Monthly Archives: August 2013

What is quality? Part 2

So after I ranted a bit last week about brewers who don’t invest in quality and how that can harm everyone who makes beer for a living, I thought I’d take some time this week to review a little bit more about what it takes to brew a quality beer (or a “proper pint” as they say in the UK).

I hit on a few elements that I think make a quality beer in the previous post. These are:

1. Consistency from batch to batch. Admittedly, this refers to a brewery brewing and packaging a core lineup of beers. Although a brewpub that makes a few flagship beers or regular offerings should strive for consistency too. Philosophically, I disagree to some extent with the notion that a small brewpub/nanobrewery/farmhouse brewer can successfully embrace variable beer flavor caused by seasonal changes to recipes and variability in ingredient flavors, but I understand the attraction to this kind of brewing. For them the question becomes: “Did I make the beer I set out to make?”

2. Lack of off-flavors. Some people don’t agree or don’t care, and many beer drinkers don’t have a good understanding of this, but the presence of off-flavors like diacetyl (butter) and acetaldhyde (pumpkin seed) is a strong indication that the brewer doesn’t have a good grasp on the basics of managing the fermentation part of the brewing process. Too many brewers focus on recipe formulation and the brewhouse operation, but fermentation is by far the hardest part of the brewing process to manage. The idea of managing a living organism (yeast), and controlling it to the extent that you get proper amounts of growth, the flavors produced by the yeast are flavors you want, and the yeast is healthy and happy though several rounds of repitching to fresh wort is daunting to say the least. It requires the utmost focus every day. And it requires good sensory skills and knowledge, so the brewer can determine if things are going as planned, and if not, take immediate steps to rectify the situation.

Other off-flavors:

The presence of DMS (Cream Corn flavor) is indicative that the boiling process in the brewhouse is not as vigorous as it needs to be, or the wort was held hot for too long in the brewhouse.

The presence of phenolic (Bandaid/medicinal flavor) is most likely indicative of having sanitation or ingredient issues.

The presence of excessive grainy or harsh, wet paper or cardboard character is indicative that the beer is either old, or was packaged with high oxygen levels. As someone pointed out in the last blog, this applies primarily to fresh beers. In high strength beers that are brewed for aging, like Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, etc., the aging and oxidation can create complex flavors that are highly desirable. But still, the aging process must be controlled by holding the beer at the right temperatures to avoid the development of excessively harsh flavors.

3. Creativity: This is a big part of what is going to make or break brewers that are just now getting started. There are so many brewers out there now, each brewery has to have a unique product and message in order to stand out in the crowd. This being said, if you don’t have the first two elements locked down, creativity and uniqueness won’t mean squat. And be mindful of flavor balance. More hops or more spice, for example, isn’t always better. Learning how to get proper balance of flavors in your beer requires skill and experience.

So what’s a brewer to do? Here are my recommendations for brewers that are just starting out:

1. Every single brewery should have, at the very least, lab equipment that includes a pH meter, a hydrometer, and a microscope that is capable of viewing yeast and bacteria.

A pH meter is used to check brewing water pH (critical for proper and consistent mashing), wort pH and beer pH (changes in beer pH can indicate the presence of acid-producing beer spoiling bacteria). pH meters are also critical in wastewater operations. Most municipalities that receive waste streams from a brewery require a certain pH range for that liquid, so brewers need to be able to measure and adjust the pH of their waste streams.

A hydrometer is a floating, calibrated glass or plastic spindle that is used to measure the specific gravity (or density compared to water) of the wort, which refers to the sugar content of the wort. It’s critical to understand wort specific gravities throughout the brewhouse and fermentation process. This tells the brewer that the targets in the brewhouse are being met, and that fermentation (which causes a reduction of sugar content) is occurring at the proper rate. There is an instrument called a refractometer which also measures the density, but be aware that this instrument, while easier to use, won’t provide accurate numbers in beer (with alcohol). But for the brewhouse gravity checks a refractometer is a great tool.

