Sunday, May 16, 2010

BEERflections ~ Sierra Nevada Collaboration Party @ Vine & Barley

I don’t think America, her beer-thirsty publicans, and the world knew exactly how big of an impact Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California would have when they released their hoppy pale ale. From that moment of beery revelation in 1980 to 2010 and beyond, each glass of bubbly brew I smell, sup, and savor owes a sincere tip of the hat to Mr. Grossman and his dream, Sierra Nevada.

And not just Sierra Nevada, her beer drinking publicans from Florida to Japan have also come a long way. It can be exhausting at times trying to meet our understandably selfish thirst, but meet she does at her own pace and on her own terms: quality, craftsmanship, inspiration, and tradition. Having reached the big 3-0, a landmark I already passed 2 years ago, Ken and his fun-loving crew of ladies and gents decided they absolutely had to do something special. Thus was born the 30th Anniversary Celebration Collaboration series of four different cork-and-cage beers.

First in the series is the Pioneers Stout, aptly named because it took not just one, Ken Grossman, but two pioneers of the craft beer flavor revolution. Who could the other possibly be? Why, Fritz Maytag of the still thriving Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, California. Equal parts traditionalist and innovator, Fritz single-handedly kept steam beer alive and helped kick-start the craft/artisanal spirits revival with his Anchor Distilling venture.

Fritz and Ken’s collaboration, Pioneers Stout, is a dark and stormy brew of tastefully epic proportions. Widely available in bottle with limited draft, she is a once in a lifetime release that when she is all gone…she is all gone. When it came to my attentions that Vine & Barley along with Sierra Nevada and JJ Taylor Distributing were hosting a special release party, the first words out of my mouth were “I’m there!”

Like our forefathers and foremothers of brewing, Ken was a homebrewer. In a sense, he still is a homebrewer. That same creative spirit and passion to brew better, to brew flavor, to brew new, to brew beers he would like to drink hasn’t changed not once. Ken has nurtured Sierra Nevada (with help of course) into a truly home-grown brewery rich with family, passion, and innovation where labor and love are one and the same. Work? Nah, I wouldn’t call it that. Passion yes, with a bit of blood, sweat, and smiles thrown in for good measure.

Going so far as to literally have their own expansive estate of all earthly blessings a brewery needs, Sierra Nevada also recently started hosting a Beer Camp for men and women in the industry. Mark Carbone’s passion for beer is obvious as one enters his mecca, Vine & Barley, but what many may not realize is that he’s also a veteran homebrewer. Talented too, I might add. Another feather in his cap is a little thing called the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) of which he was judged worthy. Rounding it all out is the Treasure Coast Brewmasters club of which Mark is an active member. So yeah, I would say that Mark knows a wee bit about beer which could be why the lucky schmuck was invited to Beer Camp at Sierra Nevada’s Chico Estate in February of 2010. Along with a diverse group of fellow industry professionals, Mark lived an extra special good life for those four fateful days.

And so we come to beer destiny realized: the Sierra Nevada Collaboration Party at Vine & Barley on Monday, April 19th, starting from 6pm and going till…

While there were multiple large kegs of Mark’s beer, Rhymes Wit, to go around, Fritz and Ken’s Pioneers Stout was a different story. Thanks to the ever diligent efforts and consideration of Tim Hebeler and JJ Taylor, Vine & Barley had the only keg to grace our Treasure Coast, rightfully so. Considering the Treasure Coast includes Sebastian, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce/St. Lucie, and on downwards to Martin County, an impressive feat indeed. That’s also a generously large area of thirsty beer geeks (enthusiasts for you sensitive types) who wasted neither time nor beer in draining the 1/6 keg (5.17 gallons) of Fritz and Ken. All in all, it took a mere 21 minutes of frenzied organization to drink her dry.

To hinder utter chaos, the dispensing of Fritz and Ken was smartly handled with a pre-set number of raffle tickets. This kept the festivities from being an all-out tooth and nail first come first serve mess, though as mentioned above there were only so many tickets to fairly match the beer contained within. Unfortunately, some people were going to miss trying her on draft.

The smart and able beer geeks, myself included, arrived early and got our tickets reasonably in advance. I was doubly blessed in that I am always off on Mondays so work wasn’t a hindrance. Even if it had been a work day, changing shifts with my fellow coworker and friend would have been no problem. And so I arrived right around 5pm, a good hour early or just in time depending on perspective. Parked and loaded with camera, tasting book, and pen, I was raring to go. Licking lips wet with anticipation, I pulled open those pearly white doors and walked into paradise.

I was an hour early, but there were already many a beer peep and peepette lounging in the bar area. Rustling my way up, hugs and kisses were generously exchanged. I was most pleased to see Michael of The Dining Guide along with Chris Hudson who were both there to document and celebrate the festivities. Seeing as I also there to document and celebrate, we were a merry trio of beerporting craft beer appreciating Vine & Barley loving geeks ready to enjoy the freak out.

