23 December 2009

Short's Kind Ale

Short's Kind Ale (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
Unknown ABV

So after a flubbed beer and a day off, we're back to the Short's Limited Edition brews. Today I decided to try their wet-hopped pale ale, just go give myself a bit of a respite from the stouts.

But first, since this is a wet-hopped beer, a word about wet hopping. Since wet-hopping and dry-hopping are both terms used in the production of beer, it is a logical assumption for the uninitiated to believe that they are just different forms of the same basic process, or that they are at least related in some way. Other than both terms describing ways of using hops, this is actually not the case.

Dry-hopping refers to using hops after the end of the boil (and generally after the end of primary fermentation) to add aroma to the finished beer. These hops tend not to add any alpha acids to the finished brew, but are generally only present in the nose of the beer. Wet-hopping, on the other hand, refers to any use of freshly-picked (i.e., not dried or otherwise processed) hops, usually in the boil. (I suppose it's possible to dry-hop with freshly-picked hops, thereby wet-dry-hopping, but that would probably only be done by brewers with a sense of the paradoxical that would rival Joseph Heller's.)

Short's Kind Ale is a wet-hopped ale, and it definitely makes a difference to the flavor. It's earthier and more floral than you'd get from a standard pale, which helps to add complexity to what is generally a pretty standard style of beer. Hoppy, citrusy, a touch of yeast... what else can a boy ask for from a bottle of American Pale Ale? It's a well-made pale that has a nice mix of malt and hops, starts of sweet and finishes dry. I could definitely handle two or three of these if I could ever find it on-tap somewhere.

My overall BA review: 3.8/5

21 December 2009

Short's Uncle Steve's Irish Stout

Short's Uncle Steve's Irish Stout
Elk Rapids, MI
Unknown ABV

After work, errands, dinner, and more errands I was in no mood to take a second shot at Short's Mystery Stout, so instead I had a nice bottle of Uncle Steve's Irish Stout. I tend to not be a huge fan of massively dry beers, although I can recognize the beauty of the style, so I didn't exactly have massively high hopes. Most dry stouts are almost oppressively dry, but this one has some nice sweet maltiness and strong notes of caramelized malt up-front before hitting you with a relatively mild dryness. It's really a pretty well-balanced beer, and would make a pretty good intro to dry stouts for those who can't handle Guinness.

The color on this one's a little light, more a dark brown than black, and the head is pretty minuscule, but I can overlook that. I could definitely put back a few of these if I was in a place to do so.

I wish I had more to say, but really... meh. It's a good beer, likely a nice session choice, but nothing that really demands my detailed attention.

My overall BA rating: 4.05/5

20 December 2009

Atwater Block Brewery Michigan Lager

Atwater Block Brewery Michigan Lager (bottle)
Detroit, MI
Unknown ABV

So I'm trying to drink some beers that aren't necessarily in my normal range of enjoyable styles, just trying to stretch the palate a little. Atwater Block Brewing is best known for making Kid Rock's branded beer, so needless to say I wasn't exactly excited to give this one a whirl around the tongue.

I looked it up on BA prior to tasting it, and found it's a Vienna Lager. Since I've got a homebrewed Vienna Lager in my garage right now (it's, er, lagering at the moment) and Sam Adams Boston Lager is a Vienna, the style has mostly positive associations for me. Viennas tend to have more caramel and malt complexity than an adjunct lager (or even an all-malt lager like Brooklyn Lager), and they tend to be a bit more layered in aroma and overall character.

How does this one stack up? Well, as a Vienna it seems a bit weak. You can taste the corn adjuncts (especially as the beer warms) and there's none of that delicious caramel maltiness that I expect from the style. But as an answer to the big macros, this is actually pretty nice: it has a citrus character in the nose and the flavor that was unexpected but far from unpleasant. It finishes clean and has a bit more hoppy complexity than you'd expect from a general-issue lager.

Would I buy this again? Actually, yeah -- it's far from amazing but it's a decent beer that proves Detroit can make a lager that stands up next to anything the macros can offer. It's not a beer-geek kinda beer, but I'd hand this to someone used to macros knowing that it'd at least be consumed.

But as a replacement for Sam Adams... are you kidding me?

Short's Mystery Oatmeal Stout.... Take 1

Short's Mystery Oatmeal Stout (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
12.5% ABV

Holy shit, 12.5% ABV? That's what BA listed, and since Short's website doesn't have any of the technical specs on their beers, I guess that's what I'm going for. I opened a bottle of this about ten minutes after finishing an eight-hour-plus day at work, and these were my immediate reactions:

A: Dark, mostly black but with a slight brownish tinge on the bottom. No significant head. 4.0

S: Lots of roasted oats, very bready. Slight alcohol astringency, strangely since it's not a very high ABV beer. 4.0

T: Malty, very astringent for the ABV of the beer. Some caramel on the aftertaste. It's way too heavy on the alcohol flavor for the style of beer. 3.0

M: Moderate thickness, very creamy, probably bottled with lactose. Very nice. 4.0

D: I'd have this again, but it seems just too hot for the style. This might age well, but it's a bit undercooked at present. 3.5

Which, you know, is actually incredibly unfair of me. BA was down yesterday evening when I wrote that, and I had no idea of the ABV of this sucker. I mean, look at the way I'm phrasing things there: I could taste the extremely high alcohol, but couldn't really allow myself to understand what I was tasting. I expected a nice mild Oatmeal Stout before dinner, and ended up with a major booze-bomb. It's still no excuse for not having my head on straight enough to realize just how strong the beer was. I blame the tiredness that comes from working retail during this season.

