Cooking Risotto With Beer

For the last several years I’ve had a fascination with cooking risotto. I enjoy it so much, I decided to cook different risotto with my other love, craft beer. Weird idea? Maybe? I tried it though, and found some amazing results.

I don’t claim to be a chef, or a great cook, just an average cook for that matter. I just know that cooking has been a passion of mine for several years now. Maybe the fact that my Dad owned a restaurant for a few years and was a fantastic cook helped me learn the basics. Still, you can say this is an uneducated culinary experience.

Beers are normally a wonderful pairing for rice dishes like a creamy risotto but that was not enough for me. I didn’t want to simply pair a risotto with some of my favorite brews, I wanted to experience the flavor of my risottos being cooked with it.12 - 1

Risotto is normally a “primo course”. This means that it’s served before the main dish and usually on its own. Over time it has become a main dish in the western parts of the world…like the US.

There are several styles of rice you can use to make a risotto, but for me nothing beats the flavor and texture of the Arborio rice. Risottos need to be creamy and full of flavor, mainly extracting all the goodness from the broth, and the Arborio rice best suits my palate for this.

I’ve experienced with both traditional risottos and risottos tostatta (which you don’t stir as much in order to create a crust on the bottom of the rice). My work here is mostly with the traditional.

For drinking, my rule of thumb was always to pair risottos made with more mushroom base or earthy ingredients (porcini, Portobello, Chanterelle, Shiitake and roots like Cassava (yucca, manioc) with a nice Pilsner or Vienna Lager. But, for cooking I’ve enjoyed adding some other styles to enhance those earthy flavors with pale ale, saison/farmhouse or a nice witbier. Since I’m using beers with an extravagant flavor in the dish I like to pair them with beers that are not so hoppy with a medium body, malt aromas, a light sweetness and a soft bitterness. Also, keeping the alcohol volume between 3.5% and 4.5% to keeps all those strong flavors in check. If you want to be more adventurous, sours make for some interesting flavors.

When creating a risotto with stronger flavor cheese base, like blue cheese and enhancing ingredients like saffron or creating savory gnome-glasstastes using fish sauce and oysters. I will also add some mild tasting seafood or artichoke for a more buttery flavor and texture. For these, I tend to move to beers that have a higher ABV and a good balance between malts and hops. A triple or a Belgium Strong are excellent combination and will enhance all those flavors you get on the center and side of your tongue. For drinking, I normally pair the dish with the same beer I cook with. But anything with spicy phenolics, forward yeast and higher alcohol content and a light body will contrast nicely. My definition of heaven is a shrimp risotto cooked with a triple, paired with Gnomegang from the Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY. It is a fantastic beer that in my opinion is the perfect marriage for this dish and reveals all those flavors.

Despite what I just wrote, I recently discovered a style of beer that is not necessarily my choice for cooking when I use sea food, but boy, for pairing was wonderful.  Several years back a friend from Craft Beer Nation, Ashley Bower (aka. The Beer Fairy), introduced me to a style I knew about but was not familiar with: Gose. This is a German style beer with tart lemon flavors, a nice saltiness some coriander, and low ABV  (something between 3.5 to 4.5%). The sourness almost reminds me of a Berliner Weisse. As I said, cooking with it didn’t do much for me but pairing it with my seafood risotto was, as another friend, Randy Gardner says: “Is The Bomb”.

Now among all styles of beers, I have few that standout as favorites. I love a good barleywine, but the climax of brewing nirvana are porters and stouts. That’s why I decide to experience with these styles more than any other. The question was; how to cook a risotto with such a robust style of beer that has a punch of coffee and chocolate aromas that are normally not cooked away? This tended to cause my wife to twitch her nose as she looked down at the skillet. I have to admit that they didn’t come out well the first time I tried.

Early on, my inexperience with the flavors was challenging. My wife was patient, but she would call me a knucklehead more often than not. I ruined more than one batch mixing things that shouldn’t be mixed. I took a break from cooking my risotto and made a few stout stews and different dishes using a slow cooking method to get used to those flavors. Soon my Stout Beef Stew became one of my wife’s favorite dishes. I call it Serendipity. I knew though that this style of cooking would not work for my risotto and that’s what I set out to do. I took my whole family along as guinea pigs.

A mistake I made was to think that the showcase ingredients were the problem. The secret for me turned out to be the cheese. Initially, my mind told me:  strong beer flavor should pair with mild tasting cheeses. Experience proved however, that I had to fight big with big!

