Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Terrapin Side Project 14: Tomfoolery

Today I spent the entire day drinking. I had to! With dozens of new beers and new breweries hitting the Atlanta market every week, I'm getting shamefully behind. I've let you all down, I'm so sorry. Some Commander of Suds I turned out to be. As Terrapin's Side Project #15 is already well established on the beer store shelves in Georgia, I better get crackin' on the one prior, which has been silently languishing in the mini fridge. Let's see, ah yes, it's Tomfoolery, dubbed a "Black Saison". So, the saisons are getting the black treatment now? Well, OK, anything to break up the endless torrent of "Black IPA's", I suppose.

Cue the bottle info blurb, Meemo:

"Tomfoolery “Black Saison” is the latest addition to our Side Project series of beers. Number 14 on the list, this ale boasts an uncharacteristic black color for a traditional Saison, but is just untraditional enough for our experimental mentality.

Made with a silly amount of rye, wheat and black malts, this dark spicy beverage will quench the thirst of any court jester in the land. We hope you enjoy our light hearted attempt at making this traditional style with foolish brewing behavior.

Spike’s Brewing Words of Wisdom: Beer is serious business…what you do after consumption often times is not."

Ah, Terrapin, is it possible to find their brewing antics anything but 100-percent amusing?

One of the revered Ghosts of Side Projects Past is the Maggie's Farmhouse Ale. Now, seven side projects and nearly two years later, Terrapin is revisiting the style and yeast strain, though by no means in a traditional manner. Half a bottle in, the main impression is that of a cool mulled wine with faint roasty, chocolate-hinting elements, a touch of banana, and a remote lactic twang to it.

For me, the very best of the saisons are ones that are supremely quenching and refreshing. This one is not, though I'm sure that this experiment was never Terrapin's aim. Thankfully though, the malts and sweetness are not overburdening, the booze isn't overly noticeable, and the body is light enough to at least keep it from being unrefreshing.

Terrapin's Side Project #14 - Tomfoolery receives:

That's two downright bawdy Meemos!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Exclusive Interview: Matt Simpson the Beer Sommelier

This past week I had the singular pleasure of interviewing the man dubbed the Beer Sommelier. Even casual craft beer drinkers are likely familiar with the man, better known to his friends simply as Matt. Check out a recent clip from NBC's TODAY show, he's there. Turn the dial to NPR, he's there, too. Casually flip open the latest issue of Hooters Magazine, and, in between the busty beauties, you'll find him offering up the latest beer talk. He's what Justin Bieber is to young teenage girls, we beer folks just can't seem to get enough of the Beer Sommelier.

Matt and me, we go way back. Why, back then we were just a couple of plucky young beer aficionados working our way through the exhaustive beer courses in preparation for taking the BJCP exam. I fondly recall those days. Now, he's an internationally recognized beer expert, and I'm a guy quietly drinking beers with his girlfriend's cat.

The Beer Sommelier, who has been cellaring beer for many years, will pull a carefully chilled IPA from an adjacent, heat-shielded cellar designed solely to house his collection of hop-based brews. Whether the occasion calls for a hearty barrel-aged barleywine or a fiercely robust imperial stout, there are limitless options to be found within in his truly inspiring stockpile.

Positioned nearly three stories underground in the Cobb County countryside, the beer cellar of Matt Simpson is something to see to believe. Upon arriving, I was given a standard waiver to sign and issued a pass, which was to remain affixed to my shirt at all times. "We don't want a repeat of the Christopher Gadgebrook incident," he said in a solemnly, almost penitent tone.

With a quick 3/4 twist of the nearby wall sconce, a secret passage was revealed, and with the grinding of unseen mechanical wheels and a painfully loud hiss of steam, the door opened. "Enter, if you dare." I don't recall Matt ever having such a penchant for melodrama. I was informed the mood-setting fog machine was temporarily out of order. That's fine, as they make me cough endlessly. We walked down a flight of stairs, then another, and another, where we finally arrived at a door kept safe by a variety of security measures. After checking to ensure I wasn't watching too closely, he entered the multi-digit code and the door to the cellar slowly slid open.
Meemo navigating one of the many bottle-lined passageways of the Beer Sommelier's cellar.

What goes into planning a beer cellar?

"First, you need sufficient space. Second, it needs to be climate controlled, relatively speaking, or at least in a stable, cool, dry, dark area of your home. After you have the actual space, you need to think about shelving. I got mine relatively inexpensively from IKEA. You know, they're pretty as well, but they don't need to be pretty. Then, you'll need a lock and key to protect it from all the people who are going to want to steal your amazing stash."

