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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15 in 15: Fifteen Breweries to Watch in 2015

New York City is just not the same anymore. With landmarks like Bereket on East Houston, Gray’s Papaya, and Pearl Paint shutting its doors forever last year, the NYC I grew up in is quickly vanishing. Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York has a complete list of popular sites that are gone forever. The site is also known as the Book of Lamentations: a Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct. Let’s see what gets added to the 2015 list.  Oy vey!

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As comforting as it is to see a familiar NYC, a city I grew up in and ran through the streets as a teenager, I do welcome some change with open arms. The craft beer scene in NYC has exploded in the past two years. When I started writing about beer a couple of years ago, I couldn’t keep up with the new beer spots that were popping up across the city. Now some of these spots have already become legendary, attracting craft beer aficionados from across the globe. Just sit at the bar in Torst for two hours and you’ll likely run into a few tourists. The quality of New York beer can now rival the other great beer cities in the country (San Diego, Denver, and Portland to name a few). If you don’t think NYC is on the map with world-class breweries, you’re missing out on a lot of fantastic beer being brewed in the boroughs of the Big Apple. The fifteen breweries below are my picks for the New York breweries to keep a close eye on in 2015. I am eager to see what surprises they have in store this year.

Author’s Note: I have included a few breweries from Long Island and the Hudson Valley in my list of 15. They can all be reached from NYC via LIRR, MetroNorth, or automobile in an hour or less.

1. Barrier Brewing Company (Oceanside, Nassau County)

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As I write this, I’m thinking about the half growler of Barrier’s BBHCFM sitting in my fridge. The Black Double IPA was so good, I took a growler home from Hoptron Brewtique, something I rarely do. Barrier rarely disappoints me and I’ve had a lot of their beers over the past few years. Every time I visit the brewery, they have offerings I’ve never seen before. Barrier seems to churn out new stuff all the time and I don’t remember drinking a beer that I disliked. Brewers Craig and Evan have mastered such a wide range of styles, but they also devote ample time to crafting regular favorites such as the fantastic Money IPA. If Barrier was located closer to NYC, this self-distributing gem would be receiving even more attention.

Try: Dunegrass (DIPA), Daddy Warbucks (DIPA), or the two ridiculously good beers mentioned above

2. Bridge and Tunnel Brewery (Maspeth & Ridgewood, Queens)

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The future of Rich Castagna’s Bridge and Tunnel Brewery is bright. 2015 will be a defining year for the nano-brewery veteran who is in the process of setting up his larger brewing headquarters in Ridgewood, Queens. The new space will allow Rich to increase production by 500%. Yes, you read that right! From 50 to 300 gallon batches. He also has several new beers being released this year, including a Habañero IPA named Phoenix on Starr. (If you ever visit The Sampler in Bushwick, ask Rafael what the name stands for.) I’m super excited for increased capacity because Bridge and Tunnel beer will soon be in more bars, restaurants and beer shops in the NYC area very soon.

Try: My all time favorite brown ale is Tiger Eyes Hazelnut Brown. (I’m working on a longer feature, spotlighting Bridge and Tunnel’s upcoming releases. Try any of those, as well.)

3. Bronx Brewery (Boogie Down Bronx)

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I’ll be completely frank… I’m not the biggest fan of the Bronx Brewery. I’ve found their beers to be mediocre and I wasn’t happy about their contract brewing situation. (Until now, all of their beers have been brewed mainly in Wisconsin.) Contract brewing is a layered issue and has been debated within the craft beer community for quite some time. I appreciate Chris O’Leary’s balanced approach to contract brewing in his Brew York post. After visiting the recently-opened brewery and tasting room in the Bronx, I’ve had a slight change of heart. In the tasting room’s bathroom, “we made it” is stenciled into the wall. The brewery is a fine example of what determination, hard work, and some good luck can bring to those who dream big. It’s amazing to see Bronx Pale Ale being served at Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. I’m hopeful 2015 will be a watershed year for these guys who are now officially brewing beer in the Boogie Down.

Try: Head to the brewery/tasting room and try anything fresh from their recent Bronx batches.

4. Captain Lawrence (Elmsford, Westchester)

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Scott Vaccaro, founder and head brewer of Captain Lawrence, has been commanding a solid line-up for the past 10 years. Scott and his brewing team have a vast repertoire of brews, from award-winning sours to solid barrel-aged beers and plenty of crowd pleasers in between. An ideal reason to jump on the Metro-North, the Elmsford brewery is a quick ride from Grand Central Station.