I20140124_221243 had a recipe from my Mom for a Heart of Palm Risotto that uses red wine instead the white wine (the common choice for a risotto). Heart of Palm is normally preserved in salt water but has a very mild taste and a nice medium texture. The recipe called for bree and blue cheeses. I look in the fridge for a beer and all that was there was a Milk Stout on Nitro from Left Hand. That was my breakthrough. Strong stout paired with strong, pungent cheeses. The rest was history.

Stouts are not the best beer to substitute the wine when cooking risotto (and, there were a few miserable attempts early on), but with time I learn that there’s easier ways to get all that amazing flavor on the risotto.

At some point in my journey with the porters and stouts I made my second rookie mistake. So far I was going about to replace, what was to me a logical choice, the wine for beer, but there’s much more when it comes to cooking.

I had recently made my stout stew and had some left over. I was looking for my next risotto experiment when it occurred to me that the beef from the stew would be a great show case for the risotto. As I’m doing the prep work for the risotto the strong aroma from the stew I had just warmed in a pan really took over the kitchen. I decided that adding even more beer to risotto would be a bit too much and decided to cooked it the traditional way since we had friends coming over for dinner and there was not much room for a plan “B” if I failed. Much to my surprise the stout flavor and aroma from the stew came through nicely into the risotto. Now when I use porters and stouts, most the time I try to cook the ingredients with it rather than adding it to cook the rice for the risotto.

I will continue my journey, learning with every new dish and maybe one day will create a compilation of all those crazy and wonderful things I had the pleasure to make along the way. If you want to go on your own risotto adventure, I will leave you with a starting place. It is a recipe for what I consider one of my most successful combinations.


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Dwarf’s Wheat Ale and Pear Risotto

1 cup of arboreal rice
1 cup of diced of chopped thin onions
1 cup of diced apple
1 cup of Julianne pears
1 1/2 cup of Wheat Ale
2 tbs of butter
1 tbs of olive oil (get a good one, it makes a difference on the coating of the rice)
2 cups of Gorgonzola cheese
1 cup of another cheese of your choice.
5 cups of chicken stock.
1 cup of diced tomatoes.

If you’re not use to make risottos I would prep all my ingredients before start so you can focus on the cooking and get the risotto nice and creamy.

Get a good color on the onions with the butter.

Coating the rice with both the olive oil and then half of the beer are very important steps before adding the stock. I would give a minute to each at least.

For this risotto I put the tomatoes on the very beginning since I’m adding for flavor and not texture.

Add a cup of stock at a time and stir to create a creamy texture. Keep adding the stock as the liquid dries up until almost cooked through. Add the apples and the pears stir, for another minute turn the stove off, add the cheese of your choice, and then the Gorgonzola. You can add spices or herbs to taste as well.



Lancaster County is Bursting with Beer along Philly

When I tell people I live in Lancaster County, PA, people will shout, almost without thinking, “Amish.” The correlation of Amish and the Lancaster area is somewhat of a cultural/psychological experience ingrained in the minds of people in US.amish-buggy 

If someone comes to Lancaster and doesn’t experience the Amish tours, or drive to Philly and doesn’t climb the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts or stand on the top to pose like Rocky, a great disappointment will take over. Some might even imagine having done things they didn’t. Instead, they merely read about it or conceptualized it based on the things they fantasized doing while they were younger. It could be considered a type of “Paris Syndrome”. This is something much more common than people realize. You may catch spouses disagreeing about what one says they did on their vacation and the other will firmly disagree, saying “no, we didn’t”. There isn’t a deception here, both truly believe what they are saying. One just imagined doing it because of a lifetime of expectations.


Now when it comes to beer, the places that come first to peoples’ minds are places like San Diego, Denver, Michigan, Asheville…any place but the peaceful and bucolic, horse-pulled buggy lands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. For the past decade, something new has been taking over of the eastern population of Pennsylvania. Craft Beer! Within 30 to 90 minutes of driving, one can find a more than a handful of breweries, bottle shops, and restaurants dedicated to delivering quality craft beer libations. The beer Scene in Eastern PA has grown so much, it surprises me a stronger beer tourism business in the area has not been developed. Because of taxes and regulations, Pennsylvania is far from being a “cheap” state to get a pint of your favorite brew. Never the less, the craft beer followers are multiplying and are being very faithful to the local breweries and craft beer bars.

