10th-Level Beer Nerd
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Join Date: May 2006
Location: Adams, MA
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Vinnie made Bloomberg Magazine!
Flipping through the latest Bloomberg ragazine
, whose mug do I see staring back at me but Vinnie Cilurzo?
Craft Beer's Pranksters
Microbrewers are pushing the limits by adding ingredients like berries and espresso beans and boosting the alcohol content.
By Elin McCoy
Bloomberg Markets, September 2008
The noisy, zany Russian River Brewing Co. brewpub in Santa Rosa, California, is packed with about 100 people sipping Vinnie Cilurzo's innovative craft brews on a Sunday afternoon in May. I duck into the small, adjoining brewery with Cilurzo's wife and co-owner, Natalie, for a taste of his latest experiment, a collaboration with a visiting Italian craft brewer. ``Fleurette has flowers added to it,'' Natalie, 39, says as she fills a glass goblet with the just-finished beer, whose uncommon ingredients include dried rose petals and violets, honey, cracked pepper and elderberry concentrate. As I savor the unusual floral aroma and spicy, complex taste, I'm thinking, ``This is beer?''
Though Russian River makes a broad range of traditional ales and stouts, Vinnie Cilurzo, 38, is famous for aging beer in wine barrels and inventing the double (or imperial) India pale ale, an exaggerated, extra-strong IPA heavy on the hops. Both are part of the fast-growing American ``extreme'' beer craze that embraces everything from alcohol levels higher than wine to the addition of oddball ingredients like espresso beans. These flavorful brews have about as much in common with a can of Bud as box wine does with a $100 cult cabernet.
Cilurzo's ideas obviously haven't been stifled by his two-car-garage-size brewing space that's crammed with tanks, dripping hoses and a yellow motor scooter. An alcove holds stacked chardonnay and pinot noir barrels and glass demijohns filled with strains of bubbling bacteria and wild yeasts. These ``bugs and critters,'' Cilurzo says, give the sappy, sour tang to Supplication, his Belgian-style brown ale aged with cherries in pinot barrels.
The American craft brew movement took off in the 1990s, and since then, the number of small breweries in the U.S. has exploded to more than 1,400. Many top brands are distributed nationally, and about a dozen are sold globally. Most can be ordered online, and some can be found at beer havens like Washington's The Brickskeller, with about 1,000 selections.
First inspired by traditional German and British styles, adventurous brewers are now creating their own versions and influencing beer culture worldwide. Belgians are trying American hops, the U.K. has raspberry and coffee beers and Japan has 200 microbreweries.
Ten days later, I'm at Flying Dog Brewery, which was co-founded in Aspen, Colorado, by physicist George Stranahan, longtime friend to late ``gonzo'' journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Though it recently moved to a drab Frederick, Maryland, warehouse, the company's still got an edge. Its Ralph Steadman- designed label for Road Dog Porter with the scrawled words ``Good Beer, No ****'' precipitated a five-year court battle over obscenity that the brewery finally won in 2001.
Brewmaster and Chief Executive Officer Eric Warner meets me by a shiny brew kettle. Warner is one of only a few Americans to have attended a German brewing school, which was all about making beer from water, malt, yeast and hops. He's gone beyond that. ``We're trying everything. Barrel aging is skyrocketing,'' he says, pointing to four whiskey barrels filled with Gonzo porter that contain added blackberry and sweet-cherry syrups. Gonzo's hop content measures a whopping 85 international bitterness units, four times that of a regular lager.
Warner (who resigned as Flying Dog's ``Lead Dog'' on July 1 but remains a ``Consulting Dog'' until Sept. 1) insists extreme beers are as food-friendly as wine, so I tag along with him to Savor, a beer and food event in Washington where he and 47 other craft beer rock stars are pouring their beers alongside high-end fare like tenderloin bruschetta. The crowd of business types, some of them in jackets and ties, symbolizes just how upscale beer is becoming.
Brewers keep pointing me in the direction of yet another unusual beer. I sample a refreshing watermelon wheat beer with a spicy chicken dish and an over- the-top vintage double stout with 18 percent alcohol that tastes better with a raspberry-flavored chocolate.
``People's taste buds are changing every day,'' says Adam Avery of Boulder, Colorado's Avery Brewing Co., as he pours me one of his malt bombs. The 42-year- old surfer, skier and rock climber, who started as a home brewer, plans to release a beer aged in red-wine barrels next year and predicts that ``sour beers are next.''
Perhaps the most far-out brew is one that isn't being poured: Sam Adams Utopias. With a heady 27 percent alcohol, it resembles cognac and is rare enough that bottles sell on EBay for $300.
Some brewers, such as Garrett Oliver, 45, the influential brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, aim for unusual beers that don't sacrifice balance or drinkability. Attired in a dark-blue suit, starched white shirt and red power tie, Oliver nearly convinces me that his soft, round Black Chocolate Stout is a better partner with blue cheese than vintage port.
In a testament to how far craft beer has come, Brooklyn Brewery now makes an ale for Thomas Keller's restaurants, including the Napa Valley's French Laundry. Watch out, wine.
Columnist Elin McCoy is based in New York. firstname.lastname@example.org
Nothing new, but nice to see some really high-quality brewers get some attention.
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