Author: BierWax

BierWax is a craft beer tasting room and vinyl record listening room. We are as passionate about our beer as we are about vinyl records, with a finely curated tap-list mingling with thousands of vinyl records. BierWax is malted grains, water, yeast, and hops mixed with a pinch of 45s, a cup of boom-bap, and a heaping tablespoon of funk. We respect beer and aim to preserve the legacy of analog music.

The BierWax List of Boom-Bap (2016 Edition)

2016, oh 2016!?! At least you brought us some great music. The following records were our favorites this year. In no particular order, here are our ten…

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Czarface – A Fistful of Peril

Inspectah Deck, 7L, and Esoteric continue to display amazing chemistry with their third album. Inspectah Deck has a post-Wu outlet for his talent and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air.

Highlights: Czar Wars; Dust

 

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Elzhi – Lead Poison

Elzhi took quite a while to finish this Kickstarter funded album, but it was worth the wait. Lead Poison is introspective and creative. Who else would pen a story about becoming a bloodthirsty vampire?

Highlights: Two 16’s; Introverted

 

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Skyzoo & Apollo Brown – The Easy Truth

Apollo Brown creates such a beautiful soundscape for Skyzoo. Simply a great listen from beginning to end.

Highlights: A Couple Dollars; Innocent Ambition

 

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Royce 5’9 – Layers

After the heralded PRhyme project with DJ Premier and his work with Slaughterhouse, Layers is a very well crafted solo project by Royce 5’9.

Highlights: Tabernacle; Shine

 

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Ugly Heroes – Everything in Between

Honest and thoughtful, it’s a delight to listen to Red Pill and Verbal Kent over another beautifully produced album by Apollo Brown.

Highlights: Today Right Now; Notions

 

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Smoke Dza & Pete Rock – Don’t Smoke Rock

Pete Rock is simply superb on “Don’t Smoke Rock.”

Highlights: Black Superhero Car; Milestone

 

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Masta Ace – The Falling Season

The 50 year old wordsmith continues to certify his legacy as one of the best. The beats on this album are a treat, as well.

Highlights: Mathematics: Story of Me

 

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Torae – Entitled

This album stayed on rotation for much of the year. Solid album. Definitely one of our favorites.

Highlights: Imperial Sound; Get Down

 

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A Tribe Called Quest – We Got if From Here…Thank you for Your Service.

A wonderful bookend to one of the greatest hip hop groups ever.

Highlights: We the People…; Whateva Will Be

 

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Common – Black America Again

Common’s Black America Again is timely, soulful, and poignant. A true return to form.

Highlights: Home; Pyramids

 

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Ras Kass – Intellectual Property: SOI2

A complete surprise. The beats on SOI2 serve as a proper platform to Ras Kass’ lyricism.

Highlights: Paypal the Feature; Constant Elevation

Okay, that was eleven.


These didn’t make the list, but are worth a listen:

Termanology – More Politics

There are a few great moments on More Politics (Just Politics, I Dream B.I.G., and We’re Both Wrong), but some of the beats and hooks are underwhelming.

Reks – The Greatest X

Too damn long, but there are an album worth of fantastic tracks on the 2016 release.

 

A BierWax Guide to Barcelona Beer

As soon as we exited the Barcelona airport, the shining tanks at Estrella Damm’s brewing facility greeted us. And that’s the last you will hear about the most popular beer in much of Spain. This guide, though not exhaustive, will focus on the exploding craft beer scene in Barcelona which has experienced a rapid growth spurt during the last couple of years. I wish we had more time to tick off a few more spots on our list. The following photos and words will highlight a handful of spots that we explored before and after an epic Spanish wedding. Based on the quality of the beer and the ambiance of these spots, I think we visited the best of the best (for the most part).

