Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale | ABV: 5.6%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Sierra Nevada Pale AleOne of the key beers in the American craft-brewing movement, and the flagship brew of one of it's most iconic brewers, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the most important beers on the shelf today. It has served as a gateway beer for many budding hopheads and as the savior of many forced to buy their beer from countless grocery stores and gas stations. It even helped define its own style, the American Pale Ale.

Sierra Nevada describe their Pale Ale as a "delightful interpretation of a classic style [with] a deep amber color and an exceptionally full-bodied, complex character." The malt backbone is composed of Two-Row Pale & Caramel varieties, Magnum & Perle hop varieties are used for bittering, and Cascade hops are used for dry-hoping. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has won countless awards, including seven gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival.

Appearance: A clear, brilliant golden orange body with millions of particles suspended within. On top, a bubbly white head that leaves above average lacing.

Aroma: Gloriously bright, citrusy Cascade hops over a sweet malt backbone. Mouthwatering, to say the least.

Taste: Decently bitter Cascades up front, in just the right proportion for a Pale Ale. A solid caramel-biscuity malt base keeps everything in perfect balance. Little hints of booze from time to time. Near perfect proportions.

Mouthfeel: A medium body with moderate carbonation. Very refreshing.

Drinkability: Amazingly quaffable, I could run through a six-pack of this without even realizing it.

Verdict: Simply brilliant and perfectly balanced, there's no wonder why this has become the classic American Pale Ale. Like Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the great forefathers of the American craft-brew world that still holds up to anything brewed today.

Grade: A

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Southern Star Pine Belt Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Southern Star Brewing Co. | Beer: Pine Belt Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale | ABV: 6.3%
Serving Method: 16 oz. can poured into pint glass

Southern Star Pine Belt Pale AleI've written about buying local beer before, back when I named Saint Arnold my "local brewery." Well, I've found something even closer. According to Google Maps, Southern Star Brewing Company is located a scant ten miles from my front door, a couple minutes up Interstate-45 in Conroe, Texas. Besides my homebrews, I don't think I can get much more local than that.

The company's signature brew, and the only one available in a non-keg format so far, is Pine Belt Pale Ale. The format is 16oz. cans, the style is American Pale Ale, and the name is derived from the Pine Belt area here in Southern Texas. It's backbone is composed of Rahr Special Pale, Simpsons 30-37, and Crisp 45 malt varieties; while bitterness is provided by Sorachi Ace, Galena, CTZ, and Palisades hop varieties. The yeast strain used is California Ale. The beer is not filtered or pasteurized, so the motto on the can, "Clarity is overrated," really fits.

Appearance: Pours a gloriously hazy honey body with a brilliant bubbly tannish head that leaves great lacing. In a couple of the glasses I enjoyed I found a lot of strange sediment, almost like tornado-shaped drops of oil in water, when I held my glass up to the light (see for yourself below). As I made my way through the beer, it ended up mellowing into a general coarse haziness.

Aroma: Very Cascade-like notes of orange peel and grapefruit from the hops with a solid brown sugary pale malt baseline.

Taste: Mildly bitter and piney hops lead the way with lots of caramely, slightly biscuity, pale malt underneath. Somewhat fruity. There's a lot of malt here for a Pale Ale, but everything tastes good together. Not tasting much of that 6.3% ABV advertised on the can.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with average carbonation. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: Excellent drinkability, quite a thirst quencher. Just watch out for the 6.3% alcohol content, as smooth as this goes down it can sneak up on you.

Verdict: To be honest, when I saw beer from Conroe in my local beer shop, I was excited, yet skeptical. But I'm happy to report that this beer is not only decent, but actually pretty damn good. They've crafted a very solid and balanced, somewhat malty, APA that drinks exceptionally well. I'll have to make the arduous ten minute journey up the road to tour the brewery sometime very soon.

