Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Manager, Server

Patti during her month-long trip through Europe. And yes, you should be jealous.

Patti Scarff is a server/manager at downtown Kalamazoo’s Central City Tap House. She has earned title of being the ultimate trivia queen, knowing everything from beer to geography (seriously, just ask her).

I started drinking beer for the only reason anyone  in a new town starts doing anything—to impress the cool kids.  Admittedly, I’d had my share of Natural Light (which is gross) and Yuengling (not gross) going to college and its requisite frat parties in Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t until my summer in Maine that I realized not only that I liked beer, but that there was more to it than bubbles and a faint bread-like flavor.  It helps that the people I wanted to befriend were avid microbrew consumers.

The first beer I truly liked was the Atlantic Brewing Company’s Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale.  In my nostalgia-hazed memory the beer is sweet without being cloying, refreshingly effervescent, has a strong fresh blueberry aroma, and yet still tastes like beer.  Of course, I haven’t had any Blueberry Ale in the intervening years, but I did segue from there to other, equally sugar-ridden concoctions like Long Trail Blackberry Wheat and Magic Hat #9. I have since realized that, similar to pies and breakfast cereals, fruity beers are not the only good beers. A combination of reading about beer, listening to people who know more than me talk about beer, and of course tasting beer have allowed my preferences to expand beyond stereotypically “chick beers.”

My favorites these days, based on rigorous sampling and many pompous sounding conversations in bars, are tripels (and their similarly malty siblings dubbels, and the rarer quadrupels) and anything smoked, whether an actual German rauchbier or an American smoked stout (Darkhorse Fore Smoked Stout being a prime example).  Working as a server in a beer-focused restaurant, I get to taste new things almost daily and occasionally get to meet the brewers, thus furthering my knowledge and conviction that I’m an excellent judge of any pint placed before me.  The other neat thing about my job now is that I get to help my guests find new beers and new styles that they enjoy, especially the patrons who want to impress the cool (but not necessarily older) waitress.

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hops

Tasty Beauty

There are those who love the piney, spicy character hops lend to a great IPA, and there are those who would rather be as far away as possible from these little beauties. No matter your taste preference for the herbaceous clusters of the Humulus Lupulus, knowledge is always power!

Hops were cultivated around the 8th/9th century throughout Europe, but the first documented use of hops in beer wasn’t until the 11th century. Before hops, brewers often used dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound, ground ivy, and heather as bittering agents for their beers (which was safer to drink than water back then since beer had to be boiled, killing the bacteria living in the untouched water). Today Germany is the #1 country for hop cultivation with  34,438 tons a year, followed by the U.S. with 23,494 tons a year (followed by China & Czech Republic).

Fun Fact: It is rumored that Henry VIII tried to outlaw the use of hops in the late 14th Century in England, which is untrue. During this time there were attempts to keep a division of Ale (an unhopped, malted cereal drink made in England) and Beer (a hopped, malted cereal drink brought into England by immigrants). To keep this distinction, ale was forbidden from using hops, but beer could hop to their hearts content.

A few different types of hops “at a glance”:

  • Amarillo hops comes from Washington state. The aroma is described as flowery, spicy and citrus-like with a distinct orange bouquet. Beers with Amarillo Hops: 3 Floyds Gumballhead, Dogfish Head 60 Min IPA, Magic Hat’s Circus Boy, New Belgium Mighty Arrow
  • Cascade hops, released in Oregon in 1972, are the most widely used hops by craft breweries in the USA. The notes are pleasant and flowery with grapefruit. Beers with Cascade hops: Anchor Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Harpoon IPA
  • Saaz hops accounted for more than 2/3 of total 2009 hop production in the Czech Republic. They are very mild, earthy, herbal and spicy. Beers with Saaz hops: Pilsner Urquell, Bell’s Oberon, Hansa Pilsener, Rogue Dead Guy Ale
  • Citra hops are a relatively new breed with fruity/tropical notes such as pineapple and papaya.
  • Nelson Sauvin hops come from New Zealand. Nelson refers to the region is it from, and Sauvin is shorthand for Sauvignon Blanc…that’s right, the grape! This hope has notes of lychee and mango
  • Centennial hops came about from a 16-year labor of love starting in 1974. These are deliciously floral with dry bitterness. Beers with Centennial hops: Bell’s 2 Hearted, Founder’s Centennial IPA, Stone Ruination IPA.
  • Simcoe hop was released in 2000 by Washington State’s Select Botanicals Group, it is known to offer both bitterness and aroma into beer (piney and woodsy with a bit of citrus). Beers with Simcoe hops: Kuhnhenn Simcoe Silly Ale, New Belgium Ranger IPA

Hops for your Health! Humulene (one of the essential oils made in hops) has been found to produce anti-inflammatory effects. Hops are also antimicrobial, which makes then useful for making natural deodorant (try this experiment at home, we won’t help you with that…).

