31 May 2008

Amarcord La Putena (ITA)

It's nice to have a local beer retailer that has a wide selection, but what's really great is a changing selection. I visit to my local shop (Beers of the World) every 3-4 weeks or so, but am still amazed at how many beers they have which weren't there before. Some of these may be seasonal brews which I don't remember from last year. Some may be beers that have been available to you, but I'm just seeing now. Still, I could keep myself busy just trying stuff that's new to me.

One new-to-me breweries is Italy's Amarcord, named after Fellini's film. This is wine country of course, and Italian beer doesn't receive much respect. But Amarcord is ambitious. It looks like they have four beers, the biggest being a brown ale at 10%. La Putena (not sure what this means...whore? Isn't that puttana?) is at 6.5% and is a rossa doppio malto (double red malt). It's sold in a fabulous 500 ml bottle, with a flip top cap and image of tarted up lady on the label. The color is mahogany, but I couldn't get much of a head. In fact, it turns out to be quite low in carbonation, which I like but others may have issues with.

This isn't an American-style red or amber ale, replete with hops. Instead, it's mostly sweet in an earthy way, mildly of cherries. But I wouldn't call it cloying. It's very easy-drinking, if not too much so. I would gladly slurp these down ... except it runs over $6 a bottle! La Putena a nice beer, but really not worth that price. Possibly it's a better value in a country with a decent currency.

I do think this is better than given credit for at both Beer Advocate and ratebeer. The former has it listed as a Vienna Lager (?!), which is a sure way to screw up the ratings.

30 May 2008

Fire at FX Matt Brewery

Courtesy of A Good Beer Blog, there's a fire at the FX Matt Brewery in Utica, brewers of the Saranac line. As of 8am, the MSNBC report says the brewery "is on fire" (present tense). Let's hope that's not still the case. This looks pretty serious.

28 May 2008

Southern Tier Hop Sun (NY)

Looking back, I see I didn't write about this one last year. This hoppy wheat beer is one of my favorite summer brews. It is filtered, pouring sparkling clear gold, with a sustaining its white head. The hops are Centennial, of grapefruit, but also flowery. By the standards of a wheat ale, it's bitter, but not at the level of most APAs, let alone IPAs. It clocks in at 36 IBU and just over 4% ABV. So it's not a blockbuster, but truly a beer for warm days. It also has a nice lemony sweetness to balance it out.

Southern Tier also produces Uber Sun, Hop Sun's heavier brother, but something is necessarily lost in the upgrade.

27 May 2008

Beer Columnist Job Opening

I don't know how many US newspapers have a beer column, but mine does. Alas, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Beer Buddies are moving on. Fortunately, the column isn't leavng with them, and the paper is looking for a replacement. I doubt anyone who reads this blog is willing and/or able, but it's nice to get the word out. Whatever else blogging is good for, it can surely provide the print world with future talent (as it's currently doing in the world of political commentary).

If you'd like to become the Democrat and Chronicle's next beer columnist, contact Lead Local Editor/Life Catherine Roberts at (585) 258-2310 or cathyr@DemocratandChronicle.com. We will require a résumé and sample columns.
They're probably looking for primarily someone who knows the local scene, even if it comes at the expense of a certain level of beer geekery.

24 May 2008

Ayinger Brau-Weisee (GER)

Old Bavarian brewery, been around for centuries. Their hefeweizen pours a pale yellow, lacking the orange tinge of some others (my picture makes it seem darker than it is), but with an uber-fluffy white head. The aroma is of banana and lemon and the texture of champagne, with abundant tiny bubbles. I think if there's one thing to differentiate this from the pack, it's the relative dryness. There's a mild fruitiness and spiciness throughout, but overall, Brau-Weisse is dry and crisp.

To me, Ayinger is in the mix among the top German hefes, and has the advantage of availability. I found this in a Merchant du Vin display at my local supermarket.