What is the oldest beer in your vast collection?

"The oldest beer, officially, by vintage, would be the 1986 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale. I currently have two bottles. I also have a 1988 Hurlimann Samichlaus Brown."

What would you consider your greatest acquisition?

"I really couldn't say, Commander Suds, since the word "great" is so subjective. What does "great" mean, by one's preference, monetary value, or rarity? [heavy sigh] I have a few very cool bottles I'm waiting to sample, such as a Southampton Double Ice Bock, a big jeroboam of Roots Epic Ale, various barrel-aged AleSmith beers, or the Stone Vertical Epic 02.02.02."

When did you decide to take on the mantle of The Beer Sommelier?

"I did a lot of other things, I had an actual career in television broadcasting and high-end video production. I once interviewed Henry Kissinger. I've produced and directed, and was, for a time, an associate producer for Food Network.

It was all wonderful work, when I could get it. After 9/11, the advertising dollars simply went right out the window, so they let two of us go. So, I just sort of gave up after that, I'd had it, I'd was so tired of constantly looking for work. I took those cultivated skills into some other things, and I hated those other things so desperately that I decided to start my own business doing something I really love, and that's when I created the Beer Sommelier. That was around 2006 or 2007, so around four years ago."

Is it hard being The Beer Sommelier?

"Every business is hard. Owning a business is really hard. It needs constant attention, every aspect about the business needs constant attention. As things get slow, you need to figure out new ways to steam revenue. You need to think of new ways to constantly to keep what you're doing fresh and in the public eye, creating public awareness, and coming up with new concepts if the old ones aren't working.

So, yeah, it's really hard. As monetary times get tighter in the country, services like mine, which most would consider a novelty, are the first to go out the window. When I find that my event hosting services aren't doing as well, because people aren't paying good money to have fun educational events, I need to concentrate on other gainful avenues like writing, business consultation, or peripheral services such as Beer 101 classes, homebrewing classes, and creating the Beer Expert app, which helps to bring the business along. The rest is just getting your name out there. You can be the best at what you do, but if no one knows you exist then there's really no point."

How do you keep up to date with your beer knowledge?

"I was going to say "pretty much everything is online these day" but that's not necessarily true. I do get a lot of my knowledge from surfing RateBeer each day. I'll see what the new trends are, what the prevailing attitudes towards the beer industry are, and what the new craft beers hitting the market are. I subscribe to just about every beer list throughout the country. I also receive many of today's better beer magazines and read those, such as Beer Connoisseur and All About Beer. I attend whenever there's a BJCP refresher course or special event, for instance, Owen Ogletree recently hosted an extremely informative cask ale seminar. Not only did we learn an incredible amount all about cask ales from Atlanta's own cask master, the guy really knows his stuff, but we had a great time, too."

What is your guilty beer pleasure? What're you greedily sippin' on when nobody else is around?

"I like a really good malt liquor. Seriously. I know people think that's an oxymoron, good malt liquor, but they're out there, and I think the one's that are well-rounded and a little on the rich and sweet side while still having a good kick and taste of good ole American corn. It's all about going into it with the right attitude. I believe every beer serves a purpose and there are no bad beers, except the one's that are truly flawed by infections, diacetyl, acetaldyhyde, etc. You know, the one's with some real sanitation issues. Otherwise, there's a time and a place for every beer."

What is your favorite brewery today?

"I'm going to preface this by saying that everyone should, "think global, drink local". Go with your local breweries for many reasons: They promote small business and keep money within your own town. The beer doesn't take nearly as long to get to its final destination, so it stays nice and fresh, and it's greener, with less of a loss of fuel for shipping. That said, I really love Lagunitas, and I've loved Lagunitas for over a decade now. They've managed to create consistently incredible craft beers while maintaining a really reasonable price point. They don't make a bad beer. So, if I had to choose one American brewery, I would say Lagunitas. Locally, here in Atlanta, I enjoy Jailhouse, as well as Terrapin and Sweetwater, especially Sweetwater for their Dank Tank one-off beers that are usually really tasty, high-gravity, and also relatively inexpensive. There are a lot of good up-and-coming breweries as well, such as Cigar City and Pretty Things."

Will you give us your Li'l Smokies recipe?


The very idea that I asked this question was met with scorn, and then, I was promptly shown the door.

You may very well be amazed by the size of Matt Simpson's beer cellar and all the things to see and do and drink. It's widely suggested to allow a full two days to see the entirety of the beer storage facilities. Remember to wear comfortable shoes ideal for walking and bring layers appropriate to ward off the cool cellar temperatures. Thankfully, parking is free to guests, with regular shuttles to and from the residence.

