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Craft Beer New Kids, No More – Destination Unknown Beer Company

Author’s Note: My original vision of Craft Beer New Kids, No More was to be a five-part series focusing on new breweries, open six months or less, and the challenges they faced after their grand opening. I have decided it will be a continous series highlighting breweries up to two years old.

After years of struggling with supplies, regulations, licenses, and the constant outflow of money, you finally open your brewery. Congratulations! You’re the new kid in town! If you’ve done your marketing homework correctly, local media are knocking on your door to publish your story. You’ve received constant calls and emails from beer distributors, bars, and restaurants wanting to get your beer on tap. Twitter and Instagram are abuzz with pictures and good reviews. But it’s now six months, a year, two years later and the newness has faded. Now what?

Destination Unknown Beer Company logo We ask local New York breweries what happens when the spotlight has dimmed, the fanfare has quieted, and the not-so-newsworthy hard work of running a business continues. This time, we talk to Destination Unknown Beer Company co-owners and brewers, Brad Finn and Chris Candiano.

  1. How are your relationships with those first restaurants, bars, and distributors when you first opened compared to now? Do they continue to support you?

    (Chris): We were so small when we opened. We didn’t start distribution right away, just tasting room only. We still struggle with that because we are [six months later] still small. I wouldn’t say we had “fifteen minutes of fame” when we opened, we had about seven-and-a-half. A lot of people still don’t know about us.

    (Brad): We get people in the tasting room all the time [asking], “When did you open last week?”

    Destination Unknown tap list from their tasting room We get an email every single day from a different beer distributor or a different bar. As far as relationships, we did some small distribution and we got amazing feedback from them, and we continue to use them. As we continue to grow and expand, we try to take care of the people that took care of us in the beginning. We have to say “no” to a lot of people. It hurts and we don’t want to do it but we have a hard time keeping beer in [our tasting room].

    (Chris): I feel there are two sides of beer fandom: Beer fans that seek the newest, coolest beers and then move on; and, then you get the locals and your core audience. We have established a core audience and they are what keep us in business day to day.

    We do release a new beer almost every week, because we are small enough to do that. We like to play around, and that gets people into the door. That is not us just trying to rope people in. It is seeing what our little home-brew recipes can do and how they translate to the public—some of them are great, some of them are not so great. This is where we are finding our core beers. So you get people that come in, and they say they want to see what’s new, and that’s awesome.

  2. How important is continuing social media to a small brewer and being engaged with your customer? Is it possible to become too engaged?

    Taps at the Destination Unknown tasting room (Brad): We definitely use social media to our advantage. I try to at least post something every day to all our social media outlets. It lets people know what we are doing, and other times just to keep Destination Unknown in the back of people’s minds. It is an incredible source of marketing. I don’t think we would be doing as well as we are if we couldn’t use social media. It’s very, very important to us as a small, local business to continue to use social media on a regular basis.

    (Chris): We believe in interacting with the public to see what they are looking forward to. This isn’t our full-time gig (yet), and, trying to do our day jobs and this, is very hectic. We can’t always be on top of everything. It’s hard enough with scheduling brewing days, cleaning days, and the tasting room hours.

    It takes the choice of beers out of our own heads. What would you like? We know what we like, but you can also get your own little world what you like making and not what people are looking for. Social media definitely helps us with that.

  3. Events are a huge part of getting your brand recognized. Do you continue to pour at them? Does the cost factor and return-on-investment start to creep in more and more now that you are moderately established?

    (Brad): There is definitely a cost factor. We opened in the summer, so we had festival after festival to choose from. I think when it comes down to us attending an event, we look at the return of investment as far as the market we are going to reach. For example, an event far away from the tasting room, a small majority might visit. We did Bats & Brews Benefit, and it was only 75 to 100 people there, but they were right around the corner from us. Fifty of those people have come to the tasting room. In comparison, when I go to a large event I see two or three of the thousand people that were there.

    We don’t look at it at a financial end. We take the loss, and we know it’s advertisement. Being that it’s advertisement, we more look at the return-on-investment on the type of crowd that are going to be there. Are they beer drinkers that are they going to seek us out? When they taste [our beer], are they in the locale and are they are going to come to the tasting room. We will make the money back when they come to enjoy the beer here.

