30 July 2008


Just a reminder that The Barley Blog is hosting Session 18 with the theme of "Happy Anniversary." This just so happens to coincide with the one year anniversary of this blog (actually about a week ago).

26 July 2008

Coney Island Lager (NY)

Creepiest. Label. Ever.

This is from the the same guys who make He'brew beers. The Coney Island lagers (there are several) have spun off onto their own web page. This isn't a huge lager in terms of ABV (5.5%) but it is one that tries to do a lot, boasting of eight malt and six hop varieties. With hops, it plays both German (Tettnang, Hallerauer) and Czech (Saaz) sides of the fence, plus adds Amarillo, Warrior and the inevitable Cascade. The ultimate result is, I think, something a bit ale-ish.

It's coppery-brown and a bit hazy, looking thick for a lager. The aroma does hint at citrus hops. A lot of flavor for a lager: caramel malt (but not like the Vienna lager that ratebeer places it as), grassy and citrus hops. Overall, it isn't bitter, but well-balanced, and not in the sense of boring. The price of this is that it isn't as clean and crisp as many lagers, although it does bring a lager-like carbonation that tells you it isn't an ale.

Coney island Lager isn't as far outside the stylistic boundaries as Flying Dog's Old Scratch. I like it about as much as I like Brooklyn Lager, which also tosses in Northwest hops. If you want a purely traditional take on lager, you might be disappointed. If you're an ale supremacist, give this a try.

25 July 2008

Supermarket Finds

Beerjanglin' reports that the Wegmans supermarket in Dewitt (Syracuse area) has expanded its beer selection, and it looks impressive. And I thought my local Wegmans had a good selection. I wonder this will spread to all thier stores throughout the Northeast, or if it's dependent on local market conditions.

23 July 2008

Budweiser has a recipe?

He's no Stephen Colbert, but here's Lewis Black on the A-B sale. It starts about 2 1/2 minutes in out of 4 1/2.

22 July 2008

Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber Lager (COL)

So I decided to take a break from my lager tasting to try this English-style ale called Old Scratch Amber Lager. The brewer confesses that this is fermented at "medium temperatures to develop both ale and lager characteristics." Maybe it's a California Common -- I haven't had Anchor Steam in a while for comparison. My first thought upon sipping was that it's reminiscent of Adnams Broadside.

Not that it's a close match. Old Scratch smells initially of a lager with its German hops. It's clear like a lager, although somewhat ruddier than most. By the standards of an ale, it would be fairly light-bodied and crisp. But really, this isn't a lager. It's more malty than hoppy (only 19 IBUs), which I suppose is okay. The malts are somewhat caramel, but also of butterscotch, which is way out of place for a lager. The finish pulls back somewhat dry, but still not entirely clean.

Fidelity to style notwithstanding, Old Scratch is a good beer. Given the Beer Geeks' suspicion of lagers, maybe it's a good way to sneak one in under the radar. The raters at Beer Advocate and ratebeer are only moderately impressed, however.

21 July 2008

Elsewhere on the internets...

Salon has a piece entitled "The rise and fall of an American beer," a somewhat cursory cultural history of Anheuser-Busch. The woes for A-B are presented as thus:

Budweiser is seen as kind of like 'The Man,'" says Eichelberger, a serious student of beer semiotics. "People who want to be anti-establishment, they're more comfortable with Miller."

For the same reason, Pabst Blue Ribbon is the cheap beer of hipsters in the funky-but-not-quite-scary dive bars of our largest cities.

Chris O'Brien at Beer Activist has a more informative piece enititled "Beer and Climate Change." In it, he charts the carbon footprint of New Belgium's Fat Tire. It turns out, it's mostly "downstream" factors to blame, that is, what happens after the beer leaves the brewery. Retailer refrigeration is the main culprit, with some improvement possible through the use of closed door coolers (or, presumably, no coolers at all). Drinking at local brewpubs or (preumably) homebrewing would also help. Non reusable glass bottles are a problem, but transportation isn't much of one.

