30 December 2008

Drunken Dogs a Bad Idea

In an article that reminds you that you're not reading the New York Times, the Boulder, Colorado Daily Camera informs us that it's not good to get your dog drunk. Apparently, you don't have to worry about cats though: 

"Cats don't usually overindulge out of their own volition," [Veterinarian Dr. Lee] Woods said. "But dogs want to join the party."
So score one for dogs. Also:
All the intoxicated dogs Woods has treated this season drank beer, except for one that had too much of a mixed drink and another that was given marijuana.
Apparently, college students are to blame for much of the wasted dog phenomenon. The piece quotes a 38 year-old former University of Colorado student:
"They used to blow bongs into their (dogs') ears," he said, referring to the irresponsible partiers of his youth. "I'm sure dogs got plenty of second-hand smoke in this neighborhood."
I'd love to now how the reporter tracked down this guy for the quote. He just pops into the article out of nowhere. Random man-on-the-street interview? Is he in her rolodex?

The whole piece strikes me as really funny.

28 December 2008

Orval (BEL)

I'm a neophyte when it comes to sour beers, so Orval has to take one for the team here. This was bottled in February of this year, and what a bottle it is! I always liked the distinctive shape, but never knew it was of such skull-cracking heft.

The beer's head is world class, with its stiff peaks and longevity (it was still there after I finished drinking). Nice fruity smell and light-ish texture. The first sip is all tartness (green apple jolly rancher?), and it took me a bit to look past this and notice other flavors. It isn't an awful sourness to me, but I felt as though I was enduring it more than enjoying it. I think I'd appreciate it a bit more in warmer weather. I didn't really detect any horseblanket or leather or anything like that, although there was some fruitiness and a nice dry finish. 

Does the brett increase with age, or decrease? I've read both; maybe it peaks at some point. Either way, I'll give you another shot someday, Orval.

26 December 2008

Chimay Bleue (BEL)

2008 is apparently Chimay's 25th anniversary in the U.S. So how many people drank this here back in 1983? Nowadays, Blue (aka Grande Reserve) is available even in high end supermarkets. I'll leave it to others to debate whether the increase in distribution has come at the expense of quality.

The cork on 750 ml says 11/07, but I couldn't know that until I popped it. Elsewhere on the label it says "L07-726," which I hope hints at the bottling date. You shouldn't have to uncork this to know how old it is. Blue pours amber/brown which is slightly hazy, even though I was careful to keep the yeast at the bottom of the bottle. The fruit aroma is striking. It's not dark fruits; more like tangerine and apple. This fruitiness comes through initially on the tongue, but then plums, raisins and brown sugar take over. It's a neat effect though: a big beer with a fruity lightness to it.

What I'm less enthused about is the effervescence of it all. This is a pretty highly fizzed beer, which is something I personally don't favor. The head doesn't last long enough to be photoed. I suppose it does help create the perception of lightness though. The 9% ABV doesn't come through until you're already buzzed.

So I think this is very good, but not earth-shattering. Still, if you haven't already tried this, you pretty much have to eventually.

21 December 2008

Victory Baltic Thunder (PA)

I found bombers of this on sale with a drink by date 12/31/08. I figured it's a big enough beer (8.5%) so as not to show signs of wear. The brewer says it combines the "enticing, toffee roast of the British porter" with the "soothing, subtle fruit nuance of contemporary brews that flourish from Helsinki to Vilnius." It also comes right out and says it's a lager. My understanding is that's often, but not always, the case with this style.

It pours a lovely clear dark ruby with a nice tan head. The texture is very smooth. The taste is faintly roasty and fruity, but not as doppelbock-ish as other Baltic porters I've had. Alas, it also comes off as a touch watery despite it's heft, although it improves as it warms. The finish dries out and has some German-tasting hop presence. I didn't sense the 8.5% ABV, at least not until I was done.

Maybe the bottle could have been fresher after all. It's still a nice beer, but not something I am going to make to hunt down next year.

20 December 2008

Blithering Idiot/Old Horizontal Barelywines

Two more barleywines, both from Pennsylvania.

Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot: This is the first beer I've tried from this brewery. It's a whopping 11.1% ABV; I cannot find a 'drink by' fate on the bottle. Compared with the others, it's very cloudy, and slightly orange. The aroma is very fruity in an almost candy-ish manner Maybe it's fruit Bubble Yum or Orange Flower Water. The taste isn't that sweet, although it indeed skews malt > hops. Tummy warming comes alcohol after the fact. Good, but doesn't top Anchor's entry, IMO.

Victory Old Horizontal: I didn't realize at the time that I picked out four English-style barleywines. This one isn't like the others: it tastes American, i.e., more hops. The bottle is dated October 31, 2013, so I'm guessing it's pretty new and maybe could have benfitted from some aging. Citrus hops hit right away in the nose. It's clear, dark amber in color, and the only barleywine that yielded a great head (though this may be my fault in pouring). Fairly sharp carbonation, which is a strike against it I suppose. Overall, though, it's a tasty combination of plummy sweet malts and citrus/floral hop bitterness.

I drank Sierra Nevada Bigfoot some time ago, and I don't think I was ready for it. Even now, I have to say I prefer the malty barleywines to the hopped up ones. So this means Old Foghorn is my favorite, but if you demand hops, Old Horizontal is a better choice, though even then not the ideal.

17 December 2008

Beer in New York Supermarkets?

There's been a bit of talk about Governor David Paterson's proposed increase in beer (and other) taxes in New York to try to fix the budgetary problems, but lost in the mix is his proposal to permit wine sales in grocery stores. In New York, you can't buy wine in supermarkets. Liquor stores fight to retain these protectionist laws, and supposedly local wineries do so as well, worrying that broader sales could drag more California wines into the state and hurt their sales.

I can't defend the protectionism, but I do believe that these laws have allowed great beer stores like Beers of the World and Finger Lakes Beverage to flourish. A corollary to the laws is that liquor stores can only sell wine and spirits, not beer, so beer retailers have a bit of space carved out for them. Then again, if supermarket giants like Wegmans could sell bottled wine, they might swap valuable store space from craft/imported beer to wine.

Two interesting (?) side notes. First, you can't buy bottled wine at Wegmans, but you can sit and drink a glass or two at the food counter nestled in between the bakery and fish department. Second, frustrated by their inability to sell wine, one member of the Wegman fanily recently bought out a local wine retailer and built a 45,000 square foot behemoth down the street from their flagship supermarket. I'm not sure if they would have done that if they had been able to sell wine in their stores all along.

13 December 2008

Old Foghorn/Horn Dog/Below Decks Barleywines

For whatever reason barleywine is a style I'v barely explored. I haven't reviewed one yet on this site, and I think the only one I've ever tasted was Sierra Nevada's. So I picked up five barleywines -- or as they're all American, "barleywine style ales" - to help me survive the cold. Three now, two later.

Anchor Old Foghorn: From the US perspective, this is the original, so I figured I'd start with it. The bottle is dated 7SG, i.e, 2007, September 7th (G is the 7th letter). Nice clear, mahogany colored brew. Quite viscous in texture and delightfully low on carbonation. Kind of a pruney/raisiny maltiness to it, but also some citrusy hops. Caramel and/or toffee as well. By today's standards, this is fairly low in alcohol (under 9%), but it's still a sipper all the way, due largely to it's thick texture and rich taste. I thought it was fabulous.

Flying Dog Horn Dog: This is a bit higher in ABV at 10.2%, and pours hazier out of the bottle, but it has a similar aroma (Cascade hops again) and similar viscosity to Anchor. Again, it's from 2007. It claims 45 IBUs, which really isn't a lot given the malt level. Nonetheless, I found this to be hoppier than others, with sort of a citrus rind hit to it. Some dark cherries come through as well. Also a very good beer, but maybe not quite as great as Anchor.

Clipper City Below Decks: Another Maryland brewery (Flying Dog having moved from Colorado). The bottle is dated 2006. Retailers must love barleywines, as you don't have to worry much about old bottles. I think all three of these are considered English-style barleywines, but Below Decks actually uses English hops (Fuggles, Goldings). Thus, a different non-Cascade aroma. The beer also has some yeast floaties in it (my fault because of an aggressive pour?). It's sweeter than the others and a bit less thick. Also, at 10%, the alcohol comes through a little more than for the others. Licorice, molasses and fruit flavors abound. This seems to have a lesser reputation than Anchor and Flying Dog, but I don't really see why. They're all pretty close.

