Beyond the Bottle: This Year’s Beers

beer-lineupI tend to avoid annual predictions because they tend to sound like they could have been true last year, at least in beer. Every brewery’s done an imperial stout, double IPA, an oaked beer, some form of questionable sour, and (soon!) a series of hazy IPAs. Most ingredients that are even remotely acceptable in brewing have been used. Every non-technical hop pun has been taken. Things doing well get piggybacked quickly. Exhibit A: fruit IPA. Exhibit B: hard soda.

But! In the spirit of the new year, some looks forward: Hazy IPAs are blowing up, inevitably. Kettle-sour approaches will probably also hit a peak in 2017, with knowledge of the practice spreading to anyone who wants to have a go, though I doubt most are in it for the long haul. These beers have a rough lactic edge more often than not, and complexity usually isn’t there. For producers of more traditional sours: a kettle-sour fallout likely can’t come soon enough. A friend works with South African hops, and (from everything I hear) they’ll be popping up more frequently next year, with strong debuts in beers by folks such as Firestone and Bottle Logic. Interest in newer varieties—and awareness of hop-variety relevance—have probably never been higher. I’d prefer to see hard sodas fizzle. 2017 won’t be the year of the dunkel.

If we haven’t already, we’ll likely reach Peak Tropical in 2017, as we’ve had so many inroads in that direction as of late: lots of breweries with fruit IPAs, tons of interest in new tropical-inclined hop varieties (from New Zealand, Australia, etc.), beers that emphasize ‘tropical’ in their marketing (with or w/o fruit additions), countless new IPAs named via some tweak of the words “juice” and/or “juicy”, etc. We’re all looking for our tropical beach somewhere.

Beyond the Bottle: In Search of Haze

hopfenweisse-croppedI touched upon some of the highlights from this year’s Great American Beer Festival in my last column—but left out one of the main side missions. Like many of you, I’ve been tasting examples of hazy IPAs (aka “Vermont-style IPAs”, aka “New-England-style IPAs”, etc.) as I happen to cross paths with them. But I hadn’t had a chance to seriously go down that rabbit hole until recently. My upcoming Trending column in our January issue of All About Beer will be focused entirely on those hazy, murky, milkshakey incarnations of IPA, as well as whether or not, you know, brewing IPAs that look like grapefruit juice might trigger the apocalypse.

Short answer: Maybe.

The Great American Beer Festival happened to have half a dozen or so serious takes on the trend, like the yeast-hazed Green Acres from Virginia Beer Co., the heavily dry-hopped Sun Temple IPA from Colorado’s Yak and Yeti, or the high-protein Mass Riot from Prison City in upstate New York. Folks are using a variety of techniques to generate haze in their IPAs, from minimally flocculating yeast strains to high-protein malt bills—to just dry-hopping the bejeezus out of it—following in the footsteps of hazy-IPA trendsetters like The Alchemist, Trillium and Tree House. While many drinkers are completely against the trend of having a hazy/murky version of IPA gaining ground, others (like me) are finding them engaging and, often, an exceptional way to focus on juicy hop flavor and aroma. Presuming they’re fresh.

Have you been diggin the haze? Loathing it? Seeing more examples locally? NorCal’s seeing tons of breweries getting on board, and everything suggests 2017 is looking ever more hazy.

Limited Offering Smokey and the Bois


The day has come. We’ve made the call to part with the last 67 bottles of our highly coveted Smokey and the Bois, a very special blend of three different barrel aged beers that was crafted for us nearly 3 years ago to celebrate our 20 year anniversary. I’d be hard pressed to part with it if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve already got 5+ cases stashed in our in-house beer cave! We’ve been sitting on a small portion of our remaining inventory with the intent of releasing it to our members after it had been laid down for a few years. The holidays seem like the right time to do it. It’s available only to active members of The Rare Beer Club and you will be limited to just two bottles.

Smokey and the Bois was crafted from three different Bruery beers: Black Tuesday (The Bruery’s famous ~20% ABV imperial stout), Bois (an exceptional, bourbon-barrel-aged old ale), and Smoking Wood (an imperial rye porter brewed with beech- and cherrywood smoked malts). And, for even more dimension and complexity, the final blend was aged with vanilla beans and Ecuadorian Nacional cacao nibs.

