Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: Torpedo Extra IPA
Style: American India Pale Ale | ABV: 7.2%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Sierra Nevada TorpedoSierra Nevada, a mainstay of the American craft brew world, has been very busy expanding their line recently. Their newest creation is one of two new additions to their year-round stable being released this year, Torpedo. This is the first change to the year-round Sierra Nevada lineup in over a decade, so this is pretty exciting.

What's even more exciting is that Torpedo is an India Pale Ale, one of my favorite styles. I always felt for such a hop-centric company, a year-round IPA was in order for Sierra Nevada. Well, that day has finally come. Sierra Nevada maintains the reason it was such a long wait is that they've just now figured out how to get the hop profile they desired without having to resort to hop pellets or extracts. Part of the process entails a new device developed at the brewery called the Torpedo, hence the name.

According to Sierra Nevada, Torpedo is actually somewhere between an IPA and a Double IPA, what they're calling an "Extra IPA." For simplicity's sake I went ahead and listed it as an American India Pale Ale, as that seems to be the closest fit. As for the ingredients, the malt backbone is composed of Two-row Pale, Carapils & Crystal varieties with the hop profile provided by Magnum, Crystal, & Citra variates. Magnum is used for bittering, finishing, and dry-hoping. Crystal is used during finishing and dry-hoping. And Citra is utilized only during dry-hoping. Here's how the brewery describes Torpedo:

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale is a big American IPA; bold, assertive and full of flavor and aromas highlighting the complex citrus, pine and herbal character of whole-cone American hops.
Torpedo is joining two seasonal beers, Anniversary Ale and Celebration Ale, in the Sierra Nevada IPA collection. With Celebration getting an A+ here on PintLog, hopes are what you might call rather high.

Appearance: A deep burnt-orange, clear body with a big fluffy, off-white head. Good lacing.

Aroma: Lovely grapefruity, herbal, and piney hops over a solid caramel malt base.

Taste: Pleasantly bitter hops right off the bat with all the same characteristics you find in the nose. Right behind the hops, a big sweet malt background keeps everything in order. Superbly balanced, just what I've come to expect from Sierra Nevada. The moderately-high alcohol content is masked well. Great lingering bitter aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with fine carbonation. Dries in the finish.

Drinkability: Just about average for a good IPA.

Verdict: I think Sierra Nevada is right about Torpedo being somewhere between an IPA and a Double IPA, but it's probably closer to the former. While I prefer Celebration to Torpedo, this is anything but a let-down. I can see this playing a big role in my regular rotation, especially during the Summer when Celebration is just a fond memory.

Grade: A-

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Beer Wars Video Featuring Charlie Papazian

Haven't bought your Beer Wars tickets yet? Well, what the hell are you waiting for? April 16th is rapidly approaching. If you are still not convinced, perhaps this latest video extra will inspire you. In it, homebrew hero Charlie Papazian talks about, what else, homebrewed beer. Look out for his awesome "malt stirrer," I want one.

Ah, makes me want to take a trip to the homebrew store and get brewing.

See the list of theaters playing Beer Wars here and check the Beer Wars website for more information.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stone Ruination IPA Review

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. | Beer: Ruination IPA
Style: American Double India Pale Ale | ABV: 7.7%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Stone Ruination IPAStone Brewing Company, best known for their beer Arrogant Bastard, have become one of the big players in the American craft brew scene. Based out of the San Diego area, they've developed a reputation for uncompromising big beers, usually with a healthy dose of hops. Gargoyles are featured prominently on most packaging, a perfect fit for the playfully arrogant voice of most of their marketing materials. Stone is independent and has built a reputation for being eco-friendly, both very important things to me.

While they produce a normal IPA (named simply Stone IPA), they also produce a year-round Double IPA by the name of Ruination, billed as a "liquid poem to the glory of the hop!" Stone say they chose the moniker Ruination because they believe that this is such an extreme and great tasting beer, that your palate will be ruined for anything lesser. The beer better be pretty damn good with that kind of marketing.

Appearance: Somewhat hazy, rich amber-orange body with a two solid fingers of sticky, off-white head. Good lacing.

Aroma: Pungent, floral, citrusy, and piney hops are the focus here. There is booze and caramel malt underneath, but they're very much subservient to the hop onslaught. This smells damn good.

Taste: Aggressively bitter hops take charge of your mouth from the second they hit the palate, not letting go until they say so. Not just bitter, the hops are still grassy, floral, and citrusy. It's not all one-sided though, with enough caramel malt to keep it from being an absolute blowout. The alcohol is kept in check well. There is a terrifically long bitter aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body that coats the mouth, allowing the aftertaste to linger for minutes. Moderate carbonation and a dry finish.