High Falls Wins European Beer Star Awards

High Falls Brewing of Rochester, NY won three medals at the European Beer Star Awards in Germany. As you can see, US breweries did well; Deschutes, Stone and Firestone Walker were among the winners. High Falls won golds for Genesee and Dundee Honey Brown, and a bronze Dundee Porter. For some reason this reminds me that there are five teams from the MAC playing in bowl games this year.

Genny won for "Bottom Fermented beer with alternative cereals or field crops." More respectably or New York brewers, Ommegang won a medal for their eponymous ale, and Saranac won for their very nice Pale Ale (as the yanks swept the English Pale Ale category). Also, a Namibian brewery won a gold for a Mild Ale, while South American breweries won medals in the Dry Stout, Sweet Stout and Porter categories.

10 December 2008

Corsendonk Christmas Ale (BEL)

I'm not quite in the Christmas mood yet, but figured I'd write this one up well in advance. I actually bought the bottle last year in an post-Christmas sale ($2.97). It was one of the few times my local retailer had a sale that didn't involve beer beyond its sell by date. At 8.5%, Corsendonk Christmas Ale is big enough to cellar, and I drank it a year before its best before date.

Liquid bread? This is more like liquid cake. It pours dark brown, but when held to light proves to be translucent and red-tinged. Great head. On the tongue, its a very rich beer, although it still has a fair amount of carbonation to cut through the body. The taste is chocolate cake, toffee and anise, among other spices. Yeah, it's sweet, but not over the top. The alcohol doesn't come through, but I couldn't drink more than one because of the rich dessert-ness of it. All told, a very good beer for this time of year. 

06 December 2008

Efes Pilsener/Bare Knuckle Stout (TUR/NH)

Efes Beverage is a swaggering international corporation based in Turkey. They apparently sponsor a basketball club where Mehmet Okur and Hidayet Turkoglu used to play (and where former Syracuse Orangeman Preston Shumpert currently plays, but I digress).

Their pilsener isn't all that bad. I think this a beer that our European cousins have seen around a lot, but it's new to me. It tastes like a second tier Euro pils, with grainy malts and light, grassy hops. Not much kick, but nothing off about it either, and it's reasonably crisp and refreshing. I liked it with a spicy stew.

Bare Knuckle Stout is A-B's attempt at a Guinness clone. I'd never heard of it before and ordered it in an out of town hotel bar thinking it might be a local beer. A-B only sells it on tap I think. It certainly has the look down, complete with cascading foam, and the nitrogen texture, for better or worse. Taste-wise, it comes across as a somewhat watery version of Guinness (which isn't the stoutest stout to begin with). Still, it wasn't bad, and I'd order it again in an A-B exclusive location (or maybe I'd order American Ale).

But who's going to drink it? This isn't Anheuser-Busch trying to overhwelm tiny microbreweries. Guinness has formidable marketing and distribution of their own. Also, I can't imagine the Guinness fanboys switching even if BK Stout were superior. Is Bare Knuckle destined to be the stout of choice in unlikely places (e.g., hotel and airport bars)? Or does A-B plan on doing some serious arm-twisting to take taps away from Guinness?

03 December 2008

Over-Priced Beer at Sporting Event!

Shocking news out of England. Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion are being accused of over-charging their fans for a pint. Liberal Dem MPs are raising a fuss.

The figure is based on the difference between the price of a pint at the Villa ground and the national average for a pint of lager, which is £2.76. They say both clubs charge £3.20 for a pint.
That's like $4.75, which is, what, half the price you'd pay at Fenway? It's very quaint to see British politicians taking up such a pressing issue as beer prices at sports stadiums. US pols have more important issues to tend to, like college football playoffs

02 December 2008

Young's Oatmeal Stout (ENG)

If you think Young's stout, you first think chocolate. Apparently the brewery produces their oatmeal stout primarily for the North American market. I'm not sure why that would be. It was the American importer Merchant du Vin that commissioned Samuel Smith's to revive of the style in the '70s, so maybe Americans have a special connection.  

Sam Smith's is my favorite oatmeal stout. Comparatively, Young's take is more heavily carbonated than the flattish SS, though it's is still rich and smooth. Young's also strikes me as a bit drier, with a charred bitterness that adds character. The bottle label reviews itself and claims a "short but distinctive finish reminiscent of toast."  Burnt toast, perhaps. 

I don't know if I like Young's as much as Sam Smith's, but I like it a lot. Pricey at more than $4 for 16.9 ounces. Cool bottle.  

30 November 2008

Four More from Lakefront (WI)

The remaining four from my Lakefront 8-pack are darker beers, except for the India Pale Ale.

IPA: The strongest beer of the lot at 7% while the rest are between 5% and 6%. This also proves to be the best of the bunch. It's not a West Coast hop bomb, but more of a balanced English-style IPA. Big aroma comes through as soon as you pop the cap. Hazy pale orange, nice trail of foam left down the side of the glass. Taste-wise, it's not the punchiest of the style in terms of hops, but puts forth a nice balance of biscuity malts and citrus and floral hops. Doesn't feel like its  ABV. 

Eastside Dark Lager: "A rich, dark lager like the ones Milwaukee's founding fathers might have enjoyed on the old Eastside." Wikipedia describes Milwaukee's East side as "a mix of hipsters, hippies, college students and young professionals." Was the old East side different? Regardless, this is a dark lager, but not a rich enough one for me. Any roasty coffee or chocolate elements are muted. 
Instead, it's a bit metallic. Better than macro lagers (blah, blah, blah) but that's about it.

Riverwest Stein Beer: Riverwest is another Milwaukee neighborhood, and I appreciate the brewery's effort in tapping into it's local scene. I did not drink this lager out of a stein, but out of a regular lager glass. It's lighter than Eastside Dark, a chestnut colored beer. The taste is primarily caramel, and then maybe woody hops which keep it from being too sweet.  Alas, it's somewhat watery. Still better than Eastside Dark, but not a memorable lager.

Fuel Cafe Coffee Flavored Stout: When I cracked this open, I sensed that sour salami smell I had found in the lighter beers. Fortunately, any such taste was covered up. This pours pitch black with a red-beige head that fizzes away quickly. The coffee is there as promised. It's actually fairly hard to down, maybe due less to its richness than to a mild astringency in the finish. If you really like coffee stout, give this one a try.

Overall for me, a pretty unimpressive variety pack from Lakefront. I'd drink the IPA again and maybe the Cherry Lager, but that's about it. Was there an issue of freshness? All bottles were dated from later August, which is only three months. That doesn't preclude the possibility of poor handling, but that still doesn't change the fact that for me these weren't all that great. 

28 November 2008

So you think you know beer?

From the Norwegian end of the beer blogging universe, Larsblog has a great post from last week about a course for becoming a certified beer judge. The blind tasting experiments described are fascinating and, I'm guessing, more than a little humbling.

Lars and his fellow would-be judges are given a variety of tests. A triangle test: which two of these three are in fact the same beer? Guess the style, dunkel or brown ale? And then a devious trick involving food coloring:

We were then given a batch of three unidentified black beers, and told to write notes on them, then attempt to guess the beer styles. After tasting the three we were asked one by one to read our notes on the first one, all of which went along the lines of "roasty, caramel, maybe a bit neutral". The shock was considerable when we were told that it was, again, Ringnes Pils, this time with some black colouring added to it. Every single one of the 10 participants claimed to taste roastiness in the beer, and not one of the 10 so much as came near the idea that this might be a pilsener. An interesting example of the sense of taste being affected by visual signals.
The guys undergoing the trials weren't neophytes either. Definitely read the full post.

22 November 2008

Four from Lakefront Brewery (WI)

To me, Lakefront Brewery is known for two things: for New Grist, their gluten-free beer, and for being arbitrarily sued last year by a guy who was hit on the head by a can of Schlitz. As their beers are newly available to my area -- we seem to be getting a lot from Big 10 country all of a sudden -- I figured I'd try to learn more about them.

I bought their unusual 8-by-1 variety pack from my local retailer. It's a nice package for those who want to try as many beers as possible, although I'd prefer at least two of each. Thankfully, New Grist is not included. Instead, there are a surprising four lagers in the box, perhaps a sign that this Wisconsin brewery embraces it's German roots.

