Brewzilla Attacks Cleveland Beer Week

Normally things don’t work out well when a monster invades a city. But on Saturday October 23rd, Brewzilla attacked the beer lovers of Cleveland with a wonderful event that featured over 80 breweries and hundreds of kinds of beer. No, he didn’t come out of Lake Erie. Instead, Brewzilla assaulted us in the form of an overabundance of ale and lager. The grand tasting of Cleveland Beer Week 2010 closed the week out in style with over 1000 attendees enjoying some of the best beer in both Ohio and the country. It truly was the beer event of the year and, with something for every beer lover, a chance to try some amazing freshly fermented formulas and familiar favorites.

The Lower Level

The galleria at night

The galleria was glowing at night from Brewzilla!

I entered the venue and headed straight for the Bell’s brewery booth to try the amazing ‘Quinannan Falls American Lager’. This hoppy treat had some great pine and citrus notes and was a nice way to kick my taste buds into overdrive right off the bat. Founders Brewing also brought some treats, with ‘Breakfast Stout’, ‘Harvest Ale’ and ‘Looking Glass’ standing out amongst the crowd. ‘Looking Glass’ was particularly interesting as it’s the result of aging ‘Double Trouble Double IPA’ in brandy barrels. The brandy brought out some nice notes and complimented the hops in a way I never imagined. New Holland was present with the ever-so delicious ‘Dragon’s Milk’ and Avery’s ‘Hog Heaven Barleywine’ hits the spot every time. Anyone craving German beers with style and grace probably never left the Gordon Biersch table, or, maybe just strolled between there and the Spaten offerings. Weyerbacher had four bottled selections, all of which are old favorites of mine, and it was great to see some people try their first ‘Blithering Idiot’ before playing the part. Finally, several great hop bombs were available from Southern Tier (‘2XIPA’), Bear Republic (‘Racer 5’) and Green Flash (‘West Coast IPA’). While there wasn’t as much brewery swag as last year, I happily grabbed a few cool stickers and scored a bottle of water as the band started up. We took in the first few notes then left the area and walked over to see some friendly local faces.

Bobby’s pick from the Lower Level: Founders ‘Looking Glass’

Tim from the SNOBS serving Founders Beer

Tim from the SNOBS serving Founders Harvest Ale!

I took an informal poll and each and every person I asked at Brewzilla thought this beer was a reference to Alice in Wonderland. That means everyone was wrong. In order to really appreciate this beer, we need to take a trip. Not a trip down the rabbit hole, a trip back in time.

Our destination? A time when life was simpler and music was music. All the way back to August 26th, 1972, the end of the era of Freedom Rock. The week when ‘Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)’ by pop-rock quartet Looking Glass hit number one on the charts.

Just like the album cover of the ‘Golden Classics’ album, the beer was posed and polished but still a bit rough around the edges. It’s a hazy copper color with some gold and orange highlights. A nice head remains and some lacing is noted on the glass. But the haze and slightly dirty color stop this from certified platinum status. Looking Glass suffered from a problem common to many groups. People came to their concerts yearning for the same kind of ‘New York pop’ sound they’d heard on “Brandy.” They got bits and pieces of that sound, but they also had to suffer through some gritty and dirty bar-rock. Likewise, the aromas of Founders Looking Glass come close to greatness but don’t live up to the billing. There’s some decent hoppiness and some prominent barrel notes, stacked atop some subdued sweet malt and brandy. While it’s nothing to chase around the country in a Volkswagen van, the amazing thing about Founders Looking Glass is how these elements come together in the smell and taste. Some vanilla and wood make the brandy and hops play nicely together. But the hops are past their prime and just miss the mark set by previous chart toppers.

