Craft Beer Defined (No, Your Other Six-Pack)


US states by their biggest “craft” brewery

The elusive definition of craft beer is not exactly the meaning of life, but you’d think it was given all the attention it gets in craft beer forums (definition: an online symposium of slightly to highly intoxicated enthusiasts of commodified tastes). Guys with chat names like DuffMan23 and BeerPirateRockstar argue about yearly barrel output and shareholder standings.

Your basic Wikipedia definition of craft beer is that it’s created in small batches, which finally solves the mystery of what microbrew means. There is no USDA of craft brewing, and hence the definition remains in the hands of the defined. Realistically, anyone could slap craft on their label without legal repercussions, although the legions of drunk, self-righteous craft beer drinkers might give one pause before doing so. The Brewers Association (BA), a brewers’ trade organization, has a more in-depth definition, stating that craft breweries must be small, independent, and traditional.

Dogfish-Head-logoBy small, they mean producing six million barrels or less per year which, at 252 pints per barrel, comes to 1.512 billion servings. This is, like, a river of beer that makes my weekly consumption seem way more reasonable. It may be nothing to the big guys, but that’s a lot of beer! Sam Adams, who is frequently under fire for being “too big” to be craft, makes just 2.5 million barrels a year. Dogfish Head makes 175,000 barrels a year, which to me seems a more accurate limit, if we’re drawing arbitrary lines. Continue reading

The Future is Here…and It Has a Built-In Koozie

Great Scott!

Great Scott!

It’s recently been brought to my attention that Marty McFly’s future of the Back to the Future trilogy is now. Doc Brown and the crew time traveled to 2015. This troubles me manifold.

  1. This means I am quite old.
  2. This means I am quite old and still do not have a DeLorean.
  3. This means I am quite old and still do not have a DeLorean, NOR are there any hoodlums on futuristic hoverboards to run over in this beast.

And fourthly, I still think a DeLorean is futuristic. I’m pretty much behind the times in all forms of pop culture (those Hanson boys are cute, though). Unless you consider craft beer culture, “pop,” which many do. This is also troubling, because craft beer isn’t actually a fad; its development has, in fact, altered the course of drinking for forever.

As shocking as it is to discover you’re living in The Future, there is evidence to prove it. As the fastest growing segment of the beer industry, craft beer is inspiring innovation in the brewing practice itself as well as in the recipes and the way we drink the final product.

Beers in Space!

Beers in Space! The Hop Gun

Brewing: Many of you already know I’m something of a Hop Head, so it will come as no surprise that one of my favorite craft beer inventions made it possible to hop the bananas out of an IPA. A few years ago Sierra Nevada invented a contraption they call the Hop Torpedo. They fill this torpedo-shaped device with whole-cone hops and pump fermenting beer through it, adding some serious hop smack without the bitterness.

Tröegs Brewing has a similar device called the HopCyclone and yet another hopping device called the Hop Gun (do you think dudes named these things?). This contraption is filled with hop pellets and then beer is pumped through its double-helix-shaped interior. The pellets dissolve and the beer is infused with starshine and rainbows and magically spirited into bottles at a sparkly pink palace near you. Continue reading

Go Browns! An Homage to the Beer and the Hometown Team

O-I-H-O! wait a sec...

O-I-H-O! …Wait a minute.

I’ve never been a follower of The Ohio State University’s sports: didn’t go there; don’t care. But everyone assumes I’m a fan because I exist within 60 miles of their stadium. In the fall it’s perfectly acceptable for a complete stranger to invade my space and hoot, “O-H!” gesturing wildly like a confused Village Person. They expect the proper response, which is not, I’ve discovered, “F-U.”

