Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hair of The Dog - Michael (not that Jackson)

Wow so I've now had this beer 3 times since the dock sale in November. Once at the sale, Once at Brouwer's Big Wood festival, and Once from my own stash last weekend. I've been holding off since it seemed like it was still a little young and hot but I have to tell you last weekend it was Awesome!!

This is Allen Sprints' newest brew and is dedicated to Michael Jackson, The beer critic, not the pop star.

Lucky 13 Laggi Red - Summer time and picnics in a bottle

Alright. Since it's January and we're all in a funk from the weather I'm going to dig out a review from this past summer that I've been lax in posting up. Also I know Mark was keen to know my opinion on one of his personal favorites.

A while back Mark sent me some Lagunitas Lucky 13 Red Ale. Mark met the brewer at an event over the summer in Chicago and really hit it off with the guy and his beer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2 Beers Brewing - Younger Hops please...

My wife bought me a coupon for a beer tasting at 2 beers brewing. She knows me too well. :) So we went down this afternoon with a couple of friends and did a tasting of their offerings. In summary I think they had a solid offering of malty brews but their hops quality was sub par. Any hoppy tasting beer had a metallic taste with a harsh bitterness. Like they were using hop pellets rather than the easily accessible fresh hops available in this region. Based on that I think they need a little more maturing and aren't up to the local standards of say Schooner Exact or Trade Route. Who are two local breweries I would say are on similar size.

-Their 20:20 Blonde was a very nice pilsner. It's made with authentic German Malt Pils. It's fresh and has a nice effervescence. This is a nice drinking beer that would be a great summer beer or something you'd get for the girl you're trying to impress. She'd like it and it would be respectable for you to drink as well.

-Amber. This is a a bit of a caught in the middle beer. The brown ale is much stronger and the Blonde is more drinkable. Right now this beer doesn't really distinguish itself enough. This style is the defacto style that most people order at the bar. So they need to work on it a bit.

-Brown Ale. This was my favorite of the offerings. The malts were nice and strong with solid carbonation and a hop bite at the end. there was a coffee taste that was a nice addition that made this brown ale stand out from your standard brown ale. It was well balanced and showed off a good mix of skills and ingredients. The malts were strong enough to keep the inferior hops at bay.

-Echo IPA. This was a sad IPA experience. The hops were strong but in a bitter metallic way that was not pleasing or exciting. it definitely sent up a red flag for me. Skip this one.

-Jive Espresso Stout. This was a solid stout. It was not as dry as some I've had or as hot/alcoholic as an imperial can be. It was very drinkable. Given the choice I picked the brown ale as my full pint choice at the end. I look forward to seeing these guys grow and develop and hop to see them increase their hops budget in the future.

Pros: Solid quality malts, great Brown ale.

cons: Metallic rabbit pellet cheapo hops make anything hoppy taste like crap.

verdict: Stick to the darks and every once in a while tell your friend to try the IPA to see if it gets better or not.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Magic Hat Howl: Shout It Out - But Don't Drink It

I know a bartender here in town who runs a pub with a pretty decent tap. She knows I dig good beers and has tried to get some good stuff on tap for me, and often has the occasional stunner.

During a recent visit, she asked me in a flirty manner if I would try a recent addition to their winter tap, a winter beer from Magic Hat, "Howl". I'm always suspicious of seasonal beers; they usually disappoint. Maybe they underwhelm because all the brewers gravitate towards the same ideas about what a season should taste like: in most cases, summer beers are always light and wheaty; fall beers are overly malted and tepid, winter beers are heavy and bland. Who makes a "Spring" beer, anyway?

As she poured me a free, full glass and nudged it in my direction, I could see her face swelling with anticipation for my trial. "Oh, I'm going to stun him with something he's never tried before. He's gonna be surprised." She was wrong. The only surprise regarding this beer was how someone would think it was good enough to get giddy about. Howl, at best, is something you find at the back of a fridge at a party when you're already buzzed, looking to get hammered, and all the other options are Coors Light and Keystone.

It barely pours a head, much like the perennially flat looking Shiner Bock (which is a better beer). The color is dark brown, with perhaps a bit of grey, like charred wood. It has an interesting but fleeting piney flavor which is quickly overwhelmed by cheap beer watery-ness. The weak finish leaves one wanting. You wish the brewer had chosen to add more hops or more sweetness or something. They came so close to doing something that wasn't just average. Too bad. Magic's Kit Kat IPA is a pretty solid brew but they threw a pick in the red zone with this one. It goes down to defeat in the first quarter of the game.