21 May 2008

Newsweek and Charlie Papazian

Newsweek has a brief interview with Charlie Papazian of the U.S. Brewers Association. A few interesting points. About labeling regulations, Papazian says:

Brewers support getting more information to consumers, but we're hoping small brewers can list nutritional values in a linear display rather than a graphic panel. To print a large panel, brewers would have to invest $15 million in new printing equipment.

As much as large corporations have a distaste for regulation, at some point regulations benefit them by creating barriers to entry to smaller competitors. I don't if the big brewers are actively working against the craft brewers in this instance, but it's always something to keep an eye on.

Of craft beer's increasing popularity, Papazian says something I completely agree with:
People recognize that there are frontiers to be explored, and there's a lot to be discovered. Part of the mystique and enjoyment is discovery, because you don't see these beers being promoted widely. Our culture is widely tuned into the element of discovering cool stuff.

I suppose "our culture" here should not refer to US culture as a whole, but to a subset of it. The "elites," perhaps. Elsewhere, Papzian mentions beer being "as sophisticated as wine," which gives me pause, but I suppose depends on the meaning of "sophisticated."

20 May 2008

New Brewery in Finger Lakes Region

Regional news. There's a new brewery in the area: Barley Yards Brewing. Actually, this is Honeoye Falls-based Custom Brewcrafters (who mostly contract brew torestaurants, bars, etc.) teaming up with a winery to produce five beers, one of which is an ale made with Riesling grapes. Custom Brewcrafters doesn't bottle, although growlers can be had without going all the way to the brewery. I'm not sure what the plans are to distribute the new beers.

18 May 2008

Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier/Dark (GER)

Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan is a state owned brewery. You just don't see that sort of thing in the US. Both of these wheat beers are just over 5% ABV and both are, of course, brewed in accordance with the German Purity Law, though the brewery predates the law by half a millennium.Hefe Weissbier: This strikes me as being on the wheatier end of the hefeweizen spectrum. Of course, that's the style, but it comes across as fairly earthy. There's the usual banana and cloves, but it is more spicy and less sweet than other hefes, without any of the lemony notes you sometimes get. The texture is great: creamy and only lightly carbonated. Still, for all the praise this receives, I don't think I like it as much as Paulaner's take on the style. However, I'm not trying them side-by-side, and it's not hot outside.

Hefeweissbier Dark: I got a big whiff of banana out of the glass here, more so than for any other wheat beer I tried. It pours a murky amber with a great mouse pillow head. The dunkel version is more malty and less noticeably yeasty and wheaty than the straight hefe. It's ever so slightly sour as well. In his Great Beer Guide, Michael Jackson says this beer is reminiscent of maple syrup and recommends serving with pancakes. I can see what he's getting at: there's a banana walnut waffle quality here. In the aftertaste, cocoa and roasted malts appear. In fact, the aftertaste of Weihenstephaner reminds me of the main flavor of Erdinger's darker take on the style (Erdinger being the stylistic outlier).

Two fine beers. I preferred the dunkel this weekend, but I suspect that may be due to the cool weather.

15 May 2008

American Craft Beer Week

Nice shout out for American Craft Beer Week (May 12-18) on the Colbert Report. Alas, Stephen seems to think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a microbrew.

La Caracole Saxo (BEL)

Brasserie La Caracole is located in Walloon region of Belgium. The label shows a snail (the brewery's mascot) blowing a saxophone (Adolph Sax is from the same town as the brewery). This Belgian Blond Ale clocks in at 7.5% and costs $4.19 for 330ml.

While pouring, I thought I caught a whiff of lager -- lemony lager -- and it turns out this is made with Pilsener malt and Saaz hops. It's cloudy orange-yellow with a nice white head. The label recommends serving at 46 degrees; I drank it at about 5 degrees warmer. Still, this suggests to me that it's supposed to be a summery brew, and it's in fact supported by a somewhat light body and spritzy carbonation.

