The Friday Flight – Second Course

We're back for round number two. Last time, we took a look at some craft beer basics. If you've already read it, you've got an idea of what we're shooting for here. If not, there's no better time than the present. As a bit of a refresher, a flight is a collection of small samples you can order so you can try several beers without ordering pints of each. For this particular batch, we decided to flip through the menu and really explore the studio space and offer our opinions on a variety of topics. Call it whatever you'd like, be it a hodgepodge, a mishmash, a grab bag…we're calling it our second edition of The Friday Flight.

1. What is the first beer that truly blew your mind?

Kyle: For me, it has to be none other than Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale. I tried it during my craft beer infancy and was completely and utterly blown away. Friends had talked it up and alluded to the "you're not worthy" message sent by Stone on the label. That sounded like a challenge, one that I may have failed. The Bastard didn't knock me out nor did I floor it, so it would have gone to the judge's scorecards and I think we know better than to trust those. I've called it a draw for years and have since revisited Arrogant Bastard in many forms, all of which have been enjoyable. But that first taste – man, I had no idea a beer could be so aggressive. At that point, I feel like I learned a lot about the boundaries craft beers could push in terms of flavor. Of course, after looking further into Stone's line-up, I discovered that it was merely par for the course for them.

Bernie: Wow. So many have really given me pause I thought I wouldn't be able to answer this one. BUT…taking Kyle's question at face value and pondering what beer "truly" blew my mind,  I'd have to go with New Belgium's Cocoa Molé. This is a chocolatey spice ale that is so smooth, and then has a beautiful bite of strong peppers and cinnamon. I love sharp flavors that compliment each other. Cinnamon and chocolate are perfect for one another, the sweet and the spice. Then you throw some roasted chilis in there and BAM! Delicious. Independently we probably all love chocolate, as well as peppers. Getting these flavors into a bold brew really impressed me. Not my all time favorite beer, but the experience absolutely blew my socks off. I can't wait to get another glass.

Joe: Chimay Blue. I really just started drinking craft in the summer of 09, and went to my local Wegmans to browse. I picked up a Chimay mix pack (complete with glass!), and the blue is the only one I remember drinking at the time…and it was fantastic. Just an unbelievable amount of flavor and taste, and from then on, there was no going back.

2.Though summer isn't quite over yet, we're starting to see Oktoberfests and Pumpkin Ales pop up on shelves and on tap. What will you be reaching for this fall?

Kyle: I have to say, the fall is one of my least favorite seasons for beer. Odds are, you'll see me with an IPA in hand. I simply don't care for Oktoberfests and wish I could take back my answer about least favorite styles from our last Friday Flight. They just bore me too much. I'm not a volume drinker at all, so Oktoberfests do absolutely nothing for me. Pumpkin Ales, on the other hand, are hard for me to ignore. I hope to sample a lot of them while they're still in season and do some side-by-side comparisons, an experiment I've tried in the past with good results. This is where your mixed six packs come in handy, folks. My past Pumpkinfest ended with Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale edging out Southern Tier Pumking, so I will definitely be seeking them out in the very near future. Beyond that, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale may be at the top of my list simply because I haven't tried it yet.

Bernie: I share Kyle's feelings on Oktoberfests. I don't mind drinking them at all, but don't really have a favorite and would usually opt for a different style given the choice….such as a good yam beer! I've already tried a couple pumpkin styles in the last couple weeks. In fact, in my next Head to Head I plan to use pumpkin ales as the basis. Since Terrapin is so close to where I am geographically, their Pumpkinfest is a good go to pumpkin beer for me. I just tried Uinta's Punk'n and it was really good, so I'll definitely be grabbing some more of that. I'm not sure I like it more than Pumking or Smuttynose's, but it's up there. Then again, I'm a sucker for pumpkin and cinnamon flavors. (Think I'll go pop one open and pour it before answering the rest….)

Joe: Two of my best friends love pumpkin beers. They went on a road trip down to Maryland and came back with a mixed case of pumpkin beers…and personally, I absolutely cannot stand either traditional fall style. The only pumpkin beers I like are Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, and Southern Tier’s Pumking. I expanded on my hatred of Oktoberfests in our last roundtable, and I pretty much avoid them at all costs. As for what I’ll be drinking this fall…hopefully, my buddy and I can homebrew our Smoked Maple Porter in the next couple of weeks, because that is just a fantastic fall beer. After that…I really don’t know. I’ll probably start delving into my cellar and drinking stouts early.

3. Wait, we forgot to talk about the summer beers. What was your highlight of the season?

Kyle: Well, did you read my review of Ommegang Hennepin? That has to be it. I am lucky enough to taste world class beers damn near whenever I'd like to, so for a beer like Hennepin to wow me (and be in season!) makes it pretty much a no-brainer. Of course, I have to give a nod to Bell's Two Hearted Ale, a beer that challenges for the top spot of my "best of season" list EVERY season. You're going to find that I sing that beer's praises an awful lot, so you might as well try it not if you haven't already so you can vehemently agree with me rather than wonder what in the hell I am talking about. But yeah, Hennepin wins the summer, something that comes as no surprise to me.

