Quick Giveaway rules – Reston Limo Beer bus tour

The kind folks at Reston Limo have generously given us a coupon for two seats on any Reston Limo brewery tour and we’re going to give them away the weekend of May16th in celebration of American Craft Beer Week!  We took the DC Brew Bus tour a few months ago and had a great time, we’re hoping to start exploring the Loudoun tours soon as well.  These tours are the best way to experience the DC-area breweries and I highly recommend them to safety and comfortably enjoy all the Nova/DC area has to offer in the world of brewing.

Reston Limousine offers DC area brewery tours with a different route every weekend:

The gift certificate is good for 2 seats on any of the tours, transportation only.  The full promotional value is $78 bucks, so this is really a nice prize for one lucky winner.  Note that tasting fees and meals are included and are your own responsibility.  The coupon is good until December 31st, 2015 – so you’ve got plenty of time to pick which tour you’d like to take.

So, here’s the rules – we’re picking one winner at random to win, starting today the 16th and running through midnight on the 18th, anyone who retweets this tweet below is automatically entered and we will select one winner at random from all the retweets.

Note: Since this is a DC area thing, we reserve the right to disqualify any randomly selected winner if they are not in the DC area or do not respond to messages from us to clarify their ability to take the tour, in this case, we will randomly select a runner-up winner.

So, retweet early and retweet often and we wish everyone luck.  Go American Craft Beer Week!

DC Beer Bus Tour

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Gretchen hates this picture

Let’s be honest, there is nothing more annoying than someone who is a lot drunker than you having a lot more fun than you.  The combination of a lack of self-awareness and a preponderance of volume and energy can be miserable in a confined space…like say a medium sized bus.  Thankfully, Reston Limousine attempts to set the stage early in their introductory email:

“Our tour is not a rolling booze cruise…”

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Yes, I actually wore this

This combined with some peculiarities in DC beer law results in a Brewery tour that is less oriented on getting sloshed and more on experiencing the actual breweries you’re visiting. I detailed what I see as the amazing value of these types of tours in a previous blog post, and now after completing the tour I can document the journey.

Full blogger disclosure: Reston Limo contacted me directly and asked if I’d be interested in taking a free tour.  I had actually checked out their tours previously but I hadn’t explored the option yet.  I gladly accepted their offer for two free seats on the bus and we quickly paid for three more spots to expand our party to five.  The more the merrier!

We ventured out early Saturday to meet the rest of the DC Beer Bus tour at the designated East Falls Church metro station.  My wife Gretchen, Scott from Hopping Scotts, his brother, wife and myself showed up just on time in spite of my best efforts to make us late.  I marched onto the large white bus sporting my empty growler only to discover that this was a winery tour bus also run by Reston Limo picking up at the same location (if you’re into winery tours, here’s a link).  Shortly thereafter the “Beer Bus” arrived, piloted by the ever smiling Dave Lamb who welcomed us aboard.  The bus filled in with a few other parties and finally we were joined by Therese, Reston Limo’s Marketing Manager and our brewery guide for the day.  Therese showed up with a box of Girl Scout cookies for one of the patrons having a birthday, which was a really nice touch.

Plaque on Bluejacket building

Plaque outside the Bluejacket building

After a quick roll-call, Therese announced that there would be a few bloggers on the tour today (one of them was me) and passed out press release forms for everyone to sign.  Typically the tour picks up in two different locations, but today we had no one waiting at the second stop in Pentagon City, so we drove into DC early and spent about 30 minutes wandering around the neighborhood surrounding Bluejacket until they opened for business.

Bluejacket and The Arsenal

bluejacket1While wandering about the neighborhood, Scott spied Greg Engert, the Beer Director for NRG, grabbing a quick smoke and we immediately wondered if he would be our brewery guide for this leg of the tour.  Sure enough, when we finally assembled in the restaurant, the beer savant himself lead us around.

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Greg Engert, Beer Director Bluejacket/NRG

This is my third adventure with Mr. Engert, having previously taken two other beer classes with him (one detailed here), so I knew we were in store for a DEEP dive into the brewery and brewing philosophy of Bluejacket.  Decked out in his standard issue uniform of skinny black tie and equally skinny black jeans, he launched into some initial groundwork about the history of Blue Jacket and the building that became its home.

