Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Bold Monk Brewing: Patience is a Virtue

Story and photos by Owen Ogletree

Originally published in Southern Brew News.
(COVID-19 UPDATE: Bold Monk has responded to the pandemic by spacing out tables inside the brewpub and setting up patio seating. The place is sanitized regularly, and employees wear masks and take all possible precautions to protect the safety of patrons.)

During construction of Atlanta's Bold Monk Brewing, co-owner/brewer John "J.R." Roberts experienced an "Apollo 13" moment when he phoned co-owner Alan LeBlanc with the faithful words "We have a problem." Bold Monk's contracted brewery system fabricators had gone into financial receivership, and Bold Monk's paid-in-full brewing system was stuck in Canada, while the tanks were being held up in China.
What's a world-class brewpub to do without a brewery? "We were at serious risk of having to pay for a whole new system, which would have been a disaster," J.R. recalls. "We were constantly on the phone reaching out to anyone I thought could help. We finally managed to get our brew system out of Canada. With payment of a small 'ransom,' I also negotiated the release of our tanks from China. This was a seriously frustrating time, but worth it in the end."
Worth it, indeed. Since opening in late 2019, Bold Monk has quickly become one of the most popular and attractive brewpubs in the country. When a group of Belgian beer aficionados visited last month, they all told J.R. that Bold Monk was the most beautiful and appealing brewery they had ever experienced. One in the group even asked, "Why don't you come build a Bold Monk in Belgium?"
Located a few miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, Bold Monk's impressive space includes free parking, a gorgeous central bar, bright dining space, cozy back booths with a view of the open kitchen, an upstairs "library" bar, and an events-friendly "cellar room" near the brewery space that houses four beer-aging wooden foeders. J.R. and the LeBlancs spared no expense in giving Bold Monk eye-catching, European-inspired murals, art, furniture and fixtures, and designers and architects were given creative freedom to fashion unique and alluring details. A forested beer garden is even in the works for a spring opening date.

How did Bold Monk's owners become fascinated with brewpubs? Alan LeBlanc's wife Cindy is J.R.'s aunt. While J.R. was living in Boston in the early '90s, Alan and Cindy visited for Thanksgiving. J.R. was an accomplished homebrewer and loved craft beer, so he took the LeBlancs to all the brewpubs in town. "Alan and Cindy had been working in Russia and were moving back to the states in search of a business opportunity," notes J.R. "Brewpubs had a huge success rate in the early '90s, and I knew this is what I wanted to do. We decided to move back south and work together on a brewpub concept in Atlanta. Cindy and Alan knew restaurants, and I knew brewing. We thought about calling our first brewpub 'Lager's,' then Alan suggested the name 'Max Lager's.' Max Lager's Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery is still going strong in downtown Atlanta and now ranks as Georgia's oldest brewpub."
With the success of Max Lager's and sister restaurant White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails, J.R. and the LeBlancs began planning a new brewpub concept. They all adore Belgian and European cuisine and beers, so the idea of Belgian-themed Bold Monk was hatched. Beer recipe ideas came from J.R.'s European beer vacations, while a plan for horizontal bladder serving tanks came to him when he was checking out similar tanks at 1516 brewpub in Vienna, Austria. The horizontal tanks above the bar at Bold Monk contain a huge plastic "bladder" bag that's filled with beer. Gas pressure on the outside of the bag pushes the beer out of the tank to the tap, and when the tank is empty, the bag gets refilled or recycled. It's an ingenious way to serve beer and keep it in top shape.
Many of Bold Monk's delicious food items were also inspired from European travel. "The recipe for our amazing fries came from a Belgian Michelin-star chef who decided to open an Antwerp fry shop - known in Belgium as a friterie," says Alan. "The place makes the best fries and sauces in Belgium, so we visited, tasted, and talked with the cooks and servers. I took detailed notes on a greasy paper fry container. Everyone made it clear to us that the French stole the idea of fries from Belgium."
Along with Bold Monk's inspired fries, patrons can choose from mouth-watering food items that include smoked brisket bitterballen, sautéed Brussel sprouts, Monk Burger, fish, steak with fries, duck with fries, pizzas, mussels and Belgian yeast waffles. "There's a Bold Monk beer to complement any of our menu items," notes Cindy. "But we are not a brewery with a side restaurant, we are a full brewpub. Our wines are all hand-picked European bottles, and we also make great cocktails.

