This is an episode of the Living Proof Brew Cast.
This is the final interview we recorded at Balticon back in May. We were joined by Dr. John Cmar, another contributor to The Secret Lair and a recognizable voice within the podcast community, especially podcast fiction. We cracked open a Firestone Walker Double Jack as Dr. Cmar has been known to enjoy the odd hoppy beer. We lamented how few of our guests share our love of the hoppy beers. Dr. Cmar pointed out one aspect of hoppy beers that may be responsible, that some brewers approach hoppy beers as a stunt or a challenge rather than crafting the various flavors available from the great selection of hops with care.
Cmar asked us about Dogfish Head‘s marketing of a randall, something we discussed in the last episode. Cmar was skeptical in terms of it being at odds with the craft and intent of the brewer. I suggested it may be worth trying just as an experiment, rather than viewing it as necessary for a given beer or series of beers. I also thought that at a brewpub, where the randall is part of the presentation and the product, may be more of that intent and craft that Cmar mentioned. John agreed with Cmar that his preference is for the beer as it is made, that a randall is another variable that may make it harder to quantify what it is that appeals, inherent in the beer itself. John mentioned comparative tasting, with which I agreed and think that limited use of a randall makes sense vs. using it all the time.
Camr’s mention, jokingly, of putting dandelion in a randall, reminded John of his first taste of alcohol. The woman one farm over used to make dandelion wine, steeping it almost like a sun tea. That was his first fermentable as a youth.
I mentioned having the Double Jack for the first time at Meridian Pint. Cmar has been there, as well, and spoke very well of it. We talked about Churchkey, another venue we enjoy. It was suggested we should drag Cmar along for our next visit to Churchkey. We compared these better outlets to RFD, which has a good variety and quantity of beer, but wants for the same sort of knowledgeable staff that you find at both The Pint and Churchkey. The renamed Bier Baron, that used to be the Brickskellar, is now somewhere in between with a reduce menu but better odds of getting what you order. It used to be a real gamble as to whether the Brickskellar would be out of any given beer.
We asked Cmar about his favorite places for getting beer where he lives, in Columbia, Maryland. He likes The Perfect Pour, which is the number 1 independent seller of Woodchuck, which gave Cmar an inside track on the release timing and quantities for their interesting sounding pumpkin cider. Another reason Cmar and even Laura, his wife, enjoy the place is its unusual air of class. As for restaurants, Cmar likes Frisco Taphouse and Brewery and shared the story behind it, inspired by the Frisco burrito. To what sounds like a great foundation, when successful the owner started to build a distinct offering of beers, mostly cask ales. Fueled by further success, the restaurant now hosts beer related events and has brought in even more craft beers in.
Cmar’s mention of Frisco trying to get one-off kegs and casks from recognized craft brewers made me think of recent offerings from Flying Dog. Especially in the last year, they have put out a good number of impressive limited run beers. My jealousy for our friends out West has declined a bit thanks to these new, local offerings. At its core, though, what seems competitive in terms of offerings really is about camaraderie and experience, down to the food, about which Cmar shared some quick impressions from the Stone World Bistro, out in San Diego.
We poured out a second beer, one given to us by friend of the show and recent guest Chris Miller, the Hoppin’ Frog Wild Frog Wheat. Based on the Boris we shared with Chip on mic before, we answered to Chris’ question of what to bring to Balticon this year that anything from this brewery would be more than acceptable. In talking about Ohio brews, we discovered that Cmar was originally from this same area. He admitted to not having had a Hopping Frog in a while. Appropriately enough, this wheat beer proved to be entirely delightful, with more flavor and complexity than the style and ABV would suggest.
John guessed that this beer might be the result of a suspended fermentation. I asked how you would accomplish that without imparting an unusual taste like with sulfide in wine and mead making. John said he had a compound useful for this purpose, what I guessed might be a flocculating agent. Cmar spotted a mention on the label of a special fermentation process, bolstering our hypothesis.
We diverted a bit on the subject of the show notes. I explained a bit of my rationale in assembling them the way I do.
John brought us back to the subject of Ohio, reminding us of the story from episode one, of his first real gourmet experience of beer. The place, at least where John studied, is clearly a draw for many amazing people and hence a fertile soil from which quality experiences flourish. Cmar expanded on that, emphasizing the attention to detail as part of the overall enjoyment of beer, understanding what informs all the different elements of the beer quest, rather than obsessing about the minutiae for their own sake.
Cmar mentioned going to Savor last year and, at the time of the recording, was looking to get tickets for Savor this year. He told us about his favorite salon from last year, a pairing between Ommegang with various desserts. This was led by Greg Engert, from Churchkey which we’d mentioned earlier. Cmar was impressed by the more complex, evocative tastes Engert came up with, exhibiting that very attention to how the components all combine in the unexpected but delightful resulting experience. John waxed philosophical about the importance of appreciating these life lessons.
This made Cmar think about an unusual music fest he attended, in particular a t-shirt he picked up, one that encapsulated one of the headlining band’s, Turisas’, philosophy. It had the motto that is the title of this episode and a list of how to give cheers in many, many languages. The idea really spoke to him, of traveling broadly but enjoying what the locals do. In the spirit of travel and experience, John mentioned going to ren fests for the music and the deeper touchstones through it, like seeking out bands like Wolgemut. Cmar told us about a band he likes, in a similar vein, Arkona, that evinces both amazing technical skill and very deeply considered mythology and story telling in their music.
We chatted a bit more about simpler but well made beers as we finished out the wheat beer. Cmar mentioned the Dortmunder Gold Lager as a modest but excellent favorite. I agreed, pointing out how our favorite local brewers, Bret and Eric of Growlers of Gaithersburg, very much embody this idea. The mention of an Ohio beer made Cmar a bit wistful for the experiences he missed while there and put us back on the idea of local offerings, selecting the Sea Nymph, again, to round out our tasting and conversation.
Cmar mentioned missing out on trying the Sea Nymph earlier in the weekend because of some Auchentoshan offered by Chris Miller. That reminded John of the cocktails he had been making to share throughout the weekend and Cmar of the stories of Auchentoshans past. John thankfully brought us back to the present, explaining for Cmar’s benefit Scott Roche’s sense of the hint of sea air in our final beer selection. This beer, as John put it, was like the mouse that roared; a light but incredibly well crafted beer that stood up really well to the bigger beers we’d been drinking all weekend.
An off hand joke about filling a randall with marshmallows put me on my idea, perhaps the time has come to make it, of a marshmallow stout where all the complexity comes from the crafting of the grain bill. The Willoughby peanut butter cup beer and the Growlers of Gaithersburg peanut butter and jelly wit beer both of which stood out as excellent examples of how technique can yield amazingly unlikely but delicious results. Cmar was floored by the mint julep beer that we mentioned in a series of similarly off the wall but great beers made by Bret and Eric.
Cmar shared one of the first beer experiences that really pulled him into the enjoyment of beer. He drove to Milton, Delaware to get two 750ml of a beer made to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the state. Called Zwaanend’ale, it was a honey, rye beer that worked as well as you’d hope based on the label. Cmar, as a consequence, still harbors a particular fondness for rye beers from all brewers.
Cmar finished with two excellent professional points, that alcohol kills everything and that microbiology makes beer.
You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.
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