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Beer Before Liquor

Beer Before Liquor

Bierschnaps & its’ root (hah!) beer, Feest Noel. Courtesy IDC/Three Taverns.

If you’re into whiskey, you may have heard the expression “distiller’s beer” which refers to the fermented mash of grains, yeast, and water that feeds the first distillation. Typically these are not beers that are meant to be consumed on their own, but a few craft distillers are now working with existing craft beers and using them as their distiller’s beer in special releases. There’s the Samuel Adams Boston Lager that becomes Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Two Lanterns whiskey, or Arcane Distilling’s Lone Wolf line of whiskey made from various micro-craft (and homebrew) beers, or Charbay’s R5 Whiskey which is distilled from Bear Republic Brewery’s Racer 5 IPA, or HUB Brewer’s Whisky made at New Deal Distillery from HUB Organic Lager. Even more crafty, J. Rieger & Co. in Kansas City is using slightly-past-its-prime beer from nearby Boulevard brewery as the starting point for their Left for Dead series.

Here in Atlanta, two recent craft beer-distillery collaborations have taken up the charge of beer before liquor, both to rather impressive results. There’s Decatur-based Independent Distilling Co., who used the Feest Noel beer from neighboring Three Taverns brewery to make their Outlier series Bierschnaps; and ASW Distillery, who partnered with Monday Night Brewing to develop a custom distiller’s beer and turn it into  Monday Night Scottish-Style Single Malt Whiskey.

Both of these collaborations are unique and, more importantly, quite tasty. If you’re into the esoteric and local and can manage to find a bottle, whether at the distilleries themselves or in limited local release around Atlanta, they reward the investment. And both are harbingers of good things to come as the craft beer and distilling scenes in Atlanta (and beyond) continue to grow side by side.

Here are the details and tasting notes on these two very special (and limited) beer-to-liquor success stories:

Independent Distilling Co., Outlier No. 3 Bierschnaps

Base Beer: Three Taverns 2014 Feest Noel (300 gallons) – made with 100% malted barley, Belgian dark candy sugar, cardamom, allspice, and clove.
Distillation: Alembic pot still (in February 2015)
Aging: 22 months in newly charred American oak barrels (two 15 gallon barrels)
Bottled at 90 proof

Notes: I first tasted this one out of the barrel about halfway through its aging process, and the prominent baking spice notes on the nose and palate had me thinking of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (one of my favorite sweet vermouths). The extra time in the barrel until release lent this Bierschnaps further depth and complexity – starting delicately with a floral yet spicy nose, then hitting the tongue hard with a slap of cinnamon and clove backed up with toasty burnt caramel notes. The aging in those small barrels (for more interaction with the wood) is evident in a dark and oaky finish. Simply fascinating stuff, especially if you can get a hold of a bottle of Feest Noel and compare the two. The spice notes here offer some fun opportunities for cocktail experimentation as well (Kimball House recently made a Sazerac variation with the Outlier No. 3 combined with aged rum).

The Outlier No. 3 Bierschnaps actually has a release party tonight (if you’re reading this on March 23) at the Argosy if you want to snag a taste of this very limited run!

Seeing double (and more) with the ASW-Monday Night collaboration

Monday Night Scottish-Style Single Malt Whiskey

Base Beer: Custom batch from Monday Night Brewing, made with a hefty dose of cherrywood-smoked malt barley (which is a component malt in their popular Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale) and two-row malt barley.
Distillation: Scottish-style twin copper pot stills (in August 2016)
Aging: Roughly 6 months in new charred American white oak quarter casks (13 gallons)
Bottled at 86 proof

Notes: How is this lovely whiskey merely six months old? The nose may not give much away, with light hints of marzipan playing coy, but you can tell there’s much more of interest underneath. If you sit with it long enough, the cherrywood smoke comes through in subtle wisps at the tail end of deep breaths in. Sipping, the “Scottish-style” character emerges, but this is no peaty beast – think of the more delicate end of Scotch and you’ll be in the right territory. The malted barley here provides a pleasant cereal warmth, balanced with a light wildflower honey sweetness, and the finish leaves a happy memory on your tongue for several minutes. ASW is turning out mighty impressive limited releases (like this and their Resurgens Rye) for such a young distillery. And you have to love a label with a badger in a bowtie.

