Posts Tagged ‘beer’

What's in a pint?

Posted in Beer on March 19th, 2015 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
Clearly marked pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

Clearly marked pint, half-pint, and third-pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to sell a pint of beer with less than 568mL of liquid. This corresponds to 20 imperial ounces, which is about 19.2 US ounces. Similarly, "half pints" must contain no less than 284mL, and "third pints" no less than 189.3mL. To enforce this law, pubs in the UK serve beers in marked glasses, with clear lines that show at what point a pint has been reached. There are inspections. There are regulators. There are customers who politely ask for a "top up" when this line isn't met. And as a result, this line is met. Customers who expect a pint receive an imperial pint at a minimum.

The United States Treasury, through powers granted by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, defined, in 1832, a gallon as 231 cubic inches. As part of the US Code obligations, every state has, on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, a complete set of "weights and measures," that include a gallon and divisions thereof: half gallons, quarts, pints, half pints, and gills. Thus, a pint, according to US law, is 28.875 cubic inches, or precisely 16 US ounces (473mL).

And yet, when you buy a pint of beer in this country, there is no guarantee that you will get those 16 ounces. In fact the opposite is true: thanks to under-pouring and misleading glassware, you are likely to get much less.

The "standard American shaker pint" glass, the kind you probably think of as a pint glass, holds exactly 16 ounces. Exactly. No room for spillage, and in fact, pour a tall boy of beer into one and you'll note a "reverse miniscus" of liquid, as surface tension keeps the liquid from pouring over the side. But when was the last time you were served, at a bar, a nearly-overflowing glass of beer? When standard shaker pints are used, you're much more likely to receive around fourteen ounces of beer, accounting for head and empty space to prevent (or caused by) spillage.

And yet the problem compounds further: bantam-weight shaker pints, which have thicker walls, a much thicker floor, and are commonly used with a stainless steel Boston shaker to shake cocktails, hold a maximum of 14 ounces of liquid. Again, this is exact. Any more than 14 ounces, and that surface tension will break, sending liquid spilling over the side. And today, many bars have switched from the already questionable American shaker pint to that bantam-weight shaker pint, meaning that once you account for head and spillage, you're likely receiving only around 12 ounces when you ask for a pint. A 25% discount in liquid that surely is not represented in the price.

As it happens, the State of Texas actually does have a law that deals with this, but the Department of Agriculture, responsible for its enforcement, apparently focuses entirely on its application to fuel pumps. The relevant section that should be applied to bars and restaurants that under-serve is Section 13.035(b)(2): "A person violates this chapter if the person represents the price or the quantity of a commodity, item, or service sold or offered or exposed for sale in a manner intended or tending to mislead or deceive an actual or prospective customer."

I think it's time for this state, and any other state that has similar laws, to begin enforcement of this. The law provides for a fine for every infraction, and I think it's time that those fines be levied. States that don't have similar laws ought to legislate thusly. The customer is being cheated, lied to, and this is a disgrace. I'd like to see marked pint glasses that clearly and correctly show where liquid reaches 16 ounces. I'd like to see the demise of both the American shaker pint and its even more devious bantam-weight cousin as serving vessels. And I'd like to see establishments stop cheating customers, be it through good conscience or through proper application of consumer protection laws.

But it also requires action from the customers. Demand a full pint. Demand top-ups to get to 16 ounces when American shaker pints are used, and stop patronizing establishments that cheat you out of volume. Order cans or 12-ounce bottles and ask for a pint glass, to demonstrate the embarrassing pour that occurs when bantam-weight shaker pints are used. This cheating needs to end, but it'll take a lot of work for us to get our full pour.

Rockwell Tavern

Posted in Burgers on May 21st, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

I've been far out to Rockwell Tavern a few times now but haven't put my thoughts on their burgers here yet. So here goes.

Basically this is a great burger. I've tried a few of their burgers now and my favorite is easily the Sunburn, topped with all manners of heat: pepper jack, jalapeno bacon, chipotle mayo, and their "house hot sauce." I cannot verify the implied claim that it's made in house, it honestly doesn't seem so. But that doesn't matter: the burger is excellent. The meat is fresh and tasty, a good blend of beef that speaks for itself. (This is especially evident if you order the Vintage, a simple bacon cheeseburger.) It's juicy and oozes magnificently, but the sweet cheddar jalapeno bun (standard on every burger) easily stands up to the challenge.