Try: Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA or Cuvee De Castleton

5.  Finback Brewery (Glendale, Queens)

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Two years ago, I stumbled upon news of a new brewery opening up in Queens. I happily realized it would be located blocks away from our apartment in Glendale, a locale devoid of good beer. I kept a close eye on their progress and opening date, eventually getting in touch with founders/brewers Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee. I battled a cold and blustery winter’s night and rode over to get a tour of the brewery before it opened. (More on that visit here.) After a year of grinding and hustling, the hard work paid off. Finback recently released two bottled beers (Smoke Detection and the highly coveted Barrel-Aged BQE Imperial Stout). They also were recognized as the New York brewery of 2014 in the stellar Brew York site. Visit the brewery and bring a few friends.

Try: Moby Hop is excellent. Try to get your hands on the Barrel-Aged BQE. (It currently has a well-deserved 97 on Beer Advocate and is the highest-rated NYC beer on Untappd.)

6. Greenpoint Beer and Ale Company (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)

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Greenpoint Beer & Ale Company is the brewing arm of Ed Raven’s Dirck the Norseman, a fantastic restaurant and bar that opened in March 2014. Ed is no stranger to the Brooklyn craft beer scene. He also owns beer shop Brouwerij Lane and Raven Brands, a beer importing company. Brewers Chris Prout and Erik Olsen are cranking out some really great beer at the Greenpoint brewpub.

Try: For some smokey goodness try their Grodziskie.

7. Grimm Artisanal Ales (Brooklyn-based gypsy brewery)

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I don’t remember when I had my first Grimm Artisanal Ale. Honestly, it was the label that probably drew me in. Gretta Johnson is crafting some of the prettiest labels in the game right now. I had to snatch up a bottle on the strength of the artwork alone. Lauren and Joe Grimm brew test batches in their Gowanus apartment, eventually bringing their recipes and ingredients to partnering brewing facilities to make magic happen on a grander scale. The gypsy brewing duo recently earned a GABF silver medal for their Double Negative, a key win in the highly-contested Imperial Stout category. With the exception of Double Negative, their small-batches are intended to be one-off releases. What’s here today will certainly be gone tomorrow, so don’t hesitate to pick up a Grimm bomber if you see one at your local beer shop.

Try: Grab anything you can find!

8. Gun Hill Brewing Company (Williamsbridge, Bronx)

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I met Chris Sheehan, Gun Hill brewmaster, at a Manhattan bar while trying some of his beers for the first time. After chatting for a while about all things beer, he invited me up to the Bronx to visit the brand new brewery on Laconia Avenue. The tasting room just opened the week before and the first batches of beer were eagerly awaiting consumption. This is before Chris’ Void of Light won a Gold Medal at the 2014 GABF. We excitedly talked about Void of Light which was actually still in a fermentation vessel, unbeknownst of its future glory. I’m a big fan of Chris Sheehan’s beer and I know Gun Hill will continue to make noise in 2015.

Try: Of course, grab yourself a Void of Light Stout or try the solid Gun Hill IPA.

9.  Newburgh Brewing Company (Newburgh, Hudson Valley)

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The folks at Peekskill (below) advised me to check out Newburgh Brewing Company if I wanted to experience another superb Hudson Valley brewery while in the area. After returning to the area a few months later, we were able to spend some time with Christopher Basso, co-founder and brewmaster. He walked us through the immense space, a former paper-box factory, and talked about some of his upcoming special releases. Christopher, who spent time working under the renowned Garret Oliver at Brooklyn Brewery, is certainly carving out his own legacy with a phenomenal rotation of beers.

Try: Cream Ale or Hop Drop Double IPA

10.  Other Half Brewing Company (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn)

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The best India Pale Ales in New York are being made by Other Half Brewing Company. I don’t think this is a subjective statement. If there was a scientific way to prove this, my statement would be vindicated. Just look at Other Half’s Untappd or Beer Advocate scores if you need some sort of concrete data. The brewery and tasting room is open to the public from Thursday through Saturday. If you see any Other Half beers on tap around town, order one right away.

Try: Green Diamonds or All Green Everything (rated the number one beer in 2014 by the Village Voice)

11. Peekskill Brewery (Peekskill, Hudson Valley)

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I freaking love this place. Great food and really great beer = jump on the MetroNorth and spend an afternoon at this fantastic brewpub. I’m a big fan of their IPAs, but their Simple Sour was a game changer for me. After reading this New York Times article about Peekskill’s Simple Sour, I had a dream of enjoying sour beer. Prior to this dream, I was not a fan of the mouth-puckering variety. I was compelled to look for the nearest bar serving Simple Sour that same day and realized that my palate was forever changed (all thanks to a very random dream and Peekskill’s awesome Berliner Weisse).

