Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Monday Night Brewing Garage - Atlanta Georgia

You can find Monday Night Brewing - Garage at 933 Lee St SW, Atlanta, GA 30310 between West End and Capitol View (bit of a commercial no man's land by the railroad tracks). Nearby you have Boxcar at Hop City West End and soon, the new Wild Heaven and Best End Brewing locations (currently under construction) so this will become a new brewery row. Parking is plentiful with wide-open parking lots that extend around the large, warehouse-sized buildings.

I first visited the Garage back in early 2018 for a charity event, back in the courtyard and private event space towards the east-end of the building - the place is huge with multiple bars and a deck that extends along the south end of the building - there's also a patio in the area between buildings leading up to the main entry. To give you an idea of scale, there's an Air Stream trailer inside the building. I figured with the Anniversary Party coming this weekend now would be a good time to comment on this great Atlanta brewery.

The interior is on the industrial side, a bit no frills but there are things to look at including conditioning tanks and the various bars - if they're all open it's a bit of a Universal Studios experience with doors opening into new wide-open areas and taps at each bar to discover. Typically the main area (you walk in through a patio, there's brewery swag and a bar on the right with windows opening to the outside and tanks on the left) is open most weekdays and really, there's a lot of space. You continue towards the back to the bathrooms and the next bar which seems to only be open on weekends or during special events.

Monday Night Brewing - Garage was set up, I believe, to have more room to focus on sours and barrel aged beers - the menu certainly reflect this, with classic old favorites and a whole list of specialty stouts and beers normally found in limited release bottles (which are also available for take home). The bartenders are quite attentive and know their shit, always good for recommendations - but if you want mine, start with short pours of each of the barrel aged beers and work your way backwards into those that are lighter (normally I would do the opposite but when I do I end up getting too hammered to taste all the delicious specialty beers).



(also published to Yelp)
Monday Night Garage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, July 26, 2019

Brewery Size Definitons - Pico, Nano, Craft, etc.


I recently had a conversation regarding what makes a craft brewery a craft brewery and the difference in production that defines a nanobrewery, etc. What I've found out is that there basically are no definitions that are agreed upon by the various brewery associations, etc for craft brewery, microbrewery or nanobrewery. It seems that this is mostly a self-defined term more than an accepted system (although there may be some states or countries that DO have set terms and limits, I did find a set of Craft Beer Industry segments from the Brewers Association,  so lets start with some definitions from Wikipedia and move to those:

A brewery or brewing company is a business that makes and sells beer. The place at which beer is commercially made is either called a brewery or a beerhouse, where distinct sets of brewing equipment are called plant.

A microbrewery or craft brewery is a brewery that produces small amounts of beer, typically much smaller than large-scale corporate breweries (Ed: aka production brewers like Inbev and MillerCoors), and is independently owned. Such breweries are generally characterized by their emphasis on quality, flavor and brewing technique.

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as a small and independent brewer.
There are six distinct craft beer industry market segments: microbreweries, brewpubs, taproom breweries, regional breweries, contract brewing companies, and alternating proprietors.
  1. Microbrewery - A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year and sells 75 percent or more of its beer off-site
  2. Brewpub - A restaurant-brewery that sells 25 percent or more of its beer on-site and operates significant food services.
  3. Taproom Brewery - A professional brewery that sells 25 percent or more of its beer on-site and does not operate significant food services.
  4. Regional Brewery - A brewery with an annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels. 
  5. Contract Brewing Company - A business that hires another brewery to produce its beer. It can also be a brewery that hires another brewery to produce additional beer.
  6. Alternating Proprietor - A licensed tenant brewery that physically takes possession of a shared brewery while brewing.

Back to the topic of size definitions - the various terms have to do with the quantity of beer a brewery produces rather than the Segment definitions above. To determine the size, you start with the number of gallons or barrels of beer that the brewery creates per batch of beer (30 gallons to a barrel). Thus the size of each batch is limited by the size of the brewing equipment that is available to the brewery - you see these as fermenters and conditioning tanks (aka brights) when you look at the brewing facility.

