Co-Founder Suzanne Schalow’s Master Cicerone® Results

I still get very little time off, after nearly six years with Craft Beer Cellar’s flagship store in Belmont, Mass. and, of course, the emergence of Craft Beer Cellar – The Brand; 24 stores open and operating in 11 states, and 17 in-planning. It’s been a welcomed, overwhelming elation of excitement and butt-kicking work, all at the same time. So, yeah, we work long hours almost every day to get better, smoother, and more efficient.

When I received an email last Friday from Cicerone Certification Program Founder Ray Daniels as I was walking out the door to head to Portland, Maine for the weekend, I didn’t really want to have my weekend become about an exam that I had taken back in April, for good or otherwise. The email stated that the results from this spring’s Master Cicerone® exam were in and that they would be released at 3 p.m. via email. The email explained that Ray would be traveling the following week (last week) and would not be available for phone calls, as par normal, except for that day.

Those who know me well know that this exam has been an enormous part of my life since 2013, when I first began my trek to the pinnacle of beer academics. I was accepted to sit for this exam in the spring of 2014 and did not pass. At that time, I vowed to continue my studies and dethrone the mysticism of this exam, which far too many have taken without favorable results – this exam has a 9 percent pass rate!

After not winning the title of Master Cicerone® in 2014, I took the remainder of the year off from studying. Though, as soon as I turned the calendar over in 2015, I began the trek again, without actually having a definite seat in an upcoming exam. I focused on restructuring my materials and previous work, tasting sessions, brewery visits, reading, experimenting, cooking with beer, and everything in-between. We began running blind tastings at Craft Beer Cellar Belmont, twice a week, for our customers and training store owners, which also allowed a member of my team to pull six to eight classic styles each session, putting me in a simulated master tasting environment. We developed tasting sheets and Kate and I, especially, began tasting beer under time constraints: two-and-a-half minutes is a minimal amount of time to assess appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finally make some educated guess as to a beer’s color, level of bitterness and alcohol, before deciding what style it is.

In these sessions, it was important for me to be able to properly identify the style, but also regurgitate its quantitative range for bitterness, color, and alcohol. After all, the Cicerone Certification Program very clearly states that candidates “must demonstrate encyclopedic knowledge and an in-depth understanding of all issues related to brewing, beer and beer service.” The syllabus for this exam is some 20-plus pages long, with a list of additional resources that includes 35 books and five manuals, with strong recommendations for travel to classic beer-producing countries, to better understand history, ingredients, and process.

I’m lucky. I work in an industry that I absolutely love, with some of the most amazing, kind, and brilliant people I have ever known. I do beer, really amazing beer and all the intricacies that come with what Craft Beer Cellar has become. But, at the end of the day, it’s still just beer! Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve crossed paths and studied with some of the best in our industry: Master Cicerone® Neil Witte, Boulevard Brewing CompanyJames Tai, beer consultant for NY City bars and restaurants, and Ambassador for GuinnessJulia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewer’s AssociationBrendan Woodcock, beer consultant and one of AB-InBev’s High End Sales & Marketing Managers; Brett Robison from DC’s Black Restaurant Group; Master Cicerone® James Watt of Brewdog; and Ken Smith, Head of Education for Boston Beer Company.

And this barely does service to the number of talented individuals that I encounter on a daily basis, right here in New England, that have held me up, pushed me and taken me on, when they had a million other things to do: Brewmaster Will Meyers, Cambridge Brewing CompanyMegan Parisi, Head Brewer, Boston Beer Company; Andrea Stanley, Valley Malt; Meagan Anderson, SteadyServ (formerly a Boston Beer Company Educator); and, of course, my team at Craft Beer Cellar and Craft Beer Cellar Belmont!

Getting through the first day of this daunting exam in 2014 was a relief, but it came with the painstaking reality that I had not done enough work. I grinded it out and got through both days, taking my own experiences as my prize and holding my head up high for how far I had come in actually understanding beer. This time around, I knew what to expect from the two days of brutal beer academics, more grueling than those who haven’t been through it can imagine. It was two days of writing, tasting, and oral examinations with some of the most respected members of this community. I knew better than to go in there, this time, without having done all of the work.

When Ray called me last Friday, I was very relaxed, as I had been feeling extremely confident since returning from Chicago in April. I felt that I had worked so hard, had come an enormous distance, and could possibly have earned the title of Master Cicerone® this time around. I was a bit shocked to learn that I had scored basically the same as my 2014 turn with this exam. And while I would like to offer some reasons as to my exam results and final grade, I will not be able to do that until I have received all the feedback from the dozen or so graders that participate in adding marks and commentary to the final results of this pinnacle of beer academics. Though I would say there are only two ways to go, Pass or Fail, and it takes an 85 to win the former. My point is that anyone would be happy with an 85 and that was not even remotely within my reach. As I have begun to divulge the news to my family and innermost colleagues, I feel confident in saying that leaders are, in part, a product of their experiences!

At this point, the climb to the title of Master Cicerone® will only be achieved by first conquering the title of Advanced Cicerone™. You all likely think I’m crazy, but I hope to earn a spot in an Advanced Exam later this year, so I may continue my climb. And yes, I am crazy.

If you follow me on the social webs, you’ll continue to see me use the hashtag that I gave life to, #MasterCiceroneInTraining. I look forward to seeing you out there and around the shop in Belmont. If you have specific questions for me about my experiences with the Master Cicerone®, please feel free to reach out – I’m always around and I love talking about beer!

In full disclosure, I occasionally assist in proctoring the tasting portion of Certified Cicerone® exams in and around the Boston area. Craft Beer Cellar has enormous respect for the Cicerone Certification Program, and while some may believe there are internal connections between Cicerone and Craft Beer Cellar, that’s just not true. Cicerone shows no favoritism when testing and/or grading, on any level.

