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Guest post | Blake Marcum: a guide to spreading holiday cheer beer in the 901

December 18, 2014 By: mike Category: Craft beer, Distribution, Memphis

The following is a guest post from Memphis craft beer drinker Blake Marcum, who previously wrote about pumpkin beers in the 901.


It may be hard to notice over all of the jingling bells and sparkling lights down Poplar Avenue, but the approach of winter has brought us the greatest gift of the season, Christmas beer. Beers this time of year get darker, sweeter and give a much better meaning to the holidays than whatever movie marathon is on television.

Blake Marcum

Blake Marcum

In the 901, we are blessed to have a massive selection of winter beer options at our local bars and beer stores. Nothing gets me more into the spirit of the holidays than filling my shopping cart full of tasty treats with so much flavor they put all Christmas cookies to shame. Today we’ll be your personal beer shopping elves, here to help you decide the right beer to get in the 901.

During our tastings, we were really surprised by the large number of beer that had no discernible spice characteristics to truly make it a winter/Christmas beer. This made us realize we had two categories of beer we were dealing with from the breweries: Fruitcake and Ornaments.

Fruitcake is the most unapologetic holiday dessert ever created. It looks festive, it smells festive and it’s full of whatever ingredients Mrs. Claus could find in the cupboard. Fruitcake beers follow this same trend. They look, smell and taste like the holidays. When you try them, you’ll have gingerbread men and sugar plums dancing all in your head, no matter what style of beer it is. Fruitcake, in this article, is pure heaven.

Ornaments are plastic, cheap, and no one sheds a tear when one breaks, because you’ve got dozens more just like it stored up in the attic. Ornament beers have festive bottles, clever names and sometimes even an aroma of intrigue, but the flavor characteristics are that of any other beer readily available on the store shelves all year round.

Fruitcake Beer (the good kind)

shiner cheer1. Shiner Holiday Cheer: If Santa and Jesus brewed beer together, all they would brew is Shiner Cheer. It’s a dark wheat beer with peaches and pecans. When I taste it, I am instantly thrust into Christmas memories of my brother and me wearing our Memphis State University sweatshirts when I was growing up in Nutbush. This is truly the shining star of the Spoetzl Brewery’s lineup. I celebrate this beer by buying eight cases of it each year. I continuously enjoy this beer all throughout the year, and it holds up incredibly well, even in the summertime. Tony Lucchesi, owner of Lucchesi’s Beer Garden and one of the most recognizable last names in the 901, sends me a picture of this beer when it arrives as he knows I’ll be at his bar immediately. Shiner Cheer on tap is a wonderful experience, and it can also be purchased in bottles or cans.

2. Samuel Adams White Christmas: This beer impresses me more and more each time I try it. Cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel help give this white ale its warm and cozy taste. I’ve started buying more and more of this beer because of its incredible flavor. In the spring, Sam Adams releases Cold Snap, the junior version of White Christmas, which is also delicious. Do yourself a favor and try this beer. If you disagree with my review, that is absolutely OK. Three ghosts will be visiting you in the future to help you change your mind.

3. High Cotton Brewing’s Christmas Stout: As a big supporter of our local breweries, it thrills me that one of them produces a Christmas beer. This is a fantastic stout that has so much Christmas thrown into it, I laughed when I first tasted it. It is unapologetically Christmas and deliciously so. If darker beers are not your usual, don’t let the fact that it is a stout keep you away. The spices in the beer will help distract you from the color and keep you thirsty for more.

4. Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanillla Porter: This beer is simply delicious. It has nice chocolate notes in the porter, with subtle hints of vanilla. It is incredibly smooth and easy to enjoy. Being a porter, it will be too much for the light beer crowd, but it is definitely worth a try.

