Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Forget Your Roots (part 2): How to win an argument and the Weyerbacher Brewery

My first college roommate, Ghostface Miller, was an interesting fellow. Technically, Charles the Chronic Masturbator was my first roommate but we didn’t make it through a semester together for obvious reasons. Ghostface was the kind of guy that was really into punk rock, had a bad-ass leather jacket, played drums, and was generally a lot of fun. Ghostface was also the kind of guy that regularly wore an olive green army surplus zip-up flight suit coverall (dare I call it a jumpsuit?). In fact, on his birthday one year I woke up to him wearing said flight suit and saluting himself in the mirror. Classic.

One morning Ghostface, the Bza, and myself are waking up after what was probably a long night of drinking. For some reason, on this particular morning, as we each lay in our respective bunks, Ghostface starts to talk to the Bza and I about weightlifting. Ghostface likes the weight machines while the Bza and I feel that free weights are better. Why this is our topic of conversation as we wake up - I have no idea. None of us were avid weightlifters. The closest I came to lifting weights in college was hooking up with a girl that was a bit on the heavy side. But for whatever reason, this rise-and-shine discussion turns into a heated argument. Well, as heated as an argument can get when everyone is laying down either looking at the ceiling or the bunk above them, which is in fact pretty darn heated.

Suddenly, Ghostface jumps out of the top bunk, wearing the flight suit, and points at the Bza and yells “Don’t forget you roots!” and storms out of the room. Silence. Argument over.

After a few minutes pass and we’re sure he’s not coming back to murder us, the Bza said, “Don’t forget your roots? Who says that?”

“When did he put that flight suit on?” I whispered in reply. “I don’t think he was wearing that last night.”

Moral of the story #1: To effectively end an argument you need 3 things: some sort of higher ground from which to jump down from, an army surplus flight suit, and a catchy phrase that doesn’t apply to the current argument but causes immediate introspection by all within earshot.

Moral of the story #2: Don’t forget your roots. This sticks with me to this day.

It is “Moral of the story #2” that led me to purchase a case Weyerbacher’s Big Beers a few months ago. I grew up in Easton; Weyerbacher is located in Easton; and so it seemed like the logical next step in my journey through the world of craft beer. The Big Beers sampler contains 4 beers that all come in at 8% ABV or higher. Initially, I was a bit intimidated and figured that I would be getting rather drunk. I also thought that perhaps I would lose some weight by drinking the higher ABV beers because, unlike Rolling Rock, I wouldn’t need to drink 12 of them to catch a buzz. Less beers equals less calories equals less poundage next time I step on the scale (please don’t ask how this weight loss plan is working out for me so far). Anyway, the Big Beers sampler, which I highly recommend, comes with the following:

Blithering Idiot 11.1% ABV: This a Barley Wine-Style ale, which made me not too excited about this one because I’m not a wine drinker. When I finally did build up the courage to try it I was pleasantly surprised. Nothing like a wine at all. Just beer here. Good beer. If your wife or girlfriend has to throw those silly wine and cheese parties, this will still fit right in - great with fine cheeses (and dancing, as brother Joe would say). It has a muted sweetness that develops. Overall, very smooth with a warm little bite, but barely any bitterness. It seems to have considerably less carbonation than other beers. Weyerbacher recommends to drink it from a snifter or wine glass but it is just fine out of the bottle. Usually, I pour it into a pilsner glass (there are probably some wine glasses in the house but I have no idea where Wife keeps them - perhaps I should check under the bed) and that does change the character a bit for the better I think.

Merry Monks 9.3%: Weyerbacher calls this a Belgian style Abby Tripel. Tripels are a style that followed from the Trappist breweries (of which there are only seven, more on that topic at a later date) and the Abbey style ales. Fruity, complex, and very yellow in color for all the flavor it packs, the Merry Monks is something special. This beer has some of the flavors you’d expect from a Belgian like cookies and bananas but with a bit of citrus and even creaminess. This beer has a lot going on. A definite must try. Although in terms of drinkability it may be difficult to get past two in a row. At least at first….

Old Heathen 8% ABV: This is Weyerbacher’s Imperial Stout. Roasty, silky, a little chocolately, with a slight booze bite. This is a good stout that I love having in my fridge.

Double Simcoe IPA 9.0% ABV: Obviously a Double IPA, so if your not into IPAs this probably isn’t for you. But if you are so inclined then this may just be the best IPA you’ve had in a long time. Hands down, this is the best double IPA I’ve had. And overall just an amazing beer. Like the Merry Monks, this has a lot happening - a clean sweetness up front, a nice malty ale in the middle, and then that kick at the end that cleans up. What I like about this beer is that the kick doesn’t build - in other words, it doesn’t leave an aftertaste that builds up - it comes, it goes, and then you take another taste to repeat the process. If my craft beer adventure ended today, as an IPA lover, this is the beer I would put at the top. Also, this won PA beer of the year (2006) from PA beer author Lew Bryson - he’s Philly local so he gets the nod here, check out his blog.

