Monday, August 31, 2009

Trader Joe's Sinks to a New Low!

Trader Joe's, the home of Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) wine, horrible parking, and fawning customers who can't wait to hop in their Subarus for a jaunt over to their favorite grocery store, introduces a new private-label beer: Red Oval.

What makes this American macro lager worth writing about is the low, low price of $2.99 a six-pack. That's 49 cents a can. Or if you really want to get all mathy, $11.96 for an entire case!!! But is the taste reflective of the price? Red Oval is brewed by Minhas, Wisconsin's oldest brewery, which also makes the popular Simpler Times line of beers for Trader Joe's. Simpler Times sixers were bought by the cart-full because they are $3.99 per six-pack, which, with Red Oval setting a new sub-standard, seems like a beer that only the country club limo set will be buying. Red Oval has a good amount of sweetness from the amount of corn used in place of barley in the brewing process. Corn is often substituted as a method for lowering the cost of the beer, a method looked down upon by brewing cognoscenti. I have confessed before how I enjoy a malt liquor now and then, which relies heavily on corn, so I have no problem with it. Red Oval is drinkable at about 5% ABV, and is sure to gain a following quickly. Get your Subaru gassed up and head to Trader Joe's to see what you think.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Meet YOUR Local Brewer: Jeff Erway

I met up with Chama River Brewing Company's Head Brewer, Jeff Erway, as he was fresh off a grueling 16-hour day of making barleywine. 16 hours??? That sounds like a good night's sleep to me. But Jeff still had the energy to give me some time for this interview.

Is it true that you don't own a television set?

It is true.

Well, I hope you aren't being passed by in technology by other breweries because of that. Did you know Miller Lite is now "Triple Hops Brewed"?
I did know that! The funny thing is, it's not true. It implies they add hops at three separate times, but in fact Miller does not use actual hops in any of its product. They use a pre-isomerized hop extract.

See, I don't even know what that means. That sounds like mad scientist talk. But what's the deal with the no TV?

Well, it's not like some revolt against society or anything like that. For five years, I lived out on the Navajo Nation, teaching music, and you couldn't get any channels with your antenna, and cable wasn't available out there. We would have had to get satellite, and I didn't think doing that out there amongst a bunch of impoverished people would go over too well! But Laura (Jeff's wife) and I had a television and a DVD player but the television broke down the second year we were there and we were like, "Well, we have a computer, we can watch DVDs on that."

So how do you then make the transition from teaching music to brewing beer? Is is something to do with having that kind of scientific brain, because music seems to have a science-like structure?

Even before I moved out here, I was judging beer back in New York state. I lived right down the road from the world's largest beer store, Beers of the World. They have like 4,000 beers. And I stole Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer off my friend's coffee table. I went over to Beers of the World and started trying to work my way through all the beers that I read about. When I moved out here, the selection was not that great, and I became passionate about homebrewing. I found that it was something that I wasn't just good at; I found myself actually winning a lot of competitions. The head brewer of Chama River at that time, Ted Rice, encouraged me to get a degree from the American Brewers Guild, and I did it in 2007. It wasn't that I didn't like teaching; I was an adequate teacher. It just wasn't what I was passionate about.

So were you good at chemistry back in high school?
Absolutely not! That was my worst subject in high school. I didn't have anything that tied it to something I cared about, so it didn't interest me. It was when I got into brewing, and more biology than chemistry, maybe some organic chemistry, that tied science into what I loved doing.

You mentioned that Ted encouraged you to pursue the degree. Is there a rivalry between you and the Marble guys? Like, when they came out with the "I Know Ted" and "I Know Daniel bumper stickers, were you like, "Where's the "I Know Jeff" stickers????" Give me some recognition too!
(Laughs)No, not at all. The funny thing about that, they did that sticker as a sort of friendly mocking of the clientele, the ones who would go down there and try to get a special deal on their kegs by dropping a name; "I know Ted", or "I know Daniel", that's how that came about. But is there any present day, any rivalry? Only friendly. And I would say that about any of the brewers around here. You know, if you can't find me here, you can often find me at Il Vicino drinking a beer. And Brady (Il Vicino's Head Brewer) is a near, dear friend of mine. I was one of the first to find out when his wife had their son. And Ted and Daniel, they're probably bigger rivals with each other. Everyone's just trying to brew the best beer they can, and if someone brews a really excellent one, then we're all excited for them.

