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Thunderhead 2.0

Sam and I brewed up our last batch of Charlottesville homebrew on March 30. There, I said it – maybe now I can finally get this post out! I have been putting off writing this blog post for a while now. I procrastinated for so long that that same batch of beer has now fermented, been kegged and carbonated, and is on tap in our kegerator. As we prepare to move away from our home of more than a decade, I struggled so much with how to adequately and eloquently encapsulate those feelings that I just didn’t even start. I didn’t start when we dry hopped the beer, I didn’t start when we kegged the beer, and I didn’t start when we poured our first glass from the tap. Can you guess what my coping mechanism was in grad school? The universe works in mysterious ways, however, and as an awesome/poetic/fitting end to Sam’s homebrewing career in Charlottesville he brewed a collaboration double IPA with Dave Warwick from Three Notch’d!

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Avery and Sam on lunch break while Dave’s working hard – slackers

First off, many, many, many thanks to Dave and everyone at Three Notch’d for being so welcoming and supportive of homebrewers! Speaking of, they have a lot of great events coming up this week as part of their American Craft Beer Week celebrations, including beer classes, beer trivia, and a homebrew competition, so check them out! We will definitely be out for the Hog N’ Brew Fest on Saturday when Sam’s brew gets debuted!

Dave was generous (and trusting) and gave Sam pretty much free rein with ingredients and styles. I wanted to take the safe route and brew up our saison, which I feel is one of our more “popular”, tried-and-true recipes, but not Sam. He wanted to go big and brew a double IPA, a style that we had never brewed before, so he read a book about IPAs from cover to cover, crafted a recipe, and we brewed up a pilot batch at the end of March. We kegged it over about a week before Sam’s brewday with Dave, and although we were happy with the hop profile, we were anxious for Dave’s critique. On the big brewday, I brought a Grolsch of the double IPA over for everyone to taste. Dave noted some diacetyl, which our untrained palates had missed (although now that we’re looking for it it’s more obvious), and wanted to up the hop additions but otherwise left the recipe largely intact. We dubbed this brew Thunderhead, in a nod to our IPAs – White Cloud and Black Cloud. In residency speak, if you are having a great call night with few admissions, you are a “white cloud”. If you are having a terrible call night full of emergency pages and codes, then you are a “black cloud”. I think that Thunderhead 2.0 will benefit greatly from being brewed on a professional setup and fermenting in a controlled environment. Our DIY all-grain system on-the-cheap has served us well over the years, but we are definitely starting to see the cracks and inefficiencies more clearly now. We knew that we were going to be upgrading our system in a major way after the upcoming move, and I think Sam just brewed on his dream system!

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So here’s the setup, from left to right: hot liquor “tank”, mash kettle, and boil kettle. Given that there was a GIANT hot liquor tank on the other side of the room, however, they ended up using this smaller hot liquor tank just for sparge water. These are 40 gallon kettles, and they brewed three back-to-back all-grain batches for a total batch size of 120 gallons. The system is so efficient and streamlined, however, that the whole brewday was over in about 8 hours!

To give you an idea of the scale of the brew and ingredients (not much compared to Dave’s normal system, but it’s a whole helluva lot to us homebrewers!), this is how much grain was used for each batch:

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The mash kettle wasn’t directly heated since the volume of mash was large enough to retain most of the heat. Dave also has the Blichmann false bottom on the mash kettle, which further helps with the efficiency of the mash and the clarity of the final product. I think adding a pump to our future setup will be crucial, as this allowed them to recirculate the wort during the mash, move liquid from kettle to kettle easily, and do a continuous sparge – all things that we are currently NOT able to do.

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One of these days, continuous sparge, one of these days…

Finally, everything gets pumped over to the glycol-jacketed fermenter *drool*…. Also, you’ll notice that the fermenter is hooked up to an oxygen tank to provide additional oxygen for the yeast (a 3NB proprietary strain that ferments at a ridiculously fast pace). What an incredible learning opportunity and experience – we can’t thank you enough, Dave!

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Cleveland Rocks

Preface: I had this idea that I would walk through the 50 top craft breweries in the US sequentially for our Grand Beer-Venture, but I have gotten hung up in a major way on Sierra Nevada (#2). I am currently struggling through Beyond the Pale, like really struggling. Ken Grossman can brew some beer, but writing is not his forte and the book reads a bit… strangely. I will withhold further judgment until I’ve finished it – maybe the story arc will become miraculously clear at the end a la Memento. In the meantime, I’m moving on to other breweries on the list. Fortuitously, Sam and I just returned from a quick trip to Cleveland for a wedding, and when I say “quick” I mean quick – wheels down to wheels up was only about 37 hours. Even though we didn’t have a ton of spare time, we managed to squeeze in a visit to #19 on our Grand Beer-Venture list – Great Lakes Brewing Company! I knew that Great Lakes was on our list, which in and of itself warranted a visit, and had won some awards at some point, but I wasn’t aware of much else prior to our visit.

