31 January 2008

Aldaris Porteris (LVA)

This Baltic Porter from Riga pours a very dark brown, but holding it up to the light reveals clarity and a red tinge. There's a nice fluffy beige head as well.

Initially, the taste reminds me of a doppelbock. The big caramel malt is sweet and reminiscent of molasses and licorice. It's slightly acrid, although not offensively so. Only in the finish does it turn into coffee. The body is an asset: medium with soft carbonation. The overall effect, though, is a bit sloppy. Some will accept this as the price to pay for flavor.

I'm in a bit of an anti-doppelbock mood right now, and would have preferred a more standard dry, roasted coffee-ish porter. Still, I paid only $1.85 for 500 ml, which is certainly good value for a decent, fairly big beer.

29 January 2008

Great Lakes Eliot Ness/Holy Moses White Ale (OH)

The other two from the sampler pack:

Eliot Ness: A "deep amber lager" that would be great for the fall. Pours clear amber with a fluufy off-white head -- it looks great. The taste is unsuprisingly malty -- of caramel and toasted grains -- but there's also a decent hop presence that gives it balance. The finishes is on the dry side for the style, which I like. Its 6.2% ABV may be a bit much for a sessions beer, but it really doesn't come across as too rich or sweet.

Holy Moses White Ale: This one's named after Moses Cleaveland, city founder. It's an unfiltered brew, with a turbid straw-colored body harboring some floaties. This one also isn't too sweet. The spice level is fairly high, and the combination of that, the hops, and fairly high carbonation make it crisp and somewhat zesty. In 2006, Men's Journal had this listed as one of its 25 best beers in the US. I think that flatters Holy Moses a bit, but it's still something that would really hit the spot once springtime hits.

If I could only have one of these again, it would be the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, though time of year might alter my choice. It's too bad we can't get many others from Great Lakes here.

28 January 2008

Ad Report Card: Dude!

One of the last vestiges of non-suckiness at Slate magazine is its Ad Report Card. The current article takes a look at Bud Light's "Dude" ads, which I agree are brilliant (but have yet to make me desire a Bud Light). The piece is pretty interesting in the contemporary wasting-my-grad-school-education-on-pop-culture sort of way. I do think, however, it pays short shrift to the music: that solo piano that underscores the quiet desperation of this guy's life.

He's the untucked renter of a tired apartment and the victim of more mundane indignities: His buddy keeps him waiting, some guy barges into the bathroom stall he's occupying, he gets cut in line at the movies. He refuses, however, to tolerate these affronts. Each transgressor is made aware that his actions are lacking in common courtesy. Dude.

I do think A-B misstepped by producing the version with sportscaster Joe Buck.

26 January 2008

Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold/Edmund Fitzgerald (OH)

Where I live, we can't get many beers from Big Ten country. Cleveland is only about a two hour drive from Lakewood, NY (home of Southern Tier), but while the latter has its own shelf display at Wegmans, the former has been unavailable. Until recently, that is. Beers of the World now sells Great Lakes, including the variety 12-pack that I bought for an affordable $14-15.

Three of these four beers are listed among the 500 mentioned in Michael Jackson's Great Beer Guide. The downside is this probably isn't the best season for some of them.

Dortmunder Gold: Gold refers both to medals won at GABF and the color. "Not as dry as a Pilsner or as malty as a Munich-style lager," the label says. It is still pretty malty, with an earthy, grainy flavor to it. Hops make an appearance, but it isn't bitter. Nor does it finish cleanly, which is fine given its tastiness. It's more medium-bodied than light, with a decent amount of fizz. I like it, and intend to come back to it when the weather warms up.

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
: I think this one's even better. It's named after the doomed ship rather than the guy who the ship was named after (an insurance executive, BTW). Like Dortmunder Gold, it's listed as 5.8% ABV. It pours a very dark brown, but I can just see my fingers through the other side of the glass. Nice tan head that lasts. The taste is on the dry side, very roasty (almost smoky), and noticeably of coffee. There are some other flavors going on, but I like it because it's fairly direct. The body has a nice soft carbonation. It strikes me as being a tiny bit thinner than I'd like, but that's a minor criticism. This is a wonderfully drinkable porter.

19 January 2008

Heather Ale Alba Scots Pine Ale (SCO)

With all the talk about hop shortages, no one has mentioned using an alternative: twigs. Scots Pine Ale uses sprigs of spruce and pine for flavoring in place of hops, replicating old recipes. It ends up being mostly a malt bomb, with less piney flavor than in many Northwest US ales.

The bottle says to drink "at room temperature from a wine goblet," but I tried it slightly chilled from a water goblet. It pours a very clear dark brownish-reddish- orange. It's a pretty full-bodied beer, almost syrupy, with merely a spritz of carbonation (which is what I like). The smell is noticeably of berries. As mentioned, the taste is malty, really pretty sweet and fruity. There's also an earthiness to it that keeps the sweetness in check a bit. Maybe that's the pine and spruce, but I don't know if I would have defined it as such if I drank this blindly. At over 7% alcohol, so it's more of a sipper than sessions beer.

