprise: La Bk Stout – Birrifcio L’Olmaia.  This was a stout from Italy that had been aged in wine barrels.  We weren’t really sure what it would be like, but it was a really big surprise.  There was no stout flavor to it at all, and it ended up tasting like a big sour beer instead.  I’m not a big fan of sours, so I actually found this one a little tough to get through.  It made it into the bottom three for all of us. The big loser of the group for me was the Wee Heavy from Iron Hill Brewery.  I really like wee heavy beers, but this had some strange sweet fruit quality to it that I wasn’t feeling.  It was a strange addition to a style I really like, and I just couldn’t hang with it.  It was bottom two for John and I, but Gavin decided the Botolph was the worst beer of the night.  I disagree!

All in all it was a great night with some great beers.  So far we’ve done two of these events; hopefully it isn’t too long before we can get another one going.

ufc and beer

Mikkeller Brewing Co. – Santa’s Little Helper

I feel the need to try and smash as many Christmas beer reviews into December as I possibly can.  Last year I did a review of St. santas little helperBernardus Christmas ale after the holiday season.  I don’t really feel bad about doing holiday reviews after the season has come and gone, but I want to let my readers know about their options out there while they’re still present.  This year I managed to grab a few different holiday beers; however, trying to keep things fresh, I wanted to try to stick with things I hadn’t reviewed before.  Last year I reviewed St. Bernardus and Mad Elf, so I wouldn’t be doing those. Therefore, I had to go for a few different brews this year.  Lump of Coal, my last review, wasn’t something I searched out, but I was happy to have it.  Having no expectations going into a review left me feeling happy that it turned out okay.  This beer was a little bit different.  Mikkeller is certainly one of the most interesting breweries out there, so I was hoping I would get a really good review out of it.

This beer, like a lot in my collection, left me with somewhat of a dilemma.  I really wanted to drink it, but the big old 11% ABV had me wondering if I really wanted to do it on my own.  The goal in drinking craft beer isn’t really to get wasted.  You want to see what flavors the brewer managed to pack into each bottle.  I often even split 12 oz bottles when I’m with friends.  I’m not looking to hog a beer; I’m looking to share in the experience and have someone to discuss with.  Therefore, I do often find myself wondering if I want to tackle the big bottles with the high alcohol content by myself.

The opportunity to share this finally presented itself last Thursday.  My wife, two friends, and I took off work for the day to attend the national tree lighting ceremony in front of the White House.  We could have taken a half day, but our wives wanted to get there early for a lot of extra standing around.  Anyway, before we took off, I managed to get this beer open for a little review.  I figured we’d need something before we stood around during the coldest day of the year so far waiting to see Obama and all of his musical guests.

I knew that this beer was a Belgian strong dark ale, so it would be a darker beer.  I was still, however, a little surprised to see just how dark it poured out.  The beer is a super dark black cola color with a very nice ample espresso brown head and a slightly oily texture to it.  It had some really nice lacing with a ton of sticky residue as well.  The beer was clearly too dark for any sense of clarity; however, you can see some very small activity when you agitate the beer.

The nose may have been where this beer was lacking the most.  I really didn’t think there was much of a strong aroma to it at all.  santa's glassThere was some light chocolate notes; however, the addition of the Christmas spice smell was evident as well.  There is some light Belgian yeast aroma as well as the ample sweet malts.  I really didn’t pick up any hops, but I got some booze on the nose too.

Thankfully, despite the nose being a little lacking, the flavors here were great.  The beer starts with some strong sweet malts and big rich chocolate flavors.  There is some very deep rich fig and raisin flavors that blend well with the malts and chocolate.  Nice big well-balanced roasted notes come in but do not overpower.  There is some light clove that mixes with the roast and, more importantly, introduces the winter spices that dominate the back half.  The winter spices do not overpower the palate, but they simply highlight the wintry qualities.  The beer finishes with a wintry feel and a little bit of bold booze.

Overall I would call the mouthfeel somewhat thick.  The middle manages to even out a little with some of the light carbonation and nice spice; however, the ending kicks back up with some heavy booze qualities.  In the end, this is a big Christmas beer that is sure to warm you up if it ever manages to get cold.