By one definition I found, a largish craft brewery can make in excess of 100,000 barrels of beer each year - that's about 3 million gallons. For example, in 2013 the local Sweetwater Brewing made about 192,400 barrels of beer. Also in 2013 SweetWater ranked 26th among the top 50 U.S. breweries and 19th among the top 50 U.S. craft brewing companies based on sales volume because it produces less than 6 million barrels of beer annually (which seems to be the threshold for production brewing - think Budweiser or Miller). I think I read a couple of years ago that Sweetwater was now at 18th largest so no telling how much it's currently producing. I've read that they plan to open a location on the west coast and eventually also open a location in the central states so they're on the verge of bleeding into production brewing. Is this still craft beer? According to the Brewers Association, no.

In contrast to a production brewery, most larger microbreweries use between a 30 to a 60 barrel brewing system. Also most production breweries typically only have one brew system so they'll do big runs of each style, one at a time, unlike Craft breweries which can have several brewing systems where they can produce several batches at a time. What I've seen recently in craft brewing is for a largish batch of a style being made, then changes made during conditioning with adjuncts to make variations (for instance, make a large batch base Berliner Weisse then change up the fruit content so you have several releases from the same basic batch).

An average microbrewery producse around one batch of beer a day to two days. Many still produces beer using 15 barrel systems every 1-2 days for a total of 3000 barrels a year.

A nanobrewery usually uses a 3-7.5 barrel system (a fifth to half the size of a typical microbrewery) and only produces a few batches per week. Nanobrewery output is typically about 1000 barrels a year. In comparison a brewpub typically produces about the same volume per year so about the same size only most of the beer is consumed on-premise.

How about a picobrewery? This is even smaller than a nanobrewery, where the batches are made using a 1-3 barrel system and production is every-other-day to weekly for around 500 barrels a year. Compared to home brewer, which by definition is only allowed to make up to 200 gallons for personal consumption (otherwise you have to have a state and federal license), at 30 gallons to a barrel that comes out to 6.6 barrels each year. Most home brewers start with a 5 gallon system for each batch which is about a sixth of a barrel - also most home brewers brew a batch every couple of weeks to months or until the beer runs out.

So where does that get us? I think the loose thresholds are these:
  1. Production Brewery - More than 6 Million Barrels Annually 
  2. Regional Brewery - 15,000 to 6 Million Barrels Annually
  3. Craft Brewery - Less than 15,000 Barrels Annually
    1. Microbrewery - 1,000-15,000 Barrels Annually
    2. Nanobrewery - 500-1000 Barrels Annually
    3. Picobrewery - Less than 500 Barrels Annually
    4. Home brewery - Up to 6.6 Barrels Annually
Using the above it would put Sweetwater firmly in the Regional Brewery category but it's a bit fuzzy. I think most still consider them a craft beer producer (and with all the specialties coming out of the Woodlands Project there is an argument for this). Terrapin's facility currently can produce about 18,500 barrels annually but it's a moot point, since they're now owned by MillerCoors which takes them out of the craft brewery category.

Thoughts or comments on this?

-- John

Thursday, July 25, 2019

STATS Brewpub - Downtown Atlanta Georgia

You can find STATS Brewpub at 300 Marietta St NW, Atlanta, GA 30313 just up from the College Football Hall of Fame near Centennial Park. Speaking of park, the parking situation around this area basically sucks - you'll have to pay - your best bet is to leave your car in one of the nearby decks or take MARTA and walk around to several nearby things-to-do.

I knew nothing about STATS prior to being invited to attend a private event during DevNexus held by Object Frontier (shout out to those guys for doing this right). I initially entered downstairs in the main bar and then traveled upstairs to a private event space where there was food provided by STATS along with beer, both on tap and in bottles. I've since come in a couple of times and have had their brewed beer (this is a real Brewpub that offers up a few taps of whatever they happen to be brewing).

First the food - I've only eaten what was catered so probably not the ideal experience. I found it pretty generic but filling - for technology groups there's generally a lot of vegetarian options and that was the case here with hummus and pita chips, crudites, etc. They also had nachos and chicken wings that seem to be pretty good (no idea what they are on the menu so there may be a separate catering menu). On my initial visit I had a Kostritzer Schwarzbier black lager and a Paulaner Hefe-Weizen that were both pretty good.

