South Carolina Pint Law Awaits Governor’s Signature

Last week, South Carolina craft beer scored a major victory. The “Pint Law” was approved by the state’s House of Representatives and now awaits Governor Haley’s signature. She has assured the South Carolina Brewer’s Association that she will sign the bill.

Once this bill becomes law, it will be a major turning point for craft beer in the state. It will allow breweries to sell up to 48 ounces of beer for on-premise consumption. While it’s not unlimited sales or self-distribution like some states (North Carolina), this is a huge step and will open the door for more breweries to open in the state.

Like any business, but especially one as capital-intensive as brewing beer, being able to sell directly to the consumer is a huge benefit. To illustrate just how beneficial it is, one only has to look across South Carolina’s border to the North. North Carolina allows for breweries to sell their beer on-premise and to self-distribute their beer. Prior to this law passing, South Carolina breweries could do neither. North Carolina has over 70 breweries. South Carolina has 10.

Oh, and North Carolina just brought in East Coast expansions from Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues over the past year. Just sayin’…

Obviously, the effects of this law won’t be felt overnight. Now that the law is all but passed, more people may now decide that South Carolina has a good climate to start a brewery, and that process can take a year or more from start to finish.

So while this law is a huge win for the breweries currently open in the state, look for even more to enter the game in 2015 and beyond.

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Community Tap Beer Fest Signals Greenville’s Arrival

Margaret and Brian bask in the glow of homebrew glory among the pros.

Margaret and Brian bask in the glow of homebrew glory among the pros.

Asheville has Brewgrass. Charleston has Brewvival. Greenville now has the Community Tap Beer Fest.

With an established brewery (Thomas Creek) and two more on the way (Quest & Brewery 85), a brewpub (Blueridge), America’s Most Arrogant beer bar (Barley’s Tap Room) and two of the best craft beer stores in the Southeast (Community Tap & Greenville Beer Exchange), this inaugural rare-beer festival sounded the trumpet that the Greenville Beer Scene has arrived.

The sold-out festival was held at Larkin’s Saw Mill off North Main. It was a great venue for the event, and with only 400 tickets available, it had an intimate feel without the long lines and crowdedness of the bigger festivals. There was plenty of indoor space, with several breweries setup outside.

The best part of the festival was obviously the rare beer that was served. I won’t list all the beers here, but you can check out the beer list to see what I mean. 70 amazing beers, including 8 casks. With only 400 people, there was plenty of beer to go around.

Since the lines never got long, there was plenty of opportunity for fest-goers to mingle with the brewers and brewery reps. It’s that type of interaction I look for in a great festival that sets itself apart from the big ones. You can drink great beer anywhere, festivals are one of the few opportunities to be able to meet and talk with dozens brewery people and beer geeks in one spot.

My favorite beers on the day were Quest Kaldi Imperial Coffee Stout (one of the best coffee stouts I’ve ever had, tasted like a coffee crumb cake), Southern Tier Pumking aged in a Dark Corner Lewis Redmond bourbon barrel, New Holland Blue Sunday, Allagash James Bean and 2010 Avery Mephistopheles.

This was Quest Brewing's coming out party for Greenville, with Don Richardson showing off all four of his soon-to-be year round selections.

This was Quest Brewing’s coming out party, with Don Richardson showing off all four of his soon-to-be year round selections.

I only had the chance to try about 15 beers, so I missed out on a ton of greatness. However, it was well worth the sacrifice, as I got to work the Upstate Brewtopians homebrew table.

As I’ve said several times before, there are fewer things that are more fun than pouring beer at a festival. It takes it to another level when that beer is yours, and people keep coming back for more.

The Brewtopians table featured three beers:

  • Margaret Antonik’s Tango with my Mango IPA
  • Bill MacElroy’s Stiche Alt
  • Brian Cendrowski and Joe Dunham’s Collaborative Tripel of Paradise

brewtopians boardMargaret’s Tango with my Mango IPA literally stole the show. The whole show. It is with great pride in my fellow homebrewers that I say our table had the longest lines and most consistent traffic during the entire festival.

