DIY Craft Beer Advent Calendar

Advent-Christmas-Tree-with-BeerThe holidays are packed with traditions. Things like Christmas trees, carols, cookie baking, and frantic, last minute shopping keep us busy throughout the season, but it’s the little traditions that make it so enjoyable. Customary gifts, like advent calendars, are classic holiday mainstays that plenty of parents give to their kids. What’s not to love about getting a surprise piece of candy every day for 24 days? Count us in. But, what about those who want a little more in their advent calendar? Well, The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club™ has got the perfect solution: a Craft Beer Advent Calendar.

Yes, you read that right: an entire advent calendar full of sweet, delicious craft beer. The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club™ has noted the rising popularity of these great gifts, and we’ve decided that it’s time to ensure everyone knows how to make one for the beer enthusiasts in their life. When you give someone a Craft Beer Advent Calendar packed with tasty microbrews, you aren’t just giving them a craft beer Christmas gift – you’re giving them 24 days – you’re giving them 24 days of great beers. Santa’s got nothing on you.

Advent-ButtonHow to Build a Craft Beer Advent Calendar

Building a Craft Beer Advent Calendar isn’t as easy as grabbing a random box in your house, throwing in your extra/unwanted beer, and putting some wrapping paper over the top. You need the right materials, some spare time, and a little bit of craftiness (or at least those “cut stuff up and glue things together” skills you hopefully mastered in kindergarten).

Start by deciding which design you want to use. There are three common options: square, rectangular, or triangular. You can find plenty of DIY beer advent calendar instructions all over the web, but making a Craft Beer Advent Calendar doesn’t require a Master’s in structural engineering. The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club™ has got you covered with the basics.

Materials for a square or rectangular Craft Beer Advent Calendar:

• A box or a case of beer
• Cardboard dividers
• Glue
• Scissors
• Wrapping paper
• A marker

For the square and rectangular options, you can easily use a moving box or a used case of beer, specifically the kind with built-in cardboard dividers – any case of bottled beer should have these. You can choose to lay the box on its side, or keep it flat on its bottom. Simply place your beers into the box, make sure they’re held in place with the dividers, and cover the top with festive wrapping paper. Mark the locations of each beer using the numbers 1-24, and you’re set. Feel free to pat yourself on the back and enjoy a celebration beer (NOT one of the beers from the calendar). If you want, you can add a 25th slot for a little extra something something. More on that below.

Advent-Christmas-Tree-SuppliesMaterials for a triangular Craft Beer Advent Calendar:

• Poster/shipping tubes
• Glue
• Scissors
• Wrapping paper
• A marker
• Stickers (optional)

Now, for those with a craftier side, the triangular option offers a little extra fun. You’ll need to buy some long shipping tubes capable of fitting bottles or cans, and then cut these up into 24 even sections. Glue them together however you want, though we suggest making it triangular, as it’ll look a little like a Christmas tree. You could even put a star on top if you’re feeling festive – we won’t judge you.

After gluing the tubes together, fill the tubes with tasty beers, cover the front with a little wrapping paper, and mark the tube openings with the numbers 1-24. You now have a triangular Craft Beer Advent Calendar to give to your best beer buddy. He’s gonna love it.

An important side note that must be mentioned: don’t be lame and fill your Beer Advent Calendar with a case of the same macrobeer. Be creative with the beer you choose by selecting unique beers from all 7 continents. Well, 6 of the 7, at least. We don’t think anyone is brewing in Antarctica (even though that’s an awesome idea). You could be extra festive and fill it with nothing but unique holiday beers!

Keep in mind that a Craft Beer Advent Calendar isn’t confined to Christmas time. Arbor Day, Flag Day, Bring Your Daughter to Work day, it doesn’t matter – you can make the 24 days leading up to any holiday special (and tasty) with your Craft Beer Advent Calendar.

Improving Your Beer Advent Calendar

Advent-Christmas-TreeSo, how do you improve on something as awesome as a Beer Advent Calendar? It’s simple, really: you spread that cheer throughout the year.

A traditional advent calendar features 24 slots representing the 24 days leading up to Christmas, but who says that you have to follow tradition? Add a 25th slot, and give your friend a gift that keeps on giving: a membership to The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club. After all, who doesn’t want amazing craft beers from around the country (and the world) delivered to their door once a month throughout the year? No one, that’s who.

For the widest selection of beers, choose between our brand-new Hop-Heads Beer Club, our U.S. Microbrewed Beer Club, our International Beer Club, or get the best of both worlds with our U.S. and International Variety Beer Club. But, if you’ve got a beer lover who spends their time and energy hunting down the rarest, most obscure beers, we’ll suggest The Rare Beer Club™, our only club that features the world’s best hand-selected rare beers.

Now, go out there, build your own Craft Beer Advent Calendar, and make some lucky beer lover’s Christmas the best one they’ve had. And remember: if you really want to make sure they have the best Beer Year of their lives, give them a membership to the The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club. Santa always likes those who are nice.

Beyond the Bottle: Group Projects

the-rare-barrelWe’re in the thick of festival season at All About Beer—every brewery rep on the east coast I’ve talked to today has cursed October’s existence, and not without justification—and we’ve got two festivals of our own plus the next issue overhead. Thankfully, this job includes good distractions, and I was lucky enough to get behind the scenes for two recent group projects.

