Beer Brewing, as Told by Mad Rocket Scientists

Back after a holiday hiatus, the blog is ready to jump right back into the wide world of alcohol, and what better way to do it than profiling a local brewery?

from right: Full Steam Founder Sean Lilly Wilson and Brewer "32" Chris Davis

Still very much a local brewing company, Full Steam offers their wares mostly within 50 miles of their Durham brewery. Their reputation is that of the mad scientists of the brewing world, experimenting with local ingredients to craft unique beers that take on the personality of the South. From their website:

Our mission is to craft a distinctly Southern beer style using local farmed goods, heirloom grains, and Southern botanicals. Like what, you wonder? We’re making beer with sweet potatoes, corn grits, summer basil, and malted barley house-smoked over hickory. Other successful “plow to pint” experiments to-date include beer brewed with scuppernong grapes, persimmon, paw paw, rhubarb and more.

Ultimately, our vision is to craft a year-round, sustainable, scalable, and distinctly Southern beer brewed 100% with local ingredients. That’s the quest. We’re a long ways from realizing this vision, but we hope you enjoy the adventure as much as we expect to.

I’d like to do a more in-depth profile of the brewery at a future point in time. For now, I want to share my first experience with this brewery, their Rocket Science IPA. Part of their Worker’s Compensation line meant for, in their words, “conversation, not introspection,” the IPA offers an easily enjoyable IPA experience for a variety of taste buds, not just the trained palate.

I picked up a half-gallon growler of their IPA for $10 at Weaver Street Market, our local organic co-op and the go-to market for local and organic craft beers. I wanted a beer to go with watching my Hokies play football, but we didn’t get to this one before the game was over.

That’s probably a good thing, as the bad loss would have diminished my enjoyment. Now that I’ve gotten to give it a try with a level head, I can safely say I’ll be purchasing many more of their beers in the near future.

Full Steam Rocket Science IPA

The beer has a fairly complex appearance, a base of light brown with golden-orange at the edge and a deep red hue in the middle of the glass. It forms a good, thick, long-lasting head that treats the aromas right without being something you have to chew through.

The nose consists of the usual IPA aromas: floral, orange, and light blueberry, all bolstered by a strong smoky, woody scent.

The beer is delightfully full-bodied, with a hefty, active mouthfeel. It has a fairly aggressive carbonation, but nothing too rough.

A bit of a departure from the standard IPA, the attack is smoky and woody with a generous flavor of minerals, overwhelming the bitterness of the hops from the outset. Once the smokiness fades away, the bitterness takes center stage with a brisk, tart orange flavor. There is a slight metallic tinge on the finish, which otherwise tastes of lavender and orange peel.

This is a great beer to pair with a heftier meal. I’d certainly put it up against red meat or a medium level of spice in wings, ribs, or barbecue. It’s not as intense as some IPAs, so keep the spicy to a reasonable level. It’s definitely built to tackle the best your tailgate has to offer. 7/10

Beer: Rocket Science IPA

Producer: Fullsteam Brewery

Region: North Carolina, USA

Hops: Centennial, Amarillo

Alcohol: 6.5%

Price: $8.99 for a half-gallon growler

Full Steam can be found on Twitter at @fullsteam, and you can learn more about the brewery and their events or contact them at their website.

A Man’s First Love with Belgian Ale: Delirium Tremens

The Back Story:

Delirium Tremens Pour at Wine(Explored)

Delirium Tremens, the family-brewed 500 pound gorilla in the world of Belgian Ale

If you’ve been following my beer reviews for any length of time, you’ll know that I have two great loves in my beer life: India Pale Ales and Belgian Ales. For the latter, I came into this infatuation a little over a year ago, experiencing my first great Belgian Ale at a local bar called Milltown in Carrboro. Though, right now they’re on my s#!& list for removing the Duchesse de Bourgogne (a Flemish Red staple) from their menu, they’re still the best place to get upper-end craft beer in the Triangle.

At least, they are since Hookah Bliss was closed by the new North Carolina tobacco ban. </bitter>

A reasonably-priced bar is a fantastic place to experiment with new beers and wines, and if you give this guy the opportunity, he’ll make sure to sample as many new beverages as possible while still being able to stay upright. This is dangerous in a bar with a tome-sized beer and wine list, by the way.

As for the beer? The Huyghe Brewery might be accused of insensitivity because of the name of their beer; delerium tremens is a medical term for severe alcohol withdrawal in which a patient who had previously consumed several pints of beer, or roughly a pint of hard liquor, a day for months begins experiencing a mental and physical meltdown (what alcoholics refer to as the DTs).

