Review: Boulevard Single-Wide IPA

This was my very first beer in my new apartment! I know I’ve mentioned that I was moving in the last few posts – it finally happened, chaos, boxes, and all. As of this Boulevard Single-Wide IPA, I didn’t have a couch yet, so I enjoyed this beer sitting on the floor in front of my coffee table. But, most importantly, I was in my own, brand-new place, ready to start my new life.

I also enjoyed this beer on Thanksgiving, which I did spend alone, and which did feel a little lonely. Still, I enjoyed some traditional(?) Thanksgiving hot dogs and a tasty beer to celebrate my new-found freedom. I’d already celebrated Friendsgiving a few days prior and Thanksgiving isn’t really one of my favorite holidays, so I promise it isn’t as depressing as it initially sounds!

Poured from a bottle and into a pint glass (the ones that I got in the divorce – sadly, not the Perfect Pint Glasses that I so love), this beer is a somewhat hazy, medium golden color. There’s a small, off-white head that vanishes slowly, leaving behind no lacing to speak of.

It smells hoppy and citrusy to me. Pleasantly bright.  There’s maybe also something slightly grassy about the smell – fresh, green grass. The beer is made with six varieties of hops (Magnum, Summit, Cascade, Centennial, and Citra) and is also dry-hopped for some big flavor. It’s also brewed with mostly crystal malts, so that creates a very nice and neutral canvas with a crisp finish.

The beer is a little bitter to me, but not so much so as to be offensive. It’s not super hoppy, surprisingly, and is a little piney to me. It’s not extremely flavorful, but it is well-rounded in my opinion. I find it slightly dry on the back end, though not bad in any way. It has relatively low carbonation.

It’s an easy-drinking beer that isn’t remarkable in any way, but is still tasty. It’s a good go-to. I would definitely buy it again.

Beer 101: Water

I know. Water sounds boring. It’s, well… it’s just water, right? But, let’s face it – beer is over 90% water! It’s the main ingredient by volume. So starting with clean, quality water is crucial for a good final product. The profile of the water used affects the pH of the beer, which influences how the flavors of the beer are expressed on the palate. The right minerals can make a beer more flavorful, while the wrong additives can create off flavors.

water-001
Photo by learn.kegerator.com

The water needed for brewing should be free from chlorine and other chemicals, but does need to contain certain minerals. If the water is of a good drinking quality, it’s probably good for brewing – unless it’s distilled! Distilled water contains none of those minerals that are needed for the yeast to ferment properly. Tap water generally meets these requirements but, if it contains chlorine, it will need to be boiled to remove that. Chloramine, which some municipalities use in their water, cannot be boiled out of the water, however.

Hard water from the tap can make a difference; it’s better-suited for pale ales while soft water has often been used for stouts. Still, it is important to take water minerals into account. Hard water, which has higher levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium, has a different effect on the final product than soft water does.

Web
Photo by homebrewmanual.com

The minerals in water do affect the starch conversion in the mash phase of brewing, though not as much as the malts themselves do. A darker roasted grain can neutralize the higher pH in soft or alkaline water. An overly high pH level in the mash can cause undesirable flavors and sometimes makes beer taste lacking or somewhat dull.

Certain styles of beer – especially pilsners, British IPAs, and Irish stouts – were all heavily influenced by the kind of water available in the places in which they were first brewed. If you’re interested in recreating these beer styles, do your research; learnt only what kind of water was available to these brewers, but also how it was treated by the brewers before it was used. There’s always something new to learn from the masters!

 

Review: Otter Creek Over Easy

Craft beer has a bit of a reputation as being by and for snobs and, if there’s one thing that snobs like, it’s jargon. We love our slang! It makes us feel special, like we’re a part of a secret club. One of these terms that I’m guilty of using is “crushable.” As in, “this beer is so good and easy to drink and I could drink it all day.”

“Crushable” generally describes easy-drinking beers with a low-to-medium ABV and a lot of flavor. If you could see yourself drinking this beer all afternoon long, you’re enjoying a crushable beer. Is Otter Creek Over Easy a “highly crushable” beer like its printed label suggests?

otter-creek-over-easy-004

I bought this as a single bottle in one of those build-your-own-six-pack arrangements that some bottle shops like to do. This beer pours a pale yellow with a huge head. Seriously huge! It took me several minutes to finish pouring it from a can and into a pint glass, and I’m no clumsy pourer. The head isn’t messing around. It’s stable and leaves some light lacing behind. At just 4.6% ABV, it’s a session IPA for sure (beers under this classification are generally 3-5% – see? Jargon!).

otter-creek-over-easy-003

I had to wait a few minutes more for the head to subside enough for me to even attempt taking a drink. It has a lightly citrusy and biscuity nose to it and a hint of floral hops in there, too. Its body is light and its carbonation level is a little heavy. It’s very refreshing.

