29 December 2007

Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale (DE)

It took me a while to figure out that the "Indian" here is a reference to India Pale Ale, and that this is a combination of an IPA and a Brown Ale (as well as a Scotch Ale, according to the brewer).

It's a pretty hefty beer. It pours very dark brown, nearly opaque, and is medium-to-full bodied. Toss in soft carbonation, and you have a nicely creamy brew. The aroma and flavor are quite rich, with aspects of chocolate and brown sugar, mostly. I sensed some nuttiness as well. What I didn't get much of, however, was the IPA style hoppiness. This clocks in at 50 IBUs, but most of it seems to be buried beneath the malts. I am normally wary of how US brewers feel compelled to load Northwestern hops into beers of any style. In this case, however, I think they could have been more aggressive. As is, the beer skews a hair's too much toward the sweet and malty side, but this is a minor criticism of a very tasty beer.

It's over 7% ABV, but doesn't taste it. What might keep me from knocking back a sixer is the general richness of it, as well as the price (I paid $2.50 for one). It's available year-round, but I think now is the best season for it, as it plays out more like a porter or stout than a mild ale.

23 December 2007

Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager (LA)

This is another one new to my local retailer, although I'm not sure if this simply means new since Katrina. As this downbeat AP report details, the long-time New Orleans brewery was apparently struggling before the hurricane battered them. I suppose it's a good sign that they're currently available in western New York.

Based on the name, I thought Blackened Voodoo was a black lager and was planning on having a head-to-head comparison between it and Orlio. Ratebeer indeed classifies it as a schwarzbier, but Beer Advocate calls it a Munich dunkel. Neither seems spot on. It pours coppery-brown with an off-white head. Smells like an ordinary lager. Somewhat light-bodied and pretty fizzy, Blackened Voodoo tastes only slightly sweet and slightly bitter. On the plus side, it doesn't really have any "off" flavors that I can detect. It's fairly crisp, and I can see downing several of these with spicy food.

Among all the fine craft beers out there, this doesn't stand out. Of course, Dixie isn't really a craft brewery, but an old regional brand just trying to hang on. Sympathy for the brewery might push this into the "worth a try" category

22 December 2007

Orlio Organic Black Lager (VT)

I'd never seen this before in my area, and at the time I bought it, was unaware that it was made by a subsidiary of Magic Hat. Orlio brews three organics: a year-round common ale, an IPA for summer, and this black lager for winter. The brewer describes this as:

A rich medium-bodied black lager whose sweet deep malt flavor is balanced by a moderate hop bite and roasted malt tartness that create notes of bitter chocolate and a slight lingering sweetness.

It pours very dark. Only when holding it up to light can I see my fingers on the other side, along with shades of red. The initial waft of aroma reminds me of pork rinds -- not what you'd like to advertise for an organic beer -- but really that's just roastiness and maybe smokiness. The body is fairly rich with restrained carbonation. The taste is what you'd expect from a nice schwarzbier. Roasted malts, more coffee than chocolate to me. It leans more toward sweet than dry or bitter, and the above description of "lingering sweetness" is accurate.

I don't like this quite as much as Sam Adams' take on the style, but I'd still recommend this for those who like the style or for those seeking all things organic. The truth is, that organic beer is closer to, say, organic apples than organic hot dogs. There's no particular reason its quality should suffer.

16 December 2007

Sraranc Oatmeal Stout/Scotch Ale (NY)

The last two from 12 Beers of Winter, which I'm honestly happy to be rid of.

Oatmeal Stout: My point of comparison here is Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, which for me sets the bar very high. Saranac's take looks comparably appealing, with its very dark body and tan head (although that doesn't stick around). The aroma is promising, but the body lets me down. It's too thin and (again) over-carbonated. The base flavor is roatsed malts, some coffee, and not too sweet. For me, though, it's like a few tablespoons of diet cola have been added to water it down. I don't particularly like it.

Scotch Ale: For this one, I don't have good points of comparison, only having tried a few in the style. The label calls it "a full-bodied, malty sweet ale." It isn't full-bodied; more like medium, although I think Saranac gets the carbonation right this time. Of course it's malty, with caramel sweetness, and there's secondary bitterness as well. In addition, smokiness comes through, as does some booziness (it's 6% ABV). To me, all of this hangs together fairly well until the finish, which is a bit messy. Still, I like this one. In the words of Montgomery Burns: "I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this."

Overall, I wouldn't buy this variety pack again unless it were a necessary compromise with "civilians" (i.e., macro drinkers). I'll probably want to drink the curious Chocolate Amber Lager again (I think I can get singles of that), and maybe the Scotch Ale of Winter Wassail. I could do without the other three.

12 December 2007

25 Best American Microbreweries

TravelHacker -- the blog of airlinescreditcard.com, of all places -- has a list of the 25 best microbreweries in the U.S. I don't put too much stake in these rankings, but they can be interesting, so I figured I'd post it. Lots of usual suspects on the list, but, alas, none of the top NYS breweries made it (Ommegang, Southern Tier, Brooklyn, Southampton).

09 December 2007

Southern Tier Raspberry Porter (NY)

I've never had Southern Tier's Porter or Raspberry Wheat beers. Perhaps the Raspberry Porter is just a blend of the two. It pours very dark, nearly opaque, and only by holding it up to the light can I see any shades of red. The smell is definitely of raspberries. Specifcally, rapsberry seltzer water. That's okay; I don't really expect bottled beer to smell like a pint of fresh raspberries.

The taste is predominantly rapsberry too, nicely balanced between sweet and tart, with some roasted malt in the background. The finish tries to pull back with some dryness, but it's still mostly berries. About their porter, Southern Tier cautions that dark beers are not necessarily strong, and that's true of Raspebrry Porter. The alcohol isn't high, the body is medium at most, and the malts aren't really rich. It's extremely drinkable, though. I really like it, but shouldn't have waited until winter to try it.

I think this is one for those who complain that fruit beers are too light or inspid. It might not convince porter purists, dark beer fanatics, or those who can't abide berries in their beer.

06 December 2007

Rohrbach Brewing Kasey's Kristmas Ale (NY)

Due to either forgetfulness or lack of ideas about the topic, I have yet to participate in The Session. This month, Barley Vine chose the straightforward Winter Seasonal as the topic, and I figured I'd join in.

I chose something local: Rohrbach's is a brewery and restaurant located in Rochester, NY. I went with them because the upside of championing someone local exceeded, in my mind, the downside of writing about a beer most of you can't obtain. Rohrbach's doesn't bottle, but their beer can be found on tap in local bars and other spots (such as at minor league baseball games), as well as in growlers, both at the brewery and in a few stores.

Kasey's Kristmas Ale is "a holiday ale made with chocolate malt and real cherries." That's pretty much it. It smells like chocolate-covered cherries and tastes like them too. The ale pours dark brown with red shading that shows up when you hold it to the light. Foamy white head, some lacing. The scent isn't overwhelming, as though you stuck your nose right in a Valentine's Day candy box, but it's clearly in that direction. The taste follows with sweet, very slightly tart, cherries. If I didn't know what it was, I might think it was chocolate-covered raisins. There are dabs of hops to keep it in check, but it isn't at all bitter. Sweet, but not quite cloying.

For me, the downside is the body. It has the small bubble carbonation I like, but it's kind of watery. I don't know what the alcohol content is, but it doesn't seem high. This isn't a hefty, warming winter beer; in fact, it's a guzzler.