All requests to tour the beer cellar must be approved solely by Matt Simpson. A copy of your request will be returned with an approval or reason for denial. It typically takes 5 business days to process a tour request.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

SweetWater Exodus Porter

Another day, another beer left outside my front door. SweetWater's Exodus Porter, sitting silently on my door mat. The return of my mysterious benefactor or the beer equivalent of "spring cleaning", we may never know, but, hey, it's free booze, so I don't really care.

So, I'll sit here at the apartment drinking beer all day, without actually getting anything else done. Look's like my Thursday is booked solid. Just another day being a miscreant souse.

Like a wasted, homeless veteran, Exodus Porter graciously received several medals for proudly doing its duty, and then was discharged and left homeless, to live on the streets of downtown Atlanta, begging for money, unable to reintegrated into the community. A sad story, and one that's happened more than once in the craft beer world, but there's a happy ending. While the poor Israelites wandered the desert for forty years, SweetWater's Exodus managed to find its way back to store shelves in less than four, returning to the brewery's Tackle Box variety pack as well as showing up on draught at the brewery.

It's not always easy, being flavorful and relatively light. The beer does a fair job of pulling it off. Unsweetened cocoa powder with sweet caramel punctuated by a modest roastiness, while earthy, citrusy hops deliver a decent portion of bitterness. It's American, it's a porter, and for that, it's good.

What will the future bring for Exodus Porter, perhaps it will finally return to being a proud year-round release, what with SweetWater's new expansion plans. Calls and emails made to the brewery were not returned by press time.

On more than one occasion readers have expressed interest in introducing a grading scale for the beers covered by this particular asshole. Thank you, readers. Your ideas are sound and I've made the suggested modifications. So, for today's beer, let's unveil the new grading system: Salacious Pussycats.

SweetWater's Exodus Porter receives:  

That's three undeniably salacious pussycats!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SweetWater Mean Joe Bean

CommanderSuds, another asshole with a beer blog here, and today's entry is about SweetWater's latest installment to the Dank Tank series, Mean Joe Bean Imperial Porter.

Several studies in recent years have shown that there's more to a cup of coffee than just a morningtime burst of caffeine, like, real, palpable medical benefits. Now, recent findings suggest beer is a veritable 'boon' to your health as well. I know I need a pot of coffee in the morning to get me going and a six-pack at night to wind me down, so I'm definitely getting plenty of both. I'm sure many of you are the same way. Hey, let's get a quick rundown on those health perks, shall we?

· Decreased Risk of Type-2 Diabetes Parkinson's Disease, and Dementia

· Fewer Cases of certain types of Cancer, Heart Rhythm Problems, Gallstones, Cavities, and Strokes

· Elevated energy levels

· Lowered risk of suicide

That's wonderful news! Without adequately reading the hastily Googled articles, cherry picking "facts" to suit my blog entry, and altogether ignoring those pesky potential health risks, you would've naturally come to the same conclusions, too. Why, I feel healthier already! I don't need no damn Jiminy Cricket to tell me I'm gonna live to be a hundred and three.

Mean Joe Bean is part of SweetWater's Dank Tank series of limited, experimental beers, in much the same way Tröegs has their Scratch beers and Terrapin's got their Side Project series, and, like any limited release beer series, its had its share of ups and downs. Usually more ups than downs, but whaddya gonna do, you know?

Imperial Porter has recently been embraced by American brewers and their never-ending love of cranking up every single beer style to 11. So, one can expect higher degrees of dark-roasted malted barley, occasionally heavier charges of hops, and always, always more of your precious alcohol. Just more of everything, really. Oh, and let's not forget this particular Imperial Porter features a generous dose of Nicaraguan coffee provided by JavaVino Coffee & Wine House in Atlanta. So, we'll be getting all those added health benefits mentioned above. This beer is turning out to be a regular health tonic.

Coffee-infused beers aren't quite as ubiquitous as the cash-for-gold sign twirlers on every street corner, but they are certainly more commonplace than they were just a few years ago. During a trip to the local beer store, one can expect to find such java brews as Surly's Coffee Bender, Brooklyn Brewery's Intensified Coffee Stout, Founders Breakfast Stout, Terrapin Wake 'N' Bake, or Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale, depending on whereabouts in the U.S. you live, of course.

