Monday, February 26, 2018

Classic City Brew Fest Nominated as Best USA Beer Fest!

Our 23rd annual Classic City Brew Fest has been nominated in USA Today/10Best's latest Readers' Choice travel award contest! The expert panel selected Classic City Brew Fest as a contender for Best USA Beer Festival. Voters have until March 19, 2018 to vote at
A person can vote once a day for the run of the contest. Voting ends Monday, March 19, 2018 a 11:59 am EDT, and the winners will be announced on 10Best on Friday, March 23, then later in USA TODAY. PLEASE take a moment to vote for Classic City Brew Fest!
Sunday - April 15, 2018
Athens Cotton Press

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Brewing Allies: Southeast Meets British Isles

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent."
-- John Donne, English poet

Article by Owen Ogletree
Printed originally in Southern Brew News

Creative and scientific talents were in full gear at London's hip Beavertown Brewery last September. Beavertown owner Logan Plant (son of Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant) had invited Cigar City brewer Wayne Wambles over for a collaboration brew, and Wayne's analytical mind sprang into action. While Beavertown brewers ran around gathering hops and crushing specialty grains, Wayne looked over water chemistry statistics while explaining to Beavertown's lead brewer Cosmo Sutherland why he thought the brewery's water should be modified for the special, collaborative beer. Without batting an eye, Sutherland followed Wambles' recommendation.

Wambles also brewed at Adnams Brewery in Southwold, England the week before, and Adnams' head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald also found it easy to follow Wambles' suggestions. "I really enjoyed the technicality that Wayne brings to brewing," noted Fitzgerald. "It's tempting to talk about brewing in simple terms, but Wayne is one of the few brewers I know who is keen to discuss technical details from the latest research."

In addition to Wambles, two other brewers from the Southeast have traveled recently to the British Isles to engage in a bit of teamwork. John "J.R." Roberts, brewer and co-owner of Atlanta's Max Lager's Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery, set up cooperative brews with buddies at Ireland's Rye River Brewing and Galway Bay Brewery. Terrapin's Brian "Spike" Buckowski headed to England a couple of years ago for a cask ale collaboration with the UK's massive Wetherspoon pub chain and Everards Brewery in Leicestershire, followed by an Irish joint brew at Eight Degrees Brewing in County Cork last February.

Cooperation Builds Creativity

Buckowski ranks international collaborations as one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of his career. "Besides the fun and excitement of being in a different country and seeing the sights, getting to know the host brewers and seeing their particular breweries in action is the best part of collaboration for me," he said. "Working on the recipe together via email is always a fun adventure as well."

Buckowski insists that rye be a part of the grain bill in all his collaborations, and at Eight Degrees in Ireland, he helped create a 6% ABV black rye IPA with Cascade, Simcoe, Citra, Mandarina Bavaria, Amarillo and Mosaic hops. Eight Degree's co-owner Scott Baigent explained, "We had so much fun with the collaboration with Spike. We merged Spike's well-known love of rye with Ireland's love of the dark stuff and came up with something that was dark, spicy and bitter. The beer got a great reaction in Ireland."

At the award-winning Rye River Brewery in Ireland's County Kildare, Max Lager's John Roberts co-formulated a Belgian-style pale ale with pilsner malt, wheat, oats, grapefruit zest, grapefruit juice and Ekuanot hops. This might have been the first use of a Belgian yeast strain in the brewery. Roberts pointed out, "It's interesting to feel the sense of American influence and newness that craft beer has in such an old country steeped in tradition. The Irish approach craft beer like they approach most things - with joy and pride, with just enough sarcasm to keep things honest."

Information Flows Both Ways

Roberts was fascinated by Rye River's use of slaked lime in relation to the pH of the finished beer. "UK and Irish beers generally have a much lower pH than one would expect," he said. "Alex at Rye River makes adjustments to buffer the water and keep pH somewhat higher, which has a profound effect on hop character and drinkability. It's not something I've seen done before, but I'm stashing it in my bag of tricks."

Rye River's Alex Lawes credits Roberts as one of his original inspirations. "We first met while I was still a homebrewer looking to go pro," Lawes explained. "J.R. took me under his wing for the day at the brewpub and answered all my numerous questions. It was pretty great that when we met again we'd be brewing on my kit in Ireland, and it was a lovely, fuzzy feeling all around."

Creating a Diversity of Flavors & Styles

Wambles' frequent journeys to the UK stem from his intense love of British cask-conditioned ale. "The UK is one of my favorite places on Earth to drink beer," Wambles shared. "It's rare to find a country that is built on an abundance of full-flavored, sessionable beers."

In contrast to session beers, Wambles' group effort at Beavertown resulted in an imperial porter infused with coconut and cocoa. Originally wanting to make a beer featuring a unique UK candy that tastes like chocolate and orange, Wambles and the Beavertown crew decided eventually to move in a different direction, concocting a dark base beer with intriguing tropical notes - like a strong English porter with a touch of Cigar City and Florida. A portion of the beer is also being aged in rum barrels.