The heat is not overpowering, and the chipotle mayo and jalapeno bacon complement each other to provide a little bit of extra flavor in contrast to the spice-only taste of the "house hot sauce." And to add to that, the hand-cut french fries, though not the best I've ever had, are pretty good, and are easily washed down with any of a very good selection of craft beers.

My only major complaint with Rockwell is the location. Oh and the hours: I find it very strange that a bar closes at 9 pm (and thus frequently empties/cleans earlier than that) on a Thursday night. If you find yourself in Cypress, hungry early in the evening, stop by Rockwell. Get a burger and fries. And enjoy.

Craft beer is underpriced

Posted in Beer on April 9th, 2014 by Nathan – 17 Comments

If quantity cannot increase fast enough, price must.I've written a lot about this topic in various other locations, but I figured it's time to talk about it here: much of craft beer is absurdly underpriced. I've touched on supply/demand before in this blog, but a quick refresher can't hurt. Basically, to the left is a supply and demand curve. It's basic. Where that dot labeled "equilibrium" is is the magical world where supply matches demand. In that world there's an equilibrium price and an equilibrium quantity. It's magical, of course, because it rarely exists with specific goods.

Craft beer is one of those goods where the equilibrium seems to be a fantasy, impossible to reach. Instead, we're at a point on the supply curve down and to the left of the equilibrium: quantity is low, price is low.

The symptoms of this are obvious in many craft beer scenes around the country: super quick sellouts, the recent Hunahpu's Day disaster, beer scalpers, etc. When demand outpaces supply, these types of things happen. These are simple market inefficiencies. And there's only two ways to fix these inefficiencies: increase supply or decrease demand.

Increasing supply is a somewhat nice idea, and in the market overall, this is already underway. More and more craft breweries are opening, expanding, increasing production. However, because beers are not perfect substitute goods, an increase in supply in the overall market does not translate to an increase in supply for particular beers. As a result, rare or limited releases continue to see the problems described above. In fact, this is precisely where the problem is most evident and these beers are the exact ones I would argue are underpriced.

Thus, demand must be decreased. And as the supply/demand curve image shows, if the quantity can't increase, the price must. And as it does, the consumer appetite will decrease, demand will drop as prices approach equilibrium. Note that there's nothing "fair" about this – it's a purely capitalist system, but it's also a system that, with the scarcity that exists, works.

Jester King's Aurelian Lure and Nocturn Chrysalis were priced at sixteen dollars per 500ml bottle. There were about 500 bottles of each. Every bottle sold out within three minutes. That's absurd. Jester King could have easily charged twice that and the sellout would still have occurred, albeit at a slightly slower rate. In fact, I would argue that Jester King could have charged ten times as much – an unheard of (some might say obscene) $160 per bottle, and still sold out in a reasonable amount of time. (Of course, they would have had to remove the "limit one per person" stipulation. And I wouldn't have gotten any.)

A six-pack of Saint Arnold Divine Reserve may run you as much as twenty dollars. Look on Craigslist a day or two after it's been sold out in Houston, and you'll see postings asking for fifty or one hundred dollars. No matter how often people flag the posts (myself included) as prohibited, those sellers will sell the beer they bought. If they wouldn't, then we wouldn't see the same thing after every somewhat limited release. The prices they request are closer to the market equilibrium, and the gray market rewards them for taking advantage of a massive market inefficiency.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that there seems to be some kind of "noble pricing" that breweries implement. Reputational risk is probably a concern, but honestly, a lot of breweries are owned by or started by people who find it abhorrent to charge more than what they think is fair. Freetail is a great example of this, and they have stated before that they purposely keep prices low, intentionally do not capitalize on the extreme demand for Ananke and other special releases, and do not plan to change this in the future. Honestly, I think that's noble, wonderful for my wallet and those wallets of my friends, and unsustainable.

The prices probably won't rise in the near future, unfortunately, because of this reason and other reasons. But I repeat that I believe this is unsustainable. The growth in craft beer demand looks to continue at ridiculous rates, while supply simply cannot keep up. The result will be increased gray market activity, more catastrophes at beer releases, more rapid sellouts and angry consumers, and ultimately chaos. It's not impossible to envision a future in which a brewer throws his hands up and sells out or quits, in retaliation to this chaos. And that benefits nobody.

The responsible but unpopular thing to do is to raise prices. Craft beer is massively underpriced and unless this changes, there may be a crisis ahead.