Bold Monk doesn't seem to follow or set trends. The owners simply stick to what they know and love. "There are certain things we all hold dear," notes Alan. "The mind has a depth of data that's collected over a lifetime. Cindy and I have worked in and visited Europe for over 30 years, and J.R. has been brewing for around 30 years, so we communicate all the time and bring our ideas and strengths to the table. We've put 20 years into the brewing industry in Georgia, and we've survived and thrived due to working together and reinvesting during economic downturns."
When the LeBlancs and J.R. built White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails during the 2010 economic downturn, construction was easy because contractors were begging for work. Not so with Bold Monk. Atlanta's economy was booming, and contractors were hard-hat deep in work. "Building Bold Monk was like dragging something into existence," J.R. recalls. "Slowly making the place take shape in busy Atlanta was really challenging."
Bold Monk wants its beer to taste like beer, yet still be creative and adventurous. J.R.'s luscious list of house-made brews include the hopped-up Shared Spirit IPA, Attainment Double IPA, Stained Rose fruit farmhouse ale, foeder-aged beers, White Oak Belgian Wit, Discipline Dubbel, The Way Tripel, Brother Ivan Imperial Stout, Indominus Quadruple, and the ever-popular slow-poured Bold Monk Lager. A special tap spout and patient pouring technique make for a tall, fluffy, creamy head on the elegant lager, and the tripel offers unique flavors from the use of American hops and Orval yeast. Several excellent guest taps are also available.
Afraid of buying bottled Belgian beers at your local package store for fear of them being old and oxidized? Put those worries to rest when leaving Bold Monk with a six-pack of super fresh beers that were probably canned within a few days of going on sale.  
Neal Engleman, J.R.'s talented assistant brewer, got his start by homebrewing. Neal was into craft beer in college and lived in beer-centric Bend, Oregon for six months just when the craft beer boom was taking hold in 2008. He later moved home to Atlanta, got a job serving tables at Wrecking Bar brewpub, and slowly worked his way into Wrecking Bar's brewery. "Homebrewing is definitely not the same as commercial brewing," Neal points out. "I was amazed at the amount of science that goes into professional brewing, and I learned so much about water chemistry, physics, pressure differentials, and moving beer from place to place."
Totally impressed and excited from the first time he visited Bold Monk under construction, Neal knew this was the place for him. "I love the new equipment, and can't wait to get into wood-aging beers on a big scale," he says. "I also enjoy making Belgian-themed beers and sharing just how remarkable these beers can be. Also, our bladder tanks are amazing. Any brewpub that doesn't have them is silly."

In 2018, a Bold Monk preview beer made at Max Lager's won first place in the specialty beer category at the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting. It's quite poetic that the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting then moved to Bold Monk in January of 2020 and plans to return in 2021. Any group looking to organize an event in one of Bold Monk's variety of spaces is welcome to talk to J.R. and the LeBlancs.
Be it beer, food, coffee, wine, cocktails, events or simply a quiet space in which to relax, people come to Bold Monk for a variety of reasons. "We're often asked about our target audience," says Cindy. "Our target audience is everyone. We want everyone to love Bold Monk as much as we do."
Bold Monk possesses a true heart and spirit, and the passionate, patient owners still don't seem to be rushing things. "We will never be finished creating Bold Monk," Alan claims. "The soul of Bold Monk may be Belgian, but it's really all about the shared spirit of our staff and customers - these are the people who give life to our brewpub."

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Thomas Hardy’s Ales: 1992 – 1999 Vertical Tasting Notes

By guest columnist Flavia Costa
June 2, 2020

            The English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy loved beer, and he regularly frequented Dorchester pubs and Eldridge Pope Brewery to seek out great beers. Years after Thomas Hardy’s death, Eldridge Pope Brewery created Thomas Hardy’s Ale in his honor. At first,this 1968 beer appeared to be a celebratory one-off. However, production resumed in 1974, and the beer was brewed every year until 1999, at which point the brewery ceased production. Since then, the recipe was picked up in 2003 by O’Hanlon’s Brewery until 2008, and again picked up in 2014 by Interbrau. Thomas Hardy’s Ale celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018!

            At the time of conception, Thomas Hardy’s Ale was a BIG beer. Indeed, this 11.7% British Barleywine required significant amounts of hops and malts, a long boil, and a 9-month ageing step on sherry casks. Once released, the brewery recommended cellaring the beer for up to 25 years before opening. The cellaring process introduced complexity and produced sherry and port-like flavors that resulted in a great-tasting and highly coveted beer.

