Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Avery Sixteen Review

BreweryAvery Brewing Co. Beer: Sixteen
Style: Saison | ABV: 7.7% | IBUs: 14
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Avery Sixteenth Anniversary SaisonOkay, so as I've already tried their 17th Anniversary brew, I get a major late pass on posting this review. But, better late than never, eh?

Anyway, like most breweries, Avery brews up a special one-off beer each year to celebrate their birthday. Last year for their sixteenth anniversary, they created a special Saison to celebrate.

It used Sterling hops exclusively and had a backbone built from Pale Two-Row barley and Pale malted Wheat. Stepping out of the box a little, the brewers also threw in some peaches, jasmine, and honey.

Here's how Avery described the finished product:
A harmonious combination of jasmine, peaches and honey fermented with an unmistakable Belgian yeast strain, all weaving a marvelously spicy and fruity, massively estery and dry, saison ale
Sounds good; let's pretend it's still 2009 and dive in.

Appearance: A lemony-golden, and ever so slightly hazy body capped by two fingers of bright white and bubbly head that fizzes out quickly and leaves minimal lacing.

Aroma: Golden fruit, citrus, mild spice, and some yeasty funkiness over a pale wheat base.

Taste: Similar to the aroma, the flavor profile is a mix of golden fruit, light earthy bitterness, mild honey, floral spiciness, Belgian yeast, and a nice touch of tartness all over a smooth wheat backbone. Easily identifiable as a Belgian-inspired beer. The aftertaste is cereal grains and apples and lingers nicely.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with sharp carbonation and a dry finish.

Drinkability: A nicely quaffable brew, though you need to watch out for the deceptive alcohol content.

Verdict: Avery's sixteenth anniversary brew is tasty and interesting enough, though I probably won't be losing much sleep over the fact that this is a one-off brew. Worth a try for sure, this is a solid American Saison.

Grade: B+

Note: While the review above is being posted in 2010, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh in 2009.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Finally Coming to America

In a move that will surely have Guinness fans across the country rejoicing, Guinness has announced that they are finally bringing their Guinness Foreign Extra Stout to U.S. shelves.

Foreign Extra Stout makes up almost half of Guinness' global sales and typically garners the best reviews of the Guinness family, so it's pretty surprising it took this long. Better late than never, though.

Much closer to Guinness Extra Stout than the classic Guinness Draught, Foreign Extra Stout is relatively bitter, carbonated instead of nitrogenated, and has a stout alcohol content.

Clocking in at 7.5%, it's actually the second-strongest Guinness variation and nearly twice as potent as the classic Guinness Draught. The only variation stronger is Guinness Special Export Stout, a Belgian special originally commissioned by John Martin in 1912.

I've only had the Foreign Extra Stout once (pictured above), at a pub in Jamaica on my honeymoon. I don't have full tasting notes to check, but I do remember being quite impressed. I'm looking forward to getting a second crack at it soon.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout should start hitting American shelves this Friday, October 1st.

Looking for more about Guinness? Check these links out:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anchor Old Foghorn Ale Review

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Co. | Beer: Old Foghorn Ale
Style: American Barleywine | ABV: ~9.0% | IBUs: ~65
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Anchor Old Foghorn AleHere we have an American Barleywine that was first brewed in 1975 (predating Bigfoot by almost a decade). That blows me away, especially considering the dire state of the American brewing scene in the dark days of the mid-70s. It's a rare thing to find an American beer that's been available for 35 years, even more so a good one.

While Old Foghorn is truly a founding father of the American scene, it was inspired by a trip Fritz took to England in 1975. He was so taken by the traditional brewing processes he saw used and the Barleywine style he discovered that he got right to work on Old Foghorn as soon as he got back.

Anchor is a known for their vagaries, and plenty swirl around Old Foghorn. They list the alcohol content at 8-10%, leading me to believe the recipe shifts a little each year. I know for sure that the recipe for their Christmas Ale changes each year, but I have yet to find a solid answer for Old Foghorn. With that in mind, I've decided to put up just one review for this beer, instead of yearly installations. To be safe though, I want to mention that the notes below were taken from a six-pack bought in early 2009.

As for ingredients, Anchor only reveal that Two-Row barley makes up the backbone and that Cascades are the only hops employed (this was actually one of the first commercial uses of Cascades). The beer is dry hopped for nine to eighteen months with additional Cascades after brewing for an extra splash of hops. Only the first run of the mash is used for Old Foghorn, so it actually takes three mashes to get enough wort for just one batch. The beer also undergoes bunging (stop laughing!) to give it what Anchor describe as "champagne-like bubbles."