At Adnams, Wambles and Fitzgerald came up with Two Bays Oaked Pale Ale that's similar to Cigar City's White Oak Jai Alai. The beer circulated through a special infusion system holding wood spirals in a closed tank to minimize oxidation and preserve hop character much better than simple barrel-aging. The American-inspired pale ale came out at 4.5% ABV with a fruity hop character complemented by toasted oak notes. Fitzgerald added, "There is an energy about craft beer in the U.S. that up until recently was unique in the beer world. I think this has migrated to the rest of the world now."

Keeping Up with Progress

Will Avery, former brewer for Burnt Hickory in Kennesaw, Georgia, now runs the brew kettles at Galway Bay Brewery in Ireland. Last February, John Roberts and Avery put together a delicious India dark lager with Mosaic hops, pilsner malt, midnight wheat, and Munich and melanoidin malts. "Some might think that this beer is too much lager for an IPA, while others might consider it too hoppy for a lager," commented Avery. "Collaborations give us a chance to not only hang out as friends and peers, but have a flow of information. At the rapid pace that brewing is progressing, it's nice to talk about new processes and ideas."

Beavertown's Logan Plant shared, "To me, collaboration is sharing knowledge and experience, creating a new vision, or attacking and dissecting an old style. Beer really is an endless vista, a blank page. Collaborating should always be about pushing one another as brewers into new realms, learning from each other's experience in creating something unique and stimulating."

Enthusiastic craft brewers seem to have no trouble connecting, getting along and sharing ideas around the world, and craft beer makes the perfect catalyst for collaboration and friendship. On John Roberts' last night in Galway, he was at a pub with Will Avery and the late Dan Rosen who wanted to start MAZURT brewery in Atlanta. "Dan was calling it a night, and when he went to give Will a hug goodbye, one or the other spilled a pint," Roberts recalled. "The bartender mopped up and grabbed a fresh pint - all while Will and Dan were still hugging. The bartender looked at me with a sly Irish grin and said, 'It's turning into a bloody romantic moment over there.'"

For videos featuring all these collaborative brew sessions, check out the author's YouTube channel.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting AMAZING Beer List

Check out the jaw-dropping list below of exclusive, one-off cask ales served at our 14th annual ATLANTA CASK ALE TASTING on January 20, 2018. 

Winners from the morning judging session are listed in red...
ACAT benefits the Atlanta Humane Society
Photos by Phil Farrell

  • 5 Seasons Westside Chevallier Bitter is brewed with a beautiful UK heritage malt, East Kent Golding hops, and a traditional English yeast that adds lovely peach and dark cherry nuances. 4.5% ABV.
  • Abbey of the Holy Goats Chèvre Noir, a black saison, was rested on coffee from Indonesia, vanilla beans from Madagascar, and cocoa nibs from the Yucatán. Dark roasted malts and slight fruity esters from the saison yeast balance the sweet additions, resulting in a delectably smooth beer.
  • BlueTarp Juicin' IPA offers a succulent malt character as the canvas for a massive amount of brewing hops and dry-hops such as Amarillo, Cashmere, Mosaic and Simcoe.
  • Burnt Hickory King Zeke. This flavorful cask was filled with young, fresh pale ale, and lemon juice and dry-hops were added. A grainy, malty, yet wonderfully hoppy ale at 6% ABV.
  • Carolina Bauernhaus Pikant Nacht. We aged our Nacht imperial Belgian-style stout in a 13th Colony Bourbon barrel, then added habaneros, cocoa nibs, and a touch of cinnamon and vanilla to this special cask.
  • Chattabrewchee Southern Brewhouse Hadrian's Wall - A Scottish Export-style ale offering garnet hues and an exceptional malt/hop balance. Named after the wall separating Roman England from Scotland, this beer is light in carbonation but with a malty backbone.
  • Cherry Street / Lincoln Fill Station Collaboration Nightmare After Christmas - A "Belgo/Ruskie" stout infused with eggnog custard powder, lactose, vanilla beans, and chocolate. 10.5% ABV.
  • Cherry Street Cortez the Killer Mexican Spiced Stout - Our award-winning OASIS Stout infused with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, Vietnamese cinnamon, and a blend of three types of chili peppers is pleasantly spiced without too much heat - like alcoholic Mexican hot chocolate! 10.5% ABV.
  • Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale - An award-winning, 5.5% ABV Northern English Brown Ale brewed with flaked oats to impart a silky body and mesh the roasted, toasted, and chocolate components.
  • Coastal Empire Brewer's Reserve Bacon Cherry Porter - A 6.6% ABV Robust Porter with cherry wood smoked malt to enhance the bacon flavor. In secondary, we added sweet and tart cherries, as well as house-smoked bacon from Savannah's Ogeechee Meat Market.
  • THIRD PLACE CLASSIC STYLE: Creature Comforts Wheeler’s Drum - A 5.6% ABV Oatmeal Stout made with all North Carolina grown grains from Epiphany Malting. Look for notes of caramel, burnt marshmallow, and rich espresso.