What makes the hop bitter? It’s called Alpha acid. Want it bitter? Try beers that utilize these types of hops in their brews with high acid %: Columbus 14-18%, Summit 17-19%, Apollo 20-21%

But as a caution to hop lovers, if anyone at a brewery offers you a hop pellet (whole hops that have been ground and pressed into a pellet-shape) DO NOT ACCEPT! No matter your piney love, it will not overcome the intense flavor explosion that is about to attack your sinuses, mouth, and throat.

But if it’s not you, it’s hilarious to watch

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocate: Writer, Beer Lover

John Liberty: Experiencing beer one phone call at a time

John Liberty is a staff writer at the Kalamazoo Gazette (you may know him from the popular weekly insert The Ticket) as well as the main contributor for KalamaBrew, a blog connected to the Kalamazoo Gazette, focused on beer, brewing and everything in between in Southwest Michigan.

KalamaBrew launched in February, 2008. It was started by Gazette staffers Alex Nixon, Josh Smith, Anne Holcomb and myself. As craft beer fans, we saw a rapidly growing industry filled with great product, passionate followers and hard-working, generous brewers. We set out to document, as best we could, the Michigan beer scene — everything from previewing events, brewer bio videos, video tours, photo galleries, trend pieces and more. My colleagues have since moved on to greener pastures, but the intention to capture the beauty of Michigan beer is still there.

Like many Kalamazoo residents, I was introduced to the world of craft beer via Bell’s Brewery Inc. I was enticed by the hand-crafted, local nature of craft beers, as well as the artistry. Short’s, The Livery, Arcadia Ales and Dark Horse are at the top of my list of favorite breweries.

I liked the idea of meeting the people behind the brew and learning all that goes into a pint, bottle, keg or can. I tend to lean toward IPAs, but enjoy sampling beers as they change with the seasons. Hands down, the greatest beer moment of my life was brewing a batch of “Liberty’s Ale” with Steve Berthel at The Livery. Berthel, one of the kindest men in the state, offered to have myself, my wife, Beth, as well as Josh Smith and Anne Holcomb, come down his Benton Harbor brewery and make a special batch of beer for our wedding in the summer of 2009. We spent an entire day sweating away in the brewhouse making the small batch. We served it in a keg at the reception and had several 22-ounce bottles, featuring our own label by Kalamazoo artist Heidi Weiss. We gave the bottles to members of our wedding party as a gift. We took a group shot with the bottles as a gift to Berthel for all his generosity.

John taps the second Firkin during The Livery’s Freakin’ Firkin Sunday at their Benton Harbor brewery

Label for “Liberty’s Ale”

John’s Wedding party and their custom beers

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Owner of Craft Beer Friendly Party Store

The Whole Drake’s Family

Gregg Kuthe is the owner Drake’s Party Center on the corner of Drake and KL Ave. Many have noticed in the past few years Drake’s vast offering of craft beers and microbrews (and their mix’n’match 6 pack!). This has put them at the top of any Kalamazoo beer lover’s list of  places to shop.

Craft Beer allows us to reach a wider customer audience.  It’s a very fun and dynamic industry.  There is always something new to try.  Let’s face it – variety is the spice of life! I think customers have realized that the quality [of craft beer] has become much more consistent.  They also understand that since many craft beers have a higher alcohol content, that they can drink fewer beers.  In the end, they really are not spending much more than they would have on large quantities of inexpensive domestic beers.