Quick fact: the brewery is named Bluejacket as an homage to the building’s US Navy manufacturing roots, the actual restaurant that shares it’s space is called The Arsenal.  While obviously not investment-free, the brewery is actually rent-free, as the Arsenal makes enough revenue to cover the rent for both spaces.

I’ve visited a number of breweries, and while the variety of beer on offer may be widely divergent, the same basic setup is common among most wholesale production operations.  Bluejacket doesn’t fit that mold at all, standing as a true brewer’s playground that was designed from birth to allow for diversity and quality over quantity, resulting in 20 rotating tap lines of fermented goodness.  While they intend to grow to be a production brewery and not just a “brewpub”, it’s obvious with the sizing of their fermenters that the barrels per year is not a target they care very much about leveraging a return on investment.

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Just some of the serving and fermentation tanks

Greg mentioned that they intend to ramp up production and distribute locally to their own restaurants as well as “people who treat the beer right”.  Dirty lines, compressed air delivery, improper serving temperatures?  You need not apply.  Truth is that Bluejacket will likely be able to be picky with who gets their beer, and it’s also very likely they’ll be able to charge whatever they want for it without impacting demand very much in this market.

Situated on three floors throughout the building, the entire operation is plumbed for ease of movement by gravity where possible (full plans are somehow available online here).  A first floor mill feeds the hot-side 15-bbl direct-fired brewhouse from Premiere Stainless on the third floor.  The brewhouse is fitted with a grist case, separate mash and lauter tuns with grant and blendable hot and cold liquor tanks.  The brewhouse feeds directly to the second floor below, hosting a bank of single-batch fermenters and a couple of double-batch sized tanks to service their most popular recipes.  A dedicated sour hose waits to pump lacto infected beers in and out of the horizontal open-fermenter as needed.  A lab equipped with expected items, like a microscope for yeast cell counting and a variety of hydrometers is rounded out by a medical-class autoclave, incubator, dissolved oxygen meters and a full laminar flow hood.  If you’re not catching on yet, this is beer nerd utopia.

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Complicated distribution system on the far wall

Fermentation flows down to the first floor where the brite tanks and keg washing/filling station allow for easy carbonation and packaging.  Kegs simply roll right from filling into an advanced serving cooler providing proper cold storage temperatures for stock kegs, as well as three distinct serving temps all set higher than the ambient storage temperature and delivered via a novel heat exchanging system.

20140317-152230.jpgThe icing on the cake is the dedicated sour room, filled with deliberately infected barrels of a variety of heritages and a full 15 barrel stainless steel koelschip with open air venting and unsealed Virginia white cedar situated directly above the cooling wort to encourage local microbial growth.  I think this will probably prove to be the true distinguishing feature of Bluejacket in the years to come, as people can only chase the hop race for so long before a new flavor profile becomes popular.  While hops will still probably remain king, I think there’s a lot of room in the craft palate for sour and brett to join the party.  (Well, maybe not brett, but one can hope.)

20140317-152214.jpgA tiny detail, but one of interest to most homebrewers that argue about the finer points of brewing and fermenting vessels, while the ends of all of Bluejackets transfer pipes are standard stainless tri-clamps, lots of the in-betweens are made of regular old copper pipe.  It’s a quaint reminder that humans brewed for centuries before stainless was ever commercially available.

After completing our lengthy tour, we were lead down to The Arsenal where we could trade our drink ticket for the sampler of our choice.  As the tour was fully off schedule, we took a quick poll of the tour members and decided to extend our stay to grab a quick bite to eat.  Our group broke off and ordered pork rinds, pretzels, frankenbutter bleu cheese fries and crab deviled eggs to munch on.  As with most NRG restaurants, the food is mostly novel, mostly good and mostly overpriced – but that has become the standard around DC in recent years.

For beer, I sampled their Arsonist Smoked Oud Brun ale, a collaboration with De Struise Brouwers.  The beer was very tasty with noted tart and smoke tones, but would be a challenging beer for some in a full glass.  For my second, I ordered a full glass of their Forbidden Planet, a mildly sweet, unfiltered Galaxy dry-hopped kolsch..  Finally one of our party graciously allowed me to sample the Black Eye, a described “robust porter” that was very smooth at 7.4% ABV.