Proper beer cellaring requires no movement or agitation, no light and cool temperatures. Agitation will kick up the yeast detritus at the bottom of the bottle, adding unwanted aromas and flavors to the beer. Light will cleave hop oils, producing an unpleasant catty flavor. Warm temperatures will allow the inevitable oxidation process to go unchecked which can result in unpleasant flavors and aromas in the beer.

Oxidation happens when the oxygen and free radicals present in small quantities in the beer oxidize several compounds and molecules, altering the taste and aroma of the beer. In many beer styles, oxidation is unflattering. For example, the paper or cardboard taste resulting from oxidation of lipids and free fatty acids is especially prevalent in lighter beers. Oxidation of hop polyphenols can result in reduction of hop aroma and flavor and can be perceived as harsh or astringent. A low ABV can allow contaminating microorganisms in low quantities to take over the beer, resulting in off flavors. As such, light SRM, low ABV, and hoppy beers tend to not age well.

On the other hand, some beer styles lend themselves well to the cellaring process. For example, dark, malt-forward, high ABV beers tend to cellar well. Example styles are British Barleywines, Imperial Stouts, and Belgian Strong Dark Ales. In addition to cooler temperatures slowing down the oxidation process, the dark malts and long boils in some of these beer styles produce antioxidants, protecting the beer from excessive oxidation during the ageing process. Oxidation in these beers tends to bring out notes of dried fruits, such as figs and prunes. Barrel-aged beers will amplify the notes from the compounds leached from the oak barrel such as vanillin (vanilla). As they age, high ABV beers will mellow out in perceived booziness and increase in perceived sweetness.

This past weekend, I was very fortunate to be able to participate in a vertical tasting of Thomas Hardy’s Ales from 1992 – 1999 that were cellared until 2020. Below are tasting descriptions for each beer, including comparisons between vintages where applicable.

This beer was rusted brown in color, with a chill haze that cleared as the beer warmed resulting in a dark brown, ruby color. A light and thin head formed initially but quickly dissipated. On the nose, caramel and toffee notes were followed by a light acetic note. The beer was slightly tart. Fig, date, and cherry notes shone through the sherry and rum notes. However, these sherry and rum notes became more dominant as the beer warmed. The mouthfeel was smooth with a medium body.

Slightly lighter in color compared to the 1992, the 1993 version poured with slightly more carbonation. There was more prune and sherry on the nose, and the acetic hint that was noted in the 1992 version was absent. The aroma was matched with more prune on the palate, and a light sweetness that increased in intensity as it warmed. Roasted notes and dark malt character were also more prominent in this version.

This year’s beer was the darkest of the vertical tasting, a deeper cherry brown that was almost dark brown. The aroma was reminiscent of coffee intermingled with prune and fig notes. Upon tasting, moderate fig, prune, and stone fruit notes were detected. A slightly tart note also accompanied this beer, a bit more prominent than the 1992 beer. As it warmed, fig became more prominent, and there was a distinct brown sugar note.

This beer is technically right at the higher end of the recommended ageing process (25 years). This beer was on the darker end of the color spectrum, although not as dark as the 1994 version. The carbonation and head retention were low as well. A moderate presence of prune, sherry and stone fruit in the aroma turned into distinct pecan and light butterscotch (diacetyl) notes as it warmed, reminiscent of your grandmother’s pecan pie. The body was sweet, and there were brown sugar and toasted notes in the aftertaste.

Lighter in color compared to previous years, this beer had less of the reddish copper tones shining through. Compared to previous years, the 1996 beer had a low aroma profile that was bright. The flavor was light, with a low molasses note. The body was also light compared to previous years and became lighter as it warmed up.

Similar to the 1996 version, this beer was also lighter in color with a low aroma profile. Low prune and caramel were more present compared to the 1996 version, with a warm alcohol note. The flavor was also subdued in this version, with a toasted note and some warmth in the aftertaste. This beer had a light-medium body.

After the low and subdued flavors from the 1996 and 1997 beers, 1999 was a surprise. This version was a deeper copper brown in color, and had rich sherry, porter, and prune notes on the nose. The taste was reminiscent of a lovely port, with sweet brown sugar notes in the aftertaste. The body was fuller in mouthfeel than in the previous two years.