Everyone knew the song “Brandy”. But Looking Glass fans had no insight into the band. In the end, these four men never quite established their own musical identity. That same problem stops the taste of Founders Looking Glass from making it to the hall of fame. The beer has some sweet malt and brandy with a touch of booziness and liquor sting. The barrel is mild in the taste and lets the hops shine through with pine and some grapefruit and mango. But nothing makes this identifiable or unique – the brandy just melts away and the signature hops of the base beer (Double Trouble) are faded and washed-up, much like a cover version of itself. This beer is nothing like another Founders barrel-aged Double IPA called ‘Hand of Doom’ where the barrel treatment makes the beer an entirely different beast. The beer’s mouthfeel is composed of creamy carbonation without too much pop, ‘New York’ or otherwise. As for drinkability, despite a promising career, this beer happened to become a one-hit wonder. However, those who got to experience it live will always remember that simpler time. A time when Looking Glass topped the charts before fading into obscurity. A time when a brandy barrel-aged Double IPA filled our glasses. As the song says:

”Brandy, you’re a fine girl
What a good wife you would be
But my life, my lover, my lady
Is the sea”

(The CBS that is)

Does Bobby Like Founders ‘Looking Glass’?

’Looking Glass’ is a novel but successful experiment with aging a DIPA in a brandy barrel. Although it won’t change your world, it’s well worth a shot!
Appearance: 4/5Smell: 4.5/5Taste: 4.5/5Mouthfeel: 4/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 4.3

The Ohio Breweries Area

The Buckeye Brewing Crew

Eric Anderson, Bob Wright, and Garin Wright of Buckeye Brewing (l-r)

The Ohio breweries area was a new addition this year, and it certainly showcased our local rock star brewers and the amazing beer they turn out! The first booth I came across was The Brew Kettle’s, where GABF award winning head brewer Jack Kephart was pouring a few of his greatest creations. Not only was the amazing ‘White Raja’ IPA on tap, but bourbon barrel-aged ‘Tunguska’ Russian Imperial Stout was as well. Both beers really stood out to me, and my sour beer loving friends all enjoyed the ‘Quick Kriek’, which has a nice balance and sour cherry flavors that really jumped out of the glass. Jack wasn’t the only brewer pouring sour beer, as Thirsty Dog debuted a Berliner Weiss and a sour cherry beer. The results on those were mixed in my opinion, with the Berliner much more palatable than the cherry, which just didn’t pack enough flavor for me. But it’s great to see that kind of experimentation coming from the locals and I applaud Mitch from Thirsty Dog for pushing the envelope. Not to mention that Thirsty Dog had their fantastic beer ice cream on hand! Speaking of cream, some of the cream of the crop in Ohio brewing brought their ‘A’ game. Fat Heads represented with ‘Phantom Pumpkin Ale’, ‘Bumble Berry’, and ‘Head Hunter’ IPA, their silver-medal GABF winning nectar of the gods. Buckeye Brewing has emerged as perhaps the ringleader of the Cleveland Craft Beer movement. Their set-up was awesome, and the ‘CBW India Black Ale’ they created for Cleveland Beer Week was fantastic on draft. ‘Pumpkin Dead’ and ‘Witless’ also got a strong buzz going – not in my head, but amongst the beer fans who were trying Brewer Garin Wright’s beers for the first time. Willoughby Brewing and Ohio Brewing each had a handful of beers on tap, including some seasonal beers and specialties. While Indigo Imp had some favorites, including ‘Jester’ and ‘Sour Gatekeeper’ and Hoppin’ Frog had ‘B.O.R.I.S.’ and their IPA, I’d like to see these two brewers in particular come to Brewzilla with something special next year. But there really wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch and the area showed how much progress we’re making in Ohio towards being a beer destination. We should be proud of all our breweries, and I loved having the chance to celebrate their successes.

Bobby’s pick from the Ohio Breweries Area: The Brew Kettle Bourbon Barrel Aged ‘Tunguska’ Russian Imperial Stout

Jack from the Brew Kettle serving great beer

Jack from the Brew Kettle serving his great beer!

On June 30, 1908 the Earth was rocked. Eyewitnesses say the sky caught fire and the wind literally knocked people off their feet. Trees were flattened and birds scrambled to escape the wake of the explosion. The biggest meteoroid impact of modern history had occurred in the Tunguska River in Russia.

Could a beer possibly live up to the pressure of being named for such a monumental blast? The Brew Kettle humbly released Tunguska Russian Imperial Stout in mid 2010 to little fanfare, but the reviews trickled in and the response was very positive. I enjoyed the beer but commented that it would benefit from a bourbon barrel treatment. I was very excited four months ago when Jack Kephart, award-winning head brewer at the Brew Kettle, contacted me to say the barrels had just been filled. While this may not be an Earth-altering event, Barrel Aged Tunguska certainly made an impact on my Brewzilla experience.