I’m not really detecting any malt on my palate, though there are plenty of orange peel and peppercorn notes to go around. It’s very drinkable. Perhaps, even, crushable. I’d absolutely go back for it again.

Review: Gilly’s Craft Beer & Fine Wine

Disclaimer: Gilly’s used to be My Bar. Capital M, capital B. Mine. I lived about a 10 minute walk from it and went there way more than is probably healthy, both to drink and to write (while drinking). I don’t live there any longer, but I still always stop by for a pint when I’m in the area. So I’m probably biased toward the place, but it had several years to really win my affection.

They’re both a bottle shop and a beer and wine bar with 19 rotating taps. Additionally, they sell genuinely delicious sandwiches and cheese plates if you feel like snacking (although the sandwiches here are for more than a mere snack – they’re significant). The staff is always knowledgeable about their beers, and even just beer in general, and always give out plenty of sample tastes upon request.

oliver-intrigue-in-tangiers-001

Last year, they joined up with Untappd and became a verified venue and now use a large screen TV and Untappd software to keep a live list of their beer menu. Gone are the days of printed menus and sharpie lines through the kegs that had kicked! If you check in at Gilly’s using Untappd, your user name and icon appear on the screen as well – a sort of digital territory marking for beer nerds, I guess.

I started with a spiced beer, Oliver’s Intrigue in Tangiers. I asked a little about it and learned that this brew was a collaboration between Oliver Brewing Company and Charm City Meadworks, both Baltimore local businesses. This beer is “brewed with orange blossom honey and gently spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander and star anise.”

It pours a nice ruby brown color with a little off-white head that falls quickly and leaves lacing behind in its wake. I noticed very little nose, perhaps because the pour was so cold. Maybe I get a hint of a citrus smell, but I didn’t notice any spices on the nose.

The first taste is a brown ale with a slight peppercorn hint at the back of the throat. It’s lightly sweet, but not too malty. I’d say that there’s a slight tartness to it. I don’t find it at all dry or bitter and there’s a sort of heat to it that feels alcoholic. The drier finish becomes more apparent as this beer warms. It’s light and crisp with low carbonation. Easy to drink, but not as remarkable or distinct as other spiced beers I’ve tried.

I also splurged on a 10oz pour of a $16 sour beer from Belgium. The Brouwerji Alvinne Cuvee Freddy was a treat. It pours a beautiful, dark brown, ruddy color, quite opaque. No head at all on this pour. It has a really sour and funky smell to it and the taste is an amazing puckery sour! Honestly, it’s one of the best sours I may have every had – and for that price, it better be!

brouwerij-alvinne-cuvee-freddy-001
Photo by @stunim of Instagram

Review: Bell’s Amber Ale

I moved at the end of November after ending a relationship and setting out on my own, which mean that that month was a flurry of packing and throwing things out and donating other things and just general chaos. My whole life was in flux as I moved to another state.

bells-amber-ale-004

In times of madness, it’s sometimes nice to have something reliable to turn to. With my life in a series of cardboard boxes, I needed something refreshing and not too challenging to slake my thirst. After all, I’d been working hard all day!

This beer from Bell’s Brwery pours a beautiful, dark honey color into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint Glass. It has a fluffy off-white head that sticks around for several minutes and left some nice lacing behind. The nose features some roasted grains, something sweet like caramel, and maybe a little citrus or orange peel. There are hops there, but they’re really singing backup to the other smells.

bells-amber-ale-002

This is a very balanced beer with a slightly bitter kick at the end of the first taste. The finish comes off a little dry, but not enough to offend me. It’s pleasantly hoppy, with a malty sweetness that reminds me of toffee. I even get some hints of a crisp red apple from this beer. It’s a hoppy amber ale, which I definitely like. It has a lightweight mouthfeel with mild carbonation.

bells-amber-ale-003

Bell’s Amber Ale could absolutely be a solid, go-to beer for me. I recommend  it highly if you’re not feeling too adventurous and need to enjoy something refreshing.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 3

I visited Jailbreak Brewery on a rainy Saturday in January to take their brewery tour. Our group of about a dozen people was met by Clay, who’s been a brewer at Jailbreak for about 2 1/2 years now. We started out in the mill room, where we learned a little bit about some of the ingredients and equipment that make up beer’s humble beginnings. I’m talking about malt and hops, some of which we got to see up close and smell.

jailbreak-brewery-tour-001

This room has a tiny little mill that cracks open the malt gently, but doesn’t make flour out of it. Jailbreak uses a lot of specialty malts in their brews in addition to new hybrids and varieties of hops that are coming around every year. Because of these ingredients, Jailbreak is pleased to have “a pretty full portfolio,” but is experimenting all the time.