#MadLuv and #BeerSpeed

Suzanne Press Photo

Orval Day: March 26th, 2016

On March 26th, 2016, Craft Beer Cellar will honor ‪Orval‬ with tastings and educational sessions at all Craft Beer Cellar locations!

The legend began almost 1000 years ago when a widow dropped her wedding ring into a fountain. It was returned by a resident trout and because of this blessing, she decided to establish a monastery on the site. The brewery was built in 1931 to finance the rebuilding of the monastery, after its destruction during the French Revolution.

The brewery makes only one beer and if you’ve had it, you know why! Brewed with spring water, malted two-row barley, hops and canning sugar, dry-hopped and stored for three weeks, then bottled and dosed with a touch of liquid candy sugar & ‪brettanomyces‬, and stored for a final 40 days before leaving the brewery.

Orval Know How

On Saturday, March 26th, 2016, celebrate Orval Day with us!
Tastings & Educational Sessions will be at various times, at your local CBC store, so be sure to check in before Orval Day arrives.

We’ll sample & serve Orval in all states that will allow it. Please keep in mind, some states do not allow tastings, so at a minimum, our resident #BeerGeeks will be ready to speak with you about the beer, its’ process and the brewery. All stores will, of course, have product for sale. Craft Beer Cellar will donate a portion of the sales from every bottle of Orval, on this special day, to MAP International.


What the F*ck is a Landbier?

We asked this very question when we heard that House Lager, the latest release from Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers in Framingham, MA, was a German Landbier. We were curious as to what this beer was all about but we couldn’t find anything in the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Style Guidelines on Landbier. We did some research on the Internet on Landbier and couldn’t find a solid answer on the details of this style. As it turns out, for good reason. So we went straight to the source, Jack’s Abby co-owner and brewer Jack Hendler, to find out what the deal is with this beer.


Craft Beer Cellar: Jack, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. So, what the f*ck is a Landbier?

Jack Hendler: It roughly translates to “country lager” when each brewery had their own house beer. I did a trip through Franconia and went to about 30 breweries and a lot of them had a beer just called “lager”. It wasn’t a helles, it wasn’t a pilsner, and at every single brewery it was slightly different. Some were dark, some were light, it tended to be on the lighter side I would say. But each brewery over time had developed their own house beer. It was really important to us as a lager brewery to create our own house brand. Something that is true to what we like to drink and what we’ve developed over time. It’s been a real work-in-progress and we’ve been brewing it over about 2 years refining the recipe to one that we’re super happy with right now.


CBC: What makes this beer Jack’s Abby’s country lager?

Jack: In the development of this beer, we brought a lot of beer back from Germany and looked at what we liked about certain beers and what we didn’t like about other beers, to develop the recipe for our beer. A lot of the beers, because of the time that we were there, were called Holiday Special Beer. So we went in the direction of a Special Lager and it’s a little bit stronger. To an American 5.2% ABV doesn’t sound like a strong beer, but every little bit of gravity in Germany can change the perception of the quality of that beer. We really like the rich malt flavor we got with a little bit higher gravity.


CBC: What’s different about the way you brew this beer from your other beers as far as ingredients and process?

Jack: We found a great Bavarian hop grower that we buy all our German hops from. He grows predominantly Hallertau, but like his cousin grows Tettnang and his third uncle grows Hercules, so we’ve been able to source all these hops direct from the farmers for our beer. And then on the malt side, they’ve introduced unique old-school malt varieties and we’ve been able to incorporate those into this beer that we think gives it that authentic, traditional German style flavor.

The process is really unique for this beer and comes with it’s own challenges. One of them is just time; time of brewing and time of fermentation. For this beer we do a true decoction so it takes a lot longer to brew this beer. If you don’t know what decoction is, before fancy technical malting practices, you needed to do a lot of things in the brewhouse that modern maltsters now do. One of the ways you got more extract or sugars out of your grain was to separate part of your mash and boil it. And then you transfer that back into your mash and that was one way of heating it. It was also a way of cooking out a lot of the grain. Now most modern breweries don’t do this. It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. But the only way to get certain flavors out of the grain is to actually, physically cook it. You can’t mimic that flavor. We spend an extra hour and a half per brew to cook the grain to get that German flavor into the beer. The other part is the fermentation. It takes a lot longer to ferment this beer. We ferment it at 48 degrees and then lager it for over a month. So, in short, it takes quite a long time to make this beer.


CBC: Do you filter or pasteurize it?

Jack: It is not filtered or pasteurized. We do centrifuge everything so the beer should be bright (clear), but it is not filtered or pasteurized. You should consume it as fresh as possible.

CBC: What’s one thing you’d like people to know about this beer?

Jack: One of the things we’re trying to drive home with this is that it’s not just a golden lager. It is a golden lager but we’ve really taken the time and effort to put in that traditional German process and we think it has a very traditional flavor. We really put the effort into this to get a great tasting helles or landbier out to the public.


CBC: And now for the tough hard-ball question. What’s your favorite dish in the beer hall to pair with House Lager?

Jack: The best thing about house lager is it goes with everything. We have so many traditional beer hall items, whether it’s the pork shank or bratwurst or the pretzel..the pretzel is actually made with House Lager. So you can’t go wrong with that combination.

Jack’s Abby House Lager has been on draft at the Jack’s Abby beer hall in Framingham and it is finally available at our Massachusetts stores in 16oz can 6 packs with greater distribution expected in March 2016.