While the explosion was said to fill the sky with blue and orange fire, “Tunguska the beer” is pitch black with just a touch of red at the bottom of the glass. It has amazing head retention and lace. For an 11% Russian Imperial Stout to have this much head retention, one needs to wonder if some celestial interference played a part. The beer smells of roasted malt, bourbon and wood. Specifically, notes of chocolate, coffee, tar, oak tannins, vanilla, and coconut are present. Fragments of bourbon are scattered all over the site of the aroma explosion.

The taste is the thunderclap that follows the aroma with expression and percussive pleasantness. Roasted malt gives coffee and chocolate impressions with some dark fruit, namely bourbon-soaked cherries. Speaking of bourbon, there is a good deal of well-integrated whisky and wood. Overall, the beer is smooth but a touch too much wood and tar make this just a bit rough. But it’s an admirable attempt; especially for the first-time The Brew Kettle has bourbon barrel-aged this beer. The mouthfeel is creamy and smooth, without jagged edges. The barrel enhances the medium body and, while this is a huge beer, it’s enjoyable. The bottom line is that Tunguska is an explosive stout with a nice special treatment. Even if the Earth didn’t shake, I enjoyed this and will certainly sample it again at The Brew Kettle’s Ogrefest 2011.

Does Bobby Like The Brew Kettle Bourbon Barrel Aged ‘Tunguska’ Russian Imperial Stout?

Bourbon Barrel Aged ‘Tunguska’ is a great treatment of the original beer. If you like big stouts and lots of wood, head to Ogrefest in February!Appearance: 4/5Smell: 4.5/5Taste: 4/5Mouthfeel: 4.5/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 4.35

The Upper Level

The chandelier at the Galleria

The chandelier at the Galleria in all its splendor.

I grabbed a pour of BORIS and headed up the escalator. Highlights upstairs included Stone’s amazing bourbon barrel-aged ‘Imperial Russian Stout’, which was easily my pick for the best beer of the evening. Not only was it a treat to try this rare and exceptional beer, but head brewer Mitch Steele was also on-hand to meet the happy beer drinkers of Cleveland. Drinking one of the best beers in the world with the brewer who made it is always a special treat! Stone also brought their ‘Smoked Porter’ with chipotle peppers, a nice roasty porter with just a hint of heat. These two elusive and exclusive beers set the bar high for other brewers to bring some rare specialties out next year. Goose Island had a solid selection of beers and they were quite popular, as ‘Night Stalker’ was gone within the first few hours. La Chouffe deserves a shout-out for the best give-away; I was a proud cap-wearing elf and I plan on breaking out my hat again for the holidays! Heavy Seas ‘Below Decks Barleywine’ aged in Cabernet barrels was a delicious beer and gave many people a chance to see what wine barrel aging can do for a big beer. Lilly’s Chocolates didn’t bring beer but had the best treats ever: truffles made with Blackout Stout and Christmas ale! Great job Amanda! Finally, Brooklyn, the Bruery, Jolly Pumpkin and Dogfish Head all deserve recognition for bringing some amazing beers and, best of all, letting people try some beer from bottles that cost ten dollars and up in stores. This is really a great strategy, because it removes the price barrier and people see the beer for the value it truly is!

Bobby’s pick from the Upper Level: Stone ‘Imperial Russian Stout’ aged in Bourbon Barrels

Jay and Mitch Steele from Stone with a buddy!

Jay and Mitch Steele from Stone with a buddy!

The first glass I enjoyed was handed to me by my friend Brian Wright, who smiled and said, “Enjoy”. The seventh glass I enjoyed was handed to me by my friend Brian Wright, who frowned and said, “You aren’t driving tonight, are you?” For the record, no, I was not – we stayed down the street at a fancy pants hotel!