So, ultimately, what's the difference between this and Saranac Caramel Porter which I recently panned for being sweet and thin? I guess I just like the taste of Rohrbach's seasonal better, it's less fizzy, and perhaps I count the fact that Saranac calls its beer a porter against it. That being said, I suspect there are those who would find that the Rohrbach isn't their thing. Kaseys Kristmas Ale's is worth a try if you're in the area. If you aren't, find your hometown brewer's local seasonal and try that instead.

01 December 2007

Saranac Caramel Porter/Winter Wassail (NY)

Two more from the Saranac Beers of Winter 12-pack.

Caramel Porter: This certainly does smell like caramel, but more like those cubes in plastic wrappers rather than something fresh and rich. It looks okay: clear dark brown with ruby tones and a tan head. Taste wise, I'm not one to flinch at the slightest bit of sweetness in a beer, but this is too much for me. The label promises "Fuggles & East Kent Goldings hops for a smooth, yet slightly bitter, roasted flavor." Well, I don't detect much other than caramel. It isn't rich enough in taste for a porter, and the body is too thin. I thought Southern Tier's Pumking was over the top as well, but at least that was big and rich.

Mark at Beercraft blog says drinking this beer is "like licking peanut butter out of a dog's ass." It really isn't (don't ask). On the other hand, it receives fairly decent ratings at ratebeer compared with other Saranacs. I'm not crazy about it, although I didn't pour either bottle down the drain. If I bought this mixed pack again, I'd either cook with Caramel Porter or try to mix it with something else.

Winter Wassail: This is, in my opinion, a bit more successful. It's a crystal clear brown/amber color with a white head. "Look for hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and allspice," says the guy who wrote the label text. The warm spices come through nicely, along with some fruit and some hops that attempt to balance it. My main complaint is the body: it's slightly watery and (again) has too much carbonation. A winter brew in particular should be heftier. Still, this one's fairly decent.

27 November 2007

NYT on NYC Beer Spots

The New York Times Travel section has an article entitled Glasses White with Foam about some NYC spots where you can find good local beer. This doesn't strike me as anything definitive, but may be helpful to visitors (the locals probably know more than the article tells). Still, it mentions some places I've heard praised before, including Ginger Man, d.b.a. and Blind Tiger, which Lew Bryson claims in one of his books as the three best pubs in Manhattan.

26 November 2007

Victory St. Victorious Doppelbock (PA)

Last year, Men's Journal ranked this as one of the 25 best beers in the US. I've like what I've tried from Victory so far (Prima Pils, Festbier), and I really like this one too.

It pours a nice thick, red-tinged brown with an off-white head. The body is correct: medium-to-full and not too much carbonation. It's malty, of course, with some toasty caramel, brown sugar and dark fruit. St. Victorious avoids two pitfalls of doppelbocks: it isn't two sweet, and it doesn't taste too alcoholic (although the around 8% ABV comes through a little). There are some hops at the end which give it a fairly dry finish. This is one of the better doppelbocks I've had.

23 November 2007

Saranac Belgian Ale/Chocolate Amber Lager

Saranac's 12 Beers of Winter has two each of six beers and costs around a buck a beer (before tax and deposit). Knowing this brewery, I don't expect these beers to blow me away in terms of quality (though it would be nice if one did). They will be approached more in the spirit of "oooh, let me try this one next!"

Belgian Ale: The label describes this as a "Belgian Style Ale." I understand that there are rules saying that you have to call it "-style" unless it's actually made in Belgium, but apparently the beer name itself can be "Belgian Ale."

This pours crystal clear, somewhere between amber and copper. I got a decent head out of it and a malty, spicy nose. It's not a textbook Belgian. It's over-fizzed, as are most Saranac beers (that's what the people like). This cuts into the flavor a bit. It's more spicy/herbal and even hoppy than fruity sweet. The finish is on the dry, crisp side of things. I can't pick out any of the fruit subtleties here, such as dark cherries or plums, and in this case I don't think the fault is mine. Still, this is a half decent beer. It's a Belgian for those to whom the word "Belgian" doesn't bring pre-existing expectations.

Chocolate Amber Lager: This one is categorized by the online rating sites as a dunkel. It was bottled two days earlier than the Belgian Ale: 2677 vs. 2697, which as the website helpfully explains, is September 24th rather than the 26th. This baby pours really dark, nearly black. Holding it up to the light reveals just a tinge of red around the corners, and still can't see my fingers on the other side. It doesn't have much aroma, though.

Again, this has too many bubbles for my taste, but the body is heavier than the Belgian Ale's. It's a bit slick going down. The chocolate is dark and bitter, not sweet, and heavily roasted, almost to the point of being burnt or smoky. I actually coughed at first, like a kid puffing his first cigarette. I didn't expect this to be a sweet chocolate syrup -- and wouldn't want it to be that -- but I do think the chocolate aspect is a bit too faint. There's also some coffee in there. Chocolate Amber Lager is more or less in the same ballpark as Beligan Ale in terms of quality, but gains points for being different.

17 November 2007

Magic Hot Roxy Rolles (VT)

To what extent are we supposed to look past imagery, packaging and marketing and focus only on the beer itself? I suppose we should do so entirely. I can't help but think about this when drinking an offering from Magic Hat, a brewery whose imagery is both (a) much of the reason for its success, and (b) in my opinion, awful. I dislike everything about it: the brewery name, the beer names, the label designs, the bottle cap "wisdom," the faux whimsy.

Roxy Rolles is a winter seasonal accurately described as a "hoppy amber ale." The hops are citrus and pine, slight in aroma and a bit stronger in taste (35 IBUs). It's a lot like an APA, but the malts are different, and ultimately offset the bitterness. Without them, it would make a fine, refreshing summer beer (it's even a bit heavy on the carbonation). As is, I don't know if it makes a great winter brew, and you may be able to get the same effect by mixing a hoppy pale ale with an amber ale. I can see some drinkers complaining that Roxy Rolles falls in between two styles, not succeeding at either. Still, I think it works, and am glad I bought a full sixer.

The underside of one of the bottle caps says "Art Show. Fart Show. Make the Beer." It takes a considerable lack of self-awareness not to appreciate the irony of this, Magic Hat, but it's good advice nonetheless, and in this case, good beer.

15 November 2007

Kalnapilis 7.30 (LTH)

Beers of the World has a pretty large selection of Eastern European brews, and it's hard not to resist picking one up every once in a while. A half liter bottle of this plonk set me back a shade over $2. The label brags winning a Gold Award at the 2004 World Beer Cup, something the brewer's lower-alcohol Kalnapilis Original can also claim (as can Labbatt's Blue Light).

It doesn't look bad, kind of cloudy gold with a decent head, and the body has the right amount of carbonation. In both aroma and taste, I convince myself that there's something slightly citric. But really it's mostly cheap malts and alcohol. The hop level is about the same as for an American macro (i.e., low). The difference is that 7.30 brings 7.3% worth of alcohol, and the aftertaste is quite harsh. While Beer Advocate categorizes this as a string European lager, Ratebeer just says it's a malt liquor. For what it's worth, Beer Advocate says it's "worth a try" despite 71% thumbs being down. I think there are better ways to get 7%+ alcohol cheaply, but you have to drink the bad stuff every now and then to appreciate the good.

11 November 2007

Bischoff Doppel Bock (GER)

A 500 ml bottle of this import (dated 24.04.08) cost me $3.50. Bischoff brewery is located in Winnweiler in western Germany. It's a pretty large brewery, although the beers don't seem to be all that common in the U.S. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of this doppelbock proves to be its screw top cap. You don't see that often.

