27 February 2008

Beer and Mead Blogging

First, another beer blog has emerged, Sonnett's Beer Blog from Cincinnati, underscored by the current review (as of the time I write this) of Cincy's own Christian Moerlein's Over-the-Rhine Ale. It doesn't look like I should regret not having access to this particular brew, but I'm sure they make other good stuff. Anyway, check out his site.

Meanwhile, Slate has a piece on the increasing "popularity" of mead. The author isn't sold on it:

Honey has little natural acidity. That may sound appealing, but acidity —the spine of a good wine — is what keeps flavors bright and focused, and what marries wine with food. Mead-makers recognize this flaw, so to give it an acidic boost,they add citric acid. That helps, but it's not enough. Most meads still sit somewhat awkwardly alongside dinner. Unlike the best beer and wine pairings, they neither sharply highlight foods nor blend with them into something equally interesting.
New York's Ramapo Valley brewery makes a honey beer that is bascially a mead. It's also interesting to know that there's mead blogging going on out there, although the one mentioned by Slate seems not to have posted in a while.

25 February 2008

IPA Tournament

Brewing News is running a March Madness style tournament of India Pale Ales, and you can see the bracket here. Lord knows it can't be any less interesting than the NCAA hoops tournament (sorry, but I'm just not a fan any more).

From a New York perspective, it looks like Ithaca Flower Power has a really tough first run matchup against Dogfish Head 60-Minute. Southern Tier IPA has a more favorable bracket, going up against upstate's Lake Placid IPA. They're both in the same bracket as Custom Brewcrafters Monty's Fat Head, a local beer (to me) that isn't even bottled. My local newspaper's intermittent beer column mentions that CB is hand-bottling the beer for the tournament (normally, it's sold at a pub named Monty's Krown).

Allagash Dubbel Ale (ME)

Speaking of Maine...

Allagash Dubbel -- "Dubbel Ale" in the squat 12-ounce bottle, "Dubbel Reserve" in the bomber, but the website lumps them together -- is a "unique beer with a complex malty taste and a remarkably clean finish," according to the brewer. Hazy, dark brown to amber colored with a fluffy white head, and you can't ask for better lacing. It's a really smooth beer, medium bodied with ample carbonation, but of the really soft kind.

It's malty, of course, but I ultimately think this is a bit on the dry side for the style. There's some raisins and definitely some anise/licorice. It's unfiltered, and the yeast comes through on the tongue. The finish is clean, just as promised. The brewery website says you can age this and it will pick up port or sherry-like aspects. I'm holding one back from the 4-pack, but I'll probably end up drinking it in a month or two.

Eight bucks for a 4-pack of is pretty good compared to Belgian imports, but it's more than I pay for Ommegang's eponymous ale, which I think is richer (but I'm comparing from memory). Still, this is very good.

23 February 2008

Otter Creek Otter Mon (VT)

First, Russ over at Beer, Maine & Me has been conducting Q&As with beer bloggers and posted one with me that is sort of lame (my fault, not his). It's an interesting idea, though, and he's talked to lots of people, including "big" names like Lew Bryson and Stonch. The site also includes beer reviews and other commentary. Check it out.

Otter Mon Jamacian-style Stout is one of the Vermont brewery's World Tour special edition beers. (BTW, Otter Creek is either owned by or owns Wolaver's, which is a reminder that the next Session topic is organic beer.) The label of Otter Mon tells us:

"Otter Mon" is a Jamaican Stout, brewed with black malt, chocolate malt, flaked barley and caramel malt, and fermented with British ale yeast. Raw sugar cane provides a sweet tooth of rum-like flavor and aroma, while East Kent and Liberty hops add balance to the sweetness.

The British ale yeast is, I think, Ringwood, though I can't detect it. If Jamaican style stouts contain raw sugar, would American style stouts contain corn syrup? I don't want to give Bud or Miller any ideas...

Otter Mon pours very dark brown with a thin beige head. The body turns out to be less than full, though I suppose you wouldn't want anything too heavy in the tropics. There's the expected roasted coffee flavor, some earthiness, and, yes, some sugar. This is a sweet stout, although hops at the end prevent it from being too much. I don't know what the ABV of Otter Mon is, but it doesn't feel very high. All told, I like this; it's tasty and very drinkable, but you shouldn't expect a rich, full, dry stout. At only $3.99 for a bomber, it's decent value as well.

16 February 2008

Heather Ale Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale (SCO)

I'm not sure I know what an elderberry tastes like. I have a vague recollection of having elderberry tea or jam. Wikipedia says the raw berries are mildly poisonous, so I doubt I've tasted them.

This pours nearly perfect black, with only a slight tinge of purple. The beige head is dense, looking a bit like that from a Nitro can, but without feeling so artificial. The label says:

It is a rich black ale with aruit aroma, soft texture, roasted grain and red wine flavour, with a gentle finish.

Some of this is spot on, but the texture isn't quite so soft. For me, it's a tad over-fizzed. The "roasted grain and red wine flavour" is accurate, though. It's a bit like an oatmeal stout splashed with Cabernet. The fruitiness is subdued, and the berries are at least as tart as sweet.

I bought this as a single, but it's available as part of the four pack that includes Alba Scots Pine Ale, which I think I liked slightly better than Elderberry Black. Still, this is a fine ale and a very interesting one. The late Michael Jackson has an article which refers to St. Peter's Elderberry ale, but I don't think that's available in the States.