A microscope is critical for viewing brewers’ yeast. Brewers need to check every fermentation as it progresses for yeast viability and cell counts. This involves taking a sample of fermenting beer, or the yeast, and putting it on a special slide called a hemocytometer. The hemocytometer is equipped with gridlines that assist with counting the cells-important to know as fermentation progresses-should see a 3-5 fold increase in yeast at the height of fermentation. In addition, staining the yeast with methylene blue, trypan blue or methylene violet will allow the brewer to count dead yeast cells vs. live, healthy cells. Yeast viability should be be in the 90+% range if you hope to re-use the yeast with good results.

2. At the second level, brewers should really consider investing in a shaker table, malt sieve screens, an analytical balance and a Dissolved Oxygen Meter.

The shaker table holds Erlenmeyer flasks and is used to agitate samples of wort from each brew in the presence of a lot of yeast. The beer in the flasks will completely ferment out within 24 hours, and by measuring the gravity after this process, the brewer will know where exactly the fermentation should finish in the production fermentor. This is called a “forced fermentation” or “attenuation limit” test. In my opinion, this is one of the most critical quality checks a brewer can do, since chilling a tank of beer that still has residual sugar in it, even though the fermentation appears “done”, can result in a sweeter beer that is very susceptible to microbial spoilage. Don’t ever stop a fermentation before the fermentable sugars are consumed, it’s a recipe for disaster. This test can also be done with a lower price tag using an Erlenmeyer flask of fermenting beer placed on a stir plate with a magnetic stir bar.

A malt sieve shaker is set of circular screens with varying mesh sizes that are stacked on top of each other, from coarsest (most open) sieve at the top to a fine mesh sieve on the bottom. Milled malt is placed on the top screen, and the stack is shaken. As the particles of millled malt fall through the screens, they are held back on a particular screen with a mesh size too small to allow the piece to fall through. Using a scale or analytical balance to measure the amount of milled malt retained on each screen allows the brewer to gauge the performance and consistency of the malt milling operation. There are guidelines for the percentage of total grain that should be held on each screen to optimize extraction of sugars and also get good straining of clear wort from the spent grain. Several quality, taste and efficiency issues arise from having too much coarse material in the milled malt, or too much fine/powder material.

The Dissolved Oxygen (DO) meter is the most costly piece of equipment mentioned so far (usually $3000-$10,000), but is critical to ensure low dissolved oxygen levels in the fermented beer. Oxidation reactions create excessively harsh, papery and grainy flavors, and also a very rapid loss of hop character. A brewer who knows that their process is keeping the beer free of oxygen can be assured the beer will survive better in the treatment it gets out in the trade.

Understand that many of these pieces of equipment can be purchased for very reasonable prices, especially if the brewer is willing to shop around and buy used equipment on eBay or Craigslist.

Most small brewers don’t have the resources to purchase the more expensive equipment used to measure IBUs and alcohol. But there are several companies that provide analytical services, and I highly recommend using them on a regular basis. Small brewers have to rely on calculations and estimates to list abv and IBU levels. Using an analytical service can verify those numbers and make them more accurate, as well as help ensure consistency from batch to batch.

3. A formal sensory program is a must! Sitting at the bar and having a glass of beer does not constitute a sensory program. Sensory programs require formal tasting of the in-progress beer and finished beer to ensure the flavors are consistent and desirable. I recommend tasting daily at a minimum: brewing water, samples from the fermentor (a sniff test is fine here), beer that is ready to package, and packaged beer. Also, a museum stock of packaged beer should be held cold and at room temperature and tasted on a regular basis to ensure the beer isn’t going stale too quickly. A consistent and thorough tasting program helps ensure beer flavor consistency and also helps catch problems very early, when they are easier to fix. And keep records!

4. Don’t accept poor quality ingredients. Have a program to select what you want to use (this refers in particular to hops), and evaluate your ingredients as they come in to make sure they are of proper quality. This is tough for a brewer that is just starting out, because often there is no money available to forward contract the hops or the malt. Just be aware that there are some sub-par ingredients out there, don’t succomb to financial or production requirement pressure to use them if you can avoid it.