Since then I've had a couple of their own brews:

  • Slug Nutty Imperial New England IPA - I liked this quite a bit - pretty awesome hazy DIPA from STATS. Citrus, juicy and a bit of hops, just like I like with great mouthfeel. 
  • Ryes Up Rye IPA - More IPA than not, good rye nose and a clean finish. 

The service both during the event and in subsequent visits has been very good. At some point I'll come back with a group and try more of the food options. This is the only downtown brewery currently so if you're looking for options and staying near the park, this is a pretty good one.

(Also posted to Yelp)
Stats Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Indio Brewing Co - Sugar Hill Georgia

Indio Brewing Co Temporary Sign
 You can find Indio Brewing at 5019 W Broad St NE Ste M145, Sugar Hill, GA 30518 on the main drag by what looks like local city government.  Parking is in a shared lot or in a basement parking deck if you prefer. You walk from the lot or across a bridge to the building, which has multiple businesses and you'll initially see a Tavern - if you walk around the patio you'll eventually see the door for Indio Brewing.

Indio Brewing Co Folding Sign

Indio Brewing Co Exterior from Patio

I attended Indio Brewing on it's grand opening Saturday 2019.07.21 with Michelle T. and am writing this review the Sunday following. The place is pretty small with a bar that extends from the entry to the back until it hits the brights - seems to be a 5-7 barrel system. There's seating on the right and appears to handle about 25 or so people comfortably with all kinds of space outside on the patio - entering the place was pretty full. On this day it was fairly hot and I was confronted by a menu with 7 beer option and 3 new tapped options to be made available at intervals during the day. We each got a 3/4 pour (the options was 3/4 or full pint pour) and headed outside looking for a shady spot. The patio is fantastic with views of the water feature down below and a pretty amazing amphitheater - kudos to the City of Sugar Hill for providing such a beautiful space.

Indio Brewing Co Interior Bar

Indio Brewing Co Beer Menu

Indio Brewing Co Beer Special Releases

Indio Brewing Co Bright Tank

Indio Brewing Co Sugar Hill Amphitheater

For this initial visit we tried four beers:

* Sunrise Mango and Guava Sour - had a touch of salt so I suspect this is a fruited gose. Very easy drinking for a sour - in the Berliner or gose range with good balance of sugars to bitterness (hardly non). Dry body and finish.

* Tropical Thunder American IPA - Hazy with tropical notes mostly citrus, mango and guava - still a bit green with the typical throat burn, dry body and finish.

* Indio Sweet City New England IPA - Very solid NEIPA with great tropical notes, mostly citrus and juicy body. Dry slightly hoppy finish. This ended up being my favorite of the 4.

* Sour Patch Fruited Sour - Easy drinking sour, warm fruit flavors of pear, apple and citrus, quite good.

Indio Brewing Co Sunrise Mango and Guava Sour

Indio Brewing Co Tropical Thunder American IPA
Indio Brewing Co Indio Sweet City New England IPA

Indio Brewing Co Sour Patch Fruited Sour
I also had a chance to speak with the proprietor, Jonathan who was quite excited and eager to speak with us - seems he really likes the Torched Hop concept and eventually wants to do food too as a Brewpub (on this day there was a small Empanada popup Frita Kale-O which will be familiar to many of you who frequent the breweries) so of course we partook of a pair of empanadas too.

Empanadas from Frita Kale-O Pop-up

I thought this was a very find grand opening indeed with friendly service, relatively short lines and a good initial lineup - I'll be coming back and hope for great things from this brewery!

(review also posted to Yelp)
Indio Brewing Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

My Favorite Knives for Cooking and Meal Prep

I've been asked quite a few times for my opinion on kitchen knives - basically what I like to use and why, so I thought I would put these in a page so I can reference my thoughts without having to repeat myself. As some of my readers know, I was a professional classically trained chef for more than 10 years having started as a pot washer and prep cook, working my way through various production lines and ultimately become a sous-chef at my last place of employment before giving it up and eventually getting into Software Development (I know that sounds strange but you should hear some of the stories from others who end up doing Software Product Management). In any case, the knives you see above are my regular stable - the knives I use in day-to-day cooking (I do 95% of the cooking at home which is why you see the occasion post on food preparation). To understand how I got to the knives above, I need to walk you through the process of how I got there - I'll explain the various knife types as I go and why they are good or bad.

