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.