“This Thursday we are doing a blind dark beer tasting, come see if you can match the beer to the brewery. All participants will be entered to win brewery…”
Last night I attended a tapping of Mantra Artisan Ales. Mantra is the newest brewery in the Nashville area. I had the good fortune of speaking with Chad Frost, one of the two brewers at Mantra.
Chad has a quality background. Like me, he started in the IT world working with data analytics. As our conversation wound around, it became clear that he is a bit of a geek at heart. He intends to wire up their taproom so a tweet is automatically sent when they put a new beer on tap. He also wants a visual gauge so you can see how much beer is left in a keg.
He became a homebrewer and then interned at Cool Springs Brewery, the most creative of Nashville breweries. After his internship was over, he decided to get serious and ultimately ended up in Berlin for 6 months taking the Certified Brewmaster course at Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin (VLB) Berlin.
He had kept in touch with Derrick Morse under whom he had interned at Cool Springs. One thing leads to another and they decide to build a brewery and snatched up the old Turtle Anarchy location in Franklin as soon as it became available. Through a bit of serendipity, Derek met with Maneet Chauhan and Vivek Deora of the Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Those two were very interested in coming up with beer to pair with their Indian-inspired cuisine. Cool Springs even brewed their in-house beer for them. Through discussions, Maneet and Vivek were able to supply the missing capital to fully get the brewery off the ground.
And they are a very ambitious crew. Most breweries launch with 4 or 5 signature beers and build up from there. Not with Mantra. They are launching with 17 beers of varied styles, from Stouts to Sours.
Last night I had the Japa Chai Milk Stout which is pretty great. I will leave it to the words of others to describe this. One comment I heard was "it tastes like it has a hint of five spice". My palate isn't smart enough to know what five spice really tastes like. But Chad mentioned that they used a spice blend form a local company in the beer so that is probably what contributed to the beer flavor. He also mentioned that they brew a super concentrated chai tea which is added to the stout.
I also had their Belgian Amber. I'm not a huge fan of Belgian beer (or of ambers for that matter). But this had a unique enough taste so it wasn't sweet like so many ambers and it wasn't as fruity as most Belgians. This one met in the middle and worked really well. I also had their Saffron Cardamom ale a few weeks ago at the Tennessee Guild Fest event but I can't say that I remember it. Not their fault….so many beers to sample! But I will give it a full taste in the next few days and I'm sure that – like the other two I've had – it will be a really good beer.
Jackalope opened their tap room early last Friday for the relase of their Snowman Stout. Since I'd had enough of work, I bounced out early to give it a taste. The taproom was a little lightly attended but once the clock struck four, the place was hopping with hardly a seat to be found. While waiting for a buddy to arrive, I read the recent Beer Advocate managazine that featured Jackalope Co-founder and Brewmaster Bailey Spaulding. The beer went really well with reading. It didn't distract and opened up nicely as it warmed up. I was hoping for more of a cocoa flavor from this beer. But as I'm not a huge coffee fan, I was OK with the hints of mocha that didn't overpower. In general, I think the flavorings could have been turned up 10%. But as is it's a fine stout.
And if you didn't think a tapping brought peole out, then let me give you this completely factual and made up stout: At least 66% of the people at the event had a stout in their hands.
I skewed that stat down as my second beer was a barrel aged Bearwalker which was really good and reminded me that I need to go visit Jackalope more often. I was completely unaware of this Bearwalker variant being available.
I've been a long time fan of Bell's Two Hearted, a fantastic American IPA. Having moved to Nashville several years ago, my access to Bell's was limited to trips home where I would occasionally buy some and bootleg it back to Tennessee.
So I was really happy to hear a few months ago that Bell's was coming to Tennessee. And after months of waiting, the kegs were tapped and Nashville is now enjoying their wonderful beer.
I attended two events celebrating Bell's apperance in Nashville. The first was a 9-tap takeover at Hops and Crafts who not only served as many flavors of Bell's as they are legally allowed, they went one better and sold pints of Bell's for half off.