Symptoms include an enormous variety of mental disorders, from insomnia, stupor, mental fatigue, or mood swings to delirium, hallucinations, and phobia. Physical symptoms include fever, jumpiness, heart palpitations, seizures, and vomiting.

Sounds like a trip, right?

So of course, this family-owned brewery decided that this would be the perfect name for a high abv beer. The label is adorned with pink elephants, that mainstay of alcoholic lore that found its way into children’s cartoons back in the 50s and 60s, as well as other fantastical creatures one might see in a fear-induced hallucination. The bottle, an opaque stoneware style, makes everything come together in a package that’s just slightly off… obviously, off-kilter is the theme for this beer named after a mental disorder.

The Results:

Delirium Tremens Translucency

A better look at the translucency of Delirium Tremens (with Sunday Night Football in the background)

The appearance of the beer is a very light yellowish-amber. Carbonation is medium-fine and very active. Head retention is fantastic, offering a milky-white head just stable enough to trap flavors and aromas for several minutes without being a syrupy, frothy mess.

The nose of the beer is very light and hoppy, slightly nutty, with a bright, fruity scent of orchard fruits and tangerines. Very aromatic and full scent.

The mouth feel of the beer is very full, very smooth, with a very subtle carbonation and a slightly astringent quality.

The flavor of the beer has a jam-like sweetness and grassiness, an influence of very subtle malts. The flavor is a bit medicinal, with a green-apple-like component and a slight orange hoppiness. The medicinal flavors give way to a metallic tinge that becomes more metallic towards the finish, which is lightly grainy. The alcohol, at 8.5%, is essentially undetectable (in the flavor, not in the head… I finished this one glass and I was all sorts of buzzed).

For the Casual Drinker:

There’s nothing casual about this beer. It packs a phenomenal flavor into a beer that doesn’t look all that dissimilar from your Bud Lights and Miller Lites of the world. It’s not off-putting, however, as it offers very wine-like purity of flavor intermingled with the typical desirable beer qualities. It’s all a matter of investment at this point… do you feel that it’s worth $4.50 for an 11.2 oz bottle (and much more out at the bar)? Also, make sure you understand this beer packs a punch, at 8.5% abv. I’d also recommend pouring it into a tulip-shaped glass if available; a wine glass will do in a pinch, though a traditional Belgian ale glass would be ideal.

The Conclusion:

The price of a 4-pack, $17.99, puts this in the upper echelon of wide-spread craft beers, and it’s a good thing that the beer delivers. This is fine example of a Belgian Ale, and it’ll definitely be worth the occasional treat. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Delirium Tremens

Producer: Huyghe Brewery

Region: Melle, Flanders, Belgium

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 8.5%

Price: $4.50 for 11.2oz

Purchased at: Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough, NC

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 5: South Carolina

The Back Story:

The South Carolina’s Brewer’s Association is my kind of people. Representing a quickly rising beer region, their website exudes a folksiness and almost wide-eyed awe at the growth potential of craft brewers in the state. To give you an idea of how new they are to the area, here’s an excerpt from their “About Us” section:

The SCBA originally began as Pop the Cap SC in 2005. Our mission at that point was to raise the allowable alcohol content in beer from 5% abw. That goal was achieved in 2007 with the help of the SC Beer Wholesalers, Total Wine and the overwhelming support of craft beer advocates. We believe that South Carolina will greatly benefit from enhanced beer laws in the form of employment, increased tax revenue and pleasing a large number of citizens who have a increasingly growing interest in craft beer.

What speaks volumes about their dedication is, unlike some other brewer’s association sites which seem to exist solely to hype all their members whether merited or not, this relatively small collection of brewers immediately took the fight to the legislature; their most recent project, H. 4572, just passed a few months ago: “Monday at 3pm, it will be official. Retail tastings/tours/sales at breweries and tastings at retail stores. YeeHaw.”

Yes… we can’t forget the YeeHaw.

One of the leading breweries in South Carolina, Thomas Creek Brewery states very plainly their dedication to the principles of craft beer:

All of the beer styles at Thomas Creek are artfully crafted in small batches, ranging from 3.5 Barrels to 60 Barrels at a time. We use only the choicest harvest of barley and grains from across the country, the freshest hops money can buy, and propagate signature yeast strains common only to our beers.

