Our Favorite American Craft Beers of 2016

 Every year we get the chance to drink a lot of really great beers.  We don't assign them numbers or award points for rarity.  Some of those beers stick out to us.  This last year, these were those beers (in no particular order): 

1. Fonta Flora Brewing, Razzmatazz Vol.1:  In my opinion, Fonta Flora is one of the most exciting breweries in the country.  They experiment with local and foraged ingredients, brew killer hoppy beer, but most of all have a portfolio of wonderfully complex and bold flavored and balanced beer.  Razzmatazz Vol. 1 is a beautiful red raspberry wild ale, with an enormous berry bouquet and layer upon layer of raspberry and funk on the palette.  While we could have picked from almost any of the Fonta Flora beers we were lucky enough to have this last year, this one had us from the first smell in the glass.

2. Bissell Brothers Brewing, Lux: We're suckers for Rye. We're suckers for hops.  Marry the two and Lux is as close to perfect as you'll get.  While most people talk about Swish or Reciprocal when they bring up Bissell Brothers, but Lux was a stand out for us given the unique peppery character added by the rye.  Like you've come to expect from Bissell Brothers, huge tropical fruit, citrus, and pine will punch you in the face from the first sip to the last.  We popped the can and could smell the hops from 4 feet away!  We love Bissell Brothers beer and this one is our favorite.

3. Forest & Main Brewing, Paradisaea: This brewery, the people behind it, and the beer are all world class.  Paradisaea is a barrel aged saison with citrus and Mosaic hops.  It's a juicy, just sour enough, beautiful interpretation of the style and is a wonderful representation of what the brewery is capable of.  Part English pub and part barrel aged sour production brewery, F&M is creating some of the most inspiring beer in the country.  Fermenting their sour beers, like this one, on a local forged yeast and bacteria culture, they're able to create an experience unique to their brewery with each offering. Paradisaea is wonderful.  It's fun and playful and really got us thinking about all the subtle flavors we were picking up throughout our time with the beer.  We can't wait to see what's next from F&M.

4. Cellarmaker Brewing, Nelson: We visited the quaint brewery in November while in San Francisco, with our good friend Jesse Friedman (Almanac, founder).  He thought it was a must while in town - and he was absolutely right.  We loved the experience from start to finish.  The taproom is cozy and the beer is fantastic.  Nelson, which features Nelson Sauvin hops (as the name suggests), stood out as our favorite.  Nelson is just one of those juicy, hazy (not juicy because it's hazy), dry, and hop forward beers that has you going back for more.  It's aggressive but soft at the same time.  It's pungent and powerful but subtle and delicate all at the same time. Moral of the story, it's just damn good.

5. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Nightmare on Brett (Leopold Whiskey Barrels on Cherry): Chad Yakobsen, owner and founder of Crooked Stave is the authority on Brettanomyces fermentation.  He's able to coax unique and interesting character out of his yeast cultures that most breweries only dream of.  This understanding of fermentation also allows Crooked Stave to put out big bold beers like Nightmare on Brett (around 10% abv), which are sour, influenced by fruit, and fermented in whiskey barrels and make them seem delicate and almost wine like.   We love this beer because the dark appearance and whiskey aromatics give way to a complex acidic and fruity character on the palette.  It takes you by surprise and offers a truly unique experience with sour beer as most breweries only use neutral oak or wine barrels for their sour program.  The beer has so much going on but when poured into the glass everything works in harmony.  Nightmare on Brett is a present look to the future for sour beer and for that reason it had to be on our list. 

6. The Tank Brewing, La Finca: It's no surprise that we love saison.  The Tank, which opened earlier this year, decided to make La Finca ("the farm", in Spanish) saison a core year-round offering and we couldn't be happier about it.  It's dry, effervescent, peppery, citrusy, earthy, and incredibly refreshing.  It's brewed with a nod to the traditional saisons and the history of the style, but is modern in approach and choice of ingredient.  La Finca is brewed with an acute attention to detail and purpose that comes across as a mature "we've been doing this for years" offering.  We're excited about this beer and what's to come from this new Miami brewery. 

