Monthly Archives: September 2011

Skull Splitter

My, my, the Skull Splitter from The Orkney Brewery conquered me.  The Orkney Islands was historically the home base for the Vikings in their pirating expeditions (i.e. away games) and has a human timeline that goes back to the Neolithic Age. Apparently the King of Norway put an end to these raids by conquering the islands and subjugating the natives and importing his own Nordic tribe.  It was sort of a successive conquering over the centuries by the Norwegian kings and finalized by Norwegian king Olav Tryggvasson in 995 when he stopped on his way from Ireland to Norway. The King summoned the ruling earl Sigurd the Stout of Orkney and said “I order you and all your subjects to be baptized (Christianized). If you refuse, I’ll have you killed on the spot and I swear I will ravage every island with fire and steel.”  (Wikipedia). The earl, was the son of Hlodvir, who was one of the five sons of the Skull-Splitter himself Thorfinn. Sigurd the Stout converted on the spot.

In my family lore, it appears that my Dad’s paternal side was from either Norway or Sweden but then immigrated at some point to Germany. My last name is Bierker which sounds about as German as any name. But, the odd thing, any German who has my last name–and there are not many in the Fatherland–are related to us as a rule. The name appears to been Germanized from Birker (a Nordic name) to Bierker by the adding of the “E.” I found no evidence as such on the web for any of this so take it for what it is worth. I am just not making it up, though.  Google kept changing the search term of “Birker Name” to “Biker Names” (the nefarious kind like the Hells Angels). So, given the pagan Viking past, maybe the Biker-Birker connection is more than just mere coincidence. I just like to note that I have Teutonic blood and leave it at that.

Now that the history and family genealogy lesson  is over, let’s get back to the beer. Seriously, though, the history is fascinating. Who thought there would be so much depth at first sip, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. The Skull Splitter at an 8.5 ABV is strong, but it hardly is king of the hill in terms of potency compared to what else is out sailing around the microbrewery seas. BUT, it smells and tastes of spirit, yet is surprisingly mild and enchanting. The beer is a very unusual combination of strong and mild…probably as good a balance of any beer I have had within the last couple of years in my own expeditions both here in Pennsylvania and distant lands. It as if the beer itself has been Christianized and civilized. Stout and Sweet, but not too Stout or Sweet.

I found this video on  YouTube about Skull Splitter. Stick with the guy, for all of his fumbling around, it is a good review. I just like that he just downs a beer and tells you what he is thinking while drinking. His “malt forward” descriptor is right on and good to remember. I hope he  doesn’t always drink alone, though. That is not a good thing. We all need a tribe to hang out with in life as we sail to eternity. So, on this prior Thursday night, my wife and I hung out with a favorite couple and had a marvelous night of fine food, fellowship, and drink.


Fall Punk: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

As promised loyal readers, a weekend post on beer. Just like I said. Sorry about the delay. Had important things to attend to this weekend and just returned home in good old Lancaster County.

Pennsylvania Fall seasons just kick serious backside…popularly known as a_ _. In a head to head competition, state-by-state, Pennsylvania in mid-September is the beauty queen of the United States, if not the world. The air is crisp, the sun shines, leaves are falling and burning, football is in full swing. It it is weather Karma for crappy winters and too hot months of July and August. It is the time of year when all of the weather variables line up in Pennsylvania’s favor like a slot machine dishing out the Jackpot. Not that I am a fan of gambling mind you.  Especially, state run extortion schemes for people that don’t understand math.

Lina (my lovely wife) were up around Mechanicsburg this afternoon where we scored some seriously high quality Korean food and then made a trip to Wegman’s, who have found an ingenious play to do an “end-around” stupid and antiquated alcohol  laws by serving food. Truly an anachronism, masquerading as morality yet really a monopolistic scheme of patronage–if one digs his investigative cleats into the political turf hard enough. At some point, government is going to need to be based on reason.