Another question up for debate is American Barleywine vs. English Barleywine. I've seen this described as an English-style, probably due to the the facts that this is such an early attempt that the American style had not evolved yet and that Anchor themselves describe it is as being "based on traditional English barley wines". However, based on the facts that this is the beer that kicked off the American Barleywine and that it is hopped exclusively with Cascades, I'm going with American. Let me know if you disagree.

Here's how Anchor describe the flavor profile:

Because of the high original gravity, the yeast is unable to ferment all of the sugars. As a result, [Old Foghorn] is high in alcohol, and is slightly sweet, due to the residual sugars. Old Foghorn also has a pleasant hop bitterness, due to the large quantity of hops used during brewing, and a unique hop aroma due to the dry-hopping and aging.
Alright, that's enough rambling (I can't help it when we're talking about Anchor!)let's get tasting.

Appearance: A deep red-brown body with two fingers of off-white head that leaves patchy lacing.

Aroma: Rich, toffee malt with lots of banana notes (more like actual banana than artificial). Once the head breaks, the banana-pudding fades a bit and the booze really shines.

Taste: Dark fruit over an assertively solid toffee malt backbone. This is reminiscent of a rich desert. There are some definite hop notes in here. While the alcohol profile is pretty big, it compliments everything perfectly. In the end, a boozy, fruity aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full and silky-smooth with moderate carbonation. You can really feel the booze in your throat.

Drinkability: Very tasty, but the alcohol will slow you down eventually.

Verdict: Old Foghorn is truly a great beer, and it's clear why it has been brewed for over thirty years. Like a boozy, rich desert, this is a perfect beer for after-dinner contemplation. If you're looking for a starting point for exploring the world of Barleywines, this would be an excellent choice.

: A

Note: While the review above is being posted in 2010, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh in 2009.

Sierra Nevada Porter Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: Porter
Style: American Porter | ABV: 5.6% | IBUs: 32
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Sierra Nevada PorterWhile Sierra Nevada has been busy reinventing their once-staid package lineup, most of their core beers have made it through the process (RIP Wheat Beer). One of the "original" Sierra Nevada products is their Porter. The label may have changed from blue to brown since I wrote the tasting notes below last year, but this is still the classic beer we've seen on shelves for years.

It has a pretty simple recipe. The backbone is built from Two-Row Pale, Munich, Chocolate and Caramel malts. Golding hops are used for bittering and Willamette hops are used for finishing. According to Sierra Nevada, the result is:

Dark and rich, Sierra Nevada Porter is a delicious, medium-bodied ale with a creamy head. The Porter’s smooth flavor (malty with hints of caramel) comes from a blend of deep-roasted barley malts.
Sounds good to me. Let's pop the top and get a history lesson.

Appearance: A thick, rich mahogany body with ruby highlights and a solid finger of cream-colored head that leaves great lacing.

Aroma: All of the normal aromas for a Porter: roasted malt with lots of smoky, bittersweet chocolate and coffee notes.

Taste: Much the same profile as the nose; lots of roasty malt, rich chocolate, and coffee. But, now there's a subtle hoppiness in the end. Bitter, yet balanced. The aftertaste features dark chocolate and a decent dose of hoppiness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied and smooth with good carbonation.

Drinkability: Very drinkable for the style, without ever being too thin.

Verdict: Sierra Nevada Porter is just a solid, drinkable beer. It's uncomplicated, but never simple. Highly drinkable, but never boring. I heard rumors last year that this beer might be taken out of my local market in order to make room for the new year-round Sierra Nevada beers. I'm glad can squeeze everyone in.

Grade: A-

Note: While the label shown above has been been redesigned, the accompanying tasting notes were taken when the beer was fresh in 2009.

Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55 Review

Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery | Beer: Pennant Ale '55
Style: English Pale Ale | ABV: 5.0% | IBUs: ~35
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55Brewed to honor the 1955 championship-winning Brooklyn Dodgers, Pennant Ale '55 is an English-style Pale Ale. Being an traditional English take on the Pale Ale style, it bookends nicely to the company's English-style India Pale Ale, East India Pale Ale. Pennant Ale is one of Brooklyn's core beers, and unlike baseball, it's sold year round.

