Procrastination

I’m working a few shifts at Hops and Hocks this week to cover for a friend who’s out of town. On Friday night one of my favorite customers came in, and he ended up giving me a really cool beer to try!

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Finback Brewery was founded in 2013 by two longtime friends. After home brewing for eight years Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford left their full time jobs to launch Finback in Glendale, Queens. I’ve consistently been impressed with the brewery’s canned IPAs, but didn’t know what to expect from Procrastination–an IPA brewed with coffee.

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Procrastination pours hazy, dusty orange–the color of a dirty grapefruit. The nose is mostly tropical fruit, with just a suggestion of coffee beans in the background. At first you think it drinks like your typical North East IPA–creamy mouthfeel, juicy, tropical hop sweetness–but then a wave of coffee swoops in. The bitterness you would expect to taste in a cup of coffee or IPA is there, but but there’s also the roasty, mocha quality characteristic of a dark beer. So cool!

This was only my second or third coffee IPA, and I enjoyed Finback’s execution more than the others I’ve tried. I like how they added coffee but maintained the light/medium body and juiciness I seek in an IPA. Do you have a coffee IPA recommendation? What about another unusual coffee-infused style?

Westbrook Brewing

The Chitwood family just got back from a lovely vacay in Folly Beach, South Carolina! While there we drank a lot of good beer (..and rosé..and prosecco..). The SC beer scene had definitely improved since our last trip. The highlight of the week was finally visiting Westbrook Brewing Company, a longtime favorite of the Barley Babes.

Westbrook only packages a handful of their beers, and we were excited to see a draft list filled with brews we’d never tried, or for that matter, heard of. Maddy ordered a flight of small pours for group, and we got a few pints as well. Two standouts from M’s flight were the Key Lime Pie Gose and Coconut Weisse Weisse Baby. The KLPG is loaded with tangy, sour lime and rounds out with a graham cracker finish. Maddy noted graham cracker on the nose too; Westbrook nailed this one!  The table also enjoyed my pint of juicy Nelson Sauvin IPA. It’s the style of IPA I’ve come to expect from NYC breweries like Grimm and Other Half. Finally, we were excited to try the Mexican Cupcake, a session version of Westbrook’s hyped imperial stout brewed with habanero peppers. The cupcake didn’t quite live up to the cake, but it’s nice that you can experience almost the same flavor profile in a lighter, lower ABV beer. Great for summer!

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The small tap room was hopping on Friday evening. Groups of friends gathered for post-work pints and young parents kept a relaxed eye on their kids over flights. Like us, I think everyone was looking for an air conditioned spot to drink beer and escape the oppressive SC heat.
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Our only complaint about the visit is that the Westbrook staff wasn’t very friendly. No one that helped us was overtly rude, but they seem to keep lines short by taking an all-business approach to customer service. I didn’t feel comfortable asking to taste before ordering, and when I ordered a beer that had just run out, the bartender walked away instead of recommending something else. We’re often on the other side of the counter, so we understand the stress that comes with a busy weekend night. I guess we just wanted to experience a deeper personal connection with the staff since we’ve loved Westbrook for so long.
We’ll have more highlights from our trip later this week! Another favorite destination: The Charleston Beer Exchange!

Spring Saturday 

A couple weekends ago we had one of our favorite guests in town, Kat’s boyfriend Michael! On Saturday we took full advantage of his luxurious automobile and went upstate for a short hike. 
Bear Mountain is only about 2.5 miles round trip, but the incline on the first half is quite steep. The trail was busy, but not crowded, and drizzle turned to clear blue skies as we leisurely made our way up the mountain.

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“I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time that it was going to be this steep..” -All of us

The summit was filled with hikers having picnics and hanging out, but we were able to find a secluded spot to relax and take in the view. Our adventurous little Kitten almost gave me a heart attack in her quest for the perfect place to sunbathe.

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Bear Mountain Bridge


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After many a picture taken and Snapchat sent, we made our way back down the mountain. Carefully inching down the rocky incline might have been harder than climbing up! Safely back in the car, we decided we should reward ourselves. That, my friends, is where the beer comes in. Don’t worry, this hasn’t turned into a healthy lifestyle blog.

