Welcome back, former-guest-contributor-but-now-official-BGB-team-member Russ Webb for another post on his beer-ventures. You remember Russ from giving us insight into Tasting Beer’s Holy Grail, Wesvleteren XII, not long ago. 

Scotland. The home of golf and whisky (please note, no ‘e’ in whisky…it’s a thing with them)

Flight: Innis & Gunn style

I’m lucky to have lived in Scotland in the past, and because my wife is from there we go home to visit regularly. When I tell people we are going, or have just returned, the questions I get inevitably revolve around golf, scotch and castles. Rarely does someone ask about the beer scene there and that’s a shame because it’s exceptional and getting better. As recently as 15 years ago there were just a handful of Scottish brewers, but now there are more than 100 and that number is growing all of the time. Here’s a ‘taste’ of my recent travels:

Innis & Gunn – Yum is the first word that comes to mind. People in the states know Innis & Gunn’s oak and rum aged ales, but their Beer Kitchens in Scotland have so much more to offer. From full flavored red ales to complex barrel aged stouts, Innis & Gunn is evolving rapidly into one of the best brewers in the world.

6 degrees of separation … from me

6° North – This little brewery in northern Scotland likes the Belgian styles, and they do it well. Their  name comes from the fact they are 6° north of Belgium, but their styles are right there. I enjoyed each of their selections, but the Tripel was especially good. If you’re headed across the pond, be sure they are on your agenda.


BREWDOG

BREWDOG –  Lots of people have tried BREWDOG because of their unique business model. Not only are they crowd sourced, but their popularity spread like wildfire and their beers match the hype. Most of their offerings lean to the hoppy side of the beer spectrum, but their stouts are stellar, including the 16.5% Tokyo Intergalactic Stout which is one of my top 5 beers ever. Brewdog is now brewing in the US, but their Scottish base is something they at proud of and I think they will continue to expand their offerings.

Belhaven

Belhaven – Belhaven has been brewing forever…no seriously, since 1719, but they have been branching out from their traditional styles recently and their beer lineup is fantastic. From special craft brews to occasion beers, Belhaven is taking nearly 300 years of brewing experience and making it better every day. 

Are there more? Oh yes, plenty. If you get a chance to visit the magical country of Scotland (their national animal is a unicorn), be sure to check out the outstanding beer scene…I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I’m cheating on you today.  I’m in Italy drinking … red wine! Perish the thought. I thought this a great opportunity to welcome in a guest blogger … someone who knows and loves beer as much as, if not more than, me. Please put your hands together and welcome him to the stage … @RussWebbGA!

Recently my pal BabyGotBeer did a blog about his Beer Bucket List, and I think all serious beer lovers have a list of brews that we aspire to get a chance to sample. My list is pretty long and ranges from once brewed Sam Adams Millennium to Heady Topper from The Alchemist. BGB’s perfect six pack contained some pretty amazing selections, and as fate would have it I recently had the opportunity to have the first one on his list, Westvleteren XII.

Considered by many to be the very best beer in the world, and holding a perfect score from Beer Advocate, the monks at the Abbey of St. Sixtus have been brewing Westvleteren since 1838 and making the elusive W 12 since 1940. The current production is 60,000 cases per year…the same that it has been since 1946. The beer is only sold at the Abbey and only to those with an appointment. Thankfully I have a friend who is a fellow beer enthusiast who made just such an appointment on his trip to Belgium, and brought home a few to savor and share with beer geeks like me.

The first thing you notice is the bottle, which has no label and has information imprinted on it and made into the bottle. After reading more about this beer I was waiting for a special occasion to try it, and finally decided that any day that I drank it would indeed be a special occasion!

Pouring the beer into a chalice, it was a beautiful reddish brown with a slight head. It smells of toffee and fruit, but the taste is pure malt with slight hints of sweetness. At 10.2% I never expected it to be as smooth as it was, but this is a VERY drinkable beer and it took great restraint to take time and enjoy every drop. My friend who gave me this jewel has told me that it ages beautifully and the taste will change the longer the beer is allowed to develop.