I bought this as a single -- drink by April 2009 -- but it's also available in a Traditional Ales of Scotland (or something) 4-pack that seems to be widely available. Alba Scots Pine Ale is intriguing enough that I might recommend purchasing that.

Update: Keith Brainard pops up in comments to references this blogpost of his about the history of brewing without hops, and why brewers might have resisted using them for so long. You can also visit his site My Life with Beer to follow his homebrewing experiment with a hopless (but not hopeless) Pre-Cut Ale with Fir, which he recently bottled.

14 January 2008

Ellicottville Nut Brown Ale (NY)

This newly bottled beer from Ellicottville (contract brewed by Southern Tier) was known as Buchan Nut Brown when sold in growlers and on tap. It pours clear copper with an off-white head. The aroma hints at citrus hops, and these are apparent in the taste too, although only in the background. It's also faintly soapy. Still, the hops are arguably more prominent than the malt, and I don't detect much nuttiness at all. It's really a pretty light brown ale, not nearly as flavorful as those from Dogfish Head or Smuttynose. Maybe those aren't fair comparisons, but to me this is disappointing.

I wasn't crazy Ellicottville's Pale Ale either, but that one at least made an impact (I thought it was too severe). I'm wondering if there were issues translating this from tap to bottle, or maybe problems with consistency.

10 January 2008

Smuttynose Winter Ale (NH)

I've been happy with the Smuttynose offerings I've tried before, and this one doesn't disappoint. The brewer says:

Smuttynose Winter Ale is a full-bodied, amber beer brewed with a special Trappist ale yeast. Stylistically reminiscent of a Belgian Abbey Double, it features fruity aromas and flavor, balanced by soft Crystal hops.

"Reminiscent" of a dubbel. After I drank this, I went to Ratebeer and Beer Advocate and found both have it listed a dubbel, with many complaints that it doesn't match the style. Would it score higher if it were categorized differently?

It pours dark brown or mahogany; it's head shows little retention. The aroma isn't particularly strong. I like the body, though: on the full side with soft carbonation. It tastes predictably malty with elements of brown sugar and, faintly, of cherries. It's sweet, but the finish pulls back dryly with just enough hops. Listed at 6.8% alcohol, it is quite drinkable, and a good match for a less than frigid winter night. I like this a lot.

09 January 2008

NYT on Extreme Beers

The New York Times has an article on extreme beers and the 'constant game of "Can you top this?"' played among US breweries. Garrett Oliver particpates in the NYT tasting (won by Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial I.P.A.) and isn't a big fan of this trend. I sympathize, but am also excited by the fact that American brewers and drinkers are always looking to push limits. If the US is to have a role in the international beer community, surely this is it. And what is more American than the notion that anything can be improved by simply adding more?

06 January 2008

Southern Tier Big Red (NY)

I paid $5.49 for a bomber of ol' Big Red. Described as an "Imperial Red Ale," the labels says it's 9.5% ABV, 93 IBUs, and both kettled and fragranced with "reliable" Hallertau hops. It also says to drink this at 42 degrees, but I think I went a little warmer than that.

It pours orange/brown rather than red, and looks pretty thick. What aroma there is is slightly earthy, slightly citrusy (oranges?). For all the IBUs, Big Red is more malt bomb than hop bomb. It's sweet, slightly spicy and floral, I think, with some hops to frame it. The taste has a certain aspect -- I can't quite put my finger on it -- that reminds me of other Southern Tier brews, such as the summer seasonal Hop Sun. It's also fair to say that the high alcohol doesn't really come through. What would slow me down isn't the booze, it's the body, which is quite full and softly fizzed. This isn't a guzzler.

I found an article about the brewery which claims Big Red is the only ST imperial beer not to catch on. One problem may be the packaging: tractor on the label, "as dependable as your old grandpa's tractor." Does this sound enticing to you? Another possibility is that Southern Tier produces better beers in its imperial line. This isn't their best, but is a pretty fine beer nonetheless.

05 January 2008

Cooperstown Pride of Milford Ale (NY)

In contrast to Ommegang's fish-out-of-water Belgianity, Cooperstown Brewing Company embraces their town's baseball heritage with offerings such as Strike Out Stout and Benchwarmer Porter. In fact, the brewery is located in nearby Milford, NY, from which this "Special Ale" gets its name.

Cooperstown uses Ringwood yeast, and the first sniff reveals the telltale buttery aroma. The butter doesn't overwhelm the beer, but is something to keep in mind if you have an aversion to it. A lot of people talk about Pride of Milford being fruity, but I don't detect too much of that either. It is definitely malty -- biscuity, I think -- with hops only used to keep it from getting carried away. The nearly 8% alcohol is noticeable, giving it a sherry-like undertone. The body isn't all that heavy, though, and it has a somewhat sparkly carbonation. If everything else makes it a winter beer, the mouthfeel could actually suit a summer brew.

This is kind of an unusual beer. I like it, and give it points for being interesting.