Was anybody upset that Brady put a lager in an IPA challenge?

Everybody, every year, is always upset about the beer that won the IPA challenge, but the brewers, they couldn't give a crap about what was entered. If a brewer wanted to enter a Russian Imperial Stout in the challenge, that's their prerogative, and they can do that if they like.

Your Russian Imperial Stout that you bottled, Anastasia, seemed to sell very well. Any plans to bottle again?

Never again, ever, ever, ever! It's not that I wouldn't want to do it again, it's just a nightmare, trust me, to do it in here. If I do it again, it'll be contracted at Marble, and I don't see them having the room to do that anytime soon. I just brewed the barleywine last night, and if Marble had room to bottle some of it, I would do that, but it's just so hard here. We had three of us bottling, (NOTE: with Justin, Assistant Brewer pictured) doing one bottle at a time. It's a 16 hour day just to bottle about 50 cases. I'm the only one who using the counter-pressure bottle filler, so the others are sanitizing bottles, capping them, putting them in cases. I'm just working the filler all day, getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

I know you have a love and respect for Belgian beers. Does that come from having had access to so many beers at the Beers of the World store?

A great deal of that has to do with my relationship with, not to plug another website, but I think I've still done the most ratings of any member in the state, though I haven't done a rating in two years. The people on that site got me to try beers that were truly amazing, mainly Belgian styles. This morning, in fact, we just booked tickets to fly into Amsterdam and are going to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Belgium.

And Laura is ok with spending Thanksgiving away from family and all that in favor of beer?

Oh, yeah. She does beer judging at the state fair, and may judge at the Great American Beer Festival some day. She's got one heck of a palate. She met me just after I turned 21, and believe it or not, I did not drink beer back then. I was drinking a lot of whiskey and other liquors. She's seen me grow into a craft beer lover and then professional brewer and she's grown along with me.

As far as palates go, I remember talking to you at the IPA Challenge about a beer, and I was saying that I thought it was a good, hoppy beer. You immediately responded with five or so rapid fire technical comments about the beer. So do you consider yourself one of those supertasters who can pick out things others can't?

I think one of the things that makes a truly great brewer is to have an exceptionally refined palate. I'm not going to say I am that far along or have the best palate, but I have judged in literally hundreds of beer competitions. I take pride that I can pick apart the nuances of a beer, and it's kind of turned me into a wine snob, more than I can afford to be really. I've taken five sensory analysis courses, and it helps me critique my own beers fairly, which is what I care about the most.

As far as the Belgian styles- you don't seem to have them on tap very often. Is that because the clientele doesn't crave them as much as other styles?

It's a number of factors. Belgian styles do not sell exceptionally well here. Wit beers sell in the Summer. Dubbels sometimes sell in Winter. The main issue is the yeast. We have one house ale strain that we use here, and one house lager strain. It's a struggle to keep those going all the time. What I mean by "going" is, I buy a certain amount of pitchable yeast. I use that in a batch, and with the ale strain, I try to use that at least 15 times, and the lager yeast 7-8 times before I dump it. Each time I get a new crop, it's, oh, $250 for the new crop.For Belgians, you'll notice Brady and I will have a Belgian on at the same time. I'll use the Belgian strain and give it to Brady, and he'll give it back to me, and I'll give it back to him, and so on. And Ted, Daniel, Brady and I will try to coordinate our brewing schedule to get the most out of a crop.

I see Marble on tap everywhere these days, and I have seen Turtle Mountain at Uptown Sports Bar. Is there a reason Chama isn't available anywhere else?