The history of Great Lakes Brewing actually mirrors the American craft beer scene to an extent. The craft beer scene in Cleveland, OH was bumping prior to Prohibition, but as elsewhere in the United States, economic and political forces were conspiring to squash the small brewer, and the number of craft breweries in Cleveland actually dropped to zero in 1984 when Christian-Schmidt Brewing Co. (actually based out of Philadelphia) closed its Cleveland plant. Only a few years after Jim  Koch burst onto the scene with Samuel Adams, Great Lakes Brewing Company opened up in 1988. Despite incredible growth (from 1,000 barrels in its first year to over 125,000 barrels today), GLBC has maintained its presence in downtown Cleveland. Rather than build a production facility on cheaper acreage outside of town, GLBC started acquiring neighboring buildings in the West Market District in the early ’90s, including several buildings that once housed a 19th-century brewery. Given that I wasn’t really aware of any of this, you can imagine my surprise when Sam and I were seated right next to the original 1988 brewery for lunch!

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It was shockingly cold outside (at least to us Virginians), so we stuck with the darker beers – the Wolfhound Stout and the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. I was a big fan of the porter, which isn’t all that surprising if you take a look at its accolades. We started with Wolfhound, so with that as my yardstick I was expecting the Edmund Fitzgerald to be a smaller beer. It most definitely wasn’t. The Edmund Fitgerald is a big, beefy, delicious porter that shies away from sweet chocolate and heads straight for bitter chocolate with the hops to back it up – delicious! In addition to being very locally-minded, GLBC has been supporting environmentally-sustainable brewing and business practices for years. Check out some of their initiatives that even go as far as fueling their delivery trucks with reclaimed vegetable oil from the restaurant! In the winter, the brewery even uses the crisp Cleveland air to cool the beer. I had never tasted any Great Lakes beers prior to our visit, but after sampling their brews and learning more about their mission and history, I have to say that I am a big fan. If we ever find ourselves in Cleveland again, you can bet we will be working another stop into our itinerary! Until then we will just have to be happy with our new brew day mug from GLBC, made from a solid hunk of indestructible 100% corn plastic – my inner hippie is happy.

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Charlottesville Farmer’s Market needs to step it up

After lunch we wandered over to the historic West Side Market to peruse a truly awe-inspiring selection of sausages, bacons, and cheeses. On Sunday morning we finished up with the obligatory trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum before jetting back to Virginia in the afternoon. All in all, a very short but very satisfying jaunt to Cleveland!

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For mature audiences only… No, really.

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Operation Smile and Operation Saison

We have been going through a bit of a brewing dry spell since the start of the new year, but to be honest it’s been nice because it’s given both of us some extra time for other projects. I have mostly been tinkering around the house – fixing this, painting that – while Sam’s been busy country hopping. Not that I’m jealous or anything.

Sam just spent 10 days in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, with Operation Smile and loved every minute of it. He says it was exhausting, exhilarating, and rewarding, and he can’t wait to do it again. To be honest, I kind of predicted that Sam would get hooked on Op Smile because simultaneously roughing it a bit/being a doctor/helping poor children get much-needed surgeries is RIGHT up his alley. It’s not a completely horizontal skill transition, but I wonder if a board-certified genetic counselor would be of any use on an Operation Smile trip… Just throwing that out there!

Open air market in San Cristobal

Open air market in San Cristobal de las Casas

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Dragon foam art?? A little leaf in my latte is just not going to cut it anymore

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I love the stonework and the architecture of this museum

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Sam couldn’t leave without getting at least one hike in – this is the countryside outside of Tenejapa

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This is called a chamorro and is essentially a leg of meat bathing in mole sauce. I may have heard more about this meal than I did the rest of the trip combined

Despite getting even less sleep than normal (if that is even possible), Sam came back rejuvenated and ready to brew again. We fired up the turkey burner this weekend for the first time in months and brewed our saison. It will be cutting it a bit close, but we are hoping this will be ready for a party in late April. It’s not the classiest looking setup I’ve ever seen, but our brew days just seem so much easier after we moved the mash step inside. Needless to say, we have outgrown our current setup and can’t wait to revamp after the move to Winchester.

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It’s getting cozier and cozier in our little kitchen on brew days…

And finally, March Madness! For whatever reason, UVA has only had really late tip-off times, which is quite unfortunate for working/parenting folk such as ourselves, but so far we have managed to catch all of the games and will be out cheering for our Hoos on Friday night as well. We even made it onto the local news while out celebrating the Memphis BEATDOWN at Champion Brewery. GO HOOS!!!

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Flying Mouse Brewery

Most people know that I tend to enjoy beers that will “punch me in the mouth”, and no, it doesn’t have to be over the top hoppiness. I am equally fond of violently flavorful stouts, saisons, Scotch ales, you name it. Recently, however, I have been on the lookout for session beers, primarily for the lower alcohol content but also in an effort to wean myself off of the heavy-handed flavor profiles that I seem to be addicted to. It was in just such a mood that I came upon Flying Mouse Brewery in Botetourt County.