7. Civil Society Brewing, Fresh: Hops, hops, hops.  Civil Society just celebrated its 1 year anniversary and has already established itself as a hop head's dream in South Florida.  Fresh is the beer that, in our opinion, truly separates the brewery from the rest.  Head brewer, Karl Volstad, has been brewing the beer for years, each time fine tuning the approach to make it into what it has become.  An aggressively hopped, ripe tropical fruit forward,  aromatic, and refreshing IPA that gives you all the hops you could ask for without the astringent bitterness.  You can taste the time and effort the brewery has put in to the beer with every sip.  For even more hops, head to the brewery and try the Double Dry Hopped Fresh. 

8. Side Project Brewing, Derivation (Batch 5):  I know, I know.  Side Project has made its way on to the favorite beers list every year since we started.  What can I say?  Cory is a master at his craft.  This year, we got to spend some time together down in Florida drinking through several Side Project offerings and although all were world class, this batch of Derivation blew us away.  A huge imperial stout: coffee, vanilla, aged in rum barrels for over a year; yet, somehow it came across as soft and delicate.  We still haven't been able to wrap our heads around how such a powerful and flavorful beer could come off so nuanced, subtle, and graceful.  Big body, creamy mouthfeel, and dangerously drinkable.  It's a testament to what Side Project is capable of and quite simply one of the best beers we've ever had the opportunity to try.  

9. Firestone Walker Brewing, Pivo Pils: This beer may be as close to perfect as it gets.  Because it's a pilsner and because it's somewhat readily available it doesn't get all of the the attention in the beer nerd kingdom that it deserves.  But, it is phenomenal.  It is so technically sound, so flavorful, so refreshing, it's almost hard to believe.  Firestone Walker is an industry standard for quality and consistency and Pivo is steering the ship.  It's no surprise that Pivo took Gold at the Great American Beer Festival from 2013 to 2015.  That's blind tasting, by the way!  

10. Casey Brewing & Blending, Oak Theory:  Troy Casey is a superstar in the making, if not already one.  Ask most brewers who they're watching these days, and Casey Brewing is at the top of the list, and it's no surprise.  He's making beautiful funk forward mixed fermentation beers employing old school meets new school fermentation techniques and the results are often times breathtaking.  Funk reminiscent of your favorite cheesy lambic, jammy fruited sours, and just a masterful command over the beers.  Oak Theory is no non-sense Belgian inspired beer fermented in and aged in oak for over a year.  The result is a funky, dry, and incredibly complex beer.  It's one of those beers that really lets you experience the oak and Troy's ability to bring out unique flavors through fermentation.  It's a thing of beauty people!

Our 2015 Favorite American Craft Beer List

If you've listened to or watched any interview on our site, you know how we feel about beer rating. The subjectivity of the product really makes any of these lists somewhat useless.  Nonetheless, we read them.  All of them.  We can't help it.  We know you can't either - so here's our 10 favorite beers that we had in 2015 in no particular order.  

1. Plan Bee Farm Brewery - Precious

This was just plain awesome.  So balanced, complex, and well, precious.  Evan is putting together some of the most beautiful beers in the country from his Hudson Valley farm and this one (although not released in 2015) may have been one of his best to date.  2016 will see more growth for Plan Bee which will hopefully make it easier for more people to try these wonderful creations.

2. The Rare Barrel - Forces Unseen

The Rare Barrel has quickly gained a reputation for their wonderful barrel aged sour beer program.  Forces Unseen is a seemingly straight-forward blend of golden sour beers - only, it's masterfully blended and really displays what the Rare Barrel can do.  No need to add fruit or any outside flavors, the oak, yeast, and malt backbone(s) are front and center and come together to really make this a special and versatile beer. 

3. Green Bench Brewing - Petit Provision

The definition of a table beer.  Low in alcohol, tart, and refreshing.  This wild ale aged in white wine barrels is soft and delicate but full of flavor and complexity.  It's ready for a day out at the beach or to be paired with a high-end meal at your favorite Michelin rated restaurant.  We love this beer and the fact that it's readily available at the brewery makes it even better. 

4. Trillium Brewing - Fort Point

Hop juice.  Trillium has really taken the Northeast by storm this year, releasing hit after hit and causing lines to form around the block for bottle releases.  Fort Point is the brewery's staple pale ale and really sets the tone for what you can expect in the rest of the brewery's offerings.  Huge aromatics, luscious and never-ending hop character with minimal bitterness.  Drink fresh and drink often.

5. Firestone Walker Barrelworks - Feral One

Firestone Walker is one of our favorite breweries in the entire world.  They release classic after classic.  Perfection at every level.  Feral One follows suit.  Although, really any Barrelworks offerings could have made this list, Feral One is something special.  A special blend of their best barrels, the team in Buellton has created a beautifully nuanced funky, sour, and complex ale displaying an array of fruit sitting on top of just the right amount of barrel character. 

