Saturday, March 27, 2010

Samuel Smith's Organic Lager

Founded in Yorkshire, England in 1758 (remember that is before our country even existed), Samuel Smith's Old Brewery at Tadcaster is one of the most well known breweries in the UK. The brewery prides itself on a selection of several USDA-approved and certified organic beers. Made with only water, malted barley and hops, this lager fits the bill.

I jokingly consider it an omen that just before sampling this beer it was accidentally knocked onto the floor, spilling approximately half of the bottle. After pouring the remaining liquid into a tulip glass, there was, as expected, a significant foamy head. After letting it die down for a bit, there was hardly any smell to the beer at all. Unfortunately, I can't say much more about the taste, as I found the beer very watery and weak. It was a pale, clear yellow with just a slightly sweet aftertaste, but hardly any real flavor to report. My feeling is that in order to keep its organic rating, Sam Smith kept out any ingredients of substance. Skip this beer and try one of their darker brews - you won't be disappointed there!

Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre

This year round brew from Dogfish Head is brewed with some crazy ingredients....Sam, the head brewer at DH created this brew specifically to pair with grilled steak - I wish I had of known that before sampling it. Anyway, the oddities to the ingredient list include: beet sugar, raisins and several different strains of Belgian yeast.

The results of these additives provide a mahogany brew with a thin but bubbly head. The mouthfeel is light due to the high level of carbonation. This beer is very malty and sweet with definite fruit characteristics (probably stemming from the raisins and beet sugar). I taste the raisins, almost mixed with a bran - who would think to pair those together? - and there are also dark chocolate notes in the finish. The beer was very good by itself, although highly complex and maybe a little sweet for my palette. I can definitely see where the charred tastes of wood-grilled steak would help to balance the sweet and effervescent flavor of the brew.

By the way, this month is the 12th anniversary of Raison D'Etre....get some for grilling season!

Breckenridge Avalanche Amber Ale

Colorado, in my opinion, is the poster-child of everything representative of America....It has beautiful scenery like the Rockies, rivers, lakes, forests and wilderness - it has our Olympic training facility, the Air Force Academy, and one of the greatest collections of breweries anywhere in the world!

Breckenridge Brewery is no exception...Based out of Denver, they have produced a great American Amber ale that is supposedly based on the "cleanness of Colorado snow". Pale and caramel malts are added for sweetness and flavor, and then a well-balanced amount of hops are added to produce the crisp finish. The result is a bittersweet, almost slightly sour brew that you can drink all day, with any type of food. I can certainly see why this is their best selling beer!

Tusker Lager

This beer, brewed in Kenya, was named when its founder was killed by an elephant while hunting pacaderm during an expedition back in 1923. The beer has since become the "Pride of Africa" and "Kenya's Heritage".

The import pours gold and clear with a very thin head. I was most impressed with the bottle, it was extremely thick and also very dark which I believe helped maintain its freshness. I honestly had no idea what to expect from a beer hailing from Africa, my friends and I joked that the water must have come from the Red Cross in order to be safe enough to add. The beer had a nice malty sweetness with a light hop taste in the finish. Something surprising that I learned from the website was that cornstarch is one of the ingredients during the brewing process. Traditionally, corn is frowned upon as an ingredient in good beer, but I guess you make due with what you have. Overall, I could tell that there were definitely some English influences in the beer.

Tusker wasn't something to write home about, but it wasn't bad. Definitely worth trying!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat

Here is another unfiltered wheat, this time from that crazy brewery in Maryland, Flying Dog.

The brew is, of course, nice and hazy with a big foamy lace head. It pours with more of an orange tint that I am used to, similar to a Magic Hat #9 - but that is where the similarity ends. The beer smells of coriander and clove. At first taste the clove is VERY heavy, but it fades into a lemony sweetness in the finish. Texture is fairly thick for a wheat but doesn't take away from its refreshing qualities.