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Flying Mouse is tucked away, to put it mildly, but it is worth the drive… or bike or hike, as the case may be. If you are on the lookout for beers that were brewed with moon rocks and beard yeast before being barrel-aged in rum casks salvaged from an old pirate ship, you won’t find them here. What you will find are light ales that are easy on your palate, wallet, and BAC – true session beers, if you will. That is a rare find in the craft beer scene these days, and Frank Moeller, head brewer at Flying Mouse, is as passionate about his session ales as most people are about their DIPAs and TIPAs. Most of Flying Mouse’s beers weigh in at around 4% and are fairly light on the hops (also rare these days).

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Frank even avoids using styles in his beer descriptions, preferring instead to use a numbering system. I struggled with this for a bit, to be honest, and I’m still not in love with the idea but I can see his point. Frank doesn’t want to intimidate newcomers to the craft beer world with long descriptions and unfamiliar terms, preferring to start them instead with a flight and a simple question: Which is your favorite? After setting up that initial positive introduction, he says, then begins the work of educating and helping the drinker push their own boundaries, rather than setting them up for failure from the start with an overpowering first sip. And then there’s Bartleby Hopsworth, the dashing mouse-keteer mascot created by the brewmaster’s brother, Chris. Depictions of Bartleby’s various feats of daring, all with a pint at his side, adorn the walls and brew room. Seeing as how the Great Mouse Detective is one of my favorite childhood movies, I am really pulling for Bartleby to come out with a graphic novel.

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All in all, the beers were a bit too light for me, but I am a big, big fan of Flying Mouse Brewery. I plan on returning as often as I can, and here’s why. Flying Mouse Brewery is an excellent introduction to craft beer for people who are wanting to make that first step away from mass-produced lagers but just aren’t sure how. It is easy to forget how intimidating the chalkboard at a craft brewery can be for the uninitiated, and when you are asking for $6 or $7 a beer? Who wouldn’t want to go with the tried and true Coors/Miller/Bud Light that they have always known and loved? I applaud Frank and Flying Mouse for stepping in and providing that accessible alternative, and I really hope that they succeed. This is not to downplay the place for lighter ales in the repertoire of a craft beer snob. I, for one, will be incorporating this pit stop into my next biking or hiking trip (at the end, of course) because these beers are the perfect ending to a long wintery bike ride or summer hike. Cheers, Bartleby, and see you next time!

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Evolution of a homebrewer

The newest edition of Virginia Craft Brews just came in this week, and I will be dropping copies off at Starr Hill, Champion, and Three Notch’d so make sure to go get one! In case you aren’t already familiar with it, this is a great local publication focused on craft beer that also happens to raise money for a good cause. I mean, it would be socially irresponsible not to support craft beer then, right??  As a “throwback”, here is my article from the inaugural fall edition.

My relationship with homebrewing started out terribly. Sam brewed his first batch of beer in a friend’s kitchen sink on a whim; we had no idea what we were doing. We awkwardly fumbled our way through a 1-gallon Mr. Beer kit, and four weeks later we had little more than bubbly water with an anemic yellow tinge to reward our patience and effort. I took one sip of the bizarrely tasteless liquid and concluded that homebrewing was too hard and that only the truly dedicated could succeed. Sam, on the other hand, had seen the glimmer of something good and welcomed the challenge. In a joking nod to what I felt was misplaced optimism, I gave Sam a copy of Charlie Papazian’s “Complete Joy of Homebrewing” for Christmas. Little did I know what a life changing gift that would be! Sam read it cover to cover, over and over, and was determined to do it right the next time. Sam’s level of enthusiasm was infectious, and next thing I knew I was driving Sam and his friends around Charlottesville collecting the necessary kettles, tubing, and bottles. With Sam’s dog-eared “Complete Joy of Homebrewing” spread out on the counter, Sam and his homebrewing partner-in-crime, Chris, labored their way through their first batch of extract brewing. They maneuvered the carboy into the small space next to the water heater, shut the door, and crossed their fingers. That first extract batch was a pale ale affectionately dubbed “Red Headed Stranger”, and it was shockingly delicious! I couldn’t believe it – we were real homebrewers! Sam and Chris relished in a wave of homebrewing fame as our friends and family devoured the beer. It was gone all too quickly; however, that didn’t matter. Sam now knew that he could make delicious beer at home for a fraction of the price of store bought microbrews. Being poor medical students,  Sam and Chris were hooked.

The original Dynamic Duo

The original Dynamic Duo

Sam and Chris immediately brewed the next batch, a loosely interpreted hefeweizen, and again, success! What had started out as a casual fling now took a serious turn. The homebrewing duo started homebrewing in earnest. Most Saturdays you could find Sam and Chris cooking up the next batch while bottling the current one, and their beer was disappearing as fast as they could make it. I still was not overly involved in the brewing process, preferring to whip up dinner while Sam and Chris brewed – although I was more than willing to enjoy the final product! Our forays into homebrewing had also opened our eyes to the world of craft beer. Prior to homebrewing my experience with craft beers hadn’t really gone much beyond Yuengling or the occasional Sam Adams, and I viewed myself as a light beer drinker. In between batches of homebrew we made weekly trips to local craft beer stores in search of bigger, hoppier, and darker beers – new heights of taste and complexity that Sam could aspire to. The world of craft beers had opened up before him, and Sam was taking it all in as quickly as he could. My taste in beer trailed behind, preferring the milder macro brews to Sam’s exotic microbrews.

