Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Homebrewed FML IPA Review

Brewery: My Kitchen | Beer: FML IPA
Style: American India Pale Ale | ABV: ~6.4% | IBUs: ~50
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Homebrewed FML IPA
You can read FML's Phase One (Brewing) here and Phase Two (Bottling) here

The joyous day is here, time to finally rip off the cap and see how my second homebrewed creation, FML IPA, has turned out.

Given the mistake I made with sanitation during brewing, I'm happy enough just to confirm there is indeed no noticeable infection. Anything else positive about the beer at this point is somewhat of a bonus, honestly.

Relax, have a homebrew indeed.

Appearance: A thoroughly hazy orange-amber body capped by just under a finger of creamy cream-colored head that fades in average time, leaving little lacing.

Aroma: Aromatic green hops over biscuity malt. There's a homebrewed quality that's hard to nail down.

Taste: Green and lightly citrusy hops over a toasty and biscuity malt body. Perhaps it's just my hopeful imagination, but I feel like the malt has made a big impact over a 100% extract formulation. I will be using the steeping bag moving forward. Overall, it reminds me of a very amateur, oddly watered down version of Southern Star's Pine Belt Pale Ale.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with medium carbonation. No sign of the alcohol.

Drinkability: It actually drinks about expected for the style if you're not put off by the flavor profile.

Verdict: I'd be kidding myself if I gave this beer anything other than a failing grade. It has a clear rough homebrewed quality, and the elements don't quite mesh correctly. It's certianly the work of a rank amateur. That said, I kinda love it. Next time I brew, I think it would be worthwhile to give this another shot to see if I can get a little closer to the target.

Grade: F+ (But still a success in my eyes!)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Saint Arnold Oktoberfest Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Oktoberfest
Style: Märzen/Oktoberfest | ABV: 6.0% | IBUs: 24
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Saint Arnold Oktoberfest

First brewed back in 1997, Saint Arnold's Oktoberfest is the company's popular fall offering. While a somewhat traditional Oktoberfest beer, it has a bit of a trick up its sleeve. Initially planned to be a lager (standard for the style), a test batched brewed with the company's proprietary ale yeast was such a hit that the recipe was switched to an ale.

As for the rest of the ingredients, the backbone is built from three types of Munich malt, while Czech Saaz and Hallertauer hop varieties provide flavor and bitterness. Here's the brewery's description of the finished product:
A full bodied, malty, slightly sweet beer celebrating the Autumn harvest. This rich beer has a round malt flavor and an above average alcohol content perfect for a cool fall evening.
Believe it or not, but this is the last remaining Saint Arnold year-round or seasonal beer to be reviewed here on PintLog. Until they release something new, the only Saint Arnold reviews left to post are Divine Reserve releases. Let's see if they can go out on a high note.

Appearance: A barely hazy, reddish-orange body capped by a little less than a finger of bubbly and tannish head that recedes quickly and leaves little lacing.

Aroma: Lots of rich caramel malt accompanied by fruit, mild spice, nuts, and a hint of smoke.

Taste: A mix of dark fruit, mildly bitter and earthy hops, nuttiness, and just a hint of dark chocolate over a solid caramel malt backbone. The aftertaste features rich cereal grains and a hint of earthy hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with good carbonation and a dry finish.

Drinkability: Very drinkable, this would be a great choice for the dinner table or the beer garden.

Verdict: A solid Märzen, Saint Arnold's Oktoberfest is a tasty and drinkable taste of fall. Something to look forward to each year, like most of this brewery's seasonal releases.

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saint Arnold Amber Ale Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Amber Ale
Style: American Amber Ale | ABV: 5.5% | IBUs: 31
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Saint Arnold Amber AleWell, it took a few years, but I'm finally getting around to reviewing Saint Arnold's flagship brew. First brewed way back in 1994 as the company's first official offering, Saint Arnold Amber Ale has been the top dog ever since.

Released after just six test batches were brewed, the initial version of Amber Ale was actually closer to an India Pale Ale. While that wouldn't be the end of the world in today's beer climate, back in the bleak days of the mid-nineties it was a bit of an obstacle for an uninitiated public. After just three months on the market, the brewers made some changes, and the recipe has stayed the same for the last 15 years.

Cascade hops are employed for bittering, while hop flavoring comes from both Cascade and Liberty varieties.
The backbone is built from 2-row pale and Belgian Caravienne malts. Here's how Saint Arnold describe the finished product:

A well balanced, full flavored, amber ale. It has a rich, malty body with a pleasant caramel character derived from a specialty Caravienne malt. A complex hop aroma, with a hint of floral and citrus comes from a combination of Cascades and Liberty hops.
This is a beer I've enjoyed while out and about many times, but I don't think I've ever actually brought a six-pack home. I'm looking forward to taking some time to really see what makes this beer tick, so let's get to it.

Appearance: A slightly hazy, golden-amber body with a bubbly whitish head that recedes quickly and leaves good lacing.

Aroma: Citrusy and herbal hops over a toasty caramel malt base. Much hoppier than the average Amber.

Taste: Lots of juicy fruit and hop flavors. Not quite as hoppy in the mouth, but still probably hoppier than average for the style. Underneath, a sweet and toasty malt backbone. The aftertaste is toasty with a hint of juicy fruit.

Mouthfeel: A smooth, medium body with moderate carbonation. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: Excellent; this would make for a great session beer.

Verdict: Saint Arnold's Amber Ale is a very solid example of the style, and really fits the bill of a brilliant session beer. All of the juicy fruit and hop notes make this a more attractive proposition than most of the Ambers I've tried.

Grade: A-

Saint Arnold Texas Wheat Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Texas Wheat
Style: Kristalweizen | ABV: 4.9% | IBUs: 18
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Weizen glass

Saint Arnold Texas WheatFirst brewed back in the 1994, Saint Arnold Texas Wheat was only the brewery's second official offering. Developed in front of a local homebrew shop, it was initially known as "Kristall Weizen"—a reference to the beer's style. Kristalweizen is a German style of wheat beer that is essentially a filtered version of Hefeweizen.

While most American wheat beers contain less than 30 percent wheat, Texas Wheat is built with half malted wheat and half 2-row barley. Perle hops are employed for bittering, while Liberty hops are used for flavoring. The beer now uses the same Kölsch yeast as the company's Fancy Lawnmower, but used the brewery's proprietary ale strain for its first ten years.

Here's how Saint Arnold describe the beer:

A refreshing, flavorful filtered wheat beer [and] the perfect beer to accompany a meal or for a summer's day. The wheat contributes a lighter flavor while maintaining a rich body. The beer has a light hop profile -- just enough to give the beer balance and complexity.
It may not be the perfect time of year for this beer, but let's just close our eyes and pretend its 100 degrees outside.

Appearance: A slightly hazy pale straw body with a huge white head that features brilliant retention and spotty lacing.

Aroma: Sweet, grainy wheat accompanied with apple, citrus, and a slight hint of floral hops

Taste: Sharp lemon and apple over a tasty and grainy wheat backbone. Towards the end, there's enough of a bitter hop dimension to add more complexity. Clean. The aftertaste is grainy with the barest hint of alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied and velvety with smooth carbonation. Dries in the finish.