    (Chris): At this stage in our brewery, we have have no business sometimes going to a really large event, where is 5,000 to 10,000 people. At some of those events, people just hang out and drink a ton of beers, not necessarily taste a bunch of beers. So, at this stage, we are picky and choosy not for monetary reasons. Who is our target audience? It’s easy to get lost in the static.

    (Brad): It’s all about meeting that one person who has a hundred friends. You treat everybody you meet, whether at a big or small event, with respect and just represent yourself well.

  4. How do you balance your brewing needs now, and what your needs are going to be in the future?

    (Brad): It runs our day.

    (Chris): That is our main topic of conversation between us now—it’s every day. We had this conversation last night. What are we doing? We are grinding it out.

    (Brad): It wasn’t like people said you are going to grind it out on a one-barrel system and we said “you are fucking crazy” and “we are going to be different.” We just didn’t know how fast we were ready for expansion.

    A tulip glass with a dark beer from Destination Unknown (Chris): We are trying to keep up. We did not expect to be where we are now, and that’s great, and that’s a good problem to have, but it’s our main problem right now. After our grand opening, we were forced to hit the ground running. We sold out at our grand opening and had to close [the tasting room] for a month.

    (Brad): We didn’t expect that. We have been playing catch up ever since that day. Our business plan was 50 to 60 barrels in our first year, and here we are at six months and we are at 70 barrels, so we knew we were have to grind it out, but we thought the grind would be trying to bring people in and pay the mortgage. We didn’t know the grind would be making beer every single day just to keep up with demand.

    (Chris): That was one problem we never thought in a thousand years that we would have. We can’t make beer fast enough; we can’t make enough of it.

    (Brad): And that’s just for here in the tasting room. People are like “brew more,” and we don’t have enough time—we don’t have enough days to brew more. It’s hard to get investors and loans when you only have six months sales experience. When you only have six months of history, you can’t blame people.

    (Chris): When we decided to jump into this, we did this on a shoe-string budget. We do luckily have six months of really good sales and numbers to show. Banks and traditional outlets are a little hesitant. Is it going to be a private investor? Do we give equity away? This is our baby—why do we want to give equity away? What are we going to get out of this? What are the investors going to get out of it?

    (Brad): I don’t think we knew how fast we would be looking at expansion and how difficult it would be. I think we thought, if we reached capacity at one barrel and we can’t keep up, it’s going to be a no-brainer for someone to see how good we are doing and invest in us.

    (Chris): But that was supposed to be two years down the line, not six months.

  5. What is the most important thing to your business right now?**

    (Chris): Our flagship beer, Dominick White IPA. The public made that our flagship beer. That’s what people went nuts over. We had a pale ale that was great and thought people were going to love. We don’t even make that any more. But, to make [Dominick White IPA] consistently, it is actually pretty hard. There are hop shortages we have to contend with. The main hop is Amarillo which is the most popular hop right now. It’s hard to get, so we have to be creative some time.

    How do we be creative but keep it consistent? It’s the big, constant struggle.

    (Brad): To establish a brand, there has to be a level of consistency and a level that people expect. I can make 100 beers, and I can make that my primary focus, but if I make 100 beers that are shitty…. It’s important for us to establish a consistent reputation of making good, traditional-style beers. It’s a lot harder than people imagine.

    (Chris): The most important thing for us right now is just making good beer. That is what public expects, and that’s why we are here. That’s the most important thing—consistency.

Thanks Brad and Chris! We hope you have continuing success! Destination Unknown’s tasting room and brewery is located in Bay Shore, New York, and you can check it out on Facebook, too.

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Bay Shore Brewery Boom

Fact: The Brewers Collective needs space. In less than a year, it has quickly outgrown the shared facility at A Taste of Long Island in Farmingdale, New York. And room it will have, as it becomes the newest brewery to find a home in Bay Shore, with 1,300 sq. ft. of space on North Clinton Avenue.

collective1 collective2Its move comes as no surprise following its success at the farmers market in Babylon and its constant rotation of beers on tap all across Nassau and Suffolk County like Useful Idiot, an American IPA, Schweet, a witbier beer with orange peel, and Loot, a gruit ale, an historically traditional beer that uses herbs in conjunction with, or replacing, hops. It’s the third brewery to have a home in the Bay Shore, following Great South Bay Brewery on Drexel Avenue, and Destination Unknown Beer Company on Chicago Avenue.