In-Heat Wheat was a silver medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival back in '03. Pairing suggestions were a little funny: fish, chicken (I get both of these..) and salad. Salad? I don't know too many folks that drink a beer with their salads, but hey, I guess any excuse to drink this one will do!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Williamsburg AleWerks Colonial Wheat Ale

This is actually the second brew I have sampled from Williamsburg AleWerks, the first I had the pleasure of tasting in the town itself at Food for Thought, a very unique and quaint little restaurant based around Ben Franklin's famous quotes - and everyone knows how he loved his beer.

This beer is considered an American style wheat ale, although I could not distinguish any differences from a Hefeweizen in clarity, color or taste. Unfiltered and hazy, with floating particulates apparent, this brew had huge lacy head that stayed true throughout the session. It was somewhat heavy on the hops, yet still light and citrusy. There was a distinct awareness of the alcohol in this golden ale but the carbonation helped break that up. Overall pleasantly satisfied with another micro from one of Virginia's most historic towns!

Carolina Beer Co. Carolina Blonde

So, the weekend leading up to St. Patty's Day turned into a mini beer festival with some friends. Saturday night included brews brought down from liquor stores in New Jersey and Virginia Beach, VA, and some other craft brews purchased locally - all said we threw down nine different beers from all over.

Now normally to prepare the palate you want to start light and work your way to the heavier, darker beers. With that being said there might not be a lighter beer in the world than Carolina Blonde! This beer makes Rolling Rock look like a complex Belgian...

To start things off, I stupidly assumed this beer was brewed somewhere in the Carolinas (where would I get such an idotic idea?) - but no, of course it was created in Wilkes-Barre, PA, a strong brewing town that should know better. This brew smells sweet and citrusy, but as soon as I poured it I knew I was going to be disappointed. It was as clear as Aquaman's piss and tasted like water with lemon wedges - you know, like Applebees serves to make you think they are high-class...

The only upside to this beer is that it could certainly be considered "refreshing" as a summer beer - if you drink it by the gallon. It wasn't all that bad, I would definitely pick it over many other thinned out "low-cal" big-name domestics, it just was lacking flavor to my well-adapted tastebuds. Bottom line, Carolina Beer Co. has a line of 12 beers, I need something else to redeem my trust...

Darwin Brewing Original Flag Porter

If it is true, this beer could quite possibly have the coolest back-story of any fermented beverage...The blurb on the label reads, "Brewed with 1825 yeast salvaged from a sunken vessel in the English Channel using an original 19th Century recipe." Pretty unique, right?

With a hook like that you almost have to buy a bottle, but with limited expectations as to how it is going to taste. Boy was I pleasantly surprised! I can't say if it had anything to do with the old yeast, but this beer was awesome. It pours a very dark brown, almost mahogany with a light tan head. The smell is fantastic, just like a melted Hershey bar and the chocolate is what you immediately taste. There is a slight bitterness, but it is followed by caramel malt sweetness - it almost tastes like maple syrup was added. This brew was much lighter than I anticipated, and velvety smooth. I have a feeling I could have put away quite a few of these if there had been the chance...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Firestone-Walker Double Barrel Ale

Believe or not, I tried this brew at a Cheesecake Factory in Orange County, California. The only other guy that drinks in a Cheesecake Factory is Dr. Doughbag in Step Brothers...

Anyway, with a motto like "Passion for the Pale", I was expecting big things. Firestone-Walker's Double Barrel Ale is not a reference to a shotgun or an intense brew. In reality, it is exactly what it is fermented twice in oak barrels for a unique taste. This English bitter/ amber ale is the flagship brew of F-W. A beautiful copper color with a white foamy head, this brew has plenty of malt texture and sweetness with a nice finishing touch of hops. The beer pairs perfectly with pasta, and is also suggested with pizza or grilled meats. Its just too bad I had to travel all the way across the country to sample it!

