Friday, August 31, 2012


Dear brewers,

Please date your bottles.

It's a simple matter that means a lot. I will not buy your IPA if there is not a date on the bottle or if I don't know for sure it just got to the beer shop, i.e. it's a seasonal beer or I literally saw it come in stock. If I'm browsing bottles in a great shop and am eager to take home an IPA, yours won't even be in the running if there is not a date on the bottle. And don't you want my business?

I'm not nit-picking, I'm just a beer enthusiast who has been burned too many times buying IPAs that were past their optimal drinking date, getting the bland cardboard trash you certainly did not intend for your customers to drink instead of the awesome hop taste and aroma you wanted me to have.

So please date your bottles.

I love to cellar beer. I have a rotating "cellar" 200 bottles strong and love aging beer. But if your beer is not marked with a date, I may be inclined to choose some other barleywine or imperial stout or strong ale over it. After all, a few years down the road I'll at least be able to tell how old those other bottles are when compared to yours. And don't you want my business?

I'm not nitpicking. I'm just a beer enthusiast who loves to lay down beer for a few years but who isn't willing to piss away his money on laying down beers that don't have defined dates on them, given that cellaring beer is such an expensive hobby in the long term.

So please date your bottles.

The craft beer movement is exploding, and that is awesome. Craft beer has had its ups and downs before, but since the 1990s things have always gotten better, especially when it comes to informing beer drinkers. Informed beer drinkers make for beer drinkers who grow craft beer as a whole. Giving information to your customers grows your business. And don't you want my business?

I'm not nitpicking. I'm just a beer enthusiast who believes that the more information you give your customers the better. The folks at Samuel Adams started to make the idea of dates important before many others, and breweries like Rogue and Southern Tier offer detailed information on their bottles (though shame on Rogue for not dating those bottles). So why can't you?

Of course you can. It may be an investment for you, but it will also be an investment in the folks who buy your beer.

So please date your bottles.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

From the Cellar: Ommegang Abbey Ale

The Brewery Ommegang is arguably the best brewer of Belgian style beers in America. It's partially a cheat, of course, since Ommegang is owned by Duvel, who also provides them with their house yeast strain, practically making Ommegang a Belgian brewery located in America, but when confronted with such awesomeness that's little more than pedantic nitpicking. These folks make awesome beers. That's all you need to know.

Ommegang's flagship is probably Abbey Ale, a top-rated, super delicious beer roughly in the style of the dark Trappist beer made in Belgium. This fantastic 8.5% dark Belgian-style ale only costs about $7.99 for a corked 750ml bottle, so it's a bargain for a beer so good. In addition to price, it meets all the other key criteria for beer that is good to stash away. That's why I decided to grab one and stash it away. So after roughly a year and a half to two years in storage, how does it taste?

Pretty damn good.

The nose offers subdued notes of dark fruits (figs, etc) and a very bready sweetness, like black buns fresh from the oven. It smells distinctly like a Trappist ale such as Rochefort 6.

Carbonation has mellowed after 18 months or so -- sorry, can't pin down time; if the bottle is dated, I can't find the date -- making the beer a bit stickier than it is fresh, though it's nowhere close to flat. The taste reveals hints of caramel and barely noticeable fruit. The Belgian yeast character so noticeable when fresh is subdued here, while the alcohol is better hidden in the murk.

Overall I'm pleased with how nicely this beer matured, but feel like this experiment points to it being better fresh. That might change if a bottle was set down for, say, five years instead of two -- 18 to 24 months really isn't that long for a beer worth aging -- but I'm guessing this is a beer that wants to be consumed fresh.


BEER: Ommegang Abbey Ale
TIME AGED: Roughly 18-24 months
NOTES: Easily available and affordable, so it's a cheap experiment. Try it yourself.