Craft Beer Cellar Saves Thanksgiving 2015

Craft Beer Cellar Saves Thanksgiving 2015 Edition

It’s our annual Thanksgiving Dinner beer pairing post! As part of our commitment to education, we are always challenging ourselves to find fun and interesting beer and food pairings. Thanksgiving Dinner is a perfect opportunity to share some our favorite beers (and beer pairings) with friends and family. So what’s on the tables and in the fridges of the Craft Beer Cellar Beer Geeks this year? We hit up some of the Craft Beer Cellar Freshman Class (stores that opened in 2015) and asked them for their favorite recommendations for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Craft Beer Cellar West Hartford, CT
Opened: February 26, 2015
Owners: Marissa and Karen DeCapua

Davidson Brothers Brewing Co. Scotch Ale
My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the PIE!!! My absolute favorite is a caramel crusted apple pie with vanilla ice cream and I love to pair it with a rich, malty Scotch Ale. This year I will be pairing my new favorite Scotch Ale, Davidson Brothers Brewing Company Scotch Ale, with my dessert. The complex caramel malt flavors will really bring out the sweetness of the pie.

Andy Fredericksen – Beer Geek
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Kvasir
Thanksgiving means turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. So naturally, my go-to beer pairing for Thanksgiving dinner is Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Kvasir. Kvasir is part of Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ale series. Inspired by a 3,500 year-old Danish recipe, this complex beer is brewed with wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, honey and birch syrup. It pairs well with vegetables, various types of meat/poultry, and tart fruits. These foods typically make up a standard Thanksgiving dinner – at least in my household. For extra fun, use some Kvasir as an ingredient in your turkey stuffing, and pour the rest into a snifter to enjoy with dinner.


Craft Beer Cellar Plymouth, MA
Opened: March 12, 2015
Owners: Tatum Stewart and Tom Frizelle

Tatum & Tom
Overshores Brewing Co. Tripel Brun

Our choice for Thanksgiving Dinner is Overshores Brewing Company Tripel Brun. This beer is more malt driven than your normal Belgian Tripel, but still displays the estery (think fruit or flower notes) and phenolic (often spicy like black pepper or cloves) character you’d expect from a Belgian beer. The addition of Caramel and Munich malts ups the flavor ante giving this beer the backbone it needs to stand up to the wide range of flavors on the Thanksgiving table. The higher ABV (9.5%) and lively carbonation cleanse the palate getting you ready for another helping of turkey…or mashed potatoes and gravy…or stuffing…or…


Craft Beer Cellar Bozeman, MT
Opened: May 8, 2015
Owners: Aimee & Reid Mikkelson

Brasserie Castelain Castelain Blond Biere de Garde

IMG_0935_smMy choice is Brasserie Castelain Castelain Blond Biere de Garde. 
This beer is just one of those beers that goes well with just about anything! It will compliment all the traditional dishes of Thanksgiving dinner from turkey to stuffing to green bean casserole. It has just a slight sweetness and a touch of citrus that will cut through the heavy gravies as well as bring out the orange flavors of my Grandma’s ground cranberry and orange relish.

Brewery Ommegang Abbey Ale

I would go with Brewery Ommegang Abbey Ale. The licorice root and star anise in this beer will pair really well with Aimee’s family tradition of Bouchaladi (an anise flavored sweet roll that her great-grandmother made). The fruity Belgian yeast character and carbonation will also pair well with the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course stuffing.


Craft Beer Cellar Amesbury, MA
Opened: June 20, 2015
Owner: Karen Wood

The Amesbury Team
Snowdrift Cider Co. Red Cider
Smuttynose Brewing Co. Old Brown Dog
Clown Shoes Brewery Coffee Pecan Pie PorterAmesbury-collage

For Thanksgiving dinner, we’re bringing a bottle of Snowdrift Red Cider to start as it compliments a lot of traditional hors d’oeuvres very well and is a light way to start off a day of wonderful food and spirits, much like a glass of champagne. We’re bringing plenty of Smuttynose Brewing Company Old Brown Dog to the Thanksgiving table. There are few things better on earth then turkey smothered in gravy, stuffing and a delicious brown ale to wash it all down. To complement the dessert table, Clown Shoes Brewery Coffee Pecan Pie Porter is a great pick. It’s like dessert in a glass!


Craft Beer Cellar Fort Collins, CO
Opened: June 20, 2015
Owners: Justin Wright and Chris Lazzery

Chris & Justin
Brasserie Castelain Castelain Blond Biere de Garde

IMG_0935_smLike our friends in Bozeman, we have to go with Brasserie Castelain Castelain Blond Biere de Garde. 
It has nice earthy and herbaceous notes that pair so well with herbed and roasted meat like turkey. It would also highlight the herbs in stuffing while providing a head to cleanse the palate from the sweeter items like yams, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. We just paired this with chicken panzanella and it was fantastic. Thanksgiving dinner will have similar herbal notes.

Craft Beer Cellar Port Washington, NY
Opened: September 5, 2015
Owners, Erin and Trish Molyneux

Two Roads Brewing Co. Road 2 Ruin Double IPA
_MG_8897_smI love Thanksgiving because it is a time to reflect on the year and all that I’m grateful for, but it is also a great reason to eat delicious, nostalgic food all day long.  And the next day. And the next. Wash, rinse, repeat.  My favorite dish is stuffing (especially his Trish’s).  I particularly love Herbed Stuffing.  My go-to beer for my Thanksgiving plate (which largely consists of stuffing) is a Double IPA. My favorite right now is Two Roads’ Road 2 Ruin.  The Road 2 Ruin is great because it smells outstanding with its very prominent citrus and pine aroma.  The citrus carries over into the taste and compliments the herbaceous back notes of the beer.  These flavors combine to really enhance the herbs and spices that embody each aspect of the plate and the stuffing.