There are some well-known breweries in the area or close to Lancaster/Philly that date back to the mid-1990s and the late 1980s:  Victory, Tröegs, Sly Fox, Stoudt’s, Weyerbacher, YardsIron Hill and some much older like Yuengling, operating since 1829. Among a newer class are some that are making some amazing beer and gaining momentum: Spring House, Lancaster Brewing Co., St. Boniface and and Tired Hands. I love knowing that I can have some friends over for a few days and the Tap Room Spring House Brewing Co.diversity of beer available will leave everyone satisfied.

Still skeptical? Eastern Pennsylvania has much more to offer when it comes to craft beer. You can experience more than just what the locals offer. With excellent beer distribution to a sizable number of bottle shops and craft beer bars, you can get brews from Stone to 21st Amendment, from Ale Smith to Six Point, from Lost Abbey to Firestone Walker…you get the idea.

One of my favorites to visit is the Federal Tap House in Lancaster. They offer more than 100 beers on tap. Also in Lancaster, is The Fridge (amazing pizza), or Hunger’n’Thirsty (great food), and a great bottle shop that you will find me in regularly, The Friendly Greek (more than 500 beers!). Take a drive through the country side toward Philly and enjoy more places with great beer. The Abbaye, The Belgian Café, and TJ’s Restaurant and Drinkery (with more than 250 beers on their list) are just some examples of this craft beer culture that has TJ'sdeveloped in Eastern Pennsylvania. (I could mention so many more bars and Breweries like Dock Street that are amazing). You can even take to the small town of Mount Joy and visit the Catacombs of Bube’s Brewery (pronounce Boobs) an intact historic 19th century brewery and museum complex and their Ghost Tours. In any case, the craft beer enthusiast won’t be disappointed in a visit to the Keystone State, and for those like me that will often travel with the wife and kids, Pennsylvania provides some great craft beer places that have wonderful food and very family friend environment. You want more. Just head to the Harrisburg?York where you will find lots of great places to enjoy craft beers.

You will enjoy the beautiful scenery and have fun exploring the numerous places to drink some wonderful craft beer. And don’t forget to take home some real whoopie pies. Cheers!!!

Brewery List

Sly Fox – Potstown
Stoudt’s – Adamstown
Weyerbacker – Easton
Yards – Philly
Iron Hill – Philly / Lancaster
Yuengling – Potsville
Victory – Downintown
Tröegs – Hershey
Spring House – Lancaster
Lancaster Brewing
St. Boniface – Ephrata
Tired Hands – Ardmore
Liquid Hero – York
Appalachian Brewing Co. – Harrisburg/Lititz
Bube’s Brewery – Lancaster
Dock Street – Philly
Philadelphia Brewing Co. – Philly
Triumph Brewing – Philly
Fegley’s Brew Works – Bethlehem
Rumspringa Brewing – Lancaster
Saucony Creek Brewing – Kutztown
Als of Hampden / Pizza Boy Brewing Co – Enola
Manayunk Brewery – Philadelphia
Crime and Punishment – Philadelphia
Conshohocken Brewing Co. – Conshohocken
Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery – King of Prussia

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2014 BJCP Scottish Ale Style Changes

As the temperatures outside get cooler, a nice malty beverage in front of a fire seems like a great way to spend an evening.  There are lots of great styles to choose from, but some of my favorites for this time of year are Scottish ales.  From Scottish Light to Wee Heavy, you can choose to spend the evening having a few of the former, or sipping one of the latter, while hanging out with friends.  In recent years there has been some confusion on these styles-mostly the “shilling” styles, the style names, specific flavors, aromas and brewing processes have been in question.  The soon-to-be finalized 2014 guidelines will correct previously inaccurate information and debunk common myths about these styles.

In the 2008 guidelines, the styles of Scottish ale were as follows: Scottish Light 60/-Scottish Heavy 70/- Scottish Export 80/- and Strong Scotch Ale. The shilling categories were derived from price charged per hogshead (54 Imperial gallons) during the 1800’s; the stronger or better quality beers were more expensive. In 2014, BJCP will be moving to a Scottish ale category containing Scottish Light, Scottish Heavy and Scottish Export. Wee Heavy will move to Strong British Ales. You can read more about these guidelines here.

Speaking specifically of the Scottish ale categories, the 2014 BJCP guidelines have a note about the style name changes:  “The original meaning of ‘schilling’ (/-) ales have been described incorrectly for years. A single style of beer was never designated as a 60/-, 70/- or 80/-. The schillings only referring to the cost of the barrel of beer. Meaning there were 54/- Stouts and 86/- IPAs and so on. The Scottish ales in question were termed Light, Heavy and Export, which cover the spectrum of costs from around 60/- to 90/- and simply dark, malt-focused ales. The larger 120/- ales fall outside of this purview as well as the strongest Scotch ales (aka Wee Heavy).”  In other words, the BJCP will no longer categorize the styles of beer by what they might have cost; instead, they will focus on their increasing intensity, much like they did with English Bitters. In fact BJCP 2014 guidelines for Scottish ales will read exactly the same for each style of beer, and, as the gravity increases, so will the character of the beers in question.

