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Port City Brewing Optimal Wit [Beer Review]

Author // John Roche

For those of you who are married, or are in the process, you know that there are a lot of decisions to be made.  Despite the fact that many of these decisions end up having little consequence on the outcome of the day – each and every one carries your mark, and they often have a deep meaning to you or your spouse.  Among the decisions I needed to make for my wedding last spring was what to serve at the reception. Many caterers had a limited set of offerings in packages that ranged from expensive and boring to outrageously expensive and still boring. Fortunately, our caterer allowed me to select and purchase whatever I desired.

Port City Brewing Optimal Wit

I decided to embrace my new home and provide a selection of local craft beers to our guests. With three carefully selected choices, one each from D.C., Maryland and Virginia I had to find something that would offer great flavor, pair well with the warm spring weather, and please a diverse group of people.

Optimal Wit – a Belgian style white ale brewed by Port City Brewing Company was the hands down winner to represent Virginia and is still a household favorite when the spring and summer months roll around.  Take a deep breath before your first taste and you’ll find that notes of coriander and ginger dominate. In your mouth those spices hit first, followed closely by a mellow sweetness, orange zest and grains of paradise all juxtaposed against a backdrop of a mildly spicy Belgian yeast and raw wheat. When the temperatures get warm “spiced” beers can start to turn my stomach, but Optimal Wit exhibits a balance, both in the use of spices and in the degree of carbonation that keeps things crisp, flavorful and refreshing.  

I can’t help but notice the similarities to the popular Sam Adams Summer Ale, and if you are a fan of that beer you’ll find that there is a little bit more body and depth of flavor to Optimal Wit and, of course, the Belgian yeast adds a fun element as well. Most importantly, you can bring this to the picnic table at a crab feast and not be heckled for bringing a Massachusetts beer to a Mid-Atlantic tradition.  Over the course of a hot summer afternoon cool beers and conversation flows as crabs are picked for their sweet meat. The coriander, ginger and grains of paradise in particular compliment, not overshadow, the delicate sweetness of crab, while the beer cuts through the Old Bay seasoning and cleanses your palette for the next bite.

Drink Craft Beer Brewvet Challenge

Author // John Roche

There are physical and mental changes that occur when you ride your bike – sure there is the elevated heart rate, increased perspiration, and slow release of endorphins – but you also change your perspective on the world around you. You notice storefronts you never noticed before, you realize which roads go uphill, and who minds when you drag your sweaty self into a bar for a refreshing drink. I find myself to be much more in tune with my surroundings on a bike, and that creates a strong sense of local pride.

The thing is craft beer can do similar things to you. You might yearn to connect with your local brewer, or observe (and want to try) new beers on the menu you hadn't noticed before, and if you find something you like you keep coming back for more – like that favorite biking route.

It is in the spirit of commingling our shared love for gears and grains, hops and handlebars that we’re launching the Drink Craft Beer Brewvet Challenge.

In short this is a challenge to inspire you to get on your bike and explore your surroundings – and your local craft beers. The event will run from May 30th, 2013 through July 14th, 2013.

Gears & Craft Beers

What is a Brewvet?

A friend and award-winning blogger in Washington, DC, Mary of Chasing Mailboxes, provides the inspiration for the concept. Two years ago Mary combined her love of the long-distance cycling sport known as randonneuring and the simple pleasure of a good cup of coffee and created the Coffeeneuring Challenge. Since a randonneuring event is called a brevet, it only made sense to call our take on this concept the Brewvet.

The brewvet concept follows the spirit of the Coffeeneuring Challenge - incorporate take 12 separate bike rides, each of which fitting into a specific category, for a total distance of 100 km (62 miles). Just like in a brevet, you must provide documentation of each stop on your adventures. If you complete the challenge you’ll even get a little prize. 

A ride qualifies if you either stop to drink a beer during your bike ride, or purchase a beer on your bike ride that you drink shortly after you get back home.