5. Have a basic microbiological testing program. There are many ways to do this, but have a formal program to either streak agar plates with samples of wort and beer, or some other method that will tell you if your process is sanitary enough to ensure no spoiled beer. Spoiled beer will turn off beer drinkers very quickly, and most customers won’t come back for another try. And people on the beer internet sites love to spread the word about infected beer.

6. Don’t release sub-par beer. If the beer is spoiled, or has off-flavors, please bite the bullet and dump it. Take the financial hit, because in the long-term, it will save the company’s reputation. Learn something from the experience and move on.

7. Understand beer styles and how to brew them. This doesn’t necessarily mean be part of the “style police” and brew everything strictly to style. But it does help to understand the established styles so you can use them as a basis for your beer and develop well crafted variations on them.

8. For goodness sake, if you are a brewery owner, hire a trained and/or educated brewer to run your operation. Don’t skimp on this so very important part of the business. There is no substitute for experience, but a young person who has just graduated from brewing school (and there are many excellent ones across the country) will be able to understand the brewing process on a commercial brewing scale much more effectively than someone who has only brewed several batches of homebrew. This really is critical. Get someone who on board understands the science behind brewing. A brewing school graduate will demonstrate both passion for the craft and the ability to think critically about the processes and troubleshooting.

9. Rely on the industry for help and advice. The Brewers Association out of Boulder is a wonderful organization for craft brewers. It doesn’t cost much to join, and there are many ways you can ask questions, and get answers from some of the smartest, most experienced brewers in the country. The Master Brewers Association of America is a technical association that has been in existence for over 100 years. And though historically they have been the technical organization for large brewers, they are now also focused on craft brewing. There are regional districts of the Master Brewers all over the country, and it costs typically less than $150/year to join. The district meetings are a great place to network and learn from more experienced brewers, and the annual conference is a nationwide event that presents some of the best brewing technical information I have experienced. As a third option, this industry is still young, and there still a strong sense of brotherhood and camaraderie among craft brewers, and most of the local brewers are likely willing to help a startup brewery with quality or equipment issues and advice. And finally, websites like pro brewer.com have excellent forums where brewers can ask questions and get great answers.

10. Be humble when praised, and respond quickly to complaints. Nothing can salvage a brewer’s reputation quicker than providing a quick response to a customer who has a complaint about the beer. Make a sincere effort to make good on the issue, either by replacing the beer or sending a shirt, hat, or logo glass. Ignoring complaints will come back to hurt the business. More people spread the word about poor experiences with beer and breweries than those who have had enjoyable experiences. And when receiving praise, don’t get a big head. Know that a serious quality issue, infection, bad batch, whatever, is lurking just around the corner. I remember Dan Carey of New Glarus once saying: “There are 2 kinds of brewers: brewers that have had infection issues, and brewers who haven’t had infection issues, yet“. True words.

11. Focus 100% on cleanliness and sanitation. Experienced brewers know this, and often (semi) jokingly call themselves janitors, because 75% of their job is cleaning, scrubbing, and sanitizing. Wort, being 12-25% sugar, is extremely susceptible to unwanted bacterial or wild yeast spoilage. And beer is only a bit more resistant. An unclean brewery cannot produce consistent beer without off flavors.

And now it is time for me to get off my soapbox, at least for a few days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is quality?

I fell into an interesting discussion on Facebook yesterday that was started by Gary Spedding, a long time colleague who runs Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services, a company in Kentucky that can do complete analysis on beer, spirits, and other beverages.
Gary referenced this Article and also a talk from Michael Lewis, my brewing professor at UC Davis back in the 1980’s, at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, DC, that was critical of craft beer quality in general.

Michael Lewis’ talk at the CBC was quite provocative, which I’m sure was his intent. He scolded the craft brewing community for being smug in our success, and cited that most craft brewers don’t have the wherewithal to really deal with important quality issues, especially those that could hurt the consumer. And when compared to large and/or well established brewers across the world, he is absolutely right. Now to be clear, there’s no microorganism that can grow in beer that can make people sick, which is just one reason why it is such an amazing drink. But his examples included bursting bottles, which some of us have had to deal with, and also the rampant use of herbs, spices, foods, and other botanicals in beers. Brewers sometimes don’t list their unusual ingredients that could potentially make some people sick. And he has a point. With the exception of Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and some of the other brewers who have graduated from microbrewery status to “Regional Craft Brewery”, most of the smaller brewers in the USA have very rudimentary labs, don’t really analyze their beers, and don’t necessarily do all the due diligence required when adding an an unusual ingredient to their beers.