HOLY WATER, DRINK, POUR DOWN THE SINK: After a sip or two, tip this one upside down over the drain and reach for something else. Hell, bring on the Shiner Bock.

IPA Series: Race To The Bottom (of Your Glass) - Racer 5 IPA

"Aw, hell," I exclaimed. It was the first time I'd ever dreaded finding out that one of my favorite beers was on tap. I was at the Map Room with a buddy of mine. After a bender the night before, I had decided that I wouldn't be drinking that day. Intelligently, I decided to meet a couple of friends at a bar, which certainly lent itself to remaining on the wagon. And it wasn't just any bar, but the venerable Map Room with it's chalkboard of selections and varied tap of great craft brews. Oh yes. But, I courageously fought the urge as they downed beers and BBQ - until I was on the way out. After remarking to my buddy that the only thing I craved at that point was a Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, which wasn't listed as being on tap, my friend happened to ask if they had anything new but unlisted. The bartender informed us that they indeed had - of all things - Racer 5, but they had just gotten a fresh batch and hadn't updated the tap labels. A new bender was on.

Why am I writing about this particular IPA? Racer 5 is not *the* best IPA on the market. It represents no special brewing process, barreling, aging, or flavoring. It's got a solid pedigree - Bear Republic produces some of the most manly, steady, heady beers out there. Their Hop Rod Rye and Big Bear Stout are probably more unusual and limits-pushing than Racer 5. I just have a huge beer crush on the Racer.

Maybe it's the packaging, with that cartoonish, badly-shaped "Racer 5" that shows the brewer is not overly-serious. Compare it to Lost Abbey's heavy-handed saintly packaging. It's probably got more to do with the fact that it's such an unpretentious brew. It has a cloudy, orange-yellow color, like a hazy sun on a humid day. The citrus hop odor is strong and direct. It offers a slightly creamy texture, but has a softer bitterness that finishes with a tempered but incisive hop bite. The hop oils are highly prevalent. It nips at you the way a good whiskey does and gradually smooths things out before the next sip.

HOLY WATER, DRINK, DOWN THE SINK? Drink it, every time you want an enjoyable beer. This would be my version of Miller Lite: a beer that should always be available. Even if it's not the prettiest girl in the room it still thrills. I knocked back a few of these on Thanksgiving and started feeling pretty thankful for the good folks at Bear Republic. Thanks for improving my drinking life, even if you're ruining my liver.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Michelob Winter's Ale - Aging "On" Bourbon Barrels?

Tonight I realized we were out of beer we could "just drink" in the fridge. So I waded through the cases of beer patiently aging and waiting for that unknown future date and headed out to pick up something at the store. A new beer from...Michelob...caught my eye. Yeah you read right. I'm trying a Michelob. And writing a review!

A-B has been reshaping Michelob into their specialty brew division and working at creating more craft style small batch beers. i applaud the effort to get with the program. This is their winter offering. It's called "Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale."

It's described as "Aged on Bourbon barrels with vanilla bean." Between you and I, the apostrophe in winter's and the "aged on" bit, there seems to be a ton of corporate adverspeak going on here. Which is never a good sign. Using the power of the internet I was able to uncover that it is billed as a spiced winter ale style beer. It is aged for an undetermined length of time in their aging tanks with bourbon barrel chips in them. Similar to the process bud uses for their "beechwood" aging process. Not quite what I was hoping for. So they carved up some bourbon barrels and used them to flavor the beer. This can work if given enough time but that's not the point of barrel aging beer. Pulling flavor is only 1/2 the equation and to some brewers, only incidental.

My first advice: If you really want to appeal to the craft beer crowd say what you mean and tell us what's really going on. You'll earn yourself legitimacy points that way.

On to the beer itself. It pours a clear amber color with a fine foamy head. There is a candy sweet vanilla aroma followed by a slight hint of malt. It looks a little light for a winter but all in all dark for a macro brew. The sweet nose gives me some pause though.