Left Hand Brewing Co. Nitro Milk Stout
_MG_8899_smI won’t turn down a good beer with Thanksgiving.  Session IPAs are more my speed for the general meal, in an effort to save room for dessert.  One of my annual Thanksgiving contributions is my Sweet Potato Pie.  My version is an identical cousin to pumpkin pie.  This way you can eat it during the main course and go then back for seconds at dessert!  I typically end the night with a Milk Stout. My latest go-to is the Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro.  With its roasted malt and chocolaty flavor, the Milk Stout Nitro is a great compliment to any dessert.  Not to mention, it’s a great replacement for coffee (assuming you are staying home or not driving) because of the coffee and toffee back notes.  The smell is outstanding and taste is even better.  It lingers ever so slightly to make you crave another sip…and mostly likely another bottle.

Steven Spost – Beer Geek
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
_MG_8900_smFor me, Thanksgiving is about memories and tradition.  Food is very much a part of both when it comes to this holiday.  My family gathering around Grandma’s table would range from traditional Thanksgiving fare to the unexpected (which became the most anticipated dishes year after year).  My favorite is my grandmother’s Pork Fried Dumplings.  The homemade dumpling wrappers are just the perfect amount of doughy.  You can taste the essence of the rice flour while not taking away anything from the perfectly seasoned pork.  The pork filling is the ideal combination of China meets Italy.  It has the sweetness and nuttiness found in your traditional Chinese fried dumpling with a compliment of Italian herbs and spices.  The dumplings are pan fried in a light olive oil to create a beautiful light and crispy mouth-feel with no greasy aftertaste.  The perfect accompaniment to this appetizer is a nice Hefeweizen.  This tends to be my favorite beer for Thanksgiving overall as it pairs well with any course.  The Hefeweizen that I recommend is Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier.  The sweet smells of the yeast and citrus make your mouth anticipate the first sip.  The overall taste is sweet and bready with a nice clean finish.  Perfectly matched with something doughy and fried.

Rick Baiman – Beer Geek
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout
_MG_8898_smI’m a traditionalist.  The part of the day that I look forward to most is (aside from spending time with friends and family of course) the star of the show; the Turkey and Cranberry Sauce, which is as American as apple pie (also one of my favorites).  My choice is Alltech’s Lexington Brewing Company’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout.  While this beer has been rumored to help aide in digestion, my main agenda is to drink more than one delicious beer that translates well with any course. The smell is the initial draw.  The decadence of the vanilla, chocolate and espresso aromas wow your palate right out of the gate.  Then with your first sip your taste buds are dazzled by the combination of the vanilla, oak and bourbon whiskey.  Following the first impression are slight hints of caramel, espresso and dark chocolate.  It is mildly carbonated which is what makes it so drinkable with such a heavy meal and the ABV is low, so you can drink more than one and still be present for your guests.

Darwin Goh – Beer Geek
Almanac Beer Co. Dark Pumpkin Sour
IMG_5590My palate is on the sweeter side so what I look most forward to is dessert!  Pumpkin Pie is my main attraction, with that perfectly sweet and buttery graham cracker crust paired with the velvety spicy/sweet pumpkin filling.  How could you go wrong?  What I tend to pair with this treat is Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour.  The initial smell is pure funk. With a deeper nose dive you will get the hints of milky chocolate with the slightest hint of pumpkin.  Once it touches your lips you instantly get the flavors of tart fruits. Raspberry and red fruits really hit the tongue and are highlighted by milky vanilla and chocolate tones.  It does not come across as a pumpkin beer, which is why it is such a fantastic compliment to the pumpkin dessert.  The sweetness of the pie is muted slightly by the sourness in the beer. The subtlety in the sour taste makes the beer very enjoyable to drink and the pie more enjoyable to eat.


Craft Beer Cellar Framingham, MA
Opened: November 7, 2015
Owners: Pat and Kristin Loranger

Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Blood Orange Gose

Growing up in Maine, seafood was a big part of our family celebrations, including Thanksgiving, highlighted by my uncle’s famous Oyster Stuffing, made with oysters, lobster, lots of butter and other fabulous shellfish. My go-to beer for a rich, seafood dish during the holiday season is Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Blood Orange Gose. Gose is a sour wheat ale brewed with salt and coriander and it is a style that pairs amazingly well with oysters. AVBC’s winter version adds blood oranges to bring citrus flavors and some sweetness resulting in a well-balanced beer. I love the way the refreshing tartness cuts through some of the rich, buttery goodness of the oyster stuffing. As an added benefit, the Blood Orange Gose has an ABV of only 4.2% so it won’t have you snoozing before the pumpkin pie is served!

Order Your 2015 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Boxes

Craft Beer Cellar Announces 2015 Advent Boxes


The 2015 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Boxes have arrived! Beginning today, November 1, you can reserve a Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box at your local Craft Beer Cellar and pick them up as early as November 15. Do we need to say that they make great gifts?

What’s an Advent Box, you ask? It’s 24 different beers, selected by your local Craft Beer Cellar Beer Geeks. Each beer is individually hand-wrapped and numbered. Open one each day beginning on December 1 all the way through Christmas Eve, December 24. Prices vary since each store’s box is different, so contact your local Craft Beer Cellar to reserve yours today!

Show us your Advent Boxes! Post photos of your daily beers on social media and use the hashtag #CBCAdventBox. We’ll be reposting some of our favorite shots from around the country. Follow the hashtag yourself to see what other people got in their Advent Box!

Find your local Craft Beer Cellar at this link: Click Here


Cloudy with a chance of Turbidity

Turbid beer and definition of hazeA few months ago, I was at a bar and ordered an IPA. When it arrived, I picked up the glass and commented to my friend, “Look how turbid this is.”