15 February 2008

Adnams Broadside (ENG)

For me, this is the bottled version of this ale from seaside Southwold in Suffolk. The pub version is apparently quite different and comes in at under 5%. The bottled is over 6%. If you can't replicate real ale in bottles, then I suppose it makes sense to re-work the beer a bit.

Broadside turns out to be a complex strong ale. I have a hard time nailing down all that's going on. It reminds me vaguely of Cooperstown Pride of Milford, which I reviewed recently, but that of course gets the influence backwards.

Broadside has a hazy, auburn color and a rich, creamy mouth feel with soft fizz. The flavor is partly malty sweetness (cherries? raisins?), partly hop bite (but not too bitter), and partly buttery (but not of diacetyl excess). Warming seems to bring out citrus notes. This is definitely one to be savored and not gulped, which is good given the price ($12+ for a 4-pack).

10 February 2008

Cooperstown Strike Out Stout/Benchwarmer Porter (NY)

Two dark beers from Cooperstown Brewing Co. tasted side-by-side. I liked their Pride of Milford Ale, which was an interesting beer of the sorts that isn't too common among US breweries. The stout and porter, however, compete in crowded fields in their styles.

Strike Out Stout: This pours very dark and opaque, with a fairly modest head. It smells stout-ish to me, akin to the dry Irish stouts. It has a standard roastiness to it -- coffee mostly -- that turns a bit smoky near the end. There isn't too much in the way of hop bitterness. The body is on the light side, which will be a deal-breaker for some, but I don't mind. Carbonation is restrained. It's only 4.6% ABV and makes for a good sessions stout.

Benchwarmer Porter: I've noticed other reviewers claiming the stout was over-carbonated, but for me, it's the porter that's out of control. Even with a careful pour I wind up with a massive head that overstays its welcome. The fizziness infects the body as well. Add the look (redder than the stout and translucent) and the taste (pretty sweet) and it really reminds me of cola. Admittedly, the sweetness is perhaps more molasses than corn syrup, and to its credit there's some roasted flavors underneath. As it warms up, I think I detect some butterscotch from the breweries' use of Ringwood yeast. This one has over 6% ABV, and I think there are a lot of flavors there buried beneath the fizz. But it's just too close to a cola alco-pop for me.

So I prefer Strike Out Stout and intend to drink it again. At both ratebeer and Beer Advocate, however, reviewers prefer the porter. Few reviewers note the excessive carbonation, so I'm wondering if there's a lot of variation among bottles.

Revising Stupid Beer Laws

MSNBC is currently fronting an article (by way of Conde Nast) about revisions of antiquated beer laws across the US. It looked like the guy writing it knew what he was talking about, and then I noticed it was by Lew Bryson.

We often roll our eyes in disbelief at some of the laws we have in this country, but Bryson makes an interesting point about disrupting the status quo:

Great, right? It’s great for consumers, maybe, but highly disruptive for the tavern and beer-store owners. The case law has shaped their business — down to the fact that beer stores have concrete floors and wide aisles for moving ­pallets of cases around, and they lack nice shelves and glass-front coolers and display units. The guys who laid out big money for bar licenses to sell six packs — they can run as high as $500,000 — may wind up expensive curiosities. As one store owner told me, “I’ve got to change my whole store to accommodate this.”
The "case law" in question is a Pennsylvania law requiring a separate license for selling six-packs. Dumb, perhaps, but you can't really blame the guy who just ponied up for a license for being upset. Of course, it's a different story when you're talking about big businesses that actually lobby for stupid laws to begin with.

06 February 2008

Wagner Valley Oatmeal Stout (NY)

I kinda liked the India Pale Ale from this Lodi, NY winery/brewery, so I figured I'd give the Oatmeal Stout a try. The brewer calls this a "classically brewed British style oatmeal stout," which brings to mind Samuel Smith's, but it turns out not to be like that at all.

Wagner's pours all but black with an overflowing beige head. It turns out that this is a very fizzy stout. It smells sweeter than it tastes. On the tongue, the expected roasted coffee/chocolate aspect is pushed to the point of being burnt. It's dry and moderately bitter, but I'm not sure if that's the hops or the dark roast. I don't mind this at all; it's interesting. But the thin, fizzy body doesn't cut it. If it only had SS's creaminess.

For those who can't find Wagner beers in stores, you can order from them directly online in most states. Shipping charges are pretty high, so I wouldn't recommend it for this beer, which is merely okay.

02 February 2008

Mahr's Brau Jubelfestbier (GER)

"The only true craft beers imported from Germany come from the tiny Mahr’s brewery in Bamberg," says the Shelton Brothers website. If it's true that it's a bit late to be drinking festbiers, it's also true that this isn't an ordinary festbier.

This offering comes in one of those elaborately capped 500 ml bottles and gives a good pop when opened. It's translucent but very dark brown, the darkest of any Oktoberfest lager, perhaps. So is this a schwarbier? Well, it doesn't have the same level of porter-like roasty coffee or chocolate. That's there in smaller doses. The hops are noticeable, adding an earthiness and slight bitterness. Overall, it's pretty balanced between malt and hops, and finishes fairly dry and crisp. The body is a tad too light I think, and there's fairly active carbonation (thus, the initial loud pop).

At 4.9% ABV, it would be very drinkable but for the price ($4+). No doubt, this would be better in Franconia, and maybe even a little fresher in the bottle a few months ago. As a festbier, it's an interesting change of pace, but no law says you can't drink the tastier and more affordbale Sam Adams Black Lager or a nice dunkel for Oktoberfest. Still, this is good enough that I'll want to try others from the brewery.