In summary, all of the beers in this vertical held up remarkably well in the ageing process, and each year offered a unique combination of flavors and aromas. The evolution of those aromas and flavors as the beers warmed was remarkable and contributed to the complexity of the beer. If you see Thomas Hardy’s Ales on the shelf, seemingly unnoticed next to the newest beer trends, it is well worth it to pick some up and wait patiently for the beer to reach its full potential.


This tasting was in celebration of
The Beer Wench's 50th birthday!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Owen's Classic Beer Styles Posts During Quarantine 2020

By Owen Ogletree

For social distancing entertainment and beer education during the quarantine of 2020, I posted regular Facebook shout-outs to utterly amazing classic beer styles. Seek out these remarkable beers and thank me later...

Monday, May 25, 2020

New SE Craft Beer Reviews

Remember to grab some take-home beer from your local craft breweries. These businesses need your support right now! Look below for nine great regional beers that Owen has enjoyed in mid-May 2020...
Creature Comforts / Burial Beer 
Culture Keepers Maibock
A Creature Comforts / Burial Beer collaboration, Culture Keepers is a delicious, 7% ABV Maibock lager with classic German malt complexity, a honey-like note and floral noble hops. This amazing lager is not an easy style to make, but Creature and Burial nailed it. Four-packs are now available at Creature's contactless, drive-through area at the Athens brewery. 
Orpheus Brewing
The 12th Labor
Wow! This 13.9% Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels offers smooth, viscous flavors of chocolate, espresso, black malt, dark fruit and vanillin from barrel-aging. Use caution, as this delicious, potent brew that's made with Belgian abbey yeast and dark candy syrup goes down way too easy. Drink it with rich cherry cobbler or burnt ends of brisket. 
Orpheus Brewing
Transmigration of Souls
The original 10% ABV version of Orpheus' popular double IPA has returned! Pick some up now at the Atlanta brewery. The guys at Orpheus say, "Transmigration of Souls is an irresponsibly hopped Double IPA, bursting with life from an absurd amount of aromatic hops." I agree. This is a well-constructed, malty, boozy IPA with exceptional hop character. 
Wild Heaven Beer
Don't Stand So Close to Me
This German-style lager that's brewed with Saaz and Hallertau hops makes for a wonderful, sessionable tipple that's clean, refreshing and packed with classic German flavors. The deep golden beer offers a tasty noble hop character in the finish that pairs well with brats, seafood and white pizza. 
Wild Heaven Beer
Fauci Spring Acai Pale Ale
This new pale ale is brewed with acai berries and experimental hops so new that they don't even have a name yet. Named in honor of Dr. Anthony Fauci, this extremely pleasant pale ale showcases additions of acai berries that hold a high antioxidant quality and interesting flavor profile. 
Atlanta Brewing Company
Conjuring Cultures - Ode Brugge
The brewery only has a few remaining 500 ml bottles of this amazing mixed fermentation red ale made with tart cherries. This well-crafted tart ale took me back to Flanders, Belgium with its complex, fruity nuances backed by beautiful malt and a wild fermentation character that's smooth and complementary of the dark fruit notes. This is a must-try beer. 
Atlanta Brewing Company
Hartsfield IPA
Here's a 6.2% ABV India Pale Ale with an elegant hop profile featuring Citra, Mosaic and an additional rotating hop variety. I love a delicious, no-nonsense IPA with crisp hop flavor and appealing bitterness, and Hartsfield fits the bill. Enjoy it alongside grilled meats or a juicy cheeseburger and fries. 
New Realm Brewing
Jacked Squatch
Do your best to get your hands on this elusive canned release from New Realm. Jacked Squatch is a flavorful, West Coast Double IPA with 9.5% ABV, a gorgeous malt backbone, complex esters and a beautiful hop profile that provides deep hop aroma, flavor and pleasant bitterness. Being a West Coast-style IPA, this ale is only slightly hazy and contains no distracting lactose additions. It's definitely one of my new favorites. 
Highland Brewing
Rising Haze IPA
This unfiltered IPA from Asheville comes in at 7% ABV, packing gorgeous hop flavors from Mosaic, Ekuanot, Galaxy, Apollo, Citra and Centennial. Look for juicy notes of orange, grapefruit, tropical fruits and apricot. This is a wonderful beer to pair with spicy foods like Mexican, Cajun and Indian.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Owen Ogletree & The Beer Wench Pick Beers for Take-Home Dinners

CHOPS & HOPS in Watkinsville, Georgia
Takeout Beer Dinners

Stay safe and happy during the COVID-19 quarantine and support local businesses. 