St. Bernardus may still make one of the best Belgian Christmas beers out there, but I think this one could give it a run for its money.  The smell may be a little lacking, but the flavors certainly make up for it.  If you manage to find a bottle, save it for Christmas Eve and enjoy it with a few friends of family.  It’ll definitely be a hit.

Teacher Grade: A

Ridgeway Brewing Co – Lump of Coal

I tend to group Christmas beers and winter beers together.  For the most past, they really seem to rely on some fairly similar flavors.lump of coal  I think most breweries make Christmas specific beers because they are rather popular.  People love picking up Mad Elf or St. Bernardus Christmas ale.  They are some really good beers, but I can’t help but think a lot of people who don’t know anything about good beer see a crazy looking elf and buy it just for that reason.  Ridgeway seems to rely nearly 100% on the hope that they can get some people to buy their crazy sounding Christmas beers.  With names like Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, Pickled Santa, Reindeer Droppings, Reindeer’s Revolt, and Santa’s Butt, you can’t help but realize they like to brew quirky sounding beers focused on the Christmas season.  These beers jump around from English IPA’s, to English Barleywines, to Winter Warmers.  While I enjoy all of these different styles of beer, I’ve never really thought about buying one of them.  The labels scream crazy Christmas beer, but the bottles just seem somewhat off-putting.

This bottle, Lump of Coal, is the least outlandish bottle of all of them.  I didn’t actually buy this one either, but I received it from my friend Gavin for our house warming party.  He dropped off quite a few other interesting beers as well, two of which I’ve already reviewed on here; however, this beer had me interested for my first Christmas beer review of the season.  They bill Lump of Coal as a dark holiday stout; however, elsewhere I saw it called a foreign or export stout.  Like a lot of other styles of beer used in export, an export is supposed to be a special style of stout that is brewed bigger than normal for a long journey, the more traditional Foreign / Export Stouts will be found in the tropical regions of the world. They tend to be higher in alcohol with a very pronounced roasted character.

I wasn’t really sure it would be anything impressive, but I was happy to use it for my first holiday review of the season.  I didn’t see a lot of reviews for these Ridgeway beers out there, so I was interested to see if there was some thing more to their beers than just a holiday gimmick.

lump of coal glassThis one pours a very dark black coffee color.  Unlike a lot of stouts, it doesn’t have that thick oily quality.  There is a moderate amount of head that develops on top of the beer; however, it is a surprisingly white head.  The white head does disappear rather quickly with no lacing and an ample amount of sticky residue.  It’s clearly too dark to view any semblance of clarity or carbonation, but there is tons of activity in the glass when you agitate its contents.

I would have to say the chocolate aroma is the strongest component on the nose.  Interestingly, for a lump of coal, there is really only a very light roasted aroma that combines with some slight coffee smells as well.  The beer is clearly mostly all malts; however, it would seem there is some slight hop and pine there as well.  There may be a little bit of spice for a Christmas influence as well.

The beer kicks off with some super big malt flavors.  The malts are clearly mostly chocolate which dominates the majority of the onset of the tasting.  The really well balanced roasted notes come in near the middle of the flavor profile.  For a beer called the lump of coal, the charcoal roasted flavor is really minor.  The chocolate flavor sticks with it in the second half of the brew.  The chocolate is less prominent because it mixes with the mild roasted flavor and minor coffee notes.  There’s a little light toffee flavor and some nice espresso flavor on the finish; however, it manages to finish rather clean and easy.

The mouthfeel is basically a medium to thick body.  It starts with a rather thick and rich feel, the carbonation kicks up nicely in the middle to help even it out, and then the beer moves back to a little more of a syrupy nature.  Despite it having a somewhat thick feel throughout, it still manages to be a fairly easy drinking beer.

In the end I wouldn’t say this beer stands out as a must have; however, I also wouldn’t say you need to avoid it.  If you’re heading to a holiday party or want to get something fun that isn’t too bad but fun for the holiday season, you can definitely pick this one up for a good price.  You won’t be looking to buy one and age it, but it certainly isn’t a bad beer.