The first kitchen knives I owned were some hand-me-downs and for the most part were pretty bad - they had stainless blades, were hard to sharpen and had slippery varnished wooden handles. Worse, they were quick to dull - part of this was due to a lack of care-knowledge and partly due to the poor quality, especially of materials. When you're younger you just don't know and you tend to take things for granted. At some point, if you start as a lowly prep-cook and start to get on the line you realize that you need your own knives - those provided by a restaurant tend to be for institutional use and are pretty beat up - not that they're all bad. The set below are some of the first I ever purchased - usually there's a knife sharpener who comes around and besides putting an edge on your knives he would also sell blades from the commercial suppliers - that's what these three knives are.

Note the bottom two have plastic, basically indestructible grips that are textured so they don't slip in a sweaty commercial kitchen environment. The top is a chef-knife from The Clyde Cutlery Co - still made in Ohio and popular as a starter blade at many chef schools. The second is a basic Forechner Victorinox-bladed commercial serrated with a Fibrox grip and the bottom is a classic Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe slicer with a no-slip grip. The plastic handle knives in a commercial kitchen are frequently thrown into the Hobart dishwasher for cleaning and are usually beat-up all to crap - that's just the way things are. I recommend that knives are never cleaned this way as over-time it seems to destroy the temper and make them lose their sharpness even quicker. Of these three knives the only one I still occasionally use is the serrated AKA bread knife, especially when there are others helping in the kitchen, as it's still fairly sharp, has 14 inches of blade length and rarely needs sharpening.


Since I mention sharpening let me get into that a bit as it's really more important than the knives themselves - the secret to fast, efficient and enjoyable cooking is to have sharp knives. That's not to say that you HAVE to have a sharp knife - it just makes things better, like ice cream - you don't have to have ice cream on the plate next to your pie, but it sure makes things better.

It's been my experience that in most commercial kitchens the knives are unusually dull - it has more to do with the almost haphazard day-to-day extremes faced by line cooks, as an example, I've used a chef knife to open a gallon can of tomatoes because the can-opener is broken and speed is of the essence - it's that use plus constant dicing/etc that dulls knives. To fix this the better kitchens engage in professional knife sharpening - either they're taken up periodically and taken to a sharpener for a charge (the chefs usually pay the fee - used to be a buck for a knife and 3 dollars for a serrated but I'm sure it's way more now) which means you can only send at most half your knives at a time - it also means you need extra knives as backups which means more sharpening,ext (see where this is going?).

Or you can engage one of the local mobile sharpeners - in Atlanta there was this guy named Geoff Edges (no, really that's his name) who would come around with his van and he would pick up knives, take them outside to sharpen and be back, sometimes for a second pass. Great guy and quite a character and to prove how small the world is, lives in my neighborhood (found this out by accident) and has a shop nearby. Geoff could do some amazing things with knives - for instance, I had an expensive serrated break a took as it took a fall - he dressed it up and sharpened the beast using a narrow band sander - not something everyone carries around.

People in the commercial kitchens that really care about their knives bring them to work every day, either in a wrap or in a tool box (which is what I did). They also keep guard on the blades, not so much to avoid cutting things accidentally, but to avoid dulling or damaging the blades - I still have those as well. But let's get back to the knives.

