Bier

Calling out Names: BierWax’s Beer Name Playlist Volume 1 (Monkish)

My first piece here remarked on the essential connection between hip hop and craft beer, and clearly, we are not the only ones who feel this way. One of the exciting developments that reinforces our belief that BierWax reflects the cultural zeitgeist is the emergence of so many beers with names inspired by hip hop. One of the breweries leading the way in this regard in Monkish, out in Torrance, California. 

With this trend in mind, here’s a quick feature and playlist covering beers brewed by Monkish (some in collaboration with Other Half) with names inspired by rap lyrics. 

 

2-1 & Lewis

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Nate Dogg & Warren G – Regulate

Lyric: “So I hooks a left, on 2-1 and Lewis. Some brothers shooting dice, so I said, let’s do this”

“Regulate” is a classic guilty pleasure that was either the most unlikely or likely hit off the Above the Rim soundtrack. 2-1 and Lewis is the intersection at which poor Warren G gets got after a whimsical decision to enter a dice game. Now, Warren should have known never to enter a hood dice game on a whim; it can only end poorly. Luckily, his ace, the G-Funkdafied Nate D-O-double-G was there to bail him out. What are the chances that you’re cruising down 2-1 & Lewis, strapped with “16 in the clip and one in the hole,” while your homie is getting robbed on the same block? …Probably about the same chances that some dude who goes solely by “Leon” can throw down reverse dunks like Dominique at the ’87 Dunk Contest and pull up from half court like Steph Curry at the Rucker – all in in god damn couduroys and a thermal! But, great art sometimes requires the suspension of disbelief. Still, “Regulate” goes down as the only hip hop hit, in which the protagonist gets jacked, but saved by a gun-toting crooner. In the words of a much better rapper, I’d say that’s Rather Unique.

 

Biggie, Biggie, Biggie

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Notorious B.I.G. – Hypnotize

Lyric: “Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can’t you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me”

Perhaps no hip hop artist was ever more capable of making hits for both the club and the streets, the radio and the Walkman, the stick-up kid and the nine-to-fiver, than the livest one from Bedford Stuyvesant. While “Hypnotize” is plenty guilty of ushering in the “shiny suit era” that dealt a major blow to boom bap, and largely shut the door on the golden era, it certainly gets people off their asses and can still turn a club out to this day. While it’s nowhere on my essential Biggie playlist, it’s an undisputed hit – so much so that it actually inspired a second Monkish beer, a standard IPA, entitled Days of Underoos.

 

Blowin’ up the Spot

Brewer: Monkish x Other Half

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Gangstarr – Blowin’ up the Spot

Lyric: “And you don’t wanna hear the burners go pop. Gangstarr, motherfucker, what?! Blowing up the Spot”

This is Monkish’s second collaboration with Other Half. Both titled after Gangstarr tracks, JFK 2 LAX (covered later in this entry) was the first collab. Driven by the success of the first collab, this beer was highly anticipated and drew quite long lines on release day. “Blowin’ up the Spot” was one of the standouts on Hard to Earn, which is one of several golden era classics from Gangstarr’s catalog. On this track, DJ Premier flips some funky George Clinton samples as Guru’s unmistakable voice and smooth cadence drops the lyrics, which are slightly more on the aggressive side, relative to Guru’s overall demeanor.

 

Bomb Atomically

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Wu Tang Clan – Triumph

Lyric: “I bomb atomically, Socrates philosophies and hypotheses can’t define how I be dropping these” (Inspectah Deck)

I first heard Deck spit this verse about a year prior to the release (promo or full) of this song, as he delivered it on the epic Tony Touch tape #50, which featured “freestyles” from 50 emcees. It got rewound several times on that tape (as did the Nine verse, in which he names checked tons of rappers), but when “Triumph” hit, it ascended the verse to a whole other level. The Wu Tang Forever album was quite possibly the most anticipated hip hop album of all time. It’s hard to conceptualize and compare pre-internet, but no hip hop artist or group was ever as big and omnipresent as Wu Tang Clan at their pinnacle. This is especially awe-inspiring given that there were tons of other incredibly dope artists in their primes at the same time. “Triumph” delivered on the hype and only further built expectations for the album. The premier of the “Triumph” video was like a national event; the video was the first rap video with a million-dollar budget. And, Deck led it off (as he did on “Protect Ya Neck”), spitting this verse while scaling a building. The verse inspiring this beer is the most memorable verse on hip hop’s most anticipated album, and one of the all-time best leadoff verses on a full-on posse track. …”Shackling the masses with drastic rap tactics; graphic displays melt the steel like blacksmiths” still gives me chills!