Interestingly, peaty and smoky flavors were often referenced as being optional, but acceptable in the 2008 BJCP guidelines.  This no longer is the case in 2014 Scottish Ale category. It seems that this is removed because BJCP has acknowledged that these features would not be present in the more recent representation of the styles. A quote from thciprian on the American Homebrewers Association forum (here) may better explain why “by the early 19th century…brewers were doing everything they could to avoid smoky character in their beer, since it was considered to be a fault. For example, in the early 18th century (~300 years ago), one of the reasons why porter was aged was to give time for the smoke character (from ‘blown’ brown malt) to drop a bit.”  One might think the smoky peat-like character was coming from the malt. However, the 2008 BJCP indicates that the smoke wasn’t from the actual malt kilning process, but “…from the traditional yeast and from the local malt and water rather than using smoked malts.” Possibly by the late 1900s, the Scottish people had figured out a way to decrease the smoke-like character produced by their water and yeast. There is even a mention from the BJCP that “Scottish ales with smoke character should be entered as a Classic Style Smoked Beer.”  They aren’t saying it isn’t an accurate style characteristic, just not an accurate one for these new guidelines.

Finally, In the 2008 guidelines, kettle caramelization was considered a hallmark of the style, but in 2014 it has been deemed inaccurate. In both Scottish ales and Wee Heavy, the guidelines do not indicate that kettle caramelization is appropriate. In fact, for Scottish ales, The new guidelines include “malt-focused ales that gain the vast majority of their character from specialty malts, never the process. Burning malt or wort sugars via ‘kettle caramelization’ is not traditional nor is any blatantly ‘butterscotch’ character.”   Despite a bit of digging around the internet, there are no other references to this lack of kettle caramelization.  Even the Oxford Companion of Beer (2011) references it as part of the style: “Scotch ale traditionally goes through a long boil in the kettle. This was particularly the case in days when the kettles were direct fired by flame…”  By the 19th and 20th centuries, boiling wort over an open flame may not have been the preferred method, and the patent malt machine was invented. Caramelization would have come from the grains themselves, and not the pot.  It will be interesting to see if more information about this is published as we progress into 2015.

The majority of the information above focused on the new Scottish ale styles, but, some of it applies to Wee Heavy too.  While the name wasn’t changed, it was moved to a different category.  Also, per the 2014 BJCP guidelines, there’s no longer a mention of kettle caramelization. Smokiness is considered appropriate but optional in this category: “Slight smoke character may be present in some versions, but derives from roasted grains or a long, vigorous boil. Peated malt is absolutely not traditional.”  This is “more related to historical brews than the lower-strength Scottish ales, these beers have their roots in the strong ales of the 1700s and 1800s, although formulations and methods have changed. A premium product, often produced for export[…]modern versions have lower starting and finishing gravities than their historical ancestors.”

What hasn’t changed from 2008 to 2014 is the target numbers for these styles. The same gravities, IBUs, and ABVs are still appropriate.  The BJCP has simply moved to a more accurate representation of newer Scottish ales, from their names, and ingredients, to brewing process.  So next time you’re enjoying a Scottish ale or a Wee Heavy, think about how you might brew your next batch to reflect these style changes!  And good luck at your next competition!


BJCP 2008 Guidelines

BJCP 2014 Guidelines Draft

AHA Forum





The Session: The Preferred Book of Choice

The Session

A brewing book I would like to see would be one about session beers. Our love affair with high ABV beers has long been established, and only in recent years have we seen the craft beer community putting more focus on beers that won’t knock you to the floor if you have a few in one sitting. I’d like to see a book with a few different sections, including: the history of commercial session beer, special aspects of brewing a good session beer, and how-to tips for home brewers looking to brew their own.

We’ve seen quite a rise in popularity recently in session beers, especially session IPAs.  But session beers were around long before that, even if they weren’t called that. The English ordinary bitter is a perfect example of a historical session beer. No doubt the saison brewed for farm workers in Belgium would have been of the session variety. Germany certainly had its share of session type beers. In fact, at one time, people had to drink beer instead of water, and certainly they wouldn’t have wanted to be drinking beer with a high ABV. I think the history of low ABV beer could be quite interesting.