Football madness also rages strong 60 miles to my north in Cleveland. In the Browns stadium there is a section reserved for The Dawg Pound. This section is known for its rowdiness, excessive alcohol consumption, and for its population of tirelessly enthusiastic men in Browns jerseys and rubber dog masks. This all sounds suspiciously like the antics at an afternoon in the OSU Horseshoe, but I’m here to tell you that Browns fans are different. They maintain magestic reservoirs of hope and optimism and, having been dragged through the mud many times before, retain this loyalty and the there’s always next year mentality through the worst of seasons.

In the Dawg Pound

In the Dawg Pound

It is hard to be a Browns fan. We don’t win all that much. I was thinking of this just the other day as I stood in the craft beer aisle looking for a brown ale. Nothing. Not even that Honey Brown crap we considered to be “the good stuff” in college. It was all IPAs and pumpkin beer. The next store, more of the same. I couldn’t win. The third store had one kind of brown ale, Bell’s Best Brown out of Michigan. Score. Continue reading

Extreme Beer and the Cute Dudes Who Make It

Mr. Calagione and a sign made from toast. As usual, thinking outside the breadbox.

Mr. Calagione and a sign made from toast. As usual, thinking outside the breadbox.

Sam Calagione is the president and founder of Dogfish Head, a brewery based in Delaware that is known for its “off-centered” ales, as they lovingly describe them. He is also good-looking (and knows it), charismatic, and a little bit nuts. Somehow the man is able to harvest all these traits and inject them directly into the wort of Dogfish Head brews, producing some of America’s most unique, imaginative, extreme, crazy-ass beers. All this is relevant because the Dogfish Head Brewery is sponsoring Beer Advocate’s 11th annual Extreme Beer Fest in a matter of days.

I have been to exactly one Extreme Beer Fest. (In my memory I was the only woman there, but that can’t be right…) It was there that I met and grazed the fingertips of the legendary Sam Calagione. As strange as some of his beers may be, I have always admired him because of just that, and also because he’s good-looking, as aforementioned. Also, he has an English degree like yours truly, and makes his living in beer, which is totally rad.

Now, when Mr. Calagione tenderly poured me a sample, filled it up to the lip and smiled as he expertly handed it off, I had a question for him. But despite my press pass and the hour or so of courage I’d been sampling, I couldn’t just ask it. Instead I fumbled the pass-off, stepped on the toes of a man behind me, and veered, beer-soaked, back into the fray of increasingly jovial beer extremists.

My question for Mr. C, then: Why? Continue reading

Challenges & Comforts: Preparing Your Fridge for a Snow Day

A rare beer angel

A rare beer angel. I highly recommend making one yourself using your own favorite brews!

This morning there is about five new inches of snow on the ground and a Level 2 Snow Emergency in effect, which means (and I’m paraphrasing): don’t go out on the snowy roads and get so badly stuck the city has to tow you out, you bung hole! So here I am at home today. I checked our supplies, starting with what’s in the fridge. Turns out I have twelve different kinds of beer in there. This pleases me to no end. (I tell Ben and we do a fist bump.) Here’s some of what’s in my fridge and why they’re the perfect beers to be in my snow day collection:

The Brand New

Careful! That branch could fall into the river at any moment!

Careful, lady! That branch could break at any moment!

The Ophelia Hoppy Wheat Ale is Breckenridge Brewery’s newest seasonal beer. It is supposed to be hoppy and wheat-y, although the brewery’s copy also describes it as “The quintessential good girl gone mad,” which I don’t really get. Maybe in the end it was a hops allergy that turned poor Ophelia loony. Or maybe she drank herself silly waiting for that whiny Hamlet. “Get thee to a nunnery” my ass, buddy. Anyway, snow days are an excellent time to try beers you haven’t experienced yet, especially those named after a crazy Dane who knew what a truly rough winter was.

Their slogan is "Normal Is Weird," which I appreciate

Their slogan is “Normal Is Weird,” which I appreciate.