5. Blue Moon Gingerbread Spiced Ale: This beer is definitely one to keep on your wish list this year. Wonderful spices and flavor, with a smoothness you could drink all year round. The only way you can get this beer in the 901 is in a winter variety 12-pack, along with their Mountain Abbey Ale and their Cinnamon Horchata Ale, but that is like killing three tasty birds with one stone.

6. Blue Moon Mountain Abbey Ale: Since I already mentioned it, I might as well tell you about this other Blue Moon ale. This is a solid amber beer that has some Belgian sugar and a touch of wheat to it. Blue Moon swears it has a smooth toffee finish, but I guess by “smooth” they mean non-existent. I could easily drink a 12-pack of these while sitting around the fire watching Grizzlies games. Besides the variety 12-pack previously mentioned, this beer can also be found in six-packs by itself

7. Blue Moon Cinnamon Horchata Ale: Any beer with that much cinnamon in it deserves to be on our list. While the aroma and taste of cinnamon hits you very strong on the front end, the beer quickly mellows in your mouth and leaves you with no lingering mouth feel or aftertaste, staying close to the mild flavor characteristics that horchata rice is known for. This beer will only be found in the winter variety 12-pack.

8. Woodchuck Winter Chill: This cider, aged over premium French and traditional American Oak chips, is delicious. The flavors of the oak and apple make this a great cider for the winter time. I had this slightly chilled and let it warm up, and the flavors really came alive. If you want something crisp, sweet and light, but with nice flavors that linger, this is something you should try.

9. New Belgium Accumulation White IPA: When it comes to my love affair with New Belgium, unfortunately it is always 1 step forward, 1 step back. They made an amazing pumpkin beer this year, and then… I had the 2014 Accumulation. The 2013 Accumulation was delicious and was welcomed as a new champion of the Christmas beer selection in Memphis as a wonderful White IPA. In 2014, they took the flavor down, jacked up the hop level and made this beer just another on the one-and-done list for me. It’s still a nice beer and if you like hops, give it a try for sure. Your palate may love what mine does not. I just hope in 2015 they go back to the joyous recipe that made me believe.

Ornament Beer (liquid coal)

1. Yazoo Winter Scotch Ale: I think the important thing for beer fans to remember is, this is a Scotch Ale that is simply being released in the Winter. It’s not a Winter beer the way that I think of Shiner Cheer or Blue Moon’s Mountain Abbey Ale. Though I love most of their beer dearly, the flavor of the Scotch Ale fell short of my expectations. I should be fair and state that I am a hardcore Scottish drinker. I like a rich flavor that many beer drinkers would find too flavorful and overwhelming for their taste buds. This beer is more of an introduction of Scottish beers to the masses. And in that goal, they succeeded. But don’t be fooled by the packaging and think you’re going to taste a hint of reindeer in this one.

Anchor-Christmas-Ale-20142. Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale: While I truthfully don’t care for many of Anchor’s other offerings, the Christmas beer is one I always look forward to. Anchor’s employees change the recipe every year, so you never know what you’re going to get when you have that first taste. In 2012 it was a phenomenal experience. In 2013 it tasted like a pine tree and I did my best to keep anyone from buying it. In 2014 they have given us a beer with very low spice notes to it, that has a bitter taste on the back end and just drank like an average amber or brown ale.

3. Abita Christmas Ale: I want to like Abita so much, especially since their Spiced Turbodog changed my life for the better, but I can’t when they offer up beers like their 2014 Christmas. It is a hoppy wreck of a beer, not even enjoyed by my close friends who embrace high IBUs. This seems like another example of breweries putting “Christmas” on a label with no reason to do so, except for marketing purposes. No one wants this beer in their stocking.

4. Magic Hat Snow Roller: Continuing their adventurous push for strong flavor variety in 2014, Magic Hat delivers a hoppy brown ale with absolutely no Christmas taste to it at all. You can drink it at Christmas, but it offers no excitement. It’s the poinsettia of Christmas beers.

