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.