Abirradero – Carrer de Vila i Vilà, 77, 08004 Barcelona | http://www.abirradero.com/

We were eager to try Barcelona-made craft beer. Abirradero was our very first stop and it surely did not disappoint. With 40 taps for your imbibing enjoyment, we focused on sampling their roughly 20 house beers. The brewpub’s beer is brewed right next door in a space that is part brewery part brewing school. El Instituto de la Cerveza Artesana (I.C.A.) is the official name of the brewery, so we intentionally only ordered beers labeled I.C.A., not beer from their several guest taps. We had two flights.  Nearly everything we had was above average and spot on for the style. Our bartender, once he discovered our special love for craft beer, scribbled a few names and addresses on a napkin. We then had a few more spots to add to our list and find. Next time we return to Barcelona, we’ll certainly try their food menu.

 

Brew Pub Le Sec – Carrer de Margarit, 52, 08004 Barcelona, Spain

Per the Abirradero bartender’s recommendation, we made our way to this tiny brewpub a few blocks away. It was a charming space; however, their two house-made beers were forgettable.  The space was extremely cozy and I appreciate their nano-brewery sized set up. I’d return again to give another two beers a shot.

 

La Rovira – Carrer de Rabassa, 23, 08024 Barcelona

What a kickass beer bar!? We loved their tap-list and thoroughly enjoyed their food menu. I was even able to stomach (and enjoy) olives for the first time EVER! I had a fantastic mouth-puckering Biere de Garde from BFM (Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes) and sipped on a few other really great beers. If La Rovira was located in NY, I’d be a regular for sure.

BrewDog Barcelona –Carrer de Casanova, 69, 08011 Barcelona | https://www.brewdog.com/usa/bars/worldwide/barcelona

I was excited to finally visit a BrewDog location. I only really had BrewDog beer a few times in the states. I enjoyed their TV show on the Esquire Network and appreciated their penchant for pushing boundaries. This visit was a complete letdown. We ordered two flights to try as much as possible. The beers were all lackluster and the server was even more of a letdown. During our layover in England, a few local beer-heads also spoke badly of the brand. Bollocks!

 

BierCab Barcelona – Calle Muntaner, 55, 08011 Barcelona | http://biercab.com/

After drinking Sevilla’s own Cruz Campo for most of the wedding, we craved something with more hop bite and ABV once the reception was over. A fellow craft beer enthusiast at the wedding pointed us in this direction and we were in for a treat. BierCab, short for Bier Cabron, has an extremely impressive bottle-list and beers on draught that are tough to find in the U.S. I started off with Westbrook’s Mexican Cake on tap. Manuel, the super gregarious owner/manager, opened up the next door bottle shop for us and we were mesmerized. I hear the food at BierCab is equally excellent, so put them on your must-visit list.

 

Mikkeller Bar Barcelona – Carrer de València, 202, 08011 Barcelona | http://mikkeller.dk/location/mikkeller-bar-barcelona/

We’ve brushed shoulders with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso and the folks at Tørst numerous times, so his twin brother’s bar in Barcelona was high on the to do list. I’ve enjoyed all of the Mikkeller beers I’ve tried and I adore Keith Shore’s art which adorns most Mikkeller labels and the walls of their bars. The bar is simply gorgeous. We were able to observe each corner since the bar was totally empty, in complete contrast to Tørst in Greenpoint. Each beer we tried was excellent. Yet another place we could have spent much more time at.

 

Barcelona Beer Company – Carrer de Muntaner, 7, 08011 Barcelona | http://www.barcelonabeercompany.com/en/Taproom

Based on the name alone, we had to visit. Pretty taproom, decent beer. We didn’t have any food, but the options looked great. I wasn’t blown away by the beer, but it’s another much-needed alternative to Spanish lager. It is important to note that there is no such thing as a “flight” in Spain.  Just ask for a “mix.”

 

Garage Beer Company – Carrer del Consell de Cent, 261, 08011 Barcelona | http://garagebeer.co/en/

Garage Beer Company is churning out amazing beer, collaborating with top-notch American breweries such as Other Half, and is certainly making a name for itself in the growing Barcelona craft beer scene. Their American IPA, Slinger, was excellent. Blacksmith, their Imperial Stout, was also solid. They will be expanding to a larger space in the near future. Garage Beer Company successfully crowd-funded over 490,000 Euros, 90,000 more than their original goal. They will soon be able to move out of the garage, but keep their name.