Drinkability: Excellent, as you'd expect from any wheat beer worth a damn.

Verdict: Saint Arnold has created a solid Wheat beer, perfect for a Summer's day here in Texas. While it may not the most complex beer in the world, it does its job well.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Saint Arnold Brown Ale Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Brown Ale
Style: English Brown Ale | ABV: 5.3% | IBUs: 24
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Saint Arnold Brown AleSaint Arnold's Brown Ale made it's debut back in 1995, and was originally brewed to celebrate the brewery's first anniversary. It went over so well that it became one of the cornerstones of the lineup and has been brewed ever since. Saint Arnold promise the beer will be sticking around for quite some time, as it's the favorite of brewery owner Brock Wagner's wife.

Designed as an English style Brown Ale, it took a little tweaking to get the recipe just right. Apparently, the key to the flavor profile the brewers were after was a splash (0.5% percent of the overall malt bill) of chocolate malt. The full ingredient list is composed of five varieties of malt, three types of Pacific Northwest hops, and a proprietary yeast strain.

Saint Arnold describe the beer as "A beautiful, deep copper brown ale [with] a full, malty body with hints of chocolate, a touch of sweetness and a light hop flavor" and are particularly fond of pairing it with food. Their highest pairing recommendation is pecan crusted snapper, which sounds pretty awesome.

Regrettably, I have no snapper on hand, so I'll just have to review the beer as is.

Appearance: Crystal clear, but not the color you initially expect from a Brown Ale. This is a somewhat lighter and more orange interpretation of "brown." Up top, an off-white colored head that splits quickly and leaves little lacing.

Aroma: Sweet, roasty malt with plenty of fruity, nutty, slightly chocolaty qualities. It smells darker than you would expect looking at it. Perhaps some light alcohol notes as it warms.

Taste: Sweet, slightly bitter, roasted biscuity malt accented with chocolate, nut, and fruit notes. Despite not having much hop character, this still has good balance. The aftertaste is roasty and dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and smooth with moderate carbonation. Nicely dry.

Drinkability: Lighter in intensity and body than many Brown Ales, this is above average.

Verdict: Saint Arnold Brown Ale is just a little thin for me, I'd love to see a little more oomph in the malt backbone. But, that being said, this is still a tasty and sessionable little brew well worth a try.

Grade: B

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BrewDog Release Tactical Nuclear Penguin, The World's New "Strongest Beer"

Those crazy punks from BrewDog have been in the lab creating something truly wicked, and the result is Tactical Nuclear Penguin. It's a 32% ABV beer that can lay claim to the two key titles: strongest beer on the planet and the best named beer on the planet.

Most people believe the previous record for strongest beer belongs to the 27% ABV Sam Adams Utopias, but it was actually set by Schorschbräu Schorschbock at 31%. This beer may eek past Schorschbock, but it crushes the legendary Utopias by 5 full percentage points. Wow.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin started life as 10% ABV Imperial Stout, was aged for eight months in an Isle of Arran whisky cask, and then aged a further eight months in an Islay cask. It's quirky name is actually a reference to the process that boosted the alcohol content—for three weeks the beer was subjected to sub-zero temperatures, which allowed much of the water to freeze out and left the remaining beer more potent. Similar techniques are used in traditional German Eisbocks and terrible American "Ice Beers" like Bud Ice.

Here's the label text that will great those lucky enough to get their hands on this mad brew:
This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.
As you might expect, such a time and labor intensive experimental beer is not exactly cheap. But, at the equivalent of just under $60 per 300ml bottle, Tactical Nuclear Penguin is a relative bargain in this territory. Sure, it may not come in a gorgeous bottle like Utopias, but it does come wrapped in a paper bag featuring a hand-drawn penguin.

500 bottles will be released, half of them sold as part of a package with one share of the company as part of the company's Equity for Punks program. The price for the 250 bottles bundled with the share will be about $400, which isn't too bad considering it comes with a 20 percent lifetime discount at BrewDog's site (which sells their beer).

For more info, check this video of the boys wearing their finest suits:

Widmer Brothers 84/09 Double Alt Review

Brewery: Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. | Beer: 84/09 Double Alt
Style: Altbier | ABV: 9.8% | IBUs: ~70
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Widmer 84/09 Double AltThis year represents 25 years since the Widmer brothers founded their pioneering Portland brewery. The beer that really catapulted the company into prominence was their Hefeweizen, but the beer that really got them going in the first place was their Altbier. Altbier is a German style, whose name means "old beer." In this case, "old" refers to the fact that this beer represents traditional, pre-Lager takeover German brewing, not that the beer is aged or stale.

In honor of this year's anniversary, Widmer decided to brew up a tribute to their original Altbier, this time with the volume turned up to 11. The result is 84/09 Double Alt, which is essentially a Sticke, or "Double Altbier." With an alcohol level just shy of double-digits and this being my first Altbier of any description, this should be a rather interesting introduction.

Enough babble, let's crack a bottle in honor of a quarter-century of Widmer!

Appearance: A dark and murky mahogany body with stunning ruby highlights. Up top, two fingers of off-white, creamy head that sticks around a while and leaves good lacing.

Aroma: Lots of rich malt with spices and dark fruit. Reminiscent of a Doppelbock.

Taste: Similar to the aroma. Spices, raisins, and bananas over a rich and mildly bitter malt backbone. That nearly ten percent alcohol content is present throughout, but never oversteps its bounds. The aftertaste is peppery and somewhat boozy. Once again, a very similar profile to that of a Doppelbock.

Mouthfeel: A slightly fuller than medium body with moderate carbonation and a dry finish. You can detect alcohol on the tongue, especially as the beer warms.

Drinkability: Not quite a sipper, but it's close.

Verdict: Honestly, I would have pegged this as a Doppelbock, but that's probably due to my inexperience with Alts and Stickes. Regardless, 84/09 is a tasty brew and a worthy marker for this milestone. Congratulations on 25 years Widmer!

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in December, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past June.

Dogfish Head Fort Review

Brewery: Dogfish Head Brewery | Beer: Fort
Style: Fruit Beer | ABV: 18.0% | IBUs: 49
Serving Method: 750ml bottle poured into tulip glass

Dogfish Head FortDogfish Head is known for experimental high-alcohol beers, and Fort is a terrific example of their special brand of madness. Brewed to a strength of 18 percent alcohol, it would have been the strongest beer on the planet just a few years ago. Though there are a handful of stronger brews out there, Fort is the strongest fruit beer on the planet according to Dogfish.

Fort is raspberry-focused and brewed with a "ridiculous amount" of pureed raspberries. That's not just marketing gibberish—the brewers add about 20 pounds of raspberries per barrel during fermentation. Fruit beers are typically lighter fare, but this is anything but. The name is an appropriate reference to the beer's staying power, as it can age for quite a while.

While I bought one bottle to age, this one is fated to be drunk fresh—so let's pop it open and try to make it to the bottom, shall we?

Appearance: To be honest, I was really expecting this to be a deep shade of red. In fact, it's a hazy, deep reddish-pumpkin body with a decent off-white head that recedes rapidly and leaves only minimal lacing (with this level of alcohol, retention and lacing is virtually out of the question).

