1k “Beer Walk” in Crystal City this Weekend

January 19, 2012

Getting out for a bit of a stroll this weekend. I’ll be walking a whopping one kilometer inside the mall in Crystal City.

Going shopping at the mall doesn’t sounds like something Chris O’Brien would be doing, right? Well, I could be going to get a hearty dose of homophobic christian conservatism at Chik-Fil-A, or maybe to get tweezed at Perfect Eyebrows. Nah, not so much. But then again, they do have a place called King Street Blues, which sounded like it could be cool until I realized from their website that they don’t actually have any live blues there.

No, the truth is I’m not going there to shop. I’m going there for beer. The “1k Beer Walk” to be precise.

The Washington Wine Academy organized this stroll-and-drink event. There will be good beers being dispensed throughout the mall. Pricing is a little confusing but it looks like tickets are $35-$40 on Saturday and only $20 on Sunday, all available online in advance only. A ticket is good for 20 tasting tickets, as well as cheese and bread to keep you going (and also a t-shirt in case you need another one to stuff in your drawer).

The beer list looks decent. A few locals, Port City, DC Brau, and Flying Dog. Several national micros, such as New Belgium, Brooklyn, and Sam Adams. Some German and Belgian imports. A few faux micros like Blue Moon and Leinenkugel (both owned by SABMillerCoors). And a few throwaway beers like Pabst and Old Milwaukee — seriously?!

Put your beer walking shoes on and meet me there. I’ll be in the 2:30pm “heat” on Saturday.


Sixth and I Streets Historic Synagogue Tastings

January 9, 2012

The next beer tasting at Sixth and I is this Thursday. It’s going to be great. Brewers from five DC-area breweries will be presenting their “Deep Winter” beers: Chocolate City, Baying Hound, Flying Dog, DC Brau, and Lost Rhino. If you already got your tickets, great! I’ll see you Thursday! If not, well…

Lots of people have told me they wish they could attend the Sixth and I tastings but when they go to buy tickets, the event is already sold out. There is a sure fire way to get tickets. Go to this webpage and sign up for the Sixth and I e-newsletter. The tastings are always announced in advance via the newsletter, so get on the list and get in the know!


Fall Beer Tasting at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue

October 25, 2011

The Sixth and I beer tastings have become a tradition since they were launched just a year ago. Join us November 8th, 7pm at this wonderful venue in the heart of Washington D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, just a block from the Chinatown/Gallery Place metro station at 6th and I streets NW.

Brewers from two of Washington’s newest breweries, Chocolate City Brewing and Baying Hound, will present their fall lineup, MC’d by yours truly.

Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. Full details are online here: Sixth and I Calendar.


Religion & Beer: A Tasting at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue

December 13, 2010

I am fascinated by the long interwoven histories of beer and religion. It is no surprise that so many great cultures have taken to worshiping fermented grain — if there is a god, beer certainly brings us closer to her.

And that’s why we will be praising the beer goddesses and gods during a night of drinking at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.

DETAILS
WHAT: Fermenting Revolution: A Tutored Tasting with the Beer Activist
WHERE: The Sixth and I Historic Synagogue located at … well, Sixth and I Streets, NW, Washington, D.C.
WHEN: 7pm, Thursday, January 13th, 2010
HOW MUCH: A measly 12 bucks!
THE BEER: The tentative line up includes beers from: Baying Hound Ale Works; Brewers Art; Peak Organic; Victory; and Dogfish Head. Paul Rinehart, owner and brewer at Baying Hound, will also join us for a special appearance.
MORE INFO: Visit the Sixth and I website right here.


Slow Beer Tasting with Beer Activist at District Chophouse

March 11, 2010

DRINK BEER AND SAVE THE WORLD

Thursday, March 25, 6:30 – 8 p.m.