Those heady days couldn’t last forever, though. Too soon Sam graduated from medical school, and our homebrewing group was scattered across the United States. Luckily Sam met Andrew, another homebrewing anesthesia resident at UVA, and the homebrewing operation was up and running again. Sam’s homebrewing career was salvaged, but the honeymoon period was over. As an intern, Sam barely had enough time to sleep, let alone brew every other weekend. Out of necessity Sam’s focus shifted from the quantity of his beers to the quality of his beers. It wasn’t unusual for a month or two to pass between brew days, so he needed to make each and every brewing opportunity count. Ironically the same time crunch that forced us to cut back on our brewing volume also provided the motivation for the switch over to all-grain brewing. If Sam could only brew once a month, he was going to brew the best beer that he possibly could. Sam had been wanting to make the switch for some time but hadn’t had the motivation or spare income to make the leap. This was also the time that Sam got really serious about his brews, carefully researching, troubleshooting, and perfecting each recipe.

Delicious, tasty research

Delicious, tasty research

Sadly, Andrew finished his residency soon after and moved across the country for a fellowship. Before he left, however, Sam had the incredible honor of collaborating with Andrew on two 10-gallon batches of beer for Andrew’s wedding – an amber ale and an IPA. The homebrews were a hit, and all four kegs were kicked early in the night. This was the first time that Sam’s homebrews had been up for public consumption, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Sam was a little embarrassed but thrilled to be repeatedly stopped and congratulated during the reception on his homebrewing. In retrospect this was a major turning point in our homebrewing career. Like many homebrewers the possibility of opening a brewery in the future had bounced around in the back of Sam’s mind. It even burst forth occasionally in conversation but was always followed by a knowing laugh or eye roll. The idea of brewing beers on a real brewery setup for public consumption seemed an insurmountable distance from brewing on our garage setup for family and friends. Sharing your beers can feel like sharing a part of yourself. Each beer is like a hoppy malt baby that you tenderly cherish and nurture to maturity, and after dropping it off for the night at a friend’s house you spend the entire drive home wondering what they thought. Andrew’s wedding changed that. For the first time we were receiving compliments from strangers, and we knew that we could make tasty beer that other people could enjoy.

A marathon homebrewing session in Portland, OR

The Dynamic Duo reunites for a marathon homebrewing session in Portland, OR

Fast forward to now. Sam and I have been homebrewing for almost four years. What started out as a kitchen sink science experiment has evolved into an integral part of our identity. Over time homebrewing has become a sort of credo for us – a way to display the motivations that drive us in a pint glass. Upgrading to an all-grain system introduced us to the hands-on, DIY-side of homebrewing. As two young professionals just getting started, cost was a major consideration, and we embraced the build-your-own spirit of homebrewing. We built a mashtun out of a Kenmore cooler and a wort chiller out of copper tubing. We made our brew table out of the wood from an old bed frame and converted a chest freezer into a kegerator. We have also explored how to homebrew in an environmentally friendly way. There are the simple fixes, like recycling the waste water from wort chilling to wash cars and water plants or switching from Clorox to StarSan. We have also used our spent grains in everything from homemade bread and pancakes to dog biscuits and feed for chickens and goats. Homebrewing allows us to promote sustainable practices, from selecting sustainably grown and harvested ingredients to waste minimization and recycling. Being homebrewers also brings new meaning to the phrase “Buy Fresh, Buy Local”. Aside from brewing our beers at home (it doesn’t get much fresher than that!) we have also experimented with using local ingredients, like utilizing pie pumpkins from local growers in our fall pumpkin porter.

Beyond our home we have enjoyed exploring the growing craft beer scene in Central Virginia and are lucky to know many talented (and generous) homebrewers as well. In the end, though, homebrewing is more than just a way to show off our DIY/local/sustainable/tree-hugging credentials. Most importantly homebrewing is our way of giving back. We pour a great deal of ourselves into each batch of homebrew, and homebrewing allows us to bottle up some of that time and energy to gift back to all of the friends and family that have supported us along the way. In the end that is our biggest motivation and the best thing about homebrewing. To all of our friends and family, salud and cheers. This one’s for you!

Cheers and salud!

Cheers!

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Parkway Brewing Company

Charlottesville has been my home for over a decade, and I have been spoiled by the abundance of local craft breweries that have popped up in that time. My “original” hometown of Salem didn’t actually have a craft brewery to call its own, which made me sad – UNTIL NOW. Enter Parkway Brewing Company in late 2012. I have been a loyal fan since their opening but only recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mike “Keno” Snyder, owner and manager at Parkway.