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Practicing for my future career as a TMZ reporter

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Peekskill Brewery is only 5 miles from Bear Mountain (we didn’t even plan this!) After a refueling lunch at La Cascada in downtown Peekskill, we headed to Water St. to check out one of my favorite NY breweries.

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Juices Flowin’ DIPA

Peekskill Brewery is right on the Hudson and just a short walk from downtown. The two-floored facility features a full bar and restaurant in addition to a tasting room. The first floor was crowded with groups of friends drinking, snacking, and playing darts. A sign advertising a two-for-one happy hour deal Monday-Thursday had us wishing that Peekskill wasn’t so far away!

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Allison ordered the Simple Sour, an easy-drinking, moderately sour ale that we’ve had many times. I tried Peekskill’s new double IPA, Juices Flowin.’ As promised in the tasting notes, it was juicy and dank–just how I like my IPAs these days. Michael and Kat shared a flight. Michael, a fellow hop head, enjoyed Juices Flowin’ as well, and also it’s lighter cousin, Shotgun Willie. Kat’s favorites were the Simple Sour and Moscow on the Hudson, an “Atlantic-style Porter.” The only letdown was the Uncommon Rye Lager; the happy couple reported that this one is actually quite common.

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About a year ago Peekskill’s renowned brewmaster, Jeff O’Neil left to start a new brewery. Assistant brewer Matt Levy took over O’Neil’s position, and almost immediately won a silver medal at GABF. Before Peekskill Levy spent a year at Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin, and produced small batch brews at Captain Lawrence. I haven’t had enough Peekskill beer over the years to evaluate whether this change in head brewer is an improvement, but I was extremely impressed with the beers I tried last Saturday. Peekskill is one to keep an eye on! If they scale up and start packaging, I hope Juices Flowin’ makes the cut.

Happy Friday! Any brewery visits in your weekend plans?

-R

Russian River Brewing Company

We have a special Thursday treat for you, readers! The lovely Amanda Stromecki has written another great Barley Babes guest post. Amanda is currently living on a wildlife refuge in CA, helping research an endangered bird called Yuma’s Ridgway Rail. She recently  visited one of California’s most renowned breweries; read on for her review!

Hi, there! It’s Amanda—friend of the Barley Babes and fellow beer geek. For the past two years I have been rambling around the West coast and drinking beer along the way. I just spent six months living in Lagunitas, California, a small town about an hour north of San Francisco. Fun fact about Lagunitas: it is a tiny, tight-knit community that is home to the original Lagunitas brewery, when it was still just a homebrew operation. Owner Tony Magee was actually kicked out of town when he dumped his rejected beer down the drain and into the septic system, causing a yeast + human waste explosion! Oops!

While I have visited Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma, my most notable brewery trip in CA was definitely to Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. This brewery is in beautiful Sonoma County, in the heart of wine country. Russian River is known for Pliny the Elder, a west coast style IPA that lives up to its reputation. Pliny has a gorgeous honey color, a citrusy hop resin nose, a powerful hoppy punch on the palate, and a clean finish. It is big and bold, yet light and refreshing. One of my favorite IPAs to date.

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On tap at Russian River

Another great RR IPA is Blind Pig. Seriously full hop bite, but a little mellower ABV. We tried a bunch of beers, including the STS Pils, which was light, crisp, and true to style. Damnation, a Belgian strong pale ale, was a well-balanced, bready, and woody. Compunction, an American wild ale brewed with pluots (a plum/apricot hybrid), was my favorite of the day. Great pucker factor and stone fruit flavor. Another sour was Supplication, another American wild ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels. The barrel aging imparted a rich mouthfeel, lovely red color, and complex flavor profile. While my sour beers turned most of my friends off, I was impressed by Russian River’s sour and Belgian offerings. If only Maddy and Rachel had been there!

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Russian River’s Blind Pig IPA

Don’t be scared off by the long lines or crowds; a trip to Russian River Brewing Company is well worth the wait. The staff is efficient and handles the chaos well. The food, mostly pizzas and sandwiches, is tasty and well priced. The brewpub has a massive bar, which provides lots of opportunities to meet fellow hopheads. After enjoying RR beer for a few years, it was nice to finally give the brewery a visit. I think a Barley Babe fieldtrip there is a must. Cheers!