Drinkability: A little above average for the style, that is to say a relatively fast sipper. There are a lot of hops to contend with, but the alcohol is hidden rather well.

Verdict: Ruination is simply a massive beer. Stone have pulled off something masterful here, by keeping a beer so absolutely drenched in hop oil still somewhat balanced. This is a must try for all hopheads, and one of the best beers I've tried yet. Arrogant bastards Stone may be, but their products walk the walk.

Grade: A+

Friday, March 13, 2009

Beer Wars Deleted Scenes

Have you bought your tickets for Beer Wars yet? If not, perhaps these deleted scenes will help persuade you to pull the trigger.

First up, Kim Jordan of New Belgium talks about her brewery and "the culture of beer."

Next, Greg Koch of Stone brewing talks about the journey his company has been on and who he considers his competition.

I have to say, the more I learn about this movie, the more excited I get.

See the list of theaters playing Beer Wars here and check the Beer Wars website for more information.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sierra Nevada Reveals New Year-Round Beer: Kellerweis Hefeweizen

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis HefeweizenSierra Nevada announced last year that they would be adding two new beers to their year-round stable. As there had been no changes to that lineup in over a decade, the beer community was understandably excited. The first beer was revealed to be a new "Extra IPA" named Torpedo. I just got my hands on a couple six-packs, and it's a very worthy addition to the collection.

Late last week, Sierra Nevada unveiled their second new year-round release, Kellerweis Hefeweizen. This will actually be replacing Sierra Nevada Wheat in the lineup, so if you're a fan of the Wheat, stock up. The beer is of the traditional Bavarian Hefeweizen style and Sierra Nevada is using the shallow open fermentation process and top-cropping yeast. The yeast itself is a special strain borrowed from a small Bavarian brewery and was actually the inspiration for Kellerweis.

When the brewers started playing with the strain a few years ago, they were so enamored with the results that they decided to brew up a new year-round Hefeweizen. After a trip to Germany the team realized that the key to really unlocking the yeast strain's potential was open fermenting.

The name Kellerweis comes from a combination of the German words for cellar (in this case a reference to the open fermentation tanks) and hazy wheat beers. Here's how Sierra Nevada describe the flavor profile:

The flavor is rich with bready wheat notes and massive banana and clove. The finish is clean and crisp and the beer has a low enough ABV to be scarily session-able.
Be on the lookout for Kellerweis on shelves in late May, just in time for summer. If Torpedo is any indication, it should be great.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Session 25: Love Lager, A Meditation On The American Adjunct Light Lager

The Session is a monthly project where a bunch of beer bloggers all blog about the same topic. You can read more about the project here. This is PintLog's first time contributing to the project. This month's host is John Duffy (A.K.A. The Beer Nut), and the topic he has chosen is Love Lager, a meditation on the style that most people associate with the word beer.

When thinking about the typical American Lager, three brands immediately spring to mind: Budweiser, Miller, and Coors (collectively known in some beer circles as BMC). These brands account for the majority of American beer produced each year. Differentiated more by marketing than any tangible product attributes, each brews their own version of the American Adjunct Lager.

Designed with the lowest common denominator in mind, the style is light-bodied, pale yellow in color, fizzy, and lacking in any strong hop or malt flavors. Due to the expense of brewing all-malt beers, and the fact that their customer's palates allow them to, adjunct cereal grains (mostly corn and rice) are used to reduce the amount of malted barley required.*

As if the typical American Adjunct Lager wasn't bland enough already, most Americans actually prefer to buy the "light" version of the style. Made popular by Miller in the 70s with Miller Lite, the Light American Adjunct Light Lager is lower in calories, carbohydrates, and (typically) alcohol content. Unfortunately, they're also lighter in flavor.

So the question to be asked is do these beers offer anything but a cheap and quick way to get drunk? To help answer that question, I decided to do my best to objectively review the three best selling American Adjunct Light Lagers: Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light (they're also three of the four best selling beers in America regardless of style). And just to keep things interesting, I also reviewed the light version of a local favorite: Lone Star, known as the "National Beer of Texas." We Texans are a funny bunch.

I decided to do this the right way, so I headed across the street to the gas station to pick up my review material. Lone Star Light was only available in six-packs, and ran me around $3.50. That's quite possibly the cheapest six-pack I've ever bought. All three nationwide beers were available in handy 24 ounce tall boy cans, for around two dollars. As a bonus, all three were wrapped by the cashier in individual brown paper bags. Let's unwrap these bad boys and dig in.