Margaret made the Mango IPA with five pounds of fresh mango put in a five gallon batch. It was perfectly balanced between hops, malt and fruit. It wasn’t overly sweet like many fruit beers, and it was perfectly refreshing on a beautiful spring day.

Tango with my Mango was the talk of the festival. It was so popular, the five-gallon keg kicked about two hours in, yet people continually asked for it for the remainder of the four-hour event, hoping that maybe we had some brewer’s reserve we could share. Even later on that night at the Barley’s post-party, people were still talking about it!

Bill’s Stiche Alt is a big, German-style alt beer. While not as flashy as the Mango IPA, it’s an excellent representation of the style and very well-made. In fact, Bill served it at the Charlotte Oktoberfest last fall, and the guys at Olde Mecklenburg Brewing offered to brew it on their system should Bill win a medal at the US Open Homebrew Competition in Charlotte.

Joe and my Tripel of Paradise was a tripel brewed with grains of paradise, star anise and blood orange zest. I thought it turned out exceptionally well and received a lot of favorable feedback. I had at least one person say it was their favorite beer of the festival, but that was late in the day and she may or may not have been really drunk.

That our homebrew stood out among some of the best beers in the world was a tremendous feeling. It really does show that the craft of brewing doesn’t require a fancy system or a degree from a brewing university. If you have passion, creativity and a little attention to detail, you can make great beer.

Overall, the festival was a tremendous success, and the guys at the Community Tap have already said they’re doing it again next year. So save the date: April 12, 2014.

And they said the Brewtopians can come back. What creations will the little guys come up with next?

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Homebrewer Turned Vintner

Back on January 7, I wrote about the first batch of wine I made to celebrate my brewing anniversary. To summarize the experience, it was very simple. After brewing for six years, making wine is astoundingly easy.

Now, before the crusty old vintners reading this pull the torches and pitchforks out of their closets to run me out of town, let me clarify by saying, making wine is easy. Making great wine is an art.

You could say the same about beer. Any guy off the street can boil some malt extract, throw in some hops, cool it and pitch the yeast. That won’t compete with Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.

However, my first batch of wine turned out much better than my first batch of beer.

Going From Brewing to Winemaking

Equipment for winemaking. Not pictured: a corker and airlock.

Equipment for winemaking. Not pictured: a corker and airlock.

If you’ve been brewing for any length of time, you likely have all the equipment you’ll need to make wine, save for perhaps a corker.

Here’s a list of the equipment you’ll need:

  1. Fermenting bucket
  2. Carboy
  3. Siphon
  4. Tubing
  5. Airlock
  6. Spoon
  7. Hydrometer
  8. Thief
  9. Sanitizer
  10. Corker
  11. Corks & bottles
  12. Bottling bucket
  13. Degassing device (optional)

That’s it, that’s the list. If you’re making wine from a kit, it’ll provide all the ingredients you need. Like with beer, as you get more advanced, you can start playing around with other flavorings, additives and nutrients.

The Winemaking Process

The process of making wine is straightforward. Each kit or recipe will have it’s own specific instructions, but here is the basic process:

  1. Since there is no boiling or heating of the wine, everything from the beginning needs to be sanitized. I recommend StarSan.
  2. If using grape extract, dilute the extract to six gallons in your primary fermenting bucket.
  3. Pitch the yeast.
  4. Close it up with an airlock. Store the bucket in darkness between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. About a week later, rack it into a carboy.
  6. After another 10 days, or when fermentation has pretty much stopped (see your instructions to determine the final gravity), add the fining agents and stabilizers.
  7. Degas the wine (more on this later).
  8. Wait another two weeks.
  9. Bottle it up.

The advantage to making wine over beer is that there is no steeping or boiling involved. There are no temperatures or efficiencies to worry about. The hard work in making wine is in growing the grapes. As a home vintner, that’s taken care of for you.

Now, there is one part of the process that is a complete pain in the ass if you don’t have the right equipment:

Degassing the Wine

During fermentation, yeast eat sugar and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Most of the CO2 escapes into the air, which is why you need an airlock to prevent the fermenter from exploding.

However, not all of the CO2 escapes. Some of it remains dissolved in solution. In beer, this isn’t a problem because we end up conditioning it at the end. Unless you are drinking champagne or sparkling wine, prickly carbonation is not a desirable characteristic in wine.