As Gary Spedding points out, the TTB, which governs brewers and approves formulations (recipes) for beer, especially when the beers include unusual processes or ingredients, is a shrinking agency. Once under the umbrella of the old Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) split off at some point after 9/11, and currently has a very small staff that cannot handle the sheer volume of brewers’ formula approvals that come across their desks. And many smaller brewers, especially those that only sell their beer at their pubs, taste rooms, or just locally, don’t even bother with TTB approval, as long as they have local or state label approval. So there are a lot of beers out there that have ingredients not reviewed by the TTB, which I find a bit unnerving.

So what is a quality beer? It’s different depending on who you ask, which is part of the problem. Some people view quality as pushing the envelope, being creative, and brewing unique, groundbreaking beers. Some, who I refer to as the “style police”, look at a beer with an eye towards accepted style guidelines, and knock a beer if it doesn’t conform to certain style parameters, such as bitterness, sweetness or dryness, malt character, hop intensity and the like. Others look at consistency in beers-does the beer taste the same from batch to batch? I can tell you that this is very important for us at Stone-we want people who are buying a six-pack or case of Stone IPA to know what they are getting, and to get what they expect. A lot of people don’t think American Lagers have any quality, and to me that is a big mistake. Just because someone doesn’t like the flavor of the beer, or the fact it is brewed with cereal grains, doesn’t mean that the beer lacks quality. The consistent flavor of these beers with so little malt and hops flavor is actually quite an amazing technical feat, and it takes a high level of talent and skill to pull it off.

To me, quality means all of the above to a certain extent, plus whether the beer has a proper balance of flavors, and also the absence of off flavors, such as diacetyl (butter), acetaldehyde (green apple, pumpkin seed), phenolic (band-aid), and oxidation/age (cardboard/harsh/stale). Let’s look at a few of these off-flavors in more detail:

Diacetyl:  There are people that say buttery diacetyl is acceptable in some styles, and I call BS on that. In my opinion that’s a cop out. Perhaps that’s because I learned from Dr. Michael Lewis, and Anheuser-Busch, but I cannot drink a beer if it has even the slightest trace of diacetyl. Diacetyl is formed by yeast during fermentation, and is taken up by again and metabolized by yeast during aging, so the resulting beer should have none. Diacetyl in beer can be a result of a fermentation issue, unhealthy yeast, rushing the beer through aging, or in some cases, a bacterial infection. And I cannot stand the movie theatre buttered popcorn flavor in beer that results from diacetyl. When I worked at San Andreas Brewing Company, we used a dry yeast strain (this was before Wyeast and White Labs) and occasionally, one of our flagship beers, Seismic Ale, would throw some diacetyl.  I hated it when this happened, but many customers who came into the pub absolutely loved it. It was quite confounding and frustrating, but we still worked hard to ensure the beer didn’t have diacetyl.

Acetaldehyde is another flavor that results from fermentation issues, and is present in beer either because the beer hasn’t been aged long enough, or if the yeast health is poor, the yeast cells die and burst, releasing this flavor into the beer. In any event, acetaldehyde is hard flavor to discern at lower levels, and is one of the hardest off-flavors to detect and also fix. There is a common misperception that the green apple ester that some people use to describe Budweiser is acetaldehyde. I’ve heard this from very experienced, knowlegable brewing educators, and it is absolutely wrong. Budweiser has the lowest measured acetaldehyde levels of any major American lager brewer, the green apple ester is something else, and this exemplifies some of the confusion about this off-flavor. Not to name any names, but there is one lager brewer who operates in this country whose beer has definite acetaldehyde-and I think it’s a characteristic of their yeast strain, because it’s very consistent in their beers. So is this an off-flavor? To them perhaps not, but I find it unpalatable.

