Friday, April 25, 2008

Anchor Steam Review

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Co. | Beer: Anchor Steam
Style: Steam/California Common | ABV: 4.9%
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Anchor SteamIt doesn’t take much digging into the history of the craft-brewing movement to run into Fritz Maytag and his Anchor Brewing Company. In 1965, Maytag rescued the failing sixty-nine year old Steam Beer Brewing Company. While he had no prior experience in the brewing world, through sheer drive and determination Fritz was able to turn the brewery around, in the process renaming it after its most popular beer.

Rather than chase the mega-brewers, Anchor decided to position itself as a traditional brewery using traditional ingredients to court the more discriminating beer drinkers that pined for authenticity. Fritz Maytag was a true pioneer in the craft-brewing world, helping to start a revolution we can all be thankful for.

The flagship Anchor brew is Anchor Steam, which happens to be the quintessential Steam beer. Steam beer dates back to the mid-1800s, when settlers in California improvised a way of brewing beer with lager yeasts at warmer ale temperatures. The style we now know as Steam beer is really California Common beer. Anchor Steam typifies the style and as it evolved from traditional Steam beer the California Common style came into being.

Appearance: Clear orange/amber body with a huge and off-white craggy head that leaves decent lacing

Aroma: Caramel and toasted malt ride atop more subtle hops and lemon notes

Taste: Quite bitter up front with rich toasted malt, caramel, banana, and citrus right behind - this is a full-bodied beer

Mouthfeel: Smooth with a good amount of carbonation, leaves a nice grain-like aftertaste

Drinkability: While you can’t doubt the boldness of this beer, it’s still wonderfully sessionable

Verdict: This beer easily earns its status as an absolute legend by being both crucial to the revival of American beer and downright delicious. We owe this beer a lot, buy some and enjoy a few pints of your history.

: A

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Saint Arnold Spring Bock Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Spring Bock
Style: Bock | ABV: 6.4%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Saint Arnold Spring BockAfter a couple of diversions, we return to a beer from the Saint Arnold Brewing Company. My initial plan was to review around five of Saint Arnold's offerings in a row to give a nice (uninterrupted) profile of the brewery. Well, life has a funny way of getting in the way sometimes, but we're back on track (for now).

Next up, we have another of the brewery's seasonal offerings, Spring Bock. Compared to its fellow bottom-fermenters, the bock style of lager is strong and requires a few more weeks of lagering (cold storage). It originated in medieval Germany as a beer to celebrate Spring and mark the end of the brewing season. In German, bock means billy-goat, explaining why so many bock labels (although not this particular one) prominently feature goats.

Saint Arnold introduced Spring Bock in 1998 as the company's second foray into the world of lager. The beer is brewed with five kinds of malt (no adjuncts) and won a silver medal in its class at the 1998 World Beer Cup. In their description of the beer, Saint Arnold delivers a pretty overt dig at their rivals down the road in Shiner:

"By law in Germany, to call a beer a bock it must be brewed to a high starting gravity and thus to a high alcohol content. Our beer follows these guidelines. There are many beers in the United States that use the term "bock" for their beers which aren't really bocks. They may be perfectly good beers, but they're not bocks. They are just dark colored light bodied American lagers."
Ouch. They do have a point though, Shiner Bock weighs in at a paltry 4.4% ABV, while Spring Bock has a decisive advantage at 6.4% ABV. Let's see if the beer lives up to the smack-talk.

Appearance: Clear copper body with a decent creamy head that dissipates quickly

Aroma: Nice balance of malt and hops with just a tinge of booze

Taste: Roasted malt and citrusy hops dominate weaker tones of dark fruit, grains and nuts with the alcohol slipping in right at the end

Mouthfeel: Creamy and smooth with a good amount of carbonation

Drinkability: Goes down smoothly with a nice bitter aftertaste, I could easily drink a few of these despite the alcohol content

Verdict: Spring Bock is a well-balanced dark lager with rich malt and crisp citrus hiding above-average potency. With this beer Saint Arnold is really forcing me to rethink my standards for a good bock, and I love them for it.

: A-

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Redhook ESB Review

Brewery: Redhook Ale Brewery | Beer: ESB
Style: Extra Strong/Special Bitter | ABV: 5.8%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Redhook ESBRedhook Ale Brewery is a 360,000 barrel per year operation with breweries on both coasts. It was founded in 1981 by Paul Shipman and Gordon Bowker and is therefore one of the oldest brands in the American craft-brew scene. Anheuser-Busch (gasp!) now owns a minority share of the company, allowing for a proper distribution network. Let's hope that's all they're contributing to the company.

This extra strong (or "special," depending on your location) bitter, titled simply ESB, is their 20+ year old flagship brew. Redhook has been implementing some new marketing tactics, and this beer was not spared the designer's brush. The new label is quite a departure from the thoroughly "80's West-coast craft-brew" number it replaced. What really matters though, is what exactly is inside the snazzy new exterior. (Hint: it's beer)

Appearance: Somewhat cloudy orange/amber body with thin fizzy head and nice effervescence

Aroma: Floral hops over caramel malt with notes of crisp citrus and green apple

Taste: Bitter floral hops dominate over caramel malt, citrus, tea, and spices

Mouthfeel: Coats well with good carbonation

Drinkability: Easily drinkable and refreshing

Verdict: Redhook ESB is a very drinkable and complex bitter ale. Don't be spooked by the new packaging, this beer is still a world-class icon. I can see enjoying a few rounds of this in a beer garden during a sunny Saturday afternoon or in a pub with some mates on a Saturday night. I guess the takeaway here is that this is a great beer for Saturdays.

Grade: B