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Thanks so much, Amanda! Although it’s wonderful to have a West Coast correspondent, we wish we could all be drinking beer together. One day 😉

Did you read Amanda’s first guest post? What about our review of two of Russian River’s most-hyped sours?

Pro Renata Farm Brewery: The Good, The Meh, and the Hoppy

It’s strange being so out of the Charlottesville beer loop. Since I left, West Main got a World of Beer, Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint moved in downtown, and Pro Renata Farm Brewery opened in Crozet! Luckily I have a few C-ville correspondents to research these new spots for me. My friend Emily and her husband Rich are super knowledgeable about Virginia beer and wine; they visited Pro Renata last weekend and Em was kind enough to do a full write up.

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Last Saturday afternoon, my husband Rich and I ventured out to Crozet, VA to sample some brews from newly established Pro Renata Farm Brewery. Although we’re not necessarily beer experts, we’ve sampled from many local breweries in the Central VA region, so we’re no slouches either.

The Good

  • The look and feel of the place was very “Crozet.” Rustic, farm chic, no frills. I enjoyed the decor, which included funky signs and sampler glasses evoking an “old-timey medical” vibe. There was also a stage to showcase live music by night.
  • Although we didn’t eat, we saw several people ordering food from the OTC food truck in the parking lot, which promised down-home comfort food and looked downright delicious.
  • One beer that especially stood out was the Pavlov’s Belgian Blonde Ale (ABV 6.0%, 12 IBUs). It was really flavorful with a coriander-like aroma on the nose and reminded me of a Chimay.

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Tastings

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The Meh

  • We arrived around 4pm on a Saturday and it was a bit of a mad house. Normally, I’d take this as a good sign–but it turns out the crowd was actually due to an awkward setup with the bar located really far from the seating. So everyone was hanging out in front of the bar, making it hard to order up some brews, and the seating area was nearly empty. And did I mention tons of kids? I am normally all about babies in bars, but it feels weird when kids outnumber adults in a brew house.
  • We tried 7 of their 12 available brews. And they were just okay. Naturally, we compared the beer menu to our local favorites (Blue Mountain Brewery and Three Notch’d Brewing Company) and found they still had a long way to go in terms of developing a more interesting variety and improving overall flavor. Which beers were just, meh?
    • Claudius Crozet Cream Ale (ABV: 4.8%, 14 IBUs): Didn’t get the “cream” flavor so much. A bit on the bland side.
    • Coconuts Deep (ABV 4.6%, 41 IBUs): One of two “dark” beers on the list. A coffee stout but the sweet coconut finish described on the menu just didn’t come through.
    • Kerri’s Cure Belgian Pale Ale (ABV 5%, 38 IBUs): Being a big Belgian beer fan, this once was especially disappointing and boring.
  • Pro Renata had that classic icky Brewery smell. You know the one I’m talking about–kind of smells like a pet store? Not my favorite thing. Separate those casks from the public, I say!

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The Hoppy
Being a big IPA lover, it’s not surprising that the hoppier beers really appealed to me. Here’s what I would recommend if you’re like me and enjoy a bitter brew:

  • Old Trail Pale Ale (ABV 5.2%, 35 IBUs): This was both simple and refreshing, creamy on the finish and tasty.
  • Hop Drone IPA (ABV 6.5%, 75 IBUs): By far my favorite (we took home a growler), really flavorful, bitter on the front but finished smooth. I also tried the Hop Drone IPA with Citra Hops, but preferred the classic version since the citrus was a little overpowering for me.

Hop Drone and Citra Hop Drone

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All in all, I’d recommend checking out Pro Renata Brewery if you’re in the Central Virginia region; but with all the delicious local beer competition, they’re going to have to improve their overall variety to turn this beer-lover into a regular visitor!

Cheers,
Emily

Thanks so much for your thorough and objective critique, Em! Rich, I’m still holding out for a guest post about your home brewing experience once you work out the kinks. Hope to drink a beer with you guys soon!