Full Disclosure: The tasting bottle of Monday Night was provided by ASW Distillery.

 

 

 

Taproom Coffee, Atlanta

Taproom Coffee, Atlanta

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Here’s the short story – there are three things you need to know about Taproom Coffee in Kirkwood: Jonathan Pascual. Counter Culture Coffee. Craft Beer. That’s it. Go.

Jonathan Pascual Taproom CoffeeOf course, there’s a long version to that story as well. Starting with Jonathan Pascual. He’s the guy who probably most famously helped kick off the rockin’ coffee program at Empire State South a few years back. Earlier this year, he started up Taproom Coffee, and there’s a good chance his smiling face will be there to greet you when you walk in the door. To give you a feel for what Taproom is all about for Jonathan, here are his words from the Kickstarter campaign that helped fund the endeavour:

The Dream: I always wanted to own and run my own place. But I didn’t feel like it should be just another coffee shop. Connecting to people in relationships is very important to me. And no matter how friendly I think I am, sometimes I feel like I just need a little something to grease the wheels of connection. I’ve come to realize that two things frequently (and easily) bring people together: coffee and beer. My dream is that through the medium of these two beverages, Taproom Coffee could provide a comfortable, approachable environment where we facilitate connections. Great coffee, great beer, great memories.

Counter Culture CoffeeSounds good, right? And how ’bout the beans? Jonathan turns to Counter Culture Coffee for the wide range of coffees available as espresso, or pour over, or by the bag to go. They do good stuff. Their mission is to “source, roast, and deliver the most exquisite, freshest coffee in the world,” and even if they’re not quite the very most exquisite in the world, they’re close enough. And just look at all those single origin lots and exotic sources and fancy names and pretty packages – Banko Gotiti, Ollke Birre, Elias Benata, Haru, Idido, Finca Nueva Armenia, Ngunguru… it’s probably a bit overwhelming, and definitely a lot colorful, but Jonathan can help guide you through the flavors and merits of each and every one.

Counter Culture CoffeeI picked up a bag of Aleme Wako (the farmer), Biloya (the village), sundried single  lot, from Kochere (the district), Ethiopia (the country), Africa (the continent), Earth (enough said). I can’t personally fill you in on all the intricacies of how it was grown and harvested and roasted – it probably deserves its own Wikipedia page (OK, this is close enough) – but I can tell you it makes a mean cup of coffee in the morning.

And now the beer? Jonathan’s pride and joy is his “Beerspresso Machine” – an old 4-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine that he gutted in his garage and had converted into a glimpse of beer nirvana. You’ll find a nice mix of local and not-so-local craft beers on tap: the current list includes Eventide Nitro Dry Irish Stout, Monday Night Nerd Alert, Creature Comforts Reclaimed Rye, Smuttynose Noonan Black IPA… on to La Trappe and St. Bernardus and Sierra Nevada. Now the question is just whether you want beer or coffee. Or maybe one of each. Or maybe two.

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IMG_9084Jonathan Pascual Taproom Coffee

My Goodness, (not) My Guinness!

My Goodness, (not) My Guinness!

I was in Dublin last week and, naturally, visited the Guinness Storehouse for a tour / taste of what is surely one of Ireland’s greatest achievements – Guinness Stout. I love Guinness – the way it tastes, the way it looks, the way it takes a few minutes of lovely effervesence to pour a proper pint, the way that thick foamy head forms and hangs around. I also love Guinness for its admirable history of brilliant marketing – the characters, colors, slogans, and omnipresent wall murals that make it such an integral part of the Irish landscape. Guinness is a great beer, and it is a great brand. Which brings me to the vexing and confounding creation that I recently learned about – a beer called… Guinness American Blonde Lager.