The bartender overheard my comment, and felt compelled to defend the unexpectedly cloudy IPA  by explaining that the opaque quality of the beer was caused by hop particles from dry-hopping clinging to the hop oils, and yeast that was in suspension. While I was just commenting on obvious cloudiness or haze, this guy’s reaction made it clear that he thought ‘turbid’ was a bad word.

So, is ‘turbid’ a bad word?

Poke your nose into beer discussions on social media and beer forums and you are bound to come across the discussion around turbid beers. But what is turbidity, exactly? John Kimmich, Co-Founder and Brewer at The Alchemist puts it this way: “Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by large numbers of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye – similar to smoke in air.”

A pretty generic and scientific sounding definition with no value attribution. That word sure sounds bad though, right? Will Meyers, Brewmaster at Cambridge Brewing Co., says it’s for good reason. “Turbid is a bad word and turbid beer is bad, if you define turbid as completely opaque and often with visible suspended particulate.”

But some of the hottest beers available right now are these “turbid” hoppy IPAs! What’s going on here? Are these beers bad? Are they poorly brewed? Or are they intended to be turbid?

Bryan Greenhagen, Co-Founder and Brewmaster at Mystic Brewery, says, “One of the reasons that there’s this rule that beers shouldn’t be turbid, with the exception of wheat beers, is because it’s a sign of infection. If you get a pilsner and it’s turbid, there’s a good chance there’s an infection.”

JC Tetreault, Co-Founder and Brewmaster at Trillium Brewing Co., adds, “Turbidity can be a visual indicator that there is a significant quality issue with a beer and many brewers have employed a multitude of measures to reduce or even eliminate haze to drop a beer bright.”

A certain amount of haze or turbidity is a characteristic in styles such as hefeweizen or saison, but what people like Meyers are talking about are extreme opacity and muddiness. “Once we recognize that there are degrees and definitions,” Meyers adds, “then we can draw our own lines where we see fit.” So in general, high turbidity in beer is a sign of some sort of problem, either in process or in maturation time.

Dust our hands off, cased closed, right?

IMG_0436Hold on a second. What about these highly sought after IPAs that are often turbid? People line up for hours in parking lots just for a chance to buy them! Are they all misinformed? Are they actually buying and drinking bad beer? They’re pretty darn tasty, if you ask us, with no obvious flaws aside from their appearance. But they certainly don’t look like the IPAs we’re used to seeing.

Ben Howe, Head Brewer at Idle Hands & Enlightenment Ales remembers, “The first time I had some of these beers and I got this beer that was super muddy looking, and I thought, ‘Really? Is it the end of the keg? What the hell is this?’ And I drank it and was like, ‘This is delicious, but it looks pretty ugly. It doesn’t look like a pale ale to me.’ It didn’t look like the way I was taught pale ales should look.”

And here might be a key. Light lagers and pilsners have been a part of our beer drinking cultures for over 200 years. Much of the language and value we place on beers come from this lager mindset. Haziness in a hefeweizen, no problem. Haziness in a pilsner is a different story. Greenhagen goes a step further in saying that, “Some of the things, like ‘off-flavors,’ are actually wonderful in the right circumstance. You can’t say they are all off. The off-flavors are all off-flavors in a light lager.”

Maybe we need to take a step back from characteristics we traditionally associate with a quality beer?

We think there is another side to this issue, as well, which has to do with educating the consumer. As the foremost craft beer retailer in the industry, Craft Beer Cellar considers as part of its responsibility and mission educating craft beer consumers on style, quality, history, appropriate flavors, proper keeping and serving, and the brewing process. Offering some clarity to the turbidity discussion (did you see what I did there?) is one way we think we can help. When it comes to IPAs, we’ve always said, “Fresh beer is best!” And what we are looking at with these turbid IPAs are super fresh beers that are meant to be consumed quickly.

Meyers explains, “Ultimately, hop character is volatile and does degrade over time. A beer brewed and matured for three weeks, or two, or one (!) and consumed in a tap room, or released on site in growler form and consumed that day will have a pronounced hoppiness which is challenging to maintain, no matter how cloudy the beer. It’s a matter of freshness. And most turbid beers will quickly or eventually clear in the bottle/growler (leaving considerable sediment) and will have a diminished, or at least changed, hop profile.”

The hazy IPAs you get in a glass at the taproom or in growlers, or super fresh bottles or cans, are definitely meant to be consumed fresh. And that cloudy look is intentional for the desired flavors, aromas and mouthfeel.

“Anything we’ve done – i.e. cold conditioning temperatures at/just below freezing temperatures for extended periods of time, biofine (a clarifying agent) – to reduce haze has had a negative impact on aroma and flavor for our hop-forward beers,” explains Tetreault. “Aroma and flavor are the most important traits of a beer for us. Combine high hopping rates, hops with very high oil content and our house yeast/processes…you get unprecedented levels of haze. The first time we packaged double dry hopped Congress Street IPA, which uses a huge amount of Galaxy, a hop with one of the highest total oil contents available, I have to admit the appearance was a little jarring. It didn’t take us long to get accustomed to (and even enjoy) its appearance, but we can understand that people have a tough time with it.”

Over time, those aromas, flavors and appearance will change, sometimes very quickly. “If people want a BRIGHT Heady, let it sit undisturbed in your fridge for 3 or 4 weeks,” says John Kimmich. We’ve tried this and compared it with a fresh Heady and, while they were both delicious, they were not the same beer.

Howe adds, “I think if you were to take Pliny, let’s say, and ferment it with a yeast that’s super non-flocculant, and not centrifuge it and not filter it, I’ll bet you it will have a very different mouthfeel and a very different hop character. If you were to centrifuge or filter these IPAs, I think they would have radically different characters.”