Indigo Crow will have our beer on tap occasionally. Leaping Lizard always has 4 or 5 of our beers on tap. Mainly, we are not a production brewery. We are a 5 barrel brewhouse, which is the smallest in the state, but we are the biggest as far as actual production. We make a lot of beer here, and we sell a lot of beer here and at our microbar (2nd and Central). That keeps us at capacity. To give you a better idea, Turtle Mountain has a 10 barrel brewhouse that brewed 1200 barrels last year. Our 5 barrel facility brewed 1400. It can be a constant struggle to keep beer on tap at our two places, so getting beer to other bars is not a top priority.

What are you bringing to the Great American Beer Fest this year?

March Hare, which just won Best of Show at the state fair (NOTE TO SELF: Great job on covering that event, Mr. Abq Beer Geek), Dr. Strangehop (Or How I Learned to Stop Drinking Fizzy Yellow Beer and love the Hop), Poppin' Pils, Sleeping Dog Stout, which has won 3 international awards, and Anastasia barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout.

And you are going to be entering Dr. Strangehop at this year's Alpha King Challenge rather than March Hare, which had the distinction of taking third last year. Why the switch? (NOTE: this is an annual challenge to find the best hoppy beer in the country that has more than 65 IBUs, named after Alpha King Pale Ale from Three Floyds Brewing)

Mainly because I tried the beers that came in first and second. (NOTE: Hop 15 from Port Brewing and Boundary Bay IPA from Boundary Bay Brewing) Neither of those had the hop aroma that I want in my beers, but had a kick in the teeth bitterness. I am going to enter the March Hare as well just to see what happens. The Alpha King challenge seems to be more about the double IPAs these days.

What's coming up on tap here at Chama River? Are you going to do the Decapitated Equestrian pumpkin beer this year? That may be the best pumpkin beer I ever had.

Thank you! That beer didn't sell so well last year. The Sleepy Hollow pumpkin ale sells extremely well, however. We're going to be doing a lot of that come September. The Copper John Pale Ale, which used to be our standard pale, is going to be on tap in about two weeks from now. We stopped making that is because during the hop crisis we were not able to contract one of the main character hops, Simcoe. We have a limited amount now and people have been asking for it. I will be filtering the Octoberfest next Tuesday. We have the What We Learned Pale Ale, which is a culmination of the single hop pale ales we did with a mix of the different hops. The barleywine we just brewed will be out for our anniversary in January. Chama Red, though I haven't really named that one yet. I'll probably come up with a better name for it. We just put on an Imperial Pilsner called My Nighlty Pils, which is 7.6% ABV and about 75 IBUs. I wanted it to really represent the pilsener style rather than some interpretations that come out more like a Helles Bock.

<How about the upcoming Septemberfest? (NOTE: Sept. 19 at Marble- story upcoming)

I usually bring what will sell to things like that. So Dr. Strangehop, March Hare, Octoberfest, My Nightly Pils, and we are going to do a cask of Jackalope IPA with locally grown De Smet hops in it. So were going to try that, and hopefully someday we can brew a batch with the hops I'm growing out front. (NOTE: check the hops out next time you are there. They are hanging on the south side of the patio)

You said your 5th Anniversary is coming up in January. Do you have anything special planned?

We will have a party, sure, and there will be a beer dinner that will feature, shall we say, some of our more ambitious beers.

Well I'm looking forward to that! Thanks for taking the time with us, Jeff.

Sure, no problem!

Jeff Erway- An engaging, well educated brewer who seems to have the perfect recipe for making great beers. A man, a mash tun, and a paddle. But without a TV, which impedes him from realizing what beer drinkers really want. So I feel I must inform you, Jeff- "The Difference is Drinkability!".

