I first encountered Velvet Hammer at Eno's. I was wrapping up "research" for an upcoming review and wanted to unwind in Oak Cliff. If you haven't had the chance to drink beer with Jake Reck, the super-bearded bartender who's often working the upstairs bar, you should -- Reck knows his beer, and he's got access to some good ones.
I was letting Reck pour me whatever he wanted, and a procession of small tumblers arrived, filled with locally brewed beers in amber and gold. One of the tumblers contained the Peticolas Brewing Company's Velvet Hammer, and Imperial Red Ale that will drop you like a sledge if you're not careful.
It clocks in at 9 percent ABV. All that booze creates a noticeable bite. You can taste the alcohol, but it's balanced by caramel malt and hops -- a lot of hops. I'm not a huge hops fan, so I called Michael Peticolas to talk out why I find Velvet Hammer so appealing.
It could be the name. Peticolas laughed when I told him I've gotten velvet hammered twice now. The second time I tried the beer at Stangeways, I had two on an empty stomach. (Velvet who?) But it's more likely the balance between the malt (a lot of malt) and hops that's keeping my palate cooled out while I sip.
Peticolas says the types of hops (he uses four for this beer) and the times they're added to the brew also effect bitterness. Just like green tea, which turns bitter when it sits in hot water too long, hops added at the start of the brewing process will punch you right in the palate. Hops added later add a cleaner hoppy flavor, and hops added toward then end of the process offer more aroma. Peticolas drops in a variety of hops during all these stages.
The results speak from themselves. Velvet Hammer is a balanced, rich and floral brew with a creamy head, and it's best local beer I've tried in a while. At least I think it is. It's hard to remember. Maybe I should look for a smaller pour.
Want to try it yourself? It's still at Strangeways and Eno's. You can also hit up any of the bars listed on the Peticolas website. Just call ahead and make sure they have it on tap.