There is potential for the customer to become misinformed when “a particular brewer is first to release a particular type/style/etc. of beer, gains popularity, then other brewers pursue a similar style/aesthetic,” explains Meyers. “Consumers pursue these beers and assume that they are all intentionally made this way, then in extreme situations believe that unless a beer has these characteristics, it is not of the quality or profile they seek.”

_MG_8229Or, in other words, bright, more shelf-stable IPAs may seem less desireable to those hunting rare turbid IPAs. Howe adds, “There’s a lot of people who are new to professional brewing, who don’t necessarily know a lot about professional brewing and don’t exactly know the techniques and don’t have the experience to get beers bright. A lot of their beers are turning up turbid and opaque. A lot of people in the industry who have been in it a long time say, ‘Look at all these new brewers who don’t know how to get their beer bright – that’s a problem.’ And I largely agree with them.

“The other side of it, there’s a push away from the way certain styles have been traditionally,” Howe continues. “Appearance aside, you taste the hoppy beers coming out of Vermont, they’re radically different than anything coming out of the West Coast. They’re radically different from anything coming out of New England over the past 20 years.”

The matter is getting clouded up (pun totally intended) with those putting out intentionally turbid beers and those who do it because they don’t know better, or are justifying their results based on the popularity of these intentionally turbid IPAs. And those who are haze shaming are basically applying that critique “to essentially everyone except the people who were doing it first,” according to Howe.

Some have speculated that maybe we’re seeing a new style develop, or at least maybe another evolution of the IPA. Certainly a Ballast Point Sculpin is light years away from the original IPAs brewed in London. George Hodgson certainly wouldn’t recognize it as a pale ale brewed for the East India market. So is the style evolving or branching out?

“I think the guys up in Vermont who were the first to do it are reluctant to say so, but who wants to say, ‘I’m making a new style?’” says Howe. “Everyone is diverging. The West Coast IPA diverged from what we were traditionally doing over here, what had been done traditionally.”

And it could be that we have this mental image of what an IPA should look like, and these new hazy, hoppy beers look different from that. “If I came out tomorrow and said this new beer is ‘a yeasty, hoppy New England ale,’ maybe people would accept that definition more than American IPA, but it’s orange and totally opaque,” says Howe.

We most likely have a problem with the appearance because we’ve been told that pale ales should be bright or have slight haze. Howe explains, “If I said I’m making a hoppy hefeweizen, it’s perfectly OK to look that way. Just saying IPA is a term and it only means this thing because the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) says it or GABF (Great American Beer Festival) says it…Well, that’s problematic. We’re Americans, we traditionally have never given a fuck about style, have we? Belgian IPA, I’ve never seen anyone go on a diatribe about that.”

Freak Scene at Mystic“Me and a lot of other brewers have to call things styles for people to understand them,” says Greenhagen. “But I’m not worrying about if something is a style and I don’t think the producers should be worrying about that. And here you have something that people love and just because it’s not to an old style doesn’t mean it isn’t something new, and may even get it’s name changed over time like American Pale Ale did.”

Looking back through cultural history, any time there was a divergence from the way things were done, those people doing it differently were criticized. The Impressionists, Jazz musicians, the Beat writers,  molecular gastronomy chefs, etc., all faced criticism for their way of doing things. Was one side correct and the other wrong? Not in our opinion. To a classical composer, jazz improvisation is probably not their preference. They prefer a more structured composition and may disapprove of the free-wheeling stylings of jazz. These innovators are just different, not wrong.

And of course, there will be imitators. Just as there is a lot of bad music, food, visual art and poetry, there is also bad beer. Which is why education is so important. We at Craft Beer Cellar are committed to making sure that we are selling good products to you at all times. Education is part of our mission and is why we sample, do blind tastings, talk to brewers and do what we can to stay on top of this dynamic industry. Is turbid beer bad? Sometimes, and sometimes not. It’s just not that black and white.

Tetreault says, “We don’t brew our beers to be turbid or to have a specific appearance for that matter; appearance for us is simply a natural outcome from the intention around the flavor, aroma, mouthfeel we design in a given beer. The natural appearance that results from this approach has become something that we associate with these beers, so we begin to expect them. As a result, they’ve become inherently and intuitively beautiful to us and a lot of our fans. Everyone has their own preferences, and I can respect how they weigh appearance into the overall enjoyment (or lack of) in a given beer.”

Meyers agrees, “I would say that for me, personally, I prefer not to drink something that looks bad to me. Period. Does it matter to me if you want to consume something that doesn’t look appealing? Only if you enjoy to such an extent that you then begin to denigrate those quality beers which offer stability and clarity, and dismiss them out of hand. The question of a compromise in the integrity of beer has little to do with how clear or turbid a brewer’s beer is. It has to do with willful obfuscation of the brewer’s intent and/or abilities, and the quality of their beer. And it’s too easy for every person to see no further than the end of their own nose, and to dance around definitions of words like quality to suit themselves. Part of the perpetual human condition, I suppose.”

John Kimmich probably speaks for most brewers when he says, “I don’t know, I just brew it the way I love it.”

And you know what? We happen to love it, too.

Brewland: An Adventure in Craft Beer Filmmaking

What started as a relatively small project has become an intensive, multi-year effort.

And Michael Sills wouldn’t have it any other way.

Over two years ago, Sills and his crew set out to interview three Vermont brewers that helped turn the state into one of the meccas of American craft brewing: John Kimmich of The Alchemist, Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead, and Sean Lawson of Lawson’s Finest Liquids.