6. Lagunitas - Born Yesterday Pale Ale

We love Lagunitas and their consistently clean IPA's and pale ales but this fresh hop pale ale just had a special something to it that really made it stand out of the crowd for us.  Big tropical fruit aroma and flavor is at the forefront of this seemingly drier than usual (for Lagunitas) base.  Every aspect of this beer is just fantastic and plays its role perfectly.  If only it was available all year.

7. M.I.A. Brewing - MegaMix

MegaMix is our favorite pale ale in South Florida.  Juicy and not overly bitter, you can really enjoy the hoppiness of the beer without killing your palate.  What started as a one time release, Mega Mix became so popular that the brewery intends to add it to their year-round offerings.  We're happy they are.

8. Fremont Brewing - Bourbon Barrel Abominable

By far the biggest beer on our list, "B-Bomb" as it's been nicknamed, is just one of those beers that exceeds all expectations.  Huge bold flavors, oak, bourbon, spice, roast, complement a wonderful aroma and mouth feel.  A phenomenal sipping beer that evolves as it warms.  Just an awesome beer to drink casually with friends or to enjoy alone and really get in to.  It's also a great beer to age so make sure to pick up a few to taste over time. 

9. Side Project Brewing - Pulling Nails

Side Project is changing the game with its beautiful wine-influenced and wine barrel aged wild and sour ales.  Pulling Nails, a blend of four different offerings, is tart and refreshing.  Green apple, white wine grape, lemon/citrus, all sit on side project's signature funk.  It's just awesome.  What did you expect?  Cory just can't miss.

10. Sierra Nevada - Hop Hunter

This one is a game changer.  A year-round release that tastes like a bottled yesterday fresh hop IPA always.  How?  Hop oil.  Leave it to Sierra Nevada, one of the best and most consistent breweries in the world to distil fresh hops on the farm and use the oils obtained from that process, in combination with whole cone hops, to bitter, give flavor to, and add a pungent hop aroma we've all come to love to this offering.  From a brewery that does everything at the highest level, this one is on its own level and is readily available for all to enjoy.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Craft Beer and Its Place in American Cuisine

America is seeing a rebirth of pre-prohibition, micro culture exhibitions by and through the local beers and spirits being produced by modern day artisans known as brewers. A back to basics approach. This, all while obliterating the idea of simplicity of what is generally associated with the word "traditional".  Alongside the artists, chefs, local bakers, and cheesemakers, brewers are finding ways to express the history of their region, the cultural identity of the people who influence them, and their locale's "terroir" through beer.  Playing on traditional European styles and techniques, ultimately making them bigger, at times more aggressive, and in turn - inherently "American".  After all, nothing is ever big enough for us Americans anyways.  Still, some of the world's most nuanced and food-ready beers are coming out of America these days.  Through the use of local ingredients, local yeast strains, grains, hops, and fruits, the American craft brewer is touching on the essence of the make-up of his or her hometown.  It's a thing of beauty, people.  

Jeffrey Stuffings (far left) Founder of Jester King.  Photo Credit: Jester King Brewery

The ability to understand purpose, time, and place, when putting your nose in a glass, enjoying the view of the liquid in the glass, and finally being overcome by the attack on your palate when it hits your tongue is only becoming more common.  Brewers are not only taking more time with their products but they're showing more restraint (when needed) to ensure the ever important quality of balance.  It's this balance that will continue to elevate the product so many in America are starting to love, appreciate, and enjoy.  What good is an IPA that rips the enamel off of your teeth if it destroys your palate and leaves you unable to enjoy that dinner you paid $50 for?!  The focus on balance and food is becoming more important to the craft brewer and will continue to be a driving force in ensuring the craft beer rebirth is here to stay.  I believe it's craft beer's availability in fine dining restaurants and its ability to be paired more easily with more kinds of foods that will truly bring craft to the forefront and keep it there.  Restaurants will be forced to adapt.  Cicerones will join sommeliers in the ranks at these restaurants and hold positions of respect and prestige. 