There are three ways you can get the CO2 out of your wine:

  1. Let it sit for a year until all the CO2 escapes on its own.
  2. Agitate (stir) the wine until all the CO2 is released.
  3. Pump the CO2 out with a vacuum.

At one point, the instructions that came with my kit told me to “stir vigorously for 2 minutes to disperse the stabilizers and drive off CO2.” Then I was to add the stabilizers and “stir vigorously for another two minutes.”

Unless I was the Six Million Dollar Man and turned my hand into a bionic drill bit capable of excavating a hole to the Earth’s molten core, there is no way that I could stir that wine vigorously enough to completely remove all the gas in four minutes.

I didn’t have any pumps or spoons specifically designed for the task, so I improvised by attaching a short piece of tubing to the end of a bit on my cordless drill. After at least an hour’s worth of stirring and agitating, it still wasn’t completely degassed.

Whip it. Whip it good.

Whip it. Whip it good.

Nearing the end of my rope and ready to make the world’s first sparkling pinot noir, I happened to be in Grape and Grains when my conversation with owner Ken Anderson turned to wine. I told him I was making my first ever wine and he showed me a nifty contraption he had attached to an air compressor.

This contraption created a vacuum that would suck all the CO2 out of the wine in one to two hours. He said I was welcome to bring my carboy in and hook it up. Jackpot! I brought my carboy in the next day.

Ken hooked up the vacuum, I left to run some errands, came back a couple hours later and voilà! Done. Gas-less wine. Many thanks to Ken!

If you don’t have an air compressor, there are a few other options. Brake line bleeders apparently do quiet well. You can also buy a hand pump and get a good workout. There are stirring sticks that you can attach to a hand drill.

It just takes a little resourcefulness, or knowing another more advanced wine maker, and you can get the job done. All I know is, if I were to get serious about wine, I would invest in an automated way to get the gas out of it. It’s well worth it.

The Review

It's wine!

It’s wine!

The wine kit I made was a Winexpert Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir from Midwest Brewing Supply. The color was ruby red with impressive clarity. It had a bright, musty nose with an alcohol presence. I also had aromas of tropical fruit, particularly kiwi and mango.

The flavor was light and refreshing, just what I was hoping for in a spring to summer house wine. It burst with cherries and strawberries, rounding out with caramel coming in afterward.

It has an acidity to it, reminiscent of a European pinot, and finished clean and dry. There was a slight bite at the end, likely from the acidity, though perhaps there was a small residual amount of carbon dioxide left. Damn degassing!

The wine turned out surprisingly decent, considering it’s my first ever batch. I thought it was refreshing and drinkable, which is a desirable quality since I now have 28 bottles to make it through.

It totally grew on me as I drank more of it. I feel like it will be a versatile house wine for every day drinking. Great for the upcoming spring and summer.

The kit costs about $65, which comes out to slightly more than $2/bottle. That’s a great price to produce a house wine. Like any craft, I’m also sure you can get to the point where you can produce wine that’s every bit as good as most that you can buy in the store.

I also know that you can procure straight juice, not from concentrate. And as with any juice, fresh is always better than concentrate. While it’s more expensive that way, I’m sure the finished product will be that much better. My next batch will be from straight juice, and I look forward to comparing that to the extract wine I made.

I’m pretty sure I’ll do this again once I make a dent in my current supply. It’s easy, makes pretty good wine at a very reasonable cost, and creates a hit at parties. After all, that’s why we make this stuff, right?

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Greenville, I Bestow Upon You a Brewing Quest

Quest Exterior

The site of Quest Brewing.

Thomas Creek and Blueridge Brewing have been the only kids in Greenville’s beer family for the past 15 years. Those teenagers are about to get a baby brother. Don Richardson and Andrew Watts are set to give birth to Quest Brewing Company.

Starting with the arrival of The Community Tap in 2010, Greenville has been on a trajectory with an increase of craft beer coming to Upstate South Carolina. Since they opened, the area has seen five additional craft beer stores open. Total Wine, Green’s and Whole Foods have also installed growler filling stations to keep up with the times.