Half off beer?
Half off Bell's beer?
Oh hell yes!
I had three of the available nine on Teusday night:Midwestern Pale
Special Double Cream Stout
I really liked the Pale and the Stout. Maybe it's because I'm not in a Christmas mind-set yet but the Christmas Ale left me wanting. IT was also nice to see a huge turnout. IT had to be one of the busiest Tuesday nights in their history. They had to stay open well past their regular hours because of how many people were still there at closing time.
The serving size was half pints so when I say I drank all 6 available options then keep in mind that it only adds up to around 3 pints – though I had an extra serving of Two Hearted because yum!
Last night I had the following:Two Hearted American IPA
Roundhouse Red Imperial
I liked them all – barring the Oarsman as I am proudly on the anti-sour team. I'll drink a Berliner Weisse but please don't omit the Woodruff syrup. It's what makes that beer tolerable.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Amber. It wasn't as sweet as most ambers and had a nice grainy flavor to it. The Roundhouse was also notable.
With Bell's now firmly ensconced in Nashville, there is only one major brewery form my Indianapolis days that I still long for. It will be a long time before Three Floyd's sets up shop here. But until that day, the fine folks from Kalamazoo will ship their beer here and make my belly happy
I'm not sure why because I am amazing at everything else I do.
Having moved from a house into an apartment, I had a perfectly fine 5 gallon kit taunting me every time I went into my office. It was a mark of failure. My own little albatross.
A few weeks ago, for reasons I'll get into in a later post, I coerced my friend DJ to let me brew a batch at his house. Due more to his skill than my recipe, the beer turned out phenomenally well. Too well really.
That has inspired me to do some more homebrewing. But a 5 gallon batch is just impractical in an apartment. So I ordered a bunch of gear to be able to make 1 gallon batches. I hope that all shows up in the next day or so.
My hope is that I will brew much more than once every year or two. I think there are a lot of advantages to brewing nano-batches.
- It will be cheaper as there will be smaller amounts of ingredients needed to buy.
- It will be faster to brew as heating up and cooling down 1 gallon of water is much faster than 5 gallons of water.
- Because of the above 2, I will brew more often which will increase my skill to the point that one day I'll actually make a good batch on my own.
And because of all of this, I will eventually do a bunch of experimentation. It's in my nature. I cannot leave "well enough" alone. I must always tinker.
Which means I will produce some putrid batches.
But dumping 1 gallon down the drain will be much less traumatic than dumping 5 gallons.
So what happened to my gear? I met an amazing couple recently at Hops and Crafts. They were clearly beer geeks of the finest sort. She knew her hops. Like really well. Hand her a beer and she will tell you with a certain amount of accuracy what hops are in the beer.
I mean, I like my hops but damn! It's like a parlor trick.
This couple homebrews. I asked if they wanted most of my gear. They immediately said yes. So last week I drove way outside of Nashville to drop off the 5 gallon kit
That albatross is gone.
Now I am eagerly waiting for the rest of my 1 gallon kit to arrive. Please get here soon.
I need a new albatross.
A few weeks before July, my buddy Andrew pointed out that he was 25 unique beers ahead of me on Untappd. While I do a pretty good job of checking in the new beers I've tried, I rarely look up my friends profiles. I've got more important things to do. But this sounded like a challenge. So I bet Andrew that I would beat his number of unique check-ins by the end of the month. That is – assuming Andrew does not drink a beer the entire month – I will have to drink 25 new beers just to catch him.
And there is no way Andrew was going to take the month off.
So I knew I just dropped a sizable challenge but I knew 2 things going into this, one which Andrew knew and one which he did not.
1. I was attending a beer festival that he wasn't going to attend. And it was at the end of the month. So if I needed to make a late push, that would be the event to do it. I think checking in a sample of beer is cheap but we didn't establish a rule prohibiting this. Heck, we didn't establish any rules. This was honor code stuff.