-R

“My Milkshake Brings…”

Remember Food Pairing Friday? That was a cool thang we used to do. I’m not writing about a food pairing today, but a food-themed beer that’s been all the buzz in Bushwick these past two weeks.

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I put Tired Hands/Omnipollo’s Milkshake in January’s H&H Beer of the Month Club package, and immediately started getting requests that I find more. This extra special IPA was brewed with oats and lactose sugar and fermented atop strawberries and vanilla beans. To further enhance the milkshake-like body, 50 pounds of local apples, which are high in the gelling agent pectin, were also added to the boil. Finally, the beer was hopped with Citra and Mosaic hops to provide tropical fruit flavor and aroma. Yeah, it’s pretty great…

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What I like most about this beer is the slightly tart finish, which is rare in an IPA unless it’s specifically supposed to be sour. It’s ridiculously complex. Sweet, tropical hop flavor is followed by strong strawberry, notes of vanilla, a little bit of funk, and then the beer closes with a lactic tartness that makes you forget you’re drinking an IPA! I didn’t find it as full-bodied as the name “Milkshake” would suggest; I definitely noticed the creaminess they were trying achieve with the fruit, but it certainly isn’t heavy or syrupy. Tired Hands has released blackberry, peach, pineapple, and guava varieties in their Brew Cafe, which means another Philadelphia beercation is on the spring agenda.

Happy Friday! Have you guys had any spectacular beers lately that we should know about? Been to any cool breweries? Great beer bars? Give us the dirt!

-R

Pretty Swell

The hoppy selection for November Beer of the Month Club has been available in Virginia for a while, but just came to New York last month! I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know much about Maui Brewing Company before choosing their Big Swell for November’s package.

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This is not Hawaii, but I thought maybe you could use a beach scene this morning.

MBC was founded in 2005 by San Diego native, Garret Marreo. They now have a brewpub in Lahaina, HI and a brand new brewery and tasting room in Kihei. MBC’s beer is delicious, but their commitment to the environment and local economy is even more impressive. They make their beer entirely in Hawaii, package using 100% recyclable materials, and their cans are designed by local artists. In a piece on craftbeer.com Marreo stresses the role craft brewers play in stimulating the local economy; sourcing ingredients and materials locally puts money in the pockets of community residents.

Photo Credit: Maui Brewing Company
Photo Credit: Maui Brewing Company

Big Swell IPA, one of MBC’s flagships, has earthy and tropical hop flavors, caramel malt sweetness, and a long finish. As H&H cheesemonger, Jackie and I shared this brew behind the charcuterie counter, we swore that we detected a hint of salty ocean breeze on the nose. It might have been our imaginations running wild, though…

Happy Monday!
I know it’s gonna be a rough one, but remember, it’s just threeish weeks until the next holiday!

-Rach

 

Brooklyn Local Craft Beer Festival

I can honestly say that the Brooklyn Local Craft Beer Festival was the least crowded, most relaxing beer festival I’ve ever been to. We never had to wait in line for beer, there was plenty of room to stand and hang out, and it was after five before breweries started running out of beer. Plus, all the pours were extremely generous, which never hurts. 😉

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After a solid breakfast (We used the stove! We boiled water! We scrambled eggs!), Allison and I got to the festival at around one. It’s held in Carroll Gardens right next to the Carroll Street Bridge, a tiny bridge over the Gowanus Canal. It was an absolutely perfect early fall day: sunny and warm with a slight breeze coming from the water.

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Once inside we basically just bopped around to whichever brewery struck our fancy. It was sooo nice not having to strategically plan our route based on lines. The standout of the day for both of us was Ferrari Beer from Staten Island. We tried the Sour Red Ferrari several times, a medium-bodied, mildly tart brew with a hint of cherry. He also had a very limited amount of his delicious smoked beer, Smoky Hollow, which is a great style for fall. The other sour at the festival was Lithology Brewing’s Ugly Mug, a rye gruit. It was so refreshing–tangy, even lighter bodied than the Ferrari, and with a spritzy carbonation and hint of funk.

