We're counting down the days, hours and minutes until the Wood & Wild Festival, taking place Oct. 22 at every HopCat location. In anticipation, we're checking in with our expert beer managers for suggestions about beers to try at each of our restaurants. Today we hear from HopCat Kansas City's Brandon Freeman, who suggests a few "unicorns" - beers so epic and legendary they defy comprehension - that will be available at KC's Wood & Wild party:
New Holland Dragon’s Milk Reserve: S’mores – I am really looking forward to this one for a couple of reasons. One being, who doesn’t love S’mores? Secondly, along with being one of the more iconic flavor profiles, it is also one of America’s Favorite Pastimes. Sitting around a fire cooking your marshmallow, just waiting to bite into this delectable treat. Now picture the always popular New Holland Dragon’s Milk with all of those tastes and feels of a campfire. Personally, I am looking forward to getting a pour of this and going upstairs to the patio and enjoying this beer outside in the nice crisp fall air. [More info via Untappd]
Mother’s Rye Manhattan – Being a Whiskey guy who loves his Manhattans, I have this beer highlighted on my to-do List. Mother's has always been an excellent go-to for Brown Ales in the area. Using their expertise in this style, they have made the perfect marriage of barrel-aging. Templeton Rye Barrels for that iconic Whiskey flavor and Red Wine Barrels to impart that Sweet Vermouth flavor that rounds out the Taste of America’s Original Cocktail, in Beer Form!! [More info via Untappd]
Zipline Gin Barrel-Aged Hibiscus Saison – Saisons have been my favorite beer style for number of years now. Since about the same time I discovered I really love gin. With a lot of breweries experimenting with different liquor barrels to age their beers in, it is wonderful to see gin get its time in the sun. Especially when they are aging my favorite beer style in them. I anticipate the Hibiscus’ fruity flavors and gin barrels’ floral notes to blend with the Saison’s earthy tones in perfect harmony. [More info via Untappd]
The Wood & Wild Festival is so close we can almost taste it. The event - happening Sunday, Oct. 22 at all HopCats - puts a spotlight on barrel-aged and sour beers. The lists can be daunting, so we're checking with our beer experts at each location about the can't-miss beers that will be tapped throughout the day. Below are some suggestions from Jay Poljanac, beer program manager at HopCat Royal Oak, whose full tap list is available here.
Arbor Brewing's Lil' Sour Puss - Super excited to have this exclusive sour on that a number of our Michigan BPM's had the opportunity to blend with Arbor themselves. Meticulous planning and about a dozen different blends later, I think we came up with the perfect match.
Central Waters' Brewers Reserve: BA Stout - Central Waters just recently broke into Michigan distribution and I couldn't be happier about this, as I had the opportunity to drink lots of CW while spending time at our Madison location. Central Waters has a highly regarded barrel aging program that I think Michigan has only gotten a small taste of. This one, in my opinion, is the highlight of their Brewers Reserve Series. [More info via Untappd]
New Holland Dragon's Milk Reserve: S'mores - Because who doesn't love a beer that reminds you of your summer campfire fun when fall rolls around? This beer has plenty of flavor to go around, and happens to be one of my favorite Dragon's Milk Reserve variants. [More info via Untappd]
Perrin No Rules (2016/2017) - This beer obviously speaks for itself, but having a vertical of two years is even better. Its a rare offering to get these beers normally, but to have both to be able to compare to each other and showcase what can happen with further aging a barrel aged beer is something I really enjoy. [More info via Untappd: 2016 | 2017]
As we continue the countdown to our Wood & Wild Festival -- taking place Oct. 22 at every HopCat location -- we're checking in with our expert beer managers for suggestions about beers to try at each of our restaurants. Here, HopCat Lexington's Ciaran Fitzpatrick suggests a few "unicorns" (beers so epic and legendary they defy comprehension) that will be featured at Lexington's W&W event:
Two beers that jump out to me from our lineup are Brasserie Saint Germain’s Armagnac Barrel Aged Barleywine and Cognac Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Armagnac and Cognac barrels for these big beers will be fantastic! Plus, central Kentucky doesn’t get much beer from northern France.
I love Sour Red Ales so I’m super excited for Country Boy’s Living Proof Series: Balaton Cherry Wild and The Bruery’s Oude Tart. Both breweries run such awesome sour programs, they never disappoint!
One more can't-miss beer: Saugatuck Brewing Company's Café Brown, a bourbon barrel aged American brown ale with coffee and vanilla. Are you kidding me? Sounds like Saugatuck came up with a killer!