VERDICT: Okay to cellar this, as it lays down fairly well, but don't for for too long. It's better fresh.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quick Sips: Long Trail Coffee Stout

For me, Long Trail has long been a great go-to for approachable craft beers. They make solid session brews that won't knock you on your ass but give you nice flavor. Many die-hard beer geeks don't consider Long Trail anything special, but those folks miss the point. Long Trail isn't aiming to reinvent beer or blow out your taste buds anything like that. They just make good, drinkable beer. It's why I like them

None of which is to say they don't play around with bigger beers. Their Brewsmaster Series is where they get a little bigger and bolder. Each year a few beers come out in this series, always in bombers (22 oz. bottles), and always for a reasonable price. The standout is always, in my opinion, their coffee stout, a robust brew that clocks in at 8% and that has always packed a nice punch of roast, chocolate, and java.

So why I am so lukewarm on this year's batch?

This has been a top-notch beer for me in the past, but this year's batch (2012) has a slick, oily coffee bitterness I don't care for. That same taste totally ruined a homebrewed coffee stout I made last year. Mind you, the taste is not even close to that bad here -- I enjoyed this whole bottle -- but it's a step down from the gorgeous roast of previous batches. The coffee is way up front, burying the rich roast that defines this beers.

I'm stumped. And disappointed. Because last year, I would have ranked this brew among my favorites. This year? Not even in the top 100.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sierra Nevada takes us to BEER CAMP

For some years now, Sierra Nevada has been holding Beer Camp, an opportunity for industry people, contest winners, and others to visit their Chico, CA facility and brew some beer (on Sierra's equipment!) that would only ever be seen in the immediate Chico area. Over the years they brewed dozens of Sierra Nevada brews, often quirky, interesting beers that were never seen by 99.9% of Sierra Nevada drinkers.

In 2011, the brewery finally decided to make some of these beers available, releasing a Beer Camp mix pack that was, in my view, the very best mixer of the year. Every single beer was good, and several were phenomenal. Even something like the seemingly ordinary California Common, a style best known thanks to Anchor Steam, was amazing.

So needless to say, I was excited when it was announced that the Beer Camp pack would be back in 2012, this time with four totally new beers.

Here are my impressions of the four brews in this pack:

Floral IPA - This one is made with rose petals and rose hips, giving it a soft floral quality that parts ways with the pine-laden scents of Sierra Nevada's usual IPAs. This was my least favorite of the bunch, but not for the reason you may expect. The floral elements were actually well integrated. Where it fell short was in the overall balance. An uninteresting malt profile did little to intermingle with sharp hop bitterness. Though do keep in mind, unlike many American beer lovers, IPAs are not a favorite of mine.

Imperial Pilsner - I'm not sure why they went with the "imperial" tag, as this one comes in at 5.6% ABV, stronger than your average pilsner but not that much stronger. Regardless, for this this was the standout of the pack, and I say that as a guy who traditionally doesn't care for pilsners. This beer was bright, crisp, and refreshing, with a nice hop bite that gave it an edge over most pilsners. Utterly delicious and stupidly drinakable, if this came in six packs I'd be buying more of it.

Imperial Red Ale - Not a big fan of red ales. I can think of very, very few I've liked. Sierra Nevada almost gets me to like one here, with a great bouquet of hops and a robust malt backbone giving this puppy a solid 8.1% ABV, but yeah, this style continues to not be for me. If you like red ales, though, this will probably be a standout beer for you. It has bold hops coupled with rich malts and surprising chocolate notes. It's a big, big red that will please fans of the style.

Oatmeal Stout - A pretty modest name for a hefty 9% stout that is black as midnight and richer than a double chocolate cheesecake. WOWZA is this ever a desert beer. It SMELLS like desert! Huge, rich chocolate notes with the pure velvet of a great oatmeal stout. You'll taste the alcohol, making this one a decent candidate for laying down for six months to a year, but even now it's tasting pretty fantastic. Calling it a plain old oatmeal stout doesn't do it justice. This beer is huge and delicious.

All in call, Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp 2012 isn't quite as good as 2011's -- I liked all four of last year's and loved three of them, while this year I like three of four and love two of four -- but it's still a worthwhile mix pack that will expand your taste buds in good ways. Check it out while it's still available, because this will be off the shelves soon.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What's on tap for Celebrating the Suds

This blog isn't updated as often as I'd like. If I had my druthers I'd post every day. Time doesn't permit, but that doesn't mean Celebrating The Suds doesn't have a slew of posts in the works. In progress we've got articles on how to acquire rare beers and how to get into the beer trading scene, along with commentary on Dogfish Head, bottle dating, beer snobbery, and mixed packs.