Is this the world’s best beer? I am a huge fan of Chimay (Blue, if you’re shopping for me) and it has
been my favorite beer for a long time. I will tell you that the W 12 is a perfect beer…that’s right…perfect. The only downside to it is that is pretty much unattainable to most of us, so I consider myself very lucky to have been able to have one and get to enjoy it. If I am ever in the vicinity of Vleteren, Belgium (or maybe even an adjoining country)…I think a visit to the Westvleteren Brewery to meet the brilliant monks of St. Sixtus will be in the cards. Yes, it IS that good.

Russ Webb by Russ Webb

I’d heard of it; I knew a lot of people who had had it and loved it.  But I was on the outside looking in … until a chance work trip to Cleveland.

I’m speaking of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold.  I’ll back up a bit.  You just never know where a good beer conversation or a good beer recommendation will come from.  I was in Cleveland for a conference that our group was running and we were meeting with the staff at the brand spankin’ new Westin in Cleveland.  (If you need a place to stay in Cleveland, highly recommended.)  When they got to the point where the bar selections were discussed, I asked about local beers, hoping they’d have Great Lakes available.  And oh yes they did.  So, not only did they offer to have at each reception, one of them ran into the kitchen and brought three of then out to show what they had, the aforementioned Dortmunder, Burning River Pale Ale (absolutely love the self-deprecating humor behind this name), and the Commodore Perry IPA.  Since they had the foresight to open the bottles before bringing them out, I felt it would be rude for me not to sample. Oh boy.

The Dortmunder, as evidenced by the graphic to the right, is stellar. It’s got a slightly sweet taste, very HIGHLY recommended.

Not sure what happened in 2009

balanced, virtually no bitterness.  It’s really, really good.  I don’t know what else to say.  It’s not heavy, so you can have a few of them without ruining your meal.  Highly,

Oh, and did I mention that the staff at the Westin is awesome.  I got back to my room and had a dozen Dortmunder’s on ice waiting for me.  I reiterate, oh boy.

There are a dozen beers on Great Lakes’ “year-round” beer list.  One down, eleven to go.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

No, wait.  It’s not what you think.  This week’s post is all about travel.  But no, I promise it’s still not what you’re thinking.

One of the great joys of traveling, in my opinion, is the ability to experience local/regional beers that just don’t distribute back home.  There are some that will have enough success that they grow to the point of being able to offer their delicious elixirs to a larger footprint.  Coors used to just be a western US offering; Fat Tire used to be the #1 reason to travel to Colorado; or Samuel Adams in Boston, Sweetwater in Atlanta … you get the picture.

I was recently at a conference at the fabulous Wigwam Resort outside Phoenix.  At our evening reception, I fully expected the open bar to serve the standard fare: Corona, Michelob Ultra, etc.  But I was in for a treat.  I will almost always gravitate to the local beer when I travel, unless I already know it to be funky or have a very specific craving for something else.  So, I saddled up (which means that I walked over) to the bar and ordered a Four Peaks Kilt Lifter.  If nothing else, I give them high marks for a fun beer name.

If you’re not familiar with Scottish Ales, you should be.  This is a newer flavor profile for beer, adding a sweet malty flavor, and a bit of smokiness.  I will not name names, but I have had a few that have overwhelming “hints” of these flavors, making the product almost undrinkable.  But this one was different.  The sweetness was just at the right level to make you stop and think about it.  There was a slight hint of smokiness, but not so much that it took over the beer.  It was a fantastic balance of a strong ale; sweetness, maltiness and a little bit of smoke.  For the record, the second and third ones were even better.