ABS Pumpkin Lager

Lager bottom fermenting, demo from the Appalachian Brewing Society

Of course, whether or not those principles are actually adhered to can be detected in the glass. Today’s beer will be the Doppelbock Lager, a decidedly different sort of lager. One thing you might be interested to know is that up until the middle of the 19th century, pretty much any lager you could find would be dark. The current pale style that dominates the market didn’t come about until German brewers began experimenting with brewing pale ales in the lager style.

What is the “lager style,” exactly? Lager, from the German word for storage, involves a much slower, much colder brewing process that incorporates slow, bottom-fermenting yeast. Contrast this with ales, which are generally top-fermented with yeast that ferments more quickly and at higher temperatures. Indeed, the terms “lager” and “ale” have absolutely no designation whatsoever on the body, depth, color, or flavor of the beer itself.

Let’s go to the board:

The Results:

Thomas Creek Deep Water Doppelbock LagerThe appearance of the beer is almost completely opaque, slightly cloudy, with a reddish brown translucency. The carbonation is very fine, though the head retention is fairly weak, completely dissipating in under a minute.

The nose of the beer is very dark, with a strong Hershey’s syrup scent mixed with a bit of black coffee, sweet malt, and fairly prominent hops.

The mouthfeel is full-bodied, a bit harsh, with a creamy texture that gives way to a very pleasant tanginess. The carbonation remains active without frothing up your mouth.

The flavor of the beer mimics the nose. There’s a distinct chocolate and espresso component, buoyed by a very pleasant malt and hops backbone. A slight nuttiness accompanies the mid-palate, and the finish has just a hint of a metallic undertone.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a classic test of your beer preferences. If you don’t like dark beers, stay away, as this will be bodied similar to a black ale. If you do like dark beers, the chocolate and coffee flavors will most likely please.

The Conclusion:

This was a pleasant surprise for my first beer from South Carolina. I am, of course, a fan of my dark beers, and this one didn’t disappoint. For the price, this is a phenomenal deal. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Deep Water Doppelbock Lager

Producer: Thomas Creek Brewery

Region: Greenville, South Carolina

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 6.25%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.80 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 4: North Carolina

As I was working my way through college, I held a multitude of jobs. I worked in retail, in restaurants, in a warehouse, in construction, in an engineering firm… a variety of fun and interesting places. My favorite spot, though, was a 6 month stint at a  now defunct North Carolina sports bar called Overtime. With a variety of local beers bottled and on tap, I should have been in a North Carolina beer lover’s mecca. Unfortunately, I was barely 21 at that point, still embracing my college tastes, and it took me months to even branch out from my macrobrew lager fare.

To be honest, I swore up and down that I despised dark beer. I thought it was ludicrous that people would drink a high calorie brew that tasted like liquid bread… getting drunk shouldn’t be so suffocatingly thick! On one of my off nights, I decided to head into work and get a beer while I did some reading for next semester’s class. I decided to give one of the non-cheap beers a try, and went with a Natty Greene’s Guilford Golden Ale, a Raleigh, North Carolina brew.

I was blown away! So that’s what I was missing! A beautiful nuttiness, very pure, with a pleasant hop flavor that was neither skunky nor watery. From then on out, I was willing to try any beer in the bar. My first experience with the Highland Brewing Company, out of Asheville, North Carolina, came from that revelation. Though Overtime didn’t carry the Gaelic Ale, their most widespread brew, they did carry the Oatmeal Stout. It was the first dark beer that I could quaff with a smile, and it changed my opinion on everything. It may or may not make a difference in your mind, but I now have an Asheville Brewers Alliance bumper sticker on my car.

On a side note, there’s The Great North Carolina Beer Festival coming up on August 28th, in Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, North Carolina (thanks to Jean at NCVine for the heads up!).

Enter the Kashmir IPA: Named after the hotly contested region between India and Pakistan, this beer is brewed with a large variety of hops, a couple of which I’d never even heard of before: Stryian Goldings, Mt. Hood, Fuggles, Magnum, and Willamette. What’s the connection to Kashmir? Kashmir is technically in India, and Kashmir is technically an IPA. I say this because if someone put this beer under your nose in a blind smell test, you might decide it’s something slightly different…

The Results:

Highland Brewing Company Kashmir IPAThe appearance of the beer is a very pure, very clear gold. Carbonation is aggressive with medium-sized bubbles, and head retention is fairly weak, with the head dissipating in less than a minute.