 

NaparBCN – Carrer de la Diputació, 223, 08011 Barcelona | http://www.naparbcn.com/

Hands down, this was our best beer and food experience in Barcelona. I do have to admit a minor bias: Our friends who were recently married are friends and neighbors with Sven, one of the owners of Napar, so we were able to really get to know Napar’s food and beer quite well. Sven, a Spaniard of Belgian descent, is a beer fanatic. We spent time with Sven, trying various Napar beers and sampling an assortment of tapas. Sven wanted NaparBCN to stand out in Barcelona’s emerging beer scene, creating a locale that is recognized not only for great beer but also for its gastronomy. He is pairing cloudy Vermont-style IPAs and Imperial Stouts with plates that push the boundaries of traditional Spanish cuisine. Napar’s beer cellar list is the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time, with bottles of La Trappe from as far back as 1968 mingling with Westmalle Dubbels from the 1990s. His most prized cellared beer is an Oude Geuze that is allegedly 55 years old. As the story goes, the bottles were found in an old barn in Belgium under piles of hay and wrapped in newspapers from 55 years ago. Sven told us that he is the only person who has paid the 195.00 Euros to see what the beer actually tastes like. The photos don’t do NaparBCN justice. The brewpub is unlike any beer venue I’ve seen before. Immaculate!

 

Ale-Hop – multiple locations in Barcelona | http://en.ale-hop.org/

If you are looking for beer, don’t go here! If you need an emoji pillow or mole-skin notebook, you’ve found the right place. Apparently, there is an actual Ale-Hop beer spot in Barcelona. I wonder if it also has a life-sized cow to greet customers in the front.

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Vale?

Dust + Dignity

Art is such a powerful way to encourage dialog and to challenge us to think critically about some of the issues that we continue to face in the United States, including the rising tide of neo-fascism, continued police brutality, and economic inequality.  I was invited to experience Dust + Dignity, an incredible collection of vinyl record covers that all speak to civil rights and social justice. Dust + Dignity was organized and curated by Bruce “DJ Junior” Campbell, Jr., PhD, who is a professor at Arcadia University.  The exhibit included records from some of Philly’s most legendary DJs and record collectors: Cosmo Baker, King Britt, Rich Medina, and Skeme Richards.

Here is the essence of Dust + Dignity in DJ Junior’s words:

Today, we are experiencing on outing of the racial ignorance that has long existed in our city, country, and surrounding world. Born out of this injustice and in response to the ignorance is art. In art, we find sound. Music keeps us together; it heals and connects — it motivates and celebrates. Lyrics give life to our souls, the melodies align our hearts, and the rhythms stoke the fire of our movements. Often overlooked is the powerful connection between an album’s music and the visual artwork that binds it together.

From Gil Scott Heron’s “Moving Target” to Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy Award-Winning 2015 release, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the evolution of album artwork has transmitted the dynamism of music and social injustices.

Here are most of the covers…

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Add me

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Stay tuned for a NYC Dust + Dignity exhibit hopefully coming soon.

-BierWax

The Inspiration

It has certainly been quite a while. I apologize for the long hiatus. I’ve been busy business planning, working at two breweries, home brewing, and focusing on making this dream a reality in the very near future. (I failed to mention my duties as the director of a pregnancy prevention program, husband, and father of twin three year old girls.) I’m juggling it all and happy to be nearly finished with the Bierwax business plan.

Right from the business plan, here is our mission statement…

Bierwax is a craft beer tasting room and vinyl record listening room. We are as passionate about our beer as we are about vinyl records, with a finely curated tap-list mingling with over 3,000 vinyl records. Bierwax is malted grains, water, hops, and yeast mixed with a pinch of 45s, a cup of boom-bap, and a heaping tablespoon of funk. We respect beer and aim to preserve the legacy of analog music.  