I don’t know much about Four Peaks’ thoughts on distribution in the future.  However, I will say that if you are in the southwest US anytime soon – look for Four Peaks Kilt Lifter.  And they have a buncha other stuff too …a Peach Ale an oatmeal stout, a Kolsch called Sunbru.  I’d definitely give these a try if I could find them.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

I had not heard of this beer until about ten or twelve years ago when I was approached on a beach somewhere and offered one for little more than pocket change.  It’s also something I have not had since that fabulous trip so many years ago.  This blog entry is less about the quality of the beer and more about the memories it evokes.  And many times, that is the best part of trying something new.

Enough with the mystery, the beer is Mythos, the ‘beach somewhere’ was in Greece and the cost was one measly Euro.  I had opportunity several years ago to accompany three friends (ok, I begged my way into it) on a 10-day trip to Greece.  Stellar; unforgettable; beautiful … I need Mr. Roget to help me find enough superlatives.  Part of the allure of the trip was simplicity.  We didn’t have an agenda, other than having a good time and seeing the scenery.  While walking down the beach one day, a local lad walked across the street holding a green bottle and asked for one Euro (on those days, about 90 cents.)  It was a local beer called Mythos.  The fact that it was hand delivered, cost less than a dollar and was more like a pint than our standard 12-ounce bottle = yes, please.  It was good not great.  But again, I was looking at this:

Aegina, just off the coast from Athens

Great trip, great friends, great memories, good beer.  During my recent 40 days of beer extravaganza, RTW from that trip brought me a 6-pack of Mythos.  In a single instant, I was back on that beach, paying one Euro and looking out over that incredibly clear, blue water.   The experience surrounding that beer is way more important than the color or the hoppiness or the thickness of the head.  I refuse to finish that 6-pack, because I don’t want to wait another ten years to bring those memories back!

Do you have any beers that evoke strong memories for you?

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

This is a beer that I probably NEVER would have bought on my own.  Lesson learned – this is simply awesome, while not being simple.  If you can find it (it’s a very limited release), buy it.

As I alluded to a few weeks ago, I’m talking today about Uinta Cahoots Double Rye IPA (pronounced You-Enta, just like it looks).  I am not super into IPAs usually.  And I find that I don’t tend to like those that have a bitter taste – just not my thing.  I have learned to appreciate them more and more through the years, particularly the high-quality stuff that Dogfish Head puts out.  That being said, I was a bit nervous about trying something that was a “Double Rye IPA.”  This was a 40 Days of Beer Delivery (thank you, WWK) and was something that I was honestly avoiding.

I had had a rough day (aka ‘week’) at work and finally thought, “It’s time.  Even if I hate it, it’s 9.4% ABV and will help salve the wounds of the work week.”  I got out my trusty frozen mug and poured the elixir into the awaiting receptacle. I can only describe the color as a deep amber, almost like a copper.  I steeled myself and dove in with my first sip.  Surprise does not begin to describe my emotions.  Elation is probably closer.  I had been avoiding this 750 mL delight for what reason?  My own trepidation.  Where I was expecting a harsh, bitter flavor, I had sharpness.  Hard to describe what I mean by that – it wasn’t necessarily a smooth texture.  But by sharp, I don’t not mean harsh or bitter at all.  It had a caramel-type flavor to it and I was completely floored.  And the alcohol almost gave a warmth to the beer.  Quoting Frank the Tank, “Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!”  Expecting the worst and receiving the best.  I’m now just disappointed that I didn’t try it sooner!

Lesson learned.  I tell my kids all the time, “How do you know you don’t like Broccoli-Walnut-Cranberry Casserole Surprise*?  You’ve never even tried it before!”  Hey, self, how do you know you won’t like Uinta Cahoots Double Rye IPA?  You’ve never even tried it before!  If someone offers you a beer that sounds way out there or like something you would hate, give it a try … WITH AN OPEN MIND.  You never know what you may discover.

* I have never served anything like a Broccoli-Walnut-Cranberry Casserole Surprise to my children.  I doubt that such a dish exists.  No children were harmed in the filming of this episode.