The next set I got into was during my tenure at Kanpai of Tokyo as a hibachi chef (the technique is actually called Teppanyaki which refers to the flat griddle but Americans are dumb and hibachi, the term popularized by Beni Hana, remains to this day - fyi hibachi actually refers to a small wood-charcoal grill). You basically have two knives during the show in teppanyaki - a paring knife and a chef knife - both need to be well balanced as you spin them over your fingers. They also become really dull, as you can imagine, cutting meats on the stainless steel griddle. I was lucky in that one of the Japanese chefs I trained under (Ura) left me his old chef knife - that's the one on the bottom - so that's what I used when cooking table-side. It's hard to tell but that's an old Japanese made carbon steel knife that's had about half it's blade lost due to sharpening. I love carbon-steel as it sharpens super easily, however it also dulls quickly and rusts. The Seki Yahagiba above it is a more modern high carbon stainless steel knife for cutting sushi and maintains an edge longer and doesn't have to be oiled. I learned to sharpen these on water stones that we kept under the sink - the technique is totally different that what I learned previously.

A bit later I was back in an American kitchen - there was a period back in the 90's when everyone was raving about and had to own a Chinese cleaver - these are broad, thin bladed cleavers that you can really do some miraculous things with (I still have mine - below). The cleaver required some different techniques to get used to - mostly because the grip height if a further distance from the cutting board - difficult for many Americans to learn to use on a commercial counter but there were many benefits - later cooking shows like Yan Can Cook provided some useful tips in their use - for instance using the back of the blade instead of the tip (since it has no point and they're basically the same cut from each edge, why not cut closer to your hand for more control?) example below with similar Clyde chef knife from above to provide some sizing context:

Which brings me to the set I used at my last cooking job at Indigo Coastal Grill. The top knife is my favorite - I think these days they're called Santoku blades (that's the shape) but back in the day we called them hybrid chef-knives. It has many of the qualities of a chef knife with the grip closer to the cutting board, but a wider thin blade so you can still use the techniques garnered from using the Chinese cleaver. The Forschner Victorinox  paring knife was relatively cheap and keeps a good edge so I picked it up too. I ended up with an extra of the Santoku (found it at a flea market of all places, for $8) so have two that I swap out.

This is the set I use day-to-day:

Note that besides the Spiderco Santoku and the Wustof serrated, it's mostly a bunch of paring knives. I use those quite a bit - the "tournee" at the bottom is for cutting round things (like artichoke hearts) - I like having several as it keeps me from having to wash them all the time - I can swap out different knives and put them in the sink and wash them all together.

I also have a bunch of other knives and who doesn't? But for the most part they don't get used. These are all slicers but the scimitars (the curved knives 2nd and third from the bottom) I occasionally use - they're for cutting round things - originally I got those for cutting big fish - if you've ever tried to cut a whole swordfish you'll know what I mean.

As I already wrote, I also like my paring knives. The small serrated (two on the left) are particular useful but can be a bit dangerous to use (since we all tend to get closer to what we're cutting with paring knives, those tiny beast shave off skin like no ones business).
 Various serrated knives
I really don't use these knives at all - I basically just collect them. They're all Case-XX from back-in-the-day. When I was a kid you would go into hardware stores and there was always a Case-XX display, mostly of hunting knives but also these for cooking. They were considered some of the finest made in the US at one time so when I see them cheap I pick them up - nostalgia is a bitch!
 I also find these useful to have - the top is an oyster knife and the bottom is a nice set of kitchen shears - I use those to cut out the spine when I'm spatch-cocking fowl.

 For steels - and yes they are important, I like these two for different reasons - the one on the left is a diamond-impregnated steel and is useful for truly dull knives - they'll put an actual edge on a knife that's past being improved by the steel on the right - which is a traditional magnetized steel. The way a steel works is that it creates a magnetic field on the blade which makes things slide away while cutting (it also smooths out micro-nicks so it improves the straightness of the edge) - for the most part it doesn't really sharpen as that requires removal of material.

So that's about it really. If you're wanting to get into series cooking I would avoid those fancy sets and super expensive knives. They're rarely worth it in my experience. And one other thing, as I've mentioned how you store your knives can have a big impact on their sharpness. I recommend a dedicated drawer in the kitchen for knives only - this will make them much safer (and is good Feng Shui) and it will keep them sharper, longer, but you do also need blade protectors. I also DO NOT recommend those counter top knife blocks - they take up room on the counter and really, how do you clean them? Have you ever shined a light down one of those slits in a wooden knife block? Disgusting!

-- John