20 July 2008

Brooklyn Lager/Blue Point Toasted Lager (NY)

I'm going through a bit of a lager spell right now. Like any other style, and I occasionally have a hankering for them. Still, I know that many beer geeks feel as the Modern Drunkard does in this blast from the past post:

lager: there are those who like to say this light, golden beer is served cold so as to distinguish it from urine, but the truth of the matter is urine also has a much better head.
I decided to give Blue Point's Toasted Lager a try, using Brooklyn Brewery's better known lager as a benchmark.

The beers look nearly identical: clear amber/copper with white head. I think Brooklyn's foam lasts a bit longer. Tastewise, Blue Point strikes me as simply a more competently made version of the lagers we Americans grew up with. It has good malty flavor -- no light or sour corniness. However, it isn't really toasty. The hop kick exceeds that of macros, obviously, but isn't huge (28 IBUs, according to the brewer, but against not too rich of a malt backbone). Fairly flavorful, clean, crisp and refreshing.

Brooklyn Lager is either more exciting or more wrong. It brings more flavor and more hop presence; more bite, and a bit of pilsener scratchiness. What's most noteworthy is the American citrusy hops whose bitterness hit at the end. It's made with Hallertauer Mittelfruh, Vanguard and Cascade, and the last of these isn't hidden. To me, it's reminiscent of an APA or Amber Ale. Looking at what most people say online, I didn't see a lot of others pointing this out, so maybe I'm just sensitive to grapefruit bitterness. All told, it's a better bet for those underwhelmed by most lagers.

Both are defined at ratebeer as Vienna lagers. Neither are much like Great Lakes Eliot Ness, which amps up a toffee-like sweetness and tastes very Octobery. I've heard people recommend Brooklyn Lager as a gateway beer, but I don't know. A lot of people just don't like that citrusy bitterness. Blue Point would be a safer bet, but maybe doesn't do enough to drag macro drinkers into the craft beer realm. I like both beers.

16 July 2008

Trader José Dark Lager (MEX)

Trader Joe's Dark Premium Dark Lager is made in Mexico -- thus, Trader "José" -- and is pretty clearly modeled on Negra Modelo. This sets certain levels of expectations for the beer that work in TJ's favor.

This is basically a fairly light-bodied beer that wouldn't work in October, but that's not what they're trying to do. I would like a higher hop level to match the caramel sweetness. If it warms too much, it seems to develop some off flavors. But this is too negative.

What I like best about it are the roasty, cocoa-ish notes that come through at the end. It's ultimately a clean, refreshing summer brew that is also quite tasty. Maybe I was selling Trader Joe's short (they don't even have stores around here, so I don't know), but I liked this considerably more than I thought I would.

14 July 2008

The Deal is Done

So the deal is finally done: InBev bought Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion. Just flipping through the internet, it seems there are a lot of angry people out there. Talk of boycotting abounds. Now, it may very well be that 98% of Bud Light drinkers don't really care enough to do anything, but it wouldn't shock me if this hurt sales of Budweiser products. After all, we beer geeks always say Bud Light isn't much different than Coors Light. So what's the stop people from switching? Except Coors isn't American owned either. Maybe some of the disgruntled will give Sam Adams or Saranac a try (or more likely, Yuengling).

On the other hand, this Wall Street Journal article quotes New Belgium's chief executive stating this might be bad for the craft beer movement:

The increased consolidation of the U.S. beer industry worries some of the nation's smaller brewers, who fear they may have a harder time gaining distribution. "It narrows the options for small brewers to gain access to market," said Kim Jordan, chief executive of craft brewer New Belgium Brewing Co. of Fort Collins, Colo. "Recently, we've seen more interest among the Anheuser-Busch distributors in our products than ever before," but that might change with InBev running Anheuser.