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Smiths Shafts Odell for Bottled Water

Anyone else notice the sudden lack of Odell beers in the local Smiths stores? Yeah, me too. To get the scoop, I made a call to Odell's headquarters in Fort Collins, CO. Thanks to Amanda Johnson and Ryan Bogart, I learned that the Odell line, save for the IPA, had been nixed from Smiths to "Make room for additional domestics and their cheap signature line", according to Bogart. That's quite the setback for a store that had been making strides in the craft beer area, and I haven't noticed any IPA on the shelves, either. It's like the brand never existed. I have noticed the addition of the Moe's Backroom line of beers, which include a pale ale, lager, and amber ale. All are brewed by the "Tap Room no. 21 Brewery". Wow, at least the Odell line is being replaced by another quality craft brewery, right? That Tap Room Brewery is better known as City Brewery, the La Crosse, WI giant that specializes in malt liquors, such as the brown bag classics City Slicker, Crazy Stallion, and Pit Bull, among others. While I have been known to throw back the occasional 40, I don't want to see a faux craft brewery taking shelf space over a higher quality product. Send Moe's Backroom to the 7-11s, and put Odell back in Smiths, right next to the Michelob Ultra and Old English 800.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Uinta Beers From Utah?

2009 has been a good year, as far as getting new beers into our fair city. Some breweries are more desirable and anticipated than others. The latest to hit town, Uinta Brewing of Utah, may initially seem like one of the "others". After all, it is beer from Utah. Isn't that the home of oppressive alcohol laws that force breweries to make beers that taste like watered down Coors Light? Well, yes and no. In Utah, convenience and grocery stores cannot sell beer that is higher than 4% abv, so breweries must make beers to fit that market. But liquor stores can sell the good old fashioned, higher alcohol versions that nature intended. And anything sent out of state is not subject to the 4% law. One of the included beers, the Anglers Pale Ale, is 5.8%. The other two, Blue Sky Pilsner and Solstice Kolsch, are both at 4% but I would expect something along those lines for the Kolsch at least, though a Pils usually goes a little higher. So don't let the alcohol be the main factor when deciding whether or not to pick up the mixed 12-pack of Uinta beer, available at Albertsons (after all, none of us are drinking for the effects of the alcohol anyway...). Let the $16.99 price tag influence your decision, for sure. I don't know if that price will carry over to other local stores once they start carrying Uinta, but if it does, those 12-packs are going to be collecting dust on the shelves.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The News of Tractor's Demise...

is completely untrue! What, you hadn't heard the rumors of Tractor closing their doors recently? Good, and I'm glad I didn't report on this before doing my research, because I would have looked like more of an ass than usual. Luckily, Angelo Orona, Director of Sales and Marketing for Tractor set me straight on what is happening at the Los Lunas brewery. The brewery is not closed or closing, but is going through a transition period right now. It seems that the brewer one day decided Colorado was where he'd rather be, and left the business with very little notice. The kind of notice where a guy says, "Hey, it's 5:00, see you later", then hops in the car and hightails it to Colorado to live and drink wine. So that leaves a big problem- with no brewer, and Tractor being such a small operation (Angelo tells me there are only a few employees dedicated full-time to the business), that the brewery could possibly be in jeopardy, right?

Well, Angelo says they have enough beer stock to distribute about two more months, and he is confident they will find a new brewer well ahead of that time. It's a good thing too, as he has been busy cultivating 12,000 Cascade plants and 1,200 Willamette plants on Tractor's five acre hop farm. Now you know that's a small operation when the Sales and Marketing guy is working in the hop fields! And its unique enough that a company uses home grown hops in its beers, but a brewery in the desert??? Let's hope Tractor gets back on its wheels soon. I'll keep you posted.