Craft beer is a natural fit on the American table.  Don't get me wrong, I love wine.  I love it alone and I love it with food.  It just has its shortcomings at the dinner table - shortcomings that craft beer is ready to and more than capable of filing.  Jeff Stuffings, founder of Jester King Brewery believes "it makes sense for beer to be at the dinner table because, in many ways, it's an extension of cooking.  Brewers strive for balance and depth of flavor through ingredients and technique, much like a chef.  In fact, several of Jester King's beers are inspired riffs on various dishes we've enjoyed.  Through process and ingredients, beer can have all the complexity and pairing potential of wine, despite the fact that grapes naturally have more complexity than grains."  Beer is a blank canvas.  It's subject to more experimentation than wine, more diversity than wine, and in the end can be made to pair with anything.  Yeast, fermentation temperature, hops, grains, oak, all in different proportions make beer the best beverage for the American diner.  Yet, most still don't see it this way.  Soon, they will.  

Cory King, Founder and Brewer at Side Project Brewing.  Photo courtesy of Tim Bottchen and Side Project Brewing.

Jester King Detritivore. A wild ale fermented with wild yeast and bacteria native to the Texas hill country and collected by Jester King.  Fermented on second use cherries (first use of the cherries was on a beer called Montmorency vs. Balaton). 

Cory King, founder and brewmaster at Side Project Brewing and "director of oak" at Perennial Artisan Ales, says he feels "fortunate when the discussion of beer/food vs. wine/food pairings comes up. For beer, there are no restrictions, in the ingredients we can use in the beer and to the diversity of flavors we can develop.  With this, a beer can often hit on notes in a dish that a wine may not be able to achieve.  Moving forward, I believe that many more high end restaurants and more prolific chefs will be adding beer to their pairing repertoires in order to best showcase flavors and pairing to their guests."  And that's just it.  It's not that having craft beer accessible in more lower price-point restaurants is not helping the cause, because it is.  The more that people have the ability to understand the complexity of this diverse product only helps improve its status in the market.  The point is the level of respect for craftsmanship that has accompanied wine for decades has kept it in the forefront of the conversation when talking about food and, in turn, has allowed wine to maintain prominence and grow is its admiration at the fine dining establishments of the world.  This is the stability that craft beer needs.  Brewers like Cory and Jeff are helping it get there.  The day of drinking beer at a tailgate party only need to be days of the past. 

But what about terroir?  What about wine's ability to speak to a time and place?  Its ability to be compatible with other foods associated with a certain region? Craft beer has that covered.  Breweries like Jester King, Side Project, and Plan Bee Farm Brewery are achieving the same level of complexity and character through local and house yeast strains.  Breweries like Cantillon have been doing it for decades.  "It has been suggested that terroir or sense of place in wine comes in large part from the particular microorganisms living on the skins of the grapes in various geographic locales. This is equally as valid for wild or spontaneously fermented beer from different regions.  The microbes unique to a specific location create complexity and a sense of place in beer during fermentation, just as in wine.  Therefore, I believe it's fair to say that wild beer in particular stands up to the complexity of wine when it comes to food pairings," says Jeff.  And it's true.  Put your nose in a glass of his beer and there's just something there, a distinct characteristic that lets you know "this is Jester King." 

Eileen Andrade, Founder and Chef, Finka Table & Tap.

The signs that this transformation is occurring are out there.  NOMA, considered the world's best restaurant by many, partnered with Mikkeller in 2012 to feature world class, creative beers along side it's world class cuisine.  And call it what you will, but Estrella Damm's Inedit, created with the genius of Ferran Adria,  for the purpose of serving at the table alongside food like what was served at El Bulli, was something that certainly helped move this idea of beer and food forward.  

Giorgio Rapicavoli, founder/chef at Eating House Miami and winner of Food Network's Chopped.

I'm not suggesting that beer drinkers need to start drinking with their pinkies out just for beer to survive what many who don't get the upsurge of craft beer call a fad.  The point is, that craft beer is more suited than anything else right now to be served alongside the most variety of tastes and textures.  Better with cheese.  Better with spice. It's the stigma that needs to be broken down.  The idea that American beers are bland.  The idea that craft beer is nothing more than a way for adults to start up a new collection until the next "cool thing" comes around.  It's creating an appreciation for complexity and experimentation with the understanding that the foie gras you just had to order would go great with an imperial stout or maybe even an earthy, yeast driven farmhouse ale.  Eileen Andrade, chef and owner of Finka Table & Tap in Miami, thinks "beer is an incredibly versatile drink.  It pairs so nicely with so many different kinds of foods.  Our restaurant serves food with Caribbean and Asian influence and the craft beers that we order go so well with the heavily seasoned and spiced foods. I like pairing foods with a drink that is similar to the flavor profile of the dish and craft beer is making it easier for us to do that." The possibilities are endless.  Giorgio Rapicavoli, founder and chef at Eating House in Miami, says "beer plays an integral part of the beverage program at Eating House.  In my opinion beer's diversity in flavor and intensity play off our foods better than wine."  Craft beer must continue to work it's way up the chain into these restaurants.  Restaurants that know how to play off the nuances and subtleties of beer and provide their patrons with an enhanced experience.  