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As a long-time fan of craft beer and a Virginia native, Keno had been dreaming about opening his own brewery for years. He remembers how drastically the beer landscape changed in Richmond after Legend Brewing Company first opened in the mid-90’s and wanted to bring that same change to southwestern Virginia. Keno joined the Roanoke Railhouse Brewery team in 2010 for some hands-on experience in the brewing business. There Keno met Ryan Worthington, the current brewmaster at Parkway, and in 2012 Keno and Ryan left to start Parkway Brewing Company. I watch as the tables and benches in the tasting room start to fill up on a Friday afternoon and ask Keno about the reception they’ve gotten from the local community. “I would expect that beer drinkers in this part of the state wouldn’t be as ready for some of these big, flavorful beers that you are making, as compared to more craft-friendly beer drinkers in the northern or central parts of the state”… (and maybe that assumption makes me a jerk, fair enough).

Keno shakes his head at that and answers with a touch of pride. “You know, we were very pleasantly surprised,” he says with a grin. “We were expecting to have to do a lot more education to introduce people to our beers, but that just wasn’t the case. I think people were ready for something like this, and the reception has just been fantastic.” The Parkway tasting room has even turned into something of a local community gathering place. The brewery is situated at the end of a narrow industrial strip surrounded by homes and neighborhoods. Shortly after they opened, Keno started hearing stories about people “meeting” neighbors for the first time over a pint of Parkway beer, despite having lived on the same street for years. I can relate to the friendly, communal atmosphere – if you’ll remember, Sam and I enjoyed several pints of free beer with a Parkway local who needed some assistance finishing his pitcher. We were only too glad to help.

Helping ourselves to some pints in style

No assistance needed here

To an extent, Parkway has been a victim of its own success. Although the brewery has been growing steadily since they first opened, fully two-thirds of their tank capacity is taken up by brewing their incredibly popular flagship beer, the Get Bent Mountain IPA, which leaves little space for experimentation. Keno will be adding additional tanks soon and is looking forward to adding additional styles, including some barrel-aged beers, to their line-up. Sam and I were lucky enough to walk away with a “complete set” of their core beers: the Get Bent Mountain IPA, the Bridge Builder Blonde, the Raven’s Roost Baltic Porter, and the Magella Belgian Dark Abbey Ale. Ryan is a very talented brewer (having trained at both Siebels in Chicago and Doeman’s in Munich) and it shows. These are all wonderfully, incredibly delicious beers – in fact, if I had to pick only one IPA to drink for the rest of my life, it might be Get Bent. I have seen the Get Bent IPA and Bridge Builder Blonde at various C’ville locales, and I would highly encourage you to pick up a pack the next time you are out. You won’t be disappointed!

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A beer a day…

… may actually keep the doctor away (if you drink in moderation).

As a parent who enjoys beer, makes beer, and writes about beer, I sometimes wonder what kind of a message daily drinking/thinking about beer will send to my children, and that question is what really got me started on this post. I started by looking into the health benefits of alcohol consumption and then got sidetracked by some CDC stats and ended up on the WHO report – yes, that is how I roll. I wanted to share what I found in case you all are as nerdy as I am (and I sincerely hope you are because science is awesome).

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This is my nerdy beer face

First, a source from the beer world. CraftBeer.com came out with this very helpful article looking at just this question recently. First, they list some of the health benefits associated with moderate consumption and end with the downsides of overconsumption. The consensus definition of “moderate consumption” seems to be on average no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. The list of benefits is quite inclusive, although CraftBeer fails to mention the significantly increased risk of morbidity/mortality due to accidental injury, motor vehicle accident, and drowning (even at moderate levels of consumption) in their downsides.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 also acknowledges the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption but does list alcohol as the fifth highest contributor of calories in the average Americans’ diet! Given our love of high-ABV (i.e. high calorie) beers, this really wasn’t too much of a surprise. The DGAC Advisory Committee also releases more detailed methodology notes devoted an entire 16 pages to the health effects of alcohol. The methodology section on alcohol provided a good summary of current research and was surprisingly balanced and approachable – yes, I read the whole thing. Nerd alert!

Now, if you are ready to be depressed about alcohol consumption, there’s the CDC. As much as I love craft beer and pity Virginia’s brewers when it comes to paying taxes and dealing with regulations and restrictions, the numbers quoted for societal cost in terms of deaths, disease, and dollars were staggering. Although binge drinking is responsible for the majority of those costs (70%), that doesn’t change the fact that the state government and my taxes end up footing the bill. That $1.92 of hidden cost is a bit sobering (pun intended)… and I thought that $5 for local beer on draft was expensive! I am still not a huge fan of the regulatory morass that breweries exist in these days but these reports at least provide some perspective.

The CDC also releases state-specific report cards on how each state is doing relative to other states in addressing these issues. Virginia is by no means the most restrictive and earned a number of red marks. Here is Virginia’s report card.

