Monday, October 2, 2017

Mikkeller Bar San Francisco: A Mecca of Sorts

I am writing to you from 36,000 feet in the air, on the long road home from San Francisco to Ottawa, with a brief layover in Toronto. During my stay, which was my quarterly jaunt across the country for my day job, I had the opportunity to log some time at the Mikkeller Bar (Untappd being my punch-card) just around the corner from my hotel. I had been there once before for a couple of beers in mid-June, but this time around I was able to get down to business. This is my account of two very foggy evenings.

The first session we had was held below the main bar in the Tivoli sour room(!!!). Needless to say I was pretty thrilled. To make matters even better, they had a Brett IPA named “Mastodon Mother Puncher”. As a big fan of Mastodon who has seen them a few times, I may have been a bit giddy. The brew was well balanced, the hop bitterness taking away most of the gnarly horse blanket flavour associated with Brettanomyces that some people appreciate. Having grown up in a rural town with plenty of farms, I’ve had my share of horse stank.

Deciding to ride the sour train throughout the night, I then moved on to the various sour beers that leverage spontaneous fermentation: Spontanyuzu, Spontandryhop Centennial, and Spontandryhop Mosaic. These exquisite brews had the same great balance of sweet, bitter, and tart that I have come to expect from Mikkeller beers. The Japanese Yuzu fruit adds a juicy element to the tart brew, the centennial dry-hopped version added a floral element to it - predominantly on the nose, and the Mosaic iteration contained elements of tropical fruit to accent the sour goodness.

Mikkeller Oude Gueuze
While I tried to stick to the Mikkeller line of beers, there was a non-Mikkeller brew that really stood out. Only available in the sour room, poured from the little keggerator beside the bar, Recolte du Bois was epic. A sour saison aged in wine barrels, I experienced delicious vanilla undertones, red berry flavours, and - of course - a delicious sour funk to round out the flavour profile. I won’t lie, I was pretty blown away by this brew.

Let’s fast-forward a few rounds to the main event: a bottle of Oude Geueze collaboratively brewed by Mikkeller and Belgian brewers Brouwerij Boon. This blend of Lambics ranging from one to three years old was amazing. Shared amongst myself and four other beer geeks, the Oude Geueuze was a huge hit. Dry, with an almost sparkling wine-like effervescence, this beer went down super well, with the sour aftertaste I have come to know and love. And while there was definitely some essence of horse blanket from the wild yeast (aka Brettanomyces), it wasn't prevalent.

That pretty much wraps up night one. Beer aside, though, one of the coolest elements of travel for me is meeting other Canadians, especially those who are familiar with the small town from where I emerged. The bartender - who took great care of us in the Tivoli room - was from Toronto, and was familiar with my neck of the woods, which is cool. Trashed and probably incoherent as I was, it was still fun to chew the fat for a bit and find a familiar element in an unfamiliar place. While not as serendipitous as meeting a dude from Ottawa in a Singaporean brew pub, it’s still noteworthy.

The lovely Jackie Brown.
The second night out at Mikkeller Bar was just as good. This time we were with a different (but just as awesome) crew upstairs at the main bar. It was funny to find out that one of the guys with whom I work (albeit in a different territory) founded a home brew club in San Fran. One of the best parts of working in tech is the amount of people who love to geek out on beer and brewing. But I digress… Now, about the bar: there are myriad taps (42?) with Mikkeller brews, as well as some guest taps. This is one of the few places where I was thoroughly torn whenever I had to order another beer. They didn't have any Evil Twin taps, though. Hmm…

For Mikkeller part deux, I didn't jump into the sour beers immediately, deciding to wade in slowly. Instead, I started out with “M is for Murker”, a wet-hopped New England-style IPA that was actually quite mellow. I suppose that's the nature of wet-hopping, though. The beer was still packed with floral, melony flavour, and I do like the hazy, golden hue. I had a few other beers after the Murker, but the one that really stood out was Jackie Brown. Holy shit. Honey, caramel, and some nuts on the palate, balanced out with some floral/earthy hops in Simcoe, Nugget, and Centennial, this brew rocked my world.