At Wegman’s. Lina and I first went to get some fruit and vegetables, organic, for our smoothies. We have been drinking these on a daily basis. I am not a health food freak but I figure it makes sense to crank up the nutrition because I don’t always eat well. I am the one who needs the compensatory plan. Not some dude or lady who never eats crap.  Once Lina headed to check-out, I went to go check-out the beer selection. Talking about a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon! I got in some chit-chat with other beer purchasers who enjoy the upscale beer selection at Wegman’s.

Since it is Fall, I figured that I would get a Fall seasonal. Pumpkin Ales have become a favorite of many microbrews. When I noticed that the Dogfish Punkin Ale c0st in the same range as other brewers of the Pumpkin-infused varietals, I asked myself the obvious. Why would I not purchase the Dogfish? I could come up with no good reason. I am drinking one right now. I am not sure that I taste the spicing such as the nutmeg and the like, but this is a damn good beer.

An off-centered ale for off-centered people. Somehow it all lines up.  Like Pennsylvania in the Fall. Drink and enjoy.

Art and Science: The Tale of Two Beers

When doing the 40/40 Tour, I came across two distinct type of brewers. The artists and the scientists.

The artists approached beer-making as a creative enterprise, learning the science when necessary to ensure a healthy brew yet being willing to try a lot of different styles and ingredients. Tends to lead to either great or bad beers…not much in-between.  The scientists were the nuts and bolts types. Equipment, inventory, and execution of a pre-ordained style was the order of command. Closed circuited as compared to open-ended. Call it Belgian (the creatives) vs. the Germans (the engineers). In term of beer types, ales vs. lagers, top vs bottom fermenting yeasts, and fermenting temps of warmer vs. cooler. Creativity vs. Consistency.

The photo above shows the results of the scientific versus the artistic approach in my estimation. That both beers are made by Iron Hill shows that it is indeed possible to be artistic and scientific under the same brewroof.

On the left, is the Dunkleweisen.


OG: 1.060   Color: 17   IBU: 13.5   Alc by Vol: 6.3%

Traditional dark German wheat beer with a huge fruity nose of banana and cloves from the Bavarian ale yeast. German specialty malts add notes of unsweetened chocolate and caramel.The darker nature of the lager wheat beer is just toasting the grains longer…kind of like slice of bread in the toaster. Iron Hill also brews the Belgian Witbier on the right.

Belgian Witbier

OG: 1.048   Color: 3   IBU: 17   Alc by Vol: 4.4%  Pale, unfiltered Belgian-style wheat beer. Although light-bodied, it has complex orange citrus and spice flavors that are very refreshing. In terms of ingredients, both beers  have a wheat base; it is fairly typical for brewers to also use barley with the wheat too but I don’t know the recipes here in terms of proportions. However, the results from the techniques really shows the differences on the drinking side. Like the Robert Frost poem, there are two paths presented and manifested here, and I most definitely prefer the road less taken…the Belgian Witbier Ale. The Dunkleweizen just lacked spirit. It tasted not much different than Bud or Miller. Light lagers rule the crib in the U.S. beer-making industry, but there are ales in the nursery starting to make some noise. There are several microbreweries that do a great job with German-styled beers. One that comes to mind is Stoudts in Adamstown. Several others like Union Barrelworks in Reamstown and Golden Avalanche in Kutztown too. It must be the lingering German heritage in the lagering. I just didn’t sense that the Dunkleweizen was anything special. Pencil-necked geek beer. The Belgian Witbier just had enough wildness in it to be fun.  I know from personal homebrewing experience, that Wits are literally explosive…just as it is dangerous to dream. BTW, we had a head to head match up between my Belgian Wit and Troegs Dreamweaver Wit and the unanimous choice was mine among four of us.  Although I lost about 1/5 of my stock to explosion, the remaining bottles have been all the better for the chaos. Dreamier than the Dreamweaver, that is something to crow about! When I did a preview of this post, the formatting was all screwy…got to make do. Not worth stressing trying to figure out what is going. I have to let it rip like a creative…

Finding My Thrills (Pt 1) @ Iron Hill Brewery Lancaster

First, I need to get something off of my mind and then move on.