  • Dry County Double Chocolate Milk Porter. To satisfy your sweet tooth, we took our 8% ABV imperial chocolate milk porter and added copious amounts of liquid cacao and extra Ugandan vanilla beans to this exceptional cask.
  • Eagle Creek Smoke & Mirrors! A flavorful, smoked brown ale with a French saison yeast strain and fresh cranberries added into both the fermenter and cask.
  • Eventide Rye Golden Ale was brewed as part of the brewery's Anniversary Series. Expect pleasant aromas of lemongrass, dill, and honey. Flavors of apricot, lemongrass, citrus, coconut, and vanilla lead to a pleasing alcohol warmth in the finish. 9% ABV.
  • Harvey’s Christmas Ale - A traditional, malty English Barleywine with a biscuit malt and vinous fruit palate balanced by pleasant hop bitterness. ABV: 7.5%. (UK)
  • THIRD PLACE UK STYLE: Harviestoun OLA DUBH 10th Anniversary Edition is an 8% ABV English Old Ale aged for two years in Highland Park 12-Year single malt Scotch whiskey barrels. (UK)
  • Hi-Wire's Signature Hi-Pitch IPA was dry-hopped with Simcoe and El Dorado in place of Mosaic and Centennial. This cask displays notes of pine, citrus, and tropical fruit over a base of rich malt.
  • Ironmonger "Hey! Syrah!" is our Double IPA that was dry-hopped with Galaxy and El Dorado, then rested over Shiraz grapes. At 8.6% ABV and 22 IBUs, this special brew forms part of Ironmonger's Anvil Series.
  • Jailhouse Brewing Chateau d’If is a sour saison with green tea and fresh mango for added complexity and depth.
  • Jekyll Southern Juicy Juice - This 6% ABV ale offers flavors and aromas of pineapple, mango, and tropical fruits supported by a fluffy mouthfeel. We also added passion fruit and a third round of dry-hops to this select cask.
  • Left Nut Brewing The Prime Minister’s Porter - An English-style brown porter with smoked malts and black cherries. Aromas of roasted malt and smoke give way to flavors of smoked wood, chocolate, and cherries in the dry finish.
  • Little Cottage More Than Metal - A rum barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout conditioned on vanilla beans for a rich smoothness and elegant complexity. 13% ABV.
  • Max Lager's Doppelbock is based on a style brewed originally by Munich monks as “liquid bread.” Our version is a strong, smooth malt bomb with light caramel and toasted notes followed by a dry-ish finish. 9% ABV.
  • FIRST PLACE SPECIALTY: Max Lager's Virtue of Patience - A Bold Monk preview beer from a blend of two diverse barrel fermentations that created a lightly tart and subtly complex beer with notes of tropical fruit and barnyard Brettanomyces with port wine and Cabernet barrel character. 12% ABV.
  • Monday Night Cool Han Blue. Blue is the color of the light side, so it only made sense to take our hazy Han Brolo pale ale and add blueberries, vanilla, and lactose for a chewy and light take on a fruity dessert.
  • Moon River Captain's Porter with chocolate and orange is our 6% ABV Robust Porter with a medium/full body and rich, roasty notes of chocolate and coffee. We added flavors of natural chocolate and orange to turn this cask into a holiday-themed treat.

  • FIRST PLACE UK STYLE: New Realm Fourteen Twenty Dark Mild ranks as the new brewery's very first cask ale! Based on a historical recipe from an Adnams Mild brewed in 1914, this beer was brewed by New Realm on its five-barrel pilot system using three types of English malts, flaked oats, and dark sugar. Malty and complex for 4.5% ABV and 20 IBUs.
  • Old Rail Bourbon Barrel-Aged Barleywine is an American Barleywine hopped with Galaxy, Mosaic, and Citra, and aged for six months in Old Forester Bourbon Barrels at Louisiana's Old Rail brewpub. ABV: 10.3%.
  • Omaha Brewing The General's Select Richland Rum-Aged 7.62 Imperial Brown Ale aged on toasted coconut. At 8% ABV, this small batch brew offers rich notes of dark malts, rum, vanilla, and satisfying coconut.
  • Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen Bad Moon Rising Rye Milk Porter aged on toasted coconut. This complex brew features a spicy rye malt profile that plays well with the sweet lactose and nuttiness of the coconut. It’s like a liquid candy bar! 6.3% ABV, 30 IBUs.
  • Quest Brewing Smoking Mirror Porter with serrano peppers, cinnamon, and cacao nibs is a Mexican-inspired version of our porter with slight smoke and spice on the front that's balanced with rich chocolate notes.
  • Red Brick Eastern Standard Beer is a malty ESB fermented in second-use bourbon barrels that provide a soft oak and honeycomb character.