Cherry Lager: This is the seasonal in the pack, and an out of season one at that (my variety pack seems to be from late August). The last fruited lager I had was the crummy Wild Blue. Cherry Lager is much better, although still not great. It pours with a pinkish hue and really nice head. The cherries aren't really prominent, but at least if you didn't know you could guess they were there. There's only a light cherry tartness to it, and some proper fruitiness. The beer finishes dry with rough hops (Mt. Hood, the website says), which maybe clash a bit. Overall, I'd say this is pretty good for a fruit beer in that it doesn't have that no-calorie seltzer flavor that so many others do.

Klisch Pilsner:
Klisch is the family name of the brothers who run the show. Their pilsener is pretty ordinary: straw-colored, light-bodied, fizzy, without much of a hop kick. There's an unfortunate faint sourness to it. In the summer, I might applaud it for being thirst-quenching, but now there isn't much to recommend.

Cattail Ale: I should point out that I don't like the label designs on any of these. Cattail is categorized by Beer Advocate as an English pale mild. I don't know what Ratebeer says; they're down again. The ale is a hazy golden brew, light and fizzy, not too distant from the pilsener. Again, there's a slight sourness. Is this a problem of lack of freshness? There aren't many hops here, nor even much in the way of malt body. Cattail probably works best fresh in the summer as a sessions beer at just over 5%.

Oragnic ESB:
This may be the best of the bunch. It pours more amber has more heft to it than Cattail, with biscuity malts and earthy hops. The website says "cascade hop flavor" but I don't detect that. Also, it really isn't all that bitter, even by English standards. It's a style I like though, and a solid attempt.

Not a blockbuster start for the eight-pack, but the beers are to follow are darker and more to season right now. I enjoyed the ESB the most but would probably order the Cherry Lager if I had a choice, if only that it's just about the only one of its kind out there.

18 November 2008

Dogfish Head in the New Yorker

The New Yorker has a fairly detailed piece on Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head brewery. It's long and may be better to read in the magazine than online. It's also very good. One eyebrow-raising quote:

I asked the brewmaster, Jean-Marie Rock, which American beer he likes best. He thought for a moment, squinting down his bladelike nose, and narrowed his lips to a point. Then he raised a finger in the air. “Budweiser!” he said. “Tell them that the brewer at Orval likes Budweiser!”

16 November 2008

English-style Porter

For my second homebrewing effort, I did two things differently: I created my own recipe and made a smaller batch.

Actually, the recipe was hardly original. I mostly just started with John Palmer's porter and switched to English hops. It seems like a lot of homebrewers like trying to make something that's never been done before. I'm not interested in that yet, but the experience of looking through existing recipes definitely helps in learning about beer styles.

As far as the small batch is concerned, I know, it's just as much work making three gallons as five. However, I want to get a few batches under my belt quickly, and I don't want to forgo frequent visits to my local beer retailer. I used the beer recipator to check my recipe and ordered from Austin Homebrew, which lets you select small amounts.

3 gallons:
3.5 pounds of extra pale DME LME
6 oz. each of chocolate malt and Crystal 60L
1/2 oz. 6.5% Challenger hops (60)
1/4 oz. 4.5% East Kent Goldings (30)
1/4 oz. 4.5% East Kent Goldings (15)
Safale 04 dry yeast (about two-thirds of the package)
Irish Moss
2 1/4 oz. corn sugar for priming

Despite the small batch, I still used a partial boil and about a gallon of top-off water to replace boiled of liquid. I also boiled the wort for 75 minutes. Whether the extra 15 made a difference, I can't say.

In general the process went smoothly, although I did have a problem with measurements. My instant read thermometer zapped out mid-session. I used an old candy thermometer for part of the process, but it doesn't go below 140 degrees, so I ended up using a Polter probe thermometer to check the wort before pitching yeast.

I also struggled with my hydrometer. I measured an OG of about 1.065, which had to be wrong. I suspect the wort wasn't mixed enough at the time. Based on the recipe, the OG was 1.047 and the IBUs were around 25. I ended up with an FG of 1.018, which I hope was wrong but probably was right. Poor attenuation again. Inadequate aeration? Maybe, but not for lack of trying. I can't blame the yeast this time. I've read that extract brewing often results in high FGs, so maybe that's at least part of it.

Bottling day was a mess, and I already went out and bought an auto-siphon (no kegging equipment yet though). I lost a good bit of beer during bottling as well, which hurt more given the small batch.

It's now been nearly two months since brewing and five weeks since bottling. The beer is pretty good. No off flavors like my first batch. It has a nice light roastiness to it, but isn't a really rich porter. Compared with my first batch, this one has more carbonation than I'd like and doesn't keep as good a head. Palmer says the latter is a downside to using Irish moss for extract beers, and I'll confess that I forgot to adjust my quantity down to account for the smaller batch. (That stuff smells like Poseidon's armpit too.)

I actually just brewed my third batch yesterday (this is the advantage of smaller batches), but I'm a way's away from drinking it.

15 November 2008

German IPA

Charlie Papazian has a piece on a German brewer's attempt at an India Pale Ale. Not a traditional style for them of course, and in fact the dry-hopping violates the Reinheitsgebot, meaning they can't call it beer.

As much praise as the Reinheitsgebot often receives, it's hard not to roll your eyes on this sort of thing. The again, I personally am glad that Germany takes a hard line. We have the best of both worlds. You want tradition? Buy a German beer. You want experiments? Buy American. Argue all you want over who produces the best beer, but it would be a very boring beer world if all nations had the same approach.

13 November 2008

Koningshoeven Bock (NED)

I can't quite keep straight whether it's Koningshoeven or La Trappe. My bottle says Koningshoeven, which is the better name. This is the only Dutch Trappist brewery, the only Trasppist Bock (although the bottle also says "ale"), and I think this is the only Trappist seasonal.

It pours cloudy reddish-brown, looks syrupy, and smells like a doppelbock. The first thing that stands out is the carbonation, which is invasive, like something from a Saison (it's bottle conditioned, though, which gives it a natural, small bubble feel). It's medium-bodied. On the tongue, this Bock is very malty, of caramel and licorice, with some roasted tones. Maybe a little spicy as well. Not too sweet though; the finish is dry.

So this isn't exactly a bock or doppelbock. It has some interesting flavors you wouldn't find in a German beer. On the other hand, the carbonation doesn't work for me at all. This is a good beer, but pricey (I paid $4.85 for 330 ml) and probably not something I'll revisit.

09 November 2008

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence (NY)

Chocolate Indulgence is a stout originally brewed for Ommegang's 10th anniversary in 2007. They brewed a new batch this year. Belgium isn't really know for its stouts, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

The upshot is it's a chocolate stout with faint Belgian yeast esters coming through. This is a nearly opaque dark brown brew with a beige head that leaves superb lacing. It has a wonderfully creamy body, light carbonation, but is not really heavy. It's chocolaty, but I'm not sure I'd have guessed that it has added chocolate (actually, cocoa powder) beyond the usual chocolate malt. I'm not sure if it merits the 'indulgence" moniker. It's fairly dry but not roasty. There's a little bit of fruitiness in there that I attribute to the yeast, but this doesn't really scream Belgian either.

So Chocolate Indulgence is ultimately a really nice, drinkable stout (@7%) with killer lacing to look at and geat mouthfeel. I paid $8.50 for this on sale, but I've noticed that others have grumbled a bit about paying over $10. That's probably fair. It's a very good beer but not a blockbuster.

07 November 2008

Supermarket Finds

This summer Bill at Beerjanglin' posted about Wegmans Dewitt (Syracuse) getting a big beer makeover. Well, now that's hit their Pittsford store near my home. Now I can toss a bottle of Westmalle, Orval or Delirium Tremens in my blue basket alongside paper towels and raisin bran. They also have a decent selection of German 500 mls and US breweries such as Rogue, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, Green Flash and Dogfish Head to name a few. All this is in addition to the usual Southern Tier, Ommegang, Unibroue, etc. Here's a fuzzy cell phone pic of the DTs at $10.69 a bottle:

You can't sell wine in supermarkets in New York State, so maybe beer becomes the big thing. Wegmans actually owns a monster of wine store right down the street.

As excited as I was to see the new beer section, it really doesn't add much value for me. I already have access to way more beer than I have time to drink. This is New York, not Oklahoma. Hell, there's a lottery tickets-and-cigarettes convenience store near my place of work that sells Chimay and Maredsous.