Try: Simple Sour is a great sour/wild ale gateway beer. I love Eastern Standard (IPA) and Higher Standard (DIPA).

12.  Port Jeff Brewing Company (Port Jefferson, Suffolk County)

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After Blue Point Brewing Company was sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev, I’ve made a concerted effort to only support independent breweries in my new neighborhood. I do want to support local industry, and Blue Point provides local jobs, but I’d rather my dollars go to the smaller guys. One such “small guy” is this wonderful operation in Port Jefferson, Long Island. I had a few of their beers before, but gained a much deeper level of respect when I finally visited the brewery. I’ve had “try em all” flights on two separate occasions. Both tasting sessions left me with the impression that Port Jeff Brewing Company is certainly a force to be reckoned with on Long Island. Port Jefferson is a fantastic Long Island destination for a day trip or an overnight getaway. Don’t forget to add Port Jeff Brewing Company to your itinerary.

Try: Party Boat is their flagship beer and it’s a solid IPA. I really enjoyed their Porter which is available in 22oz bottles.

13. Singlecut Beersmiths (Astoria, Queens)

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I was born in Astoria, so I have a soft spot for Singlecut Beersmiths. On top of that, their tap handles are guitars. How cool is that? The beer, let’s talk about the beer! Singlecut has solid offerings that often go unrecognized. Their Billy IPAs are all excellent and so are their Bon Bon offerings. The brewery, although a trek from the subway, is an ideal beer destination if you haven’t visited yet.

Try: Michael Dark Lyric Lagrrr! (regular or rum barrel aged) or any of the aforementioned beers

14. Threes Brewing (Gowanus, Brooklyn)

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The most recent addition to the NYC craft brewery scene among this list, Threes is already bringing the heat.  Brewmaster Greg Doroski is serving up sought after saisons and a variety of other styles. Their farmhouse inspired ales are some of the best I’ve tried in recent memory. I highly recommend visiting Threes Brewing even if it’s just to see their multifaceted and simply gorgeous space.

Try: You can’t go wrong with either saison – Wandering Bine or Mechanical Spring

15. Transmitter Brewing (Long Island City, Queens)

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I must admit, I haven’t had a chance to try many of Transmitter Brewing’s beers yet. I do know that founders and brewers Rob Kolb and Anthony Accardi are onto something very special, poetic, and downright sublime. They focus on farmhouse style beers and offer their ales in beautifully designed bottles. Their Community Supported Brewery program ($175 + tax) gets you twelve bottles, two every month for six months to be picked up at the brewery. (After a recent visit to the brewery, I plan on completing a full feature very soon.)

Beer is much more than the sum of its parts. At its most pure form, it’s just four simple ingredients: hops, malt, water and yeast. It is only through the synergy of process and those basic building blocks that unique and interesting interpretations of beer styles are possible. Through the process of brewing, it is possible to make an infinite number of flavor combinations and styles. It is this endless creative possibility that fuels and flames our passion for fermenting beer. Our satisfaction comes from the combination of the basic understanding of the ingredients and their interactions and the “aha” moments of discovery of the synergy between them. – From the Transmitter website

Try: Anything you can get your hands on

SELECT SCENES FROM THE 15

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Threes Brewing: Baptism by Fire

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The buzz leading up to Threes’ opening night prompted me to miss my usual train back east and head to the brand new Gowanus brewery, bar and event space. As I walked into the the gorgeous venue, the welcoming char smell hit me right away. Were they already warming up their wood-fired oven? Was this the smokey magical scent of Rauchbier being made? I quickly learned that Threes had a fire the night before, which explained why they weren’t serving beer on draught twenty minutes after the official opening. This was not a small, grab the fire extinguisher and there you go fire. The FDNY sprinkled enough water to properly bless the brewery on the eve of its first day of business. Water everywhere, plenty of smoke, and opening day only a few hours away.

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Eager guests made their way to the bar hoping to try Threes beer, only to find out that none was available. Within an hour, one tap was operational. As I sipped on my first Threes Brewing beer, I felt a deep sense of admiration for the tenacity and determination of Threes’ staff. The fire was a setback, but didn’t derail opening night and the official unveiling of some really delicious and expertly crafted beers.

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I briefly met with Greg Doroski, head brewer of Threes, to offer my congratulations on a successful opening after an unexpectedly chaotic night. I believe in signs and this fire has to be a good omen for Threes Brewing. Greg, the former Greenport Harbor brewer, is super enthusiastic about his current line-up and the other beers being released in the coming weeks.

