The Firkin for October 2014

by Sean on October 31, 2014


Did your craft beer fall off the back of a truck?  No, I am not implying that your favorite beer is brewed by the mob but is your favorite watering hole putting a hand out in front of your local brewer asking for something/anything before a beer can go on tap?

Apparently it is a big enough issue in Boston that Dann Paquette from Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project took to Twitter to call out places that do just that with the hashtag #dirtylines.  Simply put, those establishments that un-politely ask for money for tap handle space.  In radio that scandal earned the sobriquet, Payola and that is exactly what it is here.  And it is currently illegal in the three-tier system. The reasoning being that a large pocketed brewery could block access to the wares of a less wallet endowed competitor and that would NOT be the Free Hand of Adam Smith in the marketplace.  That is why there are no Budweiser Taverns that carry only Bud products and I would think that barring their own payola issues that even Republicans and Democrats would agree on this.

This obviously exploded on the craft beer websites with this nicely phrased Esquire article being tagged multiple times.

But it led me to ask the following question: How do you prove that a bar or restaurant is doing this?  And how do you stop a shame based social media onslaught? Beacause, let’s face it, Pretty Things will sell beer based on the fact that they make good beer.  It may not be on tap in Boston (especially now) but I will certainly buy more in solidarity with them having the guts to name names. I posted the Esquire piece on the LA Beer Blogger Facebook presence and there were comments asking for names but no comments with names.

But how do I, Joe Beer Blogger find out if a bar that I frequent is doing this?  If I see great tap lists dominated by locals, is it OK?  If the owner of Brewery A holds events there does that mean the bar is kosher?  Or is there some app that shows which bars do it and what percentage of their taps are “bought”?  Without the information to effectively spend my money elsewhere, I am just left to guess and hope that the people I am friends with are playing fair.  Or do I casually start talking about it at the bar and see if I get thrown out for seditious talk?

I also don’t want to see Yelp-ian witch hunts against a business without proof.  Don’t “assume” or “guess” that a place is worthy of being #dirtylines material.  Make sure before you start typing.  There are enough uninformed and flat out stupid reviews out there to last five lifetimes.  Don’t add to the pile of crap.  Add to the helpful pile.

Lastly, if I find out that any of the places that I go to are doing this as a matter of “business” or as standard operating procedure.  I will not go to that place and if I write about that place, I will say that they extort money for lines at the end of each post.  If I, as a blogger, am held to some strange undefined, ethical standard where I am not supposed to get “freebies” while writing basically for FREE then why should a bar, who is making money off selling beer be allowed to hold a beer hostage from you and me?

It is hard enough to work distribution deals out. See Clown Shoes for an example. To get squeezed on both ends is just wrong. It amounts to a perverse form of Double taxation

The end goal is to have choice.  A capitalistic system requires competition.  I should be able to get the widest possible amount of beers.  Anyone or anything that circumvents that is doing craft beer a disservice.



Denver Brewery # 3 – Our Mutual Friend

by Sean on October 31, 2014


Our final destination in Denver is Our Mutual Friend.  Not a person, no.  But a Malt & Brew in the River North neighborhood.

And where did they get the name? Their website explains that “Part of what we love about beer is its power to bring people together…”

Now on to what I would have in my taster tray:

Novo Coffee Stout – with a rotating coffee bean from Novo Coffee

Pumpkin Ale – with roasted pumpkin, pie spices, brown sugar and vanilla

American Wheat Ale – with two C hops, Centennial and Cascade

Proletariat Session Ale – a 4.5 Cascade hop light offering


The Brewer’s Tale

by Sean on October 30, 2014

William Bostwick has penned a new book on the evolution of brewing through history. The Brewer’s Tale about “Jumping through time as he weaves ancient lore with today’s craft scene,”


Since Bostwick is a journalist with a Wall Street Journal pedigree, I expect this book to be well researched especially if it wants to cover 5,000 years of beer in 300 pages.

It is on my reading list, so when I have finished, expect a review here.


Long Name. Really Long Name.

by Sean on October 30, 2014

jk collab

Not a huge fan of the artwork on the Jester King labels but I have to admit the liquid within is usually pretty tasty and I like the chutzpah of the extremely long name. Which translates from German to English as, “collaboration beer with Czech hops, wild yeast, and bacteria”.  The partner in this farmhouse beer is Live Oak from Austin, known for their German/Czech beers.  And I also like that this was brewed in one brewery and the yeast added in another.  I know how hard logistics can be with beer so the fact that they added this extra step is pretty cool.  And as I mention, repeatedly, I hope to see bottles in LA if Texas doesn’t buy it all up.