It pours a cola color with an off-white head. To a great extent, this is a standard double bock: malty, with some standard flavors (caramel and licorice, I think). The 7.5% alcohol comes through, which isn't unheard of for the style. There's ultimately a slightly hoppy bitterness to the finish, which is kind of interesting. On the other hand, the beer comes across as a bit light in taste. This is an fairly good beer, but isn't the best doppelbock, and isn't something I'll be buying again given the price.

10 November 2007

Butternuts Moo Thunder Stout (NY)

There's nothing like a can of stout on a cool, wet November afternoon. Yes, Butternuts Beer & Ale sells its products in cans, following the lead of Oskar Blues. I'm all for it as long as you pour the beer into a glass. (See here for a Washington Post article about the can issue.)

The can also calls this a farmhouse ale, and this brewery -- located south of I-90 between Syracuse and Albany -- affects a fairly corny barnyard theme. The website descibres Moo Thunder as such:

This stout beer pays tribute to the Butternuts Brewery's former life as a dairy farm, thus the sexy cow on the can. It's a lighter, more drinkable version of the Stout breed than its heavy, boorish and smelly European sisters. Not too strong, not too viscous (oooh...viscous...creepy).

Unlike a true bovine it has a malty, roasty aroma and a dry finish but no tail or teats, and leaves no unsightly cow pies laying around the yard for you to step in.

The beer pours very dark brown with an unassuming beige head. There isn't much aroma to it, and admittedly not a ton of flavor. It's mostly coffee, maybe with a little milk and sugar for the sweetenss. But as the brewer says, the finish is dry. The CO2 also seems to provide a slight acidic aspect to it. Still, I think I prefer the texture of this to that of the Nitro stouts I reviewed recenlty. The carbonation is nicely restrained, though the body itself could be thicker.

I'd have preferred a richer stout. The taste isn't offensive to me, just weak. Still, this might have some value as a sessions brew ("lighter, more drinkable"). I certainly could have downed a bunch of these.

06 November 2007

Southern Tier Harvest Ale (NY)

This is a fall seasonal, and I had assumed it was ST's Oktoberfest lager (though I guess it says "ale" right on the label). The website calls it a "classic English style Extra Special Bitter of the highest order."

Slightly hazy glden in color, it produces a lasting pure white, lacy head. Harvest Ale proves to be a fairly hoppy APA, but it isn't all bitterness. There's some citrusy hops to be sure, and secondary sweetness. But there's also an unusual bite to it that isn't the bitterness or the sharp carbonation. Overall, it tastes very fresh (though it isn't fresh-hopped like some other harvest ales).

This is another good beer from Southern Tier, better than Phin & Matt's but maybe not as nice as their IPA.

03 November 2007

Beamish Irish Stout/Murphy's Stout (IRE)

I decided to try two Draught-style Irish Stouts, neither of them Guinness, in a side-by-side comparison. This sort of thing can be instructive, but in the case served mostly to remind me how limited my beer vocabulary is at this point.

Both beers look the same: rich, dark brown in color with thick (though artificial looking) heads. Beamish seems to have a slightly more roasted aroma, but it's not a large difference. Even differences in taste aren't huge, although I would notice if I grabbed the wrong glass. I think Beamish has a more nuanced roasted coffee/chocolate aspect. Murphy's seems to have a "lower" taste, metaphorically speaking, sort of like having more bass than treble notes. Also, Murphy's seems to finish with slightly more bitterness. Overall, I prefer Beamish. I can't compare either to Guinness, which I've never had from a Nitro can, and actually haven't drunk in a long time, now that I think of it.

I'm not sure what to think about Nitro cans themselves. They pour a beer that certainly looks nice. I normally love smooth, creamy, low carbonation beers, but these come across as more watery than rich. I found an old comment thread at Lew Bryson's blog which includes this helpful comment from John G., to which I'll add that I'm not sure if these stouts really do have enough "bite" on their own:

Here's the thing. CO2 delivers a "sting" when you drink it (literally from carbonic acid). In a Dry Irish Stout, you have a beer with a significant bite from both roasted barley (traditionally 10% of the grist), and from a high bittering rate (30-45 IBUs), combined with a low gravity body. One can argue, with that much "bite" already present in the beer, that any significant CO2 bite would be "too much" - hence the smoothing effect of the nitro can be seen as beneficial. However, in a hoppy beer, since you don't have the effervesence to bring the volatile hop notes to your nose, you are kind of wasting the point of the beer and supressing hop aroma with the nitro.

01 November 2007

Post Road Pumpkin Ale (NY)

Six-packs of this are readily available at the supermarket, but I decided to pick up a single at my beer retailer first. I'm glad I did too, because I wouldn't know what to do with the other five bottles.

This pours a clear orange-tinged amber with plenty of bubbly activity. The aroma is pretty light, with some nutmeg and cinnamon. The taste follows suit, with the pumpkin, spices and malt making a light presence. There are some hops involved, and it finishes dry. That's fine, but the beer just isn't rich enough for me. I have a problem with the body. It's a bit thin and way over-carbonated. It reaches the point where the fizz impinges on the flavor, as though the whole thing were cut with seltzer.

It's a bit unfair to compare this with Southern Tier's Pumpking. I thought that "pumpkin pie in a blender" brew might have been a bit over the top, but I'd greatly prefer it to Post Road's offering. Even if you prefer dryness to sweetness, I'm not sure if Post Road has enough flavor to cut through the fizz.

29 October 2007

Left Hand Oktoberfest Marzen Lager (COL)

In the glass, this is clear copper with a fluffy, white-tan head that lasts. Much of the expected from this Oktoberfest brew: toasted malts, caramel, toffee, and so on. I'd say this is a bit richer than most others of this style that I've tried. Sweet. The carbonation is also a definite plus for me, with very fine, soft bubbles against a medium body. Very smooth to drink. A few hops jump in at the end, but ultimately don't really balance out the malts. It isn't exactly a clean finish. I was slightly disappointed in the aftertaste, which is a bit messy.

All told, this is an above-average bottled Oktoberfest/Marzens. Still, I don't think this transcends the style, whatever that would mean.

27 October 2007

Unibroue Blanche de Chambly (CAN)

You would think that in Western New York we'd be able to find decent Canadian beer, but even my local beer mega-store -- the much lauded Beers of the World -- only sells Unibroue, Sleeman, Moosehead, Molson and Labbatt's. They have a bigger selection of Ukranian beer. I'm not sure why this is.

Blanche de Chambly (Chambly being a town near Quebec) is a "white ale on lees," or a Belgian-style witbier. The brewer's website lists several advantages for not filtering their beers, including rich flavor, thicker foam, good source a Vitamin B, and "competitive advantage over other brewers." It's a list with a little something for everyone.

The beer pours a lot like a hefeweizen, only without such vigorous swirling. It's an opaque straw color with a head that is hard to control. The aroma is of spices and citrus and coriander (which smells to me like spices and citrus). I like the body, which is medium-to-full with spritzy carbonation. The taste is mostly what you'd expect from a white beer: lemony sweet rather than bitter. It's a bit more tart than I'd expected, which may be what most differentiates it from others of the style.

This is a very fine witbier which maybe would have been better drunk in the summer. (My bottle date is the distant September 2008, which is another benefit of not filtering.) I doubt this is Unibroue's best offering, though it sells for $1 less than most of the rest of the line.

25 October 2007

Clipper City Hang Ten Weizen Doppelbock (MD)

Clipper City was founded by Hugh Sisson, who originally had to fight to loosen up Maryland's strict brewing laws just to get started. A four-pack of this seasonal cost me $9, a bit pricey for a domestic brew. I tried my first one about a month and a half ago and didn't like it much. My notes say it reminded me of a marinade for Asian beef stir fry (soy sauce? sherry?).

