Beer Release Review: Triple Digit Cranium

Cincinnati’s own Triple Digit Brewing Company is releasing a new beer. Known for their triple digit original gravity beers all clocking in upwards of 10% they are adding to that lineup with Cranium. A bourbon barrel aged imperial oatmeal stout with coffee and vanilla. Suffice to say this beer has a lot going on and a lot going for it! I stopped by Dutch’s Bar, Bottle Shop, and Larder tonight for the draft release party. If you weren’t able to make it then hit up Listermann’s Brewery this Friday (11/8) for the bottle release.

Triple Digit Cranium
Photo courtesy of Dutch’s

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Call for blog post topics from MadTree!

I’ve somehow talked the guys at MadTree into writing a guest blog post. Here’s the thing though, we can’t really decide what’d be best for them to write about. Due to our indecision we’re turning it over to you, our dear readers, to voice your opinion on what you’d like to read from them.

Just keep it beer or brewery related and we’ll take the idea that’s most popular or that we like the most. Leave a comment below, on the Queen City Drinks Facebook page, or shoot us a tweet. Here are some ideas that I had as well as that we’ve heard from folks on Twitter already:

  • strategies for acquiring tap handles and shelf space at bars and liquor stores
  • how they market themselves for the casual drinker vs the committed followers.
  • new seasonals, and marketing.
  • Suppose I’d like in-depth “why.” Obviously they love beer, but why the need to make it or people? also enjoy talk about branding/marketing. What’s the brewery’s unique voice? Why? How does it fill a hole as local biz?
  • Decision to go with cans instead of bottles and the process for actually canning the beer

Hopefully this guest post works out well for everyone and I can talk more local breweries into it later. But that will come then, for the time being you need to tell us what you want to read from MadTree!

Ohio Hop Farm Research

The Ohio State University has a research farm in Piketon, OH and I was invited to attend an informational meeting on growing hops in Ohio along with a tour of their hop yard.

4 months of first year growth

There are no records of commercial hops operations in Ohio since around 1920. Back then the Ohio crops were virtually wiped out by downy mildew disease, something that is still a concern today… prohibition had to hurt a bit too.

That was nearly 100 years ago and things have hopefully changed for the better. Some may be asking why should THE Ohio State University (OSU), the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) care about hops?

First off they’re a very important part of beer, especially in IPAs which reign supreme among craft beer styes. Take that high demand combined with worldwide shortages in recent years and fewer folks growing less hops on the west coast, America’s current top hop spot.

I'm a poet and everyone wishes I didn't know it!!
Hops cones grow on a bine which grabs to the twine.

OSU cares even more about hops in Ohio due to the locavore trend. For a few years now more and more folks have wanted local produce and everyone wants to know how many of their local brewers ingredients are local. This is a question I’ve thrown at every brewer I’ve interviewed, their response is along the lines of “None, there aren’t any local ingredients available, but maybe some spices here or there.”

If OSU can help Ohio farmers grow Ohio hops then Ohio brewers can give Ohio residents a more local product.

Many folks were interested in what varieties were being tried. The core line up was Cascade, Nugget, Williamette, Columbus, Sterling, and Centennial with Galena, Mt. Hood, Hallertauer tradition, and Spalter Select as additional varieties. Without any doubt Columbus was growing the tallest with the most cones, cones being the part “where the magic happens”.

Cones

I turned to twitter to see if folks had question and provided answers below were I could:

  • @sudsanonymous: Are rhizomes planted at intervals to allow for more frequent harvests?
    • No one is doing this yet but the researchers seemed to think it was a great idea and may try it next year.
  • @L_AllenH: When I buy rhizomes some suggest planting vertically and others horizontally… what is the science behind it?
    • Doesn’t seem to matter because like they say in Jurassic park life will find a way. But do plant two rhizomes per spot to make sure at least one takes.
  • @BeerNFoodLover @rjbedinghaus, and @TyrannyBrewing all asked if farmers were doing whole or pellets and where those whole hops/pellets were for sale.
    • As of right now there are really only 2 people growing more then a few plants. They’ve both worked out arrangements with local brewers near them. One of those arrangements is whole hops, used in dry hoping, in exchange for Jackie O’s growlers… that’s my kind of arrangement. The other guy has a deal worked out with Yellow Springs Brewery, not sure the details there but if it involves Captain Stardust it’s a win!
  • @LooseScrewBeers: Whats the biggest problem they face growing hops in Ohio? Is it bugs? Fungal diseases? Other?
    • No one has seen fungal diseases or bugs yet but downy mildew is starting to set in on some plants, though they should be harvested any day now.

Going a bit further on @LooseScrewBeers question there are two pretty big impediments for Ohio farmers right now. First off they’re looking at about $10,000 per acre invested (not including land or labor) just to get the hops in the ground. Then you have to cut them down, pick them off the bines (not vines), and dry them. All three of those are very labor intensive activities that have yet to be efficiently automated…. though a machine meant for “medical” marijuana is showing some promise. After that $10,000 investment and that labor they’re looking at $2,000 yield the first year, hopefully going up to $7,000 in subsequent years. Which could put them at 3 – 5 years to pay off that initial investment… before making any profit.