Aroma: Sweet, berry-like, boozy, and at times almost vinegary. Complex and uniquewhat on earth is this going to taste like?

Taste: Wow! Intense as hell! There is no question whatsoever that the alcohol content here is almost off the charts, it's in the forefront from the beginning to the end and almost spicy in its intensity. Once the booze-shock subsides, you find a lot of complexity underneath. There's lots of fruit, including berries, banana and pineapple. As for malt, the backbone is relatively light and basically stays the hell out of the way. The aftertaste is very boozy with some hints of berry.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, slick, and nicely velvety. There's enough carbonation here to make it more drinkable than a liqueur. Lots of boozy burn for the tongue, the cheeks, and the throat. Dry as hell.

Drinkability: This one is going to take some time... I'd much prefer a regular 12 oz. bottle over this monster.

Verdict: This is a thoroughly unique beer - and because of this, it's hard to rate. Style is pretty much out the window here, so there's nothing much as far as guidelines go. Looks like we're in uncharted territory here folks... This big bastard of a beer tends to blur the lines between an ultra-strong beer and a weaker liqueur. It's mad as hell, but I like it. The only thing I can offer as far as a comparison goes is an Imperial Imperial Framboise. I can't wait to see how this ages.

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in December, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past April.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My Second Batch of Homebrew: Phase Two (Bottling)

You can read Phase One (Brewing) here

Yesterday marked three weeks since my wife and I brewed our second batch, an India Pale Ale named FML IPA. 21 days was a long time to wait, but it was worth it to give the beer plenty of time to clear up. I'm happy to report that things went a lot better this time, compared to the last time we bottled.

Homebrewing Bottling Equipment
Here's the equipment we used for bottling:
  • Five-gallon spigoted bucket
  • Large plastic brewer's spoon
  • Bottle washer
  • 24 new 22 oz. bottles
  • 2 previously used 750ml bottles
  • Bottle-caps to match
  • Capper
  • Hydrometer
  • Sampler for hydrometer
  • Probe thermometer
  • Bottling wand with tubing
  • Transfer tubing
  • Small saucepan
  • Corn sugar (measured amount for 5 gallons of beer)
  • Star-San sanitizer
We were a little concerned about infection because of a mistake we made in preparation for brewing (you can read all the gory details back in Part One), but cracking the fermenter revealed a perfect looking (and smelling) beer. Beer is indeed less fragile than the novice brewer gives it credit for.

Homebrewing Sainitized BottlesThe first step, as always, was sanitation. To start things off, we mixed up a 5 gallon batch of Star-San sanitizing solution in the bucket to be used for bottling. Then, we started rinsing out the bottles in batches of about eight using the bottle washer. Once rinsed, we dunked the bottles in the sanitizing solution and left them under the surface for two minutes. After the bath, we put the bottles into the bottom rack of our dishwasher (which acted as a poor man's bottle tree) to wait.

It's worth taking a second to note that there was no rinsing after the sanitizing bath, as Star-San works best while the bottles are wet and does not affect the beer whatsoever. It produces a lot of bubbles, and many people are put off by the idea of adding their beer to sudsy bottles, but there is no need to rinse it off. In fact, rinsing it off would leave the bottles unprotected briefly.

Once all the bottles were in the dishwasher ready to be filled, we used the mixture to sanitize the brewer's spoon, the sampler, and then both sets of tubes (with the wand attached) via the handy spigot. It took a little warm water to loosen the tubing up enough to fit on the spigot, but once warm, they fit nicely. The remaining sanitizing solution was then poured down the drain and the bucket put in place on the floor ready to be filled (again, unrinsed).

At this point we started to heat the corn sugar mixture and let it boil for five minutes with 16 ounces of water. Once boiled, we set the mixture aside to cool for about ten minutes. While it was cooling, we boiled the bottlecaps to sanitize them and cracked open the fermenter to take quick gravity and temperature readings (1.016 at 70°F). I tasted the beer from the sampler once the readings were done and was excited to find that, even though it was warm and flat, it tasted like an IPA.

Homebrewing TransferThen, we put the fermenter on the counter above the empty bucket, attached the transfer tubing to its spigot, and let it start filling the bottling bucket. The spigot was placed perfectly, allowing all but the dregs transfer nicely in just a couple of minutes. When the bottling bucket was full, we slowly stirred the priming mixture into the bucket with the brewer's spoon.

We then swapped the bottling bucket with the fermenter, attached the tubing and bottling wand, and got down to filling bottles. With the big 22 ounce bottles, it went a lot faster than last time, making the new bottles a worthwhile investment. Capping with the new plastic capper we bought was a lot easier than the old metal one—the plastic had a bit more give in it, meaning the capperHomebrewing Filling Bottles would bend before the bottle wouldbreak. This time, no bottles were lost to breakage.

Unfortunatley, the two 750ml bottles I had picked turned out to be a bad choice, as their flared necks made it impossible to get a perfect grip with the capper. We fear they might not be sealed correctly, but at least it is just two bottles. Quite a shame we won't be using them again, as the bottles are quite nice.

Once full, we put the bottles back in their box and put them back away in the bathtub to prime and mature for another few weeks. Things were so much smoother this time, and I'm very happy with our new purchases. According to my calculations, the ABV is around 6.43%, which is in the range I was Homebrewing Waitinghoping for. The beer tasted pretty damn good, and I'm confident that when I crack the first bottle in a few weeks, the beer inside will be pretty damn decent.

You can read the review of the finished product here

Victory Prima Pils Review

Brewery: Victory Brewing Co. | Beer: Prima Pils
Style: German Pilsener | ABV: 5.3% | IBUs: ~35
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Victory Prima PilsSo far on PintLog, I've tried three beers from the Victory Brewing Company out of Pennsylvania, and I've given them all grades in the "A" range. This makes Victory one of the highest rated breweries on the site, and puts a little pressure on Prima Pils, the next Victory brew up for review.

Prima Pils is a German Pilsener, a style that essentially represents a Czech Pilsener adapted for German brewing conditions. Victory is a little stingy with the specific ingredients, stating only that 2-row German pils malt and "German and Czech whole flowers" hops were used. Here's how they describe the beer:

Heaps of hops give this pale lager a bracing, herbal bite over layers of soft and smooth malt flavor. This refreshing combination of tastes makes Prima a classy quencher in the tradition of the great pilsners of Europe. Dry and delightful, this is an elegant beer.
Will Prima Pils be the fourth Victory brew in a row with an "A" on it's report card? Let's pop it open and see.

Appearance: Exceedingly pale lemony-yellow, hazy body under a generous white head that leaves gorgeous clumpy lacing. A rather pretty presentation.

Aroma: Lemony and earthy hops over a honey malt base. A unique and intriguing profile.

Taste: Crisp lemony hops in charge, with plenty of honey malt in the base. Not particularly bitter, but grassy and slightly minty at times. Well balanced.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body with crisp carbonation. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: Nice and refreshing, this goes back rather quickly.

Verdict: Prima Pils is a very solid Pilsener and another very solid offering from Victory. Rather unique and quite sessionable, this is well worth a try if you're in the mood for something light. Victory is one of those breweries who can brew great beers from all parts of the spectrum, from this pale Pilsener to Storm King, their Russian Imperial Stout.