Whether it's mellowing of the beer (it's 10% ABV!), cooler weather, or a maturing palate on my part, I'm not as down on it as I was before. This pours a very cloudy dark brown with just a tinge of red. It's pretty full-bodied with unobtrusive carbonation. In terms of taste, there's a lot going on with this malt bomb. It's slightly sweet, but also a bit tart. The alcohol isn't really hidden, and maybe it should have been lower. I peaked at someone else's review that said it had a wine-like tannin character, and I can see that. There's also a bit of licorice. Possibly there's a bit too much going on here.

Ultimately, I think I found Hang Ten to be more interesting than good. But who knows? Maybe over time I'll come to love it. This sipper definitely isn't dull.

20 October 2007

Paulaner Salvator (GER)

This is the original of the "-ator" doppelbock lagers. The Pauline monks brewed and drank this as an end-run around rules about Lenten fasting, and if that was okay with God, it's okay with me. Anyway, I paid nearly three bucks for one 500 ml bottle.

This is a gorgeous red-tinged, crystal clear with a decent off-white head. I also really like the body of this, rich with small bubble carbonation. Of course, this tastes malty. Caramel sweetness and perhaps some molasses, but it's cut by a fair amount of hops. At the end, it brings a pretty good shot of booze. It's not shy about is 7.9% ABV.

This is a big and tasty beer, worthy of its reputation. Whether it's the pinnacle of German Doppelbocks, I can't say.

18 October 2007

GABF Winners

The list of Great American Beer Festival winners is available online. There are 75 categories with three (occasionally two) medalists each, so when you hear that Miller Genuine Draft won a Silver Medal, don't think it's the second best beer in the country. And not every brewer enterred, of course. Still, it looks like the median number of entries per category is around 40, so it's fairly tough competition.

I think I've reviewed two of the winners: Blue Moon Honey Moon (!) won Gold in the Honey Lager/Ale category, and Victory Prima Pils won Silver as a German-style lager.

New York State breweries won only six total medals, compared with more than 40 for California.

16 October 2007

Southern Tier Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale (NY)

Another one from Southern Tier, Phin & Matt's is in fact a pale ale. As mentioned, the brewery's balanced IPA isn't any kind of hop blast, IMO, and their summer wheat beer (Hop Sun, which I have yet to review on this site) is actually a fairly hoppy concoction. So what space does that leave for Phin & Matt's?

It isn't a bitter pale ale. The aroma suggests grapefruit, but there wasn't all that much of that in the taste. It seems lemony to me, and somewhat sweet. It's less bitter than nearly all of the other pale ales I've reviewed so far. Balance is the name of the game. The biggest positives may be the attractive lacy head and the crisp finish. This really should be drunk in warmer weather.

More ordinary than extraordinary, but it's nonetheless a decent beer.

13 October 2007

Southern Tier Pumking (NY)

I paid $5.99 for a bomber of this. Wortwurst over at A Roughneck's Take on Beer says the price is "ghastly," but I'm guessing he paid more for it to cross state borders. This ale has 9% ABV and includes pureed pumpkin alongisde 2-row malt, caramel malt, and magnum and sterling hops.

Abiding the bottle instructions, I chilled this to 40 degrees before drinking, although it warmed up a bit before I finished. The aroma of this copper-colored brew is mostly pumkpin pie, but also a bit of bubblegum or candy corn. It is sweet. The taste is along similar lines, but with a boost of vanilla. If it's pumpkin pie, it has whipped cream on top. Or maybe it's pumpkin ice cream. It's only near the end when I detect some hops and remember that I'm drinking beer. There are appropriate spices as well, most notably nutmeg. All things considered, I think the taste is a bit much. More positively, I don't really sense the alcohol and the body is good: medium-to-full with plenty of fizz.

Many people love this seasonal, although I can imagine others hating it. I'm somewhere in between. I'm glad I tried it -- it really is something else -- but can take it only in small doses.

11 October 2007

Southern Tier IPA (NY)

Southern Tier Brewing has only been around a few years -- Lew Bryson's 2003 book New York Breweries doesn't even mention it -- but has already become one of New York State's top breweries. They're apparently doing a great job with distribution. My nearby Wegmans has shelves stocked with Southern Tier bombers near the back of the produce department (it's also sold in the walk-in beer cooler). I imagine any brewery would love to have that space.

Southern Tier makes a number of "special" beers, but this IPA is one of their standards. The name of the game here is balance. This isn't particularly bitter, not because it lacks flavor, but because it has other things going on. The hop bite is citrus and (to a lesser extent) pine. There's a malty backbone to it as well, and it leaves a pleasant, long aftertaste. I could drink a bunch of these. I recommend this highly, except perhaps for those who want their IPAs to be extreme. For newbies, I would think this would make a great introduction to the style.

07 October 2007

Samuel Adams Octoberfest (MA)

We still haven't seen fall weather yet, but all I have in my refrigerator are autumn seasonals or heavier brews. Sam Adams Octoberfest seems to have a pretty good reputation. But would this prove to be merely an ordinary, "accessible" festbier?

Well, maybe a little. It looks nice, crystal clear amber with plenty of bubbles bouncing around. The body is medium with lively carbonation. I think the flavor is pretty well-balanced between caramel maltiness and some hops to cut the sweetness. It's flavorful, but there's a slightly metallic aspect to it. So this is a good Oktoberfest, but nothing that bowled me over.

Of the five autumn seasonals I've reviewed here so far, I'd still rank Victory Festbier at the top.

06 October 2007

Abbaye d'Aulne Triple Brune (BEL)

I’d never heard of Abbaye d’Aulne before picking up this bottle at $8.70 for a 750 ml, marked down from a steep $13.50 (I'm a sucker for this sort of sale). The “best before” date is October 3rd, so I’m a few days late, but at 9% ABV this beer can presumably hold up. BJCP says that Belgian Tripels are "deep yellow to deep gold in color," so this brown is atypical. It will prove to be in the same neighborhood as Ommegang's epnonymous beer. According to the label, Abbaye d’Aulne Triple Brune is...

A highly traditional fermented beer brewed with malt and top quality hops without any chemical additive.

The cork pops when removed, and I can't help but get a big, foamy head. The beer itself is dark brown with a slightly red tinge. Holding it up to the light reveals that it's filtered clear. I like the body: medium-to-full, creamy, with fine fizz. The taste is of brown bread, chocolate and toffee (Heath bar!). This is definitely a malty dessert brew with a very low hop profile that doesn't provide balance. But I like it a lot. Compared to Ommegang, I think it is less fruity and generally a bit richer, but I'm not tasting these side by side.

I've noticed that the rating sites aren't too high on this, but I think it's wonderful, one of the better beers I've rated. Whether it's a great value, I'm less sure.

02 October 2007

Saranac Octoberfest Lager (NY)

To me, there's something compelling about the stories of mid-tier and regional American beer brands: Piels, Hamm's, Schaefer, etc. These unpretentious brewers couldn't keep up with the big boys in our globalized, ad-driven marketplace, but were also ill-suited to meet the needs of the beer connoisseurs. Some went bankrupt, some were bought out, some survived through contract brewing or new products.

Matt Brewing Company, in response to declining sales of both Matt's and Utica Club, boldly gambled its future on Saranac, and won. I don't think anyone considers Saranac a top-drawer craft brewery, but they are decent beers, affordable and available.