We're counting down the days, hours and minutes until the Wood & Wild Festival, taking place Oct. 22 at every HopCat location. In anticipation, we're checking in with our expert beer managers for suggestions about beers to try at each of our restaurants. Here, HopCat Broad Ripple's Eric Duvall recommends a few "unicorns" (beers so legendary they defy comprehension) that will be featured at the Broad Ripple (Indianapolis) event:
Round Town - BBA Round Town Lager
Why I'm excited about it: First barrel aged beer available from Round Town and it's their flagship. Widely consumed style so I think this is the perfect entry level beer for someone looking to explore barrel aging. I specifically came to them and asked if they'd be doing a barrel aged variant of their lager because I thought it was such a great fit.
Avery - Nuttiest Professor
Why I'm excited about it: I love stouts and I love peanut butter. Besides the obvious bourbon from barrel aging, I'm sure the chocolate and coffee malt flavor will pair amazingly with peanut butter.
Central State - A Well Forged Sword
Why I'm excited about it: Farmhouse stout with orange. Central State are the premier funky brewery in Indiana. Focusing on brett, and using it in styles you don't expect. Lots of heat due to high ABV, little bit of brett funk, and orange flavor grows on the back end to finish this beer.
As we continue the countdown to our Wood & Wild Festival -- taking place Oct. 22 at every HopCat location -- we're checking in with our expert beer managers for suggestions about beers to try at each of our restaurants. Here, HopCat Madison's Kyle Montgomery suggests a few "unicorns" (beers so epic and legendary they defy comprehension) that will be featured at Madison's W&W event:
As a Pennsylvania native very proud of the PA beer scene, including this 14.3% ABV bourbon barrel-aged behemoth of an imperial stout in my list was a no brainer. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because it very seldom makes it out into the market. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s loaded with coffee. RateBeer Score: 99%.
This beautiful little collab makes my list for several reasons. For one, Prairie Artisan Ales makes some pretty sought after stuff (Prairie Bomb! anyone?) and is not distributed to the state of Wisconsin, so collaborations like this are the only way we can get our hands on it for the time being. Also, if you haven’t heard, Upland has one of the most highly acclaimed sour programs in the country. At 6.3% ABV, this fig & black cherry-infused American sour ale is sure to quench your thirst without putting you on your back.
Not many people picture Akron, Ohio as a hotbed for craft brewing, but thanks to Hoppin’ Frog and a handful of other small breweries in the area, that is starting to change. Known for their big & boundary pushing brews, Hoppin’ Frog knocks it out of the park with this bourbon barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout. RateBeer Score: 100%.
Okay, so technically this is two beers, but that’s part of the appeal. Trying two beers of different vintages side by side (also known as a vertical tasting), can be a fun & rewarding experience. You can taste how the beer changes over time, and often how the brewer has tweaked a recipe from one year to the next. Oh, and I suppose it doesn’t hurt that they’re two vintages of one of the best bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout in the world. RateBeer Score: 100%.
When it comes to the craft beer scene, a beer’s perceived value is derived in part from its quality and in part from its exclusiveness. When we talk about Lagunitas’ High West-ified, we’re dealing with a whole lot of both. Not only is it an incredibly smooth and full-flavored imperial coffee stout, but due a dispute with the producer of the bourbon barrels it was aged in, it is no longer produced. Drink it while you can, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. RateBeer Score: 100%.
In honor of Founders’ 20th anniversary, and our upcoming Founders tap takeover, our webmaster offers an appreciation of the brewery based on his extensive experience drinking, eating and performing there as a musician:
Founders is almost old enough to buy itself a drink!
The brewery has spent 2017 commemorating its 20th anniversary – and there’s plenty to celebrate. HopCat Grand Rapids joins in the festivities on Thursday, Oct. 12, when it will host the Founders XX Anniversary Party, the biggest tap takeover in Founders history with 35 favorites and rarities.
With HopCat’s own 10th anniversary fast approaching, it fees like a good time to toast a neighbor on a job well done. In honor of Founders' landmark birthday, here are 20 things we/I (your humble webmaster), love about Grand Rapids’ biggest brewery:
1. Founders Fest - It’s not summer in Michigan until you spend an afternoon stand outdoors, on pavement, in blazingly hot weather, drinking heavy beer, in line for a portable bathroom. The music more than justifies it -- Founders Fest has become a fixture on downtown Grand Rapids’ summer calendar, offering big-name headliners like Umprhrey’s McGee, Charles Bradley, Lettuce and Galactic.
2. The FBC All Stars - The brewery and taproom employ a ton of musicians, many of whom perform semi-regularly in a supergroup, which, unlike a lot of supergroups, is good!