While the retail side of craft beer has been booming, the production end has remained in stasis… until now.

Aiming for a launch in late-May 2013, Don and Andrew aren’t a couple of newbies who got loose with a homebrew kit and thought it would be cool to start a brewery, although I’m hoping that business model works for me someday. Don has a couple decades of experience in the beer world, and Andrew has been a successful businessman in IT.

don and andrew

Quest Brewing founders Don Richardson (left) and Andrew Watts in front of the soon-to-be brewhouse, sans kettle.

Don has worked both on the production and distribution sides of the industry. He was a brewmaster at Boulder Beer Company in Colorado and at Cottonwood Brewery in North Carolina. He also owned a distribution business in Greenville, All Good Brands, for 10 years that specialized in bringing Belgian beer stateside.

Andrew is going to run the business side while Don handles the beer. Andrew’s journey to found Quest is bitter-sweet. A few years ago, his brother Sean passed away at an entirely too early age. Sean was a huge craft beer fanatic and made a convert of Andrew. To honor his brother, Andrew decided he wanted to start a brewery.

Don and Andrew were introduced through Ed Buffington, one of the co-owners of the Community Tap. They met for a beer or three at Barley’s Tap Room one evening and immediately hit it off. They realized they shared a common vision to start a brewery in Greenville. Thus, Quest was conceived.

The 10-barrel fermenter, which will some day hold many delicious sour beers.

The 10-barrel fermenter, which will some day hold many delicious sour beers.

While the brewery construction is currently in-process, most of the major work has been done. Quest has been assembled “Frankenbrewrey” style. They have pieced the brewery together from equipment acquired from seven breweries in the Southeast: Olde Mecklenburg, Aviator, New South, Craggie, Big Boss, Lone Rider and Terrapin.

Quest is coming out of the gates with a 25-barrel brewhouse, two 25-barrel fermenters, two 40-barrel fermenters and one very special little 10-barrel fermenter. The little guy is going to house the sour project beers. Yes, Quest is going to make sours!

Their initial offering is going to start with four year-round beers: Golden Fleece Belgian Pale Ale, Ellida IPA, Smoking Mirror Smoked Porter and Kaldi Imperial Coffee Stout. The brewery is also going to have a barrel room to barrel-age some special one-off brews.

I’ve gotten to know Don over the last couple years, I know he has a great mind for beer and knows what to do with a hop pellet. He was one of the creative forces behind the recipe of the Community Tap’s Trifecta IPA, which is one of my favorite hop-forward, smooth drinking IPAs. Word on the street is that Ellida IPA stole the show at Barley’s Biggest Little Beer Fest in January. I can’t wait to see what he does with full creative license over his own brewery.

Stay tuned, Greenville. The beer family station wagon is about to add a car seat, and there’s still plenty of room in the back. The ride is about to get wild.

The Pre-Quest Brewery

The Pre-Quest Brewery

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South Carolina’s Brewery Pint Bill H.3554

Did you know there is a bill before the South Carolina legislature that, if passed, will allow breweries to sell up to four pints of beer directly to a customer? In fact, there is!

2013-2014 H.3554 was introduced to the South Carolina House of Representatives on February 19, 2013.

There is a good post on that explains what the bill means for the breweries, and what it means for us that drink beer.

Here is my Executive Summary, for you my loyal readers:

  • You can buy four pints (64 oz. to be exact) of beer at a brewery per day for on-premises consumption.
  • You can still sample beer at the brewery, though those samples count against your 64 ounces.
  • You can still buy up to 288 oz. of beer to take home, in whatever container it comes in (12 or 22 oz. bottles, 64 oz. growlers…)

This is huge, both for the breweries and the customers. It basically means you can go to a brewery, hang out and have a couple beers. You can’t legally do this now. The breweries get the added advantage (and profit margin) of selling beer directly to the consumer.

While this bill is still slightly restrictive and not as free-flowing as our neighbors to the North have it, I feel that four pints is a good amount. You can have a few beers at the brewery and make your way to a traditional bar or restaurant if you want to continue your evening.

The bill is in the beginning stages and still has a long way to go. It needs your support go pass through the many hurdles that lie ahead. If you live in South Carolina, you can read this how-to-guide on the journey the bill must undergo before it becomes law and learn how you can do your part to make sure it does.