06 November 2008

Utenos Porter (LT)

From Lithuania, this is, of course, a Baltic Porter. A very tasty one at that. It's fairly light in color -- certainly more brown than black -- and a thin in body (especially for a beer at 6.8%). This last bit takes it out of the style somewhat. It's loaded with caramel sweetness and sports a certain rum raisin quality. Near the finish, Utenos becomes chocolaty, but with only a slight roastiness to it. Not much of a hop presence, if any. Super easy to drink. A dessert beer, though I wonder whether it would match up well with barbecue.

Utenos Porter is one of those beer that thrilled me once, but may not do so again. In a different mood, I might be turned off by it's light body and lack of roastiness. It's a great value at $1.99 for 500 ml, though.

04 November 2008

Election Night

Outside the US, what's the longest anyone's election season lasts? A few months maybe? It seems like it's been forever since I said to myself "this primary has been going on forever." (Warning: if your election lasts more than 12 months, seek medical assistance.) And we still have two months to go before Obama even takes office.

I decided a homebrew would be the perfect drink while watching the results come in. I'm glad I recently started homebrewing. Based on what I've heard from certain corners, the US is likely to be ruled by Sharia law soon, so no alcohol, and any breweries left standing would be state owned anyway. So homebrewing looks like a good skill to have.

So here's a toast to Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, Bill Ayers, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the Romney brothers, Mike Gravel, Ron Paul, Chuck Norris, Rudy Giuliani's delegate, John Edwards' mistress, Levi "fucking redneck" Johnston, Joe the Plumber and all the others who played such a large part in these elections but will have no relevance to us whatsoever over the next four years. Bottoms up.

02 November 2008

Southern Tier Porter (NY)

I like this brewery's Raspberry Porter, which I believe is just a blend of their Raspberry Wheat and this beer, the Porter. "Dark" says the label -- is that a nod to BMC drinkers, who might not be sure what a porter is? It is very dark, nearly black. The aroma reminds me of chocolate liqueur or maybe just chocolate syrup, but the taste is less sweet than that. Roasted chocolate, maybe a touch of charcoal smokiness as well. The body is medium with plenty of small bubbles. There's a cola-like quality to it as well, maybe something acidic, caused by the fact that it isn't a big beer.

Southern Tier owes its reputation mostly to its big imperial brews, but Porter (@5.2%) ranks with their IPA and Hop Sun as really nice session-able beers for when you don't want to be dazzled.

01 November 2008

Hair of the Dog Adam (ORE)

I don't know if this was ever available in my area before, but all of a sudden I saw Adam, Fred and Ruth at my local beer shop. The former two are darlings of the BA/RB crowd. Adam is a free interpretation of an old Dortmunder ale style. In his Great Beer Guide, Michael Jackson relates a tale of William IV of Prussia being knocked out for a day after drinking a tankard of adambier. HoD Adam is 10%, but I'm still on my feet after one bottle.

The brewer's website says "it is great with chocolate or cigars," but I like to drink at least one bottle by itself. Besides, I don't smoke cigars ; wouldn't that undercut the beer? Anyway, Adam is a very dark brown beer, beige head, thick on the tongue, with an aroma of roasty malts and hops. The taste is "complex": chocolate, figs, light roastiness, a touch of earthy smokiness, and a shot of citrus rind hops. A lot going on, to be sure. It reminded me most of Jewbelation 11, but that's a crude comparison, and for most people, a backwards one at that.

My bottle was the recent Batch 72 (the latest batch?). I think I would have preferred an older sample to mellow the hops a bit. Still, this is a taste bomb, easily recommended for those who like that sort of thing.

31 October 2008

Halloween Beers from MJ

It may be a bit late to run out and buy beer for Halloween, but I found this old Michael Jackson article for "if you don't fancy pumpkin beers." Recommended: Unibroue Maudite and Beelzebub/Belzebuth, with further mention of Hobgoblin, Old Nick and several others.

This was written back in 2001. Today, it really isn't hard to find beers with ghoulish or devilish themes, particularly in the US. For me personally, the packaging doesn't mean as much, so I'll probably be drinking Pumking tonight.

26 October 2008

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale (JP)

Two years ago, Hitachio Nest Red Rice Ale was featured (along with Rogue Morimoto Soba Ale) in a New York Times article. It seems to be a pretty fashionable beer, at least in New York. As explained, the rice isn't just used as cheap filler: in addition to using ale yeast, the brewery uses sake yeast to ferment the rice.

The result is a slightly foggy beer colored on the orange side of amber. The aroma reminds me of the sourness you get occasionally from packaged sliced salami (your perceptions may vary). Taste wise, it's somewhere in among beer, sake and wine spritzer, but mostly beer. Fruity and slightly tangy with a grainy undertone. All told, it's crisp without being too light. Red Rice Ale packs pretty big alcohol at 7% and sports a hefty price tag ($4+ per 330 ml bottle). Definitely a good beer for bloggers and raters who think they've tasted it all.

23 October 2008

Three More from Saranac

The other three from Saranac's Adirondack Trail Mix:

Brown Ale: Clear brown with a red/orange tinge. The label boasts of "Pacific Northwest hops," and I think I can smell them. So this isn't a British Brown. To it's credit, it isn't a bland one either. A touch of chocolate malt, a decent hop presence, and a dry finish. But also an over-carbonated body and kind of a rough taste. Eh.

Black & Tan: I've often had the suspicion that Saranac produces some of their myriad beers by mixing existing ones. No secret about the Black & Tan, a mixture of their Amber Lager and seasonal Irish Stout (which, as Wikipedia explains, would technically make this a Half and Half). From a bottle, you don't get the cool layered effect as with a true Black and Tan. So what do you get? A lighter stout, I suppose. It's roastiness is cut by caramel sweetness from the lager. Overall, the malts and hops don't really blend, and it tastes like the sort of experimental beer mix you'd create at home with the remnants of various six packs. Still, it's pretty intersting and worth a try.

Black Forest: "Bavarian Style Beer." It never comes out and says it's a schwarzbier on the label, but I think that's what it is, more or less. I don't think it strives for German authenticity though (the Black Forest isn't even in Bavaria) . It's very dark brown and ruby colored. Even accepting that this is a lager, the body is too light. In fact, the entire initial taste is too light and mineral water-ish for me, more treble than bass. At the end, a light roasted flavor comes through, which is great, but overall I don't like this as much as some others do. Sam Adams makes a better American black lager, while Sprecher makes one that is much richer and roastier.

So the Pale Ale is the star of this sixer for me, and probably the only one I'd seek out again.

20 October 2008

No More Zima

Miller Coors is going to stop making Zima, so fans of the drink should stock up while you can. The rest of us need to find another drink to mock. Evidence of the drink's decline? The Late Show archives show that Zima appeared in eight Letterman Top Ten Lists in 1994-95, but only once since then.

18 October 2008

Schloss Eggenberg Doppelbock Dunkel (AUT)

Aren't all doppelbocks dark? Well, Schloss Eggenberg makes Urbock 23 which is a light colored doppelbock, so the beer I'm writing about becomes the dunkel. I love the black and white label.

The beer is indeed dark brown, but not impenetrable to light and showing some red tones. Nice white head too. This is nice and rich, but also soft in a way. Some of this is the low carbonation against a very creamy body. Some of it is the absence of alcohol burn (despite the 8.5% ABV). Instead, it delivers on the "toffeelike malty sweetness" claimed on the label. There's a touch of roastiness as well, but it isn't super-complex. It is very tasty, though. The hops make it somewhat dry at the end, but this is closer to liquid cake than liquid bread.

I'm in a doppelbock mood right now and was very happy with this. The problem is it cost me over $5 for a bottle, but I think a lot of you would pay $3-4, which is reasonable.

16 October 2008

Wagner Valley Sled Dog Doppelbock (NY)

A spell of unseasonal warmth has passed, so I can pull out my fall/winter brews again. I've had this one before, and it might be my favorite of the brewery (although I've yet to try their Trippelbock).

This is a clear tawny-colored brew, syrupy looking, with a dying tan head. Pretty sweet up front: caramel and molasses and maybe raisins. Very slight roastiness as well. I like the soft carbonation and smooth palate, though it's maybe not quite as rich as the best doppelbocks. The finish isn't quite as long as I'd like either, but this is quibbling. It's 8.5% ABV, but that doesn't really come through until it warms my gut afterwords.