 

Eric C is President

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Eric B & Rakim – Eric B is President

Lyric: Title of song

There is simultaneously so much, yet not much to say here. Off possibly the most influential album in hip hop history, we have possibly the most influential song from the most influential emcee. You can barely go four bars anywhere in the song without a line that was subsequently scratched into a chorus, or referenced in a subsequent lyric, or song or album title. Eric B is on the cut, and Ra is on mic – really doesn’t get better than this!

 

Ghetto Style Proverbs

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Gangstarr feat Inspectah Deck – Above the Clouds

Lyric: “Heed the words. It’s like ghetto style proverbs. The righteous men sacrifice to get what they deserve.” (Guru)

An unexpected, yet welcome pairing, Guru and the Rebel INS trade verses over another Preemo masterpiece. I always thought Guru’s verse was extremely poetic – it’s not overly complex in lyric or flow, just well-composed and delivered, with each word carefully chosen. Deck follows in typical form, riding the beat with above average lyrical acumen, characteristics that make Deck well-suited for any and all guest features.

 

Intelligent Embellishment

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Blackstar – Re-Definition

Lyric: “Intelligent embellishment, follow the fire element from Flatbush settlement” (Mos Def)

It was very tempting to type out this entire verse. Though Mos Def’s peak as an emcee was somewhat short-lived, at his best he’s simply one of the most talented lyricists and performers to ever touch a microphone. This verse is a clinic on how to completely own the English language, as Mos finesses an educated form of braggadocio while modulating his voice and flow. This is on my short list of favorite Mos Def verses. Major props to Monkish for this one as well, because it’s a pretty deep and obscure reference.

 

JFK to LAX

Brewer: Monkish x Other Half

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Gangstarr – JFK to LAX

Lyric: “Nothing happened. Mind your business – yo, step. You know we connect – JFK to LAX:

Gangstarr’s Moment of Truth is a great album that is somewhat slept on. The duo is largely defined by a string of three albums that preceded this release, but it deserves the same reverence as the other classics in the catalog. “JFK 2 LAX” is a fairly short, chorus-less jam that showcases an essential, introspective and refined Guru over impeccable Preemo production. Few combos throughout hip hop history have ever delivered so reliably and consistently.

 

La Schmoove

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Fu-Schnickens – La Schmoove

Lyric: “La Schmoove! We ain’t got nothin’ to prove!”

Fu-Schnickens may be best known as the established group that basically launched Shaquille O’Neal’s rap career. They were also notably used as a de facto insult when Nas accused Jay-Z of emulating his style, claiming that prior his influence, Jay-Z “rapped like the Fu-Schnickens.” But, Fu-Schnickens had a short, yet relatively meteoric run in the early 90s, defined by their rapid fire, energetic flows. Along with “La Schmoove,” ‘What’s up Doc” (featuring Shaq), “True Fushnick,” and “Ring the Alarm” all made waves at time of release.

 

Relax your Mind

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: EPMD – You Gots to Chill

Lyric: “Relax your mind, let your conscience be free, and get down to the sounds of EPMD” (Erick Sermon)

EPMD is one of the greatest duos in hip hop history, and “You Gots to Chill” is one of their most classic jams, girded by one of the most recognizable and recycled samples/beats in the genre. I’ve always considered EPMD one of the best examples of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Neither Erick Sermon nor Parrish Smith are exceptionally talented emcees, and their efforts independent of the group are largely lackluster. However, the EPMD catalog contains multiple classic albums and many boom bap classics.

 

Sip the Juice

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Rakim – Juice (Know the Ledge)

Lyric: “Sip the juice, I got enough to go around. And, the thought takes place Uptown.”

The hood classic, Juice, was Tupac’s big screen breakout. The lead single off the Soundtrack was this banger from Rakim. Pretty impressive credentials, I’d say. “Deep Cover” is likely the most famous and celebrated hip hop track off a motion picture soundtrack, but this joint featuring the immortal Rakim, still in top form, has as good an argument as any for second place on that list.

 

Stampede the Globe

Brewer: Monkish

Variety: Imperial IPA

Beer Advocate review

Inspiration: Raekwon featuring Ghostface and Nas – Verbal Intercourse. 