Oh the vanilla! My first though upon drinking was imitation vanilla extract. It may be real but it's so syrupy sweet and overpowering that it's too much and tastes fake and forced. There is light carbonation and some maltiness mixed in but the vanilla stays so long on the back of your tongue that it really does drown out the rest.

I don't think your buddy that drinks crap beer will like the syrupy sweetness and I don't think your beer geek buddy who knows good vanilla and barrel aged beers will like it. This reminds me of J.W. Dundees Honey Brown ale back in the 90's. I don't know where they actually put the bourbon barrels or for how long, but there was no taste or feel from them at all. Maybe "on" meant physically in a container that was resting on top of the Bourbon barrels?

So who will this appeal to? College girls. I hate to stereotype but this is a sweet beer that will appeal to people who don't like beer much, are willing to try it, and generally drink fruity mixed drinks. So if you're out cruising the college bars and they have this on tap. Buy it for that 1/2 drunk college girl at the end who just forced the bar tender to pull out the blender for a pina colada. Both she and the bartender will thank you. And one of them might even give you their number. ;)

I give Michelob credit for trying this out and I encourage them to keep refining and going after the craft beer styles. They're a smart bunch with tons of money and great facilities. They'll hit the mark eventually.

Pros: Good bait when trolling for college girls. Cheers to Michelob for actually recognizing the matureing beer market and attempting a more sophisticated beer!

cons: Waste of good bourbon barrels. How many Mexican children must have died to bring enough vanilla to market to make this beer taste this sweet?

Verdict: B+ for effort but a D for taste. Unless you're going to make an ice cream float with this don't bother.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Singular: Tyranena's Dirty Old Man Porter

It's fun to be blown away by a beer. I've written about Tyranena Brewing before when I wrote a mash letter/blog post regarding their tastelessly named Hop Whore IPA, a sensational beer. Today, I come to you with another brilliant entry from perhaps the brightest brewing star in Wisconsin, although New Glarus Brewing certainly makes a run at the top.

Let me just say that Tyranena's Dirty Old Man rye porter is one of the most unique beers I've ever tried. I had it on tap. Brewed in Lake Mills, WI, as part of their "Brewers Gone Wild" series of specialty releases (which includes Hop Whore), this one grabs at your attention like a Doberman and continues gnawing with every sniff and sip. Dirty Old Man is a milky to moderate brown and pours a white foamy head. The aroma is on the sweeter malt end, but, brother, don't be fooled. It kicks in with a rich, nutty malt flavor that is steadily overtaken by sharp, grainy rye flavors. The combination of toffee-like malts and toasted rye is stunning and unprecedented. Each flavor makes you desire more of the other. This is surely a "stare at your beer" beer as you ponder how the brewer achieved this level of unique mastery of flavors. It's pretty incredible and I hope to see it again someday. You could pair this with a burger on a rye bun or English muffin, or even team it with dessert; but, why bother? A beer this good should not have its flavors compromised by food and it needs no enhancement.

HOLY WATER, DRINK OR POUR DOWN THE SINK: This is first ballot holy water, a singular drinking experience.

Diggn' on Some Punkin - Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Dogfish Head does nothing ordinary. They make my signature beer, the 90 Minute IPA, an extremely well-balanced DIPA, and a variety of other beers, some specialties, some unusual takes on ordinary styles. It's this legacy that led me to try their pumpkin beer, the Punkin Ale. I was a bit averse at first. I'm typically not a fan of "seasonal" beers because most of the big brew shops make one, or sponsor one through a smaller label, and the flavors tend to be pretty watered down. The brewers all seem to gravitate toward the same old ideas for what the seasonals should taste like. Moreover, sweet beers are not my favored style either.

DFH's Punkin is a tasteful balance of something accessible yet inspiring. It pours an IPA-like foam head and has an orange brown color. The nose has lots of spice, especially nutmeg. The taste is nothing to get excited about but it has a mild pumpkin flavor that's its namesake, and is firmly grounded with a hop foundation. It's not overly sweet and finishes with a pesky bite. It's very pleasant to drink. It's enough to make me want one or two of these a year, but won't make me forget mom's pumpkin pie.

HOLY WATER, DRINK, OR POUR DOWN THE SINK: This is great for a pumpkin beer, but it's a pumpkin beer, a novelty, so it gets rated on the "Drink" scale. Try a slice.