  • Red Hare Soft J IPA pours with a hazy appearance and smooth bitterness with notes of orange juice and zest. We dry-hopped this beer with Amarillo, Citra, and Idaho 7, then finished this cask off with a dose of Galaxy and experimental hops for more tropical and tangerine notes. 6.8% ABV, 69 IBUs.
  • Reformation Mocha Declaration. We casked up our imperial stout with cacao nibs, Peets cold-brewed espresso, and Bourbon vanilla beans.
  • Scofflaw Barrel-Aged Absentium Imperial Stout. This deep, dark, rich, viscous ale offers added complexity from additions of vanilla, cacao nibs, coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili peppers. 13.9% ABV.
  • Second Self Urbosa's Fury - This IPA strikes nearby palates with loads of Amarillo, Mosaic, and Motueka hops. All opponents will tremble in its awesome power, drinkability, and complexity.
  • SECOND PLACE SPECIALTY: Service Brewing Grisette is a flavorful and aromatic saison-like ale brewed with wheat and oats and fermented with our house yeast. Huell Melon and Equinox hops blend with an addition of Douglas Fir spruce tips, providing a refreshing blend of floral and evergreen notes. 4.1% ABV.
  • Southbound Passion Fruit Joker & The Thief - Bursting with tropical and citrus notes, this hazy IPA was fruited with passion fruit and dry-hopped with Amarillo. At 6% ABV, Joker & The Thief will be your finest partner in crime as you fly into the night.

  • Southern Brewing Company has produced an Amarillo dry-hopped blend from a variety of golden-colored, sour, wild ales from the Athens brewery. Smooth, lightly tart, and highly drinkable, this cask offers a wonderful depth of complexity from fermentation character and balancing hops.
  • Steady Hand Tangerine Flower Business is a Double IPA with tangerine and experimental hops. Aromas of freshly squeezed tangerine, bright citrus, and tropical fruit mingle with subtle pine and floral notes. 9% ABV.
  • Superstition Meadery's cask is a hazy mead hopped during fermentation and dry-hopped with 100% Citra. We added a bit of lactose sugar to leave a little sweetness, since honey is completely fermentable.
  • SweetWater With a Little Help from My Friends IPA. This slightly hazy, refreshing, 8% ABV IPA will put you in a happy place. Made with flaked wheat for a good body and head, the hops and fresh tangelo peel contribute papaya, mango, kiwi, and passion fruit notes with hints of black tea.
  • Terrapin Beyond the Galaxy - Major Tom Edition is our Beyond the Galaxy single-hopped IPA with additions of Tang, the favorite drink of astronauts. This cask has an orange and grapefruit nose, balanced by juicy bitterness. Please be responsible and don't consume while flying a spacecraft.
  • THIRD PLACE SPECIALTY: Three Taverns Banana Foster Float Imperial Coffee Stout - A fruity, rich and decadent coffee stout with flavors of flamed banana, cinnamon, and brown sugar. 10% ABV.
  • Torched Hop Anthem of the Angels is a medium-bodied, American-style Porter that was rested on hand-toasted coconut flakes, vanilla beans and fresh green chilies.

  • FIRST PLACE CLASSIC STYLE: Twain's Smoke & Cinder - A 7.4% ABV, smoked robust porter brewed with cherry wood smoked malt. The smoke, roast, ash, and caramel tones come together to form a fun and unique tasting experience.
  • Urban Tree The Only Cider. Cherry and chocolate abound in this cider that was made for winter. Cherry juice from Washington state lends notes of fruit and tartness, while Peruvian and Ecuadorian cocoa nibs mellow and balance the wintry character.

  • PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD: Variant Brewing Midmorning is an imperial breakfast stout brewed with coffee, cinnamon, and maple. At 10% ABV, the robust mouthfeel and alcohol warmth contribute to a rich, delicious experience.
  • SECOND PLACE CLASSIC STYLE: Wicked Weed Angel of Darkness. Using one of the most rare and exciting beers we've ever produced, this cask holds a barrel-aged American sour ale blended with boysenberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cherries. The beer was then aged in Oloroso sherry puncheons for 2+ years. We give you the first ever cask of Angel of Darkness!

  • SECOND PLACE UK STYLE: Wild Heaven Bestie Pub Ale ranks as a standard, UK-style bitter brewed with traditional British malts and black treacle. Hints of toasted malts and complex fruity esters make up the backbone of this scrumptious, super sessionable ale.
  • Wild Leap Ventured Oatmeal Chocolate Stout featuring toasted pecans, toasted coconut, and cinnamon. This exclusive cask was conditioned with caramel. 8% ABV.
  • Wrecking Bar Choco Mountain Imperial Breakfast Stout. Flavors of bittersweet dark chocolate, mocha, dark fruit, and smoothness from oats and wheat shine in this decadent strong ale. Costa Rican coffee, maple syrup and cacao nibs were included, and this cask was conditioned on toasted coconut, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks. 8.5% ABV, 70 IBUs.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Beer Travel - I Want to Do That!

