30 November 2009

Avery 14'er ESB

Avery 14'er ESB
Denver, CO
5.1% ABV

I've been drinking a lot of high-end stuff lately.

I found a bottle of the '08 Stone RIS in a box in my garage a couple of days ago, and it was every bit as amazing as I remembered it. I've visited Bell's a couple of times in the last couple of weeks, enjoying their world-class ales like the Golden Funk and their Mild. I've had bottles of New Holland Golden Cap Saison, Unibroue Trois Pistoles, and BrewDog's Punk IPA.

And it's not like I'm complaining, exactly. But sometimes you need something a little more... accessible. A beers that isn't exactly average, but something that isn't exactly trying to blow you away. And for me there's nothing that fills that bill (call it a "can drink while playing XBox without feeling guilty) than a nice high-quality ESB.

Enter Avery's 14'er ESB.

Avery's an incredibly well-respected nationally-distributed brewery, of course, so it's not exactly like I'm slumming it, but the 14'er was exactly what I needed for this evening after a long day at work. Smooth malty texture, somewhat bready flavor, with a dry finish and a hoppy afteraste -- I'd finished two before I even finished making dinner. At 5.1% ABV it's a bit heavy for a bog-standard "session beer," but otherwise this fits the bill for me just about perfectly: I could easily see myself making and evening of it with these either at a bar or just with a sixer.

My Overall BA Rating: 4.05/5

25 November 2009

Screamin' Pumpkin

Michigan Brewing Screamin' Pumpkin Spiced Ale
Webberville, MI
5.0% ABV

Pumpkin beers tend not to be beers that excite us geeks, and for good reason. All too often they're basically just pale ales with a hint of pumpkin and some other spices added to give a bit of texture and flavor. But working in a beer store for the first time this season showed me that pumpkin beers have a lot of admirers, particularly in people who either don't drink other types of beer at all, or among those who'd really only otherwise drink one of the macros.

Michigan Brewing's Screamin' Pumpkin was probably our most requested pumpkin ale, so I definitely wanted to give it a try. And what did I find but a pretty decent pale with a nice pumpkin spiciness? This doesn't have the mouthfeel or the spicy complexity of New Holland's Ichabod, or the sheer tastiness and quality of ingredients that clearly went into DFH's Punkin, but that's not really an issue here. For fans of this product, drinkability is key, and this beer's clean pumpkin flavor with only a touch of cloves and nutmeg to balance out the sweetness really fits the bill. No real carbonation to speak of, and no real hoppiness -- this brew goes down smooth and is a great introduction to the style.

Would I drink this before some of the other Pumpkin Ales I've had? No, but it's a got a smoothness that some of the others lack, and is probably the most accessible example I've had of the style.

My overall BA rating: 4.0/5

23 November 2009

An Evening at Bell's

A great book, a great beer, great company... it makes a great evening,wouldn't you say?

Drinking Bell's Mild Ale, so far as I know only available at the brewery. A nice relaxing English-style Bitter -- I'll be having it again next time I make it over.

20 November 2009

Van Twee Belgian Ale

De Proef Brouweru Brewmaster's Collaboration Van Twee Belgian Ale (bottle)
7.5% ABV

Brewmaster's collaboration withe Bell's Brewery Inc.

When I heard about this collaboration between Bell's own John Mallett and a respected Belgian brewery on Kalamabrew, I knew I had to have it. And when Tiffany's got a couple of half-cases, I probably bought the very first bottle purchased in Kalamazoo. It took me a few days to review because, as we all know, Life Intervenes, but here goes:

Sour aroma, more like a Flanders Red than a Belgian Strong Dark, with a nice nutty flavor and a tart-sour aftertaste. Lots of cherries. It's an interesting beer with an (obviously) fascinating provenance, but is it really worth the cost? It'll sell to fans of Bell's for the novelty value alone, but at this price point I really expected something that would be a lot more complex and innovative. Just not getting the complexity that I'd get from even a more straightforward Belgian -- it's not a scratch against Abbaye des Rocs Triple Imperial, for instance.

I'm being a bit harsh here, for this is a really nice Belgian-style dark ale that is probably worth a try for anyone who loves Belgians and Bell's, but I'm so used to Bell's blowing me away with the quality of their beers that I found myself disappointed with this one. And, again, for what I spent on this bottle I could've gotten two bottles of a standard Belgian (well, almost....). I like the cherries, I like the nuttiness, I like the yeast, but ultimately I find myself asking, "Is that it?"

And it is. Sad to be disappointed by such a good beer.

My overall BA rating: 4.15/5

18 November 2009

Founder's Backwoods Bastard

Founders Backwoods Bastard (bottle)
Grand Rapids, MI
10.2% ABV

I'm going to play with some different ways to do this other than just cutting and pasting my BA review. Anyone with a BA account can look at my profile and read all of these, anyway.

Just picked this up from the store where I work and wanted to give it a shot. It was on the warm shelf so I stuck it in my fridge for about twenty minutes before popping the top. (Gotta love these new Founders non-threaded bottles.) Pours clean reddish-amber with a thick off-white head that sticks around for a while but eventually fades. Smells of caramel malt and some significant astringency, which is also borne out in the taste. Lots of malty esters in the flavor, with a dry astringency in the finish due to alcohol and a slight bite from the wood.

I'm not always a huge fan of bourbon-aged beers, but this one is really really drinkable, very clean and smooth. It seems a bit more like an Old Ale than a Scotch Ale to me, but it does have the kind of sweetness that you'd get from a Scotch rather than an Old.

I could definitely handle more of these.

My overall rating on BA: 4.4/5

16 November 2009

Top 25 Breweries

Paste Magazine has a list of the Top 25 American breweries of the decade. Overall it's a pretty good list, at least of those breweries I've tried, and three breweries from Michigan made it onto the list: Jolly Pumpkin, Bell's, and Founders. Not sure I'd put Founders above Bell's, but that may just be a bit of local pride on my part.

Dogfish Head at number one seems like a decent choice, especially as DFH is one of the more inspired breweries out there, although I'd like it better if their specialty stuff wasn't as insanely high-priced as it is.

15 November 2009

Homebrew, Vienna Lager

Yep, I decided to try a lager on for size. I don't have a refrigeration system large enough for temperature control, so instead I'm just using the fall weather and my garage for fermentation purposes. I'll probably leave the bottles to clear for at least a month once the weather turns cold enough. It's an exciting change from all these ales...

Anyway, here's my recipe.

2 lbs Breiss Munich Malt
1 lb Breiss Vienna Malt
6 lbs Breiss Pilsen Dry Malt Extract
.5 oz Tradition (60 min)
.5 oz Tettnang (60 min)
.5 oz Tradition (30 min)
.5 oz Tettnang (30 min)
1 oz Strisselspalt (15 min)

1 vial White Labs San Fransisco Lager Yeast (WLP810) in yeast starter made three days ago

I'm going to keep an eye on this one and probably let it stay in the primary for about two weeks, then move to a secondary for two weeks, then a month or two in bottles for conditioning. I'll post with more details as they come.