The day begins around 10 or 11 in the morning as the six of us gather, as we often do, bleary-eyed and ready to share tales of the previous nights events. A big silver pot sits in the middle of the garage, atop a blazing flame, ready to heat gallons of water for the mash. It’s the usual scenario, Oz busy checking temperatures and equipment with Eric close by, eager to learn as much as he can. Meanwhile, JD and I joke and trade jabs with Ryan as we crack open the first beers of the day. This week we’re joined by Trish, normally a light beer drinker; we’re determined to get her drinking craft beer (and liking it) before the day is done. When the water is hot enough, it’s transferred to the mash tun, in our case a converted cooler whose insulated walls will help keep the proper temperature. Grain is added, creating the mash that will produce our wort. Steam rises from the mixture as the rich aroma, like warm oatmeal, fills the air.
These pocket journals, part of the 33 books series by Dave Seldon, are the perfect companion for the established or aspiring craft beer connoisseur. Each booklet contains 33 pages waiting to be filled with flavor notes, observations, and ratings of your favorite (and not-so-favorite) craft beers. Made of 100% recycled papers sourced in the Pacific Northwest and printed using US-grown soy-based inks in Portland, OR, these handy helpers are a product you can feel good about.
For Christmas this year, I gave JD a homebrew kit to make a DIY version of Rogue’s Brutal IPA, one of our favorite Rogue beers. You could say this was somewhat selfish of me, seeing as though I would inevitably be joining him in the brewing process, as well as enjoying the fruits of our labor… but if you say it to my face, I might not share any with you when it’s done fermenting, sooo….. it’s probably best to keep those kinds of opinions to yourself.
Anyway, we spent yesterday afternoon brewing beer.
The kit makes an easy-to-manage 5 gallon batch. The box contained everything we needed, except the yeast (due to shipping restrictions), but the instructions told us what was recommended. We started out steeping the grain, then adding the first bag of dry malt extract to create the wort. Then it’s time to start the clock for the boil. We added the bittering hops first (Centennial), after about 45 minutes, the flavor hops (Crystal), and finally the aroma hops (Crystal again). The boil is my favorite part of homebrewing process because of the smells. OH THE SMELLS! As the wort boils, there’s not much to do but sit around and drink a few beers with your friends (Ok, maybe *that’s* my favorite part of homebrewing) and the smells that waft through the air as the ingredients blend together are just heavenly. We brewed in a huge warehouse and the whole place was filled with the sweet smell of boiling wort. It’s like baking fresh bread, only better because it’s BEER.
Today we cooked up a batch of beer using the Rogue Brutal IPA homebrew kit that I got JD for Christmas. I wish you could smell this…
CoWorker: Did you see that they’re doing growler fills at Sunoco now?
Me: Really? What kind of beer?
CoWorker: I don’t know, I didn’t have time to go in, I just saw the sign advertising craft beer as I was pumping gas the other day. Do you think they really have craft beer on tap in a gas station?
Me: Do you think?
The above exchange happened about two months ago between myself and a coworker, who happens to be a fellow beer enthusiast. A couple weeks later, I saw the same sign, outside of a Sunoco gas station on the other side of town. I was curious but didn’t make it in to see what the deal was… until tonight.
I have to admit, I’m a sucker for marketing. They say good marketing appeals to our senses… that is true, but perhaps the best marketing appeals to our sense of self. Truly great marketing makes you feel good about yourself. You feel smarter, cooler, better, simply by making the decision to buy into whatever it is they’re selling that day. Of course I’m not the only one… an entire generation of marketing lemmings, commonly known as hipsters, are out there “liking it before it’s cool”. According to authors Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in their book Nation of Rebels, “Cool has become the central ideology of consumer capitalism.”
A well-designed package can get me to buy almost anything, and this phenomenon definitely holds true when it comes to beer. While it’s no secret that the beer industry and product marketing go hand in hand, the craft beer market is introducing a new aesthetic, playing to a… dare I say it?… more sophisticated beer drinker. When I’m browsing the aisles of our local beer store, a fresh label design will grab my attention right away and, more often than not, inspire me to try something new. Of course, that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?
So without further adieu, I thought I would run down a few of the craft brews that have caught my eye and found their way to my fridge through the use of nostalgic imagery and nice fonts. I’ll leave out any personal preferences in regards to taste, some of these listed below have become dear favorites, making it into our regular rotation, while others, sadly, have never been consumed again.
I started to develop a taste for craft beer when JD and I visited Rogue Ales at the start of last year. Our trip to Oregon was fantastic, leaving a deep impression on both of us, and Rogue will always have a special place in my heart as a result. But our visit to Southern Tier Brewing Co. in June ’11 is when I really started to fall in love with the craft beer industry.
We first visited the brewery in Lakewood, NY for a beer and cheese pairing event at their brewpub, The Empty Pint. Despite unseasonably cool weather (read: classic summer day in upstate NY), we enjoyed the outdoor patio with several comments made about the laid-back but well executed aesthetic of the place. A partnership with Wegmans brought a tasty array of NYS cheeses together with carefully selected craft beer from west coast brewers Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Anderson Valley, and Stone Brewing, along with Great Lakes, Dogfish Head, and Ommegang. Of course we drank plenty of Southern Tier Brews too!