We were joined at our table by Laura from Best Thing on the Menu, who I was introduced to as one of the guys from “DC Beer” (which I am not).  I clarified that I run a tiny homebrew blog and twitter (the one you’re on now) and we proceeded to grill her on DC eats and her background over beers and food.

After finishing and paying, it was on to the next stop in our journey.

DC Brau

20140317-152237.jpgThe route from Bluejacket to DC Brau took us through sections of the city I’ve probably never touched before, a circuitous journey through economically depressed and industrial sections of DC that just don’t get many visits from tourists.  Here we begin to see the disparity between what is essentially a vanity brewpub backed by millions and millions of dollars of established DC area money and the realities of a scrappy regional wholesale production brewery.

This is not a stones throw away from Nationals Park in a gentrified and polished strip of development, DC Brau sits behind a run-down strip mall, surrounded by razor wire and decay.  Save the giant shiny new grain silo, there are almost no indication that a brewery exists here, but step inside and you see the prototypical production brewery layout.  Set in a large and somewhat dingy warehouse stand rows of fermenters, a mid-sized micro brewhouse and a canning line ready to crank out pallets and pallets of The Corruption and other local brews.

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We got MERCH!

Step past the imposing gentleman checking ID’s at the door and you’re handed four drink tickets and find yourself in a room full of an odd assortment of merchandise.  Everything from custom belts to a variety of hats and bike racing shirts emblazoned with the DC Brau logo awaits your purchase.  We were late to catch a tour which didn’t bother me much, when you’ve seen one package brewery – generally you’ve seen them all.

Stepping through the merchandise room, we were met by the delicious aromas of Granville Moore’s fries and mussels radiating from the corner of the brewery.  A small tap line hosted the beers of the day, unfortunately all standard offerings available most everywhere in the area.  I can’t resist fries, so we grabbed two orders and started chowing down whilst sampling beers.

I mentioned the peculiarities of DC beer laws earlier.  Under DC law, production breweries are not legally permitted to serve more than 12 ounces of beer to the public.  This means most places will simply cap you at four 3 ounce samples for simplicity and pints are not an option at all under current law.  Without loading up on beers at Bluejacket, you’re probably not going to finish this tour by getting tanked (which is a good thing in my opinion).  Another oddity is the fact that DC views growlers legally as “open containers” so they seal every growler around the neck immediately after filling with shrink-wrap plastic.  It’s illegal to consume from them on-site and if you get pulled over with a broken seal when the growler is in your car, you’re probably going to jail.

dcbrau1I sampled the drafts on tap, and while I did notice a improvement in The Corruption over the last time I tried it, nothing specifically excited me.  On the Wings of Armageddon, perhaps their best received beer, was available only in cans to carry out.  “The Tradition” a new beer brewed in partnership with the DC United was decent and the “Model Citizen” was a pleasant surprise, but nothing else struck my fancy.

Herein lies one of the major problems of creating a wholesale package brewery, there is just no real incentive to push limits and innovate.  In fact, it’s easy to argue that there are large market forces that demand you make the most palatable, most widely acceptable beer you possibly can.  This isn’t a fault, it’s just a fact of the industry.  Not everyone can be like a Dogfish, with the gravitas to brew a beer with exotic ingredients or esoteric flavor profiles and rest on the comfort of knowing the public will gladly buy it all up regardless of how good it might taste (or not in some cases).  This fact can lead to some very “safe” beers, good beers in many examples, but ultimately very safe beers.  To be fair, I would express identical criticism of Port City just over the river as well as many other regional breweries.  I might be wrong, but it’s my opinion that if a person doesn’t care much about buying local or doesn’t identify with the “DC Brau” branding, there is just no specific reason to pick up a sixpack of their beer over any other brewery in the market.