Back to the first glass…if Steven Hawking was a beer aficionado, he may have written a book called “Behavior of particles in a ‘Stone BA IRS’ hole”. I can almost hear his sweet robotic voice lecturing about how nothing can escape the darkness that is this beer. A beautiful cappuccino colored head is its first victim. It hangs out for a few minutes, and then gets sucked into the vortex, never to be seen again. Some lace is left behind as a reminder of what was and what will never be. But an anomaly occurs that makes me question everything. Light has no mass, but it’s still drawn into this beer due to the warping of space and time. However, apparently, the most amazing scents of roasted malt, bourbon, vanilla, and coconut break free. Maybe the perfect smelling beers have no photon mass, or, maybe, the smell is more powerful than science itself!

To make this beer drinking experience even better, Mitch Steele, head brewer at Stone and a really nice guy, was on hand and served as my resident Spock – my co-pilot on the first journey into the unknown. We had a toast and I took my first sip, throttling full-blast towards the event horizon. I swear I could taste both the particles and the anti-particles; they were utterly exceptional. The roasted malt reminded me of eating a bar of dark chocolate while sipping on a spot of Sumatra coffee. Some caramel and dark fruit make an appearance in the middle. The wood has added touches of vanillin, coconut and just a hint of tannins. The bourbon is present but not dominant enough to eclipse any other element. The smoothness of the barrel treatment is elegant without being too weak. As it warms, it becomes a chocolate, vanilla and coconut dream. I feel like all the danger has passed. It’s smooth sailing from here on in!

The beer is velvet in liquid form, almost like creaminess of the Milky Way has been injected into its core. The body is full and the carbonation is slight but perfect. The only problem with the mouthfeel is the touch of noticeable alcohol that breaks up the fluidity of the voyage for a split second. But the turbulence passes and we arrive on the other side intact. I enjoyed this beer more than anything I’ve had in the last 10 months of reviewing. That’s over 415 beers since my last score this high. It’s truly a standout and makes a legendary base beer even better. I hope every beer lover has the chance to try this someday! If Steven Hawking were really a genius, he’d spend his days sipping this beer and enjoying its specific gravity instead of pondering about quantum gravity. No matter the time or the space, this is a winner from Stone.

Does Bobby Like Stone ‘Imperial Russian Stout’ aged in Bourbon Barrels?

A+World Class
Simply put, this is one of the three best beers I’ve ever had in my career as a beer reviewer. I highly recommend flying to San Diego the next time it is on tap.Appearance: 5/5Smell: 5/5Taste: 5/5Mouthfeel: 4.5/5Drinkability: 4.5/5Score: 4.9

The Brewer’s Circle

People having a blast at Brewzilla

A group of friends having a blast at Brewzilla!

Upstairs in the Café, there was a new area devoted to the Brewer’s Circle ticketholders. This was a vast improvement over last year, where we arrived and asked where the brewer’s circle was only to a collective shrugging of shoulders. People who spent a bit more on tickets got to try all of the collaboration beers from the forthcoming Ohio Brewer’s association twelve pack. The Buckeye/Cornerstone ‘Alt Bier’ was particularly tasty, as was the Thirsty Dog/Indigo Imp collaboration ‘Smoked Black Lager’. The beer I went back to the most had to be the Brooklyn ‘Detonation’ IPA. What a treat – this hoppy monster made me giggle with delight as the hops took over and blasted my taste buds. Great Lakes gave everyone a sneak preview of this year’s batch of ‘Barrel-aged Blackout Stout’ and, let me tell you, it was phenomenal. Victory brought a beer that is normally reserved for Oktoberfest events, and it was really good. Although the food at the Brewer’s Circle ran out early, the beer flowed all night and the space was crowded but never too packed. And Bluegrass brought another amazing beer that even eclipsed the wonderful brandy-barrel aged ‘Queens Knickers’ old ale that I enjoyed so much the year before. This year’s Brewer’s Circle was more than I ever could have expected and I’ll be the first in line again next year!

Bobby’s pick from the Brewers Circle: Bluegrass Brewing ‘Bearded Pat’s Barleywine’

Kev from Winking Lizard, Phil from Bluegrass, and Charlie from Premium

Kev from Winking Lizard, Phil from Bluegrass, and Charlie from Premium (l-r)

Why do bearded guys get so much flack in certain circles? Can we help it that we look better when we’re rugged and “unkempt”? I know more than a few women agree that beards not only give men character but also are a must for a guy to really look attractive.