There are certainly special aspects that go into brewing a commercial session beer. Breweries don’t want to brew a watered-down version of their standard AVB beers and call it their session. They want a lower ABV beer that has huge aroma and flavor. To achieve this, I’m sure they’ve got methods they’re using. This is especially true for the session IPA. In order to achieve a lower ABV, one has to have less fermentable sugar in the starting wort, which usually means using less grain. Hops not being affected by fermentation may seem to not play a part, but balance is so important, even in an IPA. Hop a 4% beer like an 8% beer and you may find you’re drinking hop tea. Learning what’s going on at some of the bigger breweries making session IPAs would make a great read.

Being a lover of commercial craft beer often leads you down the path to brew your own. There are many books on home brewing in the market, but none that focus solely on low ABV styles. Showcasing these styles, and educating home brewers on how to brew a high flavored beer without a high ABV punch would be useful. Home brewers would benefit from reading about how the pros brew their session beers, and these lessons could be discussed on a 5 gallon level.

A session beer book would be a great read. I would love to see one of these hit the market in the coming year. I love drinking lower ABV beer, and I know others do as well. A tome on the history of lower ABV styles, how pro brewers brew their beer, and how the home brewer might apply these to their own brew pot could find a home in many beer lovers’ libraries.



Beer Journalism

The Scales of Beer Justice

Is there a fine line between hackery in reporting, and pure truth?

Recently I read a good article on beer journalism. The writer, Andy Crouch, discusses the traditional ethics and etiquette of journalism in relation to beer reporting. Do we adequately follow the traditional rules of journalism? Do we need to?

The ideal situation with traditional journalism is that the reporter would have absolutely no bias. The person wouldn’t have a stake in the company, he/she wouldn’t be a familial relation, and the journalist wouldn’t accept any gifts, so as to avoid looking (or being) “bought.”

This isn’t just good for the consumers who are hopefully trusting your judgment. It’s also important for you, if you want to retain your readership. Think about this: A craft beer consumer is looking for good beers to experiment with. He/she reads an article on how great X brewery is. The person gives it a shot, since any new experience is better than no experience.

The person goes to X brewery and it’s the worst swill ever made.

Who else loses besides the customer and X brewery? You do, because the beer drinker isn’t going to trust your reviews.

Of course there are times when a blogger just disagrees with the public. Maybe you really did love X brewery. Maybe you had a certain beer that they do really well, while the consumer had one of their more middling offerings. That happens. That’s also why it’s important to mention any variables. Note in the article that you only tried the IPA, but not the barley wine. Make sure the readers know that you had it on tap, but you didn’t try the canned version.

Also, it’s important to remember that you should treat styles you don’t like differently from beers that are just poorly made. For me, if I know I don’t like a certain style, I won’t review the beer. It’s not fair to the brewer, and it’s not fair to the person reading my article. The beer didn’t stand a chance of getting a good review (unless it’s really not the style it is advertised as.) In my mind, it would be better to find someone who does like that style and let them take over that review.

Other factors may be in play that would make a beer “bad.” The tap line could be dirty. The beer could be old (and not meant to be aged). The fermentation could have been corrupted with unintended bacteria. Sometimes it’s impossible for you to know, but it’s good to keep these possibilities in mind. Maybe you could encourage your readers to post their opinions about the beer. You may find out that you are the outlier!

Another conundrum that Mr. Crouch points to is the difference between sugar-coated writing and hard-nose, truth-in-print journalism. The ideal journalistic endeavor is to go where the story takes the writer, whether it looks negatively on the subject or not.

That ideal has not always been faithfully adhered to by old journalism, and new journalism faces the same choice. Sometimes new media writers publish what could be considered “fluff” pieces: “What are your favorite beer bottle shapes?”, “If you could be any hop, what hop would you be?”

They don’t dive into the controversy because they want to be invited back. Should they be disparaged for that? Is there room for both types of writing?

As far as posting negative remarks—the contributors to Craft Beer Nation are honest in our reviews/blog posts. If something seems off style, we’ll say it. If a restaurant gives us bad service, we’ll say so.

However, I am guilty of occasionally just not reviewing a beer if it’s really bad, and I personally like the people who brewed it. That’s something I need to work on. Then again, there’s something to be said about not burning bridges. What’s the right answer?

Boris Castillo, one of our moderators, puts it this way: “As a brewer, honest feedback is important.” He says this is true regardless of who the brewer is. He hopes the breweries “would respect the honest feedback so they could improve or change the product…”

Another taboo of yore is to receive compensation from the subject of your writing, whether it be a monetary contribution, a gift or a discount.