Saranac Octoberfest has the same light blue and white diamond theme as found on Victory's sleeve (Google shows me this is the Bavarian flag). The beer pours golden-amber with a nice beige-tinged head. Not a big aroma, but what's there is predictable for the style. The taste, however, caught me by suprise. I didn't get much caramel or toastiness out of it. Instead, it's grainy and fairly bitter, with a pop of citrus and spritz of mineral water. This isn't a bad lager (though not a really good one either), but to me, it just doesn't fit the season.

29 September 2007

Erdinger Oktoberfest Weizen (GER)

I bought this expecting something similar to an oktoberfest lager. My mistake. This is an ale that is much closer to an ordinary hefeweizen than to a standard oktoberfest brew.

In many respects, this is a lot like Erdinger Hefe-Weizen: cloudy yellow, a bit orange-ish, nice white head, light-to-medium body with pop-rocks carbonation. It's refreshing. The taste is neither hefe banana nor festbier caramel (or maybe it has tiny amounts of both). Certainly, its much more sweet than bitter, although there are a few hops present, plus some toastiness.

It's an okay beer. I would have liked for it to drift further away from hefeweizen and a bit closer to an oktoberfest. 50/50 would suffice; this is more like 70/30.

27 September 2007

Spaten Ur-Marzen Oktoberfest (GER)

Back to autumn. This is considered one of the classic beers of the style, but I'm left feeling I didn't get a fresh bottle. It pours amber, a bit lighter than Victory Festbier. The head doesn't last at all. It smells malty, of course, and a bit spicy. Like Victory, its on the dry side, not too sweet, but it doesn't seem to have as much depth of flavor. I don't detect toastiness to the malt, and its only faintly if at all hoppy. In addition, the palate is on the thin side and slightly over-carbonated (I seem to say that a lot).

Not a terrible lager, but nothing special by any means. I can only guess how much this is attributable to the vagaries of shipping.

26 September 2007

Victory Prima Pils (PA)

A late September heat wave draws me away from the fall beers and right into the arms of Prima Pils, one of the most highly regarded American pilseners. My bottle says "enjoy by Dec 12 07."

It pours a slightly hazy straw yellow with a lacy white head. Body is medium, with good fizziness, but not too rough. It's tasty. I've heard some people describe this as a bit of a hop bomb, at least by the standards of the style. I think it has less bite to it than Ithaca's take on the style. Prima Pils is more balanced though, with some cereal maltiness to it. There's a hint of grapefruit bitterness around the edges, but not too much. It leaves a nice aftertaste too.

I'm glad I tried it.

23 September 2007

Victory Festbier (PA)

This is my first Oktoberfest beer of the season, and the first of anything I've had from this well-regarded Pennsylvania brewery. The label text ranks beer as one of the three keys to any festive event (along with friendship and camaraderie), but it also works for un-festive occasions such as watching the Bills lose.
It pours a nice clear amber, though the head could be better. The aroma is primarily of caramel, but I think it tastes drier than it smells. Not that it doesn't have any malty sweetness to it -- I detected something bready or biscuity. But it also has a nice "kiss of the hops," as the label says (an homage to Schlitz?). Overall, the flavor is nicely balanced, and the aftertaste lingers. The one disappointment is that the body is not as full as I'd like, and I would prefer a little less carbonation.

All told, however, this is a fine, easy-drinking Oktobefest brew.

21 September 2007

Samuel Smith's Organic Lager (ENG)

I grabbed a 550 ml bottle of this at the supermarket from what must have been a Merchant du Vin display: Samuel Smith's, Ayinger, Lindemans. Appreciative of the selection (this wasn't even the good supermarket in my area), I felt compelled to buy something.

Pale lagers get very little respect, of course, but what about one from an esteemed brewer? The first thing to impress me is its terrific head: tall, thick, lacy and durable. The second is its mouthfeel. Wonderfully creamy with fine carbonation underneath, it actually reminds me a lot of a hefeweizen. The taste isn't much like a hefe, although it is a tad sweet, more malty than hoppy. The finish is fairly long and dry, but there's never really any bitterness. Although it doesn't have a lot of flavor compared to other styles, this beer brings much more than you'd find in any macro pale lager.

Rating to style, Samuel Smith's is absolutely killer. Even compared with other styles, I like it and would drink it again. The downside is the price: I think I paid $3.50 for one over-sized bottle, and I assume a four-pack of 12-ouncers costs more than $10.

18 September 2007

Ithaca Cascazilla (NY)

Since I've already reviewed a number of Ithaca beers, I figured I'd tackle Cascazilla. Formerly a fall seasonal, but has been upgraded to year-round status. The label claims this is a "monstrously hoppy red ale." Beer Advocate lists it as a amber/red ale, ratebeer as an IPA. I think the former is more accurate.

It pours clear, somehwere between copper and amber, but its head doesn't last. The body is perhaps a bit too light with moderate carbonation. There's definitely a sweetness to it that distinguishes it from IPAs or pale ales: a bit of caramel and maybe cherries (or maybe it's just the redness that makes me think that). There's also an element of grapefruit hoppiness --nothing monstrous -- and a dry finish. I've had this before, and recall it being a little more potent. My bottle says best before September, so maybe it faded a bit. I am not really complaining, though, as I like the balance. Also, I'd never guess this is 6.5% ABV.

I'd probably recommend Cascazilla as the first beer to try from this brewery.

15 September 2007

Ithaca Excelsior! IPAbbey (NY)

This is the second of four Excelsior! beers I've tried. The bottle is numbered 755 -- I grabbed this particular one because it was the week Bonds tied Aaron's record. Ithaca's informative brewer's blog says "basically, IPAbbey is one hoppy-ass beer fermented with a Trappist yeast rather than the more traditional American or English strains."

It pours somehwere between orange and amber with an off-white head that sticks around for a while. The aroma is sweet and citrusy. I like the body of this: creamy and lighlty carbonated (the brewer says this will be "tweaked" in future batches, but I kind of like the lower level). Other reviews I've read say this is more IPA than Belgian Abbey, and I think they're right. Still, It doesn't taste "hoppy-assed" to me, or at least it doesn't taste bitter. There's a noticeable sweet/fruity element to it, and it doesn't have quite so much of that grapefruit aftertaste. It's nicely balanced, and the aftertaste is long and dry. As far as the alcohol is concerned (9%), it's not really noticeable until you've hogged the whole bottle yourself. This really is more of a sipper.

Ultimately, this is a very good beer, better than White Gold IMO, and worth buying even at the $8-9 price.

13 September 2007

Erie Brewing Presque Isle Pilsner (PA)

I randomly grabbed a single of this while on my way to the checkout at my favorite beer store. The brewer describes it as a Southern German pilsener, which is similar to a Bohemian pilsener (that's how ratebeer has it categorized). I drank this along with my last bottle of Ithaca Pils and found the two brews could hardly be more different.

Presque Isle (named after a state park in Erie, PA) pours a slightly cloudy yellow with a healthy white head. It resembles a wheat beer. The aroma is a bit sweet and bready, and the taste follows suit. More malty than hoppy, the beer has a slight citrusy note. The finish isn't as clean or crisp as I'd like. Still, it's pretty refreshing and has a lively carbonation.

In comparison, Ithaca Pils looks more copper-toned and clear. Its taste is definitely hoppier, and even its texture has more bite. Honestly, Erie's beer is arguably more similar to Ithaca's Apricot Wheat than to its pilsener. I don't dislike Presque Isle, but am not going to rush out to buy a sixer. This probably isn't the best example of the Bohemian or S. German styles, although its congenialty might make it a good try for those still under the spell of macro lagers.