First: I got to be one of the blenders for Firestone Walker’s XX Anniversary Ale—usually a spot reserved for local winemakers who actually know how to blend things. I didn’t, but my bread-making/blending partner Arie caught me up to speed quickly—and we decided on a solid blend to compete against eight other teams of Paso-Robles winemakers. Our mix (30% Parabola and 15% Bravo, scribbles suggest…) wasn’t the winner, but the top blend—via one-man-blending-show Scott Hawley of Torrin Winery—was delicious and debuts October 29th.

Second, as another group project, I got to hang with some great folks for The Search for the Rare Barrel down at Berkeley’s The Rare Barrel, judging a flight of their various blonde sour ales to help find a very special combination of yeast characteristics (to serve to ferment many future barrels of beer). The winning barrels from our preliminary flights were then judged by panelists from The Rare Barrel, Lauren Salazar from New Belgium, and Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River. (If you’re heard of the famed barrel pH1, that’s what this project was about.)

The winning barrel gets released the last week of September. Back to spreadsheets! #festlife

Beyond the Bottle: Wood & Beer

elevation-elevated-psaPart of my job includes keeping up on the latest reading. One of our Rare Beer Club features this month is a wheat wine aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels, and the technical beer book I’m currently exploring happens to be Wood & Beer: A Brewer’s Guide, by Dick Cantwell and Peter Bouckaert, which came out this summer. I got my sample copy via the Brewers Association, and this book in particular is nice to finally see. Wood-aged beers have gained massive levels of interest in the past ten years or so (an early page of the book notes 85% of U.S. breweries were using wood to somehow influence their beer in 2015), and this book’s been a long time coming. I recall first hearing about it at least four or five years ago via a barrel-savvy brewer friend up in NorCal—back when he was the one attempting to tackle this book project.

The book takes on everything from heady science to the really hands-on, blue-collar work of creating liquid-tight cooperage. It was particularly neat, going through it, to see how many of the main breweries cited were familiar from The Rare Beer Club. I learned Brouwerij Boon is notable for not only having its own cooper on permanent staff, but also for keeping whole tree trunks on site for the making of new staves. Cigar City’s got a gadget called the Spinbot 5000—allowing them to use recirculating infusion to get more out of various wood additions like American oak and Spanish cedar, in a shorter period of time. And there’s a detailed look into the blending practices of our friend Ron Jeffries over at Jolly Pumpkin, one of our long-time Rare Beer Club supporters, including the challenges of blending foeders of all different sizes. If you don’t know your vanillins from your furfurals, you’ll find some interesting bits.

Cheers!
Ken

Beyond the Bottle: Long Live Slow Sours

panil-barriquee-bottleI touched upon this very briefly in my last column, but wanted to dig a bit deeper into quick and kettle sours, particularly as The Rare Beer Club’s featuring the slow-process Panil Barriquée.

For my latest Trending column in All About Beer Magazine, I tasted through a few dozen sour beers that had been made via quick- or kettle-souring techniques—which are becoming way more popular as of late. The chemistry gist is this: most sour beers (and most beer generally) is fermented after its boiling process, and takes weeks or years to transform available sugars and such into useful things like alcohol, carbon dioxide, and the tart acidity of a sour ale. In quick- or kettle-sour beers, Lactobacillus bacteria (like in Berliner weisse) is added under ideal circumstances before the boiling process, creating a strong vein of lactic acid in a day or two. The subsequent boiling prevents said Lacto from infecting a brewery’s non-sour equipment, which, beyond time savings, also means you don’t have to invest in actual sour equipment.

Don’t get me wrong. I did manage to track down a few quick-sour beers that are worth the effort, including two really nice (if curiously named) releases from Smog City Brewing Co. in Torrance, California: Cuddlebug (with welcome peach and apricot nuances) and Snugglebug  (showcasing raspberry and boysenberry additions). Two super-good renderings that manage to work around the core limitation of these beers: the quick-/kettle-sour process will, even if you do everything right, only yield a quite simple, pronounced lemon-custard-y sourness that (as far as I could find) works best when tempered by other ingredients… What I’m getting to is probably some form of the following: Looking to rekindle that love of lambics, and other slow-brewed, complex sour beers? Tasting through a couple dozen kettle sours might help.

Beyond the Bottle: New Coffee Beers

mikkeller-koppi-ipa-citra-wachuri-bottleMy role at All About Beer has recently expanded a bit, beyond overseeing our reviews system and managing the beer side of our World Beer Festivals (etc.), to include a new column. It’s slowly|amusingly turned into me taking deep-dives into parts of the beer world I don’t like.

Fruit IPAs, coffee beers (I’m an outlier here) and, most recently, quick-/kettle-soured beers. My beer-loving wife, normally on board for pretty much anything (except smoked beer), has been like: You’re on your own. Fruit IPAs, coffee beers, quick sours: couple dozen at a time. No help. Our sink’s usually drunk. The recycling bin contents makes us look like odd pirates.

Don’t get me wrong. Some folks love these. But I cannot for the life of me say that my heart beats faster when a new kettle sour appears on the shelf. Fruit IPAs still, generally, just make me wish for normal IPAs (ideally loaded with late hop additions). But the newer coffee beers were, surprisingly, pretty great.

(I’ve also been threatened with having to review hard sodas. … Not really. I volunteered.)

Coffee beers: I’ve been jaded by so many iffy ones in the past. But this time around our top picks were stellar—and all from SoCal: Modern Times City of the Dead (barrel-aged coffee!), Stone Americano Stout (seamless) and AleSmith’s new Hammerhead Speedway. All glorious, and making me regret bad words I’ve spoken about coffee beers in the past. (Stone’s Mocha IPA has been a standout new release in the time since then.) With cold-brewed additions and boutique-roaster collaborations like never before, we’re just starting to approach peak coffee.