 3 Stars Brewing

After rousing up our party, we piloted through other indistinct portions of DC to arrive at 3 Stars Brewing Company.  In a slightly more industrial area than DC Brau, 3 Stars is the upstart, improbable brewery: assembled from very modest second hand brewing equipment, laid out in a former auto body shop with perhaps the world’s most modest homebrew store attached to the side.  What 3 Stars lacks in polish and presentation, they certainly make up for in “attitude”, thankfully the beer is solid.

The brewery tour at 3 Stars comes with a warning, if you aren’t fond of expletives, don’t take it.  If they were walking caricatures, Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey would be a pair of giant beards spilling “fucks” like loose change, but boiled down to their core roles: Mike is the brewer, Dave is the hustle.

Mike on the left, Dave on the right

Mike McGarvey (the brewer) on the left, Dave Coleman (the hustle) on the right

The tour they give is less centered on brewing and more on the scrappy backstory of dogged persistence that fought to bring the brewery to life.  Visiting bars to sample homebrew and get feedback, gathering letters of intent in hopes of luring investment, putting homes and cars on the line to make a dream into reality.  It is inspirational and authentic for sure, but the “F-you we don’t need you” attitude sprinkled here and there might be grating to some.  I’m not going to suggest they’re a pair of misunderstood teddy bears, but it might be easy to miss the obvious passion lying under the thick layer of rebellious indignation that influences their approach to the market.

The brewery and brand was built with shoe leather, sweat and many personal risks, resulting in a perfect story to bookend the three stops on the tour.  If there were an exact opposite to Bluejacket, it is 3 Stars.  Bluejacket’s brand new multi-thousand dollar brewhouse contrasted against 3 Stars cobbled-together used equipment.  Bluejacket’s bourgeois neighborhood contrasted against this out of the way industrial park.  The polish, presentation and wealth that permeates the Arsenal compared to the thrift, the grime and the gruff that is 3 Stars.

Lucky for all of us, in addition to having a good story to tell, they make good beer.  Damn tasty beer indeed, tested over many iterations in a homebrew basement just like the rest of us enthusiasts out there.  Everything I sampled on draft was something I would gladly order at a bar and could easily earn the right to be a regular pint if it were available around me (it isn’t yet, so check the chart below on where to find it).  20140317-152308.jpg

Conclusion

After filling two growlers at 3 Stars with Two to the Dome (double IPA) and the Phoenix (Rye Saison), we boarded the bus for a relaxing and leisurely ride home under driver Dave’s skillful care.  Home by late afternoon, you can easily still get errands done, or continue the theme and crack open a growler in the safety of your own home.

Reston Limo has a great operation and has built good a good report with each brewery on the tour, but it’s the small details like bottled water on board and a cooler with ice in the back for growlers and six packs picked up along the way that really make it worth your time.  Everyone on the bus obviously had a lot of fun and we were taken places fully inaccessible by Metro safely and securely, so I fully recommend the DC Beer Bus as probably the best way to experience the DC brewery scene.  (Don’t forget, be a solid bro and tip your driver.)

Why bother with driving and parking when you can pay someone a modest fee to do everything for you?  To me, it’s a no-brainer and I’m keeping their Loudoun tour in mind for a future date.

Thanks to all of the breweries for hosting us and a special thanks to Therese for getting me on the tour.

Also, check out The Fashionable Foodie’s take on the tour here.

AND – check out Laura’s post on Thrillist!

Reston Limo’s Beer Bus tours

With so many emerging breweries and bars, there are a lot of ways to take in the beer scene in and around DC, so when I heard about the Beer Bus tours from Reston Limousine, it seemed like a total no-brainer.

Let’s be honest here, driving from place to place while trying to sample as much beer as you can just isn’t a good idea.  The old standard about how you can have two beers every two hours and be safely under the legal limit was conceived when most beers were in the 4-5% ABV range.  With 6-9% ABV beers now becoming standard, it’s probably safe to say that those metrics need to be revisited.  The ABV creep is something we probably need to start looking at as a community, and I dare say that there are now tons of people out there that regularly drive on the road having no idea how close they are to crossing over that dangerous 0.08% blood alcohol level.  Also, let’s not forget, in a lot of states you can still be charged or stopped from driving at any point above 0.05% at the discretion of the arresting officer.

Nothing will be a bigger bummer than having two beers and getting arrested for a DUI, it can and does happen.