All of these ideals are great to reach toward, but it’s not easy when you’re doing this for free. Personally, one of my happiest days was when the bartender at my bottle shop gave me the professional discount. She’s not there anymore, though, so I no longer get it. Maybe I’ll mention it next time I’m there.

Mr. Crouch offered a happy medium. If you’re going to accept gifts, or if you do have a conflict of interest, then be candid about it. For instance, if you get a free case of Bourbon Stout, note it in the article. If your best friend opens a brewpub, it’s still ok to write about it…just don’t let your ties influence your opinion.

Taking all of this into account will insure that you remain a respected commentator of the beer world. You may still be able to have your goodies, too.



Dark Horse Nation Hits The Small Screen


If you are like me you probably try to read and watch as much stuff as possible about the craft beer world. If you do, you’ll probably remember
Sam Calagione (founder and owner of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) 2010 Brew Masters on The Discovery Channel. It was cancelled with no explanation to its viewers and Sam abstained from any comments, but In March 2011, Anthony Bourdain (TV Star Culinary Chef), who shares a production company with Brew Masters, wrote on his Twitter that Brew Masters was cancelled due to pressure by a large beer company who threatened to pull advertising. (You can watch old episodes of Brew Masters at

But, craft beer advocates have come a long way since 2010, and with a consistent growth on social media, it has urged a new Channel owned by NBCUniversal and Hearst Corporation, Esquire Network (which is focused on travel, food and fashion segment) to jump start a new project in 2013. A show called Brew Dogs is hosted by the Founders/Owners of Brew Dog Brewing Co. in Scotland.  They travel the US trying to convert what they call the “Craft Beer Virgins” into drinking craft beer. The owners/stars James Watt and Martin Dickie do crazy, one of a kind brewings, with some of the stars brewers from around the US. Their success has landed them a second season that is currently airing.

Now, The History Channel has decided to start their own craft brewery style show and tonight (tuesday, July 29th) @ 10pm EST is the series premiere of “Dark Horse Nation”.

Brew DogsDifferent from Brew Dogs, The Dark Horse Nation will be a more familiar format used by The History Channel. Watching the Sneak Peak of the Show you can get a vibe of Duck Dynasty and American Chopper where they will follow the daily happenings of the brewery and Founder/Owner of Dark Horse, Aaron Morse.  His real friends and crew bring their passion to life while managing their Michigan base business on more of a “reality show” format.

I’m very excited to see another Craft beer show on a main-stream channel in prime-time. Hopefully the show will be as good as Brew Masters and Brew Dogs. I’m Keeping my fingers crossed since I’m skeptical about reality shows. Best of luck to the Dark Horse folks. We are all happy to see them hitting the small screen.

  • History Channel Show Description: In small town Marshall, Michigan, there is a group of life-long friends living out their version of the American dream. Led by rebel entrepreneur and fearless visionary, Aaron Morse, Dark Horse is a thriving business set amongst a rural paradise. Morse and his team have been making a name for themselves since 1997, when Dark Horse started bottling their unique line of craft beers. Now distributed in 12 states, the Dark Horse crew is determined to turn their business into a household name. Its die-hard fan base even has its own nickname: Dark Horse Nation. However, DARK HORSE NATION is not only about crafting great beer, it’s a way of life. Their recipe for success is as much about experimentation and trouble-shooting as it is self-taught skill and determination. Every week, there’s some new project, from creating outlandish inventions to building additions to their ever-growing compound. Around there, everything is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, or as they like to put it, “The Dark Horse Way.” source: History Channel


Watch the Sneak Peak at:



What’s Next for Washington

otwoa1Washington DC was late into the brewery game, but that is not stopping it from being a hot bed for brewing today. One of the most well known breweries in the area and in the District is DC Brau. Their well known and widely popular flagship beer is On The Wings of Armageddon. Released in 2012 for the Mayan Apocalypse, this is a single hopped beer made using the Falconer’s Flight hop that clocks in at 9.2% ABV that packs a pungent aroma and blistering bitterness, but manages to remain quite balanced. It has been said by some, mainly myself, that this beer can stand toe to toe with Heady Topper. With a highly sought after beer that can legitimately be compared to Heady, you would think the echelon on brewing in DC would end there, but not so fast.

