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.

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

Beer is Hopping on the Organic Bandwagon

As much as I hate to admit it, wine is not the only passion in my life. I know, I know, boo, hiss, all that. Please stop firing Champagne corks at me. Today I’m changing my moniker from Wine(Explorer) to Beer(Explorer)… but I’m not changing my logo. Forget that. That thing is set in stone.

The Back Story:

Our beer sampling today is from Peak Organic, a brewing company in the alcohol mecca known as Portland, Maine. Seeing as how I’m a fiend for IPAs (I’ve probably single-handedly paid an executive bonus or two at Dogfish Head), I decided to give theirs a try.

IPA, in case you’re not a craft beer kind of person, means India Pale Ale. Despite its name, it’s darker than the more wide-spread macro beers (Budweiser, Heineken, Corona, etc), usually some shade of amber, though deeper hues of red or brown are often present. The “pale”  originated from the pale malts used to brew this style of beer back in the 17th century, and the “India” is an homage to the East India Company who first spread it throughout the world. The brewing process usually gives it a more bitter and hoppy taste and a higher-than-average alcohol content. The most expensive and high-quality IPAs approach or even exceed 10% alcohol, making them an incredibly rich experience that also packs a punch.

Peak Organic’s IPA is brewed in a similar tradition, except they don’t use any traditional hops. Instead, they use a combination of Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops, all of which are specialties used to impart certain flavors to certain beers. Simcoe is a fantastic bittering hop that is often used in IPAs. Amarillo is a very aromatic and flavorful hop with fairly high acidity; use of this newer variety results in robust citrus and floral notes. Nugget hops is a hybridized variety that’s typically used in American lagers. Its flavors tend to be more herbal or spicy, and it also has a high acidity.**

**I didn’t know a lot of this hop knowledge, by the way. I definitely have to credit Brew Dudes for researching the hop varieties. There’s a wealth of beer knowledge over there that I will happily explore outside of this blog post.

As you may have gathered from the company name, Peak Organic specializes in organic beers. I’m just going to let them tell the story:

With roots in home brewing back in the 90s, brewer Jon Cadoux set about combining his love for beer with an ethic for sustainability. Whenever possible, he would go out and find ingredients from local organic farmers for his homebrews.  It was a defining day when Jon discovered that you don’t need to sacrifice flavor for sustainability, but that better ingredients actually made the beer more delicious.

Well done, Jon. Well done.

The Results:

The appearance of the beer was a deep gold with a healthy reddish-brown tint, a little paler than I prefer for an IPA, but that’s mostly because I like my beers dark. For an IPA, it’s at a very good level. It formed a thick, enduring head that lasted for several minutes, becoming denser rather than dissipating as it shrank. That is phenomenal head retention, helping to keep the aromas and flavors in the beer better than most.

The nose of the beer was very appealing. It had a strong bouquet of orange zest, fairly sweet, and an herbal undertone that suggests a crisp but not overpowering bitterness.

The mouth feel of the beer would best be described as luxurious. It was very smooth but tangy, with a nice bite that I could feel in my jaw.

The flavor of the beer was extraordinarily complex. It began with a burst of sweet citrus, both lime and grapefruit, more sour than the orange nose suggested. There was definitely a floral taste, though nothing in particular I could nail down. The flavor suggested to me the overall smell of a budding garden, a combination of similar, jostling scents that result in a recognizable but hard to pin down aroma. After the initial flavors faded, the bitterness came forward, accompanied by a vanilla mocha taste, much softer and tamer than the stark coffee flavors of darker ales. The beer had an incredibly long finish that to me tasted of autumn leaves.

For the Casual Drinker:

This beer is much more complex than the widespread lagers and pilsners of the world. Most people find IPAs off-putting if they’ve never had a darker beer. It’s not as light as American macrobrews, and it’s simultaneously more sour, bitter, and sweet, but it’s not as medicinal or spicy as European-style ales. As long as you’re expecting the bitterness and the change of flavor that occurs after the initial sip, you might find this an interesting beer, especially paired with a spicy or otherwise aggressively flavorful meal.

The Conclusion:

This is the first organic beer I believe I’ve ever had, and I’m very glad I decided on it. I think I’ll have to agree with Jon (the founder, in case you skipped the back story): natural ingredients lead to better brews. At $8.99 for a six-pack, it’s a fantastic craft beer for a very reasonable price. 8/10.

You can learn more about Peak Brewing Company and their other beers at their website, www.peakbrewing.com or on Twitter at @PeakBrewing.

This post written entirely to Bright Eyes. What, like you never experienced teenage angst?

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