Guinness My Goodness
My goodness – things are upside down at Guinness

What are the first three things that pop into your mind when you hear the word Guinness? I’m guessing they’re something along the lines of Irish, dark, and stout. And isn’t it interesting that American, blonde, and lager seem fairly antithetical to those characteristics that we so closely associate with Guinness? In other words, WHAT THE HELL ARE THE PEOPLE AT GUINNESS THINKING!????

Actually, I have a pretty good idea of what they’re thinking. They’re thinking that Guinness is not doing as well in America as it should. That other beer brands are eating their lunch. That surely there’s a way to introduce Guinness to a new crowd of beer drinkers. Sure, the first two points there are right – Guinness is not doing that well in America, and other brands are indeed eating their lunch. But is introducing an American blonde lager a way to grow the Guinness brand? Better yet, is introducing a GUINNESS American blonde lager the way for Diageo, Guinness’ parent company, to grow their portfolio of beer brands in America? If you ask me, the answer is a resounding NO and NO.

The folks at Guinness – and more rightly I should probably say the folks at Diageo – should properly recognize the great value that exists in the Guinness brand. The equities that it holds so strongly that offer opportunity… but also act as a form of tether. Sure, Guinness is bound by its history and heritage – but that tether should be considered not as a barrier to growth, but as a guideline for HOW to grow. How can Guinness take its heritage – its Irishness, blackness, stoutness – and use that as a springboard into the heart of the American beer drinking public? I can guarantee you that the answer is not by watering down everything that the brand stands for – by discarding Irish for American, black for blonde, stout for lager. Stick to your strengths, Guinness, and leave the light stuff to one of your sister brands. My goodness. That’s not MY Guinness.

Sweetwater Second Helping IPA and the Giving Kitchen

Sweetwater Second Helping IPA and the Giving Kitchen

SweetWater Second Helping IPA

As was evident in the recent Atlanta SNOWPOCALYPSE(™), the good people of this city excel at coming together in times of need. And the story of the Giving Kitchen has been one of those amazing coming together stories that exemplifies our city’s spirit. Chef Ryan Hidinger is central to the story – one man’s battle with cancer morphing into a community rally for others in need. It was his battle that sparked the Giving Kitchen idea, and his remarkable enthusiasm and will that helped bring it to life. But it’s the embrace of the community around Hidinger that extends his legacy, and that embrace continues to be shown in an amazing multitude of ways. Like this Second Helping IPA from SweetWater Brewing Company.

SweetWater Second Helping IPA Simply put, Second Helping is a great beer with a great mission – to support the Giving Kitchen.

The Giving Kitchen’s mission is to provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community facing unanticipated hardship.

The important thing here is that mission, that embrace. The secondary thing here is the taste. Have no doubt, though, that SweetWater and Hidinger teamed up to turn out something remarkable.

I urge you to learn more about this cause, and to go try this beer. You’ll be glad you did on both counts. Second Helping is an Atlanta-only limited release (go get some now, seriously, it will be running out over the next couple weeks), served up in 22oz bottles or growlers in shops and bars all over town. I asked the folks at SweetWater about Second Helping’s success, and Francesca Zeifman there replied that Second Helping was one of their “fastest selling brews,” saying, “there was such passion put into this campaign from all parties involved, and the story behind the beer and its mission is so compelling. Nearly every drop was pre-sold before it hit the market.” See that? Community.

While no definite plans have been made for future Second Helping releases, SweetWater let me know that they do hope to continue working with the Giving Kitchen. Hopefully we’ll see a second (and third, and fourth) Second Helping. To learn more about the cause and the beer, visit thegivingkitchen.org, read this great intro from the AJC’s beer guru, Bob Townsend, or check out the video from Beer Street Journal featuring Nick Nock and Steve Farace from SweetWater.

And here’s my review and tasting notes on the beer itself.

SweetWater Second Helping IPASweetWater Brewing Co. Second Helping
India Pale Ale brewed with juniper berries
7.4% ABV, 69 IBU;s
Approx. $5.50 retail price for 22oz bottle
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

For you beer geeks out there, Second Helping is made with a variety of specialty malts (2-row, Victory, Chocolate, Wheat), as well as five types of hops (Amarillo, Bravo, Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe). Juniper berries were added in the whirlpool, and also during dry hopping. And it’s those juniper berries that really make this one stand out.