Right Proper Brewing Company:

Located the Shaw Community of Washington, DC, Right Proper is the relatively new kid on the block, but they are making plenty noise with their beer. According to their website, their purpose is to make good beer, but also to fill a void that the District has been missing. From their website:

“We built Right Proper to be a brewery with heart and soul, a neighborhood gathering place that makes and serves fresh beer alongside delicious food that won’t break the bank. The brew pub is the creation of DC beer guru Thor Cheston, head brewer Nathan Zeender and John Snedden, founder and owner of Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company.

We picked a location that would be part of a community, where those who live nearby will stop in to meet friends for a beer and a bite. Established on the spot where Frank Holiday’s Pool Hall once stood — and where Duke Ellington learned how to play jazz as a teenager – Right Proper next to the Howard Theater stands proud as part of the real Washington.”

Right Proper seems to lean more towards Belgian styles such as Saisons and Farmhouse and they are doing a fantastic job with it. They brew classic styles via classic methods and brew using various fermentation techniques along with secondary and tertiary fermenting. With no beers that lean toward being too big, everything at Right Proper is very approachable and is true to the style in which they were intended. Refreshing and appropriate is the name of the game with these guys.

Along with great beer, they are serving up killer food. According to them:

“Right Proper’s kitchen turns out comfort food with a Southern accent. Led by Head Chef Robert Cain, the kitchen crew focuses on the marriage of food and beer. Some dishes are made with beer; some dishes are made for beer. All are made for your enjoyment.”

I can speak from first hand experience that their grilled cheese sandwich is absolutely KILLER, not only in taste, but also in looks. If you want yours dripping with cheese down the sides and would make grilled cheeses in every elementary school from Portland, ME to San Diego, CA jealous, then this is your place. Being from South Carolina, I did not think that finding good chicken livers in Washington, DC would be possible, but to my chagrin, Right Proper proved me wrong. Great beer being served up with great food in a neighborhood that provides the quintessential “just hanging out with friends this evening drinking beer” feel is where Right Proper seems to be excelling. If you find yourself in Washington, DC, make it a point to check out this brewery and you will not be disappointed.

Other Notable Area Breweries:

Atlas Brewing (DC)

Three Stars (DC)

Chocolate City (DC)

Port City (Alexandria, VA)

Mad Fox (Falls Church, VA)

Adroit Theory (Purcellville, VA)

Lost Rhino (Leesburg, VA)

Forge Brew Works (Lorton, VA)

BadWolf Brewing (Manassas, VA)

Heritage Brewing (Manassas, VA)

Old Bust Head (Fauquier, VA)




GABF – No Brewery Left Behind


The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is a three-day annual event hosted by the Brewers Association, in Denver, CO since 1984 moving from its original place in Bolder(1982), CO. The GABF has come a long from their original 22 Bbeweries and 800 attendees. This year the GABF will have more than 3200 volunteers and over than 200 judges and will judge 90 beer styles. See beer styles

The Festival happens every year on the second half of September to early October.  The 2014 GABF is scheduled for October 2-4.

As an example of how important this festival is; last year’s tickets were sold in 20 minutes (Tickets runs around $80.00 per day) and the brewery spots filled in the first 2 hours. Between brewers and attendees there were more than 49K people attending and they served over 48,000 Gallons of beer, more than 3,100 unique beers.  (“GABF” Website.)

Such popularity among breweries and craft beer aficionados has caused the number of people willing to participate, breweries and attendees alike, to increase at an amazing rate. This year’s brewery registration opened on June 17th and runs to June 26th. Only legally operating commercial breweries in the U.S. are allowed to enter the Great American Beer Festival.

The GABF organizers have looked into ways to make sure every brewery that applies can participate in the 2014 festival. They announce that this year The BA will be able to judge around 5,400 beers; an increase comparing to 4300+ in 2012 and 4800+ in 2013.

According to BA’s Barbara Fusco, some changes were put in place to include every brewery willing to participate.  They decide to use a similar format to the World Cup of Beer, which also happened in Denver a few months ago and was successful model. They think this will avoid all the hassle from last year’s competition and alleviate the fear of breweries have of missing the chance to participate.

I’m sure they are also hoping to not have to issue another apology statement for all the inconvenience the attendees trying to get tickets had to go through with the so called “technical difficulties” on the 2013 pre-sale through Ticket Master.

They raised the cap for participation to 1400 breweries this year (they expect to be way under this number since last year they had 750 breweries applying and many didn’t make into the Festival). The idea is that will allow every brewery to be accepted.

So here is how it will work:

They will take the number of breweries that apply to the competition and divide by their total capacity of judging (more or less 5400). The way they explain on the GABF website is with a simple math.