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It was awesome talking to brewers that I have a relationship with through Hops and Hocks, and even though I’ve had their beer many times, I couldn’t resist sampling! Third Rail’s Field 2 is one of my favorite NY farmhouse ales; I can’t wait until it’s available in cans again. Allison particularly enjoyed Radiant Pig’s Eastside Rapture, a hoppy wheat that I’ve blogged about before.

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Our favorite IPAs of the day were by Flagship and Other Half.  The Flagship IPA is balanced and juicy with a light to medium body and citrusy hops. It’s the kind of beer that I could drink all day long, so obviously we returned to Flagship a couple of times. 😉 Other Half’s Hop Showers has tropical hop flavors and a distinct funk. They recently released this one in super cool cans.

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We broke for lunch at 3:30 and enjoyed massive sandwiches from Big D’s food truck. I know I sound like a broken record here, but there was absolutely no line for food, and it was super easy to find a spot to sit and eat. I went with their vegan grinder (be proud, Riles!) and Allison enjoyed the spicy chicken.

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After lunch we continued to plug away at our lists. I finally tried Gun Hill Brewing’s infamous Void of Light, which won gold in the foreign-style stout category at GABF last year. They also poured the Catskill Hop Harvest, a sessionable English pale ale with mild, earthy hops.

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At five a couple of breweries started to pack up, but at this point we were losing steam. We made one more stop at Ferrari for a final taste of sour red, and then left to have a photo shoot on the bridge.

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Back home we went to our favorite spot these days, the fire escape, and snapchatted crazy pictures of ourselves talked about our favorite brews of the festival. Mexican takeout and a couple hours of Entourage capped off one of the most pleasant days I’ve had since moving to New York. Cheers to Friday, New York beer, and good memories.

Friday Food Pairing: IPA+Peanuts

This post isn’t really about a food pairing, but a beer-infused food! Monday was my birthday, and my best friend Nikki and her husband Paul sent me IPA peanut brittle all the way from Napa Valley. IPAs and anything peanut are two of my main food groups. In college I used to eat a PB&J (sometimes two) every single day! Nikki probably thought I was a total freak, but at least she’ll always know what kind of dessert to get me…

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939 Brittle is made with Spanish Red Skin Peanuts, micro-brewed IPA, and a sprinkle of salt. It’s fresh, crunchy, and the perfect mix of salty and sweet. There are whole peanuts in every bite, and just a hint of beer hoppiness emerges at the end. The package touts that every bag is handmade slowly in small batches. I know that every company says this about every product, but this brittle really does taste fresh. You know how some brittles almost break your teeth when you bite into them? Not this. It has just the right amount of crunch.

Look at that peanutty goodness...
Look at that salty, peanutty goodness…

Thank you so much Nikki and Paul (and Neo)! I’m only allowing myself once piece of brittle a day because I want to savor the deliciousness as long as possible. As usual, you knew just what to get me.

Happy Friday, beer lovers!

Buzzed

This post is going to be pretty lacking in the picture department, but I have to tell you about a cool brewery I just found out about. Beanery Brewing from Vermont stopped by Hops and Hocks on Tuesday to let me sample their Ethiopian Coffee Milk Stout and Costa Rica Coffee IPA. Dark beers infused with coffee are pretty common, but I’ve only had one other coffee IPA, so I was stoked to try Beanery’s.

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Beanery is actually the first company to focus solely on coffee beers, and their flagship brew was the coffee IPA. First they came up with the recipe for a citrusy, easy-drinking IPA, and then they found the perfect coffee bean to infuse it with: one that when roasted produces lemon and brown sugar flavors. The result is a balanced, juicy IPA with just a hint of something extra– if I didn’t know the flavor was coffee, I’m not sure I would have even detected it. Luke Manson, the face of Beanery’s NY distribution, said that the brewery now believes that malted barley and water are better at soaking up the true flavors of coffee than water by itself. Malted barley, you’ve done it again.

Beanery’s beer is currently being brewed at the Smuttlabs brewing facility in Portsmouth, NH, Smuttynose’s site for producing more experimental, small batch brews. It’s only available in kegs right now, but they hope to come out with bombers in the near future. Beanery exemplifies what I love most about the world of craft beer: the dedication to creativity and innovation; the bravery to do something that no one else is doing.