Many of my dear friends within JJTaylor and the Treasure Coast beer community were there in good standing. At the height of Fritz and Ken dispensing festivities, shoulders were rubbing in friendly communion as ears eagerly strained for their number to resonate and a black pint of Pioneer Stout goodness to grace tremulous hands. Everyone was considerate, good-natured, and extremely glad to be right there, right then, a sentiment I wholly shared. My number eventually rang true and it was with thirsty hands I gingerly accepted my pint before setting her nearby as to 1)warm up and 2)continue snapping pictures. My pal Robert from Vero was able to make it down for a bit, and so I utilized my second ticket reserved for that exact occasion. Over the counter and into Robert’s smiling hand she went. We didn’t get to chat much, but we shared some memorable moments together nonetheless.

In partitioning the raffle tickets, Mark had a set number in his head that was in line with the average number of pints a 1/6 keg will hold. Those of us in the beer industry were under no delusions as to how short the keg would last. The average time tossed around ranged from 20 to 30 minutes max, and we were right. Now, an average 1/6 keg will serve 50-60 people that many brimming pints and with that average in mind, Mark dispensed raffle tickets. Once the last ticket was exchanged, it was then onto the clamoring crowd of eager beer aficionados awaiting their chance at Fritz and Ken on draft.

No keg lasts forever and with that tell-tale sputter and splash of crema foam, a chorus of sympathetic cheers filled the air…and then the bottles started to flow. Throughout the evening I witnessed a steady stream of Pioneers Stout both pop their top and meander their merry unopened way home with various beaming individuals. By the end, there was an impressive stack of empty cases behind the bar.

The beer itself? Fanfreakingtastic! Want to know more? You can keep an eye out for my eventual review or, even better yet, seek out a couple bottles for yourself before they are all gone. Why two? All the better to age one, my dear. Not only does she taste fanfreakingtastic fresh, she has the potential to age with graceful aplomb. There is only one way to find out so get to it.

But wait! What about Mark’s beer?
Thought you would never ask!

Let us look once more upon the name of this festive occasion which went down Monday, April 19th at Vine & Barley: Sierra Nevada Collaboration Party. The collaboration is twofold in that we weren’t just celebrating the release of Pioneers Stout but also the release of Mark’s beer brewed at Beer Camp.

  • Name: Rhymes Wit
  • Style: Belgian Wit
  • Stats: German Perle and Czech Saaz hops; pilsner malt with wheat and oat flakes; coriander; Butte County mandarins; love

Technicalities aside, Rhymes Wit is a light, tasty, and vibrant variation on the traditionally classic Belgian Wit (white). Mark sourced fresh locally grown mandarin oranges which were purposefully utilized not once but twice in the brewing process for a fresh mandarin essence complimented by the sharp tang of their outer skins. Her spice is a gentle breeze while the pilsner malt, wheat and oak flakes make for a vision truly soft on the eyes. Just one taste is all it takes to feel spring is here and summer is on the way. A quintessential session ale, I could easily while away a sunny afternoon with a few glasses of Rhymes Wit paired with some nibblies the likes of fresh fruit, broiled fish, seviche, or some creamy cheeses. Brie and bread, anyone? Don’t mind if I do.

It was a large limelight that both Fritz and Ken along with Rhymes Wit shared that night. Along with Tim, my Ryan-poo arrived not long after I did. We eventually found ourselves on the patio, a Cohiba each in hand, and so we slowly stoked our way even later into the evening. It was a gorgeous Florida spring night and once more I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Inside, Marc, Eric, Jason, Donna, and Mike shared in the bounteous Rhymes Wit, Pioneers Stout, and a few bottled goodies Marc generously brought. Randall stopped in for a bit, but obligations brought him back home earlier than the rest of us. At some point a platter of nacho grande topped with grilled chicken accompanied by a side of guacamole arrived to which I hungrily helped myself. Even with a growling stomach in desperate need of grub, any grub, I know good nachos when I taste them. The West End Grille’s nacho grande hit the spot and then some. Thanks Donna and Mike!

Good times were had by all generally and yours truly specifically. Besides my pint of Pioneers Stout and Rhymes Wit, I also supped on a Palm Belgian Amber Ale, Stone Old Guardian, and another which still escapes me. Despite having my tasting book on hand, no notes were taken. That’s okay though because I have multiple bottles of Fritz and Ken goodness at home along with a very recent growler of Rhymes Wit. Sometimes it’s nice to simply forgo the study to focus entirely on having a festive time with friends, and that I did.

As the crowd continued to thin and midnight crept ever closer, hugs and kisses were officially exchanged. Collaboration parties of this magnitude come to the Treasure Coast seldom, but hopefully they will come around quite often. In fact, seeing as Vine & Barley is planning a Terrapin Celebration of sorts this month (tomorrow actually), my life of beer is already looking onwards and upwards.

Day by day. Person by person. Place by place. The Treasure Coast is on a steady journey to a thriving scene of craft beer indulgence rich with community enjoyment. Where will Kristyn Lier be? Right here in the throes of it all as I personally bear witness to (and help) the maturation of my hometown into a beery burgundian paradise of slightly tropical persuasions. We are Florida, after all.

My home. My passion. My good life.
I’ll drink to that.

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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