Thursday, February 18, 2016

99 Beers On This Blog: The Tab So Far

I posted my 99th Beer Review here on briankunkle.com about a week ago. I've had a few repeat beers since then, but I've been saving #100 in hope that something potentially interesting and special might catch my eye on the local craft beer racks.

As I write this I'm kicking back with a  Troegs Nugget Nectar (Review #92), getting a little jolly and reminiscing about this craft-beer-thing I first got hooked on during the summer of 2014. As far as this blog goes, it all began about 20 months ago with a post called Disclaimer: Beer Reviews Imminent . At that point I had next to no idea how big and varied the beer world was, but nor did I claim to. As I wrote my reviews (so far) I always tried to frame them in the context of a 'newbie,' beer explorer on a mission to taste everything. I hope this angle has made my reviews feel accessible to other young beer lovers, and judging by the amount of traffic to this page I guess it has.

At any rate, I thought it might be fun (mostly for me), and perhaps even a little informative (to you) to share some insight into my beer shopping, drinking, and reviewing habits, as well as some of what I've learned from my first 99 Craft Beers.

SHOPPING
When it comes to beer, some people will tell you 'taste comes first.' While taste is certainly vitally important, its not the only consideration I make. Its important to me that when I shop I shop responsibly.

When I'm browsing the racks at The Jolly Farmer I try to avoid most Faux Craft Beer labels, which is to say beers that are owned by huge conglomerates and private equity firms, masquerading as independents. Theoretically a huge company like AB Inbev can buy a smaller company like Goose Island and decide not to tamper with the acquired brewer, but nor do they typically indicate on the label that you are about to drink an acquired brand. That is a deceptive practice. The very same AB Inbev, which regularly buys out craft breweries also runs anti-craft beer advertisements, and pays distributors to keep craft beer off of American beer distributor shelves. Taste is important, but it matters where your beer comes from, how it reaches you, and who was hurt along the supply chain that brought it to you.

I try to buy American and locally owned if possible. The best local craft beer seller is my go to spot, through I also try to spread my dollars around town, in the event that stores with smaller selections happen to carry a few six packs of craft beer. I like to think this encourages them to expand their selection.

I rarely buy the same beer twice, save for a few old favorites. Because I want to experience as many different beers as possible most of my purchases these days come home in single 12 ounce bottles, 22oz bombers, and occasionally corked and caged 755ml Belgian style bottles. I'll fall back on 4 or 6 packs of 12oz. bottles if it is the only way the beer is available, or if I'm revisiting an old favorite.

MISSION
Like so many others, when I first got into craft beer I immediately fell in love with the IPA and the Imperial IPA . After spending my 20's drinking American Lager that first blast of heavy hops hit me like a freight train. I was hooked, and for a while I found myself primarily seeking out India Pale Ales. Most of my first 50 beer reviews were IPA's.

Although I still fancy myself a hop-head, my mission has since changed to one of exploration. I started hearing about Russian Imperial Stouts, Baltic Porter, Sour Beers, the funk of Brettanomyces, barrel aged beers,  and I just had to taste them all. Now when I head out to the store I always keep my eye out for a style I've never had.


DRINKING ETIQUETTE 
Most of the craft beer that I drink comes home from the store at room temperature. If I happen to buy a 4 or 6 pack of 12 ounce bottles I'll throw the carrier in the fridge, but drink the first beer warm. Mainstream American Lager culture (Coors Light Can) is all about drinking the product cold, whereas some craft beers include a 'serve at' temperature right on the label. While I'm not anal enough to actually get out a thermometer, I have found that many beers seem to lose something when consumed too cold. Beer has been brewed for thousands of years, and when many of the styles we know today were first developed in Medieval and Early Modern Western Europe there was no such thing as artificial refrigeration. Ice cold beer would have been a rarity, and I try to keep that in mind.

When it comes to glassware for beer I'm no snob. A simple pint glass will do just fine, and that is what I use. The most important thing, I've found, is simply getting the beer out of the bottle. Decanting has been part of Wine Culture since time immemorial. Not sure if the science is exactly the same, except for in the case of beers undergoing the longest aging, but what I do know is that most good craft beers smell and taste much better in a wide mouthed glass that you can really stick your nose in to, as opposed to when sucked (with air) from the tiny mouth of a bottle.

REVIEWING
When I bring a beer home to review on briankunkle.com the first thing I do is pop one open and pour it into a simple pint glass. While the foam subsides and the beer breaths I like bring up the brewer's official website to find out what their goal was with the particular beer. At this time I also intentionally avoid beeradvocate.com or any other sight reviewing the beer so as to avoid having my (admittedly) still inexperienced opinion influenced by what others have to say.

I like to begin most reviews by talking about the brewer. Where are they from? Have I had one of their beers before? Is this a new style for me? What is its history? From there I typically move into a brief description of the appearance. How much foam? What color? Is carbonation visible? Is the beer clear or cloudy? Next I tackle the aroma. What does it smell like? Is it similar to anything I've had before? Then finally I move on to the taste.

When it comes to analysis, I'm influenced by how I was taught to think about literature in college. When I review a beer I try to leave 'like' and 'dislike' out of the equation. What I like or dislike is irrelevant to others because everyone else is different. I aim to describe what a beer IS, not what it isn't, to compare and contrast it with other beers I've had, and give perspective.

I cap off each review with a "musical pairing." Influenced by wine-food-pairings, many brewpubs and restaurants that sell craft beer, as well as online beer critics, suggest foods that match up well with certain beers. Since all of our senses seem to be tied together, why not taste and sound, right?

I also like to include a link to a list of local beer sellers, breweries, and beer sellers because its important to me to support local businesses.

Only after I've completed my review will I seek out the opinions of others on Youtube and Beer Advocate  to see how they compare.

WHY DRINK BEER?
I love the history, I love the variety - from beers thick as mud to light and delicate Brett's that taste like white wine.

 I love the accessibility.  AB Inbev loves to perpetuate the myth of craft beer drinkers all being snobs and hipsters. I am neither. I don't wear flannel shirts and canvas sneakers. I wear jeans and t-shirts and listen to extreme heavy metal. I don't own an Iphone.

Beer in America today is on fire like wine when it first caught on in Napa Valley and the Finger Lakes, except you don't need another college degree to get on board...





Musical Pairing: Vampyr by Year of No Light. This album reminds me of a cross between Somnium by Robert Rich and the music of Agalloch.


Twin Tiers Beer Trail:
-Twin Tiers Craft Beer Club (Sayre)
The Jolly Farmer, Waverly (Waverly)
Bluestone Brewing Company (Sayre)
- Diversion Brewing Co. (Chemung)
River Barge Brewing (Wyalusing)
The Grille at the Train Station (Sayre)
River Rat Brew Trail (Central Pa)
Finger Lakes Beer Trail (Southern NY)

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