Lyric: “Through the lights, cameras, action, glamour, glitter, and gold, I unfold a scroll. Plant seeds to stampede the globe.” (Nas)

Nas’s guest verse on Raekwon’s classic, Only Built for Cuban Linx, basically stole the show on the track, and is one of the standout verses on the entire album. Some might consider this Nas’s best guest appearance of his accomplished and prolific career. The period between Illmatic and It Was Written may be my personal favorite iteration of Nas. Die-hards will also recognize this verse from the once tough-to-find, unreleased track, “De Ja Vu” …I must have dubbed that track, along with some other Nas rarities, pre-internet, for more than two dozen people – because you know I was not actually lending out the original tape!

 

Have you had any of these gems from Monkish? If so, tell us which are your favorites. Next, we will feature some hip-hop inspired beer names from a selection of other breweries.

Labels

In explaining the concept of BierWax to friends, family, and colleagues, I often use the phrase “craft beer.” In fact, I’ve used it in previous posts here. But, what really is “craft beer?” How useful of a term is it? And, how should we describe our beer preferences?

When I first became aware of the wider world of beers with more complex flavors and a wider spectrum of taste and style, many of these products were referred to as “microbrews.” As I understand, that term fell out of usage because it was actually a legal term referring to breweries of a certain (rather small) size and many brewers of good beer grew out of that legal definition. So, our favorite microbreweries were no longer microbreweries. “Craft beer” emerged as the replacement term.

The Brewer’s Association defines a craft beer brewer as “small, independent, and traditional.” For their purposes, this definition is probably fine, but to me it doesn’t seem particularly helpful. For example, “small” is a relative term. As an example of the arbitrary nature of this definition, “small” currently means fewer than 6 million barrels, but this figure has been revised upwards as outfits like Boston Beer Company, better known as Sam Adams, outgrew previous caps.

By the industry definition, Sam Adams is craft beer. However, most of the community who identifies as “craft beer drinkers,” would scoff at the notion of Sam Adams as craft beer. In fact, this post was partially motivated by a sign I saw at a local corner store advertising “craft beer” and featuring a picture of several varieties of Sam Adams. At the same time, a brand like Ballast Point might be considered more accessible craft beer, but ever since it was acquired by Constellation, it is no longer independent, and therefore not craft. In addition to a proxy for good beer, some people value the distinction of craft as a way to feel like they are supporting smaller, independent businesses. With more and more mergers and acquisitions, this issue is becoming a bit tangled as well.

On the simple grounds of taste, there’s beer that fits our more practical definition of “craft” that isn’t so great. There’s also beer that we don’t consider when we think of “craft,” that’s can be adequate. So, we have a term that has a technical definition, which doesn’t really reflect its colloquial use and is generally of minimal help. So, why do we use it?

Pause for appreciation of this post’s namesake

It seems to me that the false precision of the term functions basically as a lexical crutch. Take the phrase, “craft beer revolution,” or “emergence of craft beer” – both of which I’ve probably written in previous posts. What’s the alternative? “Good beer revolution?” That seems highly subjective, so I’m not sure it’s preferable.

More serious craft beer drinkers seem to understand what is meant by the term when used in like company. So, one may argue that as long we understand one another, it doesn’t much matter if common use is somewhat at odds with formal definition. But, perhaps the opposite is actually true. Beer enthusiasts can just refer to products by their proper names when speaking among ourselves – we don’t need a catch-all, genre-encompassing term. Those who need to understand what we mean when we use the term are precisely those who are on the outside. And, as long as the rift exists, it’s kind of hard to blame your cousin who, when you visit, tells you, proudly, yet condescendingly, that he picked up some “craft beer” for you because he knows you “like that stuff,” only to reveal Sam Adams Cherry Wheat or something.

As a thought experiment, imagine your beer-naïve friend is getting supplies for a barbeque and asks you what kind of beer you want. How would you answer that question without appearing too high-maintenance? Replying, “craft beer,” you’re likely not to know what you will get. You might be best off either suggesting some actual brands, or varieties, “I like IPAs, especially black IPAs,” for example.

As we market BierWax, we will likely use the term “craft beer” as a shorthand, often for practical reasons. But, we’re eager to get down to the nitty gritty, select particular offerings and engage our friends and clientele to help learn exactly what you like and how we can both satisfy and expand your palettes.