5. Samuel Adams White Lantern: I purchased this beer by mistake one year, thinking it was White Christmas. I will never make that mistake again. Sam Adams describes this beer as a crisp wheat, with tangerine, orange peel and coriander. All I tasted was regret.

6. Jolly Traveler Winter Shandy: Have you ever wanted to make out with a candy cane? How about purging your taste buds with the overbearing power of peppermint? If those things do not sound like a good time, avoid this beer at all cost. I can’t believe this even got released. This beer is a big letdown considering how much I loved their Jack-O Traveler pumpkin. There are going to be people that love this beer … and Nickelback.

7. Samuel Adams Winter Lager: This beer is completely lacking Christmas in any way. It’s a bock winter beer that is described as having “dark wheat spice with fresh ground cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel.” I tasted none of that and was really disappointed. It’s just a drinkable bock beer. Bah humbug!

Now it is important to remember, that these are opinions that are based on personal taste preferences and palates. The great experience of beer is the adventure of trying new things, and we encourage you to enjoy that journey, even if you experience a few wrong turns along the way. No matter what kind of beer you get in your stocking this year, you can be sure that you’ll be merry and full of cheer. And remember that it is the season of giving, and there is no better gift to give than that of delicious beer.

So open up a wonderful holiday beer, enjoy the fellowship of being around family and friends, and begin the difficult part of the holidays, deciding whether “Gremlins” or “Die Hard” is the better Christmas movie.


Tickets on sale for 6th annual Memphis Brewfest at AutoZone Park

December 16, 2014 By: mike Category: Craft beer, Events, Memphis

2015 Memphis BrewfestTickets went on sale Monday evening for the 2015 Memphis Brewfest, which is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, at AutoZone Park.

Organizers say the sixth edition of the Downtown Memphis beer festival may be the best yet, with new features planned. Among them: special tastings in some newly constructed parts of the stadium, along with a German Beer Garden on the right field deck.

The event, which is the biggest beer fest in Memphis, features international beers, craft beers and local homebrews. The festival will serve as the kickoff for the 3rd annual Memphis Beer Week, which runs April 18-25 (details coming soon on Beer Week events).

Tickets are $42 and can be purchased online now. The price goes up to $45 on April 11.

All net proceeds from the festival benefit Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy and the Memphis Redbirds Foundation.

Memphis’ Wiseacre Brewing expands distribution to Nashville, will add 4th year-round beer

December 15, 2014 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Distribution, Memphis

Memphis’ Wiseacre Brewing Co. is expanding its Tennessee footprint as it launches distribution in Nashville today.

Wiseacre LogoWiseacre, which is also adding a fourth beer to its year-round lineup, is partnering with BountyBev to send beer in cans and on draft to the Music City.

Kellan Bartosch, who founded Wiseacre with brother Davin in 2003, said they “feel great about our decision to work with Bounty.”

“They are small and only carry American craft beer, with a knowledgeable and passionate team working there led by (president) Kurt Strickmaker. As we get farther away from Memphis, it is important that we have people who know how to communicate about our beers and our story. Bounty is growing a lot in Nashville right now and are an important part of the way the beer scene is developing there,” Bartosch said via email.

“I should add that our distributor in town (Eagle Distributing) has done a great job and has been crucial to helping us have such a good start. Having good partners on the distribution tier can be a huge plus in helping breweries like Wiseacre, and we take the selection process very seriously.”

Wiseacre is planning special events this week in Nashville for its rollout. Check out the brewery’s Facebook page and Twitter feed for details.

Meanwhile, Wiseacre is adding a fourth beer to its year-round lineup: Gotta Get Up to Get Down, a coffee milk stout that’s previously been released as a special beer.

Gotta Get Up to Get DownWiseacre hopes to have the beer in cans “by the end of the year or early 2015,” Bartosch said.

Gotta Get Up to Get Down joins a year-round lineup that includes Ananda IPA, Tarasque Saison and Tiny Bomb American Pilsener, which recently won a bronze medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.