At the end of the day, money rules.  The craft beer drinker must demand these beers at the restaurants.  Change the traditional wine-only thought process.  That day will come - you just need to do your part.

Cheers,

Craft Commander

 

 

 

Looking Forward to 2015 - Florida and Beyond

So here it is.  This year is shaping up to be a great year for craft beer, especially here in South Florida and it's just under way.  These are some of our home town breweries to look forward to and some other breweries that we're excited about across the country.  Leave us a comment with the breweries you're looking forward to.

 SOUTH FLORIDA

1. M.I.A. Brewing Co.:  After almost 2 years of construction and permitting and more construction and more permitting, M.I.A. Brewing is finally opening it's doors.   There's a lot to look forward to too. Brewmaster, Mike Demetrus, says what he looks forward to most is "brewing both classic and modern interpretations of styles from around the globe sparing no cost, cutting no corners, and reproducing with clean and consistent results."  Early releases like the M.I.A. IPA, one of our favorite IPA's around, is just that: 5 hard to find hops, lots of them, but not lacking in balance - a really nice and clean interpretation of the style.  With 52 taps in the taproom, you'll be sure to find something you'll love. Look for new releases weekly in the taproom.

2. Wild Oak Artisan Ales:  Ok, so Wild Oak technically isn't a "brewery" yet as they don't the state licensing or space required to hold the official title, but all indications point to this changing in 2015.  Led by Chris McElveen and head brewer Matt Manthe, Wild Oak is creating some of the most complex and delicately balanced beers around.  This, all while every beer is fermented with wild yeast (brettanomyces) and sees oak at some point in fermentation.  Take Farmacology for example, a brettanomyces fermented sour ale with Florida honey and Florida kumquats - an incredibly complex and balanced beer while coming in at around 12% abv.  Chris is looking forward to 2015 as a big year for the duo as they've "got another year of experience with [their] beers, a clearer picture of the market, and more drive than ever to be self-employed", says Chris.  We expect great things from these guys. 

3. J Wakefield Brewing Co.:  Mr. Florida-weisse himself is finally opening his doors in what may be the most anticipated opening to date in Florida.  What amazes us about JWB is the incredible amount excitement and anticipation surrounding the brewery and the exclusive members-only society that will likely see bottles of the rare, internet-forum destroying releases of JWB favorites like DFPF - Dragon Fruit Passion Fruit, a pink sour "Florida-weisse". The hype behind the brewery is not all a mystery, Jon has been pouring his sours and big barrel aged stouts and porters for fans at festivals and events like the famous Hunahpu's day at Cigar City to much praise.  A collaboration with Stone in 2014 doesn't hurt either.  Either way, JWB will bring a lot of attention to Miami craft beer.  We welcome it.

4. Biscayne Bay Brewing Co.:  Another newcomer to the Miami brewing scene in 2014, Biscayne Bay is shooting straight for the heart of Miami residents, drawing inspiration from local ingredients and landmarks to come up with names and flavor profiles.  Take the "La Colada" Porter for example.  A big bold porter that features "La Carreta" espresso.  For those who have never been to Miami, La Carreta is a staple Cuban restaurant chain in Miami, who's cafecito (espresso) draws locals and and tourists to their coffee windows.  Seriously, coffee windows.  Small windows where people gather to discuss politics, their annoying neighbors, and drink a coffee.  It'll be interesting to see what other inherently Miami themes find their way in to the beers Biscayne Bay is going to produce this year.