Grade: A-

Bass Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Bass Brewers Ltd. | Beer: Bass Pale Ale
Style: English Pale Ale | ABV: 5.0% | IBUs: ~30
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Bass Pale AleBass Pale Ale is one of the most recognizable English beers on the planet and the principle product of the Bass & Co. Brewery. Bass was established way back in 1777 by William Bass in the now famed brewing town of Burton upon Trent.

In a world where many beer companies are younger than my bulldog, a brand that has endured for well over 200 years is impressive. Of course, the brewery and beer are now owned by conglomerate brewing concerns, but let's not dwell on that too much.

Just to put the age of the company in proper perspective, consider these facts:
  • The distinctive red triangle adorning Bass bottles was Britain's first registered trademark
  • The brewery is only one year younger than the Declaration of Independence
  • Bottles of Bass are featured in Manet's famous painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
As for Bass Pale Ale itself, it is essentially the typical English Pale Ale, serving as one of the best examples of the style for many people. As the beer was originally brewed in Burton upon Trent, the beer has the characteristic minerals of the area's water. It's also well known as one half of the classic Black & Tan beer cocktail.

It's about time I got around to reviewing this English classic, so let's get to it.

Appearance: A crystal-clear, copper-amber body topped by a finger and a half of creamy off-white head that features only passable retention and lacing.

Aroma: Lightly-toasted malt, some mild earthy hops, and a few notes of banana.

Taste: True to the aroma. A base of lightly toasted caramel malt accompanied by mild, earthy hops and some decent fruity notes. It's nicely mineraly, giving it that classic English Pale Ale feel. The aftertaste is lightly grainy and rather short-lived.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with sharp carbonation. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: It may not come as much of a surprise, but Bass is a highly sessionable beer. Quite refreshing.

Verdict: Bass is simply a straightforward and sessionable British classic, and it's obvious why it has endured for so long. While it may not offer the serious beer enthusiast too much to ponder, it's still a satisfying and refreshing experience that really typifies the English Pale Ale style.

Grade: B

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Belgium Hoptober Golden Ale Review

Brewery: New Belgium Brewing | Beer: Hoptober Golden Ale
Style: American Blonde Ale | ABV: 6.0% | IBUs:40
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into globe glass

New Belgium HoptoberNew Belgium introduced a new fall seasonal this year, Hoptober Golden Ale. It is pitched as "a veritable cornucopia of the earth," which is rather fitting given the season. As the name implies, the beer is a more hop-focused effort than the average fall seasonal, and what New Belgium usually produces.

Spokesman for the brewery Bryan Simpson put it this way: “This beer is a Hop Lover’s dream within the Belgian idiom. [It] is hop-forward but very well-balanced with generous mouthfeel.”

Golden Ale is not an official style, but is generally interchangeable with the American Blonde Ale style, so I've listed it as such )even though it doesn't exactly seem like the best match). As for its construction, the backbone is a mix of pale malt, wheat, rye, and oats, while Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Willamette, and Glacier hop varieties are employed.

Sounds like a wonderful mix for a fall evening such as this, so let's dig in, shall we?

Appearance: A crystal-clear, golden-amber body capped by a little over a finger of near-white head that features good retention and lacing.

Aroma: Citrusy and tropical-fruity hops over a biscuity malt body. If you'd presented this to me as an India Pale Ale, I wouldn't have thought twice based on the aroma.

Taste: Moderately bitter, green, and citrusy hops up front. Underneath, a toasty, biscuity, and caramel-like malt body keeps everything nicely balanced. The aftertaste is citrusy, a little leafy, and biscuity with a nice bitter kick. In the flavor department it ends up resembling a Pale Ale, rather than an IPA.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and slightly creamy with good carbonation. A dry finish.

Drinkability: A very quaffable brew that would be make for a great session choice.

Verdict: It's always nice to see New Belgium playing on the hoppier side of the spectrum, and Hoptober ends up being a tasty, easily drinkable, and cheerful little beer.

Grade: A-

Note: While this review is being published in November, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past September.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Widmer Brothers W'09 Belgian Style Ale Review

Brewery: Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. | Beer: W'09 Belgian Style Ale
Style: Belgian Pale Ale | ABV: 6.5% | IBUs: 26
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Widmer Brothers W'09 Belgian Style AleWidmer Brothers Brewing Company was founded in 1984 by Kurt and Rob Widmer in Portland, Oregon, a city now known a "Beervana." When the brothers founded their brewery though, Portland was still far from Beervana, and the country was just starting to get a taste of good beer again. In the 25 years since the brewery was founded, much has changed in the company and the industry, and Widmer has evolved into one of the most powerful craft breweries on the scene through a devoted following and some big business dealings

In an attempt to get in on the craft brew bubble, Anheuser-Busch bought a minority stake in the company in 1997, giving Widmer a ride on AB's trucks and increasing their distribution potential exponentially. In 2007, Widmer announced it would merge with Redhook Ale Brewery (another company AB owned a stake in) to form a company named Craft Brewers Alliance, which is currently the seventh largest brewery in the country.

Each year, the company brews up a special new beer under as part of the "W" series. This year's, W'09, is a Belgian Pale Ale built with 2-Row Pale and Briess Caramel 10L malts with Alchemy (for bittering) and Sterling (for aroma) hops that the company describes this way:

The brewers have recreated a classic Belgian style Golden ale that holds true with a unique aroma and flavor. The ale has a hop spiciness that gives it a little extra pop. And at 6.5% ABV the drinker will feel a nice warming sensation while consuming.
I figured a special release, and a Belgian-themed one at that, would be an appropriate first review for Widmer, so let's dive in.

Appearance: A slightly hazy, golden-orange body. On top, one finger of off-white head that recedes quickly and leaves spotty lacing.

Aroma: A complex Belgian mix: coriander, clove, banana, apples, yeast, and sweet, bready malt. Good stuff.

Taste: All the same character from the aroma, with the intensity ratcheted up a few notches. There's lots of spices, yeast, and fruit over a solid bready pale malt base. Similar to a Witbier in some ways. The aftertaste is bready malt with a mild bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied and smooth with good carbonation. Dries in the finish.

Drinkability: Decent enough—if you like the flavor profile you could drink a few of these easily.

Verdict: W'09 is a tasty enough Belgian-style beer, though it's more of an impression than a recreation if you catch my drift. It seems to me like it might be somewhere in between a Belgian Pale Ale and a Witbier, rather than just a straight-up Belgian Pale, but that doesn't bother me too much. A great beer to introduce some Belgian flavors to the uninitiated, and an okay substitution if you're in the mood for a Belgian but can't find the real stuff.

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in November, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past April.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Second Batch of Homebrew: Phase One (Brewing)

Well, it's been about a year since my wife and I brewed up up first batch of homebrew (you can read all about that saga starting here), and just yesterday we found the time for our follow-up. The last batch was somewhat of a failure, and we still have a lot of it sitting in bottles waiting to be poured out, but we're still optimistic about this batch. We learned a lot of lessons last time, and this time we set out to address each problem we encountered.

