Beyond the Bottle: The Magic Tap

high-water-brewing1I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Steve and Barri Altimari—creators of this month’s featured Aphotic imperial porter with cacao nibs—for nearly a decade now. Steve’s previous brewing work at Valley Brew crossed my radar while I was still living back on the opposite coast, and I’d been actively trading for limited releases like Effinguud (a tart strong ale aged in French- and American-oak port barrels), Überhoppy Imperial IPA, and Decadence Grand Cru 2007 (a Belgian-style quad blended with “pomegranate lambic”) long before I met their makers.

Here’s what I remember of that first meeting. My wife and I were traveling in from northern Nevada, scouting out possible places to settle down along the way, and Steve’s brewing spot at the time was our first major stop in California before heading farther north. We hung out at their production facility, sampling through a surprising number of stellar beers from a tiny brewery, many pouring through what was readily deemed “the magic tap.” This consisted of one single stainless-steel faucet mounted to the outside of a gigantic cold-storage room—and every half hour that tap would be changed to pouring a different beer from Steve’s stockpile of barrel-aged offerings. One fellow taster was a snake geek, and I learned firsthand there’s a challenge to drinking with a ball python on your head. The beers were precise. The company was kind. And I’m grateful that that initial stop set the tone for our time in California since.

We drove up to Ashland, Oregon afterwards—my wife driving safely, while I snoozed in the passenger seat—and by the time we would finally settle in NorCal for good, Steve and Barri would already be in the process of transitioning to their next venture. High Water’s proven a far better outlet for them—it’s been refreshing to watch the creativity they generate together. While I prefer High Water’s lack of snakes, I still dream of having my very own magic tap.

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.

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.