Estrella Damm Lager

If this is THE beer that Barcelona has to offer you can take the entire country off of my list of places to see...

I always liked to imagine quaffing several pints of the indigenous brew as a lubricant before racing down the streets with the other crazies as bulls chased us with blood in their eyes. This Spain-based brew is certainly not worthy of its name - the "Star of Barcelona". I had to choke down the entire six-pack, regardless of the fact that this lager has earned two gold medals at the World Beer Championship. They must have paid off the judges...

I remember this brew as being one of the skunkiest beers I have ever tasted. I am really hoping that the beer just doesn't travel well, and I happened to grab the only six pack that spoiled, but there was just nothing good here. It pours extremely light with a quickly dissolving fizzy head. The beer smells immediately of corn (a brewing no-no) and other grains, and is very over-carbonated. The texture is watery and pale, only the skunky taste remains in the finish - to be honest, it made me want to wash my mouth out when I was done.

Just to prove it is not just me, BeerAdvocate rated this beer a "C" - almost unheard of their pages. Also, one of the reviewers that gave the beer an "F" rating tasted the beer IN BARCELONA and on tap. Take my word for it and stay away from this one...

Great Divide Titan IPA

Great Divide is based out of Denver, Colorado and makes some pretty bold statements about its IPA right on the label. Token adjectives like "assertive" and "aromatic", and a motto of "Great Minds Drink Alike" grace the packaging. Considered brewed for "hop disciples", Great Divide backs up its big words with this beer.

Titan IPA weighs in at 7.1% ABV and packs quite a bite. The tastes of the various hops added are distinctive, adding both citrus and woodsy notes to the brew. This one pours a hazy golden orange with a two-finger bubbly head that dissipates quickly but leaves a lot of lace. The overwhelming nose is all hops. The only malt flavoring is a lingering sweetness in the finish that I am savoring over 5 minutes after finishing the beer. This adds a completely new dimension to the beer and has made me very fond of this hoppy monster. I will definitely be checking out what else Great Divide has to offer!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter

Flying Dog, based out of Frederick, Maryland, might have the best motto around - "Good people drink good beer." The guys that started this company have a litany of phrases that have been mumbled over the years and posted on their website, but most of them are obnoxious - this one is nice enough to take on as my personal mantra...

The idea for this crazy brewery was concocted in 1983 (the year I was born) after the original brewmasters climbed K2 in the Himalayas (good starting story, right?). These beer-loving guys got back down off the mountain and a couple of them decide to open a brewpub in Aspen, Colorado. The name of the pub - Flying Dog - is based on a picture they saw in a bar in Pakistan after the climb.

Thus proving just how insane the people are that work at this brewery, one of the good friends of the establishment was the late Hunter S. Thompson - the writer of the now infamous novel turned movie "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".

All that aside, this beer is actually an incredibly complex brew. It was originally created to pay homage to the above mentioned "Dr. Gonzo" in Thompson after his death.The pour releases an intense aroma of Chocolate and Caramel. The almond colored head leaves a streaky film down the glass. There is a very malty flavor on the palette, almost to the point of over-roasted coffee beans, but with a velvety texture. The beer is almost black and with ruby tinges. This brew is a very bitter porter with 85 IBUs, and a heavy alcohol taste at 7.8% ABV. Accolades include a 2008 World Beer Cup Gold Medal, and the 2009 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal.

All of that, and a sweet label made to resemble the movie poster from Fear and Loathing!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Foothills Hoppyum IPA

A good brew out of Winston-Salem, NC, Hoppyum IPA is one that I originally missed at the Foothills Brewing table at the last Microfestivus. I have tried several of the past offerings, but tended to lean towards their darker beers as I had a limited number of samples between 30+ breweries.

This was middle of the road for an IPA, weighing in at an even 70 IBUs and 6.3% ABV - comparatively, Foothills also offers their "Seeing Double IPA" that is a heftier 126 IBUs and a staggering 9.5% ABV. The thing that stood out most was that the beer finished very dry which made me want to continue coming back for another swig. The brew was very citrusy and had a very full hop flavor for its lack of bitterness. Definitely the makings of a good session beer!