Also new-to-me is Flying Monkey’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA from Ontario, Canada. This brewery has only recently started distributing in Ohio, whose citizens suck down over 30 gallons of beer a year, according to the Beer Institute (whatever that is — Fox News used it as “research,” too, and it appeared in an article next to one about the unhealthiest hot Starbucks drinks, because if it’s not running on a ticker beneath O’Reilly’s getting-longer nose we won’t know how bad hot chocolate is). I’m sure my household assures Ohio’s average is over the 30-gallon mark, especially with all this affordable pinko Canadian terrorist beer. Continue reading

Top 10 Beers of 2013

I can’t remember a damned thing if I don’t put it on a list: where to be, what to do, and what to drink while do it. Even then I forget where I’ve set my drink halfway though. As such, I am a fan of the proliferation of end-of-the-year lists around New Year’s, and offer you one of my own: Llalan’s Top 10 Beers of 2013.

10. Celebration Ale. I do the Dance of Joy every November when this beer is released. It was on last year’s list as well, and this beer will likely be on every end-of-the-year list as long as Sierra Nevada continues to produce it. It is one of the few nutmeg- and cinnamon-less winter seasonals out there. You can bet there is always some in my fridge during the holidays. Don’t bet on me sharing it, though.

9. Burton Baton. Because Dogfish Head’s 60-minute IPA is another perennial (and inspirational) favorite in my home, I want to feature one of their other, lesser-known brews. The delicious concoction (also mentioned this Thanksgiving) is actually a combination of an imperial IPA and an English-style old ale, aged together in an oak tank. Like nothing I’ve ever had and like everything I’ve always wanted.

8. Lucky 13. Lagunitas first brewed this beer in 2008 to celebrate 13 years of brewing and brought it back last year to celebrate 20 years of putting out fantastic beers. It’s a big red that has that delicious something peculiar to Lagunitas. In the end, we’re the lucky ones.

7. Righteous Ale. I am a huge fan of rye beer; insert bitter joke here: ______. The Sixpoint take on rye beer is definitely one of my favorites, in part because it does not coat your mouth with that potent and unpleasant aftertaste most ryes have. It is unique in its adaptability to the weather, in that it will warm you in the winter and quench you in the summer. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Traditions: Please Pass the Beer

Watchin' football with the other turkeys

In my Thanksgiving post last year I hinted at the fact that this is not exactly my favorite holiday. I may have also insinuated that it takes alcohol to get me through an entire day with my family, which isn’t really fair: I also have to be bribed there with the promise of my Aunt’s pumpkin pie. I only have a week left to prepare, so here is my game plan for now.

We’re always asked to arrive at one-o-clock for a two-o-clock dinner; dinner is never actually on the table before light leaves the sky, so we will arrive at two or three. Since I know I still have quite a wait before real food is served I’ll grab a session beer. A bitter would just be too easy, so I go with my favorite session at the moment, Founder’s All Day IPA — full of flavor, not alcohol. For the one and only time this year, I will find football fascinating. I’ll join my male relatives, who’ve also discovered a spontaneous love of the game, in the dog fur-coated den.

The November light grows thinner and the smell of cooking meat grows stronger. As a vegetarian, I begin to rehearse my yearly explanation for loading up my plate with green bean casserole and mashed potatoes with no gravy. I will need a thinking beer, something bright and effervescent and strong. I’ll go with one I just recently tried, Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton, which is aged in oak barrels. That takes the alcohol edge off the taste enough that I’ll feel the effects of the 10% abv before I taste it. Continue reading

Making Your Own Beer, Step 1: Have a Beer

The gloves are on: no more messin' around

By far the most time consuming step of last Tuesday’s brewing process was the argument that took place before even pouring water into the pot. Nothing serious. Just a tap water vs. Brita-filtered water disagreement; a this-is-going-to-take-forever vs. it-will-taste-like-ass-otherwise spat; a so-you’re-too-good-for-city-water-now? vs. and-here-I-thought-you-were-a-real-brewer quarrel. Turns out it takes just as long for Ben and I to reach a draw as it does to pull five gallons of water through a filtered pitcher made for drinking water. Whatever.