While you don’t have to contact every elected official in the state, you can start by contacting the legislators in your jurisdiction and letting them know that you are in favor of this bill and why.

North Carolina has over 60 breweries. South Carolina has less than 10. There’s a reason, and it’s not that North Carolinians have a more sophisticated palate for craft beer. This bill will help level the playing field for South Carolina’s existing breweries and pave the way for new ones to open.

And really, that’s the goal, isn’t it? To have more good beer to drink? Be an American, do your part and let our legislators know that we want this bill to pass!

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2013 Upstate Brewtopians Oyster Roast – March 2


The 2013 Upstate Brewtopians Oyster Roast is only two weeks away! On March 2, our Upstate homebrew club will hold its annual charity auction and oyster roast starting at 2 pm.

This event is always the highlight of the year for the club. This year the afternoon will feature oysters, Bucky’s BBQ, Thomas Creek beer, a charity auction and food drive to benefit Harvest Hope Food Bank, and of course, homebrew!

All are welcome, you don’t have to be a member of the club or even brew. Come on out if you’re curious about the craft or want to see what The Brewtopians are all about. It’s going to be a fun day, and it’s for a good cause. Last year we donated $1,000 to Harvest Hope, and we will beat that this year.

Tickets are $15/person and gets you all the oysters, beer and BBQ you put down. Purchase tickets and get directions on the Eventbrite page.

Eventbrite - 2013 Upstate Brewtopians Oyster Roast

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Riverbend Malt House Seeks to Create a Truly Southern Beer Style

The Banana Room at Riverbend Malt House, where the process starts.

The Banana Room at Riverbend Malt House, where the process starts.

“Support Your Local Brewery” is the refrain of the Brewers Association. While we can all do our best to support local businesses, unless you live in Washington, Oregon or Idaho, there really is no such thing as a locally sourced beer.

In 2011, nearly 100% of the commercial US hop production came from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Although those states also produce a good amount of barley, the top barley producing states are North Dakota, Idaho and Montana.

(Idaho is apparently the intersection of the hop/barley Venn diagram. Idaho, the center of the Beer Universe! Who knew?)

For most US brewers, raw ingredients for beer are like coffee beans for “local” coffee roasters, they have to be imported from some other part of the world or country.

Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, North Carolina, is aiming to change at least one component of that equation for Southern brewers. Co-founders Brent Manning and Brian Simpson set out with the goal of connecting North Carolina’s 60+ breweries with the state’s barley, wheat and rye farmers to produce a regionally grown malt for their beers.

The Malt House

A bad-assed malt rake from like the 1800s or something.

A bad-assed malt rake from like the 1800s or something.

Brent met up with me and my friend Andy at the malt house on a chilly Saturday morning. When we first arrived at the non-descript warehouse on the south side of Asheville, a stone’s throw from I-26, we weren’t sure we came to the right place.

There was one Riverbend Malt small sign that we overlooked, otherwise there were no distinguishing marks that said, “malt is made here.” Riverbend occupies 2,500 square feet of what was originally a Quaker Oats supply warehouse built in the 1950s.

While the accommodations are modest, the beginnings of Riverbend were anything but meek. Brent and Brian took a leap that required some serious onions. They founded the business in 2010 when they saw a void in the market for locally produced malt with so many breweries springing up all around them.

In October 2010, they pulled together enough money to buy barley seed so they could get seed in the ground to be ready for harvest in late May. They did not have a location. No malting equipment. They didn’t even know how to malt grain.

That’s courage. Or insanity. Otherwise known as being an entrepreneur.

While the embryonic barley plants were sprouting, Brent and Brian went to Canada to train at Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre in Winnipeg. After their crash course, they came back to North Carolina to start piecing together the financing, finding a location and equipment.

Brent demonstrating the use of his bad-assed malt rake from like the 1800s.

Brent demonstrating the use of his malt rake in the Banana Room.

They came across an old warehouse that had a very unique feature that made it perfect for a malt house. One of the tenants used to be a grocery store, and one room in particular was turned into the “Banana Room.”