This is the last of it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, so if you haven’t already grabbed a bottle or two, now’s your chance.

Merry Christmas from me to you.


Interview with Men’s Journal

us-and-international-variety-beer-clubSeveral weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Ethan Fixell, a writer for Men’s Journal. He asked some great questions that really made me sit back and take a good look at how this business has evolved over the years. I’m happy to say that 22 years in, I feel like we’re holding true to our original charter of continually curating outstanding, hard to find or exclusive beers to our members while providing A+ BBB rated customer service. The craft brewing industry and ecommerce have evolved significantly over the last two decades and so have we.

We now offer Five different beer clubs, each uniquely suited to specific palates, and the ability to combine any or all of them into a single membership with our Design Your Own Club Program. We’ve grown to the point where we can now work with breweries to create and deliver exclusive beers to our members such as the 14% ABV Barrel Aged Blended Barley Wine brewed by Broken Bow featured in The Rare Beer Club® this month. It was split into three parts that were aged in rye whiskey, bourbon and red wine barrels before being blended into the final product which is nothing short of kick ass.

Some of our members asked us to send them only hoppy beers and we recently delivered the goods having just launched our new Hop-Heads Beer Club which focuses on hop-centric beers such as IPAs, Double IPAs, Session IPAs, IPLs, Imperial IPLs, Session IPLs, hoppy Pale and Red Ales, and more from two or more breweries each month. Our Rare Beer Club® members can participate in our Personalized Shipment Program which allows them to customize their shipment each month, ensuring they’ll only get the beers they want to get.

This month, we’re relaunching our website so that it’s mobile friendly. No small task, but absolutely necessary for our many customers that prefer to interact with us on their smartphones.

Back to the Men’s Journal article comparing online beer services. Ethan’s questions were indeed thoughtful and in the end, I feel really good about how we stack up against our competition. We are delivering a superior product in so many ways. Check it out. It’s a good read.


Beyond the Bottle: Highlights from GABF

Kris & Ken at the 2016 GABF

I didn’t screw up anything badly last year, and was pleased to get invited back as a judge for this year’s Great American Beer Festival in early October. (As a relevant side note: I also got to hang with Rare Beer Club owner Kris Calef out in Denver this year, and he definitely was on the hunt for some new and exciting selections for the club.) Overall: 3 days of judging + 3 days of festival.

Of the World Beer Festivals (and upcoming Beer Quest in Charlotte) I help organize with our team over at All About Beer, the majority of the events are happening in our company’s home state of North Carolina. The GABF awards are a lot more interesting when you have a horse in the race, such that (in addition to our NorCal peeps and such), it was a blast to see many of those North Carolina breweries we work with take home a disproportionate bunch of hardware this year. NoDa took gold for their Nodajito. Hi-Wire took gold for Zirkusfest. Wicked Weed won a silver for their Lunatic… And, seemingly out of nowhere, Brown Truck Brewery from High Point, North Carolina was awarded an assortment of medals (including gold in the American- or German-style light lager category, over Coors Light) as well as Very Small Brewing Company of the Year. So not shabby for a brewery established in 2015.

Additional key notables: Pabst took home Large Brewing Company of the Year (and will be joining us for Beer Quest next month). Our editor John Holl and I got sneak peeks of some amazing stuff, including High Water’s new barrel-aged Campfire Stout (with the un-barreled version taking home a gold medal in the Specialty Beer category the next morning). We got a sweet 2016 judge cooler from Mountainsmith (way better than last year’s cutting board). The judging panels were packed, and I ended up reviewing about 150 beer entries over the course of three days—a wee sliver of the 7,227 total entries in this year’s competition. Also: I got to witness a brewery nearby at the Saturday awards ceremony go bonkers when they found out they’d won a category I’d judged the medal round of, which was particularly cool + edifying. The fest and judging rounds ran like clockwork, and I already can’t wait for next year’s event.