By Rick Fifer

It’s eight hours into day one of a six day exploration of the best beers offered in the Bavarian and Franconian states of Germany. Sixteen of the eighteen beer aficionados following Owen Ogletree around the streets and gardens of Munich completed a nine hour flight just eight hours ago and are operating on whatever sleep they were able to get in the air. No coffee, only beer at this point, and we are already entering our third beer destination. We look like a commercial for the new season of The Walking Dead. The locals couldn’t help but stare as we trudged through the park to our previous stop, the Hirschgarten biergarten. Only two of us are fresh and ready to drink more beer because we arrived days earlier. That’s one of the many benefits of the Brewtopia Beer Tours – come early, stay late, just so long as you’re on time once Owen’s agenda begins. He runs a tight ship. 

Earlier in the week, Ransome Sheets (yes that’s his real name and make sure you check out his article on his top 10 memories of the trip) visited Austria, and I went to Stuttgart to tour the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche Museums. It’s Germany, so of course there was beer at both museums. But back to today, Sunday – day one of the actual “trip”, and we are looking for Richelbrau. Owen’s not been there before and it’s not exactly obvious, so we all walked right past it at first.

Richelbrau is not your ordinary brewery or traditional German biergarten. It’s definitely a brewery but more like a co-op for homebrewers. A compact and very tidy 60 liter brewhouse is nestled in the cellar  of a residential building, and Günther, the owner, makes it available to local homebrewers. In typical German fashion, they have a simple yet very effective arrangement – brewers rotate between brewing house beers and their own personal creations, but in all cases, 30 liters goes home with the brewer and 30 liters stays in the tiny pub for patrons. It’s Sunday evening and Günther opened especially for us, but two of his local brewers joined us to share their stories and, of course, some beer.
nther is eager to have us sample some beer, and once we have a mug of Casa Nova Biere, the house dunkelweizen, in our hands he asks Bob to tell us about the brewery. Bob and Mike are the two brewers who joined us, and both happen to be Americans now living in Munich. Later Mike shares a very tasty American Pale Ale served from the most interesting looking crowler any of us have seen, but Bob’s story is the reason for this article. Bob explains how Günther built the brewery as a place for homebrewers to gather and hone their craft, but the place also serves as a neighborhood pub. Munich homes are rather small, so homebrewing on any scale can be challenging. But the part of Bob’s story that strikes me is how he came to learn about Richelbrau to begin with. Early on, a retired professional brewer from Augustiner came to brew at Richelbrau because he missed brewing. The story made the local paper, and when Bob saw the article he said, “I want to do that!”. So he did. That simple statement hit home for me. When I mention it to him later, Bob replies, “Did I say that? I don’t remember saying that.” So there you go, the simplest of statements, unrecalled by the speaker, got me thinking about the meaning of life. How many times do we say, “I want to do that.”, but fail to act? Bob is a doer, not a wisher. I want to be like Bob. I want more people to be like Bob.
(I’m switching tense here but I’m warning you, so don’t be a hater.)
There were so many wonderful experiences on this trip that I have no clue how Ransome will narrow them down to a top ten. From the big names you might recognize like Schneider, Weihenstephan, Augustiner, Weyermann Malting, Ayinger, and the world-famous Hofbrauhaus to some less recognizable gems like Geisinger, Ettal Abbey, Café Abseits, and Tap-House Munich, we were welcomed with open arms (and open taps) everywhere we went. My personal favorites (it’ll be interesting to see where they land on Ransome’s list) were the famed smoked Schlenkerla beers and the incredible history lesson presented by Matthias, the sixth generation owner. Our tour of the Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps was also amazing.
In honor of Bob the brewer from Richelbrau, I will instead provide a slightly different top ten list. If you find yourself reading about the Brewtopia Beer Tours and you think, “I want to do that!”, here are my top ten reasons to overcome your top ten reasons for not joining us next October in Belgium.
  1.  I can’t afford it.” Owen understands that not everyone has a lot of extra money laying around but he loves to share his passion for beer and travel, so these trips are very cost effective. We don’t stay in five star hotels, but they aren’t dumps either. We walk a lot and take public transportation when feasible. The important part is that we don’t skimp on beer – neither quality nor quantity, and it’s still very affordable. If you put away $50 each week, you would save enough for your airfare and the trip and maybe even have some pocket money left, depending on the airfare. Sharing a room with a friend helps to bring the cost down too.
  2. I don’t have a passport.” Get one. It’s less than hundred bucks and is literally your passport to the world! You won’t regret it.
  3. I don’t have enough vacation time.” No problem, just skip the family vacation and join us instead!
  4. I don’t like Belgian beer.” First of all, are you f’ing crazy? No matter, if you don’t like Belgian beer, you will by the end of the trip. Plus you’ll love the sights, history, culture, etc. If for no other reason – Belgian waffles, chocolate, and frites with mayo.
  5. I don’t want to share a room with someone.” No problem, for a small fee you can have your own room.
  6. My spouse / significant other doesn’t drink beer.” They don’t have to drink beer. They can tag along for the sights and, with the diversity of Belgian beer styles, I bet we’ll find at least one he/she will like. This is your chance to convert them!
  7. Frites with mayo sounds disgusting.” I thought so too, until I tried it in Belgium. Don’t try it in the states – it just doesn’t work for some reason.
  8. I don’t like long flights.” No one does. Get over it.
  9. I don’t like craft beer.” I’m sorry. Why are you reading this?
  10.  I can’t come up with any more stupid reasons not to go to Belgium. I want to do that!” Then come with us!