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Threes will be a multifaceted space: brewpub, bar, event space, and coffee shop. Join their mailing list to keep up with their special events and performances. http://threesbrewing.com/   

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My favorite beer writer Joshua Bernstein did a feature on Threes Brewing back in September. Check it out for further background info:

http://joshuambernstein.com/2014/09/04/introducing-brooklyns-threes-brewing/

If you do stop by, start with the Wandering Bine Saison.  It certainly is one of the finer Saisons I’ve had in a while.

Cheers,

BierWAX

The Indelible SP 1200 – An Annotated Bibliography

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I’ve been an MPC beat-maker for the past ten years, but always had fantasies of owning this bad-boy. This wonderful machine is responsible for much of the sound we associate with the “Golden Age” of hip hop.  Some of my favorite early 90s songs and albums were crafted using the SP 1200.  I’ve been digging around the Internet looking to see what else has been written about the iconic sampler and I found some great articles and blog posts.  Here are four worth checking out if you are a music fan or gear head.  (Just click on each title to make your way over to the article/blog.)

1. The Dirty Heartbeat of the Golden Age

First of all, I love the title.  This article, which appeared in the Village Voice seven years ago, features a notable cast of characters who speak about the importance of the SP 1200 in hip hop lore. Hank Shocklee and Pete Rock’s use of the SP 1200 is widely heralded, but it is Lord Finesse’s contributions to the article that tugged at my heartstrings:

Lord Finesse – They had me as a special guest on Stretch and Bobbito, one of the popular radio shows of the ’90s. I thought it would be slick if I brought my 1200 down. A lot of producers did total beats with their 1200, and I think I did two or three, and one specifically was when I chopped up Marvin Gaye‘s “Let’s Get It On.” I chopped all around his voice using the 1200 and put an instrumental in the back. I played it over the air, and me and KRS-One freestyled over it. It was real slick.

Luckily, I recently unearthed the exact Stretch and Bobbito moment Lord Finesse is referring to above.

2. The Sampleface Museum

The Sampleface Museum consists of a series of articles exploring the various iconic samplers, synthesizers and drum machines that served as the backbone of hip hop music.  Sampleface provides a concise history of the SP 1200 and has links to some great YouTube videos featuring Grap Luva working the SP.  The overall site is a really great concept –Sampleface is a blog showcasing the best sample-based music around, underground and mainstream, old and new, as well as classic albums of all genres, news, reviews and everything in between.  

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3. Should the E-MU SP-1200 Make a Comeback? 

Hey, it’s a fair question!  This article breaks down why the SP 1200 is such a popular sampler and explores what a modern day version of the SP could look like. The YouTube link perfectly captures the functionality and feel of the machine.

www.illmuzik.com is another great resource and community for novice and veteran beat makers.

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4.  Wax Poetics 

Here are the videos to accompany Wax Poetics’ “Analog Out” section of issue number 41.  From Pete Rock to Ski Beatz and a few other gems… Enjoy!

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The Top Beers Brewed in New York City: BierWAX Edition

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With all of the new breweries popping up in New York City, how can one figure out which breweries and beers are a cut above the rest?  Luckily, the blog brewyorknewyork.com made it easier for New York craft beer drinkers to see which breweries are churning out product of the highest quality. In their October 28, 2014 article titled “The Top Beers Brewed in New York City: Fall Edition,”  they used data from the popular craft beer app Untappd to rank the best beers and breweries in the Big Apple.

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Here is the methodology they used for their rankings:

We pulled the ratings for every beer brewed in New York City and their ratings. We also had a cutoff of minimum check-ins (100) for a beer in order for it to be included, so we could get a fair sample size. This means some smaller, newer breweries weren’t included, and only beers brewed in New York City by breweries that also brew outside (Brooklyn, Sixpoint, Bronx) were included. We also excluded one-off beers that are out of production or have been relatively inactive on Untappd for more than one year.

Breweries that have several beers on rotation with stellar ratings on Untappd found themselves at the top of the list. I wasn’t surprised by Other Half claiming the coveted number one position with their recent incredible releases such as Green Diamonds and All Green Everything. However, for Brooklyn Brewery to come in at number two makes me question the integrity of Untappd data and reminds me that the New York City craft beer scene has a long way to go.

Here is the Brew York breakdown by brewery:

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I wasn’t satisfied with this ranking at all. I trust Brew York’s methodology, but I don’t think Untappd as a craft beer community could provide reliable data. (More about that later.) What I decided to do is to use a similar methodology as Brew York, but substitute Beer Advocate for Untappd.  Here is what I uncovered.