A brief, open letter to Saint Arnold (Ode to Icon Red Bohemian Pils)

Posted in Beer on March 24th, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Dear Saint Arnold Brewing Company,

Please make Icon Red Bohemian Pils a year-round offering.

Love,

Nathan

++++

Last year, when the first in Saint Arnold's Icon series came out (Red: Belgian Pale Ale), I was immediately excited. Before Icon, Saint Arnold's offerings had changed very infrequently, or been limited release only. Icon represented a new world for the brewery: new, changing styles released with a volume high enough for everyone to have a ton of the stuff. And each quarter, that has remained true, each time with a delicious beer. The BPA was crisp and delicious, and then came the Cascadian Dark Ale (Blue), one of the few "black IPAs" (a term I dislike generally only slightly more than the style) I actually enjoyed. It was flavorful, malty, and unlike the typical CDA. Following that was the Amarillo Hefe (Green), which was unique and refreshing. And to cap off the first year of the Icon series was the Bière de Saison (Gold), a mixture of two styles, and in my opinion the best of the four.

When the second year of Icon began, it was clear that the series was going to continue brilliance, but it started with a letdown for me: Icon Red Bohemian Pils. I say "letdown" because when the style was announced I was immediately saddened; I simply don't consider myself a pilsner guy.

Or, more appropriately, I didn't consider myself a pilsner guy. The vast majority of pilsners I had had before the Bohemian Pils were disappointing, unbalanced, and not friendly to my palate. In fact, some of the worst beers I've had have been pilsners. So when Saint Arnold announced their second Icon Red, I assumed I'd give it a try, not like it very much, and wait a long three months for whatever came next.

I could not have been more wrong, as the "letter" above makes obvious. I drank a ton of Icon Red over those three months and now find myself wanting as it has dried up nearly everywhere, replaced by the newest (and also delicious) Icon Blue: Brown Porter. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait for more Icon beers, as each one has been delicious. But I want the Bohemian Pils to return as a year-round offering.

As Saint Arnold this past week added to their year-round offerings for the first time in two years (with the incredible Boiler Room Berliner Weisse), I don't think the timing could be more appropriate for yet another addition. So, I write the brief, open letter above to ask Saint Arnold to do exactly that. Make this one-time pilsner a year-round pilsner.

I wrote something: Top Ten Breweries in Texas

Posted in Beer on March 21st, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

After a shameful post on Thrillist about the top ten breweries in Texas, my friend Jason put together a panel to come up with a better list. Since I was one of the panelists, I figured I'd separate out my votes (very different from the final result) and post them again here. Best part is I get to revive this blog without actually writing something new for it…