Oxidation: The other off flavor that drives me crazy is excessive age. This exhibits itself as grainy flavors, harsh or cardboard/wet paper flavors in beer. As craft brewers have become better educated, I’ve seen a drastic reduction in instances of diacetyl or acetaldehyde, but graininess is still something I see a lot, and to me it’s a major flavor flaw. People who drink a lot of import beers have become accustomed to this flavor, and may even find it desirable in some cases. And craft brewers are among the worst offenders of beer freshness. Many assign 6 month to one year code dates on their beers, without really testing, let alone considering, what the beer will taste like after that much time sitting on a dusty shelf. I can tell you, beer with any hop character is going to lose the hops within a couple of months, and will be harsh, grainy and undrinkable very soon after that. This oxidation character can be controlled to a certain extent by keeping beer free of oxygen post-fermentation and during packaging, but many small brewers lack the technical skill to measure dissolved oxygen, let alone control it during packaging or fixing the situation when oxygen levels are high.

Beer drinkers, by and large, are not familiar enough yet with these off flavors to make an accurate judgement as to whether the beers have quality issues or not. And that is because large brewers, who many people grew up with, are technically skilled enough to prevent off flavors in their beers. So people aren’t used to tasting beers with off flavors, and often can’t identify off flavors when they are present. And so they base quality on other things, like uniqueness, hoppiness, maltiness, unique sour character, or simply whether they like the beer or not. However, at some point, as the less experienced consumers become better educated about beer, low quality beers with high levels of off flavors are going to turn some people off, and that could have a negative effect on the whole industry,

Here’s the real issue: With so many breweries popping up right now, which in general is a good thing and is very exciting to me, there are some breweries that have brewers who lack the education, experience, or sensory acumen to ensure consistency and prevention of off flavors in their beers. I can’t count how many small breweries I’ve visited that don’t even have a microscope or pH meter in their facility, and this makes me nervous. Brewers that believe they can judge their beer’s quality by sensory analysis alone are missing the boat, there are some basics regarding Quality Assurance that absolutely must be adhered to. I remember seeing a presentation by Ruth Martin at Sierra Nevada, where she outlined what a craft brewer’s quality regimen should be as they grow and expand their distribution. It was a very gratifying talk for me, because we had been growing our quality program very closely to what Ruth recommended, and we continue to so so.

I remember, many years ago, I walked into a brewpub, and talked to the brewer, who had just been hired on. He had been a line cook in the establishment’s restaurant, and when the previous brewer left, they gave him the brewer’s position, despite the fact he had no experience brewing beer, or any technical education at all. And this situation made me very upset. First, it annoys me that some brewery owners see so little value in brewing experience and will hire people that don’t know what they are doing. A brewer has to be many things, and recipe creator is just a small part of the job. If the brewer doesn’t have a good understanding of the importance of cleanliness and sanitation, off-flavors, how they are caused and what can be done to remedy them, brewery safety, yeast management, etc. the beer is going to suffer. Secondly, this poor kid had no clue about brewing, beer styles, ingredients, and what makes a quality beer. He was put in a position to fail, and that angered me.

Unfortunately, as the craft brewing industry is enjoying a nice boom right now, a lot of people are starting breweries that just don’t understand how critical it is to have someone who knows how to brew at the helm. And too many people are starting breweries because they have money and think it would be cool, vs. having a real passion for beer and the art and science of brewing. And I think that’s sad, and potentially damaging to the industry.

 

More updates on IPA History

I’m a little late on these, but having a couple of minutes today to look up some of my favorite beer history blogs uncovered some interesting facts.