With the Olympics starting in Sochi this week and Russia’s stereotypical love-love relationship with vodka, I decided to even take a brief gander at worldwide alcohol consumption. The World Health Organization releases a surprisingly spiffy and detailed report on alcohol consumption, with the most recent being released in 2011. This is not very readable or approachable and gave me a headache (literally), so to save you the headache, I pulled a few of the more illustrative images from the report. 

A world map of alcohol stereotypes: the beer-drinking American/German/Australian/Brit, the wine-drinking Chilean/Argentine/Italian/French, and the vodka-drinking Russian. I’m not really sure what “other” entails but apparently it is popular in parts of Africa…

This map looks at per capita consumption of pure liters of alcohol and does not correct for those who don’t drink. If you take abstainers out of the population, you are left with almost 20 L for men and almost 8.5 L for women in the United States. That’s equivalent to 1160 beers or 493 beers, respectively. If you want to double check my math, I used 0.6 fl oz pure alcohol per 12 oz of 5% ABV beer which comes out to approximately 58 beers per liter of pure alcohol. Compare this to Russia’s staggering 35.5 L (2059 beers) annually for men and 16.5 L (957) for women. For information specific to each country, go here.

This map is where it gets a little more interesting. I was expecting the United States to fare a little more poorly in terms of alcohol-related mortality but was more than a little surprised. We fare comparably to other countries in our consumption bracket, except for parts of South America that have higher rates of alcohol-attributed deaths. I would also point out the green of western Europe as compared the gray/brown/what-is-that-color-anyway of eastern Europe. This difference in alcohol-attributed deaths is despite comparable levels of consumption, which brings me to the next map.

We aren’t the least risky drinkers out there, but we aren’t doing too poorly either… and then there’s Russia and the Ukraine. I doubt that we’ll be seeing much evidence of this in Olympic coverage, but it’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the problem that alcohol causes in Russia, where every fifth death in males is attributed to alcohol.

Let me end with this: I love craft beer, and I enjoy craft beer on an almost nightly basis. In fact, I am enjoying a craft beer right now. Although it does make me somewhat uncomfortable when I think about how much time and energy I devote to beer, I do feel that it’s important to be aware of the harsh reality about alcohol consumption, and numbers like those seen in the WHO do just that. Like all good things alcohol must be enjoyed in moderation, and while many of us can do that there are those who can’t and those whose lives have been destroyed by it. I don’t mean for this post to be a lecture about the dangers of alcohol or a call to arms against getting a little silly with friends at the local tasting room (see most content on this blog). The world of craft beer is full of fans who enjoy its products responsibly at no risk to others, and I think we should all continue doing just that… just maybe with a little more respect and awareness for those who may not feel the same way that we do.

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Left Hand Tap Takeover

Yesterday was a rare treat – a Left Hand Brewing Company tap takeover at Beer Run AND Sam actually got off work in time to make it! We bundled everyone up in the car and raced out the door for an early family dinner. In descending order of awesomeness we enjoyed:

Left Hand Warrior Wet Hopped IPA: I made our waitress stand around awkwardly while I waged a fierce inner battle about which beer to pick, but I eventually caved and oh-so-predictably went with the IPA. I was not disappointed, however. It was intensely hoppy and delicious – perfect for me but actually a little too much for Sam. Not quite Angry Goatface but close… Beer Advocate gives this an 86/very good, and I would agree with that. And yes, those are two plates of Beer Run nachos. Because we can.

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Left Hand Milk Stout on Nitro: This beer was art in a glass. I tried to capture the perfection of wave after wave of falling bubbles, but the poor digital camera couldn’t even come close. Nitro-less bottled Milk Stout is a fantastic beer in and of itself, but it was definitely elevated to a whole new level with nitro – as you would expect, since that is how the beer was intended to be served. It was so smooth and chocolatey that you could almost forget it was even beer. I was a big, big fan of this one, which snagged an 89/very good on BA… I may have rounded up into “Outstanding” but that’s just me.

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Left Hand Oak Aged Widdershins American Barleywine Style Ale: This was hands down my favorite beer of the evening and possibly my favorite barleywine ever. It was smooth, complex, a little smoky, and even a little spicy/cinnamon-y at the end. After one sip, Sam and I just looked at each other and said, “Whoa…” The BA community gives this one a lackluster 82/good, which I heartily disagree with. We were also happy to support Left Hand Brewing Company, which narrowly avoided disaster in the severe Colorado flooding last year. Had the flood waters risen much higher there may not have been any barrels of this left to enjoy!

blog-1585Hope everybody is staying warm this week! Although I know one member of the Jett household is loving this chilly winter weather…

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2013, or the year life kicked us in the pants

Wow, 2013.