My drinking buddy has an admirable goal in life – try to drink every beer ever made!  Of course, I had to sample them with him.  In the early years, we tasted some nasty stuff.  Now, with the more consistent quality of domestic craft beers (and the fabulous selection at Drake Party Center), we are rarely disappointed. Overall, I have gravitated to darker beers.  Stouts are probably my favorite style to experiment with.  As far as a “go-to” beer, I’d have to go with  Paulaner’s Salvator – it always tastes great!

Do you have a specific memory of craft beer’s impact on you?  Hmm, 2011 Store Party, keg of Old Rasputin and a chain saw.  Funny, looking back on it, but definitely not a combination I would recomend.  Stick with just the Old Rasputin.

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

2012 Trend Alert: Sour Beers in the Mitten State

Like sour beers? Well apparently you’ll be among the trendy ones in the upcoming new year as Sour Beers start topping more and more “2012 trend” lists

Sour Beers are the new Slider

So what is a sour beer anyways? Well, besides having a VERY strong flavor profile, it’s rooted in an old traditional brewing method of spontaneous wild yeast strains and natural bacteria to ferment the beer (if you leave the mash out in the open air, natural bacterias will find their way in, starting the fermentation process naturally and spontaneously), rather than manually adding a specific strain of yeast. This process has been used in many countries for hundreds of years, but just recently has become popular in the American Craft movement. What is difficult for those brewing in the U.S. is the lack of wild yeast floating in the air, so they are left to test out different strains of yeast (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, or Pediococcus), bacteria, and/or aging beers in oak wine barrels. This method can also be very unpredictable, and takes months to ferment (and sometimes years to mature)

Of Sours Beers, the Huffingtion Post says of 2012:

The rise of craft beers is now firmly entrenched enough that Americans understand that beer should taste like things other than diluted, moldy whiskey-Cokes. Indeed, stiff IPAs and creamy Belgian-style whites alike have gotten a lift as Americans have shifted their preferences towards small brewers. The time, then, may be right for a truly strange mode of beer: sour ales and lambics. Though unfamiliar to most U.S. palates, they’re popular in Belgium and among American craft brewers themselves — so they may soon gain broader recognition.

Well, living in this great beer state of Michigan, you must all be thinking the same thing: We must have some GREAT sour beers. And you know what? We do.

A few Michigan Sours to try out (if anyone asks, you were drinking them before it was “cool”)

Arbor Brewing : Ann Arbor, MI

  • Sodibo (barrel-aged sour blonde, 6% abv, available annually in March. They take their spiced Belgian-style Blonde and age it in gueuze-inoculated oak casks for 6 months, then bottle condition it for a minimum of 2 months)
  • Flamboyant Wild Red (barrel-aged Flanders’s red, 9.3% abv, available annually in December. They take their Jackhammer Olde Ale and age it in gueuze-inoculated oak casks for 6 months, then bottle condition it for a minimum of 2 months)
  • Framboozled (barrel-aged Sour Brown, 7.7% abv, available annually in June. They take a slightly boozy version of their Strawberry Blonde (7.25% abv) brewed with orange peel, coriander, and strawberries and age it in gueuze-inoculated oak barrels for at least 9 months, re-ferment it with whole raspberries, then bottle-condition)
  • Velvet Hammer (barrel-aged Sour Brown, 8.5% abv, available annually in June. It is a Belgian Dubbel-style base beer aged in a gueuze-inoculated oak cask for a year, and then bottle conditioned. A new vintage is released the first Saturday in June on Velvet Hammer Day)

New Holland Brewery : Holland, MI

  • Envious (7.5% abv. Oak aged, utilizing Michigan Pears to produce a second fermentation)
  • Blue Sunday  (8.7% abv. This is their anniversary libation, heritage-blended from their library of barrel-soured beers. It also won the Silver Medal for Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour category at the 2011 Great American Beef Fest)

Bell’s Brewery : Kalamazoo, MI

  • The Wild One Ale (Every batch of Wild One begins as dozens of distinct batches fermented in wooden barrels, each with its own unique combination of wild yeasts & other microorganisms. After several months, the brewers then sample each of the barrels and blend to taste, selecting the desired flavor attributes from this array)

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales :  Dexter, MI

All Jolly Pumpkin beers go through a secondary fermentation with wild yeast in oak barrels, technically making them all “sour.” Here are some of their more popular beers:
  • Calabaza Blanca (Belgian Biere Blanc, 4.8% abv. Spiced with orange and coriander)
  • La Roja (brewed in the Flander’s tradition, 7.2% abv. Named “top 50 beers you must try” by GQ Magazine)