Bud LightFirst up, Bud Light, the big boy on the block and the best selling beer in the world (according to Anheuser-Busch). "Drinkability" is the latest Bud Light campaign, and seems to be based on the idea that you don't want pesky things like flavor to get in the way of your drinking. With a fuller mouthfeel than usual for this style and a relatively pronounced (if still grainy) body, Bud Light is not the "most drinkable" here. Which is certainly not a bad thing. You can read my full Bud Light review here.

Miller LiteNext, the beer that started it all, Miller Lite. Now the third best selling beer in America (behind Bud Light and Budweiser), Miller Lite positions itself as the light beer that's just too light for a "GH" in the name. Seriously. A new, unintentionally hilarious, campaign touts the beer as a great way to "Get Hip to the Hops." The beer itself is the same fizzy, yellow stuff as the others, but plagued with a nasty chemical taste. You can read my full Miller Lite review here.

Coors LightNumber four on the American sales charts is Coors Light, the "Silver Bullet." Coors markets the beer almost exclusively around the concept of coldness, which I suppose is rather telling. Without a doubt the most gimmicky delivery device here, its can has a vented mouth, a "Frost Brew Liner," and a "Cold Activated" mountain scene on the side. The beer itself has a better flavor profile than most beers in this style, but almost no nose whatsoever. You can read my full Coors Light review here.

Lone Star LightIn order to keep things a bit interesting, I felt compelled to add a local favorite. Here in Texas, Lone Star is the local Lager for most people. Because it wouldn't be fair to compare three light Lagers to a regular Lager, I've opted for Lone Star Light, a beer that I'd never actually tried before now. Unfortunately, it's just as bland and soulless as the national fare. On the plus side, it does have some awesome pictogram puzzles under the bottlecap. You can read my full Lone Star Light review here.

So, after tasting them all, how do they rank?
  • In fourth place, Miller Lite - the chemical taste just killed it.
  • In third place, Lone Star Light - much blander than the "National Beer of Texas" should be.
  • In second place, Bud Light - a fuller body than the previous two beers, but just too grainy to win.
  • And our winner today, a total surprise to me, is Coors Light - hardly a full-flavored beer, but the best taste profile of the group.
So, after my best attempt at objectively reviewing the three big American Adjunct Light Lagers and a local wildcard, has my low opinion changed? Not at all. Viewed alone in a vacuum these beers are not necessarily bad (aside from an occasional chemical taste); but when compared to the rest of the beer world, they're just not good. They don't taste like horse piss or even cat piss. If I'm offered one of these beers at a party, am I going turn up my nose and refuse, citing the superiority of craft-brewed beer? Of course not.

Remember, just because someone likes these beers, that doesn't make them some sort uncultured philistine. Think how much money they're saving over saps like me!

*Reader Mike, who clearly know a lot more about brewing than me, wrote in to dispute the assertion that brewing with adjuncts is cheaper than with all-malt. Here's how Mike puts it:
Adjuncts used in adjunct lager brewing are not significantly cheaper than barley malt. They were historically used to lower the protein content and astringency of North American 6 row barley prior to the successful Canadian 2 row barley breeding programs of the 70's and 80's for growing dry land barley. Low cost factored into their use more in the past more than today, but an all malt beer before the successful breeding of North American 2 row malt was astringent and tended to be hazy at low serving temperatures. Their use now is about light flavour. Brewing with corn and rice increases energy use and brewhouse cycle times. In the case of high maltose corn syrup cycle times reduce and plant efficiency goes up. This comes at a cost. Corn syrup is generally more expensive than malt lately.

All malt is used in craft circles because it is actually cheaper and markets better due to the difference. The plant required for using adjuncts is usually prohibitive and is more complicated to use.
Many thanks to Mike for the info.

Bud Light Review

Brewery: Anheuser-Busch, Inc. | Beer: Bud Light
Style: American Adjunct Light Lager | ABV: 4.2%
Serving Method: 24 oz. can poured into Pilsener glass

Bud LightThis review is a part of an article on the American Adjunct Light Lager as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Introduced as Anheuser-Busch's answer to the popular Miller Lite (and to a lesser degree, Coors Light) in 1982, Bud Light has become the best selling beer in the world (according to AB). As with it's fellow Light Lagers, the product is differentiated and made successful mostly by it's marketing. Bud Light has been pitched with some truly brilliant ads including "Swear Jar" and the "Real Men of Genius " radio series.