Nation-Wide

1. Plan Bee Farmhouse Brewery:  This is just one of those breweries that will stand out for being MORE than your average brewery.  Let's go through a short list of what I mean by that: every bottle of Plan Bee is sold by Evan Watson (owner/brewer) directly to the consumer (hand to hand exchange), Every yeast strain used by the brewery is a culture pulled from the property on which the brewery sits, and eventually most everything used in the beer will be grown on site.  Looking to 2015 - the brewery will move from a 1 bbl system in the Watsons' back yard to a 25 acre farm with a 3-story, 1820's barn which will house an 8 bbl system and plans for "things like farm school for children, brewers school for home brewers, concerts and music events, etc." are underway says Emily Watson, owner of the brewery.  Although the growth in production means more beer, what's amazing is that Plan Bee will continue its current method of sales - direct to consumer.  Pretty amazing.  All this talk about the brewery and nothing about the beer; which, by the way is fantastic.  Be on the lookout for Tree Beer in 2015, "a mahogany ale featuring organic Crown Maple syrup that has been aged in oak barrels" featuring the house yeast strain which gives it that signature "taste of the Hudson Valley."

2. Lord Hobo Brewing:  Our friend Vincent Tursi, formerly of Night Shift Brewing, has been tapped to lead the brewing at Lord Hobo which will focus its attention towards "delicate, juicy, hop-forward ales in cans", says Vince.  We're excited to get our hands on these beers.  Knowing what Vince is capable of - we're looking forward to what he'll do now with the ability to fine tune his hop forward ales with precision and dedication to flavor and balance.  They will likely be nothing short of spectacular.  Looking to the future, Vince says they'll do "barrel-aged stouts [and others] within year 1, then a sour program with foudres and coolship in year 2."  If the past is any indication of what the future holds, Vince will be producing some of the best and creative beers around and Lord Hobo will be on its way to setting fire to the forums. 

3. Side Project Brewing: These seems like an easy pick... Almost too easy.  It's no secret, we love Side Project.  Side Project's Blanc de Blancs took the number one spot on our top beers of 2014 and Cory King, Side Project's Captain, can seemingly do no wrong.  In 2015, Cory will make use of a larger amount of barrels to produce more beer under his private label.  What's more exciting is the continued reliance upon native yeast and local products (yes, I love this stuff) and Cory's emphasis on creating and maintaining Side Project's terroir.  Also, the opening of The Side Project Cellar will allow more people access to these incredibly rare and hard to find beers.  Balance, flavor, delicately blended beers will elevate the expectations on other breweries producing wild or barrel-aged sour beers.  

4. The Ale Apothecary:  Paul Arney, the solo force behind The Ale Apothecary is revered by many of his peers as one of the most talented and creative brewers around.  Developing barrel-aged beers made to age.  Complexity from date of bottling and flavors that only evolve over time.  I could ramble on and on about the unique techniques used to produce these beers but I just wouldn't do it justice. Visit www.thealeapothecary.com to watch a video that shows just how cool this brewery is.  Something spectacular is brewing in the mountains of Bend, Oregon. 

Chicago

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts"

                                                            - Aristotle

Chicago.  The people, the food, the music, the architecture, and most importantly (for this site at least), the beer make up the wonderful whole that is Chicago. Driving through Chicago's many famous neighborhoods you're taken back to a time where buying local was everything, and people were proud about what was being produced by the people that lived next door.  Need proof? Count the Chicago flag tattoos, t-shirts, dog leashes, and car stickers and you're likely to come up with a number you've never counted to before.  Point is, this is a proud city - and rightfully so.  

While we were eager to check out what Chicago proper had to offer, the trip began with a midday trip to the mecca which is Three Floyd's Brewing.  Zombie Dust, a flavor packed American pale ale hopped with only Citra (my favorite hop) fresh from the source was calling my name and so naturally, one was ordered and consumed immediately upon entering the brew pub.  The brew pub itself is an experience - heavy punk and metal scream from the sound system and a "we have awesome beer and we know it" attitude permeates.  That may be the only flaw, actually.  The beer though, that's fantastic.  As if you didn't already know. 

Then came the other beautifully crafted beers - War Mullet a double IPA that clocks in at 8.1% abv, and just like the description says, makes you want to grow a mullet and go to war; Space Station Middle Finger an American Pale Ale at 6% abv, that was dank, citrusy, and juicy at 50 IBU; Cool Breeze a smooth and refreshingly beautiful american lager; Backmasking, an awesome Oatmeal stout that clocks in at 6% abv but packs huge rich oatmeal, roasty, milk chocolate flavor.  And on, and on, and on.

