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.