Brewery Weighted Rating Beer Advocate Rating
Other Half Brewing Co. 93 98
Sixpoint Brewery 90 92
Singlecut Beersmiths 87 95
Brooklyn Brewery 87 87
Kelso 86 not rated

The weighted rating was based on each brewery’s five most rated beers on Beer Advocate. I calculated the weighted average of the five beers for each brewery. Some of my favorite new breweries in NYC didn’t make the cut, as they didn’t have nearly enough ratings. Finback, Transmitter, and Gun Hill do not have any beers that have been rated by at least 50 people on Beer Advocate. As you can see, Brooklyn Brewery is second to last using Beer Advocate data.

Here’s a comparison of the highest rated beers on Untappd and Beer Advocate. Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Ops is a great beer, but number one beer in NYC?  NO WAY!

Brew York’s List (based on Untappd)

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BierWAX’s list (based on Beer Advocate)

Brewery Beer Rating
Other Half All Green Everything 97
Other Half Green Diamonds 94
Other Half Citra 93
Other Half Hop Showers 93
Sixpoint Hi-Res 93
Singlecut Beersmiths Billy Full Stack DIPA 93
Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout 93
Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops 93
Kelso Industrial Pale Ale 93
Sixpoint Resin 92

I do have to give props to Untappd for their slick and easy to use app. Compared to the design of the BeerAdvocate app, stylistically Untappd is miles ahead. I am very interested in a demographic comparison between Untappd users versus Beer Advocate members. Which community is comprised of more seasoned craft beer drinkers as opposed to craft beer newbies? Indeed, this would impact the accuracy of the site’s beer ratings. My hunch, not grounded in data at all, is that Untappd has a large number of members who are fairly new to the craft beer scene. I’m all for an app that makes it easier for new craft beer drinkers to explore other beers, beer styles, and breweries. Untappd has done a great job building on the momentum of the exploding craft beer scene across the country.

Beer Advocate is not without its own flaws. The site as a whole tends to favor DIPAs, Imperial Stouts, and one-off beers that are almost impossible to find unless you wait on line for half a day. Very good lagers and other excellent lower ABV craft beers barely pass the high 80s grade on Beer Advocate, so no beer rating community is without its own idiosyncrasies.

I salute Brew York for doing this regular rundown of the best beers and breweries in NYC. I’m curious to see how things change by next season. I wonder if they would consider utilizing Beer Advocate and perhaps RateBeer in addition to Untappd for future editions of this NYC best-of list?

Addendum:  I have been in touch with Brew York via Twitter and they offered these comments with regard to why they feel Untappd is the better craft beer community to rely on for drinking data.  Read from bottom up!

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Thanks to the good folks at Brew York for offering their contrasting point of view.  Hey, I might even rejoin Untappd now!

The Arsonists (from the Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Radio Show Vaults)

More beer coming soon! I’m trying to set up a BierWAX visit to Other Half Brewing Company to get some behind the scenes shots. I’m also sitting on some photos from my trip up to Ithaca Beer Company over the summer. More music, for now. I’m having too much fun rediscovering these cassette tapes which have been sitting in shoeboxes for too long. Enjoy!

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The Arsonists 

Driving up to Binghamton, New York with a random assortment of emcees was an experience I’ll never forget. My brother from another mother Reals TCK ran a radio show up at Binghamton University called Tae Kwon Flows, named after a line from the Arsonists’ first single “The Session.” I helped him coordinate a hip hop show in Binghamton. I don’t remember if it was hosted by his show or one of the many student groups on campus. I do remember that I was asked to pick up the Arsonists somewhere in Manhattan and drive them up to Binghamton, a 4-hour drive. On a broke student budget, we had enough funds to rent a wreck. I think that’s what the car-rental company was actually called. I pulled up to the designated curb in a beat-up extra long van. The 4-hour drive was a blur of disses back and forth, D-Story and Kinetic clowning each other, and other shenanigans from the group of talented emcees who were trying to establish a name for themselves in the burgeoning independent hip hop scene of the late 1990s. The performance was filled with plenty of charisma and energy, as captured in the first appearance of the Arsonists on the DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Radio Show on 89Tek9 below.

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After releasing their LP, As the World Burns, the Arsonists shrunk in size from eight members to eventually three. The group quietly released another album in 2001 and continued to tour. A third LP was in the works, but never saw the light of day. Q-Unique, D-Stroy, Freestyle, Jise, and Swel continue to raise aloft the Arsonists’ banner, while focusing on their individual projects.

Sometimes you never know where you might bump into a former Arsonists member.  Here we are with Kinetic at the NYC Craft Beer Festival, a BierWAX moment for sure.

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