Nice doppelbock, if not a great one.

13 October 2008

Great American Beer Festval Winners 2008

The GABF was held in Colorado this weekend, and the winners have been announced. New York breweries won only 10 medals. In comparison, California won 39 and Colorado won 34, but they probably had more entries given the location of the event. Ithaca Brewing won two silvers for Cascazilla and for their new sour ale Brute. Ommegang won bronze for Rare Vos (the same color medal Keystone Light won). Whatever the gripes, remember, they taste blind we usually don't.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Delware won six medals. Anybody know this place?

12 October 2008

Three from Saranac (NY)

Saranac really makes a lot of styles, so many that I can buy their variety six-pack and find no beers that I've reviewed (though I've had a couple of these before).

Adirondack Lager: The good news is that this isn't a bland lager. The bad news is it doesn't taste quite right (at least not to me). Clear, light amber color, light hop aroma. It's made with both Hallertau and Cascades, and you can kind of taste both of them battling it out. However, some of the taste gets buried beneath heavy carbonation (not uncommon for this brewery). There are also somewhat sour, metallic elements appearing. Maybe just a bad one-off for me, but this wasn't good.

Pale Ale: Much better. This might be considered their signature beer, and it's all over the place around these parts. "Classic English Style," it says on the label, and it uses Fuggles and EKG hops to prove it. I think I sense some US-style citrusy hops in the nose, but those don't really appear. In stead, it's a good balance of malts and fruity, herbal hops. Softly carbonated. Great sessions brew.

India Pale Ale: The label says "American I.P.A." and boasts of "generous amounts of Cascade hops." This is a tough style to crack for a place like Saranac. Do you try to appease the hop-crazed elements of the craft beer community? Or do you tone it down a notch to appeal to a larger crowd? A bit more of the latter, I'd say. The citrusy hops come through against the malt background, but neither is huge. A bit light in both body and bitterness. The last IPA I had was Great Lakes, to which Saranac can't hold a candle. Still, if you forget about others of the style, you'll find a fairly tasty beer, and maybe a good first IPA.

Not a bad half a six pack (you only get one of each). Their Pale Ale may be my favorite of the brewery, but sometimes I think its more fun to drink things like Caramel Porter and Mountain Berry Ale and Chocolate Amber Lager, even if they don't all work. That's what Saranac does best: crank out the styles.

08 October 2008

Cheaper than Water

There's always someone in the world in a snit about alcohol. Currently it's British MPs Nigel Evans (Conservative) and John Grogan (Labour) complaining that Skol beer is being sold for less than Evian water as Asda supermarkets. I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of regulating alcohol promotions (such as free drinks specials in bars), given that alcohol can cause social problems. However, I'm not sure of I buy this basic syllogism:

Water is really cheap
This beer is cheaper than water,
Therefore, this beer must be really, really cheap

And maybe it is, but Evian is stupidly over-priced, so why compare to it? Also, given that Britain has what I assume are pretty stiff taxes on beer, how cheaply made is Skol? Still, I'd rather buy cheap beer than expensive water.

Mr. Evans isn't a teetotaler, though:

We are living in a time when 36 pubs are closing each week because they simply cannot compete with the prices charged in the large supermarkets.
Well, that's a different argument entirely.

Budweiser American Ale (MO)

Curiosity must be accounting for a lot of sales for A-B, but probably not enough to pay that massive advertising bill. They need repeat sales for that, and probably won't be getting them from me.

Not that it's a bad beer. The bottle itself is very attractive with its bulging shoulders and classy color scheme. The beer looks great too: clear amber, impressive head. There's a slight citrus hop aroma (those dry-hopped Cascades we've heard so much about). Not a lot of hoppy flavor or much bitterness, though. It's a decent balance of caramel malts and hops, I suppose, but not a lot of bite. The body is too thin and there's a hollow finish.

American Ale isn't a bad attempt, though. I paid only $5.99 a sixer, which is less than even the cheapie micros like Saranac. I can't help but wonder how it will taste to BMC loyalists not used to a bit of flavor. You have to work your way up to hop-bombs, and maybe this is a first step.

04 October 2008

He'brew Origin Pomegranate Ale (NY)

Do a search at ratebeer and you'll find only a handful of pomegranate beers, and just four with at least 100 ratings. Most fruit beers use a wheat beer base, but this is an "imperial amber ale" with pomegranate juice added. Why pomegranate? It fits in with the brewery's Old Testament theme ("In some parts of the world, it's believed that Eve tempted Adam with a pomegranate," says the website).

This pours a very hazy copper/amber color with only a thin head, although the foam that's there lasted for me. Medium bodied, tight fizz. It has a pretty solid malt backbone. The pomegranate is added with a light touch. Fruit juice comes through, but I wouldn't necessarily have guessed the source if I didn't know (cherries? berries?). Any fruitiness is out manned by the hops, however: definite West Coast accent, with citrus/pine and a somewhat bitter grapefruit aftertaste. The alcohol -- 8% -- isn't obvious.

I'm not sure if it meshes completely, the hops and the pomegranate, but Origin is still a tasty beer from a brewery that has tried to do something different.

02 October 2008

Great Lakes Commodore Perry (OH)

Great Lakes beers were available in western New York just long enough for me to buy a variety 12-pack, but then they disappeared. Now they're back in a style, even with a display in the supermarket.

I liked all four beers from the variety pack, and Commodore Perry (India Pale Ale) doesn't disappoint. "Don't give up the sip" is the punning motto. It pours a thick-looking gold body with a lacy head. The Commodore creates that explosive mouthful of flavor you want from an IPA. It's probably a little sweeter than others upfront, and slightly fruity and spicy. The bitterness and grapefruit aftertaste come through at the end. The label requests that you drink it at 45 degrees, cooler than I'd have thought, but mellows it out a bit for non-hop heads.

One of the better IPAs, IMO. What next for me from this brewery? I think Burning River Pale Ale is the only one I can get here that I haven't tried.

27 September 2008

Jack's Pumpkin Spice /Dogfish Head Punkin (MO/DE)

Two pumpkin ales from different sides of the track.

Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale: This is from A-B, specifically Michelob (the bottle is etched with the Michelob name), which is turning into A-B's ambassador to the craft beer world. 5.5% ABV. It pours clear copper with a head that doesn't last. The smells reminds me of a pumpkin candle or something. It doesn't taste like real pumpkin, but what does? What we perceive as pumpkin is probably mostly about the complementary spices. In this case, cinnamon comes through the strongest against a caramel, amber ale body. I like the dry finish and the malty aftertaste; I don't like the light, fizzy body, which isn't rich enough for fall.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale: This one is a bit more red in color and slightly hazy. The aroma is sweeter with a touch of vanilla, but that doesn't come through in the taste. Instead, it's malty, spicy (more allspice and nutmeg than cinnamon), and rummy. Like Jack's, it doesn't taste to me much like real pumpkin, and if you told me it was a Rum Raisin beer I might have believed you. But Punkin (7% ABV) still has a lot going on, and a nice medium-full body.

It isn't fair comparing these two, as the DFH costs at least 50% more. Is it worth the extra dollars? I'd rather drink one of it than two of Jack's, but I'd bet most civilian beer drinkers would prefer Jack's. I don't like either any more than Pumpking, but I'd gladly pay for DFH Punkin again.

25 September 2008

Beer in Airports

MSNBC is fronting an article about the rising quality of beer available in US airports. This is just part of a larger trend to turn on airports into shopping malls (not that I'm complaining). The article links to Cheapflights.com's brief Beer Lovers’ Airport Guide.

My own local airport doesn't have anything decent (at least last I checked), but on a recent trip I had a chance to try Columbus Pale Ale in an airport in Ohio. Good beer. Still, air travel being what it is nowadays, that's one place I feel like I need a scotch instead of a beer.

23 September 2008

Blue Point Oktoberfest (NY)

This is apparently the first year this Long Island brewery has produced (or maybe just bottled) an Oktoberfest. 5.0% ABV, 28 IBUs.