Their latest campaign centers on one of Bud Light's core product attributes, "The Difference Is Drinkability." The message, apparently, is that you don't want anything like flavor getting in the way of drinking as much beer as possible. I suppose if that's what you're drinking for, Bud Light isn't a bad choice.

As for the beer itself, it's your typical American Adjunct Light Lager; a low-calorie, light-bodied beer with an "inoffensive" flavor profile. Here's how AB describe the ingredients:

Bud Light is made with a blend of two and six-row malt and cereal grains for a clean and crisp, smooth taste. In addition, it is brewed with all-natural ingredients - water, barley malt, rice, hops and yeast.
Mmm, nothing like an ice-cold rice beer to unwind with after a hard day.

Appearance: The standard crystal-clear, pale straw-yellow body with a fizzy white head that recedes rapidly.

Aroma: Sweet and grainy with a somewhat fuller body than you usually get in this style (still firmly in the thin territory). In place of hops, a handful of crisp fruitiness.

Taste: A thin, grainy malt body with the barest hints of hops, but no bitterness to speak of. Compared to other American macro light beers, Bud Light has perhaps a little fuller flavor profile and is not as plagued with skunkiness.

Mouthfeel: A little fuller than average, but still very thin compared to most beer. Fizzy with a dry finish.

Drinkability: The usual Light Lager Catch-22; it goes down easily but there's not much desire to keep going.

Verdict: This tastes like college to me. A somewhat fuller body and more pronounced flavor profile than many in this style, but still amazingly bland and shallow. If faced with a choice between a Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Coors Light I suppose this is would be my second choice.

Grade: D

Miller Lite Review

Brewery: Miller Brewing Co. | Beer: Miller Lite
Style: American Adjunct Light Lager | ABV: 4.2%
Serving Method: 24 oz. can poured into
Pilsener glass

Miller LiteThis review is a part of an article on the American Adjunct Light Lager as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Developed back in 1967, the beer we know as Miller Lite started life as Gablinger's Diet Beer, the first light beer. Meister Brau acquired the recipe a few years later, and the beer was renamed Meister Brau Lite. Once Miller bought out Meister Brau in the mid-seventies, the recipe was tweaked and the beer was re-renamed Miller Lite.

Under Miller's management and with their superior marketing muscle, sales of the beer finally took off. Miller Lite was essentially the first to market in the light beer segment, and held the sales lead until 1994, when Bud Light became the top dog. The light beer category itself tipped in 1992, becoming the biggest selling segment of the American beer landscape.

Miller Lite has enjoyed many hit marketing campaigns, including the legendary "Great Tasting, Less Filling," "Man Laws," and the controversial "Catfight." Miller Lite's latest campaign touts the benefits of the the beer's flavor profile, "Get Hip to the Hops." Check out the Miller Lite website for some unintentionally hilarious video clips about the awesome power of the "triple hops brewing processes."

Marketing campaign's aside, let's peel back the brown paper bag and see what's inside.

Appearance: Pale straw-yellow, crystal-clear body with a fizzy bright-white head that recedes quickly and leaves no lacing.

Aroma: Crisp and cidery with a plain, grainy sweetness. There's definitely something funky going on here.

Taste: Very thin flavor profile. Thin, grainy malt with hardly any bitterness from the hops, just some crispness and a bit of fruitiness. Unfortunately, there's a nasty chemical taste lurking around the edges, waiting to grab you. Thin, grainy aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Watery and fizzy, the standard for this style.

Drinkability: On occasion I've been forced to test the drinkability of this beer, and it keeps going down easy for quite a while. But unless you're looking to get drunk, there's no point.

Verdict: Maybe I'm just not "hip to the hops," but this sucks. It's the normal thin and bland profile you'd expect from this style, but with a nasty chemical taste takes it to a new level of shitiness. Firmly behind both Bud Light and Coors Light.

Grade: F

Coors Light Review

Brewery: Coors Brewing Co. | Beer: Coors Light
Style: American Adjunct Light Lager | ABV: 4.2%
Serving Method: 24 oz. can poured into Pilsener glass

Coors LightThis review is a part of an article on the American Adjunct Light Lager as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Introduced in 1978, Coors Light is the beer that really put the Colorado-based Coors Brewing Company on the map, and is by far their biggest seller. "The Silver Bullet's" brand image is all about the concept of Coors Light as the coldest beer. From the "frost brewing" process, to the ice-covered train featured in the commercials, and the fact that the beer is shipped across country in constant refrigeration; it's all about low temperatures.

