Views on imported beers (The Session #122)

This month’s The Session on the topic of “Views on imported beers” is hosted at I think about beer by Christopher Barnes. It is apropos that this month’s instantiation of The Session falls on National Beer Day in the US, April 7th, when we, i.e., beer nerds, celebrate the Cullen-Harrison Act going into effect and effectively ending Prohibition. It is also, and more accurately, known as National Session Beer Day since it was 3.2% ABV beer that was approved for sale. Nor was it the entirety of the country as some states failed to pass there own legalization laws prior to the 7th.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

Barnes has a fairly close connection to imported beers as his post explains:

“I love imported beer, specifically Belgian and German beer. They’re what I drink. My cellar is made up of Belgian beers, my fridge is full of them, and there a few stashed around in a closet or two as well. Imported beer is my life. I drink them. I write about them. I travel to experience them. In fact, my career involves working with Imported Beer. I manage several prominent import portfolios for a Oregon craft focused wholesaler. And while I have a vested interest in the success of Imported Beer, it doesn’t lessen my passion for the traditional beers of Europe. As craft beer sales have surged across America, sales of imported beers have suffered. I’m going to ask a couple of questions.

For American and Canadians: What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?

For Non North Americans: How are American beers (imported into YOUR country) viewed? What is their place in your market?”

I am clearly a North American, and sadly have not been out of the country in a couple of years so could not tackle the second question anyway. I will begin by first answering the related question: “What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in my beer drinking?”

#1: What place do imported beers have in my drinking?

For point of reference, I spent three tours in the Army in Europe: twice in Germany and once in Belgium and I have been back once to Germany for my son’s wedding. Just not lately. To say the least, I drank a fair bit of European beers and drank them fresh and (mostly) local during those tours.

Over the last couple of years, I studied for and qualified as an MBAA Beer Steward, a Cicerone Beer Server, and a BJCP Certified judge. Preparing for all of these involved drinking imported beers from the major brewing centers of Europe and a few of the smaller ones to boot.

I also quite enjoy lots of Belgian beers, German Lagers, Czech Pilsners [have not had those local, sadly], some Samuel Smith’s beers, and many, many others. No doubt I would love many additional beers and styles if I were exposed to them.

But. Freshness is a major issue. [I have a gestating post on the freshness problem in craft beer, including local craft beer, so this problem is not an imports-only issue, although many of the issues are different.]

Living in a thriving local and state beer scene, no, even a hip and happening local and state beer scene, means the imports see a little less love than they might in an area without a glut of choice for fresh, tasty and local beer. Sure, you can choose imported—European or otherwise—beer but it will not be fresh. If that seems too strong a claim, then purchasing imported beer will always be a crap shoot seeing as you have no idea how it was handled and stored on its voyage from the brewery across the seas and to the store shelf or bar tap. It may be quite tasty but it will (most likely) not qualify as fresh.

Just recently I started studying to retake the BJCP tasting exam in July. I want that 80+%! This means, again, looking for representative beers from twenty (20) European style categories and sixty-seven (67!) European substyles I need to have a grasp of.

Imported beers—of whatever quality—will be critical to my preparation. If our exam administrator finds the time to do a prep class again, like last year, then they become critical in the context of a larger group of people. Perhaps the importance is the same but moving scale from one person to a class of several or more amplifies any learning by being able to discuss the beers with other like-minded folks towards the same purpose. That seems to me amplification enough of their value, in an educational context.

Imports also provide some variety, which is quite nice amongst all of the PNW (and other) beer at hand.

Back to the larger question: “What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?”

#2: What place do imported beers have in a craft beer market?

One of the areas I think imports may serve in the craft beer market is as a potential gateway. There are many folks—of all ages but especially nearer mine—for who it is little to no stretch to consider an imported beer on occasion instead of only industrial lagers. They might not think much past that but they can at least get that far. It might even only be on a “fancy” occasion.

While I agree that many craft breweries can brew a craft light lager that blows any macro away as far as flavor goes, not all beer drinkers want their light lager to be so. If they consider an international lager, or a Festbier, or German Pils, or Hefeweizen or any other imported beer that has just that much more flavor, then perhaps craft Euro-style beers might also appeal or at least be given a chance. But if said drinker never deviates from industrial light lager then all flavor “lures” are off-the-table already. Then they might be tempted to try an American craft version of that style [which is another completely fraught issue of its own].