Ben -- I call him The Sanitizer

The first, most important ingredients for any decent batch of home brew are the beer you will be drinking and the music you will be playing while cooking it up. We chose a classic craft beer: Dogfish Head 60 Minutes, and one of my favorite snowy-afternoon albums: Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica. During the approximately seven hours it took to watch five gallons fall drip by drip into the pitcher, we used a one-step sanitizer to clean everything that would come in contact with our future brew, including both of us up to the elbows and a good deal of my sweatshirt. By then it was time for another beer and The Kills’ Blood Pressures.

Stew of dirty socks and thermometer

The first step in which something actually happens is when you heat the water to between 150 and 160 degrees and steep the grains. The difficult part of this is, of course, taking the temperature of the water. In our case, brewing is less of a science and more an engineering project. To save us from burning our hands, Ben rigged our thermometer on wire that he wound around both pot handles so it dangled in the middle of the hot water. Clever boy, this one. The barley grains are knotted into a bag made of cheese cloth-like material that is, when floating in an increasingly dark kettle of liquid, reminiscent of a soaking pair of dirty, balled-up socks.  Continue reading

Top 12 Beers of 2012!


We’ve entered that dead man’s zone between Christmas and New Year’s; a week long sugar- and family-hangover that floats heavy over the couch while you sit and watch sequels of Christmas movies and ponder the impending death of another year-full of dreams. Hm. So to distract you, here’s another arbitrary end-of-the-year list! Llalan’s Top 12 Beers of 2012:

12. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing. Since I’ve moved back to Ohio, this brewery has played a large role in my evening imbibing. Last January I was reminded that even the coldest Midwestern storms can be warmed by this beer — itself a tribute the power of The Lakes’ fury. One of the best porters on the market, which I continue to buy regularly despite the risk of having the Gordon Lightfoot song pop into my head.

11. Left Hand experienced a brief flurry of attention when their Milk Stout came out in Nitro bottles. At a favorite bar, the manager passed around a pint of freshly poured Nitro, which rolled and cascaded like a draft Guinness. I overcame my unease at sharing a glass with eight virtual strangers and decided yes, it was worth it.

10. Flying Dog has long been one of my favorite breweries, and not just for Ralph Steadman’s inexplicably terrifying label art. Their biting Raging Bitch Belgian IPA has clawed its way to the top of the pack, despite the gaping wide comic opening it allows my sweet mother. Continue reading

Imperious Imperials and Sexy Stouts

Spoiler Alert! This one wins.

“You can really taste the chics!” Ben quips after his first sip of Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. Upon review, this means nothing, and was in fact a harbinger of the nonsense to come. This tasting of stouts was brought to you by Ben and me and only Ben and me. The pressure to keep witty banter aloft between us while maintaining lucidity nearly buckled my resolve to try all six high-powered beers. Fortunately I’m known for both my resolve and my ability to handle alcohol.

When tasting beers it’s wise to begin with the brew with the lowest percentage of alcohol by volume (abv) so as to not blow out your taste buds immediately. We tried the aforementioned Dogfish Head (5.2% abv), with high hopes for this perennially good and weird brewery, but unfortunately all we got out of it was a puckered face and a mediocre pun. The next was unremarkable enough to skip here. I began to question the prudence of taking this project on all by ourselves.

I was already feeling a bit warm at that point, which reminded me to follow my own advice. We took the next four beers out of the fridge to ensure we got the most of their flavors. The next stout was from Weyerbacher, a brewery I highly recommend. That said, this is when I began to suspect imperial stouts were just not to my taste. Old Heathen Imperial Stout (8% abv) was sweet with a taste somewhere between licorice and raisins. Dry hop back, but little bitterness — too sweet, like those soccer moms you suspect are popping Valium in the back of their minivans. It is a good beer, but not my beer.  Continue reading