Four Beers to Spring For

spring summer beers 2014

I’ve been on something of a beer-buying binge this May and June and have enjoyed more than my fair share of new releases and old favorites.  I know this because my recycle bin has been filling up faster than usual – that’s always a sure-fire way to measure.

Between mowing the lawn and grilling out – or any ordinary sunny day – there’s no shortage of excuses to pop a cold one while working or cooking.  And my fence-mounted bottle opener makes this all too easy.  The best part: the magnet just below catches those pesky caps.  It works so well, my wife insists on opening my bottles for me just to watch the magnet snatch the caps out of mid-air.  (Now that’s service!)

As the temperatures rise and summer settles in – the first day of summer has officially arrived! – here are a few late springtime/early summer favorites for 2014.

– Newcastle Bombshell English Pale Ale.  The famous British brown ale brewery brings back their spring seasonal, with moderately successful results (the original is still better).

– New Belgium’s Summer Helles Lager. Helles-style (light colored) lager is the Big New Thing for American microbreweries. Think Spaten or, my favorite, Weihenstephaner Original.

– Old Bust Head Brewing Company’s Bust Head English Pale Ale.  A decidedly American take on the English pale ale that’s brewed in nearby Fauquier County, VA.

– Great Lakes Brewing Company Eliot Ness Amber Lager.  I’m a sucker for Great Lakes Brewing’s mellow, full bodied lager (as well as its Burning River Pale Ale).  It’s a great brew from my home state of Ohio (yet it’s from Cleveland, so, some pluses and minuses).

Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 10:57 pm  Comments Off on Four Beers to Spring For  
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Grilling Out


There are few things better than cooking outdoors, over an open fire, with a drink in hand.  Whether it’s a nicely marbled New York Strip, burgers, chicken, or vegetables, most food tastes better flame kissed with a touch of char.  And lording over one’s culinary kingdom with a beverage makes the act all the more enjoyable.

Sadly, it took nearly six months for me to acquire a grill after moving last year, resulting in much wasted time; especially because my wife encouraged me to buy one the weekend we moved in (and kept on encouraging me pretty much every weekend that followed).  This summer’s extended daylight hours thus disappeared, lost to my indecision and trepidation bordering on intimidation.  How could I, a father of two in my early 30s not yet know how to grill?  Certainly this made me less of a man.

Thankfully, I eventually pulled the trigger and bought a grill.  Or rather, the trigger was pulled for me.  My wife, fed up with my perpetual procrastination and excuse-making, simply bought one herself.

“Do you like this grill?” she asked, handing me our laptop open to an page.

“Sure, it looks nice.”

“Good, because I bought it today.  I was tired of waiting around for you to do it.  It’ll be here in two days.  It’s probably a bit more than you would have spent, but I think we’ll use it a lot, and it got good reviews.  You’re welcome.”

“Ok.  I’ll look into getting a propane tank tomorrow.”

A few short days later, I learned I have quite the knack for grilling.  While standing there, watching the flames flickering, I began thinking: what determines what I drink while I grill, an activity mostly involving (a) standing around and (b) drinking.  I settled on three key factors: weather, or more specifically temperature; time, which is to say, amount of food to be cooked; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, mood.

Here, an example or two might be helpful.  Let’s say I’m cooking hot dogs for lunch on an autumn weekend afternoon.  Temperatures are seasonal – sweatshirt weather – and cook time is short, about 10 minutes, including time for the grill to preheat.  A beer is a reasonable (and obvious) choice.  However, since it’s only lunchtime, what about a mug of coffee with a touch of whisky to better keep brisk fall breezes at bay?

Or, let’s say I’m grilling steaks for dinner.  Would I rather pour a dram of scotch while cooking or leave that to be enjoyed during or after the meal?  How about an apéritif instead?  Can they legitimately be enjoyed while grilling?  I can’t find a rule or opinion against it, but it just feels off; Campari or Fernet Branca, members of the bitters family, seem to be the only appropriate choices.

This is my conundrum: a light-hearted knot to untie while passing time away in front of the fire, if watching your food cook isn’t distraction enough.

Published in: on March 28, 2013 at 10:20 pm  Comments Off on Grilling Out  
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Global Beer Competitio​n

global beer

Much was written a few weeks ago on the U.S. Department of Justice’s move to block the potential merger between global beer giants AB Inbev and Grupo Modelo.  I, too, considered writing on the situation, but just wasn’t able to find an angle from which to comment.  The story largely fell from the news cycle, and I moved on in search of another topic better suited to The Hip Flask’s appreciation of drinking culture.

National Public Radio’s Caitlin Kenney got me thinking about the story again, this time in an entirely new manner.  Kenney’s article centers upon a great world map showing the various brands owned by the world’s top two beer conglomerates, the aforementioned AB Inbev and Grupo Modelo.  When combined, their brands total 210 in 42 countries.  Below the map appears a listing of the various brands owned by each company (separately identified by color) and alphabetized by country.

Both the map and list are helpful, but in different ways.  As I wrote previously, “developing world” (i.e., second and third world) beer sales are skyrocketing, a fact the map clearly highlights.  Although “the fastest growing beer market in the world right now is China, and several South American markets are growing rapidly as well,” the high concentration of SABMiller brands in Africa and Central America further reiterates my earlier point.

While the geographic depiction is interesting for its own sake – I love looking at maps, most any maps – more interesting to note are the countries in which the two conglomerates do not own many brands, namely Germany and Belgium.