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

Last week’s BOTW post introduced a lighter beer than normal, only as a way to help entice one of your friends deeper into the world of beer and different varieties.  Today, we look into what’s next.  Now that you have someone who is willing to move into more adventurous choices, what are the best options?  We are at a critical stage, and a bad choice here can destroy all of your hard work.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”  A good point there.  And while there is a chance he was not referring to beer, I’ll just assume that he was. The point is that there is an important progression to follow to achieve full potential, whether that be flying or enjoying a Flying Dog.  Now that we are ready to move your not-so-timid-anymore friend deeper into beer, making too ambitious a leap could prove disastrous, and could even move them back to a life full of light beer and nothing else.  Think baby steps – there is no reason to rush the process.

I recommend moving to a nice golden ESB, like Left Hand Sawtooth.  This introduces a very slight level of hoppy bitterness, without being overpowering.  Gauge the reaction … good, bad, indifferent?  Maybe you could try something a bit smoother and nuttier like a Newcastle.  The key here is to make incremental progression into richer flavors without making any huge leaps.  And then you learn from their reaction.  If they liked the bitterness in the Sawtooth, move onto an IPA, like the Founders All Day IPA.  Maybe they would prefer something sweeter, which gives you the option of moving into fruit-flavored beers, like Dogfish Head Festina Peche or Sweetwater Blue.

There is no right answer.  There is no mountaintop beer you are helping them achieve.  You hold the keys to unlock the door into a universe of varied flavors, brewing styles, bitterness levels and so much more.  Be patient.  And now you’ve got a new drinking buddy.  Every time that happens, the world is a better place.  #Fact

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington
Maybe it’s you?  Maybe it’s a friend or spouse?  I’m sure that we all know someone who rarely, if not never, ventures away from their beer of choice.  Quite often, these creatures of habit will stick with a basic beer like a Coors Light, Budweiser or Michelob Ultra.  Our goal here is not to cast aspersions on these fine beers or to point fingers at those in our inner circles who shy away from experimentation.  We are here to provide some pointers and guidance to you, the beer connoisseur, so that you can encourage your mates to throw caution to the wind and order more freely.
Snap Out of It!
What I present to you today is something that you might take for granted, or at least might tend to overlook as a BOTW choice.  But hear me out – this isn’t for YOU, this is for you to help others break out of their light beer rut once in a while.  Most human beings have progressed toward their current state or preference.  Someone who has never before prepared a meal should probably not start with the most difficult of Julia Child recipes.  A novice golfer should not expect to conquer Augusta National.  Similarly, a less adventurous beer drinker should not jump straight from Bud Light all the way to Terrapin’s Hopsecutioner.  We need to slowly introduce them to increased flavor and darker colors so that they can better understand the huge wide world that is available to them. 
This week’s Beer of the Week is Michelob Ultra Amber.  I am absolutely not referring to the Cactus, Peach and Raspberry “beers” that also carry the Ultra name.  This is their version of an amber.  Beer snobs will tell you that this isn’t a full-blown amber, in color or flavor.  They are correct.  It is not meant to fulfill that role (I actually think their AmberBock does a pretty good job of that.)  Ultra Amber is the bridge between tailgating beer like Ultra or Miller Light and the rest of the beer world.  Offer an Ultra Amber to your timid friend.  They’ll see the familiar label and will feel comfortable, willing to try something new.  The first sip could create a frown or puzzled look, “Why are there flavors in my beer?” Ask them to think of this as a new experience, not expecting it to taste like what they think beer should be.  Another sip.  Maybe some realization that ‘different’ need not equate to ‘bad.’  A few more sips and you will hopefully have a believer.  The final step is to pour one into a clear glass.  Let them see the color and then pour a normal light beer into a separate glass.  Show the difference in color so that they can understand that dark(er) can be good.  Darker beers typically carry more flavor and much greater potential.