I didn’t want to get overly heavy into the research that was done by OSU or the magic of hops; but hit me up if you’re curious and I’ll send you a copy [Update: I’m surprised by the number of people asking for this material, so don’t hit me up anymore just go to Google Drive] of the material they handed out PLUS stay tuned to the blog because I plan a post on the science of the hop.

Lastly I also found out I’m not mature enough for a discussion about aged natural grass fed cattle fertilizer… which is the fanciest way I’ve ever heard anyone say cow shit.

Know your local brewery: Cellar Dweller

When I first had Cellar Dweller last year I was not quite amazed. I remember trying 3 or 4 and found them all to be good, not great and certainly not astounding. That changed drastically a few weeks ago at Village Wine Cellar in Lebanon. I had the Doorbell IPA that went through a Hop Rocket right before kegging and man was it amazing (sadly as I found out there has only been one sixth-barrel of that so far). That motivated me to get me off my ass, pay a visit to the Cellar Dweller, and help you all know a bit more about them.

The fist things to know is that, as of now, Cellar Dweller is one guy, Steve Shaw, and he’s in a… well, in a cellar. Unlike most breweries who own their own warehouse, Cellar Dweller has the advantage of being beneath the Valley Vineyards Winery. Steve is part of Valley Vineyards family and they were happy to lend him a hand when he got the idea for Cellar Dweller.

Valley Vineyards Cellar Dweller

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Beer Review: Rockmill Tripel

Rockmill is a semi-local brewery from Lancaster, Ohio. Lancaster is about 2 hours from here and slightly south-east of Columbus. They make the somewhat lofty claim that their local water ” is nearly identical in mineral content to that of Wallonia, Belgium, where Belgian ale originated.” They also use all organic ingredients in their beers. I’ve seen the Triple, Dubbel, and Witbier at various locations around town for a while now but have resisted trying them due to the $15 price. I drink a lot of beer and that gets expensive fast so when I’ve always opted for the $10 bomber/750 over the $15 one. I’m not sure why I changed my mind and finally picked this up but I’m glad I did!

Sorry for the poor quality

Brewery: Rockmill Brewery
Beer: Tripel
Style: Belgian Tripl
ABV: 9%
Calories: ~270 per glass

Super dense and cloudy orange brown with skim of white head.

Oh man, ultra pungent flowery aroma jumps out as soon as you pop the cork. Lots of spices, banana, cloves, loads of yeast, bit of bread.

Nice classic tripel flavors showing off some floral hops, much more banana taste, some other fruits like lemon and citrus stuff. Really nice and complex flavor.

Medium body with a pretty smooth feeling and a fair bit of carbonation.

No real sense of the 9% which is nice that you can enjoy this without it being in your face. Super awesomely complex aroma and taste are both very enjoyable. I strongly regret waiting so long to have this. $15 is kinda steep and is why I held off so long but honestly for a very small brewery making beers like this it’s not an unfair price. One thing to note was how hard it was to get the cork out. I’m not sure what that means but I had to get out the wine opener and fight with it a bit. Also kinda accidentally poured the yeast in and didn’t keep it separated too well.

This review was just on their tripel but coincidentally and unbeknownst to me  fellow Cinci beer blogger Queen City Beer Nerd has just posted a review of the dubbel. I picked this bottle up at Jungle Jim’s Eastgate and you can check the Rockmill website for other locations around town as there are a few too many to list here.

I enjoyed this so much that I’m going to find some time this summer to get out to the brewery and try their other beers. I will, of course, let everyone know what I discover out in the rural Ohio countryside!

A Tale of Two Ciders

Hard ciders have been growing in popularity along with craft beer during this recent boom, though at a much smaller percentage. Years ago your selection was limited to old English brands then Woodchuck came on the scene and started to dominate. Now there are a plethora of companies making cider and 2 “local” ones that I’ll be trying tonight. My wife has been a cider lover for a long time now and I’ve been meaning to steal one of hers to review and that day has finally come.

The main difference between beer and cider is the source of the alcohol. Beer uses the sugar from malted barley while hard ciders rely on the sugar in apple juice. Don’t think this means hard ciders are light, or low alcohol, in fact the Oliver Original cider I’ll be trying tonight is 8%!

I have come to believe that there is a general perception that hard ciders are for women or something like that. Please note, I am not saying this is my perception nor am I trying to start any kind of sexist war, just stating something I’ve observed. Honestly, I think it’s nonsense and according to some facts from Angry Orchard it is equally consumed by men and women. Anything can be for anyone it’s just all about what their personal preference is. My hope is that this post will bring info about hard cider to our readers and encourage them to give it a go. That said, on to the reviews!