With the success of breweries, craft beer bars, and beer-centric events in Riverhead and Patchogue, Bay Shore may soon woo more lovers of craft beer to stay in Western Suffolk. And just like their neighbors out east, the restaurants and shops of Bay Shore will reap the benefits of patrons as they begin or end their brewery tours in the heart of town.

As The Brewers Collective exits, another slot opens up at A Taste of Long Island in its alternating proprietorship. 1940’s Brewing Company and Po’ Boy Brewery, who were also brewing at the Farmingdale facility, are already in the process of moving into a 2,000 sq. ft. brewery and tasting room on Lakeland Avenue in Bohemia.

Look for The Brewers Collective’s tasting room and brewery to open in 2016.

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Grinding Away

Two brewers walk into a bar. Okay, that’s not exactly how it happened.

Christopher Vetter, brewer and founder of Sail Away Coffee Co. first stopped by the Barrage Brewing tasting room to enjoy a beer flight. He started Sail Away just a year ago, offering cold brew coffee and small-batch roasted beans at farmers markets across Long Island, and was curious about this other small business right around the corner. “I had come across Barrage online and heard about this local brewery right by me where I work. I decided to visit one day, and it was totally unexpected.”

Fortuitously, Steve Pominski, owner and brewmaster of Barrage Brewing was on-site that day, and Christopher, impressed by what he just sampled, struck up a conversation. Chris says, “I had the idea prior, almost to the inception of [Sail Away Coffee], that I would love to use my cold brew and infuse it in beer. I would love a beer to come to life that had all the traits of my cold brew—smooth, non-astringent…” Two weeks after that tasting room visit, an opportunity presented itself.

Photo © Sail Away Coffee Co. Instagram

Photo courtesy of Sail Away Coffee Co. on Instagram

Chris continues, “We got invited to do the NYC Craft Beer Festival as a cold brew vendor. This would be a great idea to approach Steve and invite him along. The next day I walked in there and asked him if he would be into it.” Chris brought samples of his cold brew coffee for Steve to try, and, after a few tastings, a collaboration beer was born. The final product, CMP, a 6.5% ABV. coffee milk porter, is made with a concentrate of Sail Away‘s cold brew coffee.

Steve says of CMP, “I want the porter to mimic a coffee with sugar. It will have that traditional porter, coffee look, using a cold coffee extract that Sail Away will be producing and adding lactose to make it a little sweet.”

barrage Working with coffee is nothing new for Barrage, having experience with brewing coffee in its Famous Last Words Russian Imperial stout and Sweet Louis Coffee Hazelnut cream stout. Steve is ready to take on the challenge of replicating Sail Away‘s unique cold brew into a beer. “In some of the better coffee stouts and porters, the brewers actually cold steep their beans before they actually put them in the beer, so it’s not at all unfamiliar. …it’s kind of funny that brewers have been doing it for awhile. So coffee shops and brewers were doing it side by side and now they are crossing paths.”

The pairing at the NYC Craft Beer Festival would have been a rare chance for beer drinkers to sample the cold brew coffee and the CMP beer at the same time. Steve said, “We are going to be side by side at the beer festival in Manhattan. People are [going to] drink his coffee and then be able to drink my beer… I want people to say ‘Hey, this tastes like I’m drinking coffee, but it’s a beer!'”

Alas, it was not to be. Due to last minute changes in venue and dates, Barrage Brewing was unable to pour at the festival. Do not despair for CMP, the coffee milk porter, will debut this month at the Barrage Brewing tasting room in Farmingdale, New York, and at select restaurants and bars across Long Island.

Barrage Brewing is located at 32 Allen Blvd, East Farmingdale, New York. Sail Away Coffee Co. can be found at farmers markets across Long Island. Visit sailawaycoffee.com or Facebook for up to date information.