Seriously, does anyone know when and why society deemed it “proper” for men to shave their faces and look like 12-year-old boys? Regardless of the social norms, I proudly sport a beard during the winter and stubble during the hot months (both of them – I’m in Cleveland). I’m only clean-shaven a few days a year to “reset” my facial follicles and let my skin breathe. Regardless of my grooming habits, one thing I’ve noticed through the years is that us bearded guys tend to stick together.

With that in mind, I don’t know who Bearded Pat is, but I’d sure like to meet him. He makes a hell of a barleywine. I knew from the second that Phil from Bluegrass handed me this gem that we were going to get along fantastically. The beer is a beautiful dark copper color with some amber, brown, and red highlights. The head retention is exceptional for a barrel aged barleywine. My glass isn’t coated in lace, but some is left behind. This beer is much less rough around the edges than it’s namesake. The smells of oak, vanilla, brown sugar, and sweet caramelized malt waft past my push broom and greet my nose. The beer is sweet but balanced, with the barrel’s bourbon and wood jumping out. It’s not hot at all, and the wood shows more than the bourbon. No tannic presence is noted, but this could be just a bit more expressive.

The taste is fantastic. Brown sugar and sweet caramelized malt lead the way. This barleywine is not a sugar bomb, but certainly a decadent beer. The bourbon, vanilla, and wood bring this to the next level with their masterful incorporation. The hops are mild but add some balance. This is like Zach Galifianakis in a tuxedo, not some scruffy backwoods bruiser. The mouthfeel of this barleywine is just a touch syrupy, but it is still very enjoyable. Low carbonation can’t help make the medium to heavy body lighter, but the aftertaste is pleasant with only mildly noticeable booze.

I propose that January be “national grow a beard and drink barleywine” month. At least I won’t be alone. I can count on Pat to join me in this celebration of stubble sporting and snifter swigging. And, if Bluegrass Brewing is interested, I’m taking sponsors! Maybe you could brew an English Barleywine, age it in barrels, and call it ‘Bearded Bobby’s’? Just let me know when it’s ready. Cheers!

Does Bobby Like Bluegrass Brewing ‘Bearded Pat’s Barleywine’?

I like beer. I have a beard. Pat likes beer. Pat has a beard. The only difference between us is that Pat has an amazing Barleywine named after him.Appearance: 4.5/5Smell: 4/5Taste: 4.5/5Mouthfeel: 4/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 4.3

Wrap-up and Suggestions for Next Year

A group of Brewzilla attendees with their auction winnings!

A group of Brewzilla attendees with their auction winnings!

Compared to last year’s inaugural event at the Arcade, many improvements were made. In particular, the quality and breadth of the beer offerings and the inclusion of the band and photo booth were great steps in the right direction. While this event ran well, there are a few things that could make it even better next year. Here’s my list of suggestions that can make 2011’s Brewzilla even better!

  • More water stations and other non-alcoholic choices for DD’s and overspent imbibers: this one is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Better food access: this year, the line for Heinen’s cheese was at least 50 people long at times. And the food was good, it was just hard to get to!
  • More lighting: It was dark during the event, and, while that may have added ambiance, it also made it just a bit dreary. I know we were in Cleveland, but we don’t have to be so industrial!
  • Tier the brews and provide some guidance: It would have been great if the list did more than just list everything. For next year’s event, I hope to have some suggested “tracks” for people to follow and maybe Brewzilla could incorporate this into their guide.
  • Have a special keg tapping or two at specific pre-determined times: this makes things very exciting and increases the energy level of the crowd.
  • Take the auction action online: Why not give people some time to see what’ll be available and give the charity the best chance to make as much money as possible. It may have also been good to have some “buy it now” type options for those who have to leave early.

With those minor suggestions aside, I can say that Brewzilla was an extremely successful and well-run event. Thanks to everyone who contributed, from the people who have been planning the party for the last year to the brewers and volunteers. Big thanks must be sent to Christine at Cleveland Beer Week for all her hard work, to John and Kev at the Winking Lizard, and to the event sponsors who helped orchestrate one of the best beer festivals in the Midwest. Who would have thought that a monster was just what we needed to make a late October Saturday night so much fun? I’m already looking forward to next year’s invasion!

Brewzilla Photos and Photo Gallery

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