Friday, February 27, 2015

Brewery of the Month - Three Palms Brewing

What factors are involved that creates a great brewery visit?  The beer? DUH, of course, but that is only part of the equation.  There are a few breweries in town that we have visited that produce outstanding beers, but the staffers are either incompetent twits or condescending asses.  We don't go to these any more.  There are other breweries that we have visited that have great facilities and servers but have *meh* beers.  We don't return here either.  So what makes a great brewery visit?  Believe it or not, we have codified the equation:

1.  Great beers - Check
2.  Great facilities - Check
3.  Knowledgeable and personable staff - Check

Three Palms brewing in far east Tampa (close to the county jail ... a bit too close for comfort after packing in a couple of high gravity brews) is a tiny brewery founded by Randy and Danelle Reaver and is in a very real sense, a labor of the love of beer.  It is located in a delightful neighborhood (that is a lie) that is easy to find (also a lie) with clear easy to read signage (again, a lie).  The trek past the jail and through the sketchy neighborhood landed us in a very pleasant space located in a tidy little business park.  A truism for most fledgling breweries is that they are usually located where the rents are affordable.  My guess is that the rents here are very affordable.  Danelle was working the taps on this lovely Saturday afternoon and has studied and mastered customer service.  She answered all of our inane questions without a hint of condescension.  The atmosphere in the tasting room was quite relaxed and laid back.

The beers?  You want to know about the beers?  All right, all right .... cool your jets.  On this day we tried several monster beers and all that we tried were done very well:

1. Coconut Vanilla Stout - 8% ABV.  Have you ever tried the Maui Brewing Coconut Stout?  Were you able to taste coconut?  Neither did we.  This is a dandy desert beer that definitely tastes of vanilla and coconut.  Do I also taste a hint of chocolate malts?  Actually, drop a dollop of ice cream in there and your desert is made.

2. Caramel Apple Stout - 8% ABV.  We didn't really taste any apple, but holy hell the caramel really jumps out at you.  Again, quite sweet and would make a great desert beer.

3. Sir Albert's Barrel Aged Double Stout Nitro - 9.5% ABV.  Warning!  Malt Bomb!  The whiskey is so far in the background as to be unnoticeable, or at least very slightly noticeable.  But even without the whiskey this is a smooth, easy drinking malty stout guaranteed to make you shit faced in no time.

4. Viscous Vlad Smoked Rye Russian Imperial Stout - 9.5% ABV.  Our opinion is that due to the huge rye signature, this brew is really more of a porter than a stout.  Viscous?  Mother Goose this stuff is so thick that you can chew it.  It is very complex with a burnt sugar character that makes it super interesting and with a loooooooong aftertaste.

5.Smoked Pepper Kumquat Ale - 7% ABV.  Do what now?  Ghost peppers?  Kumquats?  What the hell is a Kumquat?  This is one of the most interesting beers that we have tried in a long time.  Sweet up front with a citrus signature, followed by a smoky hint and ending with a great pepper burn.  What makes this one great is that the brewer, Randy, was able to take TWO very intense ingredients and blend them so that neither overpowered the other.  Kumquats are brutally sour with face imploding intensity and ghost peppers and so intensely hot that you will feel the burn on your O ring for days after eating them.  This beer is neither too sour not too hot to enjoy and I applaud their masterful inclusion.

Worth the drive to Brandon (almost)?  Hell yes.  Will we return?  Again, yes.  Should you go?  A resounding yes, and we will see you there.

Three Palms Brewing
1509 Hobbs Street (look for the handpainted street sign).
Tampa, FL 33619

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Official Beer of Winter - Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - 5.1% ABV

We are often asked what are our favorite beers, which is an impossible question to answer.  Our typical answer is 'the one that I am drinking now'.  Yes, it's a bullshit answer, but that is only because it is a bullshit question. The real answer is that we have many different favorite beers, and the situation determines which beer we will be enjoying.  So perhaps trying to pick a favorite winter beer is also a lesson in frustration .... or maybe not.

Winter warmer?  Thick, rich, malty and usually very high alcohol content.  Yes, very good choice, but after one beer it's bed time.  Christmas beers?  Spicy, rich, flavorful and again, one and done.  Dopplebock?  Winter whites?  Porters?  They seem to always follow along the same path of high alcohol and intense flavors which are just fine if you like sipping or staggering.  But a great beer is one that you may enjoy again and again, and perhaps having more than one in an evening which is not possible for the great majority of winter beers, but there is one that is a bit different, and available year around.

Braurie Schlenkerla was first mentioned in 1405 and was said to have been around for many years before ... making it one of the oldest breweries in existence.  Their flagship brews, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (rauchbier = smoked beer) are still produced using their traditional methods.

You remember the 4 ingredients that are used to create the vast majority of beers, don't you?  Oh come on now, you remember ... water, yeast, hops and malts, the ingredients that are identified by the German beer purity law, aka Reinheitsgebot.  Simple and elegant.  Water, yeast and hops are easy to define, but do you really know where malts come from?  Let me give you the short version.  Barley grains are allowed to germinate where enzymes convert the starches contained in the grains into sugars.  The germination process must be halted for the grain to be used in brewing by either air drying or kiln drying.  The earliest methods used birch wood fired ovens (or oasting ovens) to halt the sprouting of the barley which crystallizes the sugars that were produced during germination.  This crystallized sugar product is what we refer to as malts.

The birch wood fired ovens gave the beer a smoky flavor which the Germans call a Rauchbier.  Later as brewing technology changed, brewers found a way to divert the smoke so that the beer flavor was not overpowered by the smoke flavor.  The brewers at Braurie Schlenkerla chose to not use the new methods and have, for over 600 years, used the traditional methods to produce their smoked beer.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier are bottom fermented (ale) urbock/marzen or weizen beers.  They pour a rich brown and creates a substantial creamy head (marzen) or relatively little head (weizen).  You will smell the slight sweetness in the marzen but the over riding smell is that if smoke.  Close you eyes and gently inhale, imagine yourself sitting next to a fireplace with Birch wood gently crackling away.  Now taste.  Rich, mildly sweet and malty and ... now what is that flavor again?  Smoke.  Oh yes, lots of smoke, which many find to be overpowering.  Remember those chilly nights sitting next to a campfire?  Then then when the breeze shifted and blew the smoke right at you, did it take anything away from the magic of the evening?  Of course not.  And neither will the smokiness take away from the magic of this beer.  Enjoy it for what it is ... traditional, rich and oh-so-delicious.

Braurie Schlenkerla
Dominikanerstrasse 6
96049 Bamberg, Germany