A few great articles on Sour Beer:

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Pilsen Klub Manager

The building, not the man

Bruce Hayes is the Assistant Manager for Waldo’s Campus Tavern/Pilsen Klub located right on Western Michigan University’s campus. In the cozy fireplace-warmed basement you can find the Pilsen Klub, a den-like watering hole serving Beer Lovers in the Kalamazoo area for years (and years to come)

I have been working in the restaurtant industry for roughly 20 years. I think that alot of my love for beer came from setting up beer and food tastings. Then when I started working in The Pilsen Klub at Waldos Campus Tavern and finished my first Pilsen Klub Passport I realized how much I loved beer…0r it could have been sitting in Riga Lativia drinking beers with Marty Pone (owner of Waldo’s/Pilsen)  and Bob Lewis (partner of Millennium Restaurant Group).

My favorite style of beer is probably Hefeweizen (a Bavarian specialty beer in which a significant proportion of malted barley is replaced with malted wheat). My favorite brewery I would say is New Holland Brewery, I like the types of beers that they are producing and I have worked with there sales staff throughout the years and they have always been top knotch.



Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Bartender, Server, Beer Geek

The man himself

Phil Stressman is a bartender and a server at downtown Kalamazoo’s Central City Tap House. As a self-described beer geek, Phil has always been a great person to get beer advice and opinions from. Over the past year he has also tried his hand at homebrewing.

 I am in love with beer.  I have been for several years now.  And while I cannot pinpoint a specific experience or moment in time that began this love affair, I can attribute it, I think, to a certain dominant personality trait.  I am a serious geek.  Like, bought thousands of comic books, have a favorite Star Trek captain, can recite off-hand all the characters of Battlestar Galactica level-geek.  And if there’s one thing that unites all geeks, it’s an instinct to collect.  We share a magpie-like love of assembling and maintaining stockpiles of shiny, pretty, unique things and bits of knowledge relating to various categories of nerdy crap.  And so it was that when I turned twenty-one, I decided that I would buy and try a new six-pack of beer every week, until ran out of beers to acquire or pants that fit (you can guess which happened first).

 That was five years ago.  And while I don’t still follow my rule explicitly, I do still love to experience new beers.  The more unique or weird or challenging, the better.  So it should come as no small surprise to you that probably my favorite Michigan brewery is Shorts.  When it comes to experimenting with the limits of beer flavor, they boldly go where no brewery has gone before.  A key lime pie beer? Delicious. A bloody mary beer?  Amazing, especially with celery salt. A white russian flavored beer? Terrible. But dammit, somebody had to try.  On top of all that, Shorts produces what may be my favorite beer of all: Spruce Pilsner.  Crisp, resiny, grassy, piny, and refreshing, and above all, wholly unique.

 I’m young however, and have decades and wardrobes worth of beer drinking ahead of me, so it could be supplanted by something new and outlandish and delicious at any point in the future.  Because craft brewers are going to continue to push the limits of beer into strange new worlds, and I’m going to continue to collect and drink all the weird and wonderful beers I can find.

Have your own beer story?Let us know! Email it to Vitkin7@yahoo.com and we’ll put it up!


Beer and Food Pairing: A Feast for the Tastebuds

As the snow starts to linger around the ground longer, and the sun is only out for what seems like a few hours, it’s easy to start day dreaming of warmer days, and sitting outside in the sun. Sitting in the sun with a cold (but not too cold) and refreshing Hefeweizen. While in this dream land, you put your tall Bavarian glass down next to a plate of fresh peel’n’eat shrimp. Perfect. sigh.

Since we have the pleasure of living in Michigan, we obviously have quite a ways to go until that dream is realized. But it’s time to replace that image with the dream sitting inside near a crackling fire, and drinking a hearty Scotch Ale in between bites of a warm and comforting Beef Stew (and hey, make the beef stew WITH beer. Here’s a great recipe from Esquire Magazine), or even a nutty English-style Brown Ale with a sharp cheddar cheese.