It pours a clear copper with a lame lager head. No surprise that this is malty, particularly upfront, but it isn't caramel-ish. This shouldn't be surprising ("noticeable caramel or roasted flavors are inappropriate" -- BJCP style guide), but a lot of American Oktoberfests seem to taste of caramel. Or maybe that's a problem of perceptions. Blue Point's hops come through at the end to dry it out, but I also detected a somewhat ale-ish aspect to it. Butter? Oak? (Chardonnay? No, that's not it.) The body is medium-light and pretty heavy on the carbonation.

So not a bad beer, but not a great one. Looking at my photo, the empty body seems to exert some sort of force bending the glass toward it, which is kind of neat, but I still haven't tried an Oktoberfest that really blew me away.

Update: A Joe Sipxack column from the Philadelphia Daily News describes the conflict between the BJCP Oktoberfest style guidelines and what's currently served in Germany. Interestingly, it's the current German brew that is "dumbed down":

The big Munich breweries still export their familiar dark version, including the original Spaten Ur-Märzen. But the variety they pour at the festival is closer to a much lighter Dortmunder or Helles style, experts say.

Oktoberfestbier "has evolved into a ubiquitous light lager," Brewers Association president Charlie Papazian wrote in an online column, "light on hop character and, I think, dumbed-down to appeal to the masses."

20 September 2008

Schwelmer Alt (GER)

My first Altbier. It pours a clear chestnut color. It's quite light in body with soft carbonation. Goes down really smooth (just over 4% ABV). Yet, this isn't a watery tasting beer. It's described as a "unique, hoppy altbier" on the label, but this is an old school, European definition of hoppy. Instead, the beer is more malty, slightly toasted and very slightly raisiny. The hops kick in near the end, but they only bite so much. The aftertaste has a lot going on, but what came through most to me was unsweetend cola. This wasn't particularly attractive, but I think I may have been drinking it too warm.

I've liked what I've tried from this brewery in the past, the Pils and the Weizen. I'm less convinced by the Alt, but I'm still getting to know the style. It certainly is different. It turns out that some American beers I've seen around with are attempts at altbiers (Otter Creek Copper Ale, Long Trail Ale, Southampton Secret Ale).

19 September 2008

Oktoberfest in Pictures

Slate magazine's Today's Pictures piece currently points its camera on Oktoberfest, with images from Munich both recent and old. It's not as interesting as many of their other topics (check out Spetember 9th's Burning Man photos for a take on an enitrely different festival atmosphere), but a good way to kill time for the last half day of the week.

17 September 2008

True Brew Nut Brown Ale


It's funny. I never had the slightest interest in homebrewing, but this summer I suddenly got the itch and it wouldn't go away, so I succumbed. There were two main reasons I wasn't interested in homebrewing:

  1. Sanitation. Who wants a hobby that stresses cleanliness so heavily?
  2. I'm not a big drinker. I mean, I like beer a lot, but I like to drink as many different ones as possible rather than a bunch of the same. What would I do with two cases of possibly mediocre suds?
But for whatever reason, I took the plunge. I bought a basic equipment kit (plastic pail, no wort chiller or anything) and a True Brew Nut Brown Ale kit. My guide was Palmer's How to Brew, which I might write about in a separate post. I also tried to read as many web pages as possible about the hobby.

The True Brew Nut Brown Ale kit includes Munton's ingredients: a can of hopped light LME, one pound each of pound of amber and light DME, a pound of brown sugar (!), specialty grains (chocolate malt, dark crystal and black patent), Fuggles finishing hops, and Munton's Dry Yeast.

I brewed this first batch on one of the many unfortunately hot weekends in July. I prepped as much as possible and things went well... up to a point.

My first mistake was dumping my sanitizer when I thought I was done with it. I ended up needing more for items I'd forgotten about. My second problem was cooling the wort. Despite only doing a partial boil, it took me way too long using an ice bath. On hindsight, I should have stirred the water outside the pot (or stirred the wort inside it) to get some convection going. I impatiently pitched my (re-hydrated, as per Palmer) yeast at 73-74 degrees.

I also didn't aerate the wort enough, and the top off water I used had been boiled, which I think means it lost most of its oxygen. I stored my fermenter in a basement storage area that was a tad over 70 degrees, but the temperature inside the vessel was in the high 70s when fermenting. This meant quick fermentation, but also some wayward esters. The FG never made it below 1.020 (it was supposed to be 1.012-14). The OG was supposed to be 1.050, though I never verified that. Poor attenuation. Poor brewing, I suppose, although I've discovered that a lot of people have problems with Munton's regular dry yeast.

About bottling day, the less said the better. What a mess. Someone's going to say I should switch to kegging, but I really don't want to invest more money until I brew a few more batches. After bottling was done, I really needed a beer, and what I had (something from Flying Dog, I think) was the best beer I’d ever drank if for no other reason than I had no need to de-label the bastard afterward. (For the record, Hoegaarden labels are super easy to remove, but don't even bother with St. Peters.)

I poured my first beer two weeks after bottling, four weeks after brewing, and it was murky and, of all things, a tad astringent, powdery on the back of the tongue. Did I boil the specialty grains? I don't think so. But that was the only bottle that felt like that. In successive beers I've tasted a bunch of wrong flavors, though it seems to be improving. Maybe it will taste good someday. What's always been good about it is the big, fluffy head that sticks to the glass as you drink it, as well as the spot on carbonation (I used 3.5 ounces of corn sugar instead of 5, in part due to my high ending FG).

So overall, what do I make of it? In cooking terms, homebrewing seems like a cross between making chicken broth and baking, in its emphasis on sanitation and precision, respectively. This isn't the casual stew or soup making we all know and love. It has a comical ratio of doing-to-waiting. And it isn't necessarily value for the money; better to think of those dollars as coming out of your hobby/entertainment budget than your beer budget. Nonetheless, I can't wait to brew again, and spend hours planning my next batch, not to mention the batch after that.

16 September 2008

American Ale

Now is the time when Budweiser American Ale is launched (caution: slow-loading site). I believe it's already available on tap is some places, plus some promotional bottles are out there. Anyone tried it yet? There are a handful of reviews at the rating sites.

This is different from previous attempts by the big boys to go after craft beer drinkers. It isn't a sub-brand -- it says Budweiser right on the admitteldy sharp-looking bottle -- and has a huge ad buy behind it. In fact, I don't think it's aimed at craft beer drinkers. I suspect A-B would like some respect from beer geeks, but all the purchases in the world from us isn't going to cut it. They need to tap a bigger market.

So despite bragging about using Cascade hops (aimed at those of us who know what those are), the brewers have to use a light touch. Someone who's never had much other than BMC or Molson or Heineken has to drink it once and not wince from citrus bitterness. A-B can't wait for people to build up a tolerance to hops, as many of use have done. And A-B can't treat it as a gateway beer. Gateway to what? Someone else's product?

Added: from an About.com article called "Beer by Committee":

So they started with a grain bill of pale and caramel malt. Then they
developed a hop bill with four different varieties: Palisades for bittering, Willamette, Saaz and Cascade for aroma and finishing. Then they brewed four identical beers but used different yeast in each one. These four beers were brought into the tasting room where the new products panel tasted them and decided which strain to use. Once the choice of yeast was settled they then brewed six versions of the beer and dry-hopped with six different hops. They decided on Cascade in the same way as they did the yeast strain. After that it was a matter of fine tuning the beer and establishing things like alcohol content. Beck said that he relied on the panel during this stage. He added that they were still making adjustments and was eager to get our input.

13 September 2008

Weihenstephaner Korbinian (GER)

A "dunkles starkbier" from the oldest of the old German breweries. Sometimes I think I love this style, sometimes I don't. What turns me off is when alcohol burn comes through and is coupled with licorice/anise. This isn't a problem here. Korbinian is a red-tinged, dark brown (though still translucent) lager with a super smooth, creamy texture. Big malts all the way, tasting of caramel and toffee sweetness and some dark fruits. Very faint bitterness. The finish is mocha and is wonderfully long, and not too sweet. It's almost too easy drinking for its own good at 7.4% ABV and $3 or so per 500 ml.

The brewer's website suggests drinking this with "smoked meat and fish," presumably meaning smoked meat and smoked fish, as this would be horrible with filet of sole. I kind of think that really good beers are better alone, and this is really, really good.