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Can-tastic! Long Island Breweries Look to Aluminum

It’s what defined “craft beer” from “macro” for a long time—craft in glass bottles, big beer in cans. Canning has become cheaper and lighter, but, more importantly, there have been improvements in canning technology so the beer doesn’t react to the can, producing off-flavors. These developments didn’t go unnoticed by small breweries wishing to cut costs while preserving the taste of their crafted brew. By switching to cans, breweries achieve greater penetration into beach venues and sporting arenas that don’t want the waste and hazards of glass bottles. Canning is increasing within Long Island’s breweries, some having made the leap, with more planning to jump to aluminum.

Blue Point Brewing Company

Two cans of Blue Point Brewing Toasted Lager  Two cans of Mosaic Session IPA from Blue Point Brewing

No surprise that being one of the elder statesmen of breweries on LI, Blue Point was one of the first to start canning in 2012. Blue Point’s canned beer includes its flagship Toasted Lager, the popular Summer Ale, White IPA, and Toxic Sludge, and most recently Rastafa Rye Ale and Mosaic Session IPA.

Montauk Brewing Company

Cans of Montauk Brewing Driftwood Ale, Summer Ale, Session IPA, Hop Blonde Ale, and Arrowhead Red Ale This brewery at the end of Long Island’s South Fork began canning in 2014. Now, you can find its beers all over the Island, even at impressive venues like Citi Field. Its lineup includes Driftwood Ale, Summer Ale, and Session IPA.

Montauk Brewing is also releasing Hop Blonde Ale, a 5% ABV, hoppy American blonde ale made with Nugget and Ahtanum hops in the beginning of September, and Arrowhead Red Ale, a 5% ABV, Irish red ale, which will be released by the end of the year.

Port Jeff Brewing Company

Cans of Port Jeff Brewing Party Boat Session IPA, Beach Beer, and Overboard Port Jeff first canned its Party Boat Session IPA, and it was an immediate success. Never one to be ordinary, Port Jeff began canning four-packs of their H3 Trippel, a Belgian-style ale, and Overboard, a Russian Imperial stout in 2015. In June, Beach Beer, a Belgian-style wheat beer, was also added.

Great South Bay Brewery

Cans of Great South Bay Field 5 Golden IPA 2015 was the Year of the Can for GSB and its Field 5 Golden IPA. It also introduced Long Island to the “Crowler,” a 32oz. can filled to order in GSB’s tasting room with any choice of beers on tap. Personally, I want to see its popular Blonde Ambition American Blonde Ale and Blood Orange Pale Ale in six pack. I can only hope.

Blind Bat Brewery

Aluminum bottles of Yorker Ale, Commack Common Ale, Echolocation IPA, Midnight Train to Jodhpur, and glass bottles of Purgatory Porter and Hells Gate Golden Ale Blind Bat has been appearing at farmers markets with something shiny and new. Instead of cans, its using aluminum bottles. Some of the new bottles are Commack Common Ale, Echolocation IPA, Midnight Train to Jodhpur, an American black ale, and Yorker Special Bitter.

Barrage Brewing Company

Barrage is looking to release two of its beers in cans before year’s end. First, will be their American IPA Galaxy Beast. Initially the cans will only be available for sale at the tasting room, so don’t look for them at your local distributor… yet.


NB: Photos taken at Bellport Cold Beer and Soda in Bellport, New York, except for Montauk Brewing Company and Blind Bat Brewery which were provided by the breweries.

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Photos from Long Ireland Brewery’s 1st Pintwood Derby

From a spark of inspiration within the mind of Long Ireland Brewing’s Dan Burke, to the surprise hit of the summer, the DnU team were thrilled to be amongst the two hundred people that experienced the Pintwood Derby, on Saturday, July 26, in Riverhead, New York. There’s talk of making this an annual event, and, if so, look out competitors! The DnU Generic Wheeler will be burning across the finish line faster than I can complete a sentence, which is actually a long time if I’m being completely honest—sometimes I do run on.