Aside on imported beer and craft/macro: Let me be perfectly clear, by-the-by, that craft beer and imported beer are neither mutually exclusive nor mostly overlapping categories, but overlap they do. Just as much imported beer overlaps with “American” macro beers.

Now this should not be the only role for imported beer in a craft scene. As I just said, many of these beers should and do qualify as “craft” [define how you like].

Beers like Saison Dupont are exquisite and amazingly affordable. Then there are the even more renowned beers such as Westvleteren XII that is neither affordable and was only once legitimately available here in the states. I still have 2 bottles that came with my 6 bottles and 2 glasses package. Being able to taste this “best beer in the world” and to share it with friends and fellow craft beer geeks was very special. Is it delicious? Quite. But I like beers of that profile, call it a style or not. Is it “the best beer in the world”? Seriously? Those titles are always ridiculous. It is not even my favorite beer. By a long shot. But I am stoked that I still have 2 little bottles to drink and enjoy some day in the future.

I guess I don’t really know “What place imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market.” Many traditional European beers are craft beers.

Primarily, they should be available in their own right for being the (often) tasty beers that they are.

For many folks studying for Cicerone, MBAA, BJCP or other certifications, having a diverse array of imported beer available is critical to their study, preparation and continued learning.

Lastly, they might serve as gateway or transition beers for folks who either “do not like beer at all” or to lead those who might on occasion drink an imported beer to other craft examples, whether imported or American.

“Virginia” beer

The wife and I spent a week recently in the Falls Church, Virginia area enjoying lots of beers; only some of these were from Virginia so I put “Virginia” in double quotes. We went for a memorial service for my niece who recently passed and with so much family together again we also celebrated Thanksgiving and my brother-in-law’s birthday on Dec. 1st. With so many relatives in one house, along with the stress of saying goodbye to a loved one, and multiple receptions, and … a lot of beer (and wine) was consumed.

My daughter and son-in-law picked us up at the airport Wednesday evening. We stopped at Dominion Wine & Beer @DominionWB in Falls Church, VA on the way to my sister’s house. Great selection and friendly people. They told us about a free tasting of big beers on Black Friday for the Bourbon County Brand Stout release and even had the bottles on the counter.

Black Friday BCBS Release Tasting at Dominion Wine & Beer, Falls Church, VA. Consumed from left to right.

Black Friday BCBS Release Tasting at Dominion Wine & Beer, Falls Church, VA. Consumed from left to right.

We made sure to add it to our calendars.  The real beauty: it is about a 5-minute walk away from my sister’s place. We will definitely be visiting them whenever we make it back there. In fact, we visited 3 or 4 times in the week we were there.

Before we left Bend, Sara discovered that there is a Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church so that was high on our list and we made it there Sun evening (30th). We also wanted to get to Spacebar, a specialty grilled cheese and tater tots craft beer bar, which we did Monday night.

I failed to checkin every beer in Untappd. I even failed to record/list every (unique) beer and also to take a picture of every one. Of course, some were duplicates and I didn’t want to check them in. Some I just missed.

This post is in 3 parts: commentary on the tasting at Dominion Wine & Beer; our 1st visit to a Dogfish Head Alehouse; and a list of the beers that I know I had, by day, as best as possible.

Dominion Wine & Beer BCBS Release Tasting

On Friday, my kids, their spouses, and Sara and I attended a tasting in conjunction with the Goose Island BCBS release at Dominion Wine & Beer. We got there a few minutes early and the place was packed and the tasting had already started. The gentleman pouring made sure to get us started at the beginning though. It was packed to the gills but everyone jostled along good-naturedly. I overheard the guy at the checkout telling someone that this is their biggest tasting by far; that most are far more manageable. Good to know. 😉

Let me just say that any tasting that begins with Epic’s Big Bad Baptist is something to not only behold but to be at. Seeing as we were going so big I only tried to grab an overall impression and didn’t write any tasting notes. These are the beers in the order we had them.