Over 40 interviews later – with another 20 or so planned – Brewland is in the works. The documentary seeks to define the craft beer movement – no easy task – directly from the unscripted words of brewers, beer writers, bartenders, restaurant owners and retailers (including Craft Beer Cellar co-founders Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow).

“This was something that was really ambitious, and I knew it,” said Sills. “But, I felt passionate about it because I think there’s a cool story there.”

Sills, brother and co-producer Chris, and producer Matthew Parola are aiming to have their film complete for this fall’s film festival circuit, with an ultimate goal of having it shown at next year’s South by Southwest festival.


From there, Sills said they are aiming for limited theatrical release and availability via video on demand.

You can donate to the film here.

Before that, though, there remains a series of interviews with some of the heavy hitters in the craft beer movement. An upcoming trip to the midwest and west coast will see the crew talk to Fritz Maytag, former owner of Anchor Brewing and one of the founding fathers of the modern craft beer movement.


Also slated for time in front of the camera is Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, Cicerone Certification Program founder/director Ray Daniels, as well as representatives from New Glarus, Hair of the Dog, Rogue, and many others.

Magee is one of craft beer’s more colorful characters, and it’s people like him that Sills said make this project worthwhile.

“The guy has got so much to say, and I love honesty,” said Sills. “When people are passionate about something, it’s much better when they get to say what they want because they’re just trying to make a better industry.”

Petaluma, Calif. is a long way from Vermont, but that broadened scope is indicative of how the film has developed over the last couple years.

“The more interesting story is the entire movement, and what’s going on right now. It snowballed from there,” said Sills. “It’s almost too good to be true, with all the stories and interesting people.


“Our objective is to try to look at the movement and define it. Our thing is looking at the entire community, what brings everybody together, and what is craft beer.”

Part of the story includes breweries that have shut down. Brewland has already recorded an interview with Alan Davis, founder of now-defunct Catamount Brewing in Windsor, Vermont. Sills said he is hoping to talk to at least a couple more people in the same boat.

“There needs to be the good and the bad to tell the whole story,” said Sills. “We can see, maybe, where the future is going. Is this something that most people have kind of got the blueprint of and are understanding of how to be successful in brewing, or is it something that may affect a lot of other brewers?”


The filmmakers’ vision for Brewland has been in constant change as they have talked to a such a wide variety of players in the industry. On the brewery side, interviewees have included Kimmich, Hill, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso of Evil Twin, Dan Kenary of Harpoon, Kim Jordan of New Belgium and Jim Koch from Boston Beer Company.

Sills said he hopes the film’s impact will register not just within the world of craft beer.

“I think that it’s going to show a lot of people outside the (craft beer) community what it is, and hopefully change some perceptions on it,” said Sills. “Obviously, craft beer has already changed the perception of beer and what it is. So, in the same sense, maybe that’s what this (film) can help do.”

May Style of the Month: Wheat Beers

CBC-Style-of-the-Month-May2015As the days continue to get longer and warmer, the beers we drink tend to get lighter.

Those of us who enjoy dark beers won’t completely shut them out during the spring and summer months, of course. But there’s something to be said about the experience of a light, refreshing brew while enjoying a sunny day outdoors.

With that in mind, wheat beer is May’s Style of the Month at Craft Beer Cellar.


Just like barley, wheat has been used to make beer for millennia. Unlike barley, wheat generally cannot serve as the sole grain in the brewing process. The same qualities that make wheat so desirable in making dough for bread are, understandably, not so great for making beer.

Thus, wheat beers use varying amounts of the grain in combination with barley. Wheat malt naturally makes for a lighter-bodied beer, making beers with wheat a perfect thirst-quencher on a hot day.

The two most common wheat beers are hefeweizen and witbier. “Hefe” meaning “yeast” in German and weizen meaning, yup, “wheat,” hefeweizen is known for its distinct banana and clove notes that come from its unique yeast. A couple of our favorites from Germany include Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier and Julius Echter from Wurzburger Hofbrau.

Witbier, a style originated in Belgium, is traditionally made with orange peel and coriander. Compared to a hefeweizen, witbier tends to be hazier in appearance and has a more sharp, crisp finish. Some of our favorite examples include Allagash White, Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, and du Bocq Blanche de Namur.

Hefeweizens made in Germany are made with at least 50 percent wheat in the malt bill, as mandated by law. In witbiers, it can range from 15 to 40 percent. In the case of both styles, the wheat malt’s subtle qualities provide a great platform for the aromas and flavors brought out by the other ingredients.

Wheat is also used in sour styles berliner weisse and gose, both also delightful on a warm day. American wheat beers have the same refreshing characteristics of their European brethren, but usually without the notes of banana or citrus. Bell’s Oberon Ale, the Michigan brewery’s summer seasonal, and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat are two good representations of the style.

Whatever your tastes are, now is as good a time as any to pick up some wheat beer, relax, and enjoy one of brewing’s most historic ingredients.

The “I Don’t Cook” Guide to Beer Pairings

A good food and beer pairing can be a wonderful experience.

On one end of the spectrum, you’ll see a lot of beer pairings for foods such as mussels, gruyere cheese and Belgian endive salad. These are all well and good, but mussels take some effort, and Belgian endive salad requires having Belgian endive on hand.

Sometimes you just have to open a bag or pop something in the microwave. For the culinary slacker in all of us, there are still plenty of good pairing options.

For example…

Frozen Bean & Cheese Burrito: Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel

Ayinger and Burrito

A staple of any lazy cook’s kitchen, the frozen bean and cheese burrito calls for a malt-forward, medium-bodied beer.

Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel, a classic German dark lager, is a perfect accompaniment. There are plenty of aromas and flavors on hand here: toffee, caramel and coffee, to name just a few. The usage of Munich malt also imparts a bready character that adds an extra layer to the overall goodness of your bean and cheese burrito.

