Flying Bike Brings a Community Together to Make Better Beer

THE GREENWOOD BREWERY’S FRESH HOP HARVEST ALE IS JUST ONE OF MANY INITIATIVES AIMED AT CREATING COMMUNITY AND ACTIVATING SEATTLE’S COLLABORATIVE BEER SCENE.

[This article was originally published in Seattle Weekly. Read the full article at SeattleWeekly.com.]

The process behind this year’s Fresh Hop Harvest Ale from Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery was a little more complex than that of most brews. And a little more fun. Home-brewers and backyard gardeners from throughout the city had only 24 hours to harvest their homegrown hop plants, deliver them to Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, pluck the hop flowers from the vines and throw them into the brewmaster’s boil. In the end, the brewery collected nearly 100 pounds of fresh hops for its hyper-local harvest ale, a testament to the appeal of its core mission: to create “member-driven beer.”

Just over a year old, Flying Bike is the first 100 percent cooperatively owned and operated brewery in Washington. With its popular homebrew competitions, brewer’s roundtable gatherings, and community giving program, the Greenwood-based collective offers a structured space for people who want to get involved in the local beer scene. The brewery’s thriving taproom adds to its reputation as an exceptional neighborhood establishment—a place to enjoy unique craft beers, learn about the brewing process, and build community.

[Read the full article at SeattleWeekly.com.]

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Pique the Palate: Raising a Toast to the New CIDER Act

An outlier of the elite wine industry and a black sheep of the craft beer scene, artisanal hard cider may finally be granted the long-overdue recognition it deserves, thanks to the new CIDER Act.

[This article was originally published in Edible Seattle. Read the full article at EdibleSeattle.com.]

Washington is the largest producer of apples in the nation, so it’s no wonder that the Evergreen State is a bustling hub for hard cider. The beverage is produced in more than 50 Washington cideries, and the market shows no signs of slowing.

The thriving foodie scene in Seattle offers a platform to further expose residents and travelers to the nuances of craft cider, with offerings alongside local microbrews and small-batch wines. Despite cider’s popularity, producers have faced various obstacles through the years — high taxes, low alcohol-by-volume (ABV) limits, and carbonation regulations, to name a few — and these parameters have shaped the American cider-drinking culture.

Until now. With the recent passage of the CIDER Act, cider makers are allowed more creative freedom to produce cider that satisfies consumer expectations, without all the prohibitive tax rates.

From the beginning, federal authorities didn’t quite know how to categorize hard cider. The light, refreshing, effervescent drink was initially treated as a sub-category of the wine industry, complete with a set of conservative regulations. And while craft breweries and craft wineries have their own distinguishing standards, craft cideries have entirely unique criteria, based predominantly on ingredients. Often described as “small producers” or “artisan producers,” craft cideries use 100% fresh-pressed juice, rather than concentrate. This creates a fresher product and marks a dedication to carefully sourced ingredients. Additionally, craft cideries don’t add sugar, artificial flavors, or colors.

The CIDER Act, which goes into effect at the beginning of 2017, makes progress toward regulating cider according to the beverage’s own distinct specifications. This means several important changes in how cider can be produced, and, for consumers, it also means more variety. The new ABV limit will allow cideries to produce ciders with up to 8.5 percent ABV, an increase from the previous ceiling of 7 percent. This is most notable because, during fermentation, many varieties of apples naturally produce over 7 percent ABV, and cider makers have been forced to limit the types of apples they can use to comply with the strict tax requirements.

The second CIDER Act adjustment removes the “bubble tax” on cider. Currently, restrictions on cider’s carbonation levels mean that cideries face a very high tax on ciders with more carbonation because these beverages are taxed as if they were champagne or sparkling wine. Without adequate carbonation, a cider’s aromas are not properly conveyed, which affects the overall flavor. Finally, the CIDER Act allows cideries to add pear ciders to their collection of classic and infused beverages, without an increase in taxes.

The CIDER Act provides incentives for small producers to make more creative ciders, experiment with new flavor profiles, and generally expand the craft. To learn more about how local, artisanal cideries are responding to the upcoming changes, I spoke with representatives from three Seattle-based cideries: Seattle Cider Company, Schilling Cider, and Number 6 Cider. Each reported that they are pleased that hard cider is finally being recognized as a uniquely produced — and therefore uniquely categorized — beverage.

[Read the full article at EdibleSeattle.com.]