We're also going to be posting MUCH more on homebrewing, including how to turn recipe kits on their head, how to conserve water while brewing, aging your homebrew, and photos and recipes of our own misadventures in brewing.

We'll also be digging more beers out of the cellar for the From the Cellar series, including Old Rasputin, Dogfish Head's Raison de' EXTRA and Red & White, Weyerbacher Fourteen, Ommegang Abbey Ale, and several more.

And naturally, there will be plenty of Quick Sips. In the queue are Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, Southern Tier Pumking, Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, Delirium Tremens, Long Trail Coffee Stout, and THE GREATEST FRUIT BEER IN THE WORLD, along with more than a dozen others.

Finally, after the success of Bell's Week, we've decided to do a few more themed weeks. Our focus is going to be regional breweries in the northeastern U.S., focused on New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. Right off the bat, I'll be aiming to get my hands on some flights of New Jersey brews (my home state) for themed weeks.

So yeah, much more to come. Cheers!

Friday, August 3, 2012

How to get those rare and limited beers?

Sometimes you might check out this blog and say, "Cool beer, how do I get it?" Then you realize the beer is not available in your state or, even worse, only had a very limited run. For example, a recent beer I intended to review only had about 100 bottles ever produced. Nonetheless, I got my hands on it. This is the beer. (Sorry for the lack of review, folks. Didn't get around to it. But if you want some, email me at, because I think my local shop has some as of August 2012.)

And many beers I have reviewed -- and even more I haven't, like the upcoming AWESOME FRUIT BEERS I will review -- aren't even available in the state I'm writing from, New Jersey.

The good beers available in my state (and yours), that's easy. Just find the best liquor/beer store you can. Search around. Check hole-in-the-wall joints if you have to. Find a shop willing to bring in good stuff. And then be cool with the people there. I don't mean kiss up just so you can get good beer. That's lame. These are people, after all. I mean realize some of these guys are your fellow beer geeks, people you'd get along with anyway, so TALK TO THEM. Good shops will eventually remember you. If you're a good customer they'll set aside good stuff at your request. If you treat people well, they'll treat you well.

But what about stuff not available in your area?

Here's how I get beers like Son of a Peach, Russian River Temptation, Bell's Oarmans Ale, or Telegraph Gypsy Ale, none of which are available in my state. And it's simple.

I trade for them. And I get this in return (clock for a bigger view):


Yep. Trading. There is a robust beer trading scene online through which you can swap beers from all over the country, and sometimes the world. I've traded with fellow beer geeks from California, Georgia, Wisconsin and elsewhere to obtain beers I couldn't get elsewhere. (Wisconsin, for real, because WOW New Glarus sure is awesome.)

It's pretty easy. You get in contact with a trader offering something cool, offer them something cool in return, exchange details, and ship out your beer. Keep in mind, it's not legal to ship by the post office. Most traders ship by FedEx or UPS. But it works fine. Just operate in good faith and be smart enough to deal only with people who have a good rep and you'll be fine.

Anyway, here are some good tips to get you started. I trade through beertrade on Reddit, but many other communities, such as Beer Advocate, host even bigger trading communities. Just have some good beer available to you, get online, and start trading! It's pretty fun, you can get beers you couldn't otherwise, and opening a package of beers you've never seen before is AWESOME.

It really is. Imagine getting this package from Wisconsin:

You know it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's National IPA Day!

Guess what, kids? Today is the second annual IPA Day! It's a day when beer geeks all across the world lift a glass and toast the style that just might be the most popular in craft beer today. While you're getting ready to crack a bottle and tip a glass, surf over to the official IPA Day website for some pretty fantastic recipes (because cooking with beer is almost always awesome).

When you're done, take a look at some of my favorite IPAs, including Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, Sixpoint's amazing Resin, and Stone's Japanese Green Tea IPA (which is sadly no longer available).

And then when you're done with that, take a look at this lovely photo gallery of just a few of the killer IPAs I've had the last year or so but haven't bothered to review. If you can't find one you love in there, you aren't trying hard enough.

Happy IPA Day, and cheers!