10 September 2007

Sackets Harbor Thousand Islands Pale Ale (NY)

Fortunately, this isn't named after -- or made with -- salad dressing. The brewery is located in the Thousand Islands region of New York near the eastern edge of Lake Ontario. It has been around for about a decade and is apparently expanding rapidly, but this ale was introduced only last year.

It pours an ochre (copper-orange) color with a white head with some lacing. This is a pretty hoppy pale ale, unsurprisingly more in the American style than the English. It's citrusy, but without the dry, grapefruitiness that others have. I sense some malty sweetness. The finish brings a pretty good shot of bitterness to it. It's also pretty high ABV at more than 6%, and I think I can taste that at the end.

I'd rank this fairly highly, close to Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale, which is one I like. Comparatively, the Sackets Harbor either has more dimensions to it, or is too loosely constructed, depending on how you look at it. It's worth a try.

06 September 2007

Wagner Valley IPA (NY)

The Finger Lakes area winery Wagner began brewing beer about a decade ago. In his book New York Breweries, Lew Bryson quotes the brewer as saying that their wine customers enjoy their beer, but not hoppy ones. Maybe this explains why this India Pale Ale was a somewhat late addition to their line of beers.

This pours an copper-orange color with a dirty white head. I caught a whiff of citrus and maybe herbs. The palate seems fine at first -- medium body, tight carbonation -- but it didn't seem to fill my mouth completely. Maybe this is an issue of taste. It didn't seem completely rounded out to me, hitting me on the top of the mouth, but not the tongue. After sampling, I came online to see others were saying about this, and was surprised to see that many rate this as a bit of a hop bomb. I didn't really see it that way (variations among bottles?). It does have a pleasant citrus flavor with a grassy or piney touch too it, but is less potent than most other IPAs I've had and even a few APAs. I don't sense the 6.2% ABV either (which isn't a criticsim). Overall, a beer that merits only a subdued recommendation from me.

04 September 2007

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale (ENG)

Samuel Smith's is one of the few "serious" brewers I remember from before my drinking days. At the time, I don't think I realized they made several different beers. It's sort of like how people say they like"Sam Adams." Which Sam Adams?

I paid about $10.50 for a four-pack of the Nut Brown Ale. A nutty aroma hits during the pour, which yields a clear burnt umber liquid and an off-white head that gives me a foam mustache after sipping. The texture is very smooth with fine carbonation. I think this is a bit on the dry side for a brown ale. The flavor has roasted hazelnut and a touch of hops underneath the malt. As advertised, this has a clean finish. At 5.0% ABV, it's right on the border of what many people consider sessions beers. Cost aside, I could down a bunch of these.

I think I'd rather drink the hoppier Smuttynose Old Brown Dog than this, but they're really two different styles of brown ale. I haven't had a Newcastle Brown -- the other English classic -- in some time, but based on memory, I'd take Samuel Smith's.

01 September 2007

Einbecker Schwarzbier (GER)

Fresh off my happy experience with Sam Adams' Black Lager, I figured I'd try another beer in the style. The Einbecker actually turned out to be very different. My reaction was that this seemed more like a dark lager than a black one, and it turns out ratebeer.com has it listed as a dunkel. The same beer has been labeled both ways, 11.2 ounce bottle says Schwarzbier on the label.

It pours a clear burnt umber with an off-white head. There isn't a lot of aroma, but what 's present isn't very sweet. The body is on the thin side with a healthy dose of fine bubbles. Taste-wise, it's much less sweet than the Sam Adams, with no chocolate and less roastiness in general. It's still more malty than hoppy, and perhaps slightly nutty, but has a clean, dry finish the Sam Adams lacked.

I prefer the Sam Adams overall, although that may be influenced by the fact that I paid half as much per bottle (an on-sale six-pack versus a loose single exagerrates the price difference). Which one you prefer will depend on your tolerance for sweetness. Even then, the Einbecker strikes me as unexceptional.

30 August 2007

Michael Jackson, RIP

I just saw online that Michael Jackson, the beer writer, has died.

Samuel Adams Honey Porter (MA)

The Boston Beer Company likes customer voting, and this brew beat out a smoked lager to make it's way into S.A. Brewmaster's six- and twelve-packs. It's not a new beer, though. It was discontinued but now has returned.

This revenant brewski pours a very dark into the glass, but I can just see my fingers on the other side. A nice beige-tinted head doesn't last, but produces a web-like lacing, looking a bit like a honeycomb. The aroma has a bit of honey to it, but when I bury my nose in the glass I get a whiff of coffee grounds. On my palate it feels perhaps a touch above medium bodied. Fine-bubbled carbonation; not too much, but more than Guinness et. al. The taste is of roasted malts, some coffeee, and honey along the borders. The label brags of Scottish heather honey. Oh, sure, definitely Scottish heather. The finish is dry with a hint of hoppiness to it. Some people say this beer is too sweet, but I don't agree. Maybe this is what happens if you mix a traditional English porter with Blue Moon Honey Moon Ale.

It's a good beer. All told, I like the Black Lager best of the pack, although the time of year was in its favor.

25 August 2007

Samuel Adams Black Lager (MA)

There aren't a ton of Schwarzbiers around. Here in New York, Saranac makes one. There's Xingu from Brazil, the classic Franconian Kulmbacher Mönchshof, and a handful of others. The style can be viewed as a lager version of stout, or perhaps one step up the ladder beyond dunkel.

The Sam Adams certainly looks like a stout, though perhaps with more light passing through. It even has a nice fluffy beige head. The taste is malty and roasted, with some hints of chocolate. Based on what I've read about the style
, this one is a bit on the sweet side and has a lower hop presence (i.e., practically none). Not that the style is ever hoppy or bitter, but some descriptions talk about a dry or crisp lager finish, which I didn't really detect. Compared with a stout, there is (of course) a huge difference in body. The Sam Adams is still pretty creamy -- medium bodied with moderate carbonation -- but isn't quite the same as a Guinness milkshake.

Facile comparisons to stout aside, I really like this. It certainly is one of the tastier lagers I've had, and would a great smooth-drinking session beer. Now I want to try one of the classic German Schwarzbiers.

Food note: the German Beer Institute suggests using black lager as a substitute for white wine in fondue. I'll have to try that too.

23 August 2007

Samuel Adams Brown Ale (MA)

A mixed six-pack -- two each of Brown Ale, Black Lager and Honey Porter -- cost me only $5.99 on sale. I've actually never had any of these.

First up for me is the Brown Ale, which admittedly seems the least regarded of the three. Two years ago, Sam Adams let their customers vote on their next brew, and this beat out a pilsener. The Brown Ale is red-tinged and has an off-white head. I smelled a bit of caramel from the glass, and this was confirmed with my first swig. The sweetness quickly fades and is replaced by a roasted, dry finish that reminds me a bit of burnt nuts. I don't think it all comes together. Sam Adams Brown is more hoppy than Rock Art's but less so than Smuttynose's. Overall, I probably like the Sammy the least of the three, slightly preferring Rock Art as an easy-drinker and strongly favoring Smuttynose for substance. One thing I do like about Samuel Adams Brown is the body, which is medium with the right amount of carbonation. Nonetheless, this is merely a decent beer, and I may decide to cook with the second bottle rather than drink it.

19 August 2007

Blue Point Blueberry Ale (NY)

Conspicuously absent from the label of this fruit beer is the word "wheat." Many (most?) fruit beers use a wheat ale base, but the Long Island-based brewery uses golden ale.