3. The original Pale Ale - Never as beloved as the marquee beers, the original Pale will always hold a special place in my heart and liver: the first Founders beer to cross my lips at my first brewery visit in Grand Rapids. (Not to date myself, but there wasn’t much around back then.) And it still holds up to my memory – bold but not overpowering, refreshing but not too light.
4. All Day IPA - I know I’ve lived through summers before Founders began producing All Day IPA, but I can’t remember what they were like.
5. Oatmeal Stout + Rubaeus = magic - Not sure there’s a nickname for this combination, but my god, it’s magnificent.
6. They treat musicians like real people - Any performer booked at Founders gets a generous food discount, beer tab and ample compensation. These things might not seem like a big deal until you’ve been a musician long enough to understand how rarely it happens. Take it easy on the heavy beers, though, especially if you’re playing last. They sneak up on you.
7. Welcome to Detroit - Founders is preparing to open its Detroit taproom sometime this winter. Located in the Cass Corridor/Midtown area near Little Caesars Arena, the new facility won’t be far from HopCat Detroit. You can't escape us!
8. Great touring bands - Founders’ regular Thursday and Saturday shows contain a solid mix of local and national acts in most genres. But once in a while, the booking team pulls off something really special, like Built to Spill in 2015, the Joy Formidable in 2016 and the Meat Puppets earlier this year. Next up: Dinosaur Jr!
9. There's something familiar about that stage - A bit of lore for longtime Grand Rapidians: The sound-dampening curtain behind the stage is from Theater One at the old Studio 28.
10. The KBS phenomenon - Kentucky Breakfast Stout has a ravenous fan base, obviously, and an entire week on the calendar set aside in its honor. The brewery’s canny control of its supply provides a useful lesson in the economics of scarcity and effective management of demand.
11. Canadian Breakfast Stout - KBS deserves all the praise it gets, but its northern cousin – aged in bourbon barrels also used for maple syrup – is even more mythic. Word on the street is that CBS will be available in bottles for the first time since 2011 as part of the 20th anniversary celebration.
12. PC PIls - The worthy All Day IPA follow-up is just as crushable while performing shirtless yardwork on a summer afternoon.
13. The Big Easy - Back in my red-meat-eating days, this sandwich – salami and capicola topped with olive tapenade(!) and red onion – was the guiltiest of all pleasures. Just reading its name causes the mouth the water and the heart to seize.
14. The Tree Hugger - For the health-conscious (or just those of us who lack the intestinal fortitude of our youths), the top sandwich on Founders’ vegetarian menu doesn’t mess around.
15. The beer menu is vegan friendly.
16. Sumatra Mountain Brown - A brown ale is rarely the show-stopper on a brewery’s tap list, but a great brown can be a good indicator of a brewery’s all-around quality. Of course, there was no reason to suspect Founders’ long-sought brown ale would be anything less than excellent.
17. Founders led Grand Rapids to upgrade its water-treatment capacity.
18. The catacombs - Founders barrel-ages beer in the old gypsum mines under Grand Rapids.
19. Founders got the state of Alabama to loosen its profanity standards - In 2012, Alabama officials objected to the names Backwoods Bastard and Dirty Bastard and temporarily kept two of Founders' most popular brands off shelves because of an arcane state law. But Founders fans stepped in and got the decision reversed.
20. In Zack Morris we trust - Mark-Paul Gosselaar, otherwise known as Zack from “Saved By the Bell,” is a huge Founders fan. The actor drank Founders in an episode of his show “Raising the Bar,” and even jammed with the FBC All-Stars onstage at a Founders Fest.
HopCat hires an in-house beer expert at each of its locations to keep the tap list up to date with regional favorites, hard-to-find gems from around the world and exclusive collaborative brews. From time to time, we like to pick their brains for tips on how navigate their extensive beer menus. Here are some fall beer recommendations from our beer program manager in Chicago, Doug Wise:
Revolution Oktoberfest - This is one of the best Oktoberfest beers made in the states, and in Chicago it is local! This beer is toasty and earthy, and would pair great with our pizza rolls!
2 Towns Nice & Naughty - Nice & Naughty is an imperial cider, registering at 10.5%, with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and honey!
Tighthead Scarlet > Fire - Part of our Local 30, Scarlet > Fire pairs sweet and roasted malt to create a balanced Irish-Style Red Ale. The name is an homage to the transition between Grateful Dead's Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain. Try pairing this brew with our Madtown Grilled Cheese!
In the 1980s and ‘90s, the American beer landscape was fairly simple. You had your Davids, and you had your Goliaths. It was clear who the good guys were and who the bad guys were.