For this batch, we decided to go with an India Pale Ale, and due to a lot of turmoil over the last few months, light-heartedly settled on the name FML IPA (if you're unfamiliar with the initials FML, let's just say its shorthand for a feeling of hopelessness). For our recipe, we picked one from Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing called "Palilalia India Pale Ale." We made some modifications based on what was in stock at the local homebrew store, and with the intent of kicking the intensity up just a little. Despite the poor results last year, we were a little more adventurous this time, opting to go with malted barley, dried malt extract, and hop pellets, instead of the pre-hopped liquid malt extract and sugar we used last time.

Homebrew Equipment

Here's the equipment we used:
  • 22 quart kettle
  • Large plastic brewer's spoon
  • Strainer
  • Six-gallon spigoted bucket with airtight lid
  • Fermentation lock (aka bubbler) with a stopper to fit the hole on the bucket's lid
  • Hydrometer with sampler
  • Probe thermometer
  • Measuring cup
  • PBW cleaner
And here's the ingredient bill:
  • 6 pounds of dried Pilzen-style malt extract
  • 1 and a half pounds of toasted crystal malt (in a steeping bag)
  • 2 ounces of Northern Brewer hop pellets
  • 1 ounce of Cascade hop pellets
  • 1 packet of dry ale yeast (Safale US-05)
  • 2 teaspoons of gypsum
  • 5 gallons of drinking water (3 of them chilled)
First up was sanitizing, a subject that caused a lot of headaches last time around. Instead of bleach, this time we used PBW, a non-caustic and bio-degradable cleaner. We added 4 tablespoons of PBW, along with about five gallons of tap water to the fermenter and threw in the lid, the hydrometer, the sampler, the scoop used to add the gypsum, the spoon, and the bubbler assembly. To heat the water a bit to aid in cleaning, we topped the bucket off with about 16 cups of boiling water. We let everything sit for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally with the spoon. (See note at the bottom of this post for a big mistake we made in this step...)

Homebrew MashWhile we were waiting for the PBW to do it's thing, we started the brewing process. Up first was the mini-mash, where we steeped the malted barley. We added roughly one and a half gallons of drinking water to the kettle, and added the steeping bag full of malted barley. We brought the temperature up to about 160 degrees and held it there for around 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the bucket, and everything inside were ready to be rinsed off and the steeping bag was ready to be removed. We used the (now clean) brewer's spoon to agitate the steeping bag to help get all of the sugary goodness out. We removed the steeping bag from the water and allowed it to drain, and then pressed it against the side of the kettle to get as much water out as possible. We then poured about 8 cups of boiling water over the bag to sparge, and again pushed the bag against the side of the kettle until it was dry.

Now it was tiHomebrew Malt Extractme to add the dried malt extract (DME), hops, and gypsum. We tore the DME bags open and slowly stirred the contents into the wort. I'm not going to lie, at first it seemed like getting that much dried malt to dissolve in a little less than two gallons of water did not seem possible. But, I trusted in my recipe and went ahead and added the two ounces of Northern Brewer hops and the two teaspoons of gypsum and turned up the heat to get everything to a boil.

Once the heat came up and approached boiling, with the aid of some rather stern stirring, the DME started to dissolve nicely. Once it was boiling, there were a few times where the wort threatened to boil over the kettle, but judicious stirring and removing the kettle from the heat kept everything inside the pot. 60 minutes of boiling, and a beerish odor to saturated the entire house, then ensued.

Toward the end of the boil, we prepared a cup and a half of boiling water in my measuring cup and allowed it to cool to around 105 degrees. It took a little longer than we had expected to cool, so next time we'll have to start this earlier. Once it came down to temperature, we added the yeast, covered the cup with foil, and let it rehydrate for about 20 minutes.

About one minute before the boil was over, we added the Cascade hops (they smelled excellent), as per the recipe. Then, we took the kettle off the heat, and put it in the kitchen sink, along with as much water and ice would fit. We started to cycle the water out of the sink, replenishing it with fresh water and ice every five minutes, and the temperature dropped slowly, but surely, to 100 degrees after 30 minutes or so.

Once the wort had cooled, we added two gallons of chilled drinking water to the fermenter, and began to strain the wort into the fermenter. It took about ten minutes, stirring the contents of the strainer occasionally, to transfer all of the wort to the fermenter. At this point, we poured about 6 cups of hot (but not boiling) water into strainer to sparge off what we could. Then, we topped the fermenter off to five gallons with the rest of the chilled water.

Homebrew in FermenterAt this point, the temperature was at 72 degrees, and we took a sampling and got a gravity reading of 1.065. The yeast was ready to pitch, so we went ahead and added it, and proceeded to put the lid onto the fermenter. We then put the fermenter in it's new home for the next week or so, in the spare bathroom's bathtub, and attached the bubbler.

Everything seemed to go rather smoothly this time, and the contents of the hydrometer sampler that I sipped actually did taste a little like an IPA, so there's a lot of hope for this batch. I checked on the bubbler this morning, and I'm happy to report that it's already showing plenty of activity.

Now, once again, we wait.

Note: It turns out I got some bad advice, and PBW simply cleans brewing equipment, and does not sanitize (I was told it did both, which is just further proof I should double-check everything I hear on the Internet). So, what that means is that the equipment that has touched the beer so far was not properly sanitized, and it is rather possible that the the beer could pick up an infection from those surfaces. Luckily, I caught this before bottling, and we can properly sanitize everything the beer has yet to touch, reducing the chances that the final product will be infected. At this point, there is nothing to do but hope that the surfaces the beer has touched were clean enough, and that the beer will be okay. Suddenly, FML seems like a very appropriate name...

If you'd like to catch up on the first batch, Young At Heart Stout, you can read about Phase One (Brewing) here, Phase Two (Bottling) here, and the review of the finished product here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monster Energy Sues Rock Art Brewery

The makers of Monster Energy drinks have sued sent a cease and desist letter to Rock Art Brewery, brewers of "The Vermonster." Why? Because they are concerned that people will confuse the craft brew with their upcoming line of alcoholic Monster products.

Apparently brewery owner Matt Nadeau has been told by numerous trademark attorneys that the law is on his side, but that proving his point might bankrupt him.

Here's his take on the whole thing: "This is just about principle. Corporate America can't be allowed to do this, in this day and age. It's just not right."

Check out this interview with Matt for more details:

So, what can you do to help? For one you can let Monster know how you feel about their decision here. And, as always, you can vote with your wallet.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Samuel Adams Announces Barrel Room Collection

Samuel Adams Barrel Room CollectionAfter the success of the Samuel Adams Imperial Series earlier this year, the Boston Brewing Company has announced another new premium collection, the Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection. There's not much concrete information yet, but what we do know so far is that the beers will all be aged in oak barrels and sold in big 750ml bottles.

Here are the confirmed beers for the launch:

  • Samuel Adams American Kriek - 7% ABV
  • Samuel Adams New World Tripel - 10% ABV
  • Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red - 9% ABV
I have to say, the Imperial Series was rather accomplished, and I'm expecting big things from this collection. Samuel Adams can clearly brew up big, character-filled beers when they choose to, and I'm looking forward to what they're going to do with the added complexity derived from barrel-aging.

While there hasn't been a timeline released yet, I think it's safe to expect more details in the coming weeks.