12 July 2008

He'Brew Genesis Ale/Messiah Bold (NY)

Conceived in San Francisco, brewed in New York. Shmaltz Brewing Company takes a decidedly shticky, Borscht Belt inspired approach to marketing that is quintessentially American. The marketing pitch has grabbed the attention of the Jerusalem Post. The brewery's website features a photo of Lewis Black. The beer is kosher, although I'm guessing almost all beer would be if anyone bothered to pursue certification. At some point, the Old Testament puns become tiresome, but by then you've already tried the beer, which is all they are asking.

Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold are described as Light Brown and Dark Brown ales, respectively, on their labels. The former is in fact a pale ale.

Genesis Ale: Hazy, coppery-orange with a fading head. It's made with Centennial and Cascade hops, as well as Warrior, Fuggles and Willamette. It definitely has a west coast APA aspect to it, although it hasn't the biggest hop kick you'll find. I'd rank it somewhere in the middle between bitter grapefruit/pine excess and the English style. The body is a bit light, but that's okay. "Smooth and distinctive," claims the label, but I'd say the former is more true than the latter. Good APA for those who accept the American style but aren't competitive about IBUs.

Messiah Bold: This too seems to have a bit of a Northwest hop aroma (Cascade is still there). It's opaque, probably more thanks to turbidity than to dark color. The malts are roasty and chocolatey, but the hops are still there. I'm not sure it melds together completely, though. The body is still on the light side, and it isn't as "rich and robust" as promised by the label. Still, this is a pretty good brown ale.

These are both intended to be everyday brews, so you shouldn't expect them to blow you away. Which one I'd prefer probably comes down to style. Right now, I'd take another Genesis Ale. He'Brew also makes some big ones (including a pomegranate ale @ 8%) which may provide a better test of the brewery.

10 July 2008

St. Peter's India Pale Ale (ENG)

I missed it, but last November, The Independent (UK) ranked the 50 best beers, and this finished #1. I couldn't find the list online, but I did find this cranky letter to the editor:

The collection of "50 best beers" in The Information (24 November) included some of my favourites and it was good to see the Indy promoting distinctive beers. But it amused me to read that St Peter's India Pale Ale could "conjure up dreamy memories of summer harvests". I wondered how many of the tasting panel were farm workers, and how many readers have experience of harvests as anything other than a nostalgic Neverland of the imagination.

No summer harvest claims from me then. Nice looking beer: hazy amber/orange, an enduring head. Nice aroma, with a decent whiff of hops. Could the taste satisfy American hop heads? Well, no. It has only a mild hop kick against a bready malt background. Possibly the hop level would be higher before the green bottle was shipped across the Atlantic. Remember, though, that IPAs were originally brewed to be shipped half way across the world in conditions worse than we see today.

The rating sites are filled with comments about how this isn't a real IPA, which seems a bit presumptuous given that this St. Peter's has likely been brewing this style for longer than America has been brewing any beer at all. (The back of the bottle label seems to say something about this, but the print is too small for me to read.)

It's nonetheless a tasty beer, but I doubt I'll buy it again at four and a half bucks a bottle. In its defense, I'll say that 500 ml is my favorite size, sharing or sessioning aside. If it were $5.99 for a bomber, I wouldn't think it extraordinarily pricey, even though I'm not sure it's worth a dollar and a half for six extra ounces (declining marginal returns and all that).

07 July 2008

Charlie Papazian's Beer Tests

At the Examiner, Charlie Papzian has a brief article about some taste tests he did in several Western cities. A typical outcome:

In Arizona 100 beer enthusiasts and their friends and spouses turned up at the Pusch Ridge Brewing Company and Pub. Another beer tasting was held. The results: Sam Adams 42 versus Corona 3; bottled Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 27 versus Bass Ale on draft 19; Guinness on Draft 1 (that is correct, 1) versus Pusch Ridge Old Pueblo Stout 47.

The tests were apparently not just among beer geeks; some Corona and Guinness drinkers were converted. When this do this sort of thing with wine, the punchline is usually Gallo beat out some pricey Burgundy, or something like that. So this is nice to hear.