The nose of the beer is a bit weaker than a typical IPA. In fact, the initial bready and nutty aromas make it smell much more like a Pilsner. As the beer develops its aromas, it begins to resemble its style, displaying heavy notes of pineapple, buttered biscuit, and almond as well as a very light, lightly acrid hops smell.

The mouthfeel of the beer is a bit thin, with a lightly tangy activity. The carbonation foams and dissipates easily.

The flavor of the IPA is also slightly weak. The initial flavor is very lightly malty and metallic, with the metallic flavor coming forward more after the attack, joining a slightly yeasty note. The finish consists of mandarin orange with a slight bitterness.

For the Casual Drinker:

Like the last IPA I reviewed, this is a beer with a little more heft than the average beer drinker is used to. Unlike the last one, however, this IPA isn’t nearly as strong, making it qualify more as entry level fare. The flavors are fairly typical for an IPA, just more subdued, making it a good choice for getting your palate ready for heavier beers.

The Conclusion:

Though I didn’t paint an especially flattering picture of this beer above, make no mistake: it’s a very good beer, a serviceable IPA, and a worthy investment of under $2.00 per 12 oz bottle. 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Kashmir IPA

Producer: Highland Brewing Company

Region: Asheville, North Carolina

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 5.6%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.75 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, NC, also available online at Bruisin Ales

The Great Beer Experiment Part 3: Colorado

The Back Story:

Colorado, most famous for brewing the beer that tastes as cold as the Rockies exactly the same as every other U.S. macrobrew, is perhaps at the forefront of U.S. craft beer brewing. Looking through the list of brewers in Colorado, you might recognize many award-winning and nationally-distributed brands that have found their way into your grocery store or wine shop. New Belgium, Oskar Blues and of course Great Divide are just a few that I’ve seen in several shops in my neck of the woods.

Great Divide is one that won my heart after I tasted their Espresso Yeti. The world has seen numerous infused beers before, what with the chocolate stouts, espresso amber ales, and framboise lambics of the world, yet few of such beers that I’ve tried have attained a synergy in their flavor quite like the Yeti. The attention to detail and patience in the brewing pays off with a flawless transition from beer to coffee flavors, and ever since experiencing that, I’ve been itching to try more.

When I was browsing the beer selection at A Southern Season, a gourmet shop here in the Triangle, I came across a few of Great Divide’s product that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Anyone who has been reading my blog for awhile knows that I’m a fiend for IPAs, and when I noticed that Great Divide’s Titan IPA was on the shelf, I just had to add it to the week’s beer schedule. It’s actually a struggle to only choose one beer to represent Colorado for this post, as I have several favorites among these breweries. Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues, the best beer I’ve ever had from a can, was a strong contender, as were several of New Belgium’s products. Of course, I CAN always review those later…

The Results:

Great Divide Titan IPA bottle and pourThe appearance of the beer is a deep gold with a slight amber tint. Head retention is impressive though still a bit short. The beer is also slightly cloudy, with some kind of large sediment suspended, and a very fine carbonation.

The nose of the beer is a classic IPA with bitter, hoppy notes, orange zest, and a sweet maltiness. It also has a slight metallic undertone.

The mouthfeel of the beer is fairly full-bodied, almost syrupy, with a consistency of frothed milk. The acidity is tangy and persisting.

The flavor of the beer is very full and very strong, with an immediate, malty attack and citrus and grassy components. As the flavors fade, the hoppiness comes forward, contributing a pleasant bitterness that coexists with the malty sweetness very well, lending almost a sweet-sour candy kind of quality to it. The finish is a nice blend of bitter hops, sweet malts, and a hint of copper. All in all, this was a very impressively flavored offering.

This beer went especially well with a steak-and-cheddar sandwich. It pretty much calls for a flavorful, big meal to fully compete with its heft.

For the Casual Consumer:

This is a nice, strong, full beer, not especially suited to the beginner’s palate. It has a very delicious, very pure flavor, but getting past the body is key. As long as you’re prepared for the IPA experience, you’re in for a real treat. Just make sure you don’t take too long to savor it… the shorter head retention means the flavors and carbonation will start to deteriorate after several minutes.

The Conclusion:

For a midpriced craft beer, this is a phenomenal option. As long as you can get past the aesthetics, which are a bit unnerving with the very visible sediment, you will appreciate the beautiful, full flavor. Priced at about $2 per bottle or $10 per six-pack, you’ll get your money’s worth and quite a bit more. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Titan IPA

Producer: Great Divide Brewing

Region: Denver, Colorado

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 7.1%

pH: unknown

Price: $2 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, NC

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