Sure a beer on its own is great, but few things are as wonderful as eating a a great meal while washing it down with a complimenting beer, no matter what the season. Wine has traditionally been known as the food-pairing beverage, but as beer dinners and great craft beers become more prevalent, it’s obvious that malts and hops are catching up the the grapes.

A few rules of thumb from Beerutopia

  • Match strength with strength. Intensity of flavor may involve many aspects: alcoholic strength, malt character, hop bitterness, sweetness, richness, roastiness and so on.
  • Find harmonies. Combinations often work best when they share some common flavor or aroma elements.
  • Consider sweetness, bitterness, carbonation, heat (spice) and richness. Specific characteristics of food and beer interact with each other in predictable ways. Taking advantage of these interactions ensures that the food and beer will balance each other, each giving you a desire for a taste of the other.

For a VERY detailed approach to food and beer pairing, check out this chart created by Craftbeer.com

mmmm...too much information

Looking for a more “no brainer” approach to food and beer? Try any of these foods that are just screaming for a beer: Mussels, Burgers, Oysters on the half shell, Sausages, any well-made Cheese (don’t try it with anything that says “cheese flavored product”, something tells us it won’t be very good), Pretzels, Chocolate, Mashed Potatoes, any kind of thick/rich Soup or Stew, and Grilled Vegetables.

Lucky for us we have plenty of great restaurants in Kalamazoo that not only have great beer on tap, but offer great beer-pairing food as well. Do you have any favorite food/beer pairings?


Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Home Brewer

Home Brewing -or- A Need to Know

The man himself

Scott Donovan, a local to Michigan that is connected to the craft beer game through both personal passions and profession, came to appreciate craft beer when he first toured Local Color Brewery in 1997.  During that visit he tried a fresh batch of scotch ale out of a tank, and describes having been hooked ever since.

Like many avid beer lovers that become home brewers, my first experience with home brewing was brought on by the need to know why beer tastes as it does. Part of the beauty of the effort is the way a recipe can be altered to achieve slightly, or tremendously different results.  I always enjoy changing recipes and making beers that suite my tastes. In my case, the more hops the better! Admittedly, I learned the hard way that brewing is all about keeping the equipment clean. It was a tough-love lesson, as I lost my second batch ever made to some funky bacteria.  (At least, that is my story.)

As a lover of craft beer, I feel particularly connected because I am surrounded by great breweries in Michigan that produce unique and innovative styles. I believe that brewing is one of the last true artisan professions that are in demand today, and I’m grateful to be part of the process that gets craft beer in the glass.

Think you have what it takes to take the reins of a deliciously brewed beverage? Want to learn more about homebrewing?


Beer Styles: All Your Friends Are Here

What’ll it be today?

What a loaded question. As any great beer lover (in the presence of a well-stocked bar) knows, that can be a tough question. Am I drinking to complement my food? To complement myself? Is it a Tuesday afternoon and the weather is mediocre so naturally I’m thirsty? Your next move will set up the rest of the day’s activities (choose well and you’ll have such a great time work will be awful tomorrow!).

Beer Nerds are such egg heads.


Well, lucky for us, beer comes in many different styles, and each style comes in lots of different brands and approaches, each with it’s own unique mouth-feel, taste, aroma, and experience. I was lucky enough to attend the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO this past October. I was even luckier to be at Session 3 during the Beer Style Awards Ceremony (sorry, but I had to do a little bragging about that). What’s interesting is that the way the Beer world has progressed and changed through the years, it is getting harder and harder to define and categorize beer styles (which, coincidentally, makes this competition harder each year to judge). Should brewers brew their beer specifically for a category? Or let their heart and tastebuds lead them into a totally new and unique “style” of beer.

While we could spend many a long night discussing the philosophies of each beer and their particular styles (and who knows? maybe we will, considering Kalamazoo Beer Week will be flooded with beer lovers from all over the State),  for now let’s get back to the basics.

Dunkels and Dubbels and Trippels, oh MY!


Beer-loving site “The Full Pint” (whose mission statement is “to provide you with craft beer news, and to provide all the craft brewers in the world with a place to share their news and product info. In this information age, we find it hard to believe people are going to pay money for yesterdays news, when they can get it today, for free on the Internet.” Amen to that!) has a great and full list of beer styles, complete with specific breweries and beers under each. Check it out HERE

What’s your favorite style of beer? Ours is anything made out of water!