06 July 2008

Miltenberger Helles Hefe Weizen (GER)

This is from Craft Brewers of Bavaria, the same group that brought over the tasty Zötler Dunkel. Again, it's under $7 for four 330 ml, and brags of the Cold Track system, to ensure freshness.

Miltenberger Hefe Weizen certainly looks great -- cloudy straw with a comfy head -- and smells properly of banana, spice and lemon. But the flavor is a bit of a let down for me in that it's overly tart. It's almost as though they decided to add the lemon wedge, leaving the drinker no choice. There's still some of the standard hefe flavors as well as a refreshing if somewhat light body. It really comes down to how much tartness you want. Drinking it colder (45 degrees?) or with the right food (something citrusy?) might mute the effect and make this better.

Not a bad hefeweizen, but I was rooting for this to be better. The only other beer I've seen from this group is Lammsbrau Light, which I have no interest in trying.

05 July 2008

Beer and Wine and Blogging

Wine Enthusiast magazine has a couple of articles pertaining to beer, although they don't seem to be available online. One compares beer to wine with an eye toward food pairings. Drink IPA where you'd drink Cabernet, Gueuze in place of Champagne, etc.

The more interesting piece doesn't mention beer, but is is about blogging. Steve Heimoff confesses his grudging acceptance of wine blogs, but with two major complaints. First, he criticizes the "homophony" of wine bloggers, the "self-referential gossipy-ness that’s almost incestuous," as he repeats at his own blog(!). But Heimoff backs off from this. I don't know if self-referentiality is an issue with beer bloggers, but I do think it afflicts the political blogosphere, which is loaded with pointless "what he said" posts.

Heimoff's second criticism is of reviewing. He thinks bloggers aren't good at it, contending that you have to drink wine "intensively, constantly, reliably" for years in order to be able to review wine well. At his blog, he repeats a suggestion from a wine blogger:

The Good Grape blogger had a suggestion to make to boost credibility: Have wine bloggers complete some form of wine education, in order to become certified. (There are several different organizations in the world that offer such certification; some are more prestigious than others.) In Good Grape’s view, this would increase the public’s belief in the competence of wine blogger’s reviews.
Heimoff thinks this still won't be enough. "Why should we take anyone seriously just because they have a blog and put up some wine reviews?", he writes. Personally, I'd be mortified if anyone took my posts seriously, but then again, I don't really know what "taking it seriously" means. I also don't know who the victim is. The guy who buys a crummy beer I was wrong to praise? Caveat emptor, baby.

Question: is beer easier to review, appreciate and describe than wine? I can't imagine any beer blogger writing what I excerpted from The Good Grape. I know some beer bloggers don't like posting reviews, but I don't think that's out of deference to expertise. In fact, it seems to come from the opposite angle: what can you tell me about a beer that I can't find out myself by drinking it?

Anyway, I don't want to get sidetracked with a blogging about blogging post, but you can check out the print copy Wine Enthusiast if you find it, or visit Heimoff's blog.

01 July 2008

Cooperstown Old Slugger Pale Ale (NY)

Knowing this brewery, I wasn't expecting a Sierra Nevada clone, and I didn't get one. Ringwood yeast makes itself apparent right away with a slightly butterscotch aroma. The beer is a nicely clear copper, but the head dies quickly. The carbonation that caused the head, on the other hand, sticks around, and is sharp and prickly.

I made the mistake of swigging this along side some garlicky food, and the effect was almost painfully spicy. Even after cleansing my palate, the hops came across as spicy/earthy. But Old Slugger doesn't lean too far in one direction between hops and malt (slightly fruity, twangy). The finish is almost musty.

Overall, it reminds me vaguely of Pride of Milford, but that bigger beer has more interesting messiness than this one does. Old Slugger isn't a weak pale ale, but it isn't a polished one either, and I know some won't like it at all. It isn't high on my list of re-purchases.