Germany and Belgium are important to this discussion for two reasons: first, they are the top two producers of beer brands;* second, the two only account for a combined 20 of AB Inbev and MillerCoors brands (<10%). Logically, this means the vast majority of brands in the two countries are independently owned or owned by smaller corporations (other than the aforementioned super-conglomerates).  Unfortunately, independent/non-conglomerate ownership tends to translate into difficulty in finding those brands here in the states.  Therefore many German and Belgian brews – likely some of their best – are not easily procured.

While some may find the map and corresponding list of brands helpful as a starting off point for exploring beers from around the world, others may prefer to use it for the opposite purpose – as a pocket “do not buy” list to help them avoid mass produced beer in favor of beer produced by smaller breweries.  It might be more work and cost a few dollars extra, but you might find a new favorite, and perhaps have another excuse to take a vacation to visit an ages-old brewery.


* There isn’t a clear answer when attempting to determine the exact number of beer brands produced in Belgium and Germany.  Numbers vary between sources and oftentimes the terms “brand” and “brewery” are confused.  Most sources agree, however, that Germany and Belgium are the top two producing nations, with the Czech Republic or Austria rounding out the top three.

Graphic credit: Caitlin Kenney and Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 10:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Politics of Beer

Although I’m a DC-based blogger (well, technically DC metro-based as of recently – a fact I’m still getting used to), I’ve worked to steer clear of politics since The Hip Flask’s beginning.  Some visitors are surprised to learn that much of life here doesn’t revolve around politics or politicking.

Unfortunately, DC’s unique status as our national capital sometimes results in politics being injected into the most random places. In this case, it’s beer.  So while this post does discuss politics, it’s more about beer – or more specifically, the politicization of beer.

An article in Tuesday’s Washington Post led me to this conclusion, one titled “Obama plays up love of beer to ferment coalition of the swilling.”  Now, I am admittedly not a fan of The Post on most days, which likely explains why (a) I only learned of this article this morning, and (b) I thought this article’s title was a particular groaner.*

The article explains the President’s use of beer (drinking and home brewing) to “connect with voters… the very voters that Obama and Romney are fighting over: middle-America independents.”  So that humble beverage, the lowly pint of beer, has now become a tool with which to appear down to earth.

The Post’s story continues along this thread: “Political strategists have long applied a ‘Who would you rather have a beer with?’ test to contests as a shorthand for which candidate is more approachable… [However] discerning Obama’s true level of passion for beer is difficult, given that all his recent comments and purchases occurred at orchestrated campaign events.”

But it’s wrong to single out The Post regarding this beer-centric line of reporting; the President’s recent stop at the Iowa State Fair was covered by many news outlets.  So I did a quick Google News search to see how popular this story was.  As of about 9:30 am this morning (Thursday, August 16), an obama + beer search (no quotation marks) produced approximately 83,200 articles.

My point isn’t to criticize the media, or even the politicians themselves.  No, it’s simply to lament the fact that another simple part of life, that common glass of beer enjoyed by so many folks – blue-collar, white-collar, whomever – is exploited as just another prop in the race for power.  Sad really, but not that unexpected.  Not in this town.

Is nothing sacred?


* Linked from the article was a series of photographs of the candidates stumping called “Hoppy Days are Here Again.”  Yuk, yuk, yuk, Washington Post.

Published in: on August 16, 2012 at 11:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Indian Summer, Fall Drinking

I’ve recently noticed an interesting trend in seasonal beer production: autumn brews seem to be issued earlier and earlier each year.  Although summer remains in full swing, the light and fruity summer varietals are already fighting against the encroachment of next season’s choices.

In the normal course of events , cool weather beer – traditionally Märzen or Oktoberfest varieties – is issued in early September, a few weeks prior to the annual event held in Munich, Germany.  Then, once Oktoberfest has officially ended in early October, we still have until at least mid to late November to enjoy the fall flavors until the weather turns truly cold and wintry.

Yet I found myself standing in the grocery last weekend (on the last day of July, no less), holding a bottle of New Belgium Brewing’s Red Hoptober in my hand – a fall seasonal beer in July!  Thus, not only is this new trend of early issuance  interesting, it’s also most certainly welcomed – at least by me.  (I’ve previously confessed, on several occasions, my love of fall brews.  They are my favorite beers during my favorite time of year.)

But let’s get back to Red Hoptober, a new release from the Fort Collins, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing.  From its name, I presumed it to be a cross between a hoppy and spicy India Pale Ale (IPA) and a traditional, hearty Oktoberfest-style ale.  And my presumption wasn’t too far off once I cracked open a bottle.  The brewery poetically describes Red Hoptober as “shining like autumn leaves in a globe glass, this beer pours a dark and lovely garnet as it builds a bright, inviting head.”

Red Hoptober is certainly not a summer beer, but nonetheless I find it to be enjoyable on warm summer evenings or over a spicy dinner.  I am not particularly a fan of IPAs, finding them too overpoweringly hoppy to enjoy – scotch should be spicy, not beer, I say.  But Red Hoptober’s balance between the IPA and Oktoberfest tempers its spiciness to reasonable and smoothly mysterious proportions.

Summer hasn’t ended yet – not by a longshot –  but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start drinking fall beer.  However, you might consider waiting until the sun sets and the air cools.  And then, if you try hard enough, you can almost smell autumn’s arrival.

Published in: on August 3, 2012 at 11:25 am  Comments (3)  
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