I finally broke down and brought up a Russian River beer, Supplication.  Which the brewery website describes as a “Brown Ale aged in used Pinot Noir barrels from local Sonoma County wineries. It is aged for about 12 months with sour cherries, brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus added to each barrel. Flavors from the cherries, Pinot Noir and oak balance each other nicely with a little funk from the brett.”

This beer has a 100% rating on Ratebeer.  So it must be good.  Here is my thumbnail review from 2010, “All I can say is TART. A great sipper filled with cherries in every sip. Only downside to me is that it really dries out the tongue. Had to have water handy to re-hydrate.”


The aroma of this beer is big. Kombucha style tartness just fills the nasal passages. This is, for sure, not a gateway sour. There is a bit of pie cherry in the nose but it is second fiddle to the sour.

There is a bit of Sweet Tart powdery sour notes in the first sip. Cherry is there as well. But there is something in the nose that just tastes off. Too vinegary at this point. If you search past the sour, there is a tiny bit of tannic flavor and a smidge of oak. But you gotta hunt that down.


The Verdict? I think this one passed prime and is sliding inexorably downward. The various bugs have gone too far with this particular bottle. Adding one off flavor that upsets the balance.


Ball & Chain

by Sean on October 29, 2014

Have you wondered when a meatball specific restaurant would open, with craft beer?  OK, that is a bit facetious but LA and specifically now have one in Ball & Chain.

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I was hooked from the moment I saw that they have El Segundo’s Citra Pale Ale on deck. And once I check out the Mac and Cheese restaurant, I will move on to Turducken meatballs.


Review – Sleek Zeke from El Segundo Brewing

by Sean on October 28, 2014


El Segundo Brewing is known primarily for their love of hops so a wheat beer seems like an odd choice.

But the Amarillo hopped Sleek Zeke wheat beer named for a surfboard just might be one of the best of the year. And I had missed it until now!

It pours a lovely hazy lemonade color and has a tart lemon aroma that really grabbed me. Like smelling lemons being juiced. The mouthfeel is just full of wheat. Thick on the palate with that note of citric acid displaying some grapefruit qualities. My bottle was over a month old so I presume the major hop notes had faded but that worked in its favor for me.

You don’t normally see wheat beers paired with desserts but this would really work with a grapefruit sorbet.


Made to Order

by Sean on October 28, 2014

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Sometimes beer articles touch on one item briefly before returning to it’s main point and I don’t because the tangent is just intriguing to me.  I saw this on Facebook and found this later via the interwebs on a European StartUp website.

Bierzuliebe brews customized beer in Berlin. With Bierzuliebe, the customer can configure his own beer online by e.g. choosing the beer type, the alcohol content and the hop intensity. Regardless of the customer’s preferences – everything is possible from a mild, refreshing Pilsener to a strong, bitter Bock. Many helpful hints and comparisons to typical standard beers facilitate the beer design. Instead of having to order several kegs of beer and waiting for them for six weeks to arrive, as would be the case with a normal brewery, though, with Bierzuliebe the minimum order quantity is only three bottles – and delivery takes only one week.”

I have to say that from a customer standpoint this would be great.  Hey, I want a very specific flavor profile, make it for me.  But from a brewing standpoint, how does it work?  What if you get a pils order, then a stout order, then a kolsch?  And they are small orders.  What kind of equipment is being used that can do that effectively and how on earth does it take only 1 week?  If brew-your-own shops have been overtaken by home-brewers then where is the market?  So many questions.


BAM! 2014

by Sean on October 27, 2014

The Latest B(eer) A(rts) M(usic) Fest is done but another good show was put on.


As usual, there was just too much beer on hand at BAM Fest to try it all.  I ended up skipping large swaths of booths simply because I knew that I needed to pace myself.  I also was on assignment from Beer Paper LA to write about a few of the newer/less known breweries which were pouring so my focus was on trying their offerings and talking to them.

One of which, Santa Monica Brew Works gets a gold star.  Being the “local” or closest brewery to the festival, they had quite a presence and the most beers on tap.  Six all told while most others had two.  I was cautiously optimistic as I approached their table and I was really impressed.  Their regulars, an XPA and a Wit were both well done.  Clean and crisp and excellent gateway beers.  But they also had another gear to take it up higher.  The Chili beer was spicy without destroying the palate, the wet hop beer was a serious peach/apricot blast with a solid hit of bitterness.  But the winner was PCH – Pale Chocolate Heaven.  A golden orange color that was a serious milk chocolate beer.  Surprising and very tasty.  It will be the first one that I will try again.  My beer crystal ball tells me that PCH will be the breakout hit for SMBW.


