29 April 2008

Negra Modelo (MEX)

How do you like that beer? You know, they brought German Burgermeisters over here back in about 18 hundred and something. Who knows? Long time ago. Some of the best beer in the world comes from Mexico.
-Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

In fact, it doesn't, Benny, but it is true about the German (or Austrian) connection to Mexican beer. Negra Modelo is, IMO, probably the nest Mexican beer readily available in the US. Still, this isn't a dark lager to match the best of Vienna. It looks pretty: clear amber rather than pale yellow. And there's both more malt and more hops than in a Corona or Pacifica. Still, it's pretty light, and buried beneath too much carbonation. At the end, you can just barely taste some roasted coffee maltiness. There isn't enough, though. Then again, a proper Vienna lager probably wouldn't suit Chile Rellenos or an afternoon at the beach.

Activity at High Falls

High Falls Brewing of Rochester, NY-- makers of Genesee and JW Dundee's -- have recently let go of their brewer and partnered with a new marketing firm. Something's afoot, but I'm not sure what.

High Falls/Genesee is one of the old regionals trying to stay alive in the contemporary landscape. JW Dundee's is no great shakes of a line, but at least pointed them in the direction of craft beer. Will they become more committed to craft beer, or give up on it entirely?

27 April 2008

Sprecher Mai Bock/Black Bavarian (WIS)

I hadn't seen anything from this Milwaukee based brewer before, so I wonder if they just began distributing to Western New York. They are evidently more renowned for their soda than for their beer. The 16-ounce bottles ($8.50 a 4-pack) have twist off caps, unusual for a craft brewer, but unlike macro bottles, they're really hard to open.

Mai Bock: This is a seasonal brew, a robust pale lager. It pours a lightly hazy orange-yellow with a weak head. Overall, it's a bit more malty than hoppy, although there's definite bitterness along with the bready sweetness. The neck label claims a "distinctive flowery aroma and a crisp hop flavor," which is mostly correct, though I'm not sure if it comes across as entirely crisp. It has a rich body, nice soft carbonation, and a very long aftertaste. I like this beer a good deal, but it might not win over lager skeptics. It's probably more suitable for early, cool spring than for sunny May days.

Black Bavarian: Another lager, this appears to be one of their most respected offerings. I like schwarzbiers a lot, with Sam Adams providing my current favorite. Sprecher's take is smokier. It starts out sweet, has some spiciness and bitterness, but is quickly overtaken by pretty heavy roasted malts. It reminds me a bit of Saranac Chocolate Amber Lager in that respect, or perhaps some stouts I've had. I'm not enthralled with smokiness, which is a strike against Sprecher for me. On the plus side, it has the same appealing soft carbonation as the Mai Bock. Black Bavarian is a well-made beer, and I think it's a question of what you're looking for.

23 April 2008

BrewDog and the Internet

Scotland's Daily Record has an article about BrewDog and their reliance on the internet beer community. After initially failing to generate any interest in Scotland, they turned their attention online

Thankfully, the pair [the brewery co-owners] had access to thousands of more appreciative beer drinkers on the internet.

After selling no beer at all for four months, the two pals decided to focus on the export market and began sending samples out to "beer bloggers" around the world.

In a matter of weeks, BrewDog was the hottest name on the lips of those in the know in the world of beer and, before the duo knew where they were, they were being lauded by fans and connoisseurs around the world.

Nice story, but beer blogger triumphalism must be tempered by the fact they put "beer bloggers" in quotation marks.

22 April 2008

Butternuts Snapperhead IPA (NY)

So says the website:

Our India Pale Ale packs typical IPA balls but strikes better balance between
dryness and drinkability. It’s every bit as rich but a little less better than
other American interpretations of the breed

I always assumed "IPA balls" were the bitterness, but apprently not. The above is accurate, though. Snapperhead pours hazy orange-copper with a slight head. This tastes a lot like other American IPAs, but without the pine or grapefruit hit at the end. It's not a pale ale -- it does bring a full flavor -- and it's not an English IPA. It's more like an American IPA that seems unfinished. There's a lot of mostly grainy malt, and some hops too, but really bitter. You could make a case that this one's balanced and all the other IPAs are not. Overall, I like it, but it's sure to piss off a lot of the hopheads.