Next, we took a stroll to the top of a large kettle where beer gets its start. Temperature, Clay reminded us all, is very important. After all, yeast are delicate little organisms that can only thrive in certain temperature ranges – and whether it’s an ale or a lager style beer determines how warm to keep a fermentation tank. The “wort,” which is the cooking beer liquid, must also be sterilized to eliminate any wild yeast that might get in and disrupt the expected beer process.

jailbreak-brewery-tour-003

I was curious what they did with all of their “spent” grains (I’ve been to brewpubs that use them in pizza or pretzel dough in the restaurant) and it turns out they go to a local farm as part of the animal feed. Less waste is always good!

Jailbreak is a 600 gallon operation, which is a decent size for such a small facility. While a one-way CO2 vent was bubbling away in a bucket of water, Clay told us that part of the reason for the brewery’s location had to do with the local water being a “pretty good blank slate.” He pointed out the prominent stainless steel tanks in the room, explaining a little about the process of cold crashing beers and managing fermentation temperatures. All in all, he said, it takes about 2-3 weeks from start to finish to brew a batch of beer.

I learned something strange and new! Yeast, that helpful little bacteria that ferments beer, reproduces very quickly. Generations can come and go in just a few weeks and with such a short life span, colonies of yeast is able to start to mutate over a relatively short period of time. This sounds like something exciting out of an issue of X-Men, but mutated yeast can spell bad news for brewers; it can mess with the consistency of breweries’ products and ruin whole batches of beer. That’s why many professional brewers only “pitch” (add/use) the same yeast strain 3-5 times.

We got to try a hefe that was about 2 days away from being ready to can. It was cloudy and flat as it’s an unfiltered beer and had not yet been force carbonated with CO2. It was bright, as a hefe weizen should be, but something about the mouthfeel was very strange without the carbonation.

jailbreak-brewery-tour-002

Jailbreak fills their kegs one at a time, so it can be a slow operation. In addition to carbonating and kegging or canning the beer, Jailbreak experiments with some barrel aging. Some of the barrel aging projects are up to 2 1/2 years old, many in bourbon barrels. Bourbon barrels are readily available to breweries since part of the regulation that governs what bourbon is that it must be aged in a new barrel. Used barrels are literal garbage to bourbon makers. The brewers are sampling all of these beers all the time because, as Clay says, they are “living, breathing things” and are unpredictable.

We moved next to the canning operation. I know there’s some controversy about canned vs bottled beers, but I don’t have any problems with cans myself. Jailbreak opted for cans 3 years ago because light can’t get in (which is good for hopped beers), the seams are sealed against oxidation, they’re more portable, good on palettes, and have a lower carbon footprint than bottles. Their can holders are also made from 97% recycled materials and have no holes to harm turtles or fish. Makes sense to me.

jailbreak-brewery-tour-004

Finally, after glimpsing cold storage, we talked a bit about the brewery’s past as well as its future. The owners were once bored government contractors that stirred up 2.5million to start the company – their escape – their “jailbreak” from their boring 9-5 jobs. They’re at the brewery almost every day. Looking forward, Jailbreak is going to change from the food truck model of service to opening their own in-house small plates kitchen, fast casual style sometime in June 2017. They also want to change from being open 4 days a week to being open 6 days a week, which will mean a change in their license from tap room to brewpub. They’re also hoping to start making cider as well.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I’ve seen and tasted from Jailbreak. They seem really dedicated to quality through repetition as well as trying new and experimental things on the side. They’re environmentally conscientious, which makes this grumpy old hippie pretty happy. And I liked all of their beers that I had  (well, except for the Ephemeral Vol 1 – but that’s just a preference thing for me). Maybe the customer service at the bar is a tiny bit lacking; there never seem to be enough bar tenders to take care of that whole tap room really thoroughly. Still, I can’t fault them for much. If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend swinging by.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 2

Continued from Part 1

On the Saturday that I visited for my brewery tour, I had the chance to try two more beers. One of those beers came free along with the brewery tour ticket, along with a Jailbreak pint glass. Bonus! I definitely recommend checking out the tour if you have about an hour, and I’ll be talking about some of what I learned in Part 3 on Friday the 10th.

jailbreak-brewery-the-infinite-002

The first beer that I tried – when I’d arrived way too early for the tour (which I always, always do) – was their other amber ale, The Infinite. It pours a rich, red-brown color with a handsome, off-white head of about 1/2 inch. This leaves behind some rich lacing behind. It smells, to me, like caramel and some hops and maybe even with a touch of apricot as well.