To me, this is one of those beers which, if you don't like it, it's because you think it doesn't all come together, not because you think it's dull. It's yeasty and lemony, a bit tart even. Among the esters I pick out cherries and banana. It's a whole bowl of fruit, but the end pulls back with some dryness. The alcohol isn't obtrusive while drinking but warms my gut afterwards. Saxo's particularly enjoyable if you drink a lot of different beers and start to feel they taste the same. I only wish I had a larger bottle to explore all the flavors.

10 May 2008

Otter Creek Otter San (VT)

I like this Otter Creek World Tour Series. I've only reviewed the Jamaican stout so far, but really should have tried more of them. Special series are, of course, a good way to boost sales without over-extending the product line. Otter Creek's is amicably affordable (this was $4.59 a bomber), cutely packaged and intriguing, as opposed to pricey, aggressive ("Kick Ass Imperial IPA") and exhaustingly big.

Otter San is described as "a full-bodied pale amber ale brewed with rice, pilsner malt, Hallertauer hops, authentic Koji, and sake yeast." The color is yellow or khaki (my picture doesn't really show this) and there's a decent head. The body is viscous with a light hand on the carbonation. I'd like to think that even drinking blind, I'd have guessed the Asian theme. Both the aroma and the flavor have a rice sweetness to them, as well as a vague hint of sake (which, contrary to common understanding, is more beer than wine). It's also a tad perfumey. Forget the brewer's description of a "pale amber ale." More malt than hops and more sweet than bitter, Otter San reminds me most of lager (maybe it's the rice) and maybe secondarily of an old English ale, but that's not really quite right. No idea of the ABV here; I'm guessing 5-6%.

If it's not an unqualified success, it's still a fun beer to sample. Try it with sushi.

08 May 2008

Blue Dawg Wild Blue (NY)

Anheuser-Busch does a pretty good job of hiding traces of their fingerprints from this one. I saw a six-pack in my supermarket and had only a vague recollection of the name. A fruit beer at 8%? Award winning? Seems interesting. Baldwinsville, NY should have tipped me off, or perhaps the poseur-ish "dawg" brewery name.

Not that I prejudged it because of the brewery. In fact, this actually turned out to be not quite as bad as I'd heard (though it's still pretty bad). It's heavy on the blueberry, although I wonder if they could pass it off as grape. The sweetness is at the level of an alcopop. It's a bit syrupy. The back end has a trace of hops that doesn't jibe with the rest of it. Rating by style -- and defining the style simply as beer -- it would score terribly, but it actually makes for a passable, high school grade spiked punch. That's really not what I was looking for, but I do have some acquaintances who probably wouldn't mind taking the rest of the sixer.

05 May 2008

Sour Beer Study

Apologies to A Good Beer Blog for borrowing the title. I've been reading Dan Ariely's book on behavioral economics Predictably Irrational. In one chapter, Ariely describes a study at an MIT bar (Muddy Charles) in which they fed patrons a special "MIT brew" which was in fact Budweiser or Sam Adams laced with balsamic vinegar. Those who weren't told what the special ingredient was liked the beer better than did those who were. A third group who was told about the inclusion of vinegar after drinking but before offering an opinion. They liked the beer about as much as the first group (those who weren't told at all). This seems to indicate that our perceptions of taste are affected by foreknowledge, but it isn't a case of "poseur-ism" (i.e., people saying they disliked something only after finding out what was in it).

I'm not sure if admitting you like beer with balsamic vinegar has any stigma attached to it, so this doesn't really measure snobbism. For beer geeks, giving them a blind-labeled Anheuser-Busch product would be the test. Still, as most of us don't taste blind, it does suggests that expectations are influential (not a surprise to many of us, I'm sure). It also made me want to try beer with balsamic vinegar. Two drops per ounce was the recipe.