11 September 2008

Dundee Oktoberfest (NY)

A couple of months ago, The Session topic was anti-seasonal beers. I didn't participate because I don't often drink out of season. Maybe I should have written about that. I try to eat seasonally as well, but the reasons are different. With beer, a local stout in summer is more environmentally friendly and fresher than a German hefewiezen, but I'd still rather drink the latter. Some of this is due to weather, but even then, I could just sit inside turn on the air conditioning. Ultimately, I just like the idea of drinking different styles during different times of year. It's a bit like sports. In early August, I'm sickened at the sight of pre-season football on TV. Once September hits, however, I'm ready to go. So it goes with beer. Dundee Oktoberfest is my first autumn beer of 2008.

JW Dundee's Honey Brown Lager may have saved Genesee Brewing Co. in the 1990s. Now the brewery is named High Falls, the sub-brand has dropped JW and 's, and the bottle label has been smartly redesigned.

The Oktoberfest pours clear copper which the label brings out as a matching orange. "Be full-bodied," the neck label says, but this is quite light. It's also highly fizzy, which gets in the way of the flavor. It's mildly sweet with a slight twangy quality coming through at the end. Not a poor tasting beer, but not satisfying (maybe you have to drink 3 or 4). I kept trying to suck more flavor out of it.

I'd guess the rollout of the new Dundee has bumped sales temporarily. Will it last? I wish them the best, but it's tough now that the really big boys are trying to enter the market as well. Dundee is competing with Saranac, not with Ommegang, so they don't need to be world class in quality. Instead, they need good distribution and marketing.

07 September 2008

Football and Beer

So the NFL season is now underway (Thursday night doesn't feel like the real thing if your team isn't playing). I think this is pretty clearly America's national sport. Unless told otherwise, I assume every American male is an NFL fan. I cannot make the same assumption about baseball.

I'm not one who thinks you need go macro when watching sports, but I'll play along when among non-geeks. Today it was Molson Canadian for me. Not really so bad at first, but the 24 ounce can doesn't do it any favors. You really can't drink this at all warm, and two 12-ouncers would let me keep one in the fridge while sipping the other. All told, not a bad beer for a special teams inspired rout. On top of that, events now suggest that the AFC East may be competitive this year.

06 September 2008

Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale (NH)

This is a Smuttynose Big Beers seasonal that I'm catching late in its run. Still, the bottle dating implies it will be drinkable through 2011, so there's no concern about staleness.

This saison pours coppery orange with a big white head. It's medium-bodied with wonderful soft carbonation. The taste is primarily fruity -- maybe apricots and peaches -- and secondarily spicy. There's a touch of sourness involved as well, but the aftermath for me leans more toward fruity and maybe sugary. It would be nice if it were drier, but still, it's very, very good, a warm weather beer with great depth of flavor. It's over 7% ABV and tickles the ribcage a bit.

Before this. I think I've only ever had two saisons: Ommegang Hennepin, one of my favorite beers, and Southern Tier's disappointing Cherry Saison. I'd rank Smuttynose right up there with Hennepin. I haven't tried them side by side, but I think Hennepin is more perfumey and perhaps a bit wilder, while Smuttynose's take is fruitier. It may be a little late in the season to be drinking saison, but if you find it, this Big Beer is worth two purchases: one for now and one for the cellar.

BTW, the brewery's current seasonal is the intriguing Wheat Wine Ale, carrying a back story of a labeling battle with the Tax and Trade Bureau.

02 September 2008

Custom BrewCrafters EPA (NY)

This is kind of exciting: Custom BrewCrafters has started bottling their beer. Located about a half hour's drive south of Rochester in Honeoye Falls, Custom BrewCrafters creates private label beers for many area restaurants and bars. Under their own name, they've also sold growlers at the brewery and a few other places. Only recently have they expanded their facilities for bottling.

This English-Style Pale Ale is "a well balanced amber ale with a smooth, dry finish," according to the label. Those expecting something like Sierra Nevada or Anchor Liberty will be disappointed. CB's brew leans more toward malt sweetness than hop bitterness, and the hops are herbal and floral. The malt base is slightly caramel or maybe toffee (and, admittedly, a touch watery), but the finish still pulls back dry. It's supposedly 5.1% ABV, but feels lighter. It's also quite low on carbonation by US standards (good!). This strikes me as a decent interpretation of the style, which isn't to say it's what American beer drinkers are yearning for. However, I like it, and am glad they went all English on us.

There's still the issue of the name. "Custom BrewCrafters" accurately depicts what the company originally set out to do, but is all wrong for a craft brewery. The label also calls it "CB's," which sounds like a forced nickname . But now that they're selling six packs, it's probably too late to change.

30 August 2008

Rogue Younger's Special Bitter (ORE)

Rogue produces not one but two bitters: Brutal and Younger's Special. The former is their imperial version and thus receives most of the attention. I supose most US breweries would simply have called them pale ales. The bottle claims Younger's as 12 degrees Plato, 75 AA and 35 IBUs. It doesn't list the ABV, but I calculate about 1.048 OG and 1.012 FG (75% attenuation), which is just below 5%, which is what it says online.

Younger's is a nice looker, coppery with a pillowy head that sustains pretty well. It's not adventurous or anything, just nicely balanced between caramel malts and bitter hops (Willamette and East Kent Goldings, according to the bottle). I detect slight citrus and floral, slightly American I think. It has a pretty good hop bite to it, but not by American standards. The finish is dry. Drinking on a warm afternoon, it is very refreshing.

The problem is that, at my beer shop at least, this costs as much as the rest of the Rogue line ($6+ a bomber). That feels like too much for a sessions beer, even if a nice one at that.

28 August 2008

Ratebeer's Adolescence

Beernews.org has a neat post about ratebeer eight years ago. An old screenshot shows Orval as the third highest rated beer, but with only three ratings. Now it has more than 1,800.

The post is interesting to me not so much as it pertains to ratebeer, but as it relates to the internet as a whole: how young it is, how old it seems. We're right in the midst of our first presidential election with Youtube, which didn't even exist in '04. It seems like it's been around forever. Then again, this campaign season seems like it's been going on forever as well.

26 August 2008

Schwelmer Weizen (GER)

This is most likely my last hefeweizen for about eight months. The brewer says, in somewhat stilted English, "Schwelmer Hefe-Weizen features a fresh taste, for not only the hot days of the year." For me, however, there are plenty of other styles that take precedence as the weather cools.

I bought this because I've always liked Schwelmer's pilsner. The weizen looks like it should, with an extra craggy white head. It smells of banana bubblegum. Taste-wise, I'd like to think I could pick it out of a hefeweizen lineup. It pushes forth a prominent clovey spiciness and finishes on the dry side. There isn't much, if any, lemony citrus here. If you want to drink something you've never tasted before, don't order a hefe. Still, Schwelmer isn't just like all others. No guarantee you'll like it, but I did.

23 August 2008

Baltika Zhigulevskoe (RUS)

For some reason I couldn't pass this up: a light (4%) Russian lager in a 1.5 liter ("1 qt., 1 pint, 3 fl. oz.") plastic bottle with a name in cyrillic lettering. It cost $2.99, which comes to about 75 cents per 12 ounces. Shaming so many microbreweries who don't do the same, Baltika provides both a production date (05.03.08) and a best before date (05.09.08). I'm assuming these are given in "little endian" date format, used in most places outside North America. If not, this beer has a very short shelf-life.

The body is more light brown than yellow, which is a good sign, and is nicely clear. However, there's not much aroma, and not much taste. This is more of a flavorless pale lager than an offensively tasting one. There's a slight corn sweetness that becomes cloying if you drink too much of it, or if you let the bottle warm up. Slight hops, slightly grainy malts. No real hop bite, though, and no rich maltiness. Still, I didn't think it was all that terrible, but it really needs accompanying food and maybe hot weather to make it worthwhile. The plastic bottle allows you to drink half, then put the cap back on and squeeze the bottle so as to reduce surface area and retain carbonation. That's a plus.

19 August 2008

Lowering age and weight

The movement to lower the US drinking age has broken out in the last day or two, with news organizations reporting on the Amethyst Initiative. University presidents are not yet openly advocating for change, but calling for the issue to be discussed. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is, um, mad.

In the beer blogosphere, Fermentally Challenge is hosting a contest for those too old to handle college levels of binge drinking. They're now trying to lose weight while still drinking craft beer. If I were to play, I'd have to cut off an arm to win. Lucky metabolism, perhaps, although I'm pretty good about diet and exercise. Good luck to them. Just stay away from the three S's: soft drinks, Starbucks, and salty snacks. (Stone and Sam Adams are okay.)

