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.