Brewery: Oliver Winery
Beer Cider: Beanblossom Hard Cider Original
Style: Cider
ABV: 8%
Calories: ~250

Fantastically clear and very pale yellow/gold color that honestly looks a lot like Bud Light. No head what so ever, though I’m not super sure if cider’s should have a head on them. It does look a lot like apple juice though.

Very fruity aroma with lots of sugary action and a noticeable amount of alcohol.

Pleasantly sweet taste that screams apple. I was concerned that this was going to be sickening sweet, like Georgia sweet tea, but am glad to find that’s not the case though It is certainly sweeter than most beers.

Very light body with an extremely crisp and refreshing mouth feel. This is probably my favorite part of this drink.

I digg this and can see myself drinking more of them after mowing the lawn on hot summer days, a spot usually reserved for a Rivertown Helles. Though the 8% this thing packs could make for an interesting afternoon, I’m about half way through and definitely feeling it.A few words on packaging before moving on to Angry Orchard. This is a very interesting can, bottle, canottle, cabottle? bottan? It’s a tall aluminum can, I dig the convergence of cans and bottles in this format and would like to see some beers packaged this way as well.

Brewery: Angry Orchard (Boston Beer Company)
Cider: Crisp Apple
Style: Cider
ABV: 5%
Calories: 280

Much richer golden yellow hue then the Oliver had. Also packs noticeably more “head” then Oliver did, it’s not really a normal head as much as just a ring of bubbles around the top rim.

Very strong apple smell with loads of sweet apples, but not much else.

Overly sweet apple flavor that is over done in my opinion. Like the aroma there is nothing else happening here except for the apples.

Nicely crisp, smooth, and light body feel.

Between these two the Oliver is the clear winner in my opinion. It’s got a much better overall experience and more alcohol, on the upside for this beer is that it’s cheaper, session-worthy, and massively available wherever any beer is sold.

I mentioned earlier how both of these ciders were “local”. I’m using “local” because Bloomington, Indiana isn’t in the greater Cincinnati area but is only 2 1/2 hours off. Angry Orchard claims to be from Cincinnati, Ohio. This threw me for a great loop when my wife first spotted it in Asheville, North Carolina of all places. I knew that no place making cider in Cincinnati could have popped up completely under my nose without me knowing at all. After doing a little digging online I quickly discovered that Angry Orchard is a Sam Adam’s product. So yes, it is “local” as it is brewed at Sam Adam’s facility in Over-The-Rhine.

DIY Syrups for Cocktails

violet syrup
Vanilla Violet Syrup

One of the great things about making cocktails is the almost endless number of ways you can combine spirits and mixers to create new taste profiles. With the rainbow of flavored vodkas and liqueurs on the market this is more true now than ever. But I am here today to let you know that there is an easier and cheaper way to get new and interesting flavors in your cocktails. You could create your own infused spirits, liqueurs, and even bitters from ingredients you have at home but the easiest way to start to really customize your cocktails is with homemade syrups.

The simplest recipe is of course for simple syrup. A huge number of cocktails call for additional sugar and simple syrup is the easiest way to get a smooth mix. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until they are dissolved and there you have it. It will keep in the fridge for up to six months but to extend the shelf life even longer add a little vodka; I usually use about 1/2 a teaspoon per cup of syrup. To this basic recipe you can add just about any flavor you want during the boiling phase: herbs, fruit, and tea all work well. Or you can replace the water with juice and go from there. The possibilities are endless. Also these syrups can be mixed with club soda to make your own sodas and virgin cocktails for non-drinkers.

To get you started here is one I have come up with recently that I really liked but I encourage you to experiment freely because there is not a lot you can do to mess this up.

Vanilla Violet Syrup

vanilla flyer
Vanilla Flyer Cocktail

1 cup fresh violets
1 cup boiling water
1 cut vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
Fresh lemon juice

First pick the violets growing profusely this time of year in your front yard or better yet, have a small child pick them for you. Put the violets in a mason jar and cover with one cup of boiling water. Let the mixture sit over night or up to 24 hours to steep.

Strain the mixture and press out all of the liquid. It will be kind of blue grey at this point. That is ok. Put the violet water in a pan, add the sugar and the vanilla bean and bring to a low boil for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup through a nice thick cheesecloth because the vanilla will leave specks. Next add the lemon juice to adjust the color. It doesn’t take much so add just about 1/4 teaspoon to start and add more until you get the color you want. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. This syrup makes a delicious cocktail that is a variation on the aviator cocktail so I called it:

Vanilla Flyer

1 1/2 ounces Hendricks Gin
3/4 ounces Vanilla Violet Syrup
1/4 ounce lemon juice

Shake well over ice and serve in a cocktail glass.

I realize that violets are a little fiddly and obscure as an ingredient but since I’ve really been getting into the idea of local drinks I couldn’t resist using something that was literally growing right outside my front door. Check out Episode 10 of Bottoms Up for recipes for Mandarin Orange Syrup and Rosemary Mint Syrup if you want recipes that don’t involve foraging.