That’s what I will be opening in a year or two. Here are two bars that have been tremendous influences on what Bierwax will be…

Inspiration Numero Uno:                         

A few years ago, a couple of friends and I rented bikes in Amsterdam and somehow managed to find our way to Cafe de Duivel. We were intrigued by the description of the bar online and decided to see firsthand what a hip hop bar in Amsterdam would be like. The bar was pretty traditional with the exception of the music. There was a live DJ at the back of the bar spinning early 1990s and underground hip hop vinyl records. He was seamlessly mixing and cutting in and out of each track. The crowd, who I assume were mostly local Dutch folks, was going crazy and even knew the lyrics to some of the pretty obscure hip hop songs. That’s Europe for you! I remember wondering why something like Cafe de Duivel doesn’t exist in New York. Since I don’t travel to Europe with much frequency, I’ve longed to revisit Duivel or another venue just like it.

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Inspiration Numero Dos:

Nearly ten years ago, I was invited to spend a few days in Hong Kong with a close friend of mine. We had a layover in Tokyo for a few hours and the airport alone was unlike anything I had ever experienced. One day we’ll stack enough cheddar to actually afford to spend some time in Tokyo. Until then, I’m living vicariously through culinary/travel shows like No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and Mind of a Chef. I stumbled upon photos of this place below, dubbed Jazz, Blues and Soul (JBS). While explaining an early iteration of Bierwax to a friend, he asked if I ever heard of JBS in Tokyo. I hadn’t and was completely blown away when he showed me a few photos on Instagram. This was basically what I had been dreaming up all along, except JBS mainly serves whisky and is on the other side of the world. The sole owner and manager of the bar, serves up both an excellent whiskey selection and an impeccable collection of vinyl records. You might find Kobayashi-san throwing on a Charles Mingus LP or Nas’ classic debut Illmatic. It all depends on his mood at the time.

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As I round third base with my business planning, expect to hear more from me. I appreciate all of the support and good vibes as I make something like Duivel or JBS a reality in New York.

Cheers,

Chris Maestro

Mindset: the Psychology of a New Brewer

To smell the malty, sweet aroma of wort in my own kitchen for the very first time was nothing short of life-changing. I’ve visited countless breweries in the past seven years and the smell of warm wort always reminds me of the magic that is unfolding. To have that same aroma permeate my own living quarters for the first time is a memory that will undoubtedly stay with me forever. I’m sure fellow home brewers can relate and remember their very first batch. I’ve spent a few days reflecting on my first brew day. Here is an extension of that reflection, which should capture the joy, blunders, and ecstasy of my inaugural home brew. Enjoy!

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Before Brew Day: 

  • I spent a few months reading as much as I could about home brewing and also watching countless home brewing YouTube videos.  I’ve included the videos that were the most helpful in the resources section below. I first read Charlie Papazian’s classic, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.” It was easy to follow and definitely made a novice like me feel confident about my first batch. Throughout brew day, I kept repeating Uncle Charlie’s words, “Relax, don’t worry, have a home brew.” More on that later.
  • I like to be over-prepared, so I created a step-by-step list that I compiled from various books, videos, and the specific instructions from my ingredients kit. I’ve also included these steps in the resources section. John Palmer’s “How to Brew” and my local home brew shop owner were both instrumental in helping me craft my own brewing instruction guide.
  • I ordered the “Gold Complete Beer Equipment Kit (K6)” from Home Brew Ohio via Amazon.com. I am very happy with the kit, although it was far from “complete.” I definitely had to spend at least another $100 on the following to have everything I would need: auto-siphon, hydrometer jar, 7.5 gallon boiling pot, stainless steel stirring spoon, pyrex measuring cup, turkey baster, bottle caps, and thermometer for boil. I purchased my ingredients from the Back Alley Brew Shop in Patchogue.
  • I really wanted to do an all-grain first batch. I felt that using extracts was, in a way, cheating. I quickly realized that I was being overly ambitious. Plus, I didn’t have all of the equipment I needed for an all-grain first home brew. I opted for a partial grain and partial malt extract batch. The IPA recipe called for Cascade, Nelson. Sauvin, Galaxy, Amarillo, and Wakatu hops. (New Zealand is represented more than once, so it should have a very interesting hop profile.)

Brew Day Morning:

  • I invited my (soon-to-be) brother in law over to help out with the process. He expressed interest in being there for my first ever batch and I knew I would need another set of hands. It was great to share the experience with my brother (and wife when she wasn’t watching our twin daughters and keeping them away from the kitchen.)
  • The morning was consumed with getting all of my gear and ingredients in order and sanitizing everything. The important sanitizing step really played well with my OCD.
  • I assumed it would take a long time to get 2.5 gallons of water up to 160 degrees, so I started to heat the water before my brother arrived. It didn’t take longer than 30 minutes, to my surprise.