Grade: A

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Avery Ale To The Chief Review

Brewery: Avery Brewing Co. | Beer: Ale To The Chief
Style: American Double India Pale Ale | ABV: 8.8%
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Avery Ale To The ChiefDespite your political views, one can not deny that today is indeed an historic day for our nation. The election of an African-American as our country's leader marks a significant change in our society, and is something I will one day be proud to tell my children about.

To mark today's inauguration, Avery Brewing Company has brewed up a very special limited release beer in order to "bid a fond farewell to our current Commander in Chief and welcome a new administration."

While Avery list the style as Presidential Pale Ale, the best I can tell, the actual style is American Double India Pale Ale. The malt backbone is composed of Two-Row Pale, C-150, Dark Munich, Honey Malt varieties; while hoppiness is provided by both Magnum and Cascade varieties. They even went as far as to use the American Ale yeast strain, something they've never done at Avery.

While I usually shy from typing up the entire contents of a bottle's label, the mock preamble to the Constitution is clever enough to warrant the treatment. The bottle reads:

Ale to the Chief! - A Presidential Pale Ale to celebrate Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009. We the Brewers of Avery Brewing Company, in order to form a more perfect ale, require new leadership that can liberate us from our quagmires in foreign lands; embrace environmentally sound energy alternatives to imported oil; heal our ailing health care system; free us from tyrannical debt and resurrect the collapsing dollar. We hereby pledge to provide him with an ample amount of our Presidential Pale Ale to support in the struggle for the aforementioned goals! Hail to the New Chief!

Not an 'Imperial' Pale Ale, this is a democracy. It's Presidential! Take the all-American pale ale, a bipartisan blend of malt and hops, increase to both Avery Brewing standards, and then, of course, dry hop the result with that most quintessential of American hops, Cascades, and you get this... Ale to the Chief. A brew worthy of the Oval Office! Brewed with Rocky Mountain water, malted barley, hops and yeast.
Appearance: A rich burnt-orange, crystal clear body with a firm, off-white head on top. Lacing is good.

Aroma: As you'd expect from a Double IPA, as soon as the bottle is opened, hops flood the air. They're of the classic Cascade profile: bright citrus and pine. There's a caramel base under all the hops, but I'm not getting the amount of booze I was expecting.

Taste: Good hops up front, followed by lots of sweet caramel malt. The hops could be a bit more assertive for my tastes, but everything meshes well here. There's a long hoppy finish, with a bit of booze around the edges.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied with fine carbonation and a bit of warming alcohol. Dries in the finish.

Drinkability: Double IPAs are not know for their drinkability, but I would say this is slightly more drinkable than your average example. The booze is hidden excellently, I'd never guess this was over eight percent.

Verdict: Not just a gimmick, Avery have crafted a great beer for this occasion. This is a perfect accompaniment to today's events. I only wish that I was able to source more than the one bottle I managed to find. Ale to the chief!

Grade: A-

Monday, January 19, 2009

Victory Hop Wallop Review

Brewery: Victory Brewing Co. | Beer: Hop Wallop
Style: American Double India Pale Ale | ABV: 8.5%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Victory Hop WallopOn my journey through the world of beer, I've gradually become more and more of a hophead. After developing a taste for Pale Ales, I moved on their hoppier counterparts, India Pale Ales. Luckily, there's one more step down the hop road: the Double India Pale Ale. As you can probably surmise from the name, a Double IPA is an IPA with the hop volume turned up even further, making it the hoppiest beer style out there (the malt also has to be turned up as well to keep balance). Also known as Imperial IPAs, these are high alcohol, hugely hoppy, massive beers.

After enjoying Victory's standard IPA, HopDevil Ale, I was quite excited to pick up a six-pack of Hop Wallop, their Double IPA. Hop Wallop is a limited release each year, available beginning in early November. Victory describe it as their "annual homage to the hop harvest, [so] expect loads of aromatic splendor and bitter beauty." The labeling features a cartoon character by the name of Horace 'Hop' Wallop, and a little legend about how he came up with Hop Wallop. His motto, "hoppiness is happiness," is something I can get behind.