“We wanted to offer a more malt forward beer,” Bartosch said of Gotta Get Up to Get Down, which features roasted barley, oats and plenty of coffee flavor.

“We heard more feedback about this beer than perhaps any other one-off we made in Year One. Davin made this beer … while he was a brewer in Chicago and won Best in Show at a festival, with 2nd place being Dreadnaught DIPA from 3 Floyds and Bourbon County from Goose Island getting 3rd. Both of those are in the Top 50 on RateBeer.com, so being awarded Best in Show by the Chicago Beer Society over those two is high praise as well. We feel really good about this beer.”

The label art for Gotta Get Up to Get Down — the words look like milk surrounded by steam from coffee — was designed by Rachel Briggs, the artist behind Wiseacre’s other unique labels.

“Milk Stouts use lactose sugar, which is unfermentable and provides a residual dairy sweetness. Unlike the connotations many people associate with the word ‘stout,’ these beers are medium-bodied ranging from 4-6% ABV with GGU2GD being medium-bodied and sitting right in the middle at 5%. So it’s a coffee milk stout, not a coffee stout,” Bartosch said.

“The oats in GGU2GD provide a silky texture and help provides a tan/brown head. The coffee comes from a specifically selected Ethiopian Natural Process Bean from the Konga region of Yirgacheffe, which is the roasted at Metropolis Coffee in Chicago. We could’ve used Folgers or some other random brand, but we’re getting amazing coffee and working with who we believe is the best coffee roaster in the U.S.

“Making great beer is about recipe formulation, great ingredients, great equipment, great execution and great packaging — they are all very, very important. There is a beautiful clean coffee flavor in this beer that’s not overly roasty acidic or acrid. Be prepared for a slight caffeine bump too, thus the name of the uppers of caffeine and downer of booze.”

Five facts for National Lager Day

December 10, 2014 By: mike Category: Beer learnin', Craft beer, History of beer

Fourth of July beer

Today is National Lager Day, a day for craft beer drinkers to celebrate this often under-appreciated category of beers.

Think lagers are boring? Wiseacre Brewing Co.’s Kellan Bartosch refuted that notion last year in this piece for craftbeer.com.

Bartosch, who would “take a well done lager over a poorly made IPA any day,” suggested that beers don’t need to be extreme to be good.

“The best beer drinkers I know enjoy every style and can pick out good and bad versions of each, including lagers,” Bartosch wrote.

So skip the IPA today and pick up a lager. There are many styles to choose from that don’t include American macrobrews. I’m particularly fond of Schwarzbiers and Märzens, but even a good old Samuel Adams Boston Lager (style: Vienna Lager) will do.

Speaking of, the brewers at Samuel Adams shared with us these facts for National Lager Day. Cheers!

1.) The word “lager” is derived from the German “lager” which means “to store.”

2.) Lagers are relatively new to the beer scene, first appearing in Bavaria during the 16th century; before that, ales were brewed for over 7,000 years because ales are easier to ferment.

3.) Lager yeast, as opposed to ale yeast, ferments (eats sugar to produce carbonation and alcohol) at cooler temperatures and, when done fermenting, settles to the bottom of the fermentation tank. Lager yeast also takes a longer time to condition the beer than ale yeast.

4.) Due in part to their clean, crisp character, lagers are sometimes incorrectly labeled plain and boring. That couldn’t be farther from the truth! Craft lagers are flavorful and complex, and a number of different styles fall under the lager category and include Märzen/Oktoberfest beers, Bock beers like Maibock/Helles Bocks, Pilsners, Dunkelweizens, Rauchbiers, and Schwarzbiers, to name a few.

5.) Before modern refrigeration, brewers needed a way to keep their lagers cool during the brewing process. In lieu of today’s larger cooling tanks, German lager brewers of old sometimes cooled their beer in Alpine caves or in cellars dug deeply into hillsides.