Teacher Grade: C+

Some other beers from them

Anchorage Brewing Co – Whiteout Wit Bier

There is a certain train of thought when it comes to winter beer.  You need to brew something big, bold, and dark.  Hunting around at whiteout witthe beginning of the winter and Christmas season has led me to finding quite a few different stouts, old ales, porters, and scotch ales.  They are big, malty, and really bold.  I love to drink these styles of beer.  Winter styles are my favorite styles with the exception of IPAs.   I became quite intrigued when I saw this bottle of Winter Wit while I was at my parents during Thanksgiving.  There’s a store out by my parents I know has good beers where I found this bottle.  Anchorage isn’t a brewery I’ve seen on the shelves around DC, but I’ve managed to find a bottle of theirs at one of my favorite local bars.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the last beer I had from them, but I was really interested to see what it was like when they created something that was both light and made for the winter months.

While being a lighter beer for winter, the whole composition of the beer was extremely interesting to me.  First, it’s a wit that has been brewed with lemon peel, black peppercorn, and coriander.  Second, they decided to use Sorachi Ace hops to provide an even more lemony citrus feel.  Next it was triple fermented.  It was fermented in the tank with a Belgian yeast, second it fermented in french oak chardonnay barrels with brettanomyces, and finally in the bottle with a third yeast for carbonation.  It’s not the first beer I’ve heard of being triple fermented, but I haven’t exactly heard of it being fermented in such unique ways.  The brettanomyces almost turned me off to this beer, but I decided to suck it up.  I thought it would provide an interesting enough blog, so I couldn’t pass it up.

Like I said earlier, I’ve had one other Anchorage brewing beer before.  It was their beer The Tide and its Takers, and it had a ton of brett in it.  I’ve had more than my fair share of brettanomyces.  It is just about never my favorite ingredient in beer, but I am always willing to give it a try.  I always think, maybe this will be the beer to convince me it’s an okay ingredient.  For some reason, Anchorage loves to use brett.  Looking at their website, they throw it in every single beer they have.  Anchorage specifies they specialize in barrel fermentation with brettanomyces and souring cultures. They enjoy blurring the lines between new and old styles of beer and brewing procedures. I suppose sour beers and brett is considered the new thing in brewing, I’m just not really sure if I’m on board with either just yet.

This one pours a pale yellow golden color with a nice fluffy white head that develops on the pour.  While the head is somewhat substantial for the first pour, it dissipates rather quickly as well.  Interestingly, the subsequent pours didn’t seem to really have the same quantity of head the first one did.  Regardless, there is some extremely light lacing on the sides of the glass, and you get no sticky residue at all.  The beer has some light haziness from start to finish, and you can certainly see quite a bit of carbonation in the glass as well.

whiteout wit glassThe smells are all rather light and certainly less than wintery.  The brett aroma is quite large and basically dominates the majority of the nose.  The other really big aroma is some very strong lemon.  There is some light clove smell from the belgian yeast style, and you get some very light sweet malts as well.  There seems to be a light spiciness to the aroma; however, I’m quite hopeful to find more of it in the flavor.  There don’t seem to be a lot of hops, but I think that may be the lemony aroma of the sorachi ace hops.

The light sweet malts kick off the brew and mix with some very bold lemon flavor.  The lemony flavor mixes nicely with some bold coriander as well.  The entire first half of the brew seems to be dominated by the malts and sweet lemony flavor.  The yeast comes in; however, it isn’t as bold as a lot of other Belgian brews.  I’m sure the triple fermentation managed to take some of the bold nature of the Belgian yeast out of it.  There is some very nice peppercorn that comes in for the more winter feel.  The brett begins to pick up; however, it isn’t as bold as most brett flavor I’m used to in these style beers.  This is certainly a good thing since brett is not my favorite component.  There is certainly some oak flavor near the finish where I also believe I can taste the influence of the chardonnay as well. The big lemon comes back towards the end for a nice dry finish as well.

The mouthfeel is rather light and easy drinking.  That’s even with the influence of the oak barrels and peppercorn.  There is some slight syrup that kicks up near the end; however, it still manages to finish with a light dry feel.  The oak and peppercorn seem to give it the most wintery feel, otherwise I think I would be calling it more of a summer beer.  My favorite part is the light handling of the brett.  I am very finicky when it comes to brett, so the light hand is right up my alley.

I’m still a bigger fan of heavy beers in the winter, but it is nice to have options.  I would certainly recommend picking up a bottle of this if you can find it.  Keep it around till you’re tired of drinking stouts, and you’ll be more than happy you had it.  It’s more than an okay alternative to heavy winter beers.

Teacher Grade: B+

whiteout wit label