If the NTSB gets it’s way and the national standards are lowered from 0.08% to 0.05%, drinking one single beer could literally put you over the limit depending on the ABV, time and your body weight.

Here’s an alternative and easy way to still have your fun: get on a bus with a bunch of like-minded folks and get carted around from brewery to brewery SAFELY without having to worry about how much you’re drinking.  You can drink as much as you like (within common decency folks), try as many things as you can and let someone worry about your safety on the road.  Not only does it just make logical sense, at a price of about $39 per passenger – it’s just a DAMN good deal to boot.

Reston Limo is currently offering three distinct tours, each covering three regional breweries.  The Loudoun County tour hits Lost Rhino, Adroit Theory or Old Ox depending on the tour and Beltway Brewing Company.  The NoVA tour visits Mad Fox, Port City and Forge Brew Works.  Finally, the DC beer bus runs from Blue Jacket, to DC Brau and finishes off at 3 Stars Brewing Company.

We’ve visited Mad Fox and Port City many times, so the most interesting tour right off the bat was the DC beer bus.  I booked four seats for today – Saturday the 15th, inviting Scott and his wife from Hopping Scotts as well as my wife Gretchen.  Time to stretch out that beer gut, dust off the camera and go explore some DC breweries.

Follow us along on twitter to see how our day goes and I’ll write a follow up post with all the details.

Turkey Day Belgian Beer Tasting

Since the keggerator is woefully empty, I decided to do something fun and do a commercial beer tasting with Thanksgiving this year.  We are expecting somewhere on the order of 14 people at my mother’s house just around the way this year, but only three beer drinkers among them.  I popped over to our local Total Wine and decided to put together a small beer flight to pair with the usual thanksgiving courses.

To make things more fun, I decided to restrict myself to all Belgian beers.  With such a wide variety of styles and flavors,I hope this flight will take us on a journey from bite to bite and complement each step along the way.

First Course – Steenbrugge Wit-Blanche

In our family, tradition has us typically hovering over the snack tables, munching as the bird finishes.  Cheese is usually a featured item, generally with a creamy brie, a stinky bleu and a sharp cheddar at the very least.  Surrounding the cheese plate, we usually have chips and dip, hummus, veggies and cheese curls (yeah, we’re not fancy).  I figured a light Wit would be a perfect starter, and selected the Wit-Blanche brewed under the Steenbrugge label of the Palm brewery group.

Draft magazine describes it as:

A fine white head dissipates after pouring this hazy yellow wit. White pepper and sharp wheat scents spice up an understated, delicate orange-peel aroma. Soft on the tongue with effervescent carbonation that neatly dries out the mouth, this beer touches down with subtle malts before a wheat twang strums the sides of the tongue. White pepper springs up in the middle, while orange peel swells in the back. Incredibly clean in the finish, this beer is simply how a wit should drink.

 

Second Course – Poperings Hommel Ale

“Second Course” is kind of a misnomer, since we’re really only having three courses: appetizers, dinner and dessert.  I wanted to feature five selections, so this one shoehorns between appetizer and dinner courses as an extended first course.

Poperings Hommel from the Van Eecke brewery is described by Gobalbeer.com as the true Belgian hop ale, noting that Belgian-style IPAs are generally brewed for export and marketed towards the US.  Poperings Hommel is actually the flagship beer of the Van Eecke brewery and is made with local hops (called “hommel” in the local dialect) of the Brewer’s Gold and Hallertau varietals.

Transitioning from the delicate witbier, we head into what might be the only true Belgian IPA and get to awake the palete with bitter hop flavors and aromatics in advance of the heavier dinner course.

Third Course – Saison DuPont

Unlike many beer styles out there, Saison has one true example, a single commercial lineage that is the sole definition of the style dating back to it’s birth in 1844.  Often overlooked due to it’s status as a premiere Belgian beer, the saison from Brasserie DuPont consistently ranks as one of the top 25 beers in the world, and rightfully so.

Served along side a large pile of turkey, stuffing, gravy and potatoes, this beer is the perfect complement for those mild and mid-toned flavors.