Appearance: Hazy golden-orange body with a couple of fingers of bubbly off-white head. Good lacing.

Aroma: Aptly named, this beer smacks you right in the face with citrusy and piney hops. Underneath, good malt and lots of booze. This is terrific.

Taste: Flowery, juicy, and citrusy hops explode right off the bat. Towards the end, a solid malt backbone takes command. Assertively bitter, yet balanced and smooth - everything just meshes right. Some booze towards the end, but the bulk remains hidden well. The aftertaste is of fresh hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied with moderate carbonation and a long, dry finish.

Drinkability: Considering the style (and alcohol content), this has superb drinkability.

Verdict: If you're a hophead, Hop Wallop is simply a terrific experience. While it's no doubt a hop-bomb, I find it relatively balanced and quaffable. I've only had two Victory brews, this and HopDevil, and I must say I'm already quite enamored with this brewery.

Grade: A+

Shiner 100 Commemorator Review

Brewery: Spoetzl Brewery | Beer: Shiner 100 Commemorator
Style: Doppelbock | ABV: 6.8%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Shiner 100 CommemoratorAs of this year, the Spoetzl Brewery (producer of Shiner beers), has been in business for 100 years. Since 2005, they have brewed a special anniversary beer each year as part of a countdown to the century mark. I don't know if it was planned or not, but each beer so far has been a member of the Lager family.

The first in the series was Shiner 96, a Märzen (or Oktoberfest) style beer, that I regret dearly that I missed my chance to try. Shiner 97, a Schwarzbier (and my favorite so far), was popular enough to earn a spot in the regular Shiner line-up as Bohemian Black Lager. 2007 saw the release of Shiner 98, a Vienna Lager and the most successful of the collection yet. Last year we got Shiner 99, a bright Munich Helles Lager. I still have a few bottles of 97, 98, & 99 in my collection. I might review these later as cellared versions, I know that the 97 is holding up well.

This year, for their centennial, they've brewed up a Doppelbock named Commemorator. Makes sense when their flagship beer is Shiner Bock. Shiner say that Commemorator is "brewed in the robust classic German 'stark' style and it embodies the Old World heritage and tradition Shiner had proudly stood for since 1909." There's been quite a build up to this, let's hope it can live up.

Appearance: Reddish brown crystal clear body. Bubbly off-white finger high head that disappears quickly, leaving hardly any lace. Looks very much like the flagship, Shiner Bock.

Aroma: Not particularly intense. There's some sweet malt, with weird metallic tones.

Taste: Sweet, slightly caramelized malt is the bulk of the flavor profile. I'm still getting some of that weird metallic taste, but that's almost expected in a darker Shiner beer at this point. There's really nothing from the hops to speak of. Everything is just a little on the thin side, but it's not a major concern. The aftertaste is of rich malt and notes of booze.

Mouthfeel: Medium-body with lots of carbonation. Boozy in the finish, but not dry.

Drinkability: Solid enough with a mild profile and the near seven percent alcohol hidden well.

Verdict: I have to say I'm a little disappointed with this as the big finale. While Commemorator is a good beer, it's not really anything special compared to the rest of the anniversary collection. Perhaps my expectations were a little high, but we have been building up to this beer for five years now. Shiner 97 is still, by leaps and bounds, my favorite of the Shiner anniversary brews. Here's hoping for 101!

Grade: B-

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Budweiser American Ale Review

Brewery: Anheuser-Busch, Inc. | Beer: Budweiser American Ale
Style: American Amber Ale | ABV: 5.1%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Budweiser American AleBy now, I'm sure you've been exposed to plenty of marketing for Anheuser-Busch's newest beer: Budweiser American Ale. The commercials promise a bold beer dry-hopped with one of the most exalted varieties in the American craft-brew realm: the Cascade. American Ale is an all-malt beer, with caramel malt as the spotlight ingredient. I'm glad to see that Anheuser-Busch went with an all-malt backbone for this beer, it would have been quite a joke if it were loaded up with rice like it's brothers in the Budweiser line.