Second Helping pours a lovely rich copper, with hints of cherry wood red. The nose hits the expected pine and citrus notes, with a smooth and deep maltiness in the background. Second Helping has a pleasant and fairly lush mouthfeel. It’s a bit sharp at first, with that pine and citrus most prominent, also some more herbal botanical character, but then it mellows out quickly into caramel and a bit of chocolatey and hearty crusty bread. Then that crisp juniper gin character kicks in towards the finish, before melding into a hoppy IPA finish that goes on and on. That’s a lot of quick character evolving in a single sip, and it will have you coming back for more.

SweetWater Second Helping IPA SweetWater Second Helping IPA

 

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Tasting Notes: Redd’s Apple Ale

Tasting Notes: Redd’s Apple Ale

Translation: "This is not an apple."
Translation: “This is not an apple.”

I recently heard about a new, um, beer called Redd’s Apple Ale from Redd’s Brewing Company in Albany, Georgia. Now, I had never heard of Redd’s, and first thought it might be an interesting new microbrewery for the state of Georgia. But it turns out, Redd’s is a brand being launched by MillerCoors. OK, nothing wrong with that. They don’t especially want you to know that. But nothing wrong with that. It is brewed at the MillerCoors facility in Albany, so – for you Georgia beer fans –  it does have that going for it.

MillerCoors was nice enough to send me a few bottles to try, and right after I received them,  I also started seeing Redd’s pop up in gas stations and grocery stores in Georgia and Alabama. Redd’s is also available in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana,  Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Maine (how did Maine slip in to this list, does lobster pair exceptionally well with apple ale???).

Just to be clear, this is an ale. Flavored with apple flavor. Colored with caramel coloring. It is not a hard cider (fermented apple juice). Now, you might ask, “why bother making an apple-flavored beer when you can brew a good cider from apples?” And I might answer, well, MillerCoors probably knows a lot more about turning grains into beer than they do about turning apples into cider. And that’s probably true, but it’s also true that they not too long ago snapped up Crispin Cider, who definitely knows a thing or three about turning apples into something liquid, delicious and mildly intoxicating (try their “artisanal reserves” if you can find them – in fact, maybe I’ll do some tasting notes on those soon).

Anyway, my intent is to share what I thought about the experience of drinking a Redd’s Apple Ale, regardless of corporate owner, regardless of state of origin, regardless of whether it’s an apple (cider) or an orange (ale… wait, that didn’t quite work…). As I said, anyway…

Redd’s Apple Ale
“Ale with natural apple flavor and caramel color”
5% alcohol by volume
Tasting Date: October 5, 2012

Redd’s Apple Ale is a lovely, moderately deep gold in color (in fact, it is downright caramel-y looking!). It pours with a nice fizz, but no head whatsoever, reinforcing that this is not going to be a typical ale.

On the nose, Redd’s doesn’t give too much, with a bare hint of green apple over dusty malt. Poured into a glass, the carbonation is lively, and it hits the tongue with a pleasantly smooth, bubbly fizz.

Overall, this comes across a lot like an easy-drinking version of a hard cider, not harsh or bitter at all. It’s very crisp and green appley, with an undertone of malt that comes on a bit stronger through the finish. Again, nothing particularly ale-like about this.

Redd’s goes down easy, and is definitely appealing at first, but manages to quickly become boring. I was nodding my head in OK-this-is-not-bad appreciation with the first few sips, but then realized I was not at all eager for more – not for any negatives present, but rather for lack of any sort of ongoing interest. While the apple flavor is the dominant note here, it really is that – apple flavor – rather than the apple characteristics that can evolve into something more in a good hard cider.

Verdict? Fair* – this is easy drinking, and offers a nice approximation of a hard cider – but why buy an apple ale when you can go for a real apple cider?

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: this bottle was provided as a tasting sample