Draft Magazine describes it as:

Farmhouse ales generally aren’t very common, but if there are any at your corner store, this is the one you are likely to find. This beer is the most well-known saison in the United States, and for good reason: It has the classic cloudy appearance of an unfiltered farmhouse ale and the citrusy notes saison lovers have come to expect. The aroma is lemony and backed up by the malt. Peppery notes come through in the taste that pair wwll with the citrus and malt tones. This beer has to be one of the most refreshing brews you can buy; plus it’s very drinkable, making it a great substitute for standard lawnmower beers.

 

Fourth Course – Van Honsebrouck Baccus

Sour ales are certainly not for everyone, but I picked up this Flemish Oud Bruin ale from Von Honsebrouck in a 12.7 ounce bottle thinking it might be an interesting pairing against a slice of pumpkin or chocolate pecan pie.

Split over three drinkers, we will have the equivalent of a shot of espresso along side our dessert.  For those that are unaccustomed to a sour beer, this amount with either be tolerable or will leave the drinker wanting more.

A more mild example of the Flemish style aged in used wine barrels, I expect this to stand up well against the rich backdrop of a chocolate or pumpkin pie, while accenting and counter-punching with light tart against the sweetness of dessert.

Fifth Course – Kasteel Winter

After the food is consumed, the leftovers put away and the kitchen cleaned, the board games come out.  While some people prefer a cup of coffee alongside a hearty game of apples to apples or telestrations, sometimes you want a big beer to finish the night.

This Belgian strong ale from Kasteel clocks in at 11% ABV with a rich brown color and overtones of both coffee and caramel.  Mild bitterness, warm flavors and spicy overtones make this a great beer to enjoy before retiring into the frigid night.

Also, if one were so inclined to raid the dessert station a second time, this beer would also complement the rich and sweet flavors of most fall desserts quite well.

 

So that’s what we’re drinking today, giving thanks for the amazing selection of both domestic and foreign beers available to us.  Whether it’s the rare Italian esoteric beers, the upstart Japanese microbrews or the nano starting up right around the corner from you, with the amazing variety of product available there is truly no better time to be a beer drinker than right now.

What are you drinking today?

Quick volume report

I’m getting really bad about keeping good stats of what we’re brewing and when.  I’ve intended to write several posts when I’ve gotten distracted by things like “actually living life”. 

So, as I sit here and stare at a garbage disposal on my kitchen floor and wonder where my pipe wrench might possibly be, I figured this might be a good time to write a very quick update.

We’ve now kicked our third corny of the year.  The Allagretch Allagash clone was completely destroyed by my wife, meaning I probably need to brew a double batch next time so we have two cornies on hand.  Release the Blacken took a while to kick since it’s such a big tasting beer, but that finally blew out this week.  Finally, our second batch of Grouchen (that I didn’t even get to blog yet) kicked early this week.

That means we’ve blown through 15 gallons of beer this year out of our federal maximum allowance of 200 gallons.  (Technically we haven’t bottled anything this year outside of individual competition entries, so this should be easy to continue tracking).

We’ve got 5 gallons of an experimental blueberry ale in a corny carbing up and another 5 gallons of a Mosaic SMaSH ready to go into a keg soon.  I’d like to start brewing up some summer and wheat beers, try to make some kind of sessionable ale for a change, and brew a few more collaborations with local folks. 

We’re also talking about trying to put on a real Octoberfest party this year, in which case I might aim to have as much as 6 full cornys ready to go.  I’m not a huge fan of German beers in general, so this will probably end up being more of an Octoberfest in spirit rather then in actual “Octoberfest” beers.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  I still need to write up a post about Adroit Theory, but for now I better go find that pipe wrench.

NHC update – sometimes things work out

In my last post, I detailed some of the challenges the AHA has been experiencing this year, some of them personally affecting us.  Somehow, either because we were registering from a mobile device, or because the system was under significant strain, or because etherial gremlins were exacting revenge for some unknown wrong, two of our entries were not in the correct categories.

After registering all five entires, I was initially able to go back into the system and change categories and names for each entry, so I wrongly assumed that option would be available up until I printed the individual labels.  Flash forward several weeks later with 10 bottles on the counter ready to go to FedEx for expensive 2nd day air shipping, I discovered that all the entries were now “locked” and could no longer be changed.