The small, independent brewer was the hero, fighting for the integrity of beer and American entrepreneurship. The large, corporate, mega brewery was the villain, standing in direct opposition to the small brewer, prioritizing marketing over quality, and unabashedly insulting the American beer drinker’s palate by releasing a string of increasingly dull and decreasingly flavorful products.
Things now are a little more complex, however. Today, in an era of beer marked by myriad corporate buyouts, partnerships, and faux “craft” breweries launched by massive industrial brewers, discerning who the good guys are and who the bad guys are has become increasingly difficult.
The contractor commeth
Adding to this complexity is the increasingly common practice of contract brewing. The Brewers Association defines a contract brewing company as a business that hires another brewery, (which for simplicity, we will refer to as the brewery), to produce its beer. These arrangements can occur for a number of reasons, but generally, they are all are similar in at least one aspect. Namely, the contract brewing company possesses demand which exceeds its capacity, and the brewery has capacity that exceeds its demand.
Some of these breweries that contract brew for others are well-established brands with excess capacity (i.e. Abita Brewing Co.), whereas others are facilities with the primary purpose of contract brewing (i.e. the FX Matt Brewery in Utica, New York).
Sometimes, the term “contract brewing” carries a negative connotation, and in some instances, it’s warranted. Contract brewing isn’t innately bad, however. In fact, arguably two of the most exciting, boundary-pushing brewers in the country, Evil Twin Brewing and Stillwater Artisanal Ales are exclusively contract, or more accurately, “gypsy,” brewers. Neither of these brewing companies have their own breweries at all, (not yet, anyway). Rather, they are brewers using the brewing space of other breweries to turn their ideas into a tangible, drinkable product.
An informed consumer
What’s more important to you? The brewer who transforms his or her idea into reality, or the physical space in which that transformation occurs? If the latter is important to you, you may be wise to take a closer look at the label or conduct a quick google search the next time you’re enjoying your favorite brew. You may be surprised at what you find.
Maybe none of this matters to you. Maybe you feel content sitting in your local Baltimore hipster bar, drinking Baltimore’s most iconic beer, National Bohemian, which hadn’t even seen the inside of the state of Maryland until it showed up on a pallet sent from a MillerCoors production facility. That’s quite all right. But maybe you’re inquisitive. Maybe you want to be an informed consumer. Maybe you do want to know where your beer is made, and why it’s made there. When it comes to contract brewing, there are a number of reasons your beer might be made somewhere other than where you think.
For instance, if you’re a small brewer, and demand for your product has quickly outgrown the limited capacity of your 3-barrel system, it may make sense to contract brew to satisfy demand and avoid creating a disgruntled customer until you can expand your own facility. An instance in which this would not be okay, is when a contract brewer never has plans to one day open its own facility, and brews exclusively under contract indefinitely. If you, as a brewer, have no intention of one day having your own brewing space, can you really call yourself a brewery?
Keeping it symbiotic
When examining the association between contract brewers and breweries, another facet to consider is whether this relationship is one of symbiosis, or if the contract brewer merely serves as a band-aid for a faltering brewery. Instead of working to build demand for their own brands, are these breweries relying too heavily on the contract brewers to fill their capacity and pay their bills? After all, there is often a reason that many of these breweries have excess capacity in the first place. Perhaps they were built too big from the start, or maybe demand for their product has simply declined with the dynamic tastes of the American craft beer consumer.
Another thing to be mindful of is the method of contract brewing. For example, does the contract brewer have one of their own brewers on site, brewing the beer themselves? This is the case with many breweries, including the Brooklyn Brewery, who employs its own brewers to produce its beers at the FX Matt brewery in Utica, NY. Or, alternatively, do they simply have the contract brewery brew the beer for them according to specific specifications? Both are common.
When it becomes deceptive
Considering these factors, is contract brewing a necessary tool for growth? Or does it only further obscure an already convoluted craft beer landscape?
When it comes to contract brewing, honesty is key. There’s no shame in contract brewing as a means to meet the demand of eager craft beer enthusiasts until a brewery can undergo an expensive and laborious expansion. What is unacceptable, however, is hiding the fact that a brewing company brews their beer under contract from the consumer. This isn’t the business practice of a small craft brewer. This is the business practice of an AB InBev or a MillerCoors, who convinces you that one of their brands is a small-town brewing company, “hand-crafting” ales with a “pinch of this and a touch of that.” It’s deceptive, and it’s unethical.
In today’s complex landscape of craft beer, there is a place for contract brewing, but to preserve the integrity of the craft brewing industry, it must be characterized by absolute transparency and openness.