Bud Light Golden Wheat Review

Brewery: Anheuser-Busch, Inc. | Beer: Bud Light Golden Wheat
Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer | ABV: 4.1% | IBUs: ~5
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Weizen glass

Bud Light Golden WheatBrewing goliath Anheuser-Busch has recently started adding line extensions to it's core brands—Budweiser and Bud Light. Compared to the old model of setting up faux-microbrew brands, the new practice of expanding the company's existing brands really ends up as a win-win. There's no perception of shenanigans for beer geeks, and the Budweiser/Bud Light customer base is probably more likely to venture out to try news styles when they are offered by brands they are familiar with.

The first of such extensions, Bud Light Lime and Budweiser American Ale, have worked out quite well for the mega-brewer and they're eager to keep expanding. Pitched as "one of the most highly anticipated new product launches of 2009," Bud Light Golden Wheat is the second line extension for the Bud Light brand (not counting the god-awful Cheladas).

While wheat-themed brews are usually ales, this is (from what I can tell, at least) a lager-based excursion. It seems that the brewers were shooting for something resembling a Witbier/Light Lager hybrid, as the beer is brewed with coriander and citrus peel. Since Witbier/Light Lager is not a recognized style, I've gone ahead and listed it as a Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer, as that seems to be the closest match listed in the BJCP style guidelines (BeerAdvocate agrees with me).

According to Bud Light brand manager Bruce Eames:

Bud Light Golden Wheat has all the personality of Bud Light and appeals to light beer drinkers who seek a little more flavor from their beer. Consumer interest in a more flavorful light beer drove our decision to develop Bud Light Golden Wheat, and we are pleased to offer brewery tour guests the unique opportunity to sample the beer before its nationwide launch.
I'm a little skeptical about this one, but let's twist it open and see what's inside.

Appearance: A nicely hazy, golden-amber body with a big white head that features decent retention and lacing. Lo an behold, there's even some sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Not much wrong with the way it looks.

Aroma: A neutered wheat body with some definite notes of citrus and spice. It's a little thin, but that's hardly a surprise.

Taste: Things quickly go south in the flavor profile—there's just not much here. It's predictably crisp, with mild citrus and just a hint of mixed spice. In a bizarre fashion, wheat only really shows up in the tangy aftertaste, and what's left of the malt is extremely watered down. At times, you can't find much of a malt backbone at all—and with the low (or totally absent) hop presence, all you're left with is a little citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with sharp carbonation and a crisp, clean finish.

Drinkability: Clearly, this beer was built for rapid consumption, and it delivers on that promise.

Verdict: Golden Wheat is almost totally devoid of flavor—imagine drinking a Witbier while you have an extreme cold—which is, frankly, a better result than I had feared. Here's hoping it somehow helps push some more people into exploring the world of beer.

Grade: D

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shiner Bohemian Black Lager Review

Brewery: Spoetzl Brewery | Beer: Shiner Bohemian Black Lager
Style: Schwarzbier | ABV: 4.9% | IBUs: 18
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Shiner Bohemian Black LagerBack when I was just starting to explore the world of beer, Shiner was my go-to brand when I wasn't in the mood for Guinness. Local, cheap, and available everywhere with a relatively wide portfolio of un-challenging beers, it was the perfect gateway brand.

After sampling the whole lineup, a strange new Shiner brew showed up on the shelves one day: Shiner 97. I picked it up at first sight, excited as all hell to try a new Shiner, and fell in love at first sip. Compared to what I had been drinking, the brew was full of depth and character. It was a Schwarzbier, also known as Black Lager, and the second beer in a series of five yearly beers counting down to Shiner's 100th anniversary.

I bought a hell of a lot of Shiner 97 when it was out, and mourned deeply when it disappeared from the shelves. I eagerly picked up every single Shiner anniversary brew after 97, but none of them really lived up to the first. Though it's not a style to meant to be aged, I still have a small stash of 97, and every now and then I chill a bottle down. I have to say, it's holding up remarkably well, and really takes me back to those few months when Shiner 97 was my constant companion.

To my great surprise and excitement, Shiner "re-released" Shiner 97 as Shiner Black Lager a while back. It's available year-round and sports a significant marketing presence all around Houston. I guess I wasn't the only one who fell in love with the first incarnation.

Shiner claim it's the same beer as before, and I might be crazy (or just in possession of a more experienced palate), but it just doesn't seem the same to me.

Appearance: A murky, dark brown body capped by a thin, tan head that burns out quickly and leaves no lacing.

Aroma: Roasty and bitter malt with mild chocolate and coffee notes.

Taste: Much the same in the flavor profile. Roasted malt with chocolate, coffee, and nut-like character makes up the bulk of it with not much in the way of hops. The aftertaste is roasty and nutty.

Mouthfeel: A thinnish body with sharp carbonation; rather unsatisfying.

Drinkability: Drinkable enough, but you'll get bored before you get full.

Verdict: I remember Shiner 97 when it was fresh having quite a bit more character and depth than this, but that might be because my palate wasn't quite as advanced as it is now. As it stands, Bohemian Black Lager is an inoffensive, but generally unexciting brew.

Grade: C+

Osakr Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils Review

Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery | Beer: Mama's Little Yella Pils
Style: Czech Pilsener | ABV: 5.3% | IBUs: ~35
Serving Method: 12 oz. can poured into Pilsener glass

Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella PilsMama's Litte Yella Pils is a Czech-style Pilsener and Oskar Blues position it as "the perfect antidote for the watered-down, cornfed versions of pilsner clogging America’s shelves." I'm shocked they got the name approved (especially here in Texas), though their tagline "take two and call us in the morning" didn't make the cut.

As for ingredients, the backbone is built from pale malt and "German specialty malts," while bitterness is provided by Saaz and "21st century Bavarian" hops varieties. An American all-malt Pils in a can? How long has it been since that happened?

Speaking to RealBeer about Mama's, brewery founder Dale Katechis noted "There are very few all-malt pilsners made in the US anymore—and the concept of ‘America-made pilsner’ has taken a beating over the past few generations. Especially when it comes to pilsners in cans." He went on to add: "You can’t hide flaws in a pilsner. With this beer our brewers get to showcase their expertise at making an unforgiving, classic style of beer.”

It's sad to say, but Mama's Little Yella Pils is the last regular release from Oskar Blues I have left to review. Each of the previous four beers have received a grade in the "A" range, making Oskar Blues one of the top breweries on PintLog. So, going in there's a lot of expectations placed on this little yellow can.

Appearance: A clear, pale golden-straw body. On top, a bubbly white head that fades quickly and leaves very patchy lacing.

Aroma: Lemony and grassy Saaz hops over relatively rich grainy malt. Hints of white grape.

Taste: Up front, a crisp, lemony bitterness takes charge. Underneath, the backbone is close to the traditional Pilsener body, but with a bit more rich sweetness than usual. The aftertaste is short-lived.

Mouthfeel: A medium-light body with moderate carbonation. Dries a bit in the finish.

Drinkability: As you'd expect from this style, this is highly drinkable.

Verdict: In Mama's Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues have created a straightforward, tasty, and very drinkable Pilsener - in fact it's one of the best Pilseners I've tried yet. If you're looking for a highly refreshing Pilsener sold in a can, this is certainly the beer for you.