My first email to the regional director went completely unanswered.  I assumed this was a deliberate non-answer, either due to the volume of correspondence or the general inability for anyone to help me at this point.  At this point I was half kicking myself for not checking on this earlier, while aiming my second blame cannon at the shoddy online system the AHA insist on using for this process.  I wrote chicken scratch on each entry form for the two offending beers noting that they should instead be in categories 20A and 21A respectively instead of the subcategories they had been stuck in and sent them off.

I assumed that nothing could be done, but as noted in my last post, I wrote one final email hoping that perhaps I could get someone to officially tell me that nothing could be done.  At least then I’d have some form of closure and could move on without lamenting any longer.

What happened instead was beyond my expectations.  The regional director wrote me back quickly on Easter sunday telling me that he would look into it.  The next day I had an email telling me that out blueberry wit was now in the fruit/wit category and that out yam beer was now in the vegetable/rauchbier category.

I thanked him greatly for his assistance.  Something had been bugging me for some time however, in that our Yam beer does have some smoked malt, but was originally intended to be and tastes more along the lines of a porter.  I wrote back and asked if it was ethical to change this from a rauchbier subcategory to a porter since I did deliberately select Rauchbier.  Again he responded quickly to tell me that he had changed it to Porter and that the most important thing in his mind was for the beers to be correctly judged.

Judging on the speed and thoroughness of responses, I can only assume my previous attempt to make contact never made it anywhere.

While my job wouldn’t be considered classic “customer service”, I do end up dealing with a very wide swath of people and spend a majority of my time trying to figure out what they need, want, and how to make them happy in a lot of cases.  This has taught me a lot about dealing with different people, determining what they need and delivering it completely and efficiently if for no other reason then to cause me the least amount of hassle in the long run. 

The flip side of customer service is that in some cases, it only takes one competent act to compensate for a series of stumbles, fumbles and bad experiences.  Sure I had a lot of trouble registering for the conference, I had a lot of trouble registering for the contest, I had a lot of trouble getting someone to help me with my entry problems, but the fact that someone ended up fixing my problem in the space of a few hours makes me feel so much better about every connected experience.

I guess that’s the takeaway, that the opportunity you have to give someone a good experience might just be the turning point that changes an overall negative impression to a neutral or even positive one.

National Homebrew Competition entries

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, so I figured this lazy easter morning was a good time to sit down and write a round-up.  I got tickets for both of us to the National Homebrew Conference this June in Philadelphia.  Since it’s right in our backyard, this seemed completely irresistible so I camped out online and grabbed two tickets as soon as I could make my way through the AHA server snafus.

This is being covered ad nauseam in forums, but this isn’t a good year for the technology folks at the AHA.  The servers failed due to overwhelming hits the day the NHC tickets were released, leading to tons of people being unable to register for the conference.  The Homebrew competition was completely bungled as well, with the servers locking up within 30 seconds of the opening window.  I struggled for two solid hours to register slots for the competition and somehow wound up with five entries in spite of the server failures.  Many people were unable to register a single beer.

I thought we were all peachy, but when time came to actually print our entry forms, I discovered that two of our beers were in the wrong category completely.  When registering, we had one beer in 20A: Fruit Beer which requires a “base style”.  I discovered that my entry had somehow kept the “base style” and dropped the main category completely (which will be very interesting when someone tastes a Witbier that is purple, delicious and tastes like blueberries).  I don’t know if this is directly related to the server failures or if it was caused by registering via a mobile device, but repeated emails to the regional director were unanswered.

Our entry for 21A: vegetable beer was similarly screwed and is registered as a smoked beer.  Outside of publishing a newsletter and some lobbying, the two major things that the AHA really does are the conference and homebrew competition.  To screw up both in the same year makes for a very bad introduction to the AHA and really makes me question if I should continue paying to be a member.  I’ll stop bitching for a moment and get to the beers.