There's another chapter in the book uses the Carolina Brewery as part of a test to observe ordering behavior as a gauge of the need for uniqueness. The upshot was that customers at the same table went out of their way to order different beers from one another. (The researchers watched to make sure this was not a case of wanting to share.) Satisfaction was higher when orders were taken privately and people just ordered what they wanted. Ariely claims that in Hong Kong, diners in a group will have a tendency order the same dish regardless of what they really want, the opposite of in the US. They don't want to be unique. I personally wouldn't think twice of ordering what someone else has, but I pretty much always order one of the specials.

Anyway, Predictably Irrational is a pretty interesting book if you're into that sort of thing (economics that is, not beer).

03 May 2008

Ithaca TEN (NY)

I've tried two beers from Ithaca's Excelsior series: IPAbbey and White Gold. Ithaca TEN is brewed in celebration of their tenth anniversary. It is:

an Imperial American Extra Strong and Special Double Red Ale. Our anniversary beer, TEN, is brewed with too many malts to list and an excess of American hops, including several additions during fermentation. Enjoy the russet color, aggressively hoppy aroma and flavor, rich body and fiery finish.

This is a kitchen-sinker all the way. It pours a slightly cloudy reddish-brown with a fabulous off-white head. It emits an aroma of Northwest IPA-style grapefruit and/or pine (ratebeer has this listed as an Imperial IPA, Beer Advocate as an American Strong Ale). The taste has the same elements, but they aren't all that's there. At times, it comes across with almost caramel sweetness. There are also a lemony notes and some peppery spiciness. The overall effect isn't really all that bitter. But it is big, serving almost as a juiced up version of Cascazilla.

Big beer fans should give this a try if you can find it. Others may find it an example of American brewing excess. At nearly $10 for 750 ml, it's pricey, but it's a sipper, and you can split a bottle 2-3 ways.

02 May 2008

Session 15: How it all began

This month’s Session asks how we first became interested in good beer. I’ll confess to not having any single “Eureka!” moment. In fact, my initial answer was simply to say that I live near the retail mecca Beers of the World. At some point I figured, I live near this place, I should shop there (I started cooking Indian food for a similar reason). But that doesn’t explain everything.

My story probably isn’t unlike that of many other Americans. I drank illegally in high school and college (until I turned 21). Those days, I drank beer to get drunk. The beer was cheap and weak; quality isn’t important when you’re doing keg stands or playing quarters. The object was often to pound brews as quickly as possible so as to maintain your buzz the rest of the night after you leave the dorm. I didn’t know much beyond the world of US mass brands and regionals. And I didn’t necessarily like the beer I was drinking. In fact, taste seemed beside the point.

Later in life, I got into wine a bit (my father’s a big wine guy), went through a period where I drank hard liquor, and then doubled back to beer. This time it was the good stuff. I had the money to afford it and wasn’t just trying to get plastered. I started regularly visiting Beers of the World. Interestingly, I don’t think my impulse was finding great drinks so much as it was simple curiosity. How many different ways could beer taste? And what’s with all these Indian beers (you know, India Pale Ales)?

I developed a liking for a lot of the beers – I recall Gosser Dark being an early favorite – and have since been encouraged by friends (although nearly all are, alas, macro drinkers) and internet sites, including beer blogs.

In truth, none of this would have happened if I didn’t have a natural inclination toward connoisseurship. Like many middle class blue staters, I want to expand my tastes and try the best of what’s out there, and I don’t worry about whether I like what everyone else likes. No doubt, if I were running for president, I’d be branded an elitist (by scotch-drinking political commentators, nonetheless).

Looking back, I wonder how this topic plays out by nationality (and age too, I suppose; I was a teenager during the ‘80s when the craft beer movement was much less developed). Our 21 drinking age undoubtedly affects American drinking habits. The extended period of illicit juvenile drinking imprints upon us attitudes that are hard to shake, and I’ve often thought that it makes for a less smooth transition away from adolescent binging to a more mature approach. Does it push us into distinct two groups: beer geeks and average Joes? Is there a middle ground we’re missing?