How to Pick the Best Beer Festival (and Make the Most of It)

Talia Shapiro WA Beer Collaboration Festival

Photo by Will Foster @wfstr

It’s summertime. Festival season. Time to break out the tie-dyed tank tops and daisy-brimmed flower crowns. Or maybe that’s taking it a little too far. In all seriousness though, there are zillions of summer festivals each year that focus on music, food, film, sports, and, my personal favorite: beer. Living in Seattle, it’s nearly impossible to attend every beer festival, and I’m on a never-ending quest (through trial and error) to learn exactly which events I enjoy the most, and why. To keep from feeling overwhelmed by the steady lineup of beery happenings in the coming weeks, I’ve put together a list of key factors to consider when determining which festivals to attend.

Location and venue

Will we sip beers while lounging on an open, grassy lawn under the Space Needle, or spend the day in a cavernous, indoor convention center? Do I have to traverse bridges or hop a ferry to get there? Is the festival out of town, somewhere I may want to stay for a few days? These are all helpful questions to ask before event day. Planning ahead makes it easier to reserve lodging, find a designated driver, study the bus routes, and dress accordingly. If it’s an outdoor festival, in Seattle especially, an extra layer of clothing usually comes in handy.

All-inclusive vs. pay-as-you-go

Does admission include a certain number of drink tickets? What about food? Do only VIP tickets promise all the goodies? I hate when I encounter surprise fees for extra festival features, so I always make sure to read the fine print before I purchase my tickets. It’s too easy to get caught up in the festivities and spend more money than intended. However, I’ve found it’s a good idea to bring a little extra cash to tip the tenders (it’s just good manners).

Entertainment (besides drinking beer)

Beer and music, to me, make the perfect festival. In fact, I love craft beer and indie music so much that it almost doesn’t matter what I’m listening to, or sipping (I said, almost). For some people, food and beer make the magic combo. Or festivals that feature classes and presentations by master brewers. It’s helpful to know, in advance, what’s on the roster, so I can grab business cards, a pen and notebook, or earplugs.

In the past year, I’ve discovered a few Seattle beer festivals that became instant favorites—and my list is always evolving. The Washington Beer Collaboration Festival took place under a huge tent on the South Lake Union Discovery Center lawn and showcased a camaraderie between breweries that was truly inspiring. The festival featured 25 unique collaboration beers from 50 different Washington breweries, and offered a platform for brewers to team up and deliver unexpected flavor profiles and unique styles. I was particularly impressed by a White IPA from Whitewall Brewing and Skookum Brewery. Brewed with Galaxy, Citra, and Mosaic hops, the beer was conditioned on whole Mango and pink peppercorn. Very unconventional, and very… complex.

Elysian’s 20th Anniversary Party at Seattle Center satisfied my love of music and beer with a full day of tasting both flagship and limited release brews, while rocking out to an eclectic lineup of live music by Chaotic Noise Marching Corp, Ming City Rockers, Black Lips, The Raveonettes, and The Gits. (Check out my KEXP blog festival review HERE.)

The Bellingham Bay BREWers Cruise was a mini beer festival on the water—it offered a low-key space to chat with local breweries while enjoying views of the beautiful Puget Sound, plus, it gave me an excuse to visit my family en route. (Check out my Seattle Weekly write-up HERE.) All of these festivals had their own unique characteristics, and they all drew diverse crowds. They also offered perfect opportunities to connect with the beer community. Always a pleasure!

No matter where your beer festival adventures take you, my fellow beer enthusiasts, enjoy! I’ll wrap things up now with some poignant, highly entertaining festival advice from the newest book on my shelf: Patrick Dawson’s The Beer Geek Handbook. Cheers!