2013 is by far the shittiest year on record for us. I apologize – I normally shy away from vulgarity on the blog, but it just seems to sum the year up so perfectly. We stretched ourselves way too thin this year to begin with – Sam’s professional responsibilities as chief resident compounded by my working full-time and having a newborn made for a stressed out and exhausted pair of new, clueless parents. Then came the kicker: Avery’s tumor diagnosis and subsequent flurry of surgeries, scans, and doctor appointments. We must have been real jerks in our former lives. Avery’s hospital stay and immediate recovery was far and away the hardest thing we have ever experienced, yet Sam and I not only survived the ordeal we came through it stronger. There is something very calming about knowing (not just thinking) that you can handle anything. There will be setbacks and bumps and obstacles in our path to recovery, but they really don’t worry me anymore. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling to have, similar to what I imagine Buddhist nirvana might be like.

Ooommmmmm

Mini-monk says “Om”

But enough of that. This post is actually about some of the highlights from 2013, of which there were still quite a few.

We got more involved in the local beer scene. It all started with some beers at Three Notch’d (for liquid courage) and Sam urging me to ask Dave for an interview, and from there the opportunities just kept coming. I got some of my most popular posts for the blog, met some really amazing brewers, and was even able to get published in a Virginia craft beer magazine. I am really proud of myself for taking the risk and getting out there but even more thankful for people’s willingness to share their stories and time with me.

Family time at Three Notch'd

Family time at Three Notch’d

We got back outside. This may not seem like a big deal for people who don’t have kids, but for us it was huge – we hadn’t done any camping while I was pregnant and minimal hiking since Avery was born, so it had been almost 2 years since we’d pulled out the tent. I forgot how much I love camping… and how irrationally afraid of bears I am but mostly how much I love camping.

Backpacking the Priest

Backpacking the Priest

We ran a half marathon. Sam finished in an astonishing 1:41 (in the top 100 finishers!), and my sister and I came in at 2:08. It was a phenomenal experience, and one that I am hoping to repeat later this year. Incidentally and unintentionally, I ran the race shortly before Avery’s first birthday, and I am proud of myself for getting back to that level of fitness so quickly – not sure it will happen next time but we can always try!

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Tired but triumphant at the first annual Hokie Half in Blacksburg

We brewed an award-winning beer. With everything else on our plates this year, our brewing took a big hit but we still managed to brew up a few batches, one being our Swing Shift Saison which took first place in its category at the Dominion Cup. Since I don’t see our weekends magically freeing up for brewing in the near future I’m not sure when we’ll compete again, but this will be a nice medal to hang in our future brew cave.

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Swing Shift Saison and 30 Hour Stout on their way to the Dominion Cup

We traveled. It seems like ages ago, but in February of this year we roadtripped to Florida and back with Avery to visit family and a couple friends along the way. Later that year we explored San Francisco and consumed unreasonable amounts of seafood and craft beer. No, really. Unreasonable. I even squeezed in a short girls’ trip to St. Johns at the end of the year. We got to visit with old friends, made new ones, and successfully navigated both the US highway system and the San Francisco public transit system. I even enjoyed a fresh local craft brew on tap in the Virgin Islands!

Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta, GA

Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta, GA

On the brew deck at 21st Amendment

On the brew deck at 21st Amendment

Why, 7 degree weather, why?

Why, 7 degree weather, why?

I became a stay-at-home mom. When I was in the midst of working full-time, I was beyond stressed – drained would be a good word for it. After Avery’s diagnosis, I quit. Even though I had been planning on quitting in 2014 anyway, it was still an incredibly hard decision to make, albeit the right one. I love sleeping in and spending more time with Avery every day, but I really really really miss my job. I had a great job with great people, and one of my biggest regrets from last year is not being more present at work… actually enjoying what I had instead of daydreaming about being a stay-at-home mom (oh, the irony). I list this as a highlight, though, because if I only have the emotional reserves to be truly present at one, I made the right choice.

I can totally juggle both work and home... *snooorrreeee*

I can totally juggle both work and home… *snooorrreeee*

2014. That’s right; one of the highlights of 2013 was that it ended – sorry, 2013, but you kind of sucked. I have a good feeling about 2014, though. Charlottesville has been our home for almost 12 years now and is so full of memories and friends that it’s hard to imagine leaving, but at the end of residency we will be heading to a new city, new job, new life. Even after (or maybe because of) everything we’ve been through, I am really excited about what’s coming next for our little family.

If there is one thing 2013 taught me, it’s that attempting to control or predict what will happen in the future is a sometimes fun but fairly pointless exercise. So I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. In 2014, I want to just enjoy being – no goals, no quotas, no deadlines (you can call that a resolution, if you want). Sometimes that will intersect with craft beer and I will happily blog about it. I expect that it often will not, however, so I likely will not be posting as frequently. I want to thank everyone who’s been reading and contributing to the blog this year, including my parents and sister for letting me drag you to breweries (literally) all across the country. You guys are awesome. The biggest thank you, though, goes to my husband, Sam, for getting me hooked on craft beer in the first place and then encouraging me to write about it. This blog wouldn’t be what it is without you.

Cheers to 2014!

We've got this, Mom and Dad!

Bring it on, 2014!