2. I had already taken the last week of the month off. If necessary, I would just sit at home that whole week in my underwear crushing random bottles and cans all day until I had surpassed him.
And so the calendar turned and the month began. And as usual, I trotted over to Hops + Crafts to grab a beer or two that evening. Except it hit me when I went to order my first beer just exactly what I had gotten myself into:
Not only could I not drink my favorite beers for a month, I probably couldn't drink my favorite beer styles for a month.
I've already had about ever IPA, APA, PA, DIPA, etc. available in the Middle Tennessee area. And while I sure dig a whole range of styles, the Pale Ale family is my favorite.
So not only that first night at Hops + Crafts but throughout the month, I started going for beers that would be "good enough" to enjoy. I'm not a huge wheat/hefeweizen fan but I drank those. Summer isn't exactly my favorite time for Stouts and Porters. But drink those I did. Belgians? Not a big fan but I drank those. Heck, I think I even forced down some Blue Moon.
But I did get a reprieve from all of this "work" of drinking unique beer.
I caught Bronchitis.
And while I think some science regarding alcohol is whack, I did heed the advice to not have alcohol while on medication. Because what's worse than not having a beer? Having bronchitis any longer than you have to have it.
So while in the first 10 days I made up 5 beers on Andrew, I suddenly had to stop drinking. This was not a secret weapon in my challenge. This was trouble.
But I'm an optimist. I still had a week off of work and a beer fest.
And strangely, Andrew's lead during my 10 days or so of battling bronchitis only grew to about 30.
Towards the end of my bronchial battle, Andrew sent me a text.
"You just saving all your check ins for the 31st?"
While that would be an awesome strategy, the sad truth is that I had no check-ins for over a week. I had one whole beer in an 11 day period.
But Andrew suddenly got busy too. He had a bunch of work pile up and couldn't' just sit back and drink all day.
I finally kicked the bronchitis and I got back to the task at hand – not just catching up on the ground I had lost to Andrew but ultimately passing him. But now I only had about 10 days to do it instead of 30.
I also slightly changed my approach. It made ordering a beer more difficult but I was able to drink a lot more beers that I genuinely like.
For example, I was at Three Crow one evening. I took their beer menu and started verifying every beer on the menu against my Untappd check-ins. Son of a gun. I'd never checked in a Dale's Pale! Discovering that was like Christmas. Here is a great beer and now I get to enjoy one instead of having to settle for something not my style. So sure, it took 5 minutes everytime I had to order to figure out what my next beer was going to be but I was able to find some beers that I totally enjoy were still an available option. It's the little things that make life so sweet, right?
So let's just jump ahead to the end. How did I do and who won?
Technically, I lost. Andrew ended up about 5 beers ahead of me at the end of the month. I didn't check in a single beer at the beer fest. It's just feels like cheating to me.
Toward the end of my bronchitis I was about 30 beers behind and in the end I was only 5 back. I drank 25 more "new" beers that month than Andrew did. So I've got that going for me.
I met up with Andrew at the end of the month. He had the same complaint I did. "I can't drink any beer that I really enjoy. Towards the end this challenge quit being fun".
If you want to see where I am now, check out my Untappd profile at https://untappd.com/user/flinchbot
A few weeks ago, 4 of us took a beer tour through northern Indiana and Southern Michigan. We visited 8 breweries in 2 days: Mad Anthony's in Ft. Wayne, IN, Dark Horse in Marshall, MI, Bell's in Kalamazoo, MI, Founder's in Grand Rapids, MI, New Holland in Holland, MI, Shoreline in Michigan City, IN, Three Floyd's in Munster, IN (on Dark Lord Day) and finally Crown Brewing in Crown Point Indiana.
I brought my portable HD camera along and documented the event. I just got done cutting and editing it all together in a fairly snazzy video.