First up is from Martyn Cornells great blog Zythophile. In this entry, which was posted on IPA Day (8/1/13), Martyn lists 5 things you may not have known about IPA. If you’ve read my book, you may know a few of these, but of particular interest to me is the fact that it now appears the first use of the words “India Pale Ale” may have been in Australia in 1829 and 1830, and that Taylor Walker/Barley Mow Brewery in London in 1830 may be the first brewer of a beer with the tag India Pale Ale. Also of interest in this post  Five facts you may not have known about India Pale Ale is that Pale Ales have been brewed with wind-dried pale malt for centuries, a fact that I think I unfortunately left somewhat unclear in my book. I remember a very interesting discussion with Alastair Hook at Meantime Brewery (and the team at Meantime knows their IPA history very well) about a pale beer brewed in Europe in the early middle ages that was brewed with wind-dried malt and was known to be very hoppy. I was never able to uncover any documentation for this beer, so I didn’t use it in the book, but I’d love to find out more about it. And I recommend reading the comments on Martyn’s blog as well, as there is some interesting work is being done on the aging process of historical IPAs.

The second is from Ron Pattinson’s awesome blog: Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, in which he relates some great information about bottling of IPA that occurred both in England and also in India. He also goes on to post a description of Tenant’s Ale from Glasgow, which received favorable comments because it had less alcohol than the Bass or Allsopp beers. This is a great reference that tells us a little bit about both the Bass and Allsopp beers, but also about some of the Scottish IPAs that were being sent in large volumes to India.:  Beer in India 1860’s Pt 2

Also check out a previous post of Ron’s: Beers In India 1860s Part 1 where Ron works to debunk a statement that beers brewed for India were of higher alcohol content than beers brewed for domestic drinkers. I think there is plenty of evidence to support Ron’s position. Yes, the beers that went to India may have been hopped at higher levels, but my research showed that the lowering of the gravity of the beers produced for domestic didn’t really start until the late 1800s, well after the IPA had become a very popular beer style in England. And I won’t even get into the wine part of the blog….

 

My Favorite Beer Festival

Bluesapalooza, held every August in Mammoth Lakes, CA is by far my favorite beer festival.
I’ve been going to beer festivals for 25 years now, and I guess I’ve become jaded, but I don’t look forward to them as much as I used to. For the most part, it’s hard to relax at most beer festivals-they are a ton of work, and as I get older, my tolerance for lines, crowds, and the occasional stupid drunk is rapidly diminishing.

So what makes the Mammoth Bluesapalooza so special? For me, it is 3 things:
1. The fest itself is low key and amazing, with a huge turnout of actual brewers, probably second only in Southern California beer festival brewer participation to the Firestone Walker Brewers’ Fest in June. This makes it a great experience for me, I don’t see my fellow brewers as much as I’d like to, especially in a situation where we can relax and have a beer. The lines aren’t long and it’s easy to walk from booth to booth.
2. The music is incredible. The organizers have grown this festival every year, it’s now 4 days of music (4 days if you want, there are several options for attending 1 day or just a couple) and the blues artists they get are top notch. Some of my favorite artists have play here at this event.  And the other thing that makes this so nice is that when you need a break from Saturday’s beer festival, you can wander down the hill to the large natural amphitheater, sit in your lawn chair, and listen to some great blues music.
3. The setting. Nestled in a pine forest in the beautiful town of Mammoth Lakes, it is a perfect escape from the Southern California desert. Usually very comfortable temperatures, sunny skies and the scent of fresh pine everywhere.

The Bluesapalooza Beer Fest

The Bluesapalooza Beer Fest

So after a 5 year absence, this year I was able to coordinate my family and work schedules to take a couple of days off and get to the fest. Here are my top memories:

1. Gary Hoey. This guy is an amazing guitar player. Two things stand out from his show: Twice he handed his guitar to someone standing at the front of the stage, and let them jam on a tune. The first tune was a slower version of Crossroads,and the second was a slow blues number. Both players in the crowd absolutely shredded their solos, and it was fun to see Gary Hoey working the pedals on the stage while they played. Plus he did a killer version of War’s Low Rider, including his bass player’s fantastic solo. After his show, Gary hung out and signed autographs, sold CD’s and took pictures with his fans. I offered to take a friend’s picture with him, and while doing so, told him I was a New Hampshire guy, like him, which was cool-we talked about about New Hampshire, and then I got a picture with him. Super personable guy, and a great guitar player.