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Samuel Adams

I should start by saying that I have never been a fan of Samuel Adams, even in the very beginning of my craft beer explorations. My beer palate was so underdeveloped at that point that I won’t pretend it was due to any precocious level of snobbery on my part. I can’t really explain why. I have just never liked Samuel Adams beer – none of their umpteen seasonal offerings, not the ever present Boston Lager, nothing. I initially didn’t even want to include Samuel Adams on our Grand Beer-venture, but then I decided that the whole point of the project was to step outside of my own little craft beer bubble so here I am, sullenly sipping on a Boston Lager.

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The Boston Beer Company (BBC), makers of the Samuel Adams brand (although the two are pretty interchangeable these days) was founded in 1984 by Jim Koch. As legend has it, Jim brewed up his first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager from an old family recipe in his kitchen and then carted a suitcase full of bottles around Boston, pedaling his wares at various restaurants and bars. The beer gained attention quickly, and by the end of the next year sales were up to 500 barrels. Boston Lager took 1st place in the Consumer Preference Poll at the Great American Beer Festival in 1985 and 1986 (there were no style categories at that time) and took gold in the Continental Pilsner category in 1987. Not a subtle entrance into the craft beer world.

BBC brewed Boston Lager and only Boston Lager until 1987 when it introduced the Boston Ale and the Double Bock in 1988. By the time BBC introduced their Octoberfest [sic] in 1989, BBC had expanded to 63,000 barrels per year in sales. To put that into perspective, that volume would place BBC at roughly the 30th largest craft brewery by volume in 2012, almost 4 decades into the craft beer “renaissance”. Whatever else you may think of BBC’s products, that is astonishing growth by today’s standards, let alone the relatively desolate beer-drinking environment of the early 80’s. Here you will begin to hear the first rumblings of discontent with Jim Koch. BBC operated under a contract brewing model, meaning that the vast majority of their beers were brewed at other breweries by other brewmasters. The BBC itself touts the low risk, high reward ratio of this business strategy as compared to the traditional “brick and mortar” approach. For many in the craft beer world this is unforgivable, but I think that that conclusion may be forcing Jim Koch’s pre-Renaissance business plan to conform to our post-Renaissance worldview. Given what he was up against, I’ll cut the guy some slack. For what it’s worth, roughly 90% of its products are indeed brewed by company-owned breweries these days.

Courtesy of Dr. Sara Freeman

Courtesy of Dr. Sara Freeman

BBC went public in 1995 (with the ticker SAM – how clever), and can you blame them? Look at that curve! Shortly after that, however, BBC’s growth stagnated for almost a decade at just over 1 million barrels. The relatively flat growth in the late 90’s-early 00’s (The Oughts? The Zeros?) very closely mirrors the overall growth of the craft beer industry during that time. Some suggest that this dip in growth was due to BBC overtaking its initial demographic, the beer connoisseur, and running into stiffer competition for the next beer-drinking demographic, the young adult male with a paycheck. Before you get all judgmental on me, remember that we are talking about the world of craft beer 15 years ago, which was indeed dominated by men. In 2006, BBC finally righted itself and broke the 1.5 million barrel barrier. I should note here that the barrel number includes barrels of cider and other malt beverages that BBC also brews (Twisted Tea, Angry Orchard, and Alchemy & Science), which explains the slight discrepancy in numbers coming up.

Prior to December 20, 2010, a brewery was considered “craft” only until 2 million barrels. At that point the brewery would no longer be considered “craft” and would be subject to the larger taxes levied on the big guysThere are other caveats to the definition, which I’ve mentioned before. BBC was rapidly approaching that cutoff in 2010, much to Jim Koch’s consternation, but luckily the Brewers’ Association stepped in and increased the ceiling for craft brewers to 6 million barrels per year and none too soon (I’d hate to think what the craft beer stats would like without SAM in them…). BBC sold just over 2 million barrels of craft beer in 2012, but let’s put that into perspective… Even assuming that the BBC continues to grow at the same rate it has been since 2005 and doesn’t encounter another stagnant decade like it did in the Zero’s, we wouldn’t expect BBC’s annual barrel sales to top 6 million until almost 2050. Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors still measure their output in hundreds of millions of barrels – keep that in mind the next time you read an article claiming that craft brewers are set to topple “Big Beer”. Today, the Boston Beer Company sells over 50 different beers under the Samuel Adams brand and is far and away the largest craft brewer in the United States, with Sierra Nevada a distant second at less than 900,000 barrels annually. Jim Koch even joined the elite ranks of billionaires earlier this year due to record high prices of SAM stock. 

There – the history of Samuel Adams in a nutshell and the start of our Grand Beer-venture into the top 50 American craft breweries. I will even admit to appreciating the smooth, subtle flavors of a few Boston Lagers while working on this project – not too shabby, Jim, not too shabby. Digging into the history of Samuel Adams has also given me a more contextual understanding of the rocky start to the craft beer revolution (and I hope you benefited as well). Where possible I cited my sources, but I welcome all comments/critiques/corrections that you may wish to share.

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Thanks for reading, and hope everyone had a wonderful holiday full of family, friends, and brews!

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