I am thinking about drawing this blog to a close. Like a keg, I fear it is kicked. I read other beer blogs that seem to less qualitative than this one get more readers or other blogs on WordPress that  get the ‘Freshly Pressed” status that are frankly sometimes pretty flat like a bad beer left in the glass overnight. But then, days like yesterday happen when a good number of visitors hit the site and it makes it hard for me to call it quits.

No one likes to labor in vain, so if you like this 40/40 beer blog visit it at least once weekly on Saturday or Sunday and there should be something fresh to sip. I will make the decision if I kill 40/40 based on the numbers. Cold and calculating, that is me. I have enough writing to do otherwise with my book and bierkergaard blog. Search it if you want.  I won’t link it because I don’t want to presume that you give a hoot.

Part of me de-stressing is to not spend a lot of time correcting grammar and usage and the like. Just let it rip like graffiti or a jazz riff. You red-penned English teacher types out of there…take your writing micro-nanniness elsewhere or make due.

OK, now that this is out of the way, last night I headed to Iron Hill Brewery here in Lancaster. Iron Hill is the whole package. With 5 house beers, 9 seasonals, and two pages of 750 ml Reserves–many of the them award-winning—Iron Hill just crushes the competition both on quality and quantity. Iron Hill, like a battleship, has the guns and firepower. They are not going to be beat in a head-to-head competition by any other brewpub out there. The best the other micros can expect to do is either be cheaper with less quality (like Lancaster Brewing Company) or more expensive with more quality (like St. Boniface). If a microbrewpub is in the middle, prepare to be blown out of the water if you are within range of I.H.

For all of the talk about microbrews cooperating, I have to think some of this is just bluster. When an upstart like Springhouse/The Taproom is in the city and has the same type of quality/quantity profile, make no mistake about it, these establishments are competing for the same clients to fill the seats.

At I.H., the food can be great, or fairly average considering the price, but stick with the less exotic higher end bar-type of food like innovative sandwiches, and you will dine fine. And the drink is divine.

This is the Smokin Blond  Ale that I had last night…love the paradox (blonde ale style with smoked malts) and it is a sure winner.

Smokin Blonde

OG: 1.065   Color: 6   IBU: 30   Alc by Vol: 6.2%

Belgian-style Blonde Ale with biscuit-like character and a subtle sweet smoke flavor from the use of smoked malts

Here she is in all her glory…(more review about other I.H. beers to follow in future posts. Best to do it one at a time).

Brewing Organically

I recall a couple of years ago walking into a local Homebrewing store and asking whether they carried or could order an organic brew-kit.

The staff in the store looked at me like I had three heads. I saw that they were thinking “Freak.” One of the guys and I got in a tit-for-tat type of discussion about the merits and benefits of organic foods. Most people are ignorant and have not really studied the matter. Plus, the science of food has much about it that is hard to test and sort through. My approach tends to be that if a chemical kills a pest or a weed, it is in  all probability not healthy for people to consume either. That logic seems to be somewhat straightforward.

I don’t trust the government or researchers aligned with the food industry. They have a bias to be ignorant, either intentionally or not.

How else do we begin to explain the increased incidence of cancers, heart-disease, and other maladies? Food and Drink would seem to be a good place to start. Obesity plays a role, as well as a sedentary lifestyle, but what we consume must be  an actor of import.

My wife and I have endeavored to move our consumption in the organic direction. Such a move comes at an increased cost and a lack of convenience. The benefits outside of the actual food and drink are finding cool places and people and supporting local farmers and  co-ops. We have cobbled together several locations that are both relatively affordable and organically-oriented without being uber-goofy. My wife has been blogging about it on her website. Look at the Aug. 2011 posts.

Unfortunately, for brewkits, there is only one organic player who produces them. It is Seven Bridges Co-Op out in California. So, I decided to take the plunge and get the organic California Lager/Anchor Steam kit. It is a kit with lager yeast that is fermented at ale temperatures.

I am going to call it “Indian Summer” because it is brew that is to be fermented warm even though it “should” be cooler. Lagering just seems to be too much work that requires enhanced equipment, more patience, and time. I want to have it ready to drink while it is still possible to have an Indian Summer day.

It should be fun!