District Chophouse, The Vault Room
509 7th Street NW,  Washington, DC 20004

Brewer Barrett Lauer presents seven hand-crafted ales with appetizers as beer activist Chris O’Brien discusses how drinking slow beer builds community and a more sustainable world. O’Brien, co-owner of the Seven Bridges Organic Brewing Supply Cooperative and Director of Sustainability at American University, will sign copies of his award-winning book Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World and answer all your questions about beer.

Slow Food DC Members: $25

Nonmembers: $28

Buy Your TICKETS


Fair Trade Beer: Wells Banana Bread Beer

January 10, 2010

In Fermenting Revolution, I posed a challenge to brewers: make a beer with fair trade ingredients. Today there are a few such beers being made in the U.K. In fact, one of them, Banana Bread Beer from the Wells and Young’s Brewing in Bedford, England has been being brewed since at least 2002.

This is a standard English bitter gone fruity with a pronounced banana twist. The neck label asserts the brew is made with “our own natural mineral water and fairtrade bananas.” And boy do the bananas come out swinging. As soon as I popped the cap I could smell bananas.

Now, having attempted banana brews myself, I know that bananas do not produce a taste or smell of bananas in finished beer. So it was unsurprising to read on the front label this more detailed description: “Malt beverage brewed with bananas and banana flavor added.” In other words, there are bananas in there but all they provide is some additional fermentable sugar, the banana taste and aroma come from chemical flavoring.

It is a powerful candy-like banana aroma and flavor that doesn’t have much body, just chemical punch. Otherwise, this is a middle of the road bitter, somewhat overcarbonated, and rather thin. After about half a pint, I was ready for something else. I think it would benefit from a better malt backbone. Maybe they could try using hefeweizen as the base style. This way the yeast could provide a natural banana aroma and flavor and they could axe the chemical flavoring.

Thumbs up for going the fair trade route, but I won’t be going back for seconds of this one.


Hook and Ladder – A Burn Victim Recovers

July 3, 2009

As any craft brewer knows, first impressions mean a lot. With craft beer you might get just one chance at convincing a consumer that your beer merits their bucks. So when you contract brew your beer at an ever-changing number of breweries and you have distributors and retailers all across the eastern United States, it is very hard to control that first impression. If poor quality control or bad handling ruins the experience of a new customer, it takes a lot of work to get that customer to give your beer a second chance. But doing so can be worth the effort, especially when that customer is a know-it-all beer geek.

————

A couple years ago we celebrated my father’s 75th birthday with a big family reunion. I wanted to bring beer that upped the ante from the usual BudMillerCoors but could please a very mixed crowd. Hook and Ladder seemed perfect, some lighter beers that wouldn’t be too challenging but were probably a lot more flavorful than light industrial lagers, plus they have a cool story about donating money to burn victims. So I picked up a couple cases of Lighter and Golden Ale and hit the road for the reunion.

Socializing with the extended family, we opened a few beers. They gushed. We opened a few more. They gushed. We let them settle out in a pitcher and then tasted them. They were as undrinkable as they were unpourable. We abandoned them and sought out a local beer store for replacements. Being the beer-know-it-all of the family, I was embarrassed about my beer faux pas.

In retrospect, I’m not sure if the problem was over-carbonation, oxidation, infection, or a combination thereof. Suffice to say my first impression was bad – a contract brewed-beer company that was all firefighting hype and apparently paid no attention to making beer. There are many tales of  contract beers that were all marketing and no beer, so I quickly judged Hook and Ladder as one such case and never drank their beers again – even though their offices are literally up the street from my home.

As it happens, one of my sisters has a friend who works for Hook and Ladder. They were having dinner together recently and my name came up due to our mutual interests in beer. As a result, John Timson, VP of Marketing and Sales, contacted me and last night I sat down with him for a tasting at their Silver Spring, Maryland digs.

John Timson, VP of Marketing and Sales, points to Hook and Ladder Brewing Company's "World Domination Plan"

John Timson, VP of Marketing and Sales, points to Hook and Ladder Brewing Company's "World Domination Plan."