Spokes and Craft Beers

The Categories

  1. Buy Local: Ride to your favorite local bar and enjoy a beer.
  2. Brew Local: Take a break during your ride to enjoy a locally brewed craft beer.
  3. Enjoy your Hops: Enjoy an IPA on your ride (obviously not while you ride...take a breather and get your IPA on).
  4. Cider Century: Ok, we don’t mind if you ride less than 100 miles – but at least try a crisp hard cider!
  5. Spring Classic: The first rides of the professional season are in Belgium, seek out some Belgian beer.
  6. Macro Ride: Sometimes you end up in the middle of nowhere, and all that’s there to drink is one of the beers from the macro-brewers. Plan your route better next time! 
  7. Porteur Ride: A porteur bike is built for carrying loads - but a porter is built for enjoyment – and we hope you try one!
  8. Go Exploring: Try a new craft beer for the first time!
  9. ‘Tis the Saison: Originally brewed for farmers laboring in the fields, saisons are crisp, refreshing, and a perfect complement to a warm bike ride.

The Rules

Rules? Yes, there has to be rules! That’s another quirk of these randonneur events. It seems like a lot, but I promise you’ll still enjoy yourself.

  1. In the interest of safety, you can only count 1 ride per day. If you have more than 1 beer per ride, it still only counts as 1 ride. Know your limits and be safe!
  2. You must complete at least one ride in 7 of the 9 categories above, and a total of 12 rides. Each category can only be used twice.
  3. The 12 rides must be completed between May 30th, 2013 and July 14th, 2013.
  4. There is no minimum length for each brewvet ride, but once you have completed all 12 rides, the total distance you've covered must be at least 100km (62 miles). 
  5. Complete the Brewvet control card at each stop. Document the location, the beer you enjoyed, the miles you rode, and the date. Also be sure to take a photo! Get your Brewvet card when you sign up here!
  6. Once you have completed your Brewvet submit your 12 photos and completed control card to john “at” drinkcraftbeer dot com. Photos can submitted on your blog, as links to a photo sharing website or tweets, or via email. Deadline for Brewvet submissions is July 21, 2013.
  7. Everyone who successfully completes the Drink Craft Beer Brewvet will receive a prize. In fact, even if you try but fail, we might send something your way so feel free to submit whatever you can. To participate, sign up here.

How to Sign Up

To sign up, you'll need to register for the Drink Craft Beer Brewvet by clicking here and filling out the form.

Be sure to tweet using the hashtag #DCBBrewvet so we can follow your adventures!

Craft Beer Cans vs. Bottles - Is There a Difference?

Author // Jeff Wharton

Years ago, it was revolutionary when Oskar Blues started canning their beers. Recently, though, craft brewers have embraced this packaging format and every year seems to bring more and more good beer in cans. We’re at the point where even Samuel Adams whose founder, Jim Koch, said only recently that they would never can their beer is now putting brew into cans. With the format becoming more popular there’s a contingent of people who say they taste metallic notes in canned beer and those who say you can’t.

I’ve talked to beer packaging experts as well as brewers about this, and their consensus is that cans don’t impart flavor. The lining in cans is a water-based polymer that doesn’t interact with beer. Furthermore, this lining prevents beer from ever touching the metal in the can which, it turns out, is a good thing. The aluminum in modern cans is so thin that, if the lining was to allow beer through, the beer would eat through the metal before you could get it home from the store.

With that said, we thought this was an experiment worth running. So let’s see how it turns out!

Craft Beer Cans versus Bottles

Methodology

We've got four different beers, ranging from a simple craft lager to an IPA. All beers will be poured into an identical glass; we're testing whether cans or bottles effect the actual taste of the beer, not how the presentation effects the perceived taste. The beer will be poured and photographed away from me, so I can’t see which is which (in case there are any noticeable differences after pouring). I will know what beer I’m getting and any information that’s on the bottle/can. They’ll be served to me with a nondescript notation so that I can’t tell based on how the beer is labelled. I’ll get both beers at the same time, side by side, so that I can compare.

Cisco Summer of Lager

Cisco Brewers Summer of Lager

Glass #1

Appearance: Glass #1 has a clear, golden hue to the beer with a thin film of bubbles on top of it. There’s a bit of lacing on the side of the glass as you drink the beer, but not too much.

Smell: There’s a sweet, slightly malty note to this one with just a touch of fruity hops perhaps. That could just be the yeast, though. It’s a little bready, almost like walking into a bakery where a lot of loaves are in the oven.

Taste: Just as it smells, it’s light and mildly sweet. There’s some nice malt to it, but it’s definitely understated. This is one that I could drink a lot of, it finishes with only a hint of aftertaste lingering in the back of your throat and bubbles you can feel scrubbing your tongue.