Grade: A

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past April.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Duvel Review

Brewery: Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV | Beer: Duvel
Style: Belgian Golden Strong Ale | ABV: 8.5% | IBUs: ~30
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

DuvelThe Flemish Moortgat brewery essentially created the Belgian Golden Strong Ale style when they released this incarnation of Duvel back in 1970, and the beer is still the definitive version of the style today. Duvel has become one of Belgium's most popular beers and is exported to over 40 countries.

Originally, Duvel (Flemish for "Devil") was a rich, malty beer somewhat resembling a Scotch Ale. As time went on though, the world started to favor lighter style beers, and the brewery decided to make some changes to the recipe. In the process, they ended up creating a whole new kind of beer.

In the new brew, the backbone is built of lighter Pilsener malt and white sugar, while bitterness is provided by Saaz and Styrian Goldings hops. One of the key ingredients is a special strain of ale yeast originally derived from a bottle of McEwans the brewery studied just before the Second World War. As for the actual brewing process, the beer endures two fermentations at the brewery before it's bottled and undergoes bottle conditioning.

Don't be fooled by surface appearances though, while the recipe may call for Pilsener style malt and it has a Pislener style look, this is hardly a Pilsener style beer. It's built quite a devilish reputation for biting those that fail to treat it with the proper respect over the years, due to its deceptively high alcohol content.

With that in mind, let's pop the cap and take trip over to the dark (light) side.

Appearance: A beautifully hazy, golden-straw body topped with a mile of pillowy white head. The head looks like a dollop of meringue, lasts until the end of the glass, and leaves brilliant lacing. Simply gorgeous.

Aroma: Yeasty, spicy, and fruity with a whiff or two of booze. Thoroughly Belgian.

Taste: Intense. Lots of fruit (mainly apples and light citrus), bready yeast, and spices (pepper and clove). All of this over a tasty pale malt backbone. That over eight-percent alcohol content is there, but it's masked remarkably well and what does manifest itself is nothing but complimentary to the rest of the flavors. The aftertaste is complex, with many of the bready and spicy flavors in full effect.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and creamy with a terrific carbonation and occasional hints of alcohol. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: Certainly more drinkable than the alcohol content would suggest, this is surprisingly quaffable.

Verdict: Duvel is truly a brilliant beer and thoroughly stands up to it's rather lofty reputation. If you're looking to start your journey through the fascinating world Belgian beers, you certainly won't go wrong with this as your first step. A classic in all regards.

Grade: A+

Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout Review

Brewery: Guinness Ltd. | Beer: Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout
Style: Irish Dry Stout | ABV: 5.0% | IBUs: ~45
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Guinness 250 Anniversary StoutToday marks 250 years since Arthur Guinness signed the legendary 9000 year lease on the St. James Brewery. To help mark the occasion, Guinness has brewed up 250 Anniversary Stout, a new beer available in America, Australia, and Singapore.

The first new Guinness in the American product line since Guinness Draught first showed up on our shores in 1967, Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout is the biggest Guinness-related news here in quite a while. It's not meant to be a permanent change though, as Guinness only plan to brew the beer for a limited time only.

Unlike big brother Guinness Draught, 250 gets it's bubbles purely from carbonation, with no nitrogen. This makes for a sharper mouthfeel. Guinness describe 250 as "a distinctive carbonated stout with a clean, smooth finish." Why the change? According to master brewer Fergal Murray, this beer "is more about refreshment and zing" than Guinness Draught. Other changes include a different mix of malts, a higher alcohol content, and a new "triple hop regime."

There's no better day than today to raise a pint of the black stuff, so let's get to it.

Appearance: A dark brown, nearly black body with laser-red highlights. Up top, two fingers of creamy, dusty-tan head that sticks around for a while and leaves good lacing on the way down.

Aroma: Cocoa and a little dark fruit over a mild roasted-malt base. It's rather similar to Guinness Draught, but with a little more fruit character.

Taste: Roasted malt with nutty, chocolaty and dark-fruity notes. It's not exactly the most complex brew out there, but it was never meant to be. The aftertaste is nutty and roasty.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and creamy with a drying finish. There's certainly more carbonation than you get in nitrogenated Guinness products, but what's here is still rather smooth.

Drinkability: Like it's big brother, this goes back rather quickly.

Verdict: A decent enough brew, and a fitting tribute given the source material that is Guinness Draught, but not exactly an earth-shaker. If you are (or used to be) a Guinness fanatic, this is worth the price of admission. Congratulations to Guinness on 250 years!

Grade: B-

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale 2009 Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale 2009
Style: American India Pale Ale | ABV: 6.6% | IBUs: 66
Serving Method: 24 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest AleSierra Nevada, a brewery known to many for it's use of hops, brews up a series of fresh-hopped beers known as the Harvest Ale Series. Harvest Ale, available in early fall, was the first beer in the series and features un-dried Cascade and Centennial hops from the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. Chico Estate Harvest Ale, which features Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops grown at the Sierra Nevada brewery, can be found in late summer.

Last year, Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, which features fresh hops sourced from New Zealand, became the third beer in the series. It's actually the only American beer to feature fresh hops from the Southern Hemisphere, which makes it the only American fresh-hopped beer available in the spring. All other examples on the market use hops from the Northen Hemisphere, where hops are harvested in the fall.

As soon as the hops are picked in New Zealand, they are dried and flown to the brewery in Chico, California. The whole process, from fresh on the vine to the brewing kettle, takes about a week, ensuring the freshest hop aromas and flavors possible. As for the specific hops employed, Pacific Halertaus are used for bittering, while a mix of the New Zealand Southern Cross and New Zealand Motueka varieties are used for finishing. The malt backbone underneath is built with pale and caramel varieties.

Well, this is a beer meant to be enjoyed as fresh as possible, so let's dig in!

Appearance: A slightly hazy, orange-amber body with some very fine particles in solution. Up top, a generous, fluffy off-white head that features excellent retention and lacing.

Aroma: A bright blast of citrusy, floral, and spicy hops. There's a caramel malt base underneath to keep everything together.

Taste: Similar bright hop characteristics up front. They're grapefruity, piney, floral, and slightly resiny. You can taste the 66 IBUs, and they probably put this somewhere between Pale Ale and India Pale Ale. The caramel malt backbone makes a much bigger impact in the flavor than in the nose, making this a very balanced Pale Ale. The aftertaste is moderately bitter and toasty.

Mouthfeel: A lightly creamy, medium body with good carbonation and a dry finish. Top marks.

Drinkability: The big 24 oz bottle goes back with no trouble at all, very sessionable.

Verdict: Southern Harvest is a nicely bitter, yet well-balanced Pale Ale. I love the idea of having a beer hopped with fresh hops in the Spring, and it's a real treat to try some of the best hops that the Southern Hemisphere has to offer in near-optimum condition.

Grade: A

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past May.

Guinness Celebrates 250th Anniversary Tomorrow

It's not every day you get to celebrate a 250th anniversary, especially in the world of beer—though tomorrow, you can do just that. Guinness has dubbed tomorrow, a date marking 250 years to the day since Arthur Guinness signed the legendary 9000 year loan on the St. James Brewery, "Arthur's Day."