So anyway, it's a bit unfair to post a review of the beer based on that tasting. I'll buy another bottle and give it a second try a little later in the week. I still think the brew's a bit "hot" for regular consumption, but it might age absolutely beautifully.

(Maybe I should just buy a sixer and call it a day....)

18 December 2009

Short's Cup A Joe Coffee Creme Stout

Short's Cup A Joe Coffee Creme Stout (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
8.0% ABV

Like any other self-respecting Kalamazoo-based beer geek, I subscribe to Kalamabrew's RSS feed. And what did I find the other day but this, telling me about several new limited releases from Short's Brewing in Elk Rapids. Their Soft Parade is one of the best Fruit Beers I've tasted, and Huma-Lupa-Licious is a really fine floral IPA, so my appetite was immediately whetted.

Apparently mine were not the only ones. We got these beers in Thursday morning, and by noon we'd already gotten a few calls asking which ones we had. I didn't have the space to put out all the beers in the cooler, but I made sure each one had a spot on the single shelf and made sure the sixers were at least reachable, so I could pull them out upon request.

I bought one of each of the six beers we got yesterday, with the intention of trying as many as I could last night. But it turned out that Shana's AGES end-of-semester party was last night, and who am I to turn my nose up at a trip to Bell's. The bottled beer would wait a night.

So now my tentative plan is to try one beer a day for the next six days (eight, if we get in the last two that the distributor didn't have in stock this week) and review each one here. Tonight I tried the Cup A Joe Coffee Creme Stout, and holy shit is it well-balanced. Most coffee beers either go too far in the sweet direction or have too much bitterness, but this brew has an almost perfect balance of sweet and bitter, of malt, hops, and coffee, and really makes me jealous that Joe Short is only a year older than I am. It's a rich coffee-flavored stout with a nice roasted malt backbone, and has a residual sweetness that gives the drying aftertaste a nice balance. It's dangerously drinkable, and totally worth seeking out.

(Oh, and as of this moment it's listed at number 62 in the world on BA's Best of BA list. That'll probably change as the beer gets more reviews and the nay-sayers start piling on, but as of this moment I'm not going to say that the beer is obviously unsuited for that kind of placement.)

I'm going to have to get a sixer of this one. After I drink each of the other singles, unless it looks like the last of them are going to be gone before I get through the week of tasting.

My overall BA review: 4.5/5

12 December 2009

How Those Cosmo Sex Tips Really Get Written

This is non-beer related content, so sue me.

I really love the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. It's a comic filled with dark humor, sex jokes, and science -- what's not to love? Recently, the creators of the comic have been making short sketch comedy videos, most of which are pretty golden. Here's the most recent (probably NSFW):

The Silent Strike!

Now to head to work. Hopefully more beery content later tonight. I'm bottling my Vienna Lager tomorrow, so I've also got to make up some sterilizing solution for my bottling bucket, et al....

10 December 2009

Winter in Michigan

Why is snowblowing better than mowing grass? Because you can stash some warm beer in a snowbank, take care of the snow, and drink some nice cold beer when you're done.

Which beer? Fuller's London Pride, which according to BA I've never reviewed, but I'm a bit too tired from nine hours of work and the aforementioned snowblowing to worry about. I'll definitely write it up soon, though.

09 December 2009

Rogue XS in 7oz bottles?

Beer News is reporting that Rogue Ales is going to start packaging their XS series in smaller, 7oz bottles instead of the 750mL ceramic bottles they've been using for the last few years. This may be in response to the perceived cost of the existing XS line, which in many places can be over $20 for a single 750mL bottle.

The linked article claims that Rogue is intending to keep the cost per ounce of the affected beers about the same, which means we'll probably be paying between five and seven dollars for a seven ounce bottle as opposed to 18-20 for a larger one. Either way, these are still going to be expensive beers, but perhaps Rogue is betting that people would rather pay for a small quantity for tasting purposes, especially since most of these beers are high-gravity.

Personally, I'm not nearly as offended by the cost of the XS ceramic bottles (although the prices are pretty high) as I am by the cost of an ordinary sixer of Rogue's standard beers these days. I used to be able to get six Dead Guys for nine or ten dollars -- now that same beer runs me fourteen or fifteen. Granted that Rogue makes amazing beers, but not so amazing that they're worth those kinds of prices.

Rogue's ordinary bombers, though, I've always felt were reasonably priced. Had a 22 of Chocolate Stout last night for less than seven dollars, and I may pick up a bottle of Shakespeare to keep me company for the blizzard tonight.

08 December 2009

A Long Enough Lever, and Firm Enough Place to Stand...

Saw this on Mike the Mad Biologist today:

A guy from right here in Michigan has figured out how to move several-ton blocks into place using extremely simple and non-mechanical implements. If the ancients didn't actually build Stonehenge using these or similar techniques, I'd say the joke is on them.

05 December 2009

Bell's Eccentric Ale 2008 (Released 2009)

Bell's Eccentric Ale 2008 (Released 2009) (on-tap)
Comstock, MI
10.1% ABV

I didn't make it to Eccentric Day this year. I wanted to go, but I had to work 9-5 yesterday and then Shana's MFA program had a graduate reading that we went to, and by the time we had stopped by after a quick after-reading drink with some friends in the program, Bell's was packed. College kid crowd. Not exactly the kind of environment for checking out such an awesome brew.

But after