I could smell the blueberries while pouring. The color is amber tinged with red. If they're ever bought out by some big corporation, they'll probably start using blue food coloring. It goes down very easily with its light body and medium carbonation. The taste is more tart than sweet, which isn't to say it's a sour beer. The lack of sweetness isn't unusual, as the BJCP style guidelines remind us:

Remember that fruit generally add flavor not sweetness to fruit beers. The sugar found in fruit is usually fully fermented and contributes to lighter flavors and a drier finish than might be expected for the declared base style.

Blueberry Ale reminds me a bit of of blueberry seltzer water, although with less acidic fizz. It doesn't have much beer-ness at its base. Is this what happens if you use a non-wheat foundation? I think this may make it more appealing to non-beer drinkers, but it isn't going to convert those who dislike fruit beers. I'd rather drink it than most other fruit beers I've tried, mainly because I like blueberries.

18 August 2007

Erdinger Hefe-Weizen (GER)

Not too many Summer Saturdays left, so I have to drink the hefeweizens while I can. I paid $2.85 for a half liter bottle of what I believe is Germany's top-selling hefe. But is it supposed to be like this?

It pours a nice yellow-orange color topped by thick white foam, but the head is gone before I can snap a picture of it. The aroma isn't strong; only slightly fruity and maybe spicy. What a dislike is the level of carbonation: way too high for a weissbier. It undercuts the creaminess of the texture (it is rightly medium-full). I don't get much citrus or banana either, and, of course, no hops. So what is this?

My first thought is a bad bottle. When I tried Paulaner Hefe earlier, I had to disregard the first bottle, which was bad in a similar way. A few differences here, though. First, it's a matter of degree. The Paulaner was more severely awful. Second, the Paulaner was a bit old, while the Erdinger is dated drink by January 2008. Third, reviews at Ratebeer and Beer Advocate suggest that the Erdinger really is supposed to have a lot of carbonation for its style. Some like it ("lively carbonation"), but a number of critics describe a beer very similar to what I tried. So maybe this is just a poor brew. I might buy another bottle and add an update.

Update: I did in fact try another bottle a couple of weeks later and it was much better. Still fizzier than I'd like, but much more flavorful than the previous bottle. I wouldn't rank it as high as the Paulaner, but it's still a good hefeweizen.

17 August 2007

Craft Beer Tasting and Sales Report

Somewhat interesting article at CBS SportsLine by non-craft beer drinker Greg Hardy. His "beer nerd" friend leads him through a tasting of 11 beers, including Three Philosophers, Brooklyn Pilsner and Anchor Liberty. These aren't great beer reviews -- they're not supposed to be -- but it's nice to see a generally positive report at a big website.

Meanwhile, the Brewers Association reports good sales of craft beer: up 11% compared with this same period in 2006. Also, "craft beer sales in the supermarket channel through July 15th, 2007 showed a 17.4% increase in dollar sales compared to the same period in 2006."

16 August 2007

Rock Art American Red Ale (VT)

I paid $2.25 for a longneck single, which is really too much. Maybe this is cheaper in Vermont. If I interpret the label correctly, my bottle was filled on June 28th. Do they only bottle on the 28th of each month or am I misinterpreting?

"Super Glide" is this beer's nickname, and it is indeed a smooth brew. There's a malty, somewhat sweet aroma emitted from dark brown liquid (just a tinge of red). The body is maybe a bit on the high side of medium, and there's the right amount of carbonation. The taste is slightly roasted malt with a caramel sweetness. This seems to be on the low-hop end of the scale for a red ale (the same could be said for Rock Art's brown ale). Hopheads won't like this much. If you want an easy-drinking ale, this could be your baby. Good, IMO, but a bit pedestrian.

By the way, that's Kokopelli on the label, a fertility god who is more associated with the Southwest US than New England.

14 August 2007

Peach Sorbet with Beer

The nature of beer rating/blogging dictates that you'd usually rather rate a new beer than drink another bottle of one you've already tried. This is made worse for me by the fact that I rarely drink more than one beer in a sitting. The solution? Cooking with beer.

I decided to modify a recipe for Bellini Sorbet from Liddell and Weir's book Frozen Desserts (recommended for those with an experimental side). The book calls for 375 ml of Prosecco. Not wanting to spend $10 for a quart of sorbet, I decided to use a bottle of Ithaca Apricot Wheat.

Blend together four large peaches, skinned* and stoned, and one cup simple syrup#, then push through a sieve. Stir in the strained juice of one lemon. Chill. When cold, stir in 10 ounces of cold fruit beer and pour into your ice cream machine. As always, the output from the machine will have to go into the freezer before serving.

What's it taste like? It tastes like peach sorbet made with beer. If I were more energetic, I'd see how it tastes with the champagne, or possibly other fruit beers, to find the ideal mix. As is, it's pretty good.

*skin peaches by boiling in water for about 45 seconds.
#stir together 1 cup water and 1 1/4 cups sugar (you'll have more than you need). It will go quicker if you heat it up first.

13 August 2007

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale (NH)

This is considered one of the archetypes of the American-style brown ale. Poured from a 12-ounce bottle (drink by October 2007), Old Brown Dog looks like tea or instant coffee. I didn't get much of a head, but may have been my fault (soap residue on the glass, perhaps). I detected a definite malty aroma (of course) and some brown sugar and spice. My first reaction was that this is over-carbonated a bit. The body itself is on the light side of medium, not "fuller-bodied" as claimed by the brewer. On the positive side, the taste is very nice. Malty, roasted and somewhat sweet, but also slightly hoppy with a dry finish.

Allaboutbeer identifies the pros and cons of the American take on brown ale:

An initial whiff [of the American style] reveals that something is absent, but something else is aggressively present. Missing are the subtle contributions of the yeast, as American browns are often made with a neutral yeast with little or no character of its own. Present, however, is a forceful dose of aroma hops with the very familiar Cascade variety the most common. A taste will reveal yet another divergence from the English browns. American browns are bigger in all ways-higher in gravity, bitterness, and alcohol.

So do the extra hops justify the loss of subtlety? I dunno. I prefer Old Brown Dog to the Brown Bear Brown Ale -- which is in the British tradition -- but I'm not sure if my preference is a question of style or of the quality of the brew.

11 August 2007

Ithaca Excelsior! White Gold (NY)

Having just tried an Ithaca 12-pack, I figured I'd dip into their Excelsior! premium series. This is described as a Strong Pale Wheat Ale. You can read the brewer's notes here. "Excelsior" is the motto of New York State, perhaps inspired by Longfellow:

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star, Excelsior!

More to the point, from the bottle:

Enjoy the glowing opaque appearance, aromas of spice and herbs, zesty mouthfeel, and dry finish.

All of this is true. The beer pours a hazy yellow out of the 750 ml wine bottle (but with cap, not cork). The word "citrusy" should probably been included above. Taste-wise, this beer hit all parts of my mouth: a bit of lemon or orange, some spices, and a dry finish. The body is medium with a fair amount of fizz to it. I couldn't really feel the full 8% ABV while drinking, but it hit me afterward. I bought this thinking it would be suitable for summer, but hot weather + high alcohol = nap time for me.

This is a good beer, but probably not worth the $8-9 for the utilitarian consumer. I suspect people would say I bought the wrong Excelsior. I also have the Belgian IPA from the series sitting in my cellar; the other two are a coffee doppelbock and a rye barleywine. Whether this is a complete success or not, I am glad Ithaca is producing high-end brews, and admire them admire for taking chances with styles.

08 August 2007

Ommegang Abbey Ale (NY)

Cooperstown's Ommegang brewery will be 10 years old this fall, but it has had a pretty good decade. In 2003 it was sold to Duvel Moortgat, and the label says this was brewed and bottled in Belgium. Thankfully, it's not priced like an import. I paid $4.99 for a 750 ml at my local supermarket.