STEPS FOR OPTIMIZING THE FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE

  1. When considering attending a festival, Beer Geeks begin by researching the festival’s list of participating breweries (serious festivals also include a list of beers to be poured). They will then assemble a list of beers of interest and make a quick mental calculation to determine the value of each beer (based on what it would cost to purchase or trade for them). If the value of the beer exceeds that of the ticket price, a Beer Geek will attend. If there are out-of-distribution DONGs [a.k.a. draft only, no growlers] on the list, festival attendance is a no-brainer.
  1. Once it’s been decided that the festival is worth attending, a Beer Geek will assemble a group of fellow Beer Geeks, numbering no greater than eight, to go together. Any larger and the group is too cumbersome to accommodate serious tasting.
  1. For large festivals, a strategizing session is held among the fellowship of Beer Geeks to create a prioritized list of breweries to hit once inside. Popular breweries will be hit hard at the onset, since it is not unusual for rare selections to run out in even the first hour. Breweries such as these make up the priority list.
  1. Beer Geeks always arrive at the festival with a full stomach, preferably of cheese or other fatty foods, slowing alcohol absorption to maximize allowable intake.
  1. Once inside, the priority list is executed. The tasting format is often limited to 1- or 2-oz. samples. When sampling breweries have a line, a Beer Geek never camps out at the front in an attempt to sample multiple beers. This is a classic noob move and goes against all Beer Geek etiquette. Once you get your sample, head immediately to the end of the line to get another sample. Time is of the essence.
  1. Fraternizing can fully commence once the priority list has been addressed. At this point, the tasting should move to “free-form format” based upon suggestions from fellow Beer Geeks. It is now okay to talk with brewers and brewery reps, since by this point all festival attendees have had ample opportunity to sample their top beers.
  1. As the festival winds down, the Beer Geeks quickly become distinguishable from the posers. While Beer Geeks might certainly get drunk at a festival (there can be a lot of beers to sample, after all), they don’t go there with the primary intention of getting drunk. At this stage, non–Beer Geeks begin flinging coasters, knocking their buddy’s glass out of his hand, and stealing every bit of brewery schwag not nailed down. Beer Geeks, having properly trained for the event, maintain (some) composure.
  1. Once last call goes out, a Beer Geek, knowing full well that the remaining samples being poured aren’t any Gold Medal winners, heads out to grab a cab or a bite, leaving the frat pack to do shots of every beer left standing.

Excerpted from The Beer Geek Handbook (c) Patrick Dawson. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

Outlander Brewery | Holy Basil Pale Ale

Hole Basil Pale Ale Outlander BreweryI love a little quirkiness with my beer, because with so many craft breweries in Seattle, a unique character is really what sets each establishment, and brew, apart. The Holy Basil Pale Ale by Outlander Brewery fits this measure well—it strikes just the right balance of eccentric and uniquely delicious.

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Outlander Brewery operates out of a 100+ year-old converted house, with a brewing system in the basement, shelves of ceramic beer mugs for the regulars, funky furniture and a stack of random board games for everyone to enjoy. Outlander’s low-key atmosphere lends itself to an unpretentious, non-fussy vibe, and the friendly tenders are always poised and ready to recommend the best new beer on tap.

Operating on a very small, 3.5 barrel system, Outlander is known for its specialty ales and experimental brews—and for using wacky ingredients like lavender, ginseng, dragon fruit, peanut butter and chili peppers. Because Outlander’s brewing operation is so small, the microbrewery has a quickly rotating tap list—a beer could be available one week and replaced the next. Lucky for us, the Holy Basil Pale is on frequent repeat, and for good reason.

The Holy Basil Pale is an easy-drinking beer, with an inviting golden-amber color and an earthy, herbal aroma. Upon first sip, the basil flavor is more subtle than expected—its delicate sweetness and twinge of spice enhances the ale rather than dominating it. With a medium-body, the Holy Basil Pale coaxes the palate with a balance of soft wheat, honey and light malt. Sure, it’s unconventional, but it’s also delicious.

For a quirky brew with a flavor character all its own, try the Holy Basil Pale. You’ll have to stop by the brewery though—this, along with most Outlander beer, is a taproom-only release. Challenge your Seattle neighbor to a game of dominoes (on a set that’s missing just a few essential tiles) while you sip this refreshing beer in Outlander Brewery’s new beer garden. See you this summer!

[This article also appeared on PorchDrinking.com.]

Washington’s Best Beers Taste Better on a Boat

UP IN BELLINGHAM, A BREW-FUELED CRUISE SERIES IS TAKING HAPPY HOUR TO SEA.

[This article was originally published in Seattle Weekly. Read the full article at SeattleWeekly.com.]

It’s time for happy hour. A midweek interlude from everyday responsibilities. An evening to catch up with friends, sightsee with family, or relax with a partner. On this particular evening in late spring, happy hour involves a gangplank.

As the crowd walks single-file onto the Victoria Star 2, it sways, buoyed to the dock of Bellingham’s Alaska Ferry Terminal. Onboard, a few families settle at the tables and chairs that line the perimeter of the boat, while groups of friends and seasoned locals head straight to the main attraction: local craft brews.