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The Blunders: 

I’m not going to bore everyone with a step-by-step description of my process. I’ll skip to the juicy part, the several rookie mistakes I made.

  1. My first mistake was picking up a growler of Finch’s Hardcore Chimera, a Double IPA. I was in a celebratory mood and I probably had two glasses before really getting started. Two glasses is certainly not a lot of beer, but it was enough to subvert my ultra anal, follow directions to a T personality. I’ll definitely limit my beer consumption until the main first steps are completed, moving forward.
  2. I don’t know how I fudged this up, but I poured the Cascade hops right into the boiling kettle. It’s not a big deal if you have a strainer. I didn’t have one and my local restaurant supplier is closed on weekends. After an emergency call to my home brew shop, my fears were assuaged; the siphoning process should filter out most of the hop leaves.
  3. I was anxious to take my first hydrometer reading, as it’s a pretty crucial step in the brewing process. Experienced brewers will laugh at this one. I pitched my yeast before taking my original hydrometer reading. This is important because the reading gives you a baseline with which to measure the degree your wort has fermented. I had already aerated the wort (shook it up to add oxygen before introducing yeast), so the foamy wort was super difficult to read. I also was worried that I removed a good deal of yeast with my turkey baster.
  4. The cool down – I decided to cool down the wort with an ice-bath in my bathtub. The only issue was that the boiling pot was floating around the water on the verge of capsizing. I used ice and a dozen frozen water bottles to cool down the water, but the unsteady pot of wort was definitely unnerving. Eventually, we moved the pot to an ice-bath in my kitchen sink. It was a perfect fit and cooled down the wort to below 80 degrees in less than 20 minutes.
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I have to be honest. After the third mistake, I felt pretty defeated. I was pretty doubtful I would even have a successful fermentation process. A small voice in my head kept saying, “You’re not cut out for this!” I quickly remembered one of the main themes from a pretty influential book I read last year titled Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Setbacks and mistakes, for those who operate from a growth mindset, are opportunities for learning and discovery. This was my very first foray into an exciting new world. Once again, I borrow from Dweck: “People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.”

A day later, I opened up my closet to observe the fermentation bucket and was very happy to see the airlock bubbling every few seconds. Whether or not the beer will taste great, at least I will have (fermented) beer in a few weeks. Missteps will continue to occur every now and then, but that’s all part of the journey.

We’ll see how it turns out in roughly a month. I’m already plotting my next batch and can’t wait to again have a kitchen full of grains, hops, and eager yeast. If you are a home brewer or are interested in the craft, please feel free to comment on my self-made instruction manual below.

Cheers,

Bierwax

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From 10 Gallons till Infinity (A Visit to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)

Dogfish Head continues to occupy an iconic place in my own personal history and relationship with craft beer. 90 Minute was the first Double IPA that I fell in love with, years before I ever tried Heady Topper, Pliny, or Abner. After reading founder Sam Calagione’s book “Brewing up a Business,” I was inspired to start laying the foundation for my own beer business. Sam’s TV show, although pretty dorky at times with his terrible rapping, painted a picture of a world I saw myself in; a field of creativity, drive and extreme passion. I don’t drink 90 Minute as often these days, but I continue to be impressed by Dogfish Head Brewery’s unique approach to brewing and I appreciate Sam’s commitment to the independent craft brewing community. Of course, Dogfish Head is by no means a small company.  They employ hundreds of people and have a brewing operation that is much larger than anything I have ever seen in person, with the exception of my visit to Golden, Colorado as a teenager. However, our recent visit to the Delaware brewery, brewpub, and inn further solidified my respect for what Sam has built.

The following are photos I snapped from the visit juxtaposed with some of Sam’s own words from “Brewing up a Business.”

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Dogfish Head’s humble beginnings – The 10-gallon brewing system which was the genesis of Dogfish Head Brewery.