21 April 2008

2008 World Beer Cup

Winners from the 2008 World Beer Cup in San Diego are here. You can't help but raise an eyebrow at some of the medal winners -- there are 91 categories and, of course, not every brewery in the world enters -- but the tastings are blind, which is more than most of us usually do

Natty Light won a bronze. A local beer (for me), JW Dundee's Doppelbock, won a shocking bronze in a tougher category. It made the local paper. Another upstate New York beer won a silver: Saranac Pale Ale. Admittedly, there are three or four pale ale categories. Elsewhere, Dogfish Head's Midas Touch finished third in its category behind Blue Moon Honey Moon and Michelob Honey Lager. Take that, microbewery!

19 April 2008

Left Hand Jackman's Pale Ale (CO)

Another selection from Colorado's Left Hand seems like a good choice at the end of an abnormally hot April afternoon.

This one's a looker, nice and clear golden with an off-white head. The brewery says they used Cascade and Centennial hops, and dry-hopped with Mt. Hood. This would suggest a mixture of citrus and floral, I think, which is pretty much what you get. It comes across as mild, but not in the sense of being tasteless. Instead, it's a blend of hop flavors rather than the dominant grapefruit bitterness present in some APAs. Jackman's is also slightly grainy and sweet. This is a solid APA, nice and crisp, but not what some would want from the style. On a warm day, I'd rather drink this than the brewer's pilsener, but their darker beers seem to be better.

14 April 2008

Erdinger Hefe-Weizen Dark (GER)

This is now the third Erdinger wheat beer I've tried. I thought the two others were decent enough, probably not the best of Germany, but I bought this because it was on sale (a drink by date of 04-2008 being the reason).

My understanding is that it isn't entirely typical of the style. "A moderately dark, spicy, fruity, malty, refreshing wheat-based ale," says BJCP, which isn't too far off. Erdinger is in fact dark brown, with some lightness appearing only around the edges. The taste is mostly hefe, but with some caramel sweetness covering up the banana/clove. "A roasted malt character is inappropriate" is where we get into trouble. The finish of this beer is clearly of roasted malts, providing a light mocha flavor. If this is wrong for the style, it's also my favorite part of the beer. My least favorite is the carbonation, which is effervescent, but excessive. Probably this isn't incorrect, but just seems so because it doesn't fit the wayward taste. Ultimately, this doesn't come across as a heavy beer, but seems to want to be more than just refreshing.

Overall, I like this more than either of the other Erdinger's I've tasted. Checking out the rating it sites, it looks like Weihenstephaner makes a great dunkelweizen, so I'll have to try that.

12 April 2008

Allagash White (ME)

Before I became interested in craft beer, I'd occasionally go to my local beer emporium and pick out mostly cheaper or reduced price bottles. I recall Allagash White as one of the few I splurged on. After taking it home, I assiduously followed the label directions and graphics to pour, swirl, and pour yeast. This wasn't the first witbier I'd had -- I know I'd drunk Hoegaarden before -- but this really blew me away as something different and wonderful. Sometimes I wish I could recover my thoughts on all the beers I tried before this became a hobby. Then again, sometimes I wish I could recover that feeling of just drinking and not thinking about beer. Writes Nick Hornby:

A critical faculty is a terrible thing. When I was eleven there were no bad films, just films that I didn’t want to see, there was no bad food, just Brussels sprouts and cabbage, and there were no bad books — everything I read was great. Then suddenly, I woke up in the morning and all that had changed. How could my sister not hear that David Cassidy was not in the same class as Black Sabbath? Why on earth would my English teacher think that The History of Mr Polly was better than Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie? And from that moment on, enjoyment has been a much more elusive quality.

Anyway, Allagash White pours an opaque yellow-orange with foamy white top. If you ever doubt whether a beer can smell like cloves, then whiff this one after pouring. Then again, after a bit, the cloves seem to fade, replaced instead by coriander and lemon. The taste follows suit. This isn't a heavily spiced wit, and comes across as light and refreshing (though still flavorful). The texture is killer: smooth with subdued carbonation. Overall, this is one of my favorites in the style, although I still prefer a topnotch hefeweizen.