It pours a deep burgundy color with a tannish head that lasts. The smell is somewhat fruity and perhaps a bit roasted. It's medium bodied with a moderate amount of carbonation. The taste is malty with dark fruits in the background: figs, raisins, plums and whatnot. Maybe a little chocolate cake as well. The finish definitely lingers. At 8.5% alcohol this is a strong ale or a double, though it wears it well.

If you've never tried this style, I'd point out that all the talk of fruit doesn't mean this is a fruit beer. It's a strong, dark ale; this ain't Magic Hat #9. I'm not experienced enough in Belgian-style ales to know how Ommegang compares to the best, but this is very good brew.

05 August 2007

Stone Ruination IPA (CA)

A world apart from the hippy dippiness of Flower Power is the gargoyle imagery of Stone Ruination India Pale Ale. This was only recently made available in 12-ounce bottles. I think I paid $3.50 for a single.

The matriculated imbiber is not numb to the rambunctious rash of bitterness --- indeed that is a major element of the allure --- however they are also able to look beyond the well spoken yet understated malt presence.

No, these aren't the prentice musings of a beer blogger in training. It's from the back of the bottle. I've never seen a beer with so much back of the bottle text. A lot of it is hop head machismo, although there is a helpful warning about keeping your distance unless you are a "confirmed hop head." This isn't the brew to use to convert your Corona drinking buddies to "serious" beer.

The beer pours a clear orange/gold color with a head that isn't purely white. You don't have to stick your nose in it to smell it. The hops are very big (100+ IBUs indeed), but also varied. Some citrus, some floral, maybe some herbal touches. I also tasted a bit of malty sweetness. I honestly didn't find it to be as bitter as other IPAs or even pale ales I've tried. The body is medium-to-full with nice tight bubbles. I could really feel the alcohol (7.7% ABV); this could warm you up on a cold evening. All told, I like this a lot, although not as much as the die hard hop heads do.

04 August 2007

Ithaca Flower Power IPA (NY)

This is the last of the four for me to try from my Ithaca summer pack. The website claims this was part of their winter variety pack as well. I'd think that most American breweries would have an IPA year-round given the popularity of the style, but maybe it's over-crowded.

This IPA pours a nice clear goldenrod color with a decent head. I think my neighbors could smell the citrus. I was surprised to see the brewer talks about this as having floral (well, look at the name) and herbal hops, although they do mention fruitiness. To me, the taste is predominantly of grapefruit, somewhere in the neighborhood of the pale ales from Smuttynose and Ellicottville. Flower Power is a lot higher ABV (7% vs. 5% for Smuttynose, 5.5% for EBC), which isn't really noticeable. Of course, it's an IPA, not an APA. In addition to the citrus, Flower Power in fact does have a bit of a floral taste, and generally has more going on than does the Ellicottville.

I think this is the best beer from the summer pack, although I might drink Partly Sunny instead depending on my mood. Would I buy this 12-pack again? No, but being a beer rater and admittedly a bit of a lightweight drinker, I don't have time for much re-purchasing. I'd like to recommend buying some of these Ithacas individually, but I think only the Apricot Wheat is available outside the variety pack. That's the weak link to me (but it's their best seller).

02 August 2007

Blue Moon Honey Moon Summer Ale

A sweltering day requires another summer brew, so I grab my last Blue Moon. I had tried and liked the original Blue Moon Belgian-style White, so I bought a six-pack of the Summer Ale for something like $6.50. Is this a US or Canadian beer? My bottle says its brewed in Toronto, but everyone seems to credit it to the Coors half of the Molson Coors conglomerate. Not that it matters much.

I don't like Honey Moon as much as the Belgian White. It does have a pleasant honey smell and taste, but is still pretty light tasting. It's also over-carbonated. Nonetheless, on a hot day it hit the spot. The distribution power of Molson Coors means you'll find Blue Moon in places that you won't find microbrews. And it is fairly cheap.

31 July 2007

Ithaca Pils (NY)

Ithaca introduced its pilsener in March of this year, and as far as I can tell it's only available on tap and in the summer 12-pack. Here's the brewer's blog post from February 2nd. "It’s a German-style Pils, brewed strictly with ingredients from Germany."

I think every pilsener rating at either ratebeer or Beer Advocate includes the words "this isn't my favorite style." I won't even bother to say that. The Ithaca certainly looks like a proper pilsener: straw colored and clear with bubbles ascending. The texture is sort of that fine grain sandpaper, with all the small bubbles scraping your throat on the way down. I mean that as a compliment. I might have liked to taste a bit more here. It's moderately hoppy and sort of grassy (mulchy?) and has a hint of grapefruit juice in its finish. Give this a try if you're a pilsener fan or thirsty Cornell grad student.

30 July 2007

Ithaca Apricot Wheat (NY)

This is the second bottle from my Ithaca Summer Variety Pack. The website description uses the words "light," "easy drinking" and "fun," so it's pretty clear what they're aiming for. It pours clear and straw-colored with little foam. As promised, it smells and tastes like apricot. I don't find it to be soda pop sweet, which is the problem I've had with other fruit beers. Instead, it just doesn't have enough going on. I'd like to have tasted something more than apricot; after the sweetness passes, there isn't much there. I don't think this is a bad beer -- it is easy-drinking -- but I prefer Partly Sunny.

29 July 2007

Paulaner Hefe-Weizen (Germany)

The link I have to About.com is for an article entitled Top 10 Top Ten Beers Every Beer Lover Should Know by Bryce Eddings. This is one of them. The list isn't supposed to be the 10 best beers ever, but is meant to show classic beers of various styles. I think few would argue against the inclusion of this Bavarian unfiltered wheat ale, and if you're just developing an interest in beer, you should try this.

This is a style I like (admittedly, a fair number doesn't seem to). I had tried the Paulaner earlier this summer but got a bad bottle: overly fizzed, no taste. Giving it another shot, I paid $2.50 for this 500 ml bottle dated 11/06. Not exactly new, but as best I can tell, there's nothing bottled in '07 available in the US.

Anyway, this is a great beer. Nearly opaque orange-yellow with a head your pet mouse could fall asleep on. The creamy body blows me away. The taste is fruity, but not too much so. Hefeweizens are described as good summer beers, but it would be wrong to consider this insubstantial. The combination of the rich body, slightly high alcohol (5.6%) and larger size would keep me from drinking too many of these in one sitting.

Note: this site has a nice tasting of several German hefes, but doesn't include the Paulaner. For the record, I didn't put a lemon slice in my beer, and I know that's not a proper hefeweizen glass.

27 July 2007

Ithaca Partly Sunny (NY)

I bought a summer variety 12-pack from Ithaca Beer Company ($12.85) containing three bottles each of this, Flower Power IPA, Pilsener and Apricot Wheat. I believe the last of these is the only year-round offering among them. If you must try one brew from Ithaca, it should be Cascazilla Red, but we'll see how this goes.

This is described as a "classic Belgian Wit," which might be a bit flattering. It pours a partly cloudy (heh) yellow with a head that doesn't last. I like that it's not too fizzy. The taste is somewhat fruity, but really not all that sweet. It's kind of malty. According to the website, Partly Sunny is "spiced with coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, ginger, nutmeg, mace." I couldn't quite identify all that, but I'll admit to being the type of beer drinker who probably wouldn't. This finish seemed a little off as well, as though it belonged to a different beer. Still, all things considered, this is a pretty good summer ale. But it's up to one of the other three beers to dazzle me.