Port Town took my second place with their Hefeweizen and Pilsner.  Both solid examples of the styles. Styles that are hard to nail correctly.  This brewery gets new digs in 2015 and will be one to watch.  Venice Duck had bottles of their Agave Blonde and their Hemp Ale and both were also solid.  They rank a bit below Port Town because because they were a little less well defined in the flavor arena.  But the beers do seem to be improving from when I sampled them last and I hope they get their Venice location going.

The other newbie was House Beer.  They only do an American style lager and it was fine.  I would take Port Town’s Pilsner over it though.  Too much sweetness here for me.  Got a little cloying.  And I wish they could have their contract brew done in state as opposed to Wisconsin.

Other beers that struck a chord for me were the Post Season Ale from King Harbor and the Grasshopper from Kinetic Brewing.  A golden rye strong ale that to my taste buds was a delicious rye IPA.


There are a couple things that I wish BAM would do for next year.  The beer area needs to be expanded.  By 4pm, the crowd was difficult to navigate, especially with a glass of liquid.  Maybe add a seating area or two that could draw people away to create a better flow.  Secondly, increased signage would be great.  Or a little map in your glass to show you what was where and at what time.  For the musical acts this would be easy.  A board near the stage with a list of who was playing and when.

That being said, this is a great festival that always gives you both beer choices and art to marvel at.


I had the opportunity to sit down with Goose Island Brewmaster Brett Porter to talk about the 2014 slate of Bourbon County Stout beers, in Beverly Hills of all places.

The answers to my questions posed that day will appear over on Food GPS in early November. For now, you get my tasting notes on the spin-offs and variants of the classic Stout that debuted over 20 years ago.


This year the BCS consists of the following: (with my tasting notes in italics)

Bourbon County Brand Stout – Original: A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer.
One of the rare bourbon barrel beers that doesn’t scream bourbon. I like that the previous occupant of the barrel is an additional note here. And this year the alcoholic heat is much less. No need to wait for this one, it is ready now. Quite viscous with milk chocolate notes here.

Bourbon County Brand Stout Coffee: Everyday Goose Island smells the wonderful coffee roasting next to our brewery at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. This world class roaster puts the same passion and skill into their coffee as Goose Island does with its beer. This excellent stout is made with a different coffee from our friends next door each year. With the change in coffee comes a change in the flavor profile, making each release truly unique from the previous years.
The 2014 wasn’t ready yet but brewmaster Porter really liked the coffee choice from Intelligentsia for this year. But the 2013 really held up well. Big coffee nose with lots of unroasted bean notes to it

Bourbon County – Barleywine: Aged in the third-use barrels that were once home to Kentucky bourbon and then our renowned Bourbon County Stout, this traditional English-style barleywine possesses the subtlety of flavor that only comes from a barrel that’s gone through many seasons of ritual care. The intricacies of the previous barrel denizens – oak, charcoal, hints of tobacco and vanilla, and that signature bourbon heat – are all present in this beer. Hearty and complex, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine is a titan and a timeline; a bold, flavorful journey through the craft of barrel aging.
When left to warm up, this really showed off some complexity. Lovely garnet color, this beer spent 6 months in barrels that previously held BCS. Slick on the tongue with cola and cranberry fruit notes. A little Umami action as well.

Bourbon County – Vanilla Rye: First brewed for the legendary festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer in Chicago, drinkers enjoyed this Bourbon County Variant so much we bottled it the next year (2010). People flocked to stores to get their hands on a bottle and have this one of a kind barrel aged stout. Over the past few years we have heard our fans express their love for this version and we are extremely proud to bring it back in 2014. This year’s version features a little twist of aging the stout in Rye Whiskey Barrels with a mix of Mexican and Madagascar vanilla beans!
I so wish this one had been ready but I will really like to see how these flavors meld together.

Proprietors Bourbon County: Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout is meant to show our immense gratitude to our neighbors here in Chicago – the loyal and adventurous fans whose support helped bring Bourbon County Brand Stout to towering new heights. Each year this release will differ from the previous year; a special variant created for Chicago and unique to the year it was released. Whether your first sip is today or was from that first batch in 1992, thank you for lifting us up on your big shoulders and joining us every year to celebrate the original bourbon barrel aged stout.