Brewery Comments Top Beers
1. Real Ale Real Ale has been consistent and impressive for 18 years, in that time failing to produce a bad beer. They consistently nail "basic" styles (a big plus for me) while producing the state's best sours in their Mysterium Verum series and creating interesting experiments in the Brewer's Cut series. Scots Gone Wild, 4-Squared
2. Saint Arnold It was really hard to choose the #1 spot between RA & SA, and I'd entertain the opposite ranking. Everything I said about Real Ale, I can say about Saint Arnold, except change "18 years" to "20 years." They are the paragon of consistency, do not make bad beers, and their experimentation in the realm of Divine Reserve, Icon, and Bishop's Barrel has been marvelous. BB2, Icon Red Bohemian Pils
3. (512) Another brewery that does not make a bad beer. (512) makes probably the best porter in the state, and their anniversary beers are among my favorites in their styles. Like Real Ale, they aren't super flashy, and so I think they get overlooked often. Hype doesn't follow taste though, and (512) consistently puts out fantastic beers. Pecan Porter, THREE
4. Live Oak Again, hard to choose between this and (512) for the #3 spot, so again, I'd be okay with them switching around. Live Oak is singularly the best German brewery in America. There is no question about that. Even if you're not into traditional German styles, you have to admit that these are incredibly impressive. Best in class Hefeweizen, Pilsner, Weizenbock, and even a great Barleywine. Hard not to love these guys. Hefeweizen, Old Tree Hugger Barelywine
5. Jester King Jester King's new foray into fruited sours makes them my number five with a bullet. If they continue on the trajectory they've placed themselves after leaving behind the past mistakes, they'll be higher on my list the next time I have to make it. Farmhouse & Sour means a lot more in Texas today than it did when they first replaced their (fantastic) Black Metal with a (less so) Farmhouse Black Metal. The national recognition JK has achieved is very deserved. Atrial Rubicite, Le Petit Prince
6. Hops & Grain It's very important to me not only that a brewery can make one amazing beer, but that they can make a ton of amazing beers. If those are simple styles, that's even more impressive, as it's harder to hide mistakes in "basic" beers. H&G is very good at this. Very few misses, and the vast majority of their beers are fantastic easy-drinkers. I'm excited to see where the Greenhouse IPA series goes in the near future. Zoe, Greenhouse IPA (Jan '14)
7. Freetail Freetail has a lot of hype, and for some people, that's a bad thing. But I say most of it is deserved. Their beers, especially in the recent two years, have been incredibly complex and very impressive. Easily the state's best (traditional) brewpub, and also rising fast on this list. Peche'cus, La Muerta
8. Austin Beerworks ABW has managed in a short time to create some fantastic beers, a great IPA series, and only a few misses. Unfortunately, I think their misses were in the most important styles, those basic ones that can't hide mistakes. Nonetheless, an amazing brewery and the first one to bring us a truly great Berliner Weisse. Einhorn, Heavy Machinery Half IPA
9. Lone Pint It might be a bit early to put them on this list, as they're very young, but I believe they are currently producing the best single beer in Texas (Yellow Rose), and it would be blasphemy to leave them off the list. I can't conscionably put them higher though, as unfortunately the rest of their beers fall far short of where YR is. That's not to say they're bad – I would say I've only had two misses from them – but they're not on the level of excellence that YR is. I can't wait to see what the future brings though, as every new offering is fantastic. Yellow Rose, Zythophile El Dorado
10. Lakewood Very similar to Lone Pint in that they produce one fantastic beer (Temptress) and a ton of variations thereof. There's somewhat of a dearth of great milk stouts in this state, and Lakewood solves this problem with a fantastic one. Temptress, BB Temptress

And finally, the honorable mentions that Jason didn't put up on his post:

Missing from this list: There’s a couple breweries notably missing from this list and I’d like to very briefly explain them as “honorable mentions.” Peticolas: both beers I’ve had from them have been very good, but the keyword is “both.” I simply do not have enough experience with them to form a more realistic opinion. Community: very similar. I’ve only had four beers from them, three of which were absolutely fantastic. But still, not enough experience to include them. Karbach: hype doesn’t make beer taste better, sadly.

Witchcraft Tavern & Provision Co

Posted in Burgers on December 21st, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

There's a whole rock-and-roll theme going on in Witchcraft and it's pretty neat. Makes for great ambiance.The other night, Rebecca and I journeyed to the Heights to check out the newly-opened Witchcraft Tavern & Provision Co, replacing Dragon Bowl, a Chinese place we had enjoyed in the past. The owners and team are the same, but the concept is different, so we were excited to check it out.

Beer and burgers is basically a concept that I can sign up for without even blinking. And since that’s the concept behind Witchcraft, the place had been on my list since it was first announced.

Twenty taps adorn the wall, under a chalkboard proclaiming the beers available. (Or rather, the beers that were available at the last writing of the chalkboard – our visit showed a match of only eighteen out of twenty.) These twenty taps are all craft, with one cider, and all quite impressive. Locals as well as mainstays from out of state. Not anything too rare, nor anything you can’t find anywhere else, but a great selection with good variety sure to please everyone.

For food, Witchcraft has a good menu of sandwiches, burgers, and appetizers, including two that were held over from Dragon Bowl. Both Rebecca and I went for burgers. Mine, the Andouille, was a mixture of Andouille sausage and beef with bacon jam and chipotle cheese. And frankly, it was delicious.

The toppings only served to highlight the burger, and the bun was strong enough to hold together with ease, so there’s no worries there. But it was the burger itself that really stood out. The sausage-mixed beef was tasty, juicy, and great on every bite. And on top of that, it was cooked to perfection, exactly how I ordered it.

I’d recommend checking out Witchcraft. It’s a nice spot, and a good replacement for Dragon Bowl. I definitely know I’ll be back more often than I frequented Dragon Bowl, because it’s hard for me to say no to good beer and good burgers.

Don’t bother getting a burger in London

Posted in Burgers on November 16th, 2012 by Nathan – 2 Comments

Meh.I spent the week of Guy Fawkes Day in London, (remember remember) and while I was there enjoyed quite a bit of food that is special to the country we (thankfully) once broke away from so many years ago.