Coors has plenty of gimmicks to go along with the marketing talking points. Besides a vented mouth for speed, this can is equipped with both the "Frost Brew Liner" and the "Cold Activated" mountains. According to the can, the blue liner "locks in good taste," while the mountains will turn blue "at the peak of cold refreshment." Here I was thinking it was just an aluminum can.

All of this has sparked a belief in many people that somehow Coors is a mystical, delicate beer, and must be kept cold at all times. They think if it is allowed to warm at all, its ruined. The power of marketing is strong, especially when it comes to light beers.

Well, the mountains just turned blue, so let's dive in.

Appearance: A pale golden body with a white head that recedes at a rate I've never seen, it destroys itself in mere seconds.

Aroma: Thinner than thin, with only the barest whiff of grain. Blink and you miss it.

Taste: Much fuller than the aroma would suggest, but still a very thin flavor profile. A sweet and grainy base with a little more "hop" flavor than most in this style. Bland, but better than many light lagers.

Mouthfeel: As you would expect, light-bodied and fizzy with a dry finish.

Drinkability: The only thing holding you back is the boring flavor profile.

Verdict: Another very boring Light Lager, but quite probably the one I'd reach for from a cooler stocked with only Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. It's not as skunky as Miller Lite and just a little bit better tasting than Bud Light.

Grade: D

Lone Star Light Review

Brewery: Pabst Brewing Co. | Beer: Lone Star Light
Style: American Adjunct Light Lager | ABV: 3.9%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into
Pilsener glass

Lone Star LightThis review is part of an article on the American Adjunct Light Lager as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

I'm a resident of the great state of Texas. I know to many people who read that statement, a lot of negative stereotypes come to mind, but Texas is much more complex than you might think. While I'm certainly not your typical Texan, I've found much to love about my state. Not least of these is great local beer, something that most people probably don't associate with the Lone Star State.

Unfortunately, not all beer brewed in Texas is top-shelf. Lone Star, a brand owned by the Pabst Brewing Company, pitches itself as "The National Beer of Texas." They make only two products: Lone Star (an American Adjunct Lager) and Lone Star Light (an American Adjunct Light Lager). According to Lone Star, for "maximum flavor and zest," the light version retains "the level of hopping and carbonation found in the full-calorie version." Thank God for that. Lone Star Light took home a silver medal for American-Style Light Lager at the 2008 World Beer Cup.

Here's the great thing about Lone Star beers, and why I always pick them out of the cooler at a party before a Bud/Miller/Coors: bottle-cap puzzles. Every Lone Star bottle-cap has a little pictogram puzzle printed on the underside. Some are simple, some are somewhat of a stretch, but they're always fun. In the bland American Adjunct Light Lager world, a little puzzle can make all the difference.

Appearance: Paler than pale yellow, crystal-clear and fizzy with a white head that recedes rapidly and leaves no lacing to speak of. In a bizarre twist, it looks a lot like champagne.

Aroma: Thin, sweet hints of "malt"with no real hops to speak of, just some crisp apple.

Taste: The body is composed of a thin, sweet, rather corny (no pun intended) twang; the same crap you're used to from this style. Hardly any bitterness whatsoever, just more of the apple.

Mouthfeel: Thin, watery, and fizzy. Simple as that.

Drinkability: Think of the drinkability of water, then imagine one notch less drinkable than that. The only thing holding you back is the bland taste.

Verdict: Essential indistinguishable from the national brands, Texas certainly deserves a better "National beer" than this. Luckily, the Lone Star State is home to a whole slate of brilliant breweries, including Saint Arnold, Independence, Spoetzl (makers of Shiner beers), & Rahr. At least Lone Star has the awesome puzzles...

Grade: D-

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Craft Brew Movie On The Way

Beer Wars, a film by Anat Baron, is an upcoming documentary about the battle raging in America between the craft breweries and Bud/Miller/Coors. Most of the big voices in the craft brew movement are represented: Sam Calagione, Jim Koch, Garrett Oliver, Greg Koch, Kim Jordan, Charlie Papazian, Todd Alström, the late Michael Jackson, and many more. Check out the trailer:

So what's the catch? The movie is scheduled as a one-night-only event, showing in theaters nationwide only on April 16th, so you only have one shot to see it (until it's released on DVD). The upside is that the movie will be followed by a live event hosted by Ben Stein and featuring craft brew industry people. Spread the word, buy your tickets in advance (I'm buying mine online today), and bring a friend (or five).

See the list of theaters playing Beer Wars here and check the Beer Wars website for more information.