Mitch and guitar god and New Hampshire guy Gary Hoey

Mitch and guitar god and New Hampshire guy Gary Hoey

2. Jimmy Thackery has absolutely mastered the Fender Stratocaster. He gets an amazing array of tones from it, and he was able to play hard blues to country blues to surf, all incredibly well. He has got the chops. If you are not familiar with Jimmy Thackery, check him out. He also used to play in a blues band from the DC area called The Nighthawks. They are still around too-just a great band.

Jimmy Thackery rockin’ the Strat

3. Tinsley Ellis has been one of my favorite guitar players since the mid 1980’s. He plays like a cross between Stevie Ray Vaughn and old school Bluesbreakers/Cream-era Eric Clapton. He played a Gibson 335 semi-hollow, and later at the end of his show, switched to a Stratocaster. And when he put the Strat behind his back and played it, like Jimi Hendrix and others used to do, the bass player, who had also switched from a Fender electric bass to a big stand-up bass, did the same thing. I have never seen that before- and he was rocking the bass while struggling to keep it elevated behind his head. At the end of the show, Tinsley brought out Jimmy Thackery for a guitar crossfire on Let The Good Times Roll. Amazing.

Tinsley Ellis Rocks!

Tinsley Ellis Rocks!

Tinsley Ellis and Jimmy Thackery

Tinsley Ellis and Jimmy Thackery

4. The beers: Some of my favorites from the fest that was held on Saturday from 11:00-5:00 included Ritual, Kinetic, Golden Road, The Bruery, Wiens, Ironfire, and of course Stone. All the brewers brought their “A-game” for this one. Some of my favorites included Kern’s Single Track, a dark sour from Eagle Rock Brewery, The Bruery’s Berliner-Weisse, 21A’s Back in Black, and several beers from Ritual and Ironfire. Plus there was an awesome bottle share Friday night after the brewers reception-more on that in another blog.
5. Mammoth Brewing Company: They put on this event every year, and their beers are available throughout the music (the beer fest only runs for Saturday afternoon, but there is also music on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday). I really appreciate what they do, and what they have done to make this festival such a success, and their beers are fantastic.
6. Schatt’s Bakery-right in the center of town. Seems like everyone goes there in the morning to get coffee, pastries and artisinal bread. I guess they have several stores in the area-perhaps owned by different brothers? Sheepherder’s Bread = delicious. And they make great coffee.
7. The Stone crew that set up the fest did a great job. I took some vacation days to go, so I wasn’t officially working (which probably explains why I enjoyed it so much), but these folks did a great job selecting the beers, setting to booth up, and securing a firkin of Stone IPA that was a huge hit.
8. The Alpine Fire (18,000 acres at last check) was burning close by, and smoked the area out a few times, depending on the wind and the time of day and the temperature. I learned a lot about forest fires as we monitored the progress of this one, such as how the smoke settles in the canyons in cooler temperature (making the mornings relatively smoke free). In the afternoon, as temperatures warm up, the fire starts generating wind, and changing wind patterns. The firefighters were struggling with knowing where to drop their water on the flames, because the smoke was so thick.

9. Did I mention the beers? The picture below was taken Friday evening. Carolyn Wonderland from Texas had a great set, she’s a guitar-slinger with some serious skill on both the Telecaster and a lap steel, and her vocals have some similarity to Janis Joplin.  Her keyboard player handled bass with his left hand on a keyboard, like Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Really one of my favorite acts from the weekend. Friday night’s beer offerings were all from Mammoth Brewing Co. including a wonderful IPA, and their well known 395IPA, that is brewed with local sage.

Blues and a Brew! My kind of event.

Blues and a Brew! My kind of event.

10. The drive. I always tell my wife that the hardest thing about living in the San Diego area is that you have to drive through some real “armpits” to get anywhere else nice (and by that I mean through the desert, the central valley, or through Los Angeles). And before anyone gets offended, Los Angeles itself isn’t an armpit, but driving through it is traffic-laden hell, and something I always dread. Driving to Mammoth requires a lot of desert, 2-line highway driving, and it’s tough on the senses. Traffic is challenging, negotiating around semi’s and motor homes and trailers. But in the end it’s worth it!

I hope to be back next year!