I Don't Remember This Saint in Sunday School

But then again, I don't remember much from those days because I was too busy being embarrassed by the Don Johnson Miami Vice outfit my mom made me wear to my first confirmation. And maybe St. Lupulin, the new pale ale from Odell, is just a catchy name and not an actual someone I should remember from the bible. After all, Lupulin is the bitter powder extracted from the flowers of the Humulus lupulus, or as commonly known, hop plant. So while Lupulin may seem heavenly to hop heads like us, it may not qualify for sainthood in some circles. And if you need any more confirmation, it says on the side of the bottle "A mystical legend". So now that I've beaten that to death, on to the actual beer. It is the Summer Seasonal release from Odell Brewing, and it makes sense that we are getting it two-thirds of the way through the season. That's the way it goes here in Albuquerque sometimes. The beer is in the pale ale style, though it borders on the IPA style, dry-hopped and highly floral. It is also 6.5%, pretty high for the pale ale style. It is also $9.99, also high for the style. I think I would get the 7%, $8.99 Odell IPA and get a hoppier, even more floral beer, but St. Lupulin is a solid offering from Odell, as usual. And my mom's dog seems to approve. I got this beer at Kelly's on Wyoming.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Beer Store Blooms on San Mateo

Sunflower Market recently opened the doors to their third Albuquerque location, in the former Wild Oats at San Mateo and Academy. The beer and wine license was not long to follow, and as I visited Thursday, the workers were busy getting the shelves stocked and priced. When the Lomas location opened, it was probably two months before any alcohol was allowed to be sold. I imagine that since the previous tenant at the San Mateo location had a license to sell beer and wine, there was less investigation needed as to whether the store was too close to a school, or a church, or whatever else might be corrupted if a bottle of alcohol comes within 500 yards of it.

The selection of beer lines 30 or so feet in a cooler along the Northwest wall of the store. Except for the displays on the floor, all beers are kept refrigerated, which is a plus. Of course, I don't know if that is the case in their backstock of beer, but we can only hope. They have a nice selection of 22 oz. beers, including the freshest Hercules DIPA in town(bottled July 22, and priced well at $5.99), Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine (which I like to mention just because it is cool to see barleywine sold in a grocery store, and Stone's seasonal releases priced at $5.99, .50 cheaper than many other stores are selling them for. Some six-packs are priced a little higher than normal; Sierra varities are $7.99, while most stores have Sierra at $7.49. Full Sail beers are $7.99, a full dollar more than the competition. Santa Fe beers were even higher- $8.99 for a local, privately distributed beer, a beer that Trader Joe's sells for $6.99. T be fair, they do have Anchor Steam for $7.99, $1.50-2.00 cheaper than other stores. They also have weekly specials that offer deep discounts, so don't throw away that bundle of flyers that arrives in your mailbox on every Tuesday. Check the Sunflower flyer's back page for the goodies of the week. The San Mateo location ONLY has a great deal on Marble beer through Wednesday, August 19- $5.99 a six pack!! Bring a pickup truck and load those cases on, along with some fresh roasted green chile (which I stood in line for two hours waiting for when they were selling 30 roasted lbs. for 10 bucks, all the while vocalizing loudly how I and anybody else must be a total dumbass for spending their day waiting for peppers- I think I was pissing people off, which made the wait easier).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Member of a Hoppy Family

Full Sail delivers the newest member of the Brewmaster's Series releases: Grandsun of Spot IPA. This follows previous years' versions of basically the same IPA, with 2007's Sunspot IPA and 2008's Son of Spot. Now we get the grandson. Cute.

If you've had Full Sail's IPA before, you know it is not the most hop-forward IPA out there, which is kind of surprising considering Full Sail is a Pacific Northwest brewery. But their IPA is tamer, and is a good gateway IPA for those who are just getting into the better bitters. The Grandsun of Spot is at a much higher level in the the hop factor, with IBUs at 100, though is balanced by the Munich and honey malts. I found this 6%, $3.99 IPA at the new Sunflower Market at San Mateo and Academy (more on the new Sunflower's beer section soon).

Monday, August 10, 2009

This Site + This Beer = Black Hole

A black hole exists in Albuquerque: a website that, when not updated frequently, sucks all the life and light out of anything in its reach. Yeah, I know the site isn't that important, but for those of you who faithfully check for new posts, I'd like to think that not finding anything new still, at the very least, sucks. So thanks for hanging in there!