I do like the fact that they're being honest this time, and packaging this as part of the Budweiser brand, instead of a fake craft-brewery with a heart-warming country scene on their six-pack holders. I actually really like the packaging they went with, I think it fits the image they're striving for. The bottles even feature a pry-off cap, instead of the regular twist-off. I think that's AB's way of adding a touch of class to the beer...

Appearance: Crystal-clear copper body. Pours a good two-finger, frothy head that leaves decent lacing. This presents rather well.

Aroma: Pretty thin. There's some sweet caramel malt and some hints at the advertised Cascade hops, but nothing substantial.

Taste: Once again, very thin. There's an initial burst of caramel malt that fades rapidly. I'm not getting the characteristic Cascade citrus, or really anything out of the hop department at all. There's still that shitty twang and the bizarre metallic taste you get with other AB beers. Not really much in the way of an aftertaste, except a bit of biscuity malt.

Mouthfeel: A watery light body, with smooth carbonation. Very poor.

Drinkability: With hardly any flavor and a thin body, this goes back only slightly slower than water. Thing is, you probably won't be ordering a second anyway.

Verdict: Fool me twice, shame on me. American Ale is just another bland Anheuser-Busch beer. While it might be the best of the line, that really doesn't count for anything. If all you drink is Bud Light and you're looking for something a little more daring, you really can't go wrong with American Ale as a stepping stone. However, if you're already solidly in the craft-beer world, this is nothing but a novelty.

Grade: D

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lagunitas Brown Shugga' Review

Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co. | Beer: Brown Shugga'
Style: American Strong Ale | ABV: 9.5%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Lagunitas Brown Shugga'While brewing a batch of their Old Gnarlywine back in 1998, things went a little askew at the Lagunitas brewery. But instead of just ditching the batch, they saw the process through and ended up liking the finished product so much that they ended up bottling and selling it. And that's how this beer, Brown Shugga', was born.

There's a bit of confusion as to whether this is a Barleywine or an American Strong Ale, but I ended up going with the latter based on what I could find online. Unfortunately, Lagunitas doesn't provide much information about Brown Shugga' on either their website or the packaging itself. Here's what the bottle reads:

Feeding brown cane sugar to otherwise cultured brewery yeast is akin to feeding raw shark to your gerbil. It is unlikely to ever occur in nature without human intervention. And it looks weird besides. But it has happened and now it's too late.
Bizarre label aside, let's see how the beer is.

Appearance: A crystal clear, rust-colored body with brilliant orange highlights and a finger-and-a-half tall, off-white head that dissipates quickly. What's left leaves passable lacing.

Aroma: As you would expect, the nose is very sweet with a big brown sugar malt body. There's also some dark fruit, maybe cherries. Not much as far as hops go, but there's plenty of booze ready to bite your head off.

Taste: Lots of spices over a very solid brown sugar and caramel malt base. That big 9.5% ABV really makes its presence known, but never steps over the line (given the style). The hops perk up a little in the finish but are soon beaten back by the booze and residual malt.

Mouthfeel: A thick and chewy body that leaves a good coating on your mouth. You can easily feel the booze in your cheeks.

Drinkability: For sure a sipper, based on both the intensity of flavor and alcohol content. If you sessioned this, it would knock you straight on your ass.

Verdict: Brown Shugga' is a decent enough little Winter evening sipper. Having tried it now, if given the choice between picking up a bomber or a six-pack, the bomber would win for sure. Six bottles is a little much for me, so I'm planning to cellar what's left of the six-pack I bought to see what happens.

Grade: B