This may not work for everyone.  And Ultra Amber may not be the solution for everyone.  But I think that this can be a very positive step forward.  Now that you have unlocked the door to the world of beer, what next?  Do you jump all the way to a super-hoppy IPA?  Rich, thick Abbey-style quadrupel?  Come back next week for the all-important next step.
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

Not one but TWO of the deliveries I received for the 40 Days of Beer Festival were a new one for me: Boulevard Sixth Glass.  Where have you been all my life???

Thank you to GE (4-pack) and LG (750 mL bottle) for introducing me to this little bit of heaven in a bottle.  Boulevard is a brewery in Kansas City that brews a staggering variety of craft brews, from stouts and porters to IPAs to unfiltered wheats and everything in between.  (Shout out to the Boulevard folks for a fantastic website.  They provide information on the best glasses for each type of beer and suggested food pairings for each as well.  Kudos!)

For those who don’t know me, I gravitate toward dark, thick, rich, full-flavored beers.  I like Belgian Trappist-style beers especially (officially known as ‘Abbey-style’).  There are only 8 ‘official’ Trappist breweries in the world as recognized by the International Trappist Association (there is an association for EVERYthing!)  Six of those eight are in Belgium (with names you might recognize like Chimay and Westmalle), one in the Netherlands and one in Germany.  However, breweries around the world are beginning to brew more Abbey-style beers.  Boulevard is one such brewery, thank goodness.  (Stick around for our first post next week for more on Dubbels, Tripels and Quadrupels.)

Boulevard Sixth Glass is a quadrupel, which means it has a very rich and fantastic flavor; it is tremendously smooth; and it will knock you on your tail if you have more than one (10.5% ABV!) The name comes from a Hans Christian Andersen tale called, The Watchman of the Tower.  In describing what can be found in seven glasses, the main character says, “In the sixth glass sits the Devil himself; he is a little well-dressed man, most charming and pleasant. He understands you and agrees with everything you say.”  At 10.5% ABV and with such great flavor, this little beauty from Boulevard may truly be the devil!


Buy yourself a four-pack or a 750 mL bottle today.  And you’re welcome!

Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington

A Little Somthin’

Regular readers will recall that I gave you a little hint at the end of the last post as to what our third BOTW would be.  This beer is one I received on one of the 40 days of beer.  Thank you, Ellen!

Little Sumpin’ Awesome
From Petaluma, CA we get Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale.  This is a filtered pale wheat ale that is very smooth and adds just enough hops to give it a nice crisp flavor.  But let’s break all that down.  You’ve probably had UNfiltered wheat beers, those cloudy Hefeweizens, etc.  And you’ve likely had IPAs before, ranging from slightly bitter to borderline criminally bitter.  Consider this beer a great marriage of the two: smooth yumminess from the wheat plus sharp crisp hops on the finish to leave you wanting more.  And more.

Side bar.  Have you ever wanted to try a new beer and you’ve been hesitant, for no reason other than fear that you’ll mispronounce it?  You don’t want your friends or the wait staff to think you’re uninformed.  So, you either grunt and point like a Neanderthal, say it with a heavy foreign accent (“that’s how they said it when I was in Amsterdam”) or give up and order a Coors Light.  You’re not alone… Many of us have had similar moments of trepidation.  Unibroue Ephemere (say Unibrew eff-a-mair). Tsingtao (try saying “Ching-dow.”) for this week’s beer, Lagunitas provides a handy pronunciation guide.  la-goo-NEE-tuss.  Try it. It’s fun to say.  And you’ll look extra hip the next time you say it at your favorite beer pub.

And now back to a Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale.  This is one of the beers that la-goo-NEE-tuss offers year round.  But they have a seasonal now that is called a Little Sumpin’ Wild, a Belgian Trappist style cousin of this week’s beer.  Color me there!
Oh, and FYI, the second Little Sumpin’ Sumpin tastes better than the first.  Have a great weekend everyone!
Mike Pennington by Mike Pennington