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Beer, Beats, and Bicycles: Honoring Ed Hahne

Ed Hahne Memorial Beer Brunch Poster Over 200 people packed into the main room of Bobbique in Patchogue, New York, on Saturday, June 20, to snack on brunch bites, hoist a pint for a good cause, and to share memories of Ed Hahne, for the Ed Hahne Memorial Beer Brunch.

Ed Hahne, music educator for over 40 years, Long Island Beer & Malt Enthusiasts (LIMBE) treasurer and cycling enthusiast, tragically passed away last July. His loss was deeply felt within the Long Island beer community, where his presence and friendly smile welcomed everyone at breweries and events.

Spearheaded by LIBME, Eric Rifkin, owner of Bobbique, and Andy and Lynda Calimano from Starfish Junction, the proceeds of the brunch and silent auction brought just under $7500 for two great causes: The Ed Hahne Memorial Scholarship, presented to a student and marching band member from Ed’s alma mater, Stony Brook University; and, Recycle-A-Bicycle, an organization helping “to foster youth development, environmental education, community engagement, and healthy living.”

The recipient of the Ed Hahne Memorial Award and Scholarship for 2015, Dan Wood, played during the brunch. Dan was chosen from a pool of eleven nominated students, and exemplified, as the Ed Hahne Award site states:

… [The] band member who best captures the spirit of Ed Hahne, a music educator for 41 years. The recipient should be one whose enthusiasm and humor are contagious, whose friendship transcends class time, and who encourages and inspires dedication to superior performance.

Lee Ann Hahne, Ed’s widow, spoke at the event, saying her husband felt he was the “luckiest guy in the world” to be apart of this community. The memorial brunch was one of the ways that the community showed how lucky we were to have Ed. Encouraged by the substantial turn out, the organizers are hoping to make this a yearly event.

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Long Beard Brewing finds its place in Riverhead

Long Beard Brewing Logo

Logo courtesy Long Beard Brewing

The lease has been signed and key is in hand. After three years of searching and plenty of waiting, Long Beard Brewing finds a new home in Riverhead, New York, at the former East 2nd Street firehouse, just two blocks away from Main Street.

When we spoke in 2014 to Paul Carlin and Craig Waltz, brewers and co-owners of Long Beard, they had their eyes fixed on Long Island’s booming beer town:

Paul and Craig of Long Beard Brewing

Paul and Craig
Photo courtesy of Long Beard Brewing

“We feel, right now, [Riverhead] is our best option for a number of reasons. The first is it’s a destination spot. Riverhead has become a hub for craft beer on Long Island. You can’t argue that. We have done a lot of research and spoken to a lot of people to help make that decision. One of the more important aspects of our brewery will be our tasting room. We want people coming in droves! Being in Riverhead will make that easier. Look what’s going on there! You are in wine country, in a town that is putting effort in revitalizing main street and bringing in much needed business and tourism. The town, itself, is friendlier to our industry, and the beer tours will be always coming in with business. It just makes sense.”

East 2nd St Firehouse in Riverhead, New York

The 2nd St Firehouse
Photo © Google Maps

They are taking over part of the firehouse, about 3,000 sq. feet, and will begin construction on the brewery portion first, with a tasting room to follow. Long Beard Brewing becomes the forth brewery in Riverhead, with neighbors Long Ireland Brewing, Moustache Brewing, and Crooked Ladder Brewery turning Riverhead into a Brewmuda Triangle. (Good pun, but wouldn’t it be Brewmuda Rectangle? — ed.)

Inside the empty 2nd St firehouse where Long Beard Brewing will open its brewery




Inside the empty 2nd St firehouse where Long Beard Brewing will open its breweryInside the new space where Long Beard Brewing will open.
Photos courtesy of Long Beard Brewing.

Long Beard is ready to start its next chapter—getting its beer into the market. Paul is excited for the future of the brewery location, saying, “This gives us tons of room for growth and a sweet kick-ass tasting room that [when completed] will have a look and feel that will make you to never want to leave!”

Follow Long Beard Brewing on Facebook and Twitter.