 

36 Hours in LA: A BierWax Tale

It’s Thursday, and I’m already on a hastily put together overnight trip to Beacon. It’s dark, the road is narrow and winding, and we are trying to make up some of the time lost in traffic. In a moment of silence, I happen to glance at my Instagram feed and I’m reminded that Casa Agria Specialty Ales in California is releasing Guayaba de Oro bottles on Saturday. “Would you like to go to California tomorrow?”

NOTE: This is not necessarily a guide of what to do in Los Angeles, just what I happen to have done in the roughly 36 hours I was there.

El Albajeño – 4513 Inglewood BLVD , Culver City CA 90230

We arrived Saturday morning with no plans; just with the goal of making it to Oxnard, California. But first, we had to find food… We searched for best tacos and El Albajeño popped up. The place was relatively busy, with lots of locals. The menu was chock-full of Mexican dishes, but very few tacos. Once i got my food, I was immediately envious of the Menudo and the other soupy stews I saw at every-other table. I would come back to El Albajeño… just not for the tacos.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-1-00-43-pm

 

Casa Agria Specialty Ales – 701 N Del Norte Blvd #310, Oxnard, CA 93030 | https://casaagria.com

It’s my first time in LA, so we drive through Santa Monica and Malibu up the Pacific Coast Highway. The sun is shining and I’m overdressed. The scenery is beautiful yet oddly familiar; I have seen it plenty of times in movies and video games. I want to stop several times at the beaches and canyons, but there’s a schedule to keep.

Casa Agria is a “boutique Ventura County based brewery, focusing on mixed fermentation farmhouse style ales and barrel aged wild ales.” I first had their stuff at Hunahpu Day 2016 in Tampa, Florida, and Guayaba de Oro was one of the top beers I had that day, and a definite crowd pleaser. Based on that experience, I promised myself that if it was ever to be released I would make my way to California to get it.

When we arrived to the Casa Agria address just 15 minutes shy of the release time, we almost drove past it. Casa Agria is nestled in a nondescript industrial park; the bold gorgeous logo affixed to the front window of the suite, is the only visible cue that a brewery lives there. Waiting for the doors to open, I was somewhat surprised about the relatively small number of people that were in a loosely formed line. It is a small brewery, and it is Oxnard, but this stuff is good.

The line moves quickly, I get my bottles, and I remark that I came from NY to get these. That gets the attention of some of the staff including Ryan (one of the owners) that asks if I was the one that said that on social media. We chat for a second and he admits that he had thought to himself “Yeah Right” and yet there I was.

I’m determined to make my way through the entire tap list, starting with Guayaba de Oro itself. It’s more sour and a bit more unbalanced that I remember but no less great. Grisita and Eclipse Solaire impressed, but I was blown away by Western Glow, an IPA dry hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, and Columbus, that comes in at an ABV of 7.5%. It’s juicy, it’s tropical, resinous yet soft. I regret not bringing my growler, and now I have other reasons to come back besides the sours. If you’re in California, Casa Agria is worth traveling for!

09

 

The LINE Hotel – 3515 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010 | http://www.thelinehotel.com

We didn’t have sleeping accommodations, heck, we had booked the rental car while cruising at 39,000 feet. We had tried to book an AirBnB but, as expected, that didn’t work so well on last minute notice. The whole trip had been on a whim, so we ended up at the Line Hotel, in Koreatown/Downtown. The Line Hotel sits at the top of Travel + Leisure’s 13 sexiest hotel rooms in the world, and with good reason. It boasts poured concrete walls, floor to ceiling windows, and every room is artistically appointed. Opting in for the Hollywood Hills view may further cut into your beer budget (we did), but hey it’s LA.

As dusk settled, I finally gave in to jet-lag, and I went to sleep far too early for a person who is in LA for the first time, but I’m sure the clubs and bars did just fine without me.

 

El Huarachito – 3010 ½ N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA

Well rested but hungry, I suggested we have chilaquiles for breakfast, so off we went to northeast LA, to El Huarachito, another mom and pop operation. The chillaquiles were good, but the Huevos Divorciados blew me away. I had never heard of the dish, but now I’m and instant fan. The meal checks all the boxes; you get two eggs over easy, topped with chilaquiles one with salsa verde and one with salsa roja, and separated by refried beans, and bacon (upon seeing it you may even say, ah, I get name now!). When in LA go there, do it! And don’t forget to bring cash along with your appetite.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-2-42-44-pm

 

Monkish – 20311 S Western Ave, Torrance, CA 90501| www.monkishbrewing.com

The next stop was Monkish, and as luck would have it there was a can release on that day. I was really excited and couldn’t believe my timing; however, we got there only to find out it was sold out. There was no room for lament though. I did not go to LA to sit and wait in a line, so I did the next best thing and ordered one glass of each as they had them on tap. They both were slightly disappointing, only because they tasted a little green, and frankly because my comparisons are the superb JFK 2 LAX (collaboration with Other Half) and stuff like Dreaming of the Usual, and Swap Meets.