So, next October, don’t think “I want to do that.”, and then stay home. Be “Bob the Brewer” and join us for some of the most amazing beers you’ve ever had with a bunch of friends you haven’t met yet.

Top Ten Moments from 2017's Brewtopia Germany Trip

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By Ransome Sheets

It wasn’t until I was sitting on a train headed into downtown Munich that it finally started to sink in; I had signed up for yet another Brewtopia beer trip, what has also come to be known as an “Owen trip,” and I was about to spend the next week exploring Bavaria in the best way possible! Attending a Brewtopia trip means that you are going on an adventure with a group of people traveling overseas to learn about great beer and its history from renowned brewers, historians, enthusiasts, and more, all led by none other than Owen Ogletree himself! Just the idea of potentially getting to see a famous German Abbey, go pub hopping in Bamberg, or visit the oldest brewery in the world, is enough to get my heart racing. The long-anticipated trip had finally arrived, and yet I had no idea what was exactly in store.

While I already had high expectations, the week that followed surpassed all my preconceived notions. Our group learned that Bavarian beer predates any other beer that can now be found, and this preservation of recipe, process, and history, shapes not only their incredible beer, but also the current Bavarian culture to which it inspires. Visiting brewery Aecht Schlenkerla in Bamberg was one of my absolute favorite stops, and the passionate brew master’s quote best describes what we learned about the region’s beer: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

Thanks to this “Owen trip,” I have made some incredible new friends, attained priceless knowledge of Bavarian beer, and have a new-found appreciation for the preservation of fire. Since I have returned from the trip, I’m still caught in the haze stirred up by the amazing events that we experienced. I set out to create a list of my favorite events of the trip, and have struggled greatly to limit the list to 10 items! So that being said, here is my Brewtopia Bavarian Beer Top 10 List:

  • Ettal Abbey – This amazing abbey has been brewing beer for over 400 years, and we were given a VIP tour by the head brewer. As one of the only English speakers at the abbey, he taught us about their brewing process, tradition, and showed us the entire brewery! If you get the chance to go, make sure to ask him about hipsters and Austrians!

  • Neuschwanstein Castle - If you have ever watched a Disney movie or seen their logo, you’re already familiar with this picturesque silhouette. Hidden in the Bavarian Alps, this amazing fortress stands on the side of a mountain and strikes awe into any who look upon it. While not necessarily beer related, the tour and history to which we were introduced was well worth taking a short break from the many beer gardens and breweries that we were visiting.

  • Weyermann – When picturing a beer trip, you probably think of breweries, hop fields, and pubs; but it’s easy to overlook a key ingredient: Malts! Our visit to Weyermann Malting Company was an eye-opening experience that delved into the interesting process of malting and distribution. We walked the beautiful and historic grounds, watched the process in action, and even tasted the end results. This was a great experience!
  • Richelbräu – Günther, the main brewer of Richelbräu led us into an old apartment building. I may have questioned exactly where we were heading, but after a few steps further into the basement, we were suddenly transported into a comfortable home-brewpub! Günther happily explained that this co-op brewing station allowed a number of homebrewers to have a space to brew their own beer, learn from others and share the products, all in exchange for some of the beer that they brew! As our group enjoyed some of their delicious brews, we wondered why we don’t see similar setups back in the U.S.?

  • Ayinger Brewery - The great tour of this brewery was led by our enthusiastic guide, Otto, who happily poured us unfiltered wheat beer straight from the fermenter. If the intriguing tour of the facility wasn’t enough, he then led us up to the tap room where we sampled more styles from this fantastic brewery while looking over miles of Germanic scenery. Our group enjoyed discussing the high levels of carbonation and debating our favorites of the tasting.

  • Weihenstephan - The oldest brewery in the world. Need I say more? The incredible team of people who introduced us to it, did an excellent job of teaching us about how they blend their incredible history and classical brewing with modern updates that add a level of detail that you can’t quite put your finger on. I have to mention that you can get this beer in the U.S. and I definitely filled my refrigerator upon my return! This is really a can’t miss stop when traveling in Bavaria.