It’s kind of funny. I travel all over the world for beer and here’s a beer company literally four blocks away from my home that I’ve never visited. So I was happy for the invitation and eager to give these beers a second try in hopes that my first impression might have been a fluke.

The good news is that fresh beer on draft did make a much better impression than the family reunion snafu. The Golden Ale (5.5% ABV) is a medium-bodied table beer on the sweeter side of malty. It’s understated, not particularly wild or exciting, but flavorful and easy to drink for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The new Irish Red Ale, called Pipe and Drum (5.1% ABV), is also malt-forward with pronounced caramel, and lightly toasty undertones. When they are packaged, stored and served properly these are both good sessionable ales and after last night’s tasting I am happy to drink them again.

Hook and Ladder has moved their contracts through several different breweries and I suspect this is the root cause of the quality control issue I encountered back at the family reunion. At the moment, they are brewed by High Falls Brewing Company in Rochester, New York, makers of Genesee Cream Ale and Dundee’s Honey Brown, among several other beers. This kind of brewery-hopping is one of the potential pitfalls of contract-brewed beers. But as long as the beers taste like they did last night, I’ll be happy to support my neighborhood contract-brewed beer company.

Speaking of beer in the neighborhood, for close to two years now Hook and Ladder has been planning to open a brewpub in an old firehouse on Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. Ever since, I’ve been fantasizing about being able to roll home from a brewpub located just up the hill from me! But alas, delays have been interminable. John tells me they are now aiming to break ground in mid-July with hopes of being open by Christmas. The bad news is that its not planned to be a brewpub afterall, but rather a taphouse with Hook and Ladder beers. If all goes well, they might eventually buy an additional property next door to the firehouse and install a brewing system there.

I’m disappointed that they are not planning to brew on premise any time soon, but this fits with the contract-brewed approach. In essence, Hook and Ladder is not a brewery but a beer marketing company. As long as the beers are good, I’m perfectly okay with contract beers. Actually, two of my all-time favorite beers, Tuppers Hop Pocket Ale and Pils, are contract brewed. Coincidentally, they both have a charity hook as well, Tuppers gives a percentage of proceeds to the Childrens Hospital, and Hook and Ladder gives “a penny in every pint” and a “quarter in every case” to the Hook and Ladder Foundation in support of fire burn victims.

Luckily, my first impression of Hook and Ladder was not my last and now I’m looking forward to trying their new pale ale scheduled for release this fall.

As any craft brewer knows, first impressions mean a lot. With craft beer you often get one chance at convincing a consumer that your beer merits their bucks. Unfortunately, my first impression of Hook and Ladder was bad. A couple years ago we celebrated my father’s 75th birthday with a big family reunion. I wanted to bring beer that upped the ante from the usual BudMillerCoors but could please a very mixed crowd. Hook and Ladder seemed perfect, some lighter beers that wouldn’t be too challenging but were probably a lot more flavorful than light industrial lagers, plus they have a cool story about donating to burn victims. So I picked up a couple cases of Lighter and Golden Ale and hit the road for the reunion.

Socializing with the extended family, we opened a few beers. They gushed. We opened a few more. They gushed. We tasted them. They were undrinkable. We had to abandon them and seek out a local beer store. Being the beer-know-it-all of the family, I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t think straight.

In retrospect, I’m not sure if the problem was over-carbonation, oxidation, infection, or a combination thereof. Suffice to say my first impression was bad – a contract brewed-beer company that was all firefighting hype that paid no attention to making beer. The contract beer that’s all marketing is a tale that’s unfolded before, so I made my judgment and never drank their beers again – even though their offices are literally up the street from my home.

As it happens, one of my sisters has a friend who works for Hook and Ladder. They were having dinner together recently and my name came up due to our mutual interests in beer. As a result, John Timson, VP of Marketing and Sales, contacted me and last night I sat down with him for a tasting at their Silver Spring, Maryland digs.


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