Point is, Three Floyd's has certainly earned it's reputation as one of the world's best breweries.  You can taste the artisanship that goes in to each beer - no matter what the style.  One beer that really impressed us was the Chevalier Bertrand du Guesclin, an american sour ale aged in wine barrels with blueberries.  Beautiful purple/dark blue hue, an earthy smell, and tartness prevail, all while being rounded out by the sweetness from the blueberries.  If you can find a bottle, get it.  I had been waiting for a long time to get here and the beer we had made the wait worth it.  If you're in Chicago, take the 40 minute drive down to Indiana and enjoy!  We even played limbo with a girl on crutches!  Now, even though that sounds funny - the funniest part is that while she made it through unscathed, her non-injured and able bodied friend somehow fell.  One too many Zombie Dusts.

So after getting our fill of 3 Floyds, we headed back to Chicago to visit Half Acre Brewing Co.  These guys are brewing some of the best pale ale's and IPA's around.  Daisy Cutter, one of their core beers, is a balanced and aggressively hopped american pale ale that rivals any other around.  Bright, cloudy, huge citrus hop aroma create a balanced malt to hop attack on your palate.  Just drinking this all night would've made me happy, but we were lucky enough that on the day we were there Half Acre was releasing a collaboration with Three Floyd's called Anicca.  A big, in your face IPA that combines the best of what both breweries have to offer.  Of course, we had one... or two.  The highlight, even beyond the beer at Half Acre is the people.  Co-founder Maurizio Fiori greeted us with open arms and showed around his spot and the supporters were all having a great time inside.  

A warehouse with rooms shooting off to either side, housing tanks and tanks and tanks, while separating the brewery store from the tap room.  Each fermentation vessel had a name  and character assigned to it (my favorite was Franklin).  This is where the magic happens.   They had just finished re-releasing Heyoka and the canning line still held some of the brightly colored cans.  We couldn't have asked for better timing.  

Inside the taproom a bustling crowd of craft beer fanatics had been drinking the Anicca and other great Half Acre offerings like the Pony Pilsner, Space IPA, Lager Town (Oktoberfest), Heyoka, and the Akari Shogun.  We joined the crowd and loved every second of it - meeting people from all over the midwest all united by one thing... craft beer.  

 For other great breweries in Chicago, be sure to visit Revolution (try an Anti-Hero IPA), Goose Island, and Piece Brewery.  Still, Chicago is much more than beer.  It's about the food, the art, the architecture, the people and their sense of community and emphasis on supporting the local economy.  It's about small independent stores and restaurants, and it's about supporting that which is made with the hands of those in your area code.  Most importantly, it's about the sum of all those parts that come together in unison to create the great city which is Chicago.

Cheers!

Craft Commander

What it's all about.

This weekend marked one more year on this earth for me.  While that statement seems to have lost its charm, I celebrated my birthday with family and friends around a BBQ, a brew kettle, and in some heavy Miami summer rain.  Throughout the day I was amazed to see the interest in craft and home-brewed beer.  By everyone.  Everyone had a story to tell about the first beer that impacted them, what their favorite style was, what their favorite brewery was, and where they were when their first craft beer hit their lips.  Ok, maybe not that last one, but the point is - people are getting into craft beer and what comprises the beer they love to drink.  This is a good thing.

 Mendez Fuel on Coral Way and 32nd Avenue in Miami, FL is serving up fresh beer for takeaway in growlers.  We started the morning off with a Brooklyn Blast.

Mendez Fuel on Coral Way and 32nd Avenue in Miami, FL is serving up fresh beer for takeaway in growlers.  We started the morning off with a Brooklyn Blast.

The morning started early as we set up to brew a heavily-hopped citrusy pale ale and got the coolers filled with craft beers from all around the country.  The particular pale ale being brewed featured citrus forward hops on a very simple grain bill, comprised only of 2-row and crystal malt for a crisp clean taste that would really let these fruity, citrusy hops shine. For those who care, the hops used were Citra, Centennial, and Cascade.  The smell of the steeping grain made us feel like we were walking around in a fresh baked loaf of bread as we sat around and talked about our favorite beers.  Sound good?  Give home-brewing a try - just be ready for the addiction to set in.  