14B: American IPA – Grouchen

Since I really enjoyed our first batch of Grouchen IPA/APA (killed it before we could even share any), I decided it was time to brew up another batch.  We got a few comments that it was tasty but less bitter than expected.  To rectify this, I upped the bittering hops by 50% and doubled the aroma hops for this batch.  I’d like it to stay mellow overall, but we can still afford to push the flavor envelope a bit more on this.

Palisade is a really wonderful hop that has a near “noble” character when used for bittering.  It’s higher alpha then noble hops obviously, but results in a mellow bittering flavor without the sharp attack of many other varietals.  We paired this bittering hop with late additions of Palisade and Australian Galaxy hops.  Honestly, I feel like this is just a very well done beer, but it might not stand out terribly well in a crowd of IPAs.

Scott from Hoppingscotts and his brother Greg joined me in brewing this one up.  We killed a couple pizzas, several beers and a few hours in the cold garage.  I cold crashed this guy after fermentation and force carbonated in the keg. 

We will see if my bottling procedures retain enough carbonation, but I might get dinged for being a bit low on these keg-bottled beers.

20A: Fruit Beer 16A: Witbier – Bluebeard’s Wit

I wanted to come up with a witty name for this beer, but I couldn’t find much inspiration.  This was supposed to be a fruit beer, but was miscatagorized under the subcategory of Witbier.  I think the complete silence from the regional director means that they won’t bother putting any effort into categorizing this one properly, so this will be a complete loss.

I will post a separate entry about this at a later time, but this was based off of our Arab Spring recipe, but with a secondary fermentation on top of blueberries, sumac and ginger.

It’s completely delicious.

21A: Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer 22A: Classic Rauchbier – Kick out the Yams

Another failure of the online system, this is certainly not a classic rauchbier.  Oh well.  It’s still tasty, though slightly over-carbonated.

14C: Imperial IPA – Grouchy Old Witch

I think this beer is a big success, but it’s also slightly over-carbonated in the bottle.  This is one of the biggest reasons why I would like to get away from bottle conditioning completely.  I just don’t have a strong enough handle on priming to get my carbonation level to be exactly what I want over a long aging period, so I’d rather just get it dialed in perfectly and then bottle from the keg.

Imperial IPA is probably a very crowded category, but I think this is a legitimate contender.

18C: Belgian Tripel – Allagretch/RG Tripel

Of all the entries, this might have the best chance of moving forward (honestly the fruit beer was probably the best contender, but lets not rehash that).  I renamed this “RG Tripel” for the competition to remove any suggestion of it’s lineage as an Allagash Tripel clone (and obviously it’s a nod to Redskins QB Robert Griffin III).  Gretchen is listed as the co-brewer on this one beer since she was the brewmaster for the day.

This fermented slightly warm next to our furnace and this resulted in a HUGE aroma that I hope will be very much to style when judged.  Unfortunately there was a bunch of chill haze as well, so I’m going to have to jello that out of future batches.  This beer has been a huge hit at the house, so brewing this has given me the confidence to try making this as an open-fermented batch next time.

So those are the five beers we entered.

UPDATE: 4/1/2013

I fired off one more email using the online contact form for the region I selected.  I’d already sent one email using the contact form to explain my situation and see if there were any remedies available, but received no response.  After writing this blog post, I decided to try one more time.  (I decided to censor the entry numbers since the contest is still underway)

I tried emailing about this before sending my entries but got no response. The online system obviously didn’t work very well when registering, but two of my entries were entered under their subcategory instead of the parent specialty category. The system dropped the “Fruit” and “vegetable” entries and kept the base styles. I tried changing this online to no avail, I also wrote a note on my entries explaining this, but it seems that there’s nothing else I can do to correct this. #XXX is supposed to be 20A and is a blueberry witbier. #XXX is supposed to be 22A vegetable beer since it’s a YAM beer, but it’s in the rauchbier category. Anyway, I assume that nothing can be done about this, but I wanted to keep trying until I actually got a response from someone. Thanks for your time.

I assumed that I would again receive no response based on my previous unanswered attempt and the fact that it was Easter Sunday, but a few hours later I received a message from the regional director assuring me that he would see if there is anything that can be done.

Even if it can’t be fixed at this point, I’m much more satisfied that someone actually received my message and responded.  If they do somehow get routed to the proper category, then that is just gravy on top.