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

A German Maibock brewed specifically to be paired with pork or spicy foods? Sounds perfect for a spicy sausage pizza at Rivermont Pizza to me...I have seen Dead Guy Ale at a grocery store for some time now, but never picked it up due to the hefty price tag - about $12 for a 4-pack. I guess I just didn't know what I was missing!

Dead Guy is a light, honey-copper colored beer that has a thick, two-finger foam head. It smells of roasted malt, but is sweet and hoppy without being overpoweringly bitter. The beer uses a uniquely formulated strain of yeast that the brewers have named "Pacman" that adds to the hearty flavor.

Rogue Brewery in Newport, OR has a HUGE selection of brews, but this is by far the most popular. They are quickly taking over the West Coast with a collection of 11 different brewpubs, restaurants, distilleries, breweries and a hop farm ranging from San Fransisco to Issaquah, WA. I can't wait to try several of their other offerings!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Red Nectar

Hippies know how to make good beer! After all, tons of great brews are continually pumping out of Boulder, CO, California, Oregon and Washington state. This "nectar" is certainly no exception...But it takes a special kind of brewer - Nectar Ales only makes three beers, Red, IPA and a Hemp ale - does that explain anything?

Nectar Ales released this beer in 1987 as their flagship, and after taking a while to garner some attention the brewery was purchased by Firestone-Walker in 2003. Just one year later, Red Nectar won the silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2004. I can certainly see why. This was my follow-up beer, on a whim, to the wheat beer I enjoyed with my pizza the other day. It honestly almost knocked me out of my chair!

The beer was delivered in all of its reddish-copper, ruby glory with a small cream white head. It smells a little heavy on the malt side, but with no distinguishing aroma I didn't know what to expect. Then, with the first sip I was transported to a paradise that included caramel, lightly toasted malt and a variation of spices I can't begin to name. I honestly think this beer would pair well with ANY type of food/cheese/dessert. I don't have any other words to describe it but delicious.

I give this beer a 9 out of 10. Go find some.

Lionshead Pilsner

What a bizarre beer this one turned out to be...Ever had the Jelly Belly jellybean flavored "buttered popcorn"? Some people love it, others hate it - me, I don't necessarily pick them out but I don't mind them. What does this have to do with the beer?...It tastes exactly like eating one of those jellybeans and chasing it immediately with a good, solid pilsner beer. To many that may sound disgusting, but I kind of enjoyed it. There is an oily, sweet texture that is unexplainable.

According to their website, Lionshead is one line of the Lion Brewery based out of Wilkes-Barre, PA. The brewery is over 100 years old, originally founded in 1905 as the Luzerne County Brewing Co. The beer itself is a beautifully balanced American Lager, but there may be no better way to describe it than to say that perhaps buttered toast is added at some point during fermentation. It may sound crazy, but until you have tried it you will just have to take my word for it...

To rate the beer, I will have to give it a 7 out of 10 based on uniqueness.

Terrapin Sunray Wheat

I am fairly unfamiliar with Terrapin Brewing out of Athens, GA, so while having a pizza with a friend I figured why not try a new Hefeweizen with my sausage, spinach and artichoke heart pie.

This wheat beer was fresh from the tap and was ultra fizzy. Golden and hazy, the unfiltered beer smelled immediately of banana and cloves - I have come to expect the presence of those two. It was slightly sweeter than most hef's I have tried, mainly due to the addition of Tupelo honey during the brewing process. The citrus notes were definitely there, mainly lemon zest, and the brew finish was crisp and a bit tart at the end.