Glass #2

Appearance: Glass #2 looks the same as Glass #1, except there’s about two fingers of pure white head that is just lingering and lingering. As the beer disappears down my throat, the head does not, coating the sides of the glass the whole way through.

Smell: Glass #2 doesn’t smell quite as sweet as Glass #1. It’s got a brighter, less bready aroma to it and the aroma is much cleaner. It still has a slightly fruity thing going on, again perhaps from the yeast.

Taste: Again, just like the smell, this one is a good bit brighter than Glass #1 and less sweet. The carbonation isn’t quite as strong, but he aftertaste lingers just the same...a drying presence in the back of my throat. Overall Glass #2 leaves my mouth significantly drier, probably from the reduced sweetness. Glass #2 is also a bit more minerally, which is contributing to that increase in perceived brightness.

Which is canned?

Honestly I’m not sure. I don’t pick up any metallic tastes or smells from either one. The differences between the two could be batch variation, as the cans are brewed and packaged at different facility than the bottles...or it could be something else...but none of it strikes me as the metallic notes that are typically thought of as indicative of cans. I’ll pick Glass #2 because it seems a bit fresher and cans allow less air to get in. But, again, I’m just not sure. Neither seems “canny.”

Result - Glass #2 is canned. Jeff is correct.

Wachusett Summer

Wachusett Summer Ale

Glass #1

Appearance: Glass #1 is a light, bright yellow color clear as day. And, just like a bright, clear day there are little wisps of white bubbles on top, just like a few lonely clouds in the sky.

Smell: The smell is clean, almost too clean. There’s a hint of citrus in here...lemon it seems like. Finally, I’m getting a bit of tang at the very end of the smell, but I’m not sure where it’s coming from.

Taste: Again, that lemony fruitness is back. It’s not strong, but it’s there: right up front, then again in the aftertaste. In between, there’s a wheat-like chalkiness. This is a dry, super-crisp beer with fairly strong carbonation.

Glass #2

Appearance: Glass #2 looks exactly like Glass #1.

Smell: If Glass #1 smelled clean, Glass #2 is somehow even cleaner. I’m not picking up much of anything, if I’m being honest. As it warms you’ll find a bit of that lemon from Glass #1, but that’s about it.

Taste: The lemon is slightly stronger in Glass #2 than it was in #1. It’s more persistent of a flavor than it was in Glass #1, but the wheat is still there in the mid-palate. That said, Glass #1 and Glass #2 are really similar.

Which is canned?

I’m even less sure than the last case! At least in that last one there was a difference in sweetness, which can possibly indicate oxygen exposure. I know that these two beers are brewed at the same place, as I’ve seen Wachusett’s canning line. Here it’s just a difference in lemonyness (is that even a word?) which is almost definitely just batch variation. Even if it’s not, I’m not sure what that would mean as far as can vs. glass. I’ll say Glass #1 is canned, as some people think the liners in cans might absorb flavor? But I’m just guessing here.

Result - Glass #2 is canned. Jeff is wrong.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Glass #1

Appearance: Glass #1 is a robust amber color that is, again, clear enough to read the logo on the glass through. The head is cream-colored and big enough to overflow the glass yet thick enough to not stream down the side. Even halfway through drinking the glass, there is still a ring of foam around the top, sticking to the glass.

Smell: This is definitely a lager, without any yeasty fruitiness in the aroma and that familiar smell that is almost sulfury that seems the be ever-present in lagers. There’s a bit of spicy hops here, but they’re nice and balanced.

Taste: Again, this is definitely a lager. It doesn’t have the yeasty esther notes that even filtered ales have. It’s smooth, with quite mild carbonation and a hoppiness that stays with you throughout the sip, but never overwhelms. The beer isn’t sweet nor is it hoppy. It’s just flavorful, with malt reminiscent of rustic German bread.

Glass #2

Appearance: The color on this beer is identical to Glass #1 (even with the glasses next to eash other), but the head is highly diminished. There’s a bit of lacing around the side, but it’s much thinner than on Glass #1.

Smell: Unlike Glass #1, Glass #2 has much less in this department. The smell is milder, the hops aren’t nearly as strong and the lagery, almost sulfury aroma just isn’t there. Is this the same beer?