After I had my rendez-vous with Jackie, it was near time to wrap things up so I would be able to function for the flight home, so I only had two more to wrap up the night: another Spontandryhop Mosaic and one more Mother Puncher to round things out. What a great way to end the night, and the trip as a whole. Between the excellent beers, the welcoming atmosphere, the phenomenal service, and hanging out with great people… hot damn, those were two good nights. See you in March, Mikkeller.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How did you spend International Beer Day?

Since 2008, International Beer Day has been observed on the first Friday of every August by over 200 cities worldwide. I like International Beer Day (IBD hereafter), because here in Ontario it also kicks off the Civic Holiday. This year in particular, I'm also starting a week of vacation, so I'm going to make a weekend of it. Here are my plans:

  1. Work on a Wild Brew Yonder beer appreciation class.
  2. Swing by a few breweries to see what's fresh on the market.
  3. Do some "beertography" to test out my new off-camera flash.
  4. Bottle some of my Irish Blond dubbed "The Quiet Man", after the John Wayne movie.
  5. Taste and review a local brew to post up here.
It seems like a lot for one weekend, but the best part of International Beer Day for me was the fact that I didn't get drunk. I tasted some good beers (Broadhead Bodacious Blueberry Blond, Gahan Iron Bridge Brown, Muskoka Shinnicked Stout, to name a few), and had some lively discussion about different styles and types with some budding craft beer enthusiasts, but didn't overdo it. Which means no hangover. Which means productivity!

How did you spend International Beer Day, and - if you're in Ontario - how are you spending this civic weekend?

Friday, July 7, 2017

On aging beer

I recently took a beer that I had left in a box for four years to a friend's house. We opened it, wondering what it would taste like. It was a very nice, pricey hopfenweiss, and I had really hoped it would hold up - although I expected some serious off-flavours. My hopes were dashed as we poured some into our glasses and I saw the floaties. Yes, bottle conditioned beer is great, but this was funky. We deemed it undrinkable, after two sips each (since, you know, you have to go back for seconds just in case it wasn't as bad as you thought after the first sip). Sad day.

Where did I go wrong? Well, first, I didn't necessarily intend to age this beer - especially not for four years. It was only 6% ABV, and it was a hopfenweiss. And, to be honest, the temperature at which I "aged" this beer was never really stable - and usually on the warm side - due to moving three times and not always having correct storage. From this tale of woe, however, comes a great lesson in aging beer. If you want to age your beer, and avoid making my mistakes, read on to see how I could have taken better care of this brew, and how you can age beer without turning it into an off-flavoured nightmare.

Why age beer in the first place?

I was once told "you can't age beer, it's not wine!" I beg to differ, and I know some beer lovers who also age their beer. But why age beer when brewers make it to drink fresh? Well, I like my beer fresh as well, but I generally buy more than one bottle in order to enjoy it fresh, as well as keep one or more for aging. There are two reasons behind this madness: First, some brews are simply too "hot" or alcoholic. Maybe you like it boozy, but sometimes I find it to be a bit much. Keeping a beer in a cool, dark place for a month, a year, or... four years, can help a hot, boozy mess mellow out.

The second reason I would age a beer is simply to see how it ages. Some beers, such as those that are bottle conditioned (meaning there is yeast left in - or added to - the bottle), will become more complex over time, while a super hoppy beer may become more balanced. Over time, the beer will generally taste different. Sometimes it will add new character to the beer, sometimes it will take away elements that you previously found unpleasant, renewing your faith in the brew. Yes, it can result in waste, but if you follow a few simple rules, you can use the aging - or cellaring - process to develop a great tasting experience. These guidelines revolve around three factors - alcohol by volume, hop bitterness, and temperature, and enable you to cellar your beer like a champ.