Apparently, bananas require different storage conditions than other produce. Bananas need to be kept in a balmy, high humidity environment, so this room was outfitted with thicker walls and was sealed very well. It just so happens that these conditions are also ideal for germinating grain when equipped with a heater and humidifier.

After they built out the kiln room and moved in the rest of the equipment, they were ready to receive their first shipment of barley in the spring of 2011. 80,000 pounds worth of barley.

Think about that for a second. There are no conveyor belts in the warehouse. That means that all 80,000 pounds of barley made their way from the germinating floor to the kiln in a wheelbarrow. Hand-crafted, indeed!

The malt kiln

The malt kiln

The Malt

During the initial planning stages of the business, Brent and Brian did extensive research to find the right type of barley for their malt. After meeting Rick Wasmund, the owner of Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia, and sampling some of his Wasmund Single Malt Whiskey, they thought Rick might be on to something.

Wasmund uses Thoroughbred barley, a six-row variety that is typically used as livestock feed. Don’t let that distract you, it produced some fantastic whiskey, and the Riverbend guys knew it was the way to go.

They worked with a local farmer in Salisbury, North Carolina, about two hours east of Asheville on I-40, to determine the right conditions in which the barley should grow. Since this barley is going to be used for brewing, not livestock feed, the protein content of the grain could be substantially lower, meaning there is very little need for nitrogen-based fertilizers. This malt is custom-grown for beer.

In addition to barley, Riverbend also works with another North Carolina farmer to grow their wheat, and yet another farmer to provide the rye. It’s all grown in-state, and most of the finished product stays in-state.

The finished product coming to a brewery near you.

The finished product coming to a brewery near you.

The Beer

The first commercial batch of beer produced with Riverbend Malt was brewed in October 2011 by the Weeping Radish Farm and Brewery in Grandy, North Carolina. Weeping Radish used the malt in their winter seasonal, a Christmas Dopplebock. It sold out in three days.

Since the first offering, Riverbend malt now appears in about two dozen beers throughout the state, including Wedge North Carolina Pale, Full Steam Cream Ale, Wicked Weed Saison 3 and Asheville Brewing.

Currently, there are only two shops where homebrewers can find the malt, aside from the malt house itself: Hops & Vines in Asheville and Grape & Grains in Greenville, South Carolina. Right now, Riverbend has enough orders from commercial breweries to keep them busy through October, so they don’t anticipate sending malt to any other homebrew shops in the area.

Since Riverbend uses a six-row variety of barley, some adjustment is necessary if you typically formulate your beer recipes using two-row barley. Six-row is a smaller grain than two-row, so you’ll have to adjust your mill rollers to be sure and crush the grain adequately to achieve a good efficiency. You may also need to use slightly more six-row grain in your recipe than two-row, since six-row has slightly less starch content per pound than two-row. In other words, your efficiency will be slightly lower per pound of grain using six-row.

Brent said that since their barley malt is fully modified and has less protein than typical six-row, a protein rest step is not necessary during the mashing process. To make it easier on homebrewers, Riverbend has even assembled recipe kits with all the grains taken care of.

All-grain homebrew kits

All-grain homebrew kits

In Conclusion

I brewed a tripel with the Riverbend Pale malt as the base a couple weeks ago. I just moved it to secondary, and it’s delicious so far! I also tried the Wicked Weed Saison 3 while I was in Asheville a couple weeks ago, and it was a great beer.

Based on what I’ve tasted, I’m convinced that Brent and Brian know what they’re doing and can make a great malt. Whether you’re a homebrewer of commercial, if you’re in the Southeast, I highly encourage you to check them out.

After all, it’s one thing to support your local brewer. Take it to another level and support your local brewer that uses local ingredients.

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Dark Corner Lewis Redmond Bourbon: Batch 1 vs Batch 3

Dark Corner Distillery's Lewis Redmond Bourbon

Dark Corner Distillery’s Lewis Redmond Bourbon

It’s not often in life that a small, craft distillery pops up in your town, and you have the opportunity to sample batches of hand-crafted bourbon as it ages.

I’ve had such an opportunity with Dark Corner Distillery’s Lewis Redmond bourbon. I was fortunate enough to be able to get in on Batch 1, which was released in November 2012 after being in barrels for about one year.