Events have been planned across the globe from Dublin to Malaysia, with acts including Kasabian, Estelle, Black Eyed Peas, and Tom Jones. Check Guinness' site for details.

So raise a pint tomorrow in honor of Arthur and the brand he created a quarter of a millennium ago. Cheers!

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel it important to mention that Guinness decided to include me in their "Guinness 250," and that as part of this program, they have sent me a collection of promotional items.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale Review

Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co. | Beer: Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale
Style: American Strong Ale | ABV: 9.7% | IBUs: 72
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Laguintas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down AleUndercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale takes its name from an incident in 2005, when undercover California Alcoholic Beverage Control agents busted the brewery on charges of "disorderly house" and "moral turpitude" when they found people smoking weed on brewery premises. The organization revoked the brewery's license, and they ended up enduring a three week suspension (during which they installed a new bottling line).

Lagunitas refer to all of this as the "2005 St. Patrick's Day Massacre." This beer is a nice little middle finger the California ABC, and yet somehow won label approval from them. If you end up trying this one out, I recommend you read the ramblings on the bottom of the six-pack holder, though they might make more sense if you read it after drinking some of the contents.

Undercover is categorized by the brewery as an "Imperial Mild," which they freely admit is an oxy-moron. Since that style doesn't really exist, I (as most others) have classified this as an American Strong Ale. The American Strong Ale style is a bit of a catch-all, but I think it works for this beer. You could probably make a case for this being a Double IPA, as the lines can be pretty blurry. But, with just 72 IBUs, I'm sticking with American Strong Ale.

But that's all just splitting hairs—what really matter is how it tastes.

Appearance: A beautiful red-orange body with two fingers of off-white head that leaves good lacing.

Aroma: There's a flood of hops the second the bottle is opened. The hop profile is intense and smells grapefruity, piney, and almost candied. Underneath all of this there's lots of sweet, almost syrupy, malt.

Taste: It's much the same in flavor. A hardy does of grapefruity and piney hops over a big, sweet malt backbone. Most of the alcohol is hidden rather well, and what remains is pleasant. The aftertaste keeps the hop-fest going.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied with good carbonation and a little alcohol in the throat. It coats the mouth well, allowing for some great aftertaste retention.

Drinkability: Despite the high ABV and large flavor profile, this still goes back relatively fast, giving this above-average drinkability for the style.

Verdict: Since Laguintas has quite a full lineup of American Strong Ales, one would expect them to be pretty good at crafting them by now. So, it's no surprise that Shut-Down is a solid example of the style. It's may not be the most intense or interesting Strong Ale out there, but it's tasty, quite drinkable, and features an interesting focus on hops.

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past March.

Stone 13th Anniversary Ale Review

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. | Beer: 13th Anniversary Ale
Style: American Strong Ale | ABV: 9.5% | IBUs: ~90
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Stone 13th Anniversary AleThis year, Stone Brewing Company celebrates their 13th year of serving up world-class craft beer. In that time, they've grown into the 18th largest craft brewery in the nation, which is no small accomplishment. To mark the occasion, they brew up an anniversary beer each year. This is the first time we've seen a Stone anniversary brew here in Houston, and I couldn't be happier to finally get in on the party.

Stone describe 13th Anniversary as an Imperial Red Ale, though I've listed it as an American Strong Ale. It took them three iterations to get the beer to the level demanded of a Stone anniversary release. The brewery claim this is the hoppiest beer in their history, with more pounds of hops per barrel (4.5 lbs. to be exact) than anything they've ever released.

Chinook hops are used during brewing, and the beer is dry-hopped with a 50/50 blend of Simcoe and Centennial varieties. It's dry-hopped again just before packaging, making this the first double dry-hopped Stone beer available in a bottle. The backbone is built with pale, crystal and amber malts with just "a touch" of chocolate.

Stone intend you to enjoy this beer fresh, and have marked the bottle "do not cellar, enjoy in 2009." I recommend you follow their advice, though I'm still going to age a few bottles, just for the hell of it.

Appearance: An exceedingly dark brown body with just the barest red highlights. Up top, three tannish fingers of head featuring great retention and fantastic lacing.

Aroma: A pungent blast of piney, resiny hops on top of a rich caramel malt base. Based on aroma alone, I'd mark this as a Double IPA every time.

Taste: Up front, a brawny and bitter hop character composed of herbal, pine, citrus, and resin components. Underneath, there's a substantial toasty caramel malt backbone keeping things pretty balanced. There is plenty of spicy alcohol throughout, but the bulk is masked well. It all ends up somewhere in the Imperial Red/Double IPA/American Strong Ale region. The aftertaste is resiny as all hell and lasts well into your next gulp.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and creamy with good carbonation and a dry finish.

Drinkability: Slower due to the big hop character and alcohol content, though not quite a sipper.

Verdict: Stone 13th Anniversary Ale is a big, brash beer that's brimming with character, which makes it a fitting memorial to 13 great years of Stone brews. Cheers to Greg and the rest of the Stone team!

Grade: A

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sierra Nevada ESB 2009 Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: ESB
Style: Extra Strong/Special Bitter | ABV: 5.9% | IBUs: 45
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Sierra Nevada ESBIn the last few years, the Sierra Nevada lineup has been steadily expanding. A year ago, they introduced ESB, aka "Early Spring Beer," the brewery's take on the British Extra Special Bitter style. While I didn't try the 2008 vintage last year, my source at the brewery says that this year's version was superior.

The ingredient list is certainly very British sounding. Two-Row Pale, Maris Otter, and Crystal malt varieties make up the backbone. As for hops, English Challenger, East Kent Goldings, U.S. Challenger, U.S. Goldings, & Crystal varieties are employed. As a twist, Sierra Nevada leave the beer unfiltered, which founder and owner Ken Grossman claims "enhances mouthfeel and hop aroma creating a slightly reddish-copper hue."

Here's how Sierra Nevada describe the resulting brew:

Our ESB combines the best of English tradition with West Coast style. A blend of malts featuring British-grown Maris Otter is balanced with the earthy spiciness of hand-selected English and US hops. The ale is left unfiltered, which enhances mouthfeel and hop aroma creating a slightly reddish-copper hue.
Sounds like it's exactly what I'm in the mood for, so let's dig in.

Appearance: Amber-orange body with an off-white finger and a half of head with good retention and brilliant lacing.

Aroma: Earthy, herbal, and citrusy hops over a lightly toasted caramel malt body.

Taste: Sharp citrusy, herbal hops right off the bat. You can really taste that they're using different hops than usual, although they share some characteristics with the usual suspects. The hops ride over a solid caramel malt backbone, strong enough to not be drowned out. Once again, the boys from Chico deliver superb balance. A lingering bitter aftertaste lasts well into your next sip.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with moderate carbonation. Dries a bit in the finish.

Drinkability: Absolute top-notch drinkability makes ESB a brilliant session beer.

Verdict: Another solid and balanced beer from Sierra Nevada and pretty on the mark for the ESB style. Not the most exciting beer in the Sierra Nevada stable, but I think that's part of the point. Immanently drinkable, yet complex enough to never be boring, ESB is worth a try for sure.

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past February.