5000 beers able to be judge /1000 breweries competing = 5 beers per brewery.

If for some unknown reason more the 1400 breweries apply, the registration will close at that point before the due date.

 Award Criteria

Gold A world-class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance.
Silver An excellent beer that may vary slightly from style parameters while maintaining close adherence to the style and displaying excellent taste, aroma and appearance.
Bronze A fine example of the style that may vary slightly from style parameters and/or have minor deviations in taste, aroma or appearance.


Craft Beer Adventures – In Search of a Great Brown Ale

One of the fun things about the craft beer world is the diversity of styles.  You can take a quick dip into a style or two you normally don’t drink or don’t even like just to see how things are going in that corner of the craft beer world.  As I’ve previously written, I’m a fan of the big hoppy beers.

Last year I decided to branch out a bit and tackle a style I was quite lukewarm about: Wheat Beer.  And in doing so discovered some world class beers along the way.  This year I decided to tackle two categories that I have had a long dislike for (with very rare exceptions): Brown Ales and Lagers.  This post is a recap of my Brown Ale Adventure.

What can I say about the Brown Ale?  Boring was the first word that came to mind before starting this adventure.  “Meh.” would have been my reaction. I’d much rather have a Stout or Porter if I’m going for a dark beer.  Now that I’ve explored this style more I can honestly say I’ve gained an appreciation and respect for the style.


My sampling of Brown Ales overall is still small.  Checking on my Untappd page here’s the breakdown (though not all as I’ve only been on Untappd a year or two):

American Brown Ale – 5
English Brown Ale – 4
Imperial/Double Brown Ale – 3

So, 12 beers in the past 18 months or so isn’t a large sampling but enough to give me a good idea of the variations of the style.  I tasted some decent beers, some nice beers and a couple of outstanding beers.  My favorite of the bunch was Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale.  This is the one Brown Ale that actually made me say: “This is a fantastic Nut Brown Ale!” Words I never expected to utter along the way.  As far as the American Brown Ale goes I’d have to give the nod to Roosterfish Brewing Original Dark Nut Brown Ale out of Watkins Glen, NY as my favorite amongst the sampling I had. It hit every note I’ve come to expect from a Brown Ale and it was velvety smooth.  Considering this was Roosterfish’s first beer and is celebrating its 10 year anniversary I’m not surprised they do such a great job of it.

Overall, I’ve come to appreciate the style a lot more than I had previously.  Still not a favorite style of mine but no longer do I have to frown when presented with a Brown Ale.



Veterans United Craft Brewery

The name of a brew sets an expectation. It should represent what you will experience. What do I expect from two great names such as Raging Blonde Ale and HopBanshee? An ale that makes me want to tear through a field at dawn, not caring that I’m getting bugs in my teeth and being scratched by stalks of wheat or corn, or whatever fields are made of. (Apparently in this scenario, I’m in the Mid-West.) I expect an IPA that’s so hop-full, I lose my delicate modesty and begin wailing like the crazed hop head I’ve become.

veterans-unitedWe’ll get our chance to find out how true these names are when Veterans United Craft Brewery has its grand opening. The plan is to open in July 2014, but this is contingent on getting their new equipment. They will post updates on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Speaking of names, it isn’t called Veterans United Craft Brewery just to invoke a sense of national pride; the brewery is veteran-owned. They will be doing what they can for veterans. One of the investors, Bob Buehn—himself a retired Navy captain—told the Jax Daily Record that “it will be modest at first, but the whole focus will be on veterans.”

Speaking of beer, there will be a variety (in addition to the two beers I’ve already mentioned.) According to the marketing director, Christine Bradford, they will “brew all styles of beer from super hoppy Imperial IPAs, fruity and flavorful Belgian ales, malt-centric American and British beers, to a variety of German-style ales.”

According to Ms. Bradford, the special release and seasonal beers will be taproom-only, but they hope to eventually distribute these limited release and seasonal beers to the retail market.

Of course, they’ll have their year-round staples that will be distributed in Jacksonville, and the locations will be available on their website. Their beers will be available via kegs, growlers, and cans.

They are setting up shop in the heart of Southside, which means the heart of what I call the Office District. I predict many crowded evenings (and probably many crowded weekends, too). It won’t be far from good restaurants, too, in case you don’t want to drink on an empty stomach.

Regardless of whether you’re an office dweller like me, seeking respite and good beer, or looking for a little space from our already crowded “Beer District,” you’ll soon have a new choice off of Baymeadows Rd. in the Southside of Jacksonville, FL.