  • Bamberg / Pub hopping - I should have made these two separate bullet points, because they were both absolutely incredible! Bamberg is an old town in Bavaria that works to preserve the architecture and structures of their history, dating back as far as the 11th century! Beer, or no beer, Bamberg is an amazing sight! But did I mention the beer? From the oldest pub in the world, to The Dude (a modern Big Lebowski themed pub we stumbled across), I certainly enjoyed discovering the many hidden treasures which Bamberg holds.

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  • Aecht Schlenkerla – In the center of Bamberg, there’s a centuries old brewery that has been passed down for generations. Yet it wasn’t completely the beautiful gothic style architecture in the tavern, or even the amazingly underrated Rauchbier (smoked beer) style that made this visit stand out by so much: it was the owner, Matthias Trum. Matthias is one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic brewers that I have met, and he used his extensive education and passion for his brewery history to share rarely found secrets from the past regarding the beer purity law, the brewer’s star, and much more! This was a once in a lifetime experience that you can only get on an “Owen trip!”

  • Hofbrauhaus - This brewery/Bavarian-style restaurant/beer garden was not just a visit, but an event! As we walked into this enormous dining hall, we were immediately immersed in Bavarian culture. With a live Bavarian Oom-Pah band playing, Ox legs being eaten off the bone, and waiters and waitresses carrying dozens of liter steins at one time, this was the perfect last stop to our incredible week! The food was fantastic, the beer, even better; and the great group of beer lovers who barely knew each other when first arriving in Munich, now shared in laughter that was probably much too loud. Hofbrauhaus is one of those places that brings people together and makes everyone feel at home.

  • The Beer Group – Yes, I’m aware of the cheesiness! But I have to say that the best part of the trip was getting to meet great new people who share the love of good beer. Since my last “Owen trip” a year ago, I have seen nearly every person again, and we always enjoy reminiscing about the great times and catching up on the new. There is no doubt that this year will be the same. When you travel with Owen, you know that you are going to see the best breweries, taste the best beer, and the find the secret hidden treasures in that area. Knowing that you are in good hands, you are able to relax and spend the trip sharing bus beers, jokes, some of Mark’s magic tricks, and anticipating your next stop. Getting together with people who have a shared passion for good beer and new adventures will never steer you wrong; but with Owen leading the way, you’ll have an experience of a lifetime and make lasting friends who are always willing to talk beer!


Friday, September 29, 2017

Michigan Craft Beer: Grand Rapids & Traverse City

At the conclusion of the 2017 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference in Milwaukee, Owen Ogletree of and Don Beistle from Southern Brew News took the fast ferry across Lake Michigan to visit outstanding craft beer destinations in Grand Rapids and Traverse City.

Grand Rapids is known as an American craft beer hot-spot. In and around the city, be sure to hit locales that include...
  • Founders Brewing
  • Hideout Brewing
  • Greyline Brewing
  • Creston Brewery
  • The Mitten Brewing Company
  • New Holland Kickerbocker
  • Atwater Brewery Taproom
  • B.O.B.'s Brewery
  • Grand Rapids Brewing Company
  • HopCat
  • Brewery Vivant
  • ELK Brewing
  • Harmony Brewing

Grand Rapids even offers a "Beer City Brewsader" passport book. Fill the book with stamps from brewery visits and score a nifty craft beer t-shirt.

Traverse City Beer Trek

After the beer tour of Grand Rapids, Owen and Don rented a car for the short drive north to Traverse City - a fantastic craft beer town in its own right. Traverse City ranks as a welcoming, scenic city filled with appealing attractions. 

Trevor Tkach with Traverse City Tourism notes, "Traverse City offers a relaxed, laid-back setting to enjoy a bountiful craft beer scene.  You can put down your guard, put up your feet and soak in one of the country’s premier beach towns while sampling a wide variety of beers that incorporate natural ingredients and homegrown creativity."

Video from Our Traverse City Brewery Visits...

Our Traverse City Craft Beer Map...

The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City

Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Best-of-Show Beer Styles Session

At the end of a homebrew judging competition, the first place beers from each style category head to a best-of-show (BOS) round where a small panel of beer judges picks the top beers that best illustrate specific styles. Owen Ogletree gathered The Beer Wench, Thel Melton, Ashton Smith, Ian Meents, Flavia Costa, Andrew Borchert and Dean & Gail Graves for a BOS practice round showcasing 12 American craft beers that were served at the recent Classic City Brew Fest in Athens, Georgia. Look below for the judges' comments and list of winners - all based on BJCP style guidelines.

Photos by Ashton Smith and Melissa Melton

First Place
Gose with lime juice & peel, black limes and sea salt
Comments from the judges: intense lime notes; nice fruit and salt character, moderate acidity; mineral-like; pleasant lactic acidity; bright flavors; good balance with lime; attractive lime aroma; exactly as described; almost flawless for style.