10 April 2008

Wagner Valley Grace House Honey Wheat (NY)

There aren't to many American beers below 4% ABV, but this is one of them. Brewed with "locally crafted honey" from whatever bees are still alive, this wheat ale pours slightly hazy golden with a small head. It smells slightly of honey but also of pale lager. Or is that adjuncts? Like others from the brewery, it's highly carbonated, but that's better for this style than it is for their stout. If you can get past the fizz, you'll find a light-bodied brew with honey and the occasional hop. It is crisp and refreshing, which is the least you could want.

Nothing all that great, or even all that good. It reminds me a little of Blue Moon Honey Moon Ale, but I haven't had that since last year, so I could be misremembering. If you want to try this, save it for a sweltering day.

Dave Lieberman on Beer

I've heard a few things about a Here's to Beer, a campaign to elevate the image of beer. I think the beer bloggers have discussed them in the past. Here's their website, which hints that it may be design heavy but content light (although the food pairing isn't bad).

What interests me Food TV's Dave Lieberman apparently has a corresponding TV show. Or is it a Web only show? I don't know, but below is a link to a snippet from Vimeo. Not a lot to see, but the heads on those three beers sure are nice.

Here's to Beer - Dessert from genme on Vimeo.

05 April 2008

Left Hand Milk Stout/Black Jack Porter (CO)

The last two from the Left Hand mixed pack, and possibly my last taste of these styles for months.

Milk Stout: This is my favorite of the four, although you probably need a bit of a sweet tooth to enjoy it. Wikipedia tells us this about milk stouts:

Milk stout (also called sweet stout or cream stout) is a stout containing lactose, a sugar derived from milk. Because lactose is unfermentable by Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it adds sweetness, body, and calories to the finished beer. Contemporary labeling standards in place since prevent the use of the term in the UK. The classic example of sweet stout is Mackeson's XXX.

So they'd have to re-name this if exported to Britain, I suppose. Left Hand's offering is wonderfully rich and creamy. If it's coffee, it is cafe au lait or latte or something. If Starbucks sold beer, this might be the one. I don't want to go too far in proclaiming it's sweetness, however, as the roastiness does keep it in check a bit. Still, this isn't a Guinness clone, and it's all the better for it.

Black Jack Porter: Higher in ABV than the Milk Stout (6.3% vs. 5.3%), the body proves to be less creamy, lighter and fizzier than the stout. A dry porter would nicely complement the Milk Stout, but the first couple bottles of this I had struck me as perhaps being a bit too much. Roasted chocolate malts are in the forefront, and there's some bitterness at the end. But Black Jack isn't as dry or clean finishing as I would have liked. Maybe this is an issue of me wanting it to be something else. Also, my expectations were raised after drinking the Milk Stout, which is the one to get.

02 April 2008

Left Hand Sawtooth Ale/Polestar Pilsener (CO)

Left Hand's Mountain Mixer put me back more than $18 before tax and deposit, which is certainly on the high side for a 12-pack.

Sawtooth Ale: This is the brewery's flagship beer, an "American-style" ESB. Or maybe it's a slightly hoppy amber ale. The key here is balance between malts and hops, sweet and bitter, and I think this gets it right. The hops are citrusy, but not pushing too much into APA (or IPA) territory. Light-to-medium bodied and crisp carbonation, it's drinkable, and probably good will all kinds of food. The downside is it can get lost in the shuffle. I'm not sure I could pick this out of a lineup. Still, you need something like this in a good variety pack.

Polestar Pilsner: "The hardest beer we make -- there's nowhere to hide!" For that effort, this turns out to be an okay pilsener, but not much more. It's straw color is oh so slightly hazy with a nice white head. The aroma is sweet to me: cookies, maybe banana (!?). But the taste doesn't seem to follow suit. Grassy is the first thing that comes to mind. I like it, but it's not flavorful enough. Would be good for a hot summer day, but not much else.

The two dark beers to come.