(Alternative: A brown porter, such as Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, is another dark, medium-bodied beer that will highlight the fine bean and cheese flavors.)

Leftover General Gao’s Chicken: Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca

Calabaza Blanca and General Gaos

While the merits of reheating many foods are up for debate, there is little question that Chinese food is one of the best microwaveable options out there.

General Gao’s chicken starts with some tangy sweetness before giving way to a pleasantly spicy finish. A complex leftover demands a complex beer, such as Jolly Pumpkin’s Calabaza Blanca.

A witbier aged in oak casks (as are all of Jolly Pumpkin’s beers), Calabaza Blanca has a refreshing tartness and plays off the General’s various traits brilliantly. The coriander lends additional depth to the spice of the chicken; the beer’s citrusy notes do the same for Gao’s tanginess.

(Alternative: We’ve always enjoyed brown ale – particularly one with a mild sweetness, like Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar – with our Chinese food.)

Cold Pepperoni Pizza: Tripel Karmeliet

Tripel Karmeliet and Pepperoni Pizza

We’ve all had that party where we order too much pizza, or our friends are too conscious of how they’ll be perceived if they eat six slices in one go like they normally would at home. Now, you’re left with some leftover pizza in the fridge for tomorrow.

Since microwaving leftover pizza is an abomination, it’s time to just eat it cold. But what beer to pair with it?

Tripel Karmeliet is a wonderful complement. Its full body and subtle spice notes will play off the pepperoni beautifully. And, while complex, it won’t take anything away from the experience of cold, delicious pizza.

(Alternative: Pale Ales and pizza of any temperature are a guaranteed hit. Try Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale or another hop-forward American Pale.)

Entire Bag of Potato Chips: Sierra Nevada Nooner Pilsner


It’s 3 p.m. on a lazy Saturday afternoon and you’re looking for a snack to hold you over until dinner. That bag of chips calls to you. ‘I’ll just have a handful,’ you say to yourself.

We know how that goes.

If you’re going to down an entire bag of potato chips, you’ll want a beer that’s not too heavy, but still has enough character to balance that salty goodness.

Sierra Nevada’s Nooner, a recent addition to the California brewery’s stable of world-class beers, fits the bill. A German-style pilsner with a notable, spicy hop bite and clean finish, it will leave you wanting more.

Sorta like that bag of chips.

(Alternative: A good hefeweizen, such as Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier.)

Microwave Mac & Cheese: Boulevard Tank 7

Tank 7 and Mac & Cheese

Ahh, the classic. Few among us haven’t craved the gooey goodness of microwave mac & cheese. A true “I don’t cook” treat demands an equally great beer.

Boulevard Tank 7 is one of the finest American-made farmhouse ales out there. Lemon-like citrus notes and a moderate hop profile lead to a nice, dry finish with hints of pepper that marry quite well with mac and cheese.

The substantive body of Tank 7 will stand up to the creamy cheese, but won’t overpower the soft macaroni.

(Alternative: A big IPA with a resinous character – such as Lagunitas Hop Stoopid – to cut through the thickness of the mac and cheese and can provide a completely different, but equally tasty, beer/food sensation.)

What’s Up with Saisons?

The Craft Beer Cellar Style of the Month for April 2015 is Saison!

So…what is a saison?

Staff Beer Geek Mark from Belmont breaks it down for us.

It’s one of the more difficult questions our staff beer geeks answer on a regular basis, as saison is arguably the most complex of beer styles and defies easy classification.

walloniaThe history behind the style is simple enough. Saison – French for “season” – was a beer made as refreshment for farm workers during the warm summer months. With its origins in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia, saisons were brewed in the winter, with cooler temperatures more desirable for fermentation.

Back then, brewers would use whatever was on hand at the farm to make the beer, meaning the beer often varied widely from one farm to the next. While brewing methods have obviously changed – and brewers will make saisons year-round now – the great variety from one to the next still largely holds true.

Generally speaking, saisons showcase a dry, rustic finish, relatively high carbonation, with citrus and spice notes and a moderate hop profile. The degree to which these traits come through can vary greatly from one saison to the next.

Perhaps more than any other style, you can try 10 different saisons and come away with 10 completely different impressions.

“Those who like their beer styles neatly arranged in narrow categories will find attempting to pigeonhole Saisons an exercise in frustration,” writes Phil Markowski in The Oxford Companion to Beer.

Two Roads, Phil MarkowskiAnd Markowski – a 25-year brewing veteran and current brewmaster of Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Conn. – would know. He wrote the book on it.

Not surprisingly, many American breweries (and some Belgian ones, such as Fantome) have pushed the boundaries of the style. Session, barrel-aged, dark – and, of course, hoppy – saisons are not hard to find.

Saison Dupont Vieille Provision, brewed by Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes, Belgium, is widely regarded as the benchmark of the style. Citrus, spice, and even a little bit of earthy funk are present in the nose. Peppery notes and a little bit of spice give way to a super-clean, dry finish. A slightly resinous hop flavor lingers after each sip.

Saison DupontIn short, it’s everything you could ask for in a beer.

Another beautiful aspect of saison is its ability to pair well with just about any food. Just about all saisons have enough body to stand up to the heartiest of dishes but, thanks to its dry and effervescent properties, won’t overpower lighter fare.

Not sure what saison to try next (or first)? Ask a staff beer geek next time you’re in one of our stores. If you ask me, I’ll recommend my personal favorite, Great Divide Colette, or others like North Coast Le Merle and Allagash Saison.

Ask someone else, and you’ll likely get a completely different answer. That’s just part of the fun.