As for construction, the backbone is built from Scottish Maris Otter, Belgian Aromatic, and British Crystal malt varieties, while the beer is hopped with Hallertauer Perle, Willamette, American Fuggle, and Cascade hops varieties. Put it all together, and Brooklyn describe the result as:

A honey-colored pale ale with a brisk pale malt palate and finely balanced hop character.
The Dodgers are under .500 this year, but hopefully the beer named for them fares a little better.

Appearance: A crystal-clear brownish-copper body capped by two fingers of off-white head holds well, but leaves patchy lacing.

Aroma: Bright, brassy, and herbal hops over a paleish caramel malt base.

Taste: Just what the aroma promised: lightly citrusy and grassy hops over a caramel malt backbone. There's a little bit of soapiness at times, but it's not a major issue. The aftertaste is earthy and biscuity.

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

Drinkability: With the agreeable flavor profile and mild alcohol content, this makes a great session choice.

Verdict: In Pennant Ale '55, dem bums from Brooklyn have brewed up a tasty and highly-drinkable English style Pale Ale that's bang-on for the style. If you're looking for a solid English Pale to session, you won't go wrong here.

Grade: B

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shiner Light Review

Brewery: Spoetzl Brewery | Beer: Shiner Light
Style: Light Lager | ABV: 4.0% | IBUs: 13
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Shiner LightLet's be frank, light beer sucks. But there are those out there that for whatever reason prefer or insist upon it and I'm eager to chase down a good one (or, at least, the best one). There's not much out there in the way of craft lights, but the local mass-market craft brewers at Spoetzl brew a popular one called Shiner Light. Perhaps this is what I've been looking for.

The brewery doesn't give away much in the way of ingredients or process, but does mention the backbone is built from Munich malts and that "select" hops are employed. Whewhere I was fearing there were random hops in the bottle!

Here's how they pitch the finished product:

Shiner Light sacrifices none of the taste or satisfaction while reducing calories and carbs. Light just doesn't quite capture the complex character of this handcrafted Shiner beer.
Let's dive in and see if that's all just marketing or if the beer really does rise above the typical light beer.

Appearance: A crystal-clear, golden-amber body with a finger of white head that fizzes out quickly and leaves no lacing. Much darker than the typical American light beer.

Aroma: A thin, grainy malt body with not much in the way of hops. Pretty bland.

Taste: Much the same as the aroma. A thin and watery malt body that's frankly boring as hell. A little more lively than most light beers, but no revelation. The aftertaste is grainy and short lived.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with good carbonation. Dries a bit in the finish.

Drinkability: All that's holding you back is the general blandness of it all.

Verdict: This is a step, albeit not a massive one, up from Bud/Miller/Coors Light. Despite being pretty bland and boring, I still think this beer still serves it's purpose. Texans used to the normal light beers aren't going to be scared off by this, and hopefully they'll start exploring the rest of the Shiner line and beyond.

Grade: C-

Independence Freestlye Wheat Beer Review

Brewery: Independence Brewing Co. | Beer: Freestyle Wheat Beer
Style: American Pale Wheat Ale | ABV: 4.7%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Weizen glass

Independence FreestyleInspired by Texas summer days spent at their favorite swimming holes, Independence describe Freestyle as being similar to a "a Pilsner brewed as an ale." This is the brewery's lightest beer and they list it as an American Wheat Beer, noting they feel it could also justifiably be referred to as a Blonde Ale. Freestlye, indeed.

It's brewed with Horizon hops, Two-Row Pale, and American White Wheat malts, and American ale yeast. Independence describe the finished product as:

Crisp, light-bodied, and refreshing [with] dry flavor followed by a slightly sweet malt finish. Freestyle is the taste of summer in Texas.
Well, the temperature outside is certainly right for this beer, I just wish I had a swimming hole to enjoy it with.

Appearance: A somewhat hazy, golden-orange body with a nice, near white head. Great curtains of lace.

Aroma: Sharp citrus and some apple cider notes over a wheat base. Almost reminiscent of an apple pie at times.

Taste: A solid cereal-like wheat backbone is very much in charge here, and is heavy on the cereal-grain flavors. It reminds me of Weetabix, which is certainly not a bad thing. There's a little hop character towards the back, but this is certainty a wheat-forward beer. The aftertaste keeps the cereal flavors going.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with good carbonation. It dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: You really can't fault it here, this is quite quaffable.

Verdict: A unique take on the American Pale Wheat Ale style, Freestyle is a likable beer for me. It has more of a spotlight on the wheat than most beers in this category, which offers up a nice change of pace that I appreciate. Still an easy and refreshing drink, this would be great on a Summer's day here in the Lone Star State.

Grade: B+