In trying to select proper glassware in which to serve this brew, I opted for a decade's old McDonald's Garfield mug, to better facilitate its coffee component. Sissy Cat approved.
Running parallel to the aroma is an initial taste of sweet roastiness, imparted by the dark-kilned malts as well as the added java. There's a noticed chocolate note to it, ranging at times from sugary bulk Easter chocolate to a slightly-more-refined bittersweet chocolate flavor. Fuggle and Columbus hops add a light undertone of citrus and herbaceous, as well as a solid, though agreeable amount of bitterness. The 8.5% alcohol remains fairly masked during the undertaking. Fairly balanced throughout, this supposed Mean Joe is actually a pretty genial guy.

Alright, I need another beer.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's Not Too Late for Winter Warmers!

One moment you're walking up to your front door, arms filled with groceries and beer; the next you're trampling on a very belated Christmas present left on your front stoop. What a way to start the afternoon -- I love mystery gifts!

Upon opening the festive-looking package, I was greeted with a carefully packed bomber of beer. On the top of a layer of styrofoam peanuts was a single, lone bottle of beer. Frosted Frog Christmas Ale from Hoppin' Frog Brewery. No tag, no note, no nothing. A mysterious benefactor or a simple case of a re-gifted beer, we may never know. Either way, it was a surprise, to be sure.

Hoppin' Frog Brewery is located in Akron, Ohio and is headed by Brewmaster Fred Karm (formerly of Thirsty Dog). The brewery, which specializes in pricey 22-ounce bottles, has a keen focus on hops, with a whole range of IPAs, though their oatmeal imperial stout, B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher, is also a notable stand-out. This will be my first encounter with their winter warmer.

When it comes to purchasing seasonal wintertime beers there are more than a few possibilities one must consider. It is, after all, less a loosely defined style and more a cheeky conglomeration of beers released in the winter months. There really are no hard-and-fast rules with these brews. Sometimes, it simply calls for an ale with boosted flavor, be it heaps more malt or, occasionally, hops, sometimes added spices or fruits are called for, and consistently featuring boosted levels of alcohol. Generally, one can simply look for the labels featuring winter snowscapes, traditional Christmas themes, and company mascots wearing little Santa caps. Winter Warmers, however they may ultimately taste, can provide hours of endless enjoyment during the long, cold winter nights, and, for the last minute Christmas shopper, a bottle of beer makes for a wonderful stocking stuffer!

Some breweries ask themselves, "How much spice do we need?" Here's the problem with that line of thinking: many beer drinkers are left considering the list of purported spices to be marvelous works of fiction. Hoppin' Frog simply asked, "How much spice can these assholes handle?" The spice character here is bolder and more in-your-face then the vast majority of wintertime brews, and subtlety is all but forgotten. Were the FDA to regulate ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon, I'm sure I'd easily meet the recommended daily intake of Christmastime.

Half a bottle in, I began crying softly. Hot, stinging, even stinking tears quietly rolled down my rosacea-riddled cheeks, causing me to blink erratically and soiling my good t-shirt. My girlfriend quickly noted wafting scents of cinnamon and nutmeg on the air, creating a magical experience, like a second Christmas based in early March. Soon, even the cat was licking my face, eager to get a little tongue's taste of kitty-time Christmas.

Frosted Frog is simply an 8.6% ABV delivery of powderized spices, delivering a serious punt to the gingersnaps from the very first sip. If for a single second you begin to question your liking of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, then this beer is simply not for you. I'm sorry, but it isn't.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here's to feeling good all the time!

I'm being constantly reminded I could make far, far better use of my time. Also, I've received increasingly alarmed comments centered around my voracious drinking habits. Thinking on these two, I began to ask myself: Why not start a beer blog? After all, everyone else is doing it. I say, what better way to spend one's time and effort than in the hedonistic pursuit of self-gratifying beer-based pleasure? Even if the internet is simply choked with beer blogs, most quite boring, and has been for years. So, here I am, yet another uninformed asshole writing about beer, coming out of nowhere, like an angrily thrown bag of urine!

While others of my generation are busy getting married, having kids, and buying homes, I'm content sitting in the colorful glow of early-February Christmas lights drinking quality beers while my girlfriend's cat rudely bats things off the kitchen counter. They're sweating it out over mortgage payments and their kids' college funds. Me, I'm staring down a receipt for a 500ml bottle of North Coast's Old Stock Ale Cellar Reserve ($21.99).

Sadly, I don't have any innate writing skills, never have. I doubt I'll be able to force any rich, satisfying, interactive content out on the order of once per day. How does once per week sound? I suppose I could fill the gaps with stray pictures or maybe upload an occasional video or two. People like videos these days. Probably, it'll boil down to me making shit up off the top of my head. I'll give it some thought.

But for now, let me get back to my beers and we'll get this journey started shortly.