  • Epic Big Bad Baptist (Batch 40) [no checkin]
  • North Coast bbl-aged Old Rasputin 4.5
  • Stone Southern Charred 4.5
  • 3 Brothers Resolute 4.0
  • Avery Tweak 4.5
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout 2014 4.5

As you can see I liked most of them well enough. 😉

Dogfish Head Alehouse, Falls Church, VA

Dogfish Head Alehouse of Falls Church, VA

Dogfish Head Alehouse of Falls Church, VA

Sunday evening found 9 of us heading to the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church (Mom, kids and spouses, sister and spouse, Sara and me). Sara and I were practically giddy. Overall our visit was excellent.

There were some issues with getting the correct beers in both of the premium flights ordered (Max and Sara) and the onion rings on two orders were cold. Our waitress, Marian, was most excellent. She got fresh hot onion rings for both and she tried to get the beer issues straightened out. Whoever was pouring was not on their game, that’s for sure. Possibly the wrong beer was on the wrong tap. Sara & Max both got 4-beer flights with one beer overlapping. That beer was different in both cases and was not the beer asked for. They were both replaced but the beers were still different (color, taste). Then Sara discovered her Palo Santo Marron was Chicory Stout. She doesn’t care for it and it is a standard beer compared to the premiumly-priced Palo Santo. Marian was horrified and was going to replace it but since I had a snifter of the Palo Santo we decided to just share that. We certainly had enough beer between us.

Heavenly snifter of draft Palo Santo Marron

Heavenly snifter of draft Palo Santo Marron

I did pull Marian aside and tell her that she was awesome as far as were were concerned. In the end, I also talked to the manager. I started by telling him Marian was “grace under pressure” and that we appreciated her. I also calmly let him know we had been having beer issues and that he might want to keep an eye on the bar tending. He was already on it since Marian had alerted him. He was grateful for the information and apologetic. My son grabbed the entire bill so I have no idea if either did anything with the bill. Nonetheless, everyone got at least as much (or more) beer as they ordered and everyone had plenty of tasty food.

I would be happy to go back as everyone we interacted with acted professionally and sometimes stuff just happens.

Beers consumed

[Note: except for 1-2 already at the house and those at Dogfish Head and at Spacebar, all beers were acquired from Dominion Wine & Beer. The ones already at the house may also have come from Dominion.]

26 Nov

  • Yuengling Traditional Lager 4.0
  • Dark Horse Too Cream Stout 4.0
  • Dark Horse One Oatmeal Stout Unrated [late checkin]
Yuengling Traditional Lager

Yuengling Traditional Lager

Dark Horse Too Cream Stout

Dark Horse Too Cream Stout

Dark Horse One Oatmeal Stout

Dark Horse One Oatmeal Stout

The Yuengling surprised me with how good it was. I would gladly drink several in the proper setting. The two Dark Horse stouts were fairly tasty.

27 Nov

  • Saison Dupont 5.0
  • The Duck Rabbit Milk Stout 4.5
  • Great Lakes Blackout Stout 4.0
  • Bells Two Hearted Ale 4.5
  • Brasserie d’Achouffe McChouffe 4.5
  • Dogfish Head Beer Thousand  4.5
  • Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail 4.0
  • Brouwerij Huyghe La Guillotine 4.0
  • Tröegs Troegenator 4.0 [late checkin]

Had a classic, Saison Dupont, as an opener and during my stint as a sous chef for others. Ended up drinking most of the bottle myself. I tried to share. Their loss.

04Bells 044

Bells Two Hearted Ale

d'Achouffe McChouffe

d’Achouffe McChouffe

Dogfish Head Beer Thousand

Dogfish Head Beer Thousand

07EvilTwin 047

Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail

Brouwerij Huyghe La Guillotine

Brouwerij Huyghe La Guillotine

Tröegs Brothers Troegenator

Tröegs Brothers Troegenator

28 Nov

  • Tröegs Troegenator [probably]
  • Epic Big Bad Baptist Batch 40 – seems no checkin [DominionWB tasting – see section above]
  • North Coast bbl-aged Old Rasputin 4.5 [DominionWB]
  • Stone Southern Charred 4.5 [DominionWB]
  • 3 Brothers Resolute 4.0 [DominionWB]
  • Avery Tweak 4.5 [DominionWB]
  • Goose Island Bourbon County 2014 4.5 [DominionWB]
  • Hardywood Virginia Blackberry 4.0
  • Sam Adams Cherry Chocolate Bock 2.5
Black Friday BCBS Release Tasting at Dominion Wine & Beer, Falls Church, VA. Consumed from left to right.