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Ferment-Me-Nots : Questions to avoid asking your new local brewer

Recently attending the one-year anniversary party of Moustache Brewing—it seems like yesterday it was just breaking ground to its brewery in Riverhead, New York—with a pint of Milk and Honey Brown Ale in my hand, I started to think of other Long Island brewery births I have witnessed. I have watched many go from home brewer, 3-bbl systems, their first van, their first bottling line, to seeing them sell beer out of state.

Two plastic pints of Moustache Brewing beer, one amber and one dark, by a paper bag with Moustache’s logo

Memories…

It’s no surprise. The Brewers Association just listed NY 2nd in new brewery openings, 67 in 2014, and a 54% production increase over last year. There are five Long Island breweries I know of that are in the process of getting licenses, leases, or opening tasting rooms. It’s a small community, and there is a good chance you’re a friend or a friend-of-a-friend of a brewer.

Talking to brewers—and attending a grand opening or two—I have come across questions that seem to pop up every time a new brewery rears its foamy head. They’re starting to get old, and some, frankly are starting to make me cringe. Maybe it’s because I’ve asked a couple of these questions, too (d’oh!). I think it’s time for “new brew” etiquette. Why look at me, I’m the Emily Post of beer!

Q: Can I have a free t-shirt or pint glass or…?

T-shirts and other items are a popular way to get the brewery’s name out into the public. Friends may ask, “Hey who’s that? Where are they?” This merchandise is also a source of income, small it may be, that help fund that brewery. Don’t assume that the brewery is giving away swag for free. Don’t get bent out shape when the friendly volunteer behind the counter asks for your credit card. If you want something, ask how much it is, even if you know the brewer. Don’t put him or her in an awkward situation. If you get it for free—sweet! If not, pony up and help the brewery out.

Q: I invested in you in Kickstarter, so why can’t I get a free…?

A line of Long Island brewery imprinted pint glasses

One of my many brewery “investments.”

Many breweries use or have used Kickstarter to help with some aspect of their business plan. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website. Funders donate money to a business, and when it reaches its goal funders get something in return. It could be something as simple as a sticker or as grand as getting to name a beer depending on the amount donated. However, people are beginning to demand a lot for their $15. Why can’t I get free beer? Can I get a discount on that tulip glass? Why don’t I get first crack at bottle releases? Hey, you gave your money; you got your t-shirt. That’s it. The brewery is not beholden to you. Believe me, they really, really appreciate your donation, but you got something in return. Breweries are in the business of making beer, not comping their special customers. And speaking of free beer….

Q: I know the brewer, so why can’t I get a free…?

I know the brewer, too. I know lots of them. I don’t expect free beer from any of them, at any time. Remember that awkward situation with the swag? Don’t do the same thing with the brewer’s source of income. Full disclosure, some brewers give me free beer—like, all the time. But I don’t expect it or demand it whether or not I know the pourer. Don’t make the employee behind the taps uncomfortable by saying, “Me and the brewer, we’re like best buds. She gives me free beer all the time!” Plunk your dollars down, and maybe next round you’ll get a free refill. If you do get a freebie, sneak a few dollars into the tip jar. Every dollar helps a brewery grow. Now, don’t you feel better?

Coming soon-ish sign on Blind Bat Brewery’s soon-to-open brewery

Best. “Coming Soon” Sign. Ever.
Photo courtesy: Blind Bat Brewery

Q: When are you opening?

I’m positive when this question gets asked, a brewer loses his wings. We can’t help it. I understand; I really I do. We just want to know when we can get our hands on the wonderful, new deliciousness. Breweries try their best to give a grand opening estimation, but something always happens. ALWAYS. The inspector is on a two-week vacation, or the gas line is in the wrong spot. Congratulation, they’ve found asbestos! Better questions are, “How’s things going?” or “How are you doing?” It gives the brewer a chance to vent her frustrations but also relate all the good things that are happening at the brewery construction.

Q: Why don’t you make more beer?

Stainless steel kettle and fermenter tanks

This costs more than my Saturn when it was new, plus a side order of a tricked-out Kia.

Maybe because you are distracting them? Do you know how much those shiny new steel vessels cost? Holy crap balls! Yeah, that much. A lot of new brewers work two jobs to make ends meet—the one where their building their brewing business from the ground up, literally, and their actually-getting-paid full-time job. They have limited time. Maybe they can only brew at night or on the weekends, searching for the right balance of brewing, working the tasting room, brewery paperwork, etc. So be kind. Give them the time they need.