The Black Hole we are focusing on today is actually a beer from Mikkeller, a Denmark brewing company that has caught the American craft beer fever in recent years and makes some killer beers, including the Stateside IPA and a series of single-hop IPAs, of which Cascade, Warrior, and Nelson Sauvin can be found in Albuquerque. While Mikkeller is a Danish company, Black Hole was actually brewed at the famed De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium, and is not a beer I would suggest drinking while our temps are still in the mid 90's. This beer, as the name suggests, is in the Russian Imperial Stout style, which means this is what Russians pound after the vodka has been exhausted. A beer that packs almost the strength of a liquor, at 13.1%! This stout was also brewed with a large amount of coffee, along with vanilla and honey. This beer might be perfect for that Fall camping trip, sipped around a campfire high up in the mountains while the chill of the oncoming Winter bites at you. But I'm in no place to make that suggestion. I really don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to camping. I've never slept in a tent in my life, and though I resolved to do a camping trip this year, I have yet to follow through on it. I've been too comfortable watching TV and drinking out of my keg to brave the New Mexico wilderness. But if I do make good on my resolution, I will drink this beer around the campfire, and not wuss out halfway through the evening and go get a room at Motel 6. At $9.49 for a 12.7 oz. bottle, I can't afford a hotel anyway.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

This is Why I Always Bring My Own to Their House

I'm sure you all have heard the story about the Harvard professor who was dealt the unfortunate combination of a stuck front door and a good Samaritan neighbor who mistook Professor Gates for a burglar. Either that, or the neighbor is a Yale guy and wanted to cause trouble. While I'm not about to get into the whole race discussion, as I treat my Stouts the same as I do my Wit beers, I would like to talk about the beers of choice on the day the parties involved met to clear the air.

Let's start with the second most important person in the world, who drank the least important beer in the world: Vice President Joe Biden chose Buckler, a non-alcoholic beer. I do feel that a person of Biden's stature is setting a bad example for kids who look up to him, but I'll let it slide this time. Maybe he was sick, or has an alcohol problem that I am unaware of. But next time he should go with a beer from Iron Hill Brewery in Wilmington, DE, where Biden lived and served. Their very limited bottle releases are pricey, but we pay him well.

Oh, Mr. President. I don't expect you to drink the hoppiest Double IPA, but I would think that you would choose a beer from an American company (come to think of it, Buckler is owned by Heineken). The former Anheuser Busch company, while not making anything that I was crazy over, still was an American institution, and also made the only beer my grandfather drinks. Though Budweiser is still the same, Anheuser Busch is of course now AmBev, after being acquired by the Belgian/Brazilian giant InBev. If the President wants something light, he could drink Capitol Kolsch from local brewpub Capitol City Brewery. Maybe he was trying to connect with everyday America, but at this point, I don't think a beer is gonna gain him any points.

This next guy, no wonder he got to be a professor. He decided against his original beer choice, Red Stripe, and instead went with an All American Samuel Adams Light. For a light beer, this one actually has a good amount of flavor, especially compared to Red Stripe, which should only be consumed during an island vacation. And the choice is doubly good, as Gates lives in the same that is home to the Boston Beer Company, maker of the Samuel Adams line of beers.

I was kind of surprised by the police officer's choice of beers: Blue Moon Belgian White beer. Police officers seem to be more of the macho types, and Blue Moon has become very popular among the female beer drinkers out there. I admit that I like it sometimes as a light option during the Summer, especially when, God forbid, I am at a bar with limited beer options. But I still fell kind of funny walking around with a big glass that has fruit on the top of it. And then I look around and see one guy drinking a Bacardi Ice, and his friend is drinking a Mike's Hard Lemonade, and everything is right again. Maybe that is how Officer Crowley felt when looking at the other beers around the table.

And it seems that the power of beer has once again helped smooth over what was once an ugly situation, though I imagine Joe Biden's Buckler only contributed a greater need to pee. And though the beers weren't what maybe you or I would choose, at least they were drinking, and not ashamed of it. Anyway, I think we've all learned something very important here: What you drink isn't relative to how far you get in life...but it should be.