Taste: OK...this might be the same beer. The flavor profile is definitely close, but there are different highlights. First, there’s a lot more carbonation here. Glass #1 felt almost like cask ale, but Glass #2 has prickly, sturdy carbonation that hits the roof of your mouth with a pop. The hops are there as well, similar to Glass #1 and that lager taste is definitely back. Aside from the carbonation, these beers identical in taste.

Which is canned?

I have no idea at all! The only difference is carbonation. And that may be just due to the larger head on Glass #1. Even though they were poured together as similarly as possible, maybe one vessel agitated the beer more? I don’t know, I can’t even make a guess here. I have no idea.

Result - Glass #1 is canned. Jeff is wrong as he didn’t even make a guess.

Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale Ale

Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale Ale

Glass #1

Appearance: Again, the beer is clear clear clear with a copper tone to it. A big, off-white head perches on top, just sitting there looking delicious.

Smell: Hops. Yep, that’s pretty much it: a bag of hops. It’s a little fruity smelling, with tropical notes coming through. It smells just like an American IPA.

Taste: And there are still hops here. It’s a little sweeter than I expected from the smell, but not by much. There’s some decent hop bitterness and a resin that sticks through the back of the throat. The malt is pretty light, with hops being the predominant flavor here, but those hops are a little more piney than the smell.

Glass #2

Appearance: Glass #2 is really similar to Glass #1, except there’s only a thin memory of head here and the liquid is a little darker.

Smell: The hops are way milder on the nose in this one. There’s some malt that comes through here, although it’s still in the background and just a hint of mustiness.

Taste: There’s less bitterness in Glass #2. The beer is sweeter, probably because of the lowered bitterness. Also, the flavor of the hops is lighter, which is to be expected since there’s so much less hop aroma. That resiny feeling on the back of the throat is still here, but it’s diminished. And the musty smell I got? It’s here a little bit, but accompanied by a bit of minerality.

Which is canned?

Again, neither beer has any metallic tastes that people seem to associate with cans, but the closest I can come to metallic is the minerality in Glass #2. Sometimes those two flavors can be confused. That said, if cans are supposed to reduce oxygen exposure, the brighter, more fresh hop flavors in Glass #1 would seem to point to that one being the can. So, basically, my decision comes down to whether I think the mineraly/metallic flavors or the brighter hop flavors come from the can. Given what I know about the polymer can linings, I’m going to guess that the increased hop flavor and freshness is from the can.

Result - Glass #1 is canned. Jeff is correct.

Conclusions

I ended up getting half correct and half wrong...although I couldn’t even make a guess on one of the beers. 50/50 is what you’d expect if I was just guessing, so it seems that I couldn’t tell which was which. I didn’t pick up any metallic flavors in any of the beers that weren’t there across both glasses. After knowing the results, it seems that cans gave beer more head, possibly because you have to pour over a raised lip which agitated the beer, as opposed to a smooth glass bottle top? Either way, I couldn’t find any of the alleged flavors that people claim to get from cans. There were definitely flavor variations between the bottles and cans, but that could be chalked up to batch variation, differences resulting from contracting the beer out to facilities with a canning line or other reasons.

We’d love to hear from our readers, though. What do you think? Do you notice metallic flavors when you drink beers that have been canned? Let us know.

Stone Brewing Espresso Imperial Russian Stout [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

Years ago, when I was first delving into craft beer, one of my friends told me about this dark, strong elixir that I just had to try. This was back when Stone Imperial Russian Stout only made peekaboo-like appearances in New England for a week or so after it was released and then it would be gone for another year. If you weren’t quick, you’d lost your shot. Luckily, I walked into the store one day and they had just received their case. I grabbed a bottle and, after I cracked it open, found out that my friend hadn’t lied. Fast forward many years and Stone announces that they’ll be adding espresso to this beer for their 2013 Odd Year series release of Stone IRS. Now, if there’s one thing I like as much as beer it’s coffee...hell, our first collaboration beer was a coffee stout we released with Notch Brewing! So I was over the moon about this and knew I had to get a bottle. Well I did, and here it is.

Stone Brewing Espresso Imperial Russian Stout

What’s the darkest place you can think of? Perhaps your childhood basement at night with the lights off (if you’re the sentimental type)? Well this beer is darker than that. It’s black like the absence of light. Black like the Brooklyn Nets’ jerseys. Black like black is black. You get it, right? It’s really dark. As you pour a short, tan head forms on top, completing the illusion of drawing a shot of espresso and getting a good crema.