Also, please try not to disturb a brewer at work. Some have to brew when the tasting room is open. Your desire to chit-chat doesn’t help them when they should be cleaning kegs. Let the brewer be your guide. Wave hello, then walk away. Have patience with a new brewery. It may not be at your favorite bar yet, but give it a year or two. It’ll be there. Soon-ish.

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Lagunitas Olde GnarlyWine

Lagunitas Olde GnarlyWine

  • Spiced apple
  • Sweet! with that ol’ Lagunitas hoppiness and spice.
  • Pleasantly bitter

2015 limited edition. 10.6 ABV. 22oz. bottle.

I probably review more barelywines than the average beer drinker ever drinks in a lifetime. I admit, I am searching for a easily accessible replacement for The One. So please indulge me as I review yet another bitterly sweet high-alcohol barleywine. I tell you with pure intentions, once you get into the barleywines, nothing is the same.

A bottle of Lagunitas GnarleyWine with a glass filled with the dark caramel-colored beer.

A GnarlyWine barleywine.

I approached the Lagunitas Olde GnarlyWine with trepidation. Unlike many of my peers, I haven’t found a Lagunitas beer that I enjoyed. Its beers are consistent, for sure, displaying a hop spice that just overwhelms me. Whatever it does, it does well, but it’s just not my wheelhouse.

But I’m not one to pass up a chance for that barleywine experience.

The nose got me worried. I sensed that copper flavor that is endemic to many barleywines. It’s something I’ve resigned myself to, as it seems like it’s a usual accompaniment to the process. (Not The One, of course. Never The One.) So my first sip came as a surprise. There was intense sweetness in the malt—candy sweet. That Lagunitas hop blend was lurking in there, too, but the malt slammed in first, blending excellently with the bitter hops beneath. I thought the sweetness was too intense at first, but each sip became more relaxed as the hoppiness built up a nice foundation to complement the malt. Here is a Lagunitas that I can enjoy.

Of course, it’s a limited release, and it’s not even on the Lagunitas website. So I doubt I’ll have much more time to enjoy it. It’s not The One, but it’s in the ballpark, which is all I ask for. I found the 22oz. for $5, too, so it’s extremely reasonably priced. And after consuming the bottle, everything becomes a little bit fuzzy, a little bit sweeter, and that’s a gift I’ll always treasure.

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Dogfish Head Piercing Pils

Dogfish Head Piercing Pils

Enjoyable

  • Floral pear
  • Sweet; Frontal hop kick that overwhelms the other flavors
  • Unique pear tea flavor that lingers

12oz. bottle; 6% ABV

As a big fan of pear juice in my alcohol, trying Dogfish Head Piercing Pils was inevitable as soon as I saw it. And in a pilsner-style? Be still my beating heart.

Chilled to a comfortable 45°(F), the golden pils poured into my glass with just the right amount of suds and the wonderful aromas of pear and elderflower. This was going to be great, I thought. But the first sip smacked my palette with spicy hops. Of course. I know that to be a serious beer in this modern world, the hops must be ramped up ever higher.

Piercing Pils. It’s right there in the name, Fervere!

After my initial hop shock, I tasted some delightfully playful flavors. The pear tea brings complex botanicals that really work well with a pilsner. Piercing Pils has the sweetness and gravity that I look for in good pilsners—it pours a bit more heavy than the color would suggest. The snootful of aroma that surrounds each sip is highlighted by those tea botanicals and a subtle, acidic pear scent. It starts with a unique promise and ends with that promise paid off, but, in the middle, those sharp, spicy hops seem to come from a different beer.

Listen, I’m going to enjoy my 4-pack. This isn’t a beer that’s double-hopped-up-the-wazoo. Compared to the mildest IPA, the hops in Piercing Pils are barely there. It’s a very enjoyable, unique beer, and it’s certainly possible that everyone else will find the dual flavors complementary rather than clashing. But humble ol’ me, well, I taste the clash in what otherwise would be a sublime brew.

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