While there, I enjoyed curry at an Indian place, curry at a Japanese place, and curry at a British place. They’re very big on curry there. And I can see why: it does a fantastic job of drowning out the otherwise bland flavors and poor ingredients they have to make use of.

I also had a beef-and-porter pie at a pub, fish and chips, and sticky toffee pudding. I had cod and scallops at a Gordon Ramsay establishment (Bread Street Kitchen), roast duck and butternut squash soup at Canary Wharf’s finest upscale fifth-floor establishment, lamb stew at Jamie Oliver’s Italian place, and some steak and frites at Le Relais, a restaurant famous for providing only one thing: steak and frites. And I had a burger.

The pie was fantastic. I had it at Porterhouse, a beer bar that apparently was carved out of a copper quarry or mine or whatever you get copper from. Seriously, I read that there was £2,000,000 of copper in this place and after seeing it in person, I’m willing to concede that that’s an understatement. Also the beer was good, including an Irish Red that easily takes the title for best of that style I’ve ever had.

The fish and chips were good. The sticky toffee pudding was a serious letdown since I was expecting something close to the awesomeness of Feast, where the sticky toffee pudding still holds the title of “greatest thing I’ve ever eaten.” Instead, it was a cakey mess with a bit of toffee flavor and some sticky but really nothing special.

The cod and scallops at Gordon Ramsay’s BSK were overly-salty. I mean, really really salty. And the accompanying cocktail was pretty good but not nearly as good as I expected when the bartender claimed he would “make something special for me.” The roast duck and soup were actually quite excellent (the restaurant is called Plateau and I recommend it heartily for lunch).

Jamie’s lamb stew was a bit fatty, which was surprising because:
a) It’s lamb stew, a not-usually-very-fatty dish, and
b) This is the same Jamie Oliver who comes to our country and endlessly attacks our cuisine (especially in school lunch rooms) as being unhealthy.
So it was a bit surprising that his lamb stew was not so healthy itself. Nor that great. I’ve, no joke, had better lamb stew in a school lunch room. (A college, but still.)

And the steak and frites at Le Relais? Pretty good. Not worth the £25.00 they cost, but not bad. Possibly the only part of London where they are capable of cooking “medium” or “rare.” The green sauce on top wasn’t bad either. It rather reminded me of the omnipresent curry elsewhere. My curry experiences were equally “pretty good” – if you can only have one meal in London, then curry is probably your bet. Wagamama, the Japanese place, put curry on all their dishes, but it was Mango Tree, near the London Bridge, that had truly good curry.

And then there’s the burger. My burger, called the ‘Taxi Driver’ from Gourmet Burger Kitchen was aptly named, as it encouraged me to find the nearest cab toward Heathrow airport. I chose Gourmet Burger Kitchen because multiple Londoners informed me it was the best burger available.

The pretty standard bun (which they tried to pass off as Brioche – psh) was topped with a burger covered with American cheese, an onion ring, “Cajun” relish, “dill” pickle, lettuce, tomato, and “chili” mayo. Those quotation marks are not from the menu. They are quotes I added to emphasize that GBK’s understanding of such adjectives is clearly different than my own.

The relish and the mayo, I couldn’t tell apart, not because of texture, but because of flavor. Apparently Cajun and chili mean the same thing in London. Not sure why I’m shocked, as really, what the heck do they know of Cajuns? I mean, the closest they’ve ever come is having their navy embarrassed by Jean Lafitte back in 1815. And chili? Well curry, they can do, but otherwise if you’re looking for spice, look elsewhere.

And the “dill” pickle was sweet. Whatever.

My real complaint is with the meat. It was bland. It was flavorless. It was overcooked. It was completely without merit. They didn’t just choose cattle that apparently had no redeeming qualities, they then took the worst cuts of meat and cooked out any excitement that may have somehow made it through the corn-centric diet’s destruction of any joy these cows may have felt in their obviously sad and painful lives.

I say “sad and painful lives” because this was made obvious by the beyond-the-grave vengeance that these cows exacted upon the otherwise unsuspecting patrons of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, myself included. On behalf of the human race, I would like to apologize to these cattle for the horrible lives they were made to lead.

And on behalf of America, I would like to warn my fellow countrymen against ordering a burger in London. If this is the best that England has to offer, I’d like to thank my lucky stars I didn’t try “mediocre.”