Angels We Have Had On Tap - Lost Abbey's Angel's Share

A rarity, Port Brewing's Belgian wing, Lost Abbey's, most coveted beer, the Angels' Share, popped up on tap at the Long Room, a terrific beer pub near my place in Chicago. I've had it once before, but was required to order it this time since I knew I'd not see it again for the rest of the year, if ever. A.S. is a celebrated barleywine (12.5%), and is heavily allocated and I'm told generates long lines in San Diego upon its annual release.

I'm not sure I'd fuss about it as much as others, but it's an elegant beer. It's properly served in a stemmed glass or chalice, and pours no head. A.S. sits there waiting for you like a dark bog, a mysterious tar pool. It's black, maybe purple, and it's nose offers dark fruits, bourbon, and medicine. This is an extremely complex beer: every sip suggests a different flavor. Of course you get bourbon from the barreling, but you can also derive honey, blackberries, chocolate covered fruit, syrah, and even cherry from it. It all depends on the sip. Towards the end, as it warms, a more bourbon-syrupy flavor predominates.

HOLY WATER, DRINK OR POUR DOWN THE SINK: Ironically, I'd have to go with a very strong "Drink" rating. It's not my favorite style - I prefer stronger beers - but I get the fuss. A beer of this complexity is hard to achieve and will certainly excite fans of the style. The scarcity of this beer makes it a must have wherever you find it. I find it to be a great primer for a rock-ribbed IPA, a path I followed courtesy of Port's Wipe Out IPA.

Santa's Big Helper - Three Floyds Alpha Klaus

I've been trying to maintain a top 10 beer list for the last year or so to keep track of my favorites and how my tastes keep changing. Without question, Three Floyd's Brewery's Alpha King is squarely in my top 5 and cemented my strong interest in the brewery's unusual and quirky offerings. They don't know how to make anything taste ordinary, and thank FFF for that. I recently tried their Christmas "porter", the Alpha Klaus, while visiting the Map Room, one of the great beer pubs in the U.S., right here in Chicago. This one's jet black with maybe a bit of chestnut on the nose. It pours an elegant white-grey head, believe it or not, and is uber-concentrated.

My friend described it as tasting like a chocolate Alpha King. That's dead wrong. It's nutty with perhaps a hint of a coffee note with a strong hoppy, barley, grainy finish that's the signature "oh wow, that's different" moment you expect from Three Floyd's. The taster is left with something to think about at the end before diving into the next sip; and you cannot wait for the next roasted malt-turned-grainy sip.

It stands atop any Christmas offering I've had this year, towering above boring, overly-malted, flabby offerings from Goose Island, Great Lakes, and Anchor. There's a new reason to regret that "it" only comes once a year.

HOLY WATER, DRINK, OR POUR DOWN THE SINK: Overall I've had better porter styles, like the Tyranena Dirty Old Man rye porter, a mind blower. Compared with other porters, I would lean toward a very strong "Drink" rating. On the Christmas scale, however, it's solidly holy, complete with halo.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Goose Island '09 Christmas Ale

A friend introduced me to this year's Goose Island at Thanksgiving. I enjoyed it and figured it would be a beer I could review that Mark could actually purchase and drink in Chicago for a change. So here we are reviewing the Goose Island '09 Christmas Ale.

It has a slightly hazy caramel color that is darker than an Amber but lighter than a brown ale. It is listed as a holiday brown ale but it's lighter in color than your typical brown ale. The brewer recommends it be aged up to 5 years so I suspect it will darken with age.

It has a deep frothy head when you pour it with a slight off white creamy texture. The nose is light with a slight dough/yeast smell along with a light hop smell.

The flavor is not as malty as you might expect. There is a good balance of bittering hops and the carbonation hits the center of your tongue in unison with the malt and hops. It's very pleasant beer that feels comfortable. Like that return home for the holidays where you recognize all those places and faces from your childhood, before you remember why you left.

This is a good beer to settle in with and share with friends and family. It has a good balance that many can enjoy without offending your Mom or sending Grandpa on a rant about "what real beer in his day tasted like." All in all a great beer to celebrate the holiday with and if you're patient, to hold on to for next holiday.

-A nice comfortable balance of malt, hops, and effervescent flavors.

-A solid enjoyable beer but not a unique standout, Just like your coming home to your favorite pair of slippers.

-A well balanced beer to try and keep your unbalanced family in check during the holidays