Bernie: RJ Rockers Son of a Peach. It's a standard for me. Bold peach flavor and just loaded with awesome sauce. I didn't drink as much of it this spring/summer as last year, but it was pretty much always in the fridge for those hot summer afternoons and evenings. Goes perfect with my deck swing, the dog and a tennis ball to chunk into the yard for him to retrieve. All while I drink a pint of peaches!

Now, this year RJ Rockers also introduced (on taps only) an imperial peach beer, uniquely named Impeachment. It's got a much bigger punch (about 9% ABV compared to Son of a Peach's 6% or so), but the peach flavor is just as profound. I'll have a review up on one or both of these at some point. But suffice to say, if you like peaches, you'll love either of these.

Joe: There were a couple of beers that jumped out at me this summer. A homebrewed kolsch we did was absolutely fantastic. My go-to summer beer, Lancaster Brewing Company’s Kolsch, continued to deliver (for the third straight summer), and was as crisp, cheap, portable, and easy-drinking as ever. A newcomer to the scene that really impressed me was Narragansett’s Summer Ale, which is a blonde that’s brewed with nothing but two-row and Citra. Cheap tallboy cans that are ridiculously easy to drink? Yes please.

4. One of the major ways craft beers grab the attention of potential consumers is through label art. Which beer features your favorite artwork?

Kyle: The short answer is Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. We don't have nearly enough room for me to post the long answer here. Unfortunately, there are so many craft beers with gorgeous artwork that I don't have the space to mention them all, so let's focus on just one (or two). I find all of Stone's labels to be cool, but Sublimely Self-Righteous is a little different. The color combination of black, blue, and silver, the shading on the gargoyle, and the gargoyle itself all stand above all other artwork by Stone or any other brewery. Honestly, it's hard to describe it as anything but bad ass. I have a Sublimely Self-Righteous t-shirt as well as a big painting of the label art, if that tells you anything. An honorable mention absolutely has to go out to East End Gratitude. The labels are absolutely gorgeous and all hand-made. Plus, they're different with each release. I'm almost afraid to open my bottle because I might ruin such an awesome piece of art.

Bernie: I've always been partial to Sweetwater's Dank Tank series for classic bottle art. But I'm going to go with a smaller Georgia brewery here, Jailhouse. Each of their beers centers around a "locked up" theme, such as Conjugal Visit, Mugshot IPA and Breakout Stout. But their Last Request (a bourbon barrel version of the Breakout) has an old-fashioned picture of an inmate scarfing down a meal, with a cleverly placed beer glass to the side. Behind him is presumably a guard checking his watch. Great picture.

Joe: Labels aren’t a huge appeal to me. For our homebrew, we either create something using gradients in Photoshop that takes three minutes, or use a website that has the same generic designs. But as for labels I like…pretty much anything by my local, Troegs, is fantastic. I’ve been drinking more of their Perpetual IPA than I thought I would this summer, and the design is very sleek and crisp. But nothing can compare to my absolute favorite by them, Nugget Nectar…even though that won’t be around for another five months or so. A hand clutching a hop and squeezing out all the awesomeness? Aw yeah.

5. Craft beer fans are constantly inundated with seasonal beers and limited releases that are only on the shelves for short periods of time, often causing consumers to rush to grab the latest craze while ignoring those that are on the shelves all year. Have you ever picked up a beer that you couldn't believe you waited so long to try?

Kyle: As a South Carolinian, many of my friends in the craft beer community were dumbfounded that I went a couple of years without trying Sweetwater IPA. I never bothered picking it up in stores or ordering it in a bar or restaurant because I knew it would always be there, so I instead chose to keep chasing after beers with much more limited distribution. One night I tried it on tap simply because I had tried everything else at that particular establishment and instantly wondered why I had waited so long. Sweetwater IPA is an outstanding beer in my book. Plus, it's cheap. It proved to be well worth the wait and is now a beer I seek out whenever possible. It also served as a solid reminder to not take those beers for granted.

Bernie: This is a great question because I'm extremely guilty of going straight for something I know isn't going to be there long instead of something I probably know is going to be better tasting. And I'm going to go with one of Kyle's favorites here, Bell's Two Hearted. Didn't try it until last summer even though I ALWAYS saw it on shelves and ALWAYS heard from others how good it was. I had no reason to wait so long and quickly regretted that decision. Of course I still fall back into the routine of scouring the local shelves and coolers to see what's new, but this is a good reminder that the new bottle on the block isn't always the tastiest.

Joe: There’s a brewery about 80 miles away from me called DuClaw. I was there once last summer, and hadn’t returned until this past April. I went to one of their restaurants with my girlfriend, and we split a massive 17 beer sampler. Most of the beers were awesome, and I had never even given them a second thought at the time. But I fell in love with one…a beer called Soul Jacker, which is a blend of their Black Jack Imperial Stout and Devil’s Milk Barleywine. It was unreal, and I don’t even like barleywines. I got a growler to go, and it was just as good coming from there a week later. Now, Duclaw has expanded distribution to central PA…and I can get their stuff whenever I want.

Got a question you would like to see answered in The Friday Flight? Post in the comments below or tweet us @BlogOnDraft. We look forward to hearing from you!