Style summary from the BJCP: 
A highly-carbonated, tart and fruity wheat ale with a restrained spice and salt character and low bitterness. Refreshing, with bright flavors and high attenuation, this specialty example should have well balanced lime complexity.

Second Place
German Pils
Comments from the judges: lemony; sweet, honey-like flavors; crisp and clean; nice light malts; pleasing hops in the finish; attractive golden color; floral hops; good malt sweetness for balance. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
A light-bodied, highly-attenuated, gold-colored, bottom-fermented (lagered) bitter German beer showing excellent head retention and an elegant, floral hop aroma. Crisp, clean, and refreshing, a German Pils showcases the finest quality German malt and hops.

Third Place
Double IPA
Comments from the judges: smells of lemongrass; malty; lemon; citrus; lavender; light toffee, quite herbal; nice hop flavor; somewhat sweet finish; clean; good malt/hop balance; delicious example of style; lingering hop bitterness is pleasant; big malt. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
An intensely hoppy, fairly strong pale ale without the big, rich, complex maltiness and residual sweetness and body of an American barleywine. Strongly hopped, but clean, dry, and lacking harshness.

Honorable Mention
American IPA
Comments from the judges: pours cloudy with sediment; pine, citrus aromas; low bitterness; fruity notes; bitterness comes through as beer warms; good balance of malt and hops; could be a bit more hop forward; good malt backbone; pleasant hop flavor. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties with notes of citrus, pine, berries and/or tropical fruits.

Smoked American Porter
Comments from the judges: dark malts; light smoke note; burned plastic; chocolate hint; fruity; cocoa aroma; charcoal hint; fusel-like hint; smoked meat nuance; chocolate malt ball character; body is a bit thin.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A smoke-enhanced beer showing good balance between the smoke and beer character. A substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character. More bitter and often stronger with more dark malt qualities and dryness than English Porters.

Cream Ale with coffee
Comments from the judges: green bell pepper notes in aroma and flavor; a touch vegetal from the coffee; creamy; green apple hint; green coffee beans; sweet, malty cream ale character comes through.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A clean, well-attenuated, flavorful American “lawnmower” beer. Easily drinkable and refreshing, with more character than typical American lagers. This specialty example should showcase balanced coffee notes, with the cream ale base remaining recognizable.

Black Saison
Comments from the judges: black pepper notes; licorice; clove, fruity esters; spicy; subtle dark malt notes; saison fermentation notes; slightly smoky; green apple hints; burnt notes.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A spicy, highly-attenuated, moderately-bitter, moderate-strength Belgian ale with a dry finish. Typically highly carbonated, and using non-barley cereal grains and optional spices for complexity to complement the expressive yeast character that is fruity, spicy, and not overly phenolic. This dark variation includes dark malt character.

Strong Bitter 
Comments from the judges: malty; sweet taste; low bitterness; caramel notes; fruity; toffee; light fruity esters; hops are restrained; malt-forward; could use a bit more hop bitterness for balance.

Style summary from the BJCP:
An average-strength to moderately strong British bitter ale (ABV: 4.6 – 6.2%). The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

American Pale Ale
Comments from the judges: hoppy but also fruity; malt is a touch sweet for style; tea tannins; low bitterness; ripe fruit; wood-like notes; black tea hints; light citrusy hops; could use more crisp hop character.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A pale, refreshing and hoppy ale, yet with sufficient supporting malt to make the beer balanced and drinkable. The clean hop presence should reflect American or New World hop varieties. An average-strength, hop-forward beer that's lighter in aroma, flavor and body than American IPAs.

American Porter
Comments from the judges: dark chocolate; molasses hints; roasty; slightly smoky; cocoa hints; dry finish; creamy body; roasted malts come through; hops are restrained; fruity with a berry note; dark chocolate; burnt malt hints.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character. More bitter and often stronger with more dark malt qualities and dryness than English Porters. Less strong and assertive than American Stouts.

American Wheat Beer
Comments from the judges: banana; strawberry hint; wheat flavors are light; fruity; mild hops; pleasant cereal malt note; light flavors of wheat; sweet malt comes through; hops are quite light for style; melon hint; light bready character; cloudy appearance is attractive.

Style summary from the BJCP:
Refreshing wheat beers that can display more hop character and less yeast character than their German cousins. A clean fermentation character allows bready, doughy, or grainy wheat flavors to be complemented by hop flavor and bitterness rather than yeast qualities.

Oatmeal Stout with coffee
Comments from the judges: light mouthfeel for style; hints of coffee; clean; roasted malt; body seems a bit thin for style; espresso hint; dry; lacks slickness and viscosity from oats; mild aroma and flavor; cream and coffee aroma; could use a touch more coffee and oat character. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
A dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavor and enhanced mouthfeel from oats. The sweetness, balance, and oatmeal impression can vary considerably. This specialty version should showcase balanced coffee notes, with the underlying Oatmeal Stout style still shining through.