“My original brewing system produced 10-gallons of 0.3 barrels per batch. When brewers I met while visiting other breweries would stop by the brewpub, I felt like a boy among men. I suffered from an acute case of brewery-envy, but I would not be discouraged. It’s not the size of your brewing system that matters; it’s what you do with it…or so they say.” 

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The very first 10-gallon brewing system now lives alongside the current (slightly larger) system.

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“Brewing has continued to be a great outlet for my artistic expression. But I’m proud to say I’m the least technically proficient brewer of the many brewers who work at Dogfish Head today. I am better at conceptualizing recipes and beer ideas than I am at physically making a batch of beer. I still brew occasionally for two reasons: so I can call myself a brewer with a straight face, and so I can continue experimenting with new recipes, which is a strength of mine.”

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“My inmost thought when I was first enrolled there (Northfield Mt. Hermon School) was: ‘Rebel against authority in order to express yourself.’ This is pretty much the same defining instinct that drives me today, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find a constructive outlet for this angst. I’ve created a company that subverts the definition of beer put forth by the so-called authorities at Anheuser-Busch and Coors.” 

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“The other line in the sand that we drew is refusing to sell to private equity. About two years ago, we were approached with a number that Mariah and I could have retired very comfortably with forever, and we said no. We’ve been approached by folks on Wall Street who wanted to take us public, and we said no. We want to try to keep this a family business, with the hope that someday maybe we can make it last into the next generation–and we want to keep this a company that’s owned by the people who run it.” 

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This photo doesn’t really capture how immense the Dogfish Head warehouse is. It is incredible to witness in person.

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Every batch that is brewed is saved in here for quality control. Sam also has a private cellar where he ages various releases. Some are a decade old.

“The sheer magnitude and sameness of mass-produced and mass-marketed goods that Americans have grown to expect can be really disorienting…This is the big-box retail reality that the alt-commerce businessperson is up against: the awe-inspiring, ubiquitous presence of these stores and the homogenizing effect they have on the consumer landscape…People patronize these places because they are easy and predictable. While many people wish to simplify their lives on some level, you must have faith that some people are not always looking for what is easy and predictable to bring joy to their lives. The humble success of Dogfish Head specifically, and the craft brewing industry in general, is a tribute to this faith.” 

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The Steampunk Treehouse moved to the entrance of the brewery in 2009.

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“Effective brand building, like effective writing, revolves around a few central ideas. Developing believable, interesting characters–these are your products. An effective and easy-to-follow narration–this is your advertising and marketing. Strong plot development–this is your business plan and budgets. Singular and memorable writing style–this is your brand identity.”

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“We recognize that we aren’t brewing for the status quo. We recognize that the average beer drinker will probably never try our beers, even if we were to have a significant 5, 10, or 20 percent market share in the United States. We are “off-centered,” meaning that we’re not going to appeal to the majority. That said, we’ve been able to carve out a very healthy niche, growing by catering to a very small but increasing and very engaged minority beer drinking population–those who want more flavor, more diversity, more complexity, and more food compatibility in the beer.” 

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Where it all started – Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats in Rehoboth Beach

“I first decided to open my brewery when I was 24 years old. I was very focused from the moment I made this decision. I read everything I could about breweries and restaurants. I worked as a brewer’s assistant as I wrote my business plan. I wrote a menu and tested different pizza-grilling techniques on my backyard barbecue. I made pilot batches of beer and developed recipes, homemade labels, and brand names. I met with countless banks and raised all of the money to open the business. I signed off on the loans and was personally responsible for the debt.” 

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A very fresh batch of 120 Minute! That’s how we got started on a very cold afternoon.

Recipe:

Ingredients & Directions for

sampling, exchange, exampling,

and change.

The ingredients in our recipes come from

The earth and the oven,

They come from interfering

and letting be.

We use organic and natural

ingredients wherever possible

and our recipes are blissfully inefficient.

We spend premium prices on

the finest barley, hops, and herbs.

We use no extracts.

For us, brewing is not a process

of automation,

but of imagination and passion.

We wrap our hands around plastic

shovels to clean out our mash tuns.

We wrap our hands around sticky

clumps of whole leaf hops

and toss them into the boil kettle. 

We wrap our hands around our work

because we are proud to make 

something with our own hands.

We hope you enjoy drinking

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed ales

as much as we enjoy making them. 

                                -Sam Calagione

Beer as Narrative: A Chat with Anthony & Rob from Transmitter Brewing

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I got off the train with iPhone in hand, trying to figure out the best way to make it across the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel. It was barely 20 degrees and the wind was beating my face, but I was determined to make it to Transmitter Brewing in Long Island City, Queens on time to meet Anthony Accardi and Rob Kolb. As I made it closer to the brewery and peered at the Manhattan skyline, a nagging question raced into my head: Why the heck am I out here freezing my ass off in the first place?  Once I met Anthony and Rob and saw Transmitter for the first time, the answer was clear.

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Anthony and Rob focus on traditional and farmhouse ales, with a special zeal for experimenting with their wide library of yeast strains. They work with over 20 isolated strains of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus, as well as other traditional yeast varieties. However, it’s the interplay of all the ingredients of beer that fuel their creativity and passion for brewing amazing beer.

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Before ever trying Transmitter Brewing’s beers, I was struck by the beauty of their bottles. Anthony explained the history of the label design:

The labels are designed by Jeff Rogers and are inspired by something called a QSL card. Amateur HAM radio operators would make contact and then acknowledge the contact with a post card that referenced the technical aspects of their equipment and signal strength as well as usually adding a personal note.

Their bottles are available at various bottle shops throughout NYC or on weekends at the brewery. Consider joining their CSB (Community Supported Brewery) bottle share program. Details are on their website: http://www.transmitterbrewing.com/

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With growing demand for Transmitter Brewing beer, I was curious about plans for expansion. Anthony and Rob recently upgraded to a 6 barrel brewhouse at the beginning of 2015. They also have around 35 barrels of stainless steel fermentation space to play with, in addition to 28 wooden casks of various alcoholic persuasions. That’s approximately 60 barrels of volume for both primary fermentation, as well as longer term aging.

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Rob Kolb (left) & Anthony Accardi (right)

Anthony and Rob have created a wide range of fantastic and unique beers during the past year. Here is their take on the beers that have been the most surprising:

W3 Hibiscus Wit with Orange Peel and Coriander took a long time to come together in a way that we liked. There was some acidity and tannic dryness in the young version that needed time to soften and come around. It did and was a beer that sold out very quickly. I think what is the most surprising aspect is always the temporal element to the beers we make. They are living beers, constantly changing, and it is interesting and fascinating to taste along its journey. There are notes and esters that slowly emerge and fade with time. I love that about our beer. They are not snapshots of a flavor, they are more like movies with a narrative.

Riding the G train back to Brooklyn, I sat and reflected on that last line for quite some time. “They are not snapshots of a flavor, they are more like movies with a narrative.” It occurred to me that this is exactly why I made a crosstown trek to Transmitter Brewing in the bitter cold. This is what compels me to meet random brewers, sometimes jumping on a train and often driving 300+ miles. It’s the artistry in creating something brand new and wonderful from disparate ingredients that fuels my quest to capture its beauty.

The Cistercian Monks of Ridgewood, Queens

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Co-owners Joe Figliolia and Dan Berkery have opened up something very unique in Ridgewood, Queens. Even with the numerous craft beer bars and gastropubs that have opened up recently in NYC, the monk is a standout in the fairly untouched Queens enclave. As the name suggests, the monk specializes in Trappist beer and other Belgian brews, with a small selection of local craft beer. Ridgewood’s craft beer scene leaves much to be desired, so the monk is a very welcome addition to the neighborhood.

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Why focus almost exclusively on Belgian beer? Besides the fact that Belgian beer is so damn good, there aren’t many bars that know how to curate their Belgian beers properly – They don’t know the history and cultural significance of these unique beers they are serving. The monk’s mission is to celebrate Trappist and Belgian beer in a welcoming environment. As founder Joe points out, “We don’t want people to be intimidated by the beer. It’s extremely satisfying when someone is initially unfamiliar with the beer but then becomes delighted when they discover and enjoy something new and different.” Spreading the gospel of great beer is a noble cause, indeed.

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For a primer on Trappist breweries, visit here. Some of Joe’s favorite Trappist beers are the extremely rare Westvleteren 12, which he had the pleasure of drinking on two occasions, and Westmalle Tripel, another classic of the style. The bar has all of the Trappist mainstays available, including Rochefort, Orval, Achel, and La Trappe. Other solid Belgian offerings include Saison Dupont, Gulden Draak, Duvel, La Chouffe, Corsendonk, and many others.

Definitely make it out to Ridgewood to visit the monk: 68-67 Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, Queens (M Train to Fresh Pond Road)

Deconstructing Budweiser’s “Brewed the Hard Way” Commercial

There has been a lot of talk about the second Budweiser commercial that debuted during Super Bowl 49. This is not the one featuring a cute little dog to sell beer – now it’s officially a dog and pony show. I’m referring to the one that explicitly takes aim at the craft beer movement in the United States. If you missed it, here it is: Brewed the Hard Way

For Anheuser Busch InBev to spend several million dollars (still a drop in the bucket) on an advertisement mocking craft beer, then the small guys are really starting to bother the macro beer giant. Of course, with the recent acquisition of Elysian by AB InBev, the entire commercial is a slap in the face to their new craft beer portfolio. Allow me to break down some of the main themes and images below…

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Running throughout the sixty second slot are sounds and images that are grounded in history, humility, and pride. We are “proudly a macro beer” flashes early on in the commercial. This is the beginning of the juxtaposition that follows, with good ol’ Bud being pit against the snobbery of craft beers and their drinkers. Budweiser is clearly a populist drink for the everyday person.

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One of my favorite lines is “It’s not brewed to be fussed over.” As my wife pointed out, isn’t this message already admitting Budweiser beer is of inferior quality? I get it, though – Budweiser makes beer for people who like to drink. Simple folks who just want to throw a few back and care less about intellectualizing what they are drinking. Why bother having a deeper appreciation for the appearance, aroma, body, and taste of a beer? Beer is not to be fussed over, just consumed mindlessly. A few seconds later, “Brewed for drinking, not dissecting” flashes across the screen. They are really driving home the message. Like many other things in life, ignorance is bliss. Just drink it; don’t think about it too much!

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Upon closer inspection, our beer connoisseur is actually a hipster. He had to have a handlebar mustache, didn’t he? Just perfect!

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The commercial is titled “Brewed the Hard Way” after all. What does that really mean? I’ve been told that it actually takes a lot of work to make macro beers taste so consistently bland and water-like. I can’t necessarily badmouth automated brewing, because some of the larger craft breweries can afford computer-driven brewing equipment, as well. However, if you have ever been to a brewery that makes less than 50,000 barrels a year, you’ve probably witnessed an operation that takes hard work, patience, and extreme attention to detail to run smoothly. (Not to take away from the larger craft breweries in any way.) This message is probably the most offensive, in my opinion, as it undermines the blood, sweat, and tears micro-brewers around the country devote to their craft.

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“Let them sip their Pumpkin Peach Ale.” Another classic line. If you didn’t think they are going after craft breweries and craft beer drinkers with this commercial, now there is no mistaking it. Twitter was filled with great commentary in response to this particular line…

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And lastly…

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At the very end of the commercial, when they really start playing the Budweiser classic/historical card, the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses break through a gate. Why is none other than Adolf Hitler and possibly a highly ranking SS officer riding high on top of the majestic horses? I understand invoking German symbolism and even the Reinheitsgebot to sell beers, but this Nazi imagery just has no place in a beer commercial of any kind. (I was threatened with a defamation lawsuit in the past – I am not being serious. However, I’m still disturbed by that image.)

It’s pretty clear that falling beer sales, a 4% drop since 2008, is causing macro beer companies to be worried. This hypocritical and asinine commercial is further proof that the rise in the craft beer movement, especially during the last five years, is becoming a serious threat to the two major macro beer companies, SabMiller and AB InBev. The craft beer industry will continue to experience surging growth as more and more people develop a beer consciousness, caring more about the quality and integrity of the beers they consume.

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