Not unsurprisingly, the predominant aroma in this is coffee...a roasty, mildly fruity blend of beans that smells like it may have a hit of bitterness up front. There’s a sweetness in the aroma that is similar to the way that coffee with milk and sugar smells. Once you’re past the coffee, and it does mellow as you smell it more and your nose becomes a bit numb to it, the dark fruit and berry aromas of the base Stone Imperial Russian Stout begin to come through and you get the nuances of this beer. If it was just a stout with a ton of coffee in it, I’d drink it and enjoy it. But it’s these additional layers that make this such a great beer.

A thick, viscous brew, the Stone Espresso IRS hits you right upside the head with a serious espresso fist. Honestly, in many ways it reminds me of the Taza Coffee Mexicano Chocolate: dry, slightly bitter and a ton of coffee flavor. The sweetness and fruit flavors that are so expressive in the regular version are nowhere to be found here, even as the beer warms, having been countered by the Ryan Brothers Coffee beans. There’s a bit of a chocolate milk flavor in the finish and the mouthfeel isn’t that far off either. The light, but permeating, carbonation is just enough so that it doesn’t feel flat. If you love coffee and Imperial Russian Stout, then you’ve got to check this one out! But make sure you like that caffeinated black stuff or else this may not be the one for you...it’s coffee like whoa!

Mystic Brewery & Bluejacket DC Vespula Mysticus Saffron Saison [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

On Saturday, February 16th 2013 the new Mystic Brewery tap room opened it’s doors for the first time. Though the brewery has been open for a while now, it was only as of this day that you could sample the beer at the place where it was fermented (the physical brewing is done elsewhere, then unfermented wort is trucked back to the brewery for yeast pitching and fermentation). I’m a well-known lover of saisons, so I’ve basically been in a constant stoked state ever since Boston got a saison brewery of it’s own. Bryan Greenhagen, founder of Mystic Brewery, and his team have been doing crazy stuff with yeast over there and they’ve not disappointed the Boston beer drinkers. Their stuff is a constant in my fridge. So, on this day, there was no way I wasn’t going to be at the Mystic tap room to see what kind of specialties they might have on tap, just for those who made the trek. I ended up sampling a delicious “Half IPA” as well as their Table Beer, but perhaps best of all I walked away with 32 oz growler of their collaboration with D.C.’s yet to open Bluejacket DC, Vespula Mysticus, a saffron saison. (Sidenote, Bluejacket DC has Megan Parisi, former head brewer at Cambridge Brewing Company, as brewmaster...you know whatever she puts her name on will be good!) I had tried a sample previously at a beer fest, but was looking forward to a full, proper pour.

Mystic Brewery & Bluejacket DC Vespula Mysticus Saffron Saison

This one pours a slightly hazy, golden hue of deliciously enticing liquid. I’m already remembered the first time I sampled this at a beer fest and was floored by everything about it. As you can see from the picture, there’s pretty much no head, but I’m going to blame that on the fact that it’s from a growler and not on the beer itself.

Well it’s a saffron saison and, from the first time I smelled two ounces of this brew in a fairly crowded hall full of beer enthusiasts eager to sample the wares of brewers from across the U.S. until now, my opinion stays the same: it smells just like it’s called! I am honestly amazed at how they were able to capture the essence of saffron in a beer like they have! On top of that, the aromas actually gel quite nicely with the normal spicy saison aromatics, giving this beer a peppery, dried-flower aroma that is wonderful.

While the head may have faded a bit due to the growler, the carbonation is still there and it’s spot on! Tiny, prickly bubbles help to convey the smell of the beer to my nose while a flowery, light and bone-dry saison coats my mouth. The use of saffron is genius, as it lends perceived sweetness to the beer while allowing it to remain chalky dry at the same time. Honestly, put this in a can and the world will drink it all throughout the hot summer months! A minerally, grainy note comes along with the rest of the flavors, helping keep everything in balance and stopping those floral flavors from becoming too much like what I assume the potpourri in my grandmother’s house would taste like.

Honestly, this is a great beer that is well worth you getting out to Mystic’s tap room in Chelsea to get a sample and growler of! They’re open on Fridays 3-7pm and Saturdays Noon-4pm. If you want, you can find out what’s on tap before you go.