Black Friday BCBS Release Tasting at Dominion Wine & Beer, Falls Church, VA. Consumed from left to right.

Hardywood Virginia Blackberry (Reserve Series)

Hardywood Virginia Blackberry (Reserve Series)

Samuel Adams Cherry Chocolate Bock

Samuel Adams Cherry Chocolate Bock

29 Nov

  • Schlafly Imp Stout, bourbon barrel-aged 4.5
  • Southern Tier Choklat – no checkin

Personally, I do not care for Choklat. At all. The wife does and bought this one. I think maybe she’s outgrowing her fondness for it. I hope.

Schlafly Imperial Stout 2013

Schlafly Imperial Stout 2013

Southern Tier Choklat

Southern Tier Choklat

30 Nov

Dogfish Head Alehouse

Dogfish Head Alehouse, Falls Church beer menu on 30 November 2014

Dogfish Head Alehouse, Falls Church beer menu on 30 November 2014

I had a small taste of both Firefly and American Beauty but wasn’t impressed enough to want a whole glass. So many other good choices. Went with the Palo Santo Marron, my first on draft. It was exquisite, of course.

FYI: The Core Beer Sampler is 6 4-oz pours of 60 Minute through Chicory Stout; the Premium Sampler is 4 4-oz pours of any four premium beers. The pours are quite generous and easily 5-oz each. I went for the snifter as I am a bit unhappy at the 50% increase in price along with a decrease of 33% in the amount of beer. That is quite significant and way beyond “premium.”

1 Dec

  • Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout – Tad thin but OK  3.0
  • Lost Rhino Face Plant IPA 4.5 [late checkin]
  • Peak Organic Winter Session Ale ME 5% 4.5 [Spacebar]
  • Terrapin Wake n Bake [Spacebar -Sara]
  • Blue Mountain Long Winters Nap Maibock VA 10% 4.0 [Spacebar -Sara]
  • Smuttynose Smuttonator Doppelbock NH 9.5% 4.0 [Spacebar -Sara]

I wish I had recognized that the KBBS was the one Brian Yaeger wrote about in Red, White, and Brew. Neither Sara or I were fans either way; it was pretty meh. I enjoyed the Face Plant.

It was too dark at Spacebar for photos. My Peak Organics Winter Session was quite tasty. I also enjoyed trying Sara’s Blue Mountain and Smuttynose. My son and his wife both got Deschutes Black Butte Porter.

ALLTECH Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout

ALLTECH Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout

Lost Rhino Face Plant IPA

Lost Rhino Face Plant IPA

2 Dec

None – travel day

Actually, I tried to get a beer in the Portland (OR) airport before our flight home to Redmond. Our little terminal even had a Laurelwood pub. But since the waitress could not answer what I considered a most basic question about a beer I left. I wanted to know whether the stout had coffee in it. She was apologetic that she didn’t know but that is irrelevant; it is polite but of no actual informational value. She also didn’t volunteer to check with anyone else.

I don’t know if those folks are airport concessionaires or actual Laurelwood employees but they were wearing Laurelwood attire. Protip: Educate your employees or people acting as employees. She lost you the sale of a pint and food. She also lost you the good will of a tired, pissed off traveler who came to you for respite and replenishment.

Recap

A lot of good beer was drunk, along with a bit of mediocre stuff. That’s the deal when being adventurous though.

We sent my daughter and son-in-law back home (they drove) with a 2013 The Abyss and a Black Butte Porter Reserve XXVI which I had checked on the way. They also took the small bottle of BCBS we bought at the tasting and a couple other things. We also left a few tasties for my sister and brother-in-law.

Thanks, northern Virginia (especially Dominion Wine & Beer) and thanks to the Virginia brewers/breweries for the actual VA beers we did have.

Upon arriving home just before midnight on Tuesday, we found a very wet box on the front doorstep. Pulling it inside and unwrapping it found–bedraggled but not frozen– two Lompoc Pamplemousse Citrus IPA bombers, a grapefruit, USB key and pint glass. It must have been delivered late in the day and, for once, everyone’s timing was good (except for the beautiful presentation which was a bit disturbed).

Lompoc Pamplemousse Citrus IPA package

Lompoc Pamplemousse Citrus IPA package