Call Chops & Hops any day this week to reserve your take-home beer dinner that will be available after 5:00 pm each day (until they run out for the week)! Only 24 beer dinners will be available each week, so call soon to reserve: (706) 310-1101.

The chef at Chops prepares four delicious courses, and Owen Ogletree and The Beer Wench choose an amazing Georgia craft beer to go with each course. You order in advance, pull up to Chops & Hops at the appropriate time, and your four chilled beers and four courses are brought out to you. It's safe and easy. Only $40 per person or $70 per couple. 

Week 2: April 20-24, 2020

A short video preview of the dinner from Owen Ogletree and The Beer Wench...

Week 2: April 20-24, 2020...

Course 1: Apricots, shaved Brussels sprouts, walnut, blue cheese salad.
BEER: Dry County Lechuza is brewed right here in Georgia using traditional Mexican Lager ingredients. With light toast, honey-like malt nuances, and a slightly higher ABV than its south-of-the-border inspirations, Lechuza still maintains a classic Mexican lager drink-ability that will provide a crisp palate cleanser for the rich, flavorful salad.

Course 2: Sage turkey sausage stuffed mushrooms.
BEER: Reformation Cadence Belgian-Style Ale. This 6.9% ABV beer is inspired by Belgian abbey Dubbel ales. Cadence has a fruity aroma with hints of toffee, figs, clove, and Belgian candy sugar. The fruity, caramel-like notes should pair beautifully with the earthy, caramelized sausage.

Course 3: Cucumber, feta, fried watermelon bites with pickled shrimp.
BEER: Southern Brewing Company's Fog Machine New England IPA is a 6% ABV hazy ale that glows like "liquid sunshine." Light hops provide citrus, fruit juice and pineapple aroma and flavor character, without too much bitterness. This approachable IPA should make a great complement to the tart, complex shrimp.

Course 4: Strawberry cobbler topped with house-made whipped cream and a chocolate covered strawberry.
BEER: Jekyll Brewing Erin Go Braugh Irish Coffee Porter. With a hint of whiskey in the finish, this 5.7% ABV porter offers notes of coffee and cream, light chocolate, and a bit of toffee and brown sugar in the finish. The fruit and cream notes of the strawberry dessert should accentuate the dark malt character of this quaffable brew.


Week 1: Starting April 13, 2020

A short video preview of the dinner from Owen Ogletree and The Beer Wench...

Week 1: Starting April 13...

Course 1: Arugula mango crab salad  
An approachable saison, Fuller’s Earth is delicate across the board. From it’s golden straw color to the gentle ester aromas, the essence of orange peel, lemongrass, and ginger gently come through a finely carbonated, balanced bodied beer for a soft and dry mouthfeel.

Course 2: Harissa, goat cheese & herb tartlet 
Creature Comforts collaborated with Allagash Brewing to create an IPA that leans into Allagash’s expertise in brewing Belgian-style beers—as well as highlighting a shared love of hops. This juicy, fruity Belgian-style IPA (6.6%) features Topaz and Comet hops in addition to local wheat sourced from both breweries’ communities.

Course 3: Fried chicken with lavender blackberry coulis, roasted root vegetables 
The strong, sweet malt character is the hallmark of the style, complemented by a deep amber color. The malt character is balanced by a slight hop bitterness that allows the toasted grain and caramel flavors to shine through. ABV: 7.2%

Course 4: New York cheesecake with dark cherry compote
This graham cracker stout is a Georgia original. Made with honey, cinnamon and real graham crackers, it’s a roasty, yet sweet and strong, milk stout. 9% ABV.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Photos from 1997 Midwest International Beer Exposition

Owen found some old photos of his trip to Chicago's 1997 Midwest International Beer Exposition to meet acclaimed beer writer Michael Jackson and Merchant du Vin founder Charles Finkel. The Beer Wench and Owen learned a great deal about craft beer at this event...

Chicago Craft Beer Conference 1997

Charles Finkel is the founder of Merchant du Vin beer importer and Pike Brewery in Seattle. 

The Beer Wench

Merchant du Vin tasting booth

Michael Jackson (right) introduced the world to craft beer back in the '80s and '90s.

Beer writer Randy Mosher (left) and Michael Jackson on the stage

Owen Ogletree

Owen Ogletree

The Beer Wench and Owen visited Chicago's brewpubs.

Michael "The Beer Hunter" Jackson with The Beer Wench

It was an honor to meet Michael Jackson.