Enough about the brewing, the takeaway here is the fact that everyone wanted to know more about this "mysterious" stuff and that everyone got along - beautifully.  I mean, a Cuban party without at least one minor skirmish?!  Yes, it's possible!  It's the magical thing about beer: people who get it, just get along.  Social status, profession, interests, favorite sports teams, even politics doesn't matter when you've got craft beer, it seems.  Now, you may be saying to yourself "he's getting cheesy here"; and you may be right, but prove me wrong.  These days the only people who don't get that craft beer not only promotes culture, arts, local economies, tourism, job creation, and all sorts of other good stuff seem to be sitting around Tallahassee trying to figure out ways to help their friends at big beer companies by drafting up senseless legislation against the family run craft breweries.  "Hey!  Those campaign signs aren't going to buy themselves!"  Oops.  I mean, it doesn't make any sense that a big beer juggernaut should have to adapt to the demand of the market around it - no, instead they should just call their friends in the Capital and just try to squash all those little boogers trying to make an honest living!

I digress.  I'll be the first to admit that i was skeptical about the ability of craft beer to take off in our city.  Let's face it, Miami doesn't necessarily have a history of demanding craft or local products.  Most of the beer sold here historically, I'd venture to say, was $10 bud light and Corona sold to tourists who spent their days getting drunk and burned to a bright, red crisp on the beach.  Yet, here we are with just one open production craft brewery in Wynwood Brewing Company (more on them in the future) and people are starved for more.  We're seeing the boom of artisan food and the buy local movement and the craft beer industry is coming right along with it. 

This weekend's revelation gave me high hopes with regards to the future of craft beer here in Miami and around the country.  It's more than just the beer, the growth of this industry symbolizes, in my opinion, the idea that our city (and our generation in general) wants to ensure that cultural and culinary aspects of our life are preserved and strengthened.  Beer is only one small part of that idea but it sure is helping to get things going in the right direction.  I can't wait to see where we're headed!

Cheers!,

Craft Commander

 Drinking yours truly's home-brewed oatmeal, coffee, chocolate stout aged on bourbon soaked french oak.  

Drinking yours truly's home-brewed oatmeal, coffee, chocolate stout aged on bourbon soaked french oak.  

Beer! Food's Best Friend.

When you think about food and drink pairings, society has trained us to think that wine is what should be served at the table.  Yet, the more I travel the world, the more it becomes apparent that the idea that wine is the only table drink is somewhat of an oddity confined to us here in the States.  Beer is served alongside goulash and pork knee in Prague, mussels in Belgium, fresh conch salad in the Bahamas, and the list goes on.  All around the world people have embraced the idea of beer with food for decades.  Why? Because ultimately, it works better with food than wine!  There, I said it. 

The options are endless.  Countless styles multiplied by countless variations of those styles gives you the ability to find a beer that will suit any meal.  Plus, with the wide availability of hops and grain through homebrew stores and online outlets, if you can’t find what you’re after for a certain food item – you can always brew it yourself!  This is a good thing!  What wine pairs with spicy Indian food better than a hoppy IPA?  None.  Wine people – you know it’s true.  I enjoy wine.  A lot.  Still, beer is king when it comes to pairing.  Try Rapp Brewing’s Gose (Seminole, FL) with some fresh Blue Point oysters and tell me it doesn’t change your perception of what beer can do to food and vice-a-versa.  Dessert you ask?  Grab a piece of decadent chocolate cake and pair it with Cigar City’s Marshall Zhukov (Tampa, FL) and tell me a glass of wine would have paired better.  Point is, beer’s ability to pair with and enhance your food are superior to wine.  Period.

 Rapp Brewing Co.'s - Gose.  2014  Best Beer Florida Competition Gold/Best of Show winner.  Visit www.rappbrewing.com for more information on this great Florida craft brewery.

Rapp Brewing Co.'s - Gose.  2014  Best Beer Florida Competition Gold/Best of Show winner.  Visit www.rappbrewing.com for more information on this great Florida craft brewery.

Lucky for us, restaurant owners and chefs are starting to understand the importance of a varied menu of quality craft beers in their restaurants.  Even here in Miami, where the still infantile craft beer scene is only now beginning to crawl, restaurants are popping up around town focusing their entire menus on the way the food will play with the beers being offered.  But it’s not only these beer-centric restaurants that are taking note of the beauties of pairing beers with food.  High end restaurants which traditionally only offered wine or spirits have begun to open the door to the American craft beer too.  Restaurants like Route 9, OTC Miami, and Batch Gastropub are taking things one step further and hosting multi course beer dinners to show off just how good the pairings can be.

For a great read on food pairings with your favorite beer styles check out “The Brewmaster’s Table” by Garrett Oliver. 

Cheers!

Craft Commander