Prior to procuring my bottle of Lewis Redmond, I had a bottle of Woodford Reserve that lasted me about a year. It tells you what I think of Lewis that he only stayed on my shelf for about three months. Yeah, it’s good.

Since I was nearly out of my Batch 1 bottle, I figured I should replenish my supply with a recently released bottle of Batch 3. If you know me at all, it should come as no surprise that I would do an impromptu tasting, a head-to-head battle of Batch 1 vs. his younger brother (or would it be older?) Batch 3.

Batch 1

The first release of the bourbon explodes with vanilla, caramel and sugar on the nose. It’s sweet for a bourbon, but tastes delicious. It’s smooth and pops with flavor.

I get a lot of vanilla and sugar. Some oak. It’s light on the palate, vibrant and energetic.

I think it would be very accessible for someone who is used to cutting their whiskey or bourbon with mixers to drink neat.

Batch 3

Even after only a few more month in the barrels, Batch 3 is noticeably different from it’s older sibling. It’s slightly darker. There’s more oak on the nose (no surprise, given that it was in the barrels longer) and it’s not as sweet as Batch 1.

The flavor is also more oaky, though not overpowering. It tastes like a more mature version of Batch 1, which makes sense. It’s fuller bodied, still smooth, and the finish lingers a bit longer.

The Verdict

It’s a tough one to call. I’m sure that bourbon purists will like Batch 3 better, since it tastes more like a traditional bourbon that they’re used to drinking. It is really good, and I’m going to enjoy the hell out of that bottle.

However, there’s something about Batch 1. It has a youthful energy to it, like a college grad who has little experience, but knows he’s in for greatness and is ready to take on the world.

It may expose me as a neophyte in the bourbon world, but I tip my cap to Batch 1. The explosion of aroma and flavor is very unique from the bourbons I’ve had, which admittedly aren’t a ton. I’m a beer guy, after all.

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2012 Sam Adams Utopias vs. 2009 BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin

2012 Samuel Adams Utopias on display upon our arrival.

2012 Samuel Adams Utopias on display upon our arrival.

In 2009, BrewDog (Scotland) threw down the gauntlet to brew the highest ABV beer on the planet.  They launched the Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% ABV) to beat out the reigning champion at the time, Sam Adams Utopias (27% ABV).

I won’t get into the ABV arms race that ensued between BrewDog and Schorschbrau, or  the moral debate over whether these “freeze distilled” malt beverages should be even be considered beer. (There is a style of beer called eisbock, so perhaps these are just uber-imperial eisbocks. I’ll let you decide.)

I was privileged enough to come into possession of a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin a couple years ago, and I had been waiting for the right time to open it. When is there ever a “right time” for a 32% beer? (Then again, is there ever not a right time?)

The circumstance was made clear when my friend Jake Grove at the Anderson Independent told me that a bottle of the 2012 Utopias made its way to his house.

It was time for a Utopias vs. Penguin showdown:

Tactical Nuclear Penguin vs. Utopias, to the death.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin vs. Utopias, to the pain.

2009 BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin

First up was the Penguin. The alcohol vapors hit my nose before I was even six inches from the taster. It was hard to get past the massive amount of rubbing alcohol in the aroma to smell anything else.

2009 BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin

2009 BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin

The first thing I noticed when I tasted it was burnt rubber. Then burnt sugar, like when you char a marshmallow over a campfire.

So by now you’re thinking, “Damn, that must be terrible.” I’m not sure it is so terrible, it just isn’t that appetizing. I’ll continue.

Once you get acclimated, or numb, to the heat of the Penguin, other characteristics do start to come out. The beer was aged in scotch barrels, and that lent an earthy, peaty flavor to the beer.

Other than the burnt sugar, alcohol and peat, the malt character lacked complexity. It just sort of smacked me over the head and asked how its ass taste.

The beer was also slightly carbonated, which the Utopias was not, so that may have also contributed to the sensation of heat and prickliness that the beer gave off.