Some things I’ve learned from the Big Beers Sampler:

#1: DON’T drink the Merry Monks after you’ve been drinking the Double Simcoe, and probably vice versa. They are just too different and complex to be enjoyed one after the other. Technically, I had two Simcoe’s and then went for the Monk’s and just thought is was too sweet. I’ve had the Monks since then and now find it quite enjoyable

#2: DO mix the Simcoe and the Old Heathen for an amazing black and tan. I read this in some comment on the Weyerbacher site and it is my new favorite thing to do. Highly recommend this whether you like IPAs or not.

From here, the next logical step was to return to Easton for a trip to the Weyerbacher Brewery. This was suggested to me via the Beer on my Shirt… Facebook by my old friend Matt. Matt and I grew up together in the rural expanses outside of Easton, practically neighbors, brought together by a common love of baseball cards, comic books, flammable household chemicals, and Faith No More. As adults it turned out that we both loved Weyerbacher brews: Matt and the Merry Monks, me and the Double Simcoe IPA. So Wife and I met Matt there on a boiling summer Saturday for a tour of the brewery and many free tastes of their many beers.

Highlights from the brewery:

The tour was nice and short: basically walking past a couple tanks, a bottling line, and couple of more tanks. About 15 minutes total with all the pertinent info about their beer making process. Seeing the actual tanks that some of my favorite beers are made in was a nice experience and the vibe of the place was fun. Even though Weyerbacher is still a relatively small brewer in the craft beer world, it is hard to put into words the feeling associated with the idea that just 15 or so years ago this guy just made beer at his house and now look at all this. America.

Weyerbacher barrels about 6,800 barrels (31 gallons of beer per barrel) of beer each year, I think. I don’t remember the exact figures, but the guy taking us on the tour (I would say “tour guide” but it doesn’t quite fit the experience) mentioned that Troeg’s has a higher barrelage, and in comparison, Dogfish Head is over 100,000 barrels. I believe I also read that Sam Adams (Boston Brewing Co.) is over the 2 million barrels mark. Considering that Weyerbacher makes so many different beers, I found their barrel number surprisingly low.

And now the beers I sampled:

Verboten 5.9% ABV: This is another favorite of mine from Weyerbacher that I’ve had prior to my trip to the brewery. It’s a Belgian Pale Ale with a mild earthy hop bite and some fruity tastes as well. Very drinkable unless you hate anything with a taste of hops. I highly recommend it. I could drink this all day.

Hops Infusion 6.2% ABV: This is their year round IPA and it is delicious. Made with seven different types of hops, it has nice zesty crispness/bitterness as opposed to just a piney or earthy bitterness that some of the more popular IPA’s have. Very bright tasting and refreshing. I love this.

Juliet 8.5% ABV: From their Brewer Select Series, this is a once and done offering - once their out, it’s gone. The Juliet is considered an Altbier, which is basically an ale/lager hybrid that has characteristics of darker ale but with a lighter body. So it has copper color and some flavors associated with a heavier beer but is surprisingly light in feel. It has some hints, I stress hints, of earthy hop bitterness but with nice caramel tastes and some light fruit hints. Very easy to drink with the flavors associated with something more filling. It was great for the heat of summer and at 8.5% it packed a punch that most beers that go down this easy don’t have. It you see it grab as it probably won’t be around much longer.

Imperial Pumpkin Ale 8.0% ABV: This is a seasonal offering available around August every year. I do not like the taste of pumpkin. I don’t like the smell of pumpkin. I’ve never had pumpkin pie. I like to carve pumpkins and that’s about as far as I’ll go. Therefore, I did not like this.

QUAD 11.8%: Quad has won some major awards as it is the first Quadrupel style beer brewed commercially in the US. The Merry Monks is a Tripel and has a lot going on, so it follows that a quadrupel has even more complexity. Weyerbacher says that this is best enjoyed after it has aged for 12 months. I would be interested to try it after it has been aged. I don’t believe the tastes I had were aged and I know the bottles we brought home barely lasted 12 hours. True to the style this has a lot going on. It has a sweetness that combined with the carbonation reminds me of champagne. Wife loved it. It was a bit much for me wrap my head around but definitely something I would try again.

I may have also tasted the Autumnfest but can’t really remember for sure. Also, I had the Insanity (which I wrote about here) which is the Blithering Idiot aged in bourbon oak barrels. I lost my affinity for anything bourbon or whiskey many years ago so this was not for me. Overall, I would highly recommend that you try any Weyerbacher brew you get your hands on - I’ve only been drinking my way through the world of craft beers for a few months but I’m pretty sure Weyerbacher is something special.

A tape that changed my life.  I dubbed this from Matt when I was in 9th or 10th grade.  I copied over a Steve Vai tape.  This tape still blows my mind.

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  1. Charles was an amazing roommate dude. I mean simply the best. I forgot all about that. I do remember the salute in the mirror, it was his birthday too I believe. This post makes me laugh. Don't forget you roots!

  2. That is still one of my favorite albums. I had to repurchase it as an MP3 2 two years ago because I no longer have a tape deck in my car.

  3. Oh yeah, I'm still a big fan of flammable household chemicals (hence the book Backyard Ballistics on my shelf) and Mike Patton in general.