18 August 2008

Ommegang Witte (NY)

Witte is one of five Ommegang regulars, along with the eponymous abbey ale, Rare Vos, Three Philosophers and (my favorite) Hennepin. I don't think they sell Witte in anything smaller than the corked 750ml bottle.

As per instructions on the label, I poured slowly to keep the yeast sediment in the bottle (the opposite of what, say, Hoegaarden recommends). Thus, the body is only slightly hazy underneath its puffy, lacy head. On the tongue, it's cleaner for the lack of yeast (and possibly less complex). Instead, its mostly sweet citrus and coriander spice. Tastes a little like orange marmalade, and for some reason made me think of ice cream (!?). Witte isn't cloying though. The body is light and spritzy. Just for kicks, I poured in some yeast at the end, and it really changed the taste, adding some tangy and earthy aspects.

This seems to have a reputation as being the least of Ommegang's offerings, but I thought it really hit the spot on a summer's day. I've been drinking Hoegaarden recently as well, and might say I prefer Witte overall, but it depends on what you want. Hoegaarden admittedly does have more going on.

16 August 2008

Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA/Road Dog Porter (COL)

The last two from the Flying Dog mixed pack are the two heaviest.

Snake Dog IPA: The label text plays on a "crazy, stalking EX" theme. Note that it never refers to the ex- in question as female, although there are hints ("it slaps you in the face"...if that's a guy slapping a woman, it sounds pretty bad). Apparently Snake Dog has been reformulated recently, as ratebeer gives it a separate entry for 2008 on onward (now 7.1% vs. 5.75%). It's a looker: clear copper with sustaining white head. Dry-hopping with Columbus gives it a citrusy aroma. the hops are used more for flavor -- citrus, floral, and spice, I think -- than pure bitterness. Without being competitive about its bitterness, Snake Dog is in fact an exemplar of the American IPA style. Well done.

Road Dog Porter: Used to be called "Scottish," but they seemed to have dropped that. This is the first beer I've had which refers to itself as shit (e.g., "this shit is some dark, rich and malty shit."). Do traditional German breweries do that? It pours dark brown and ruby but still translucent. Again, a nice head. It's a smooth one, with a medium body, light carbonation and somewhat sweet flavor. Chocolate malts come through, but it isn't highly roasted or burnt (not that it should be). I tend to drink seasonally and would just as soon skip porters all summer. Still, this is quite good and easy drinking at 6% ABV.

I'd say these are the two best of the mixed pack, but the hefeweizen is really nice as well.

13 August 2008

Rogue Dad's Little Helper (ORE)

Dad's Little Helper reminds me a bit of posh restaurants that charge you $12 for a fancy version of a BLT. This is a malt liquor, after all. Five or six bucks for a bomber of a glorified Mickey's big mouth?

It pours a not very clear yellow/gold with a nice white head. It doesn't look like much, but the mouthfeel is fabulous. Rich and creamy, not too much fizz (just as I like it). This is made with plenty of flaked corn and you can taste it. And, yes, it's sweet. But it's also really tasty. There aren't any musty or boozy flavors, although those might appear if you let it warm up.

Rogue doesn't list an ABV, but it says it's 17 degrees Plato, which is about 1.07 OG, which could be 6.5-8% ABV depending on the attenuation. Dad's Little Helper isn't exactly well-attenuated. Still, this doesn't come across as being very alcoholic, and thus is potentially dangerous. On a warm day, I could drink this all afternoon.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this beer isn't well regarded. It currently scores a miserable sub-2.6 at ratebeer. Maybe they're fools, maybe I'm an idiot, maybe I just drank it at the right time and place. Maybe it's all an expectations game, but I really thought this was really good.

12 August 2008

Flour City Brewers' Fest

For those in Western New York, the Flour City Brewers' Fest is this Friday evening. The Flour City (a.k.a. Flower City) is Rochester. The list of participating breweries is here. I plan to be there but, sorry beer blogger that I am, don't know if I'll post anything on it. I never really feel comfortable "reporting" on events, feeling that taking pictures, notes, etc. interferes with my enjoyment of the experience. Regardless, if you're in the area, it should be fun.

10 August 2008

Trappistes Rochefort 6 (BEL)

I understand that there was a time a couple years ago ago when Rochefort 6 wasn't easy to find in the US. Now it's probably sold everywhere 8 and 10 are. My red-capped bottle of 6 is a year and a half old, but still 3 1/2 years away from its "drink by date." I paid close to $7 for it at my local beer store, and then Googled to find this was a good $1-2 higher than most others pay, so maybe I'm grumpy going in.

According to this old post by Stan Hieronymus, 6 isn't just a lighter version of the others, but has some other recipe differences as well. I've only ever had 8. (one of my favorites), not 10.

Rochefort 6 pours dark brown, not completely opaque, with some red or orange tones when held to the light. Nice head...but not up to the level of 8, which I recall sticking around until nearly the last sip. The aroma promises malty sweetness and dark fruits (no surprise). It isn't a really heavy-bodied beer, but it sticks to the tongue. Lots of tight, fine bubble carbonation.

The taste is of caramel or maybe toffee sweetness, raisins and cherries (but not sour). It's hard for me to describe all that is going on, but on the whole, it isn't as rich and complex as its older brother. This isn't surprising, but I think the size of the step down is greater than I'd wished. I have to say, I was mildly disappointed in Rochefort 6 but only because my hopes were so high and I paid a lot for it.

07 August 2008

Cooper's vs. the Monarchists

From The Guardian, it appears that Cooper's brewery in Australia -- these are the same guys who make the homebrew kits -- have created a ruckus over a billboard with the words "Forget the monarchy, support the publicans." Far be it from me to wade into the waters of anitpodean politics, but "prominent monarchist" Philip Benwell seems to be a bit of a noodge:

"Why couldn't the advertisement have begun 'forget the republic'?" asked Benwell, chairman of the Australian Monarchist League.

"To put up in large letters 'forget the monarchy' is something that we had to protest about because it is a political statement, particularly at a time when the primeminister has said that its government will pursue a republic at some time in the near future."

Cooper's has removed the offending billboards.

05 August 2008

Flying Dog Doggie Style Pale Ale (COL)

A third one from the Flying Dog variety pack. The brewery's beer information sheet says this is dry-hopped with a "shitload of Cascade hops." Ah, there's that American craft brewery in-your-face attitude.

Indeed, the Casacde's citrusy aroma comes through clearly. This is also a very pretty pale ale, with its clear amber body and lasting head. Flavor wise, I have to say, it isn't anything exceptional. The malts are fairly sweet with a touch of caramel, and there's some hop bite, but not as much as I was expecting. Possibly my bottle wasn't fresh enough (I can't decipher the label date). It's 35 IBUs (the dry hopping doesn't boost this), which is about the same as Sierra Nevada's. I don't really like the malt flavor as much as Sierra Nevada (a beer I'm crazy about).

I don't want to sound too negative, as this is a good pale ale. It's not something I'm likely to seek out.

03 August 2008

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat/Tire Bite Golden Ale (COL)

Two beers from a Flying Dog 12-pack I bought for over $16. This is a six-by-two 12-pack, which is nice for tasting purposes. Old Scratch Amber Lager was the lone lager in the pack.

Flying Dog is known for label artwork produced by Ralph Steadman of Hunter S. Thompson book jacket fame. He also has done photography and DVD artwork for Withnail & I, and apparently has several wine books.

In-Heat Wheat: An unfiltered hefeweizen at 4.7%. A bit orange in color and in taste. Its citrus aspect are more smooth orange sweetness than lemon tartness. There also isn't much wheat twang (or whatever it's called). The last hefe I tried was highly tart, so this really works in the opposite direction. Much clove, but no banana. It's a bit thin but still tastes good. Not a textbook German, but better than most American wheats.

Tire Bite Golden Ale: This isn't the type of beer to impress many beer raters. Light color, 5% ABV, only 16 IBUs. It says "it goes down so easy" right on the label. It's light, mostly of grainy malts at first and some herbal hops at the end. Dry, but never bitter. Both ratebeer and Beer Advocate have this listed as a Kolsch, and in fact the brewery won a medal for it at GABF in that category. Whether it's authentic to the style, I don't know. It is moderately tasty and refreshing, at least when well chilled, but it's the sort of beer that should run $6 a sixer.