With the San Juan Islands as a backdrop, couples hold hands on the boat’s outdoor decks and the vessel pulls away from the harbor. Inside, beers from Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, Seattle’s Fremont Brewing, and Diamond Knot Brewery in Mukilteo fill the three tasting tables.

This social event is the second Bellingham Bay BREWers Cruise of 2016. Every Wednesday evening from late May through September, Washington breweries and beer enthusiasts come together for education and conversation. With three featured breweries each week pouring at least three beers apiece, brewers teach passengers about their craft: how they develop new beers, which strains of grain and yeast they use, and new collaboration projects they’re launching with other breweries.

[Read the full article at SeattleWeekly.com.]

Sea Farmer IPA

Citrus_fruitsThe serrated grapefruit spoon was a genius invention. Gone were the times when delicious, tangy pulp was wasted at the handle of the run-of-the-mill cereal spoon. Likewise, the libatious visionary who brewed the first grapefruit IPA had a brilliant idea that has been expertly adjusted and improved upon by many brewmasters. Just released this month by Fieldwork Brewing Company, a new craft brewery out of Berkeley, California, comes a tasty beer called Sea Farmer IPA, brewed with grapefruit and sea salt—sure to keep local beer lovers coming back for more.

Named after the Jack London short story of the same name, this beer is reminiscent of the protagonist’s dueling identities; all his life he struggled between his dream of becoming a farmer of the soil (hence the grapefruit) and his family legacy of becoming a farmer of the sea (thus the salt). For the Sea Farmer IPA, Fieldwork brewers mixed Celtic sea salt with plenty of wheat, along with Cascade hops to play off of their grapefruit-like qualities. They even wrangled their brewery staff into zesting a big batch of fresh grapefruits to add to their dry hop. The result? Sea Farmer IPA starts out with a sweet, citrus aroma, and a hazy amber pour. With the first sip comes a slightly salty, hoppy flavor and a hint of crisp, juicy grapefruit to finish.

Much like scraping the inside of your luscious grapefruit wedge, beer enthusiasts are sure to tip their pint glasses to extreme angles to savor every last drop of Fieldwork’s Sea Farmer IPA. You’ll have to come to Berkeley to taste this new brew though; Fieldwork serves most of their beer straight out of the brewery, with the rest traveling around town to select local taprooms.

Are All the Good Beer Names Taken?

Hello-my-name-isAs I sit, contemplating whether I should bite the bullet today and file my taxes, what comes to mind first is not “Where did I stash that W-2?” but rather, “I would really love a nice cold pint of Death and Taxes (by Moonlight Brewing) right about now.” I can hardly believe how clearly this beer name invokes the tedium of—and distraction from—my current to-do list. Which brings me to the reason for this post. With more than 3,000 operating breweries in the U.S., the question many people are asking is, How do brewmasters find new, clever beer names that haven’t been claimed already by the brewers who came before?

I spoke with a trusted source in the brewery industry recently, and she confirmed that it’s becoming increasingly tricky to think up unique names that fit the character of each new brew but that aren’t already on the market. In fact, NPR just produced a piece on this very subject in which Alastair Bland noted,

“Virtually every large city, notable landscape feature, creature and weather pattern of North America — as well as myriad other words, concepts and images — has been snapped up and trademarked as the name of either a brewery or a beer.”

Of course, there’s no simple or foolproof formula for avoiding naming overlap. Most breweries schedule inspired brainstorming sessions and then simply plug their favorite contenders into a Google search, all the while keeping their fingers crossed.

Some breweries have even solicited the help of their loyal fans in naming new beers by hosting contests. Once all the name submissions are gathered, the best nominees are selected, and the brewery often invites its customers into the taproom to taste the new beer and vote for their favorite name. (This angle seems to be a cleverly designed marketing gimmick, as well!)

There are also online random beer name generators out there (like this one by StrangeBrew) that humors and entertains by spitting out funny names like Sloshed Forbidden Donut Pale Ale and Red Cunning Tornado Stout.

No matter how the naming strategy plays out, most breweries ultimately do find a unique name that fits the taste and personality of their new beer. And sometimes the name is utterly fantastic, like Hop Making Sense (by Cellarmaker Brewing Company)—which has the capacity to drown out whatever’s on the stereo system and invoke the Talking Heads, in their unforgettably eccentric glory days.