The brewery was crowded, and I was surprised at its relatively small size. The brewery is tucked in an industrial park and a small sign over the door displays the name and logo. The taproom itself was cozy with a high exposed ceiling. There isn’t much space in the taproom, but the brewery floor sports a much bigger seating area.

Steeping out of the taproom and onto the brewery, I see a guy babysitting his haul as he chats with a group of friends. He says hi, and comments that he remembers me from the prior day at Casa Agria. We chat for a bit and I tell him I’m from NY and I’m visiting. He then goes ahead and pulls down on a can of Foggier Window and hands it to me. I feel my jaw drop and my eyes widen (this is why I love beer people). I offer him my eternal appreciation, and I offer to buy him a beer. He declines the latter and I promise to ship him something from NY. (Note to self: I have to do that)

I’m surprised to find out that Monkish started as a brewery focused on Belgian styles, and that they had even (infamously) displayed a sign in the brewery that read NO IPA NO MSG until early this year, since I’ve only known them for their sought-after IPA can releases. It’s crazy to fathom how much of a following and success they have enjoyed for the short amount of time they have been brewing IPAs. To honor that tradition (and really because I didn’t want to walk away with just the one can) I bought a bottle of Knowledge and Peace, a rice saison i cant wait to try.

 

Smog City – 1901 Del Amo Blvd B, Torrance, CA 90501 | www.smogcitybrewing.com

There are a few more breweries a stone’s throw away from Monkish, but the one I was most interested in visiting was Smog City. Typical for the area, it’s another brewery that calls an industrial park home. Access to the brewery and taproom is through a huge roll-up door. The space start relatively narrow but opens up to a sizable seating area stacked with barrels.

I try to sample as wide a range as possible, and I end up with very varying styles. Unbeknownst to me, Smog City is well known for its use of coffee and its Coffee Porter is a great example of that. I highly recommend it if you like a hint of beer in your coffee. Bottom line, there’s tons to love here. Bourbon O.E. was great if a bit sweet and boozy; Cuddlebug took me by surprise, perfect prickly carbonation, tart/sour juicy berries, and easy drinking.

They have bottles to go, which I considered, but my next stop was The Bruery, and I had only 1 suitcase to contend with.

 

The Bruery –717 Dunn Way, Placentia, CA 92870| https://www.thebruery.com/

Before I knew anything about any west coast breweries, there was a name that always came up in conversation and online; The Bruery.

With their big bottle format, they have, in my mind, cemented an image of quality and class. With beers like So Happens its Tuesday and Reuze (just how do you pronounce this?) becoming more easy to find in NYC, this image is well supported. So needless to say, I was excited to finally visit them.

Located further out east in Placentia, CA, the ride provided some time in between breweries. This is a big brewery producing a huge amount of beer. The size and scope becomes evident as you enter the parking lot; all but one of the suites in the industrial park is taken up by The Bruery. Interestingly enough, they have recently split the operation into two; creating The Terraux brand in order to focus it on the production of sours.

The taproom is spacious and the tap list challengingly huge. As I strategize how to tackle it, there’s an announcement made that tours would start soon… and that beer, may or may not be served on this tour, so we decided to jump on it. The tour was led by Josh who was as funny as he was informative. There were only four of us total, so the tour beer stops meant we got large pours. I learned, I laughed and when I came out I needed to hydrate and reconsider the idea of hitting the tap-list.

If you’re in the area, The Bruery is not to to be missed. However, do come early, do the tour, and stay a while. There’s a huge tap list that’s sure to please.