Alcohol by volume (ABV)

Alcohol, the product of yeast and sugar, is a natural preservative in beer. It stands to reason, then, that boozier beers such as imperial stouts or Belgian Trippels are generally great for aging. When you're considering aging a brew, you want to ensure that you're aging a boozy enough number that it will stay fresh for the desired duration in the cellar. Booze is not the only factor, however, as I have had a Boulder Brewing Co. Chocolate Shake porter (only 5.9% ABV) a year past the "drink by" date - so probably around 18 months - and it was still insanely delicious. So, while ABV is one of the main factors, there are two more that you need to take into consideration when you cellar a bottle of beer.

Hop content (IBU)

Like alcohol, hops act as a natural preservative in beer. The beloved IPA even came to being because beer needed to last the trip from the docks of London, England to India. The main characteristic of the IPA is its intense hoppiness, which was derived from the use of hops as a preservative. Here's the catch when it comes to aging hoppy beers, though: as the beer ages, the hop characteristics fade as the alpha acids are diluted in the beer. The beer will remain good, but the hoppy goodness will fade and you will end up with a rather malty - or in some cases insanely well balanced - beer. This is why IPAs - such as Beyond The Pale's Aromatherapy - or other hoppy brews are best imbibed fresh.


First of all, you want to keep your aged brews at a consistent temperature. Even if you are aging a highly alcoholic beer with lots of hoppy goodness, fluctuations in temperature can make for a dicey tasting experience. As a rule of thumb, you probably don't want to store your beer above 60° Fahrenheit, regardless of the brew. In my experience, a warm-aged beer becomes a fine vinegar, given enough time. A bigger beer - Something like a Belgian Trippel, let's say - will generally be happy at a higher temperature, but again, keep it below 60°! Beers such as robust porters (such as my Chocolate Shake example above) or Bock should be kept a bit colder, say 55°F, as they do not have as much alcohol to act as a preservative. Your smaller beers - lagers or wheat beers, for instance - are best aged at fridge temperature, being somewhere around 45°F. In short, bigger beers can take some heat, smaller beers should be kept colder. Pro tip: if you are storing your beer at super cold temperature, let it warm up before you taste it. Tasting too cold can eliminate some of the finer characteristics of the brew, taking away from the tasting experience. Lastly, although it isn't directly related to temperature, light plays a factor as well. For the love of all things holy, keep your beer away from direct sunlight and other sources of UV light, lest your beer go the way of the skunk. Store your brews in a cool, dark place.


"The Darkerness"
While nothing lasts forever, your beer can age at cellar temperature for a very long time. For instance, when the LCBO sold six-packs of Westvleteren 12, I managed to get my hands on one. I still have three left, five years later, and they only get more complex and delicious over time. The best way to age beer is to buy at least two. One for immediate consumption, one to age for a year, and one to age for longer than a year. The best part about aging a beer is to note the changes over time. One of my favourite tastings consisted of Beyond The Pale's "The Darkerness", Amsterdam's Tempest, and my own imperial stout - dubbed "The Czar". Having a new sample of each, and bottles from the previous two years made for a great tasting. Add some dark chocolate, a variety of cured meats, and some sharp cheese, and you've got yourself a party. The big thing to remember about aging beer is that you
aren't simply keeping a brew around to consume at a later date - this beer will not taste the same after a year.

In conclusion

Aging beer is fun, if somewhat addictive. To reiterate, the main factors in aging beer are alcohol by volume (ABV), hop content measured in IBUs, and the temperature at which you will be storing your beers. If you want to start keeping some beer over time, the first thing you will need is a logbook of sorts. Record dates and times in order to determine optimal aging cycles. I also recommend getting a beer fridge, but if you have a crawlspace that stays somewhat cool, that can also be an option for most bigger brews. If you are going to age a beer, you should get more than one bottle, as you should try it fresh as a basis for comparison later on. Lastly, don't forget to enjoy the tasting! Have some friends over, try the beer from multiple years, and don't forget to add some tasty treats to pair with your aged goodness! Hopefully these tips help you avoid common pitfalls and make the best of the beer cellaring process!

Mikkeller Bar San Francisco: A Mecca of Sorts

I am writing to you from 36,000 feet in the air, on the long road home from San Francisco to Ottawa, with a brief layover in Toronto. Dur...