The taste starts out very sweet, but then finishes dry on the palate. You also get the hops on the back end. And while I like hoppy reds and ambers, this one is maybe bordering on too dry for me. I still like it, but it is pushing its luck in my mind. It has a graham cracker-reminiscent sweetness to it – the plain kind, not that business with cinnamon sugar all over it.

jailbreak-brewery-welcom-to-scoville-001

The second beer I had, after the tour had finished up, was the jalapeño IPA called Welcome to Scoville. It pours orangey gold with a very thin head that generates a little lacing over time. It smells like a broke spike of spice or heat, like a freshly cut open jalapeño pepper. It doesn’t have a bold flavor, though it’s maybe a little sweet, because it is primarily about the heat. And that heat grows as the beer warms up. There’s a sharpness to this beer that’s hot, but refreshing. Very different from smokier chipotle beers that I’ve had before.

Finally, there was a delicious steak and cheese sandwich! Jeno’s operated a food truck (parked in the handicapped parking spots, which I was very displeased about) out front, which served up a tasty sandwich that I would definitely buy again – after lodging a complaint with the brewery and the truck owners about their parking behavior.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 1

This past week, I spent two days at Jailbreak Brewery (which, it turns out, is really close to my house!). One day, I grabbed a few happy hour brews with a friend on Wednesday evening and then, when I learned they give tours of their brewing and canning operation, I bought a ticket and came back on Saturday. So maybe that makes me look like a bit of a lush – I can live with that! And I just moved and still need to find “my” local bar. Could it be Jailbreak? We’ll see.

I didn’t try every beer that they had available, but I did have quite a few different tasters and pints – so I’m calling this a review of the whole brewery, tour included (that will be in Part 3). And, heck, I’ll even throw in a food truck mention, too!

First point of order: $5 pints every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 3-6pm. Yes, please! Notably, they are only open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays thanks to some strange taproom-specific laws in Howard County, Maryland (which I have been having the darndest time pinning down with online research). Definitely worth at least checking out for that price.

The first beer that I tried was the Maple Ridge Amber Ale; I figured a nice, solid amber or red would be a good start. It pours a pretty golden brown color with a very clear appearance. There was no head on this beer, just a few webs of foam and a small ring of lacing on the inside of the glass, leaving behind very little lacing as I drink it down. I think I have the slightest cold – or maybe the nose on this beer is very faint? I get a little biscuity sweetness from it. No hops on the nose, which matches my idea of an amber ale profile. I don’t know if I’m smelling maple, per se, but I’m getting some burnt sugar on the nose.

The taste is malt-forward and sweet, both in the front and back of my tongue. There’s a heat that feels like it’s from the alcohol, though it clocks in at just 5.4% ABV. As it warms, it gets more bready and graham crackery and that warm sensation keeps up. That burnt sugar or maple taste hangs on, too. It’s a very pleasant beer, but it skews quite sweet.

Next, I asked for a taste of two of their IPAs: Poor Righterous American IPA and Ephemeral Vol. 1 New England IPA.

jailbreak-brewery-poor-righteous-american-ipa-001

First, the Ephemeral. It smells piney, resinous, but maybe a little sweet. There are some notes of bright orange and fruit. But wow. Wow. Holy wow, that is hoppy. It’s a palate wrecker and I just can’t do it. It’s dry and a punch in the face. It tastes like hay to me. It is not my thing at all.

Next, the Poor Righteous has a very dank, wet pine floor smell to me. Seriously, it smells like how I imagine licking the floor of a pine forest must taste. And yet, somehow, it makes me want to try doing just that. It tastes very hop-forward, very green, yet still a little dank. It has a slightly dry finish, but isn’t overly aggressive. Not a palate wrecker like its sibling, but bold and strong. I don’t know that I’d quite call it “drinkable” because it could maybe scare people off. It is hoppy, but not aggressively so.

Continued in Part 2…