If you enjoy scotch, which I’m still trying to acquire a taste for, I think you might enjoy this beer. And since it was brewed by Scots, I’ll give them credit for that. I think it’s an extremely difficult beer to enjoy, though it makes me wonder if, like scotch, it needs to be aged for 12 years instead of 3.

2012 Samuel Adams Utopias

While the Tactical Nuclear Penguin descended with the grace of a nuclear bomb, Utopias entered the scene with the refinement of the Most Interesting Man in the World, adorned with a beautiful woman in a small black dress on his right arm.

2012 Samuel Adams Utopias

2012 Samuel Adams Utopias

Despite being 29% ABV, only three points lower than the Penguin, there was not nearly the boozy nose.

The slight amount of alcohol on the nose left room on the aroma for sweet malt, maraschino cherries and marshmallows.

The flavor had a layering effect, first with toffee and dark chocolate. It finished with a hazelnut and caramel character that reminded me of Frangelico.

The body of the Utopias was viscous and warming. It’s not conditioned, so it comes across as port or brandy.

As you can tell if you read the back-story, there’s a lot that goes into this beer and it shows. It’s extremely complex and layered. I feel like I’d need to go through at least half the bottle to experience everything it had to offer. And then I would be passed out in a ditch.

The Decision

The winner, by unanimous decision, Samuel Adams Utopias! I feel like the Tactical Nuclear Penguin has potential, but it still needs a good decade or two to develop. If you have a bottle and the patience to wait a while, I would encourage you to do so.

What’s amazing is that Utopias is so smooth for being so young. The cool thing is, it will get better with age.

So how long would you wait to open these?

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Budweiser Black Crown: Everyman’s Golden Amber Lager

I don’t often rant on my blog. I prefer to focus on the positive aspects of beer and brewing. There’s enough negativity on the interwebs for all of us 10 times over.

However, an announcement from Anheuser-Busch In-Bev got my goat. It’s about their “Black Crown” release, scheduled for January 21.

Please read this before proceeding to my commentary. It’s a short article.

Ok, here we go.


First of all, it’s called “Black Crown” and it’s a golden amber lager. Shouldn’t it be something dark, like a schwarzbier or a dopplebock? Oh yeah, “amber” is considered dark by the macro crowd. I forgot.

Also, how is a beer golden AND amber? I have no idea, but then again, I’ve been called strawberry blonde, so maybe that makes sense.

Aside from the naming, what really irked me was the quote from Budweiser VP Rob McCarthy, “This brand will appeal to a broad range of beer drinkers, but especially to 21-to-34-year-old, trend-setting-type consumer.” Spoken like a true corporate marketer.

They just don’t get it. And they never will.

The “trend-setting-type consumer” doesn’t want something that will appeal to a broad range of other people. They want something that no one else has had from somewhere no one else has heard of.

Anheuser-Busch In-Bev legitimately does not understand what the craft beer revolution is all about. It’s about the craft of making great beer. It’s not about appealing to a broad range of 21-to-34 year old consumers.

I’m sure AB has all kinds of market research and focus groups that tell them they Black Crown brand is great. The focus groups probably said the same thing about Budweiser Select.

Why do the big beer producers continue to veer from their lane and attempt craft-style beers? Because they’ve seen their mortality. The craft segment is gaining steam, the macro segment is slowly dying.

In 2011, Bud Light sold 39 million barrels. The entire craft segment combined sold 11 million. That’s a lot of Bud Light. The difference between what craft brewers make and what AB makes is like buying a hand-carved oak desk versus buying one at WalMart.

AB simply isn’t geared to make hand-carved oak desks. That’s not their wheelhouse. For some reason, when companies get that big, they lose the flexibility and vision of the smaller guys. Their products may not all taste exactly the same, but you can tell they’re all related.

The big producers see through the lens of market share, sales forecasts and demographics. Craft brewers see the beer they’re making and they see the customer that walks in the door.

Some day, Anheuser-Busch In-Bev will go the way of General Motors, U.S. Steel and Microsoft. They’ll always be around, but their best days are behind them.

The world is a different place than it was 20 years ago. The era of efficient standardization is gone. People want more from their food, wine, beer, architecture and music. They want it personalized to their individual tastes.

A golden amber lager that appeals to a broad range of 21 to 34-year-olds ain’t it.


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