I want to try and provide some subjectivity to the beers that are listed on these pages, so I may play around a little with different rating systems until I find something I am comfortable with....Feel free to throw in ideas or thoughts as I try to crudely rank these brews on some kind of cosmic scale. This one was a good beer, but it didn't impress me in any way and nothing about it was extreme or too different. Probably a 7 out of 10 based on the ability to drink mass quantities of this during the summer months...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Eight-ball Oatmeal Stout

In my mind, nothing else quite measures up to an oatmeal stout done right.  The brewers at Lost Coast definitely did this one right. It was interesting to learn that the founders and brewmasters at Lost Coast, which was founded in Eureka, CA in 1986, are both women. Barbara Groom was a Pharmacist, and Wendy Pound was a family counselor before they both decided to start a brewpub. Not to sound sexist - ok, completely to sound sexist - but for an almost completely male dominated field these chicks have got it figured out!

Eight-ball looks like a stout should, black with a finger-sized head of dark, foamy bubbles. The smell is of dark chocolate and raisins. The immediate tastes are of java and chocolate, but my favorite part of any oatmeal stout is the sweet finish. It makes you immediately want to dive into that next sip, or in my case chug. Eight-ball has a good mouthfeel, a little thin for a stout but still plenty syrupy. I noticed that our Kroger just got in a batch of LC's Downtown Brown, so that may be on the agenda soon...


My favorite Belgian Blonde beauty, Duvel is completely different than say a Chimay or Leffe.I tried this beer as one of the first batches from the storied Vines, so it was early on in beer sampling escapades. I have learned a lot since then and would like to have another of these, preferably in a Duvel glass this time around.

This beer is wildly popular in Belgium, and I can certainly see why. For the high alcohol content, this is the smoothest beer I have ever tasted. Weighing in around 8.5% ABV, this brew drinks more like a pilsner than a thrice fermented ale. The beer is incredibly refreshing, but still holds all of its complexities and nuances. The brewers at Duvel are the masters of bottle refermentation, but that fact is interesting considering this beer has only been brewed since the 1920's. That makes Duvel basically the baby of Belgians, historically created by monks in monasteries since the dark ages.

Whatever it is they are doing in that famous factory, it is working. Even down to the bottle, this beer is pleasant and attractive. The nose is very aromatic, with hints of tree fruits and floral notes. The head is beautiful, foamy and full of lace. I NEED another one of these!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Michelob DunkelWeisse

A mixture of two of my favorite things: dark and wheat beers, DunkelWeisse is a force to be reckoned with. This was one of those beers where a mass producer (ala Michelob) comes up with a new beer and I happened to stumble across it while looking for bread at the grocery store.  Occasionally, just grabbing the first six-pack you see can pay dividends!

This German-style dark wheat beer smells of banana and cloves, which is expected, but the malty caramel and chocolate are what give the beer its full flavor. I loved this beer, so much in fact that I drank the entire six-pack in one afternoon. You have to try this if you like wheat beer!

Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale Ale

Eureka! I stumbled onto two amazing discoveries this week - the first is that less than five miles from my house is an establishment that sells craft brews, both domestic and foreign, literally on the same block where Vines once stood - the second is that there is a local shop that just started selling supplies for home-brewing, an endeavor that I have been interested in taking up for some time.

So, after spending some time perusing the aisles of the former, I picked up 10 new brews to sample in no special order. As I have been on my Brooklyn kick recently, I figured why stop now and grabbed this hoppy minx...

This East India Pale is exactly what an IPA should be: intensely hoppy, bitter, and with a nice lacy head. The color is golden and clear with a slight orange tint to it. It is very flavorful and well rounded, weighing in at a nearly 7% ABV. The guys at BB have done it again!

Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout Winter 09-10

A stout that is over 10% ABV? Now we are talking! After tasting this beer, and being so impressed with everything that Brooklyn has to offer, I am becoming increasingly interested in making the 10 hour trip up to New York just to taste these beers straight from the tap. What a bar hop that could be...Brooklyn, up to Boston for the Sam Adams tour, over to Utica for Saranac, and then hit Dogfish Head in Delaware on the way back down...
This beer smells, tastes and even has the texture of dark chocolate. There is also a strong aroma of java and alcohol. The beer itself has little to no carbonation and left a fine film on the glass as I drank it down. The surprising thing about this beer was that it actually had some bitterness to it - and I enjoyed that a lot.

This beer came as part of a 4-pack, and the packaging suggested that the brew is good when newly bottled but it also ages beautifully. It will be difficult, but I will be hanging on to at least one of these for a while to test that theory. I suggest you grab a pack of this before it is taken off the shelves this month!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Brooklyn Brewery Local 1

Woohoo! The local Kroger has decided to pick up a couple more beauties from Brooklyn. Local 1, christened one of their "Big Bottles", weighs out at a hefty 9% ABV, which is substantial considering you are getting well over a pint-and-a-half in this wine bottle. The makings of a really good night...

This brew pours golden and hazy, with one of the thickest, foamiest heads I have ever seen (see picture). The nose is flowers and citrus with a sweet smell to it. The taste is full-on Belgian yeast and is reminiscent of Duvel - soon to be reviewed. The malt and hops add some serious texture and complexity, as does the high level of carbonation. The now-rare practice of bottle re-fermentation adds a strong alcohol taste to the finish that remains for quite some time - at least if you drink the whole bottle in a sitting like I did.

Final notes - this beer was very alluring, from the simulated firehouse logo to the branded cork, large bottle size and high alcohol content. Aside from the fact that I drank it a little colder than I would have normally liked for a beer with this much complexity, it completely lived up to what I was expecting from the Brooklyn Brewery. Go find a bottle and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Random Thoughts....

Can't sleep, so decided to spend some time rifling through random blogs on blogger - and there are some crazy people out there! But in flipping through probably 100-150 pages on here something is becoming abundantly clear...It appears that with few exceptions people are writing about one of two things: their obsession with running, or how much they love beer!

While I certainly can appreciate the attention given to the latter, it is a bit disheartening as a writer to try and fathom that anyone will stumble across these musings and give them the time of day. It's not exactly like I am pouring my heart out here, but I consider myself to be an experienced beer drinker that hopefully can promote awareness of great beer - and what you should stay away from!

Oh and to all of those avid runners out there, more power to you - but honestly, few people truly enjoy running and almost NO ONE wants to read about it!!!

Magic Hat Wacko Summer Seasonal (2009)

This will be the last of the Magic Hat posts until the new Summer sampler pack comes out, so it is fitting that we end on last year's summer ale. The folks at Magic Hat could not have possibly come up with a better name for this beer - it fits to a "T".

To explain why this beer is so weird, one only needs to impart that the starting ingredient of the brew is beet sugar. Apparently, MH subcontracted Dwight Shrute and his cousin to be the brewmasters on this one...The result is definitely a summer beer, crisp and light on the palette, but the coloring is more than bizarre. As you can see in the picture, the "pickled beet pink" looks almost radioactive and it took me a few moments to get up the courage to try this one.

It turns out to be a relatively good beer with a strong malt smell and very sweet, but clean, finish. There was little to no head on it, but I have to admit I was still overwhelmed by the hue. I liked Wacko, but would like to see something new when this Summer rolls around.

Magic Hat Roxy Rolles Autumn Seasonal

Roxy Rolles? Not sure I understand the name on this one, but the ruby-red, thick headed beer is perfect for the Fall. My first thought when I sipped this beer was, "this would be perfect for making beer brats!" It did not disappoint...

The texture of this red ale is a little watery for what I am used to, but the flavoring is still all there. Lots of carbonation, a good balance of bready and sour malts mixed with bitter hops notes. The best part, however, was the nice crisp finish. Perfect for Football and grilling seasons, I could drink about a million of these without filling up, and the finish allows for transition right into the next one. Hopefully it will be in production again this year!