 

El Farolito – 201 S Bradford Ave, Placentia, CA 92870| http://www.elfarolitomex.com/

After the tour we also found ourselves hungry. We had long decided we would only eat Mexican food on this trip, and the online search led us to El Farolito. This highly ranked restaurant boasts a great menu and a good family vibe. It’s definitely popular, and on peak times expect to wait in line. We had a flight to catch that night and so we took the food to go. We ended up with a Carnitas platter that we lovingly devoured back at The Bruery since we needed a place to sit, and we had to make sure we took some of those bottles home with us.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-3-19-52-pm


In California or the West Coast as a whole, San Diego gets a lot of love for their beer scene, and rightly so, some of those San Diego breweries have been pioneers in the craft beer movement, and the community is big and vibrant. However, LA is putting out really great stuff, and making a name of its own. My first time in LA was amazing, given the time spent there I did most of the things I wanted to do. I do wish I had visited Bottle Logic, and had a chance at the Monkish cans, as well as visiting/discovering some breweries and beer spots I hadn’t heard of, but there will definitely be a next time!

Broken Language

The “beer nerd” can be pretentious and annoying. Reading pedantic and bombastic beer reviews can be insufferable. But, the existence of this highfalutin drivel might actually serve a greater purpose.

Hip hop has grown to become the dominant global pop culture, yet despite the occasional Hamilton outlier, it remains relatively segregated to the artistic ghetto. Many still don’t consider rap to be “real music” and don’t see a lack of familiarity with even the most seminal artists as a cultural blind spot of note. Why is this?

I would argue that language itself is a significant factor in the gulf between hip hop’s cultural influence and artistic standing and acceptance. Specifically, the manner in which something is discussed greatly influences how it is perceived. Given the ubiquity of hip hop music and culture, there appears a relative dearth of scholarly, poetic, and critically analytical discourse surrounding it. There aren’t enough successful people in the mainstream speaking personally and passionately about the impact of hip hop in their lives.

While some of that kind of discussion can also ring a bit precious, it goes a long way to legitimize culture and art to the masses. We’ve seen this happen with previous generations of music, morphing from sex, drugs, and rock and roll to revered artistry, and birthing cultural touchpoints with which we are all supposed to be familiar. The evolution of the discourse around the music was a substantial driver of that transition.

Nowhere is the notion of language influencing perception more familiar than when it comes to food and drink. You can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a pureed nut spread with grape relish reduction on artisan brioche.

Food and drink is not only tasted, but experienced. So, the way a beer is represented is part of the priming of that experience. This is especially relevant for a restaurant or bar. Ideally, a description of a beer will communicate its vital stats as well as a bit of insight into its flavors in an accessible, descriptive, and succinct manner.

big_pun‘Language is fatal and it’s hypnotizing. I’m only emphasizing, I’m all about business and enterprising.” – Big Punisher

My last post touched on the fact that beer has remained in the alcoholic beverage underclass. The emergence and now unprecedented growth of the craft beer movement is a huge step in evolving the perception of beer, but the existence of these products is not enough on its own. Changing the discourse around beer is an important next step as well.

Have you ever been to a nice restaurant with an extensive wine list and asked your server about their beers, only to get a list of six generic, bland beers, five of which are the same varietal (usually lager)? Implicit in this kind of offering is the assumption that a beer is a beer. Some of the nerdy beer talk plays a role in forcing people to re-examine that naïve premise, which – in turn – leads to better and more diverse offerings for consumers.

So, when I read forced beer review that waxes poetic about notes of caramel, pure golden hues, aromatic complexity, and a crisp finish, I try to also keep in mind that if this was how we spoke about beer more broadly, it would be very rare to walk into a decent restaurant and be unable to get a good beer.

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.

img_4909

Vale?

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.

deduivel

3675667347_85c101c473

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.

Tokyo-Jazz-Blues-Soul-Vinyl-Bar

CCQS5SsUgAAV9Ck

FullSizeRender (1)

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!

photo 5             The_Complete_Joy_of_Homebrewing-Third-Edition

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.

photo 4           photo 1 (4)

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.
    photo 1 (3)               photo 2 (2)

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

_____________________________________________________________________________

(more…)

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.”

DSC_0736

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.” 

DSC_0743

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

DSC_0728

“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.”

DSC_0755

DSC_0718

“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.” 

DSC_0764 

DSC_0775

“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.” 

DSC_0772

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

DSC_0760

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.” 

DSC_0725

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

DSC_0722

“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.”

DSC_0770DSC_0723

“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.” 

DSC_0716

DSC_0690

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.” 

DSC_0678

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

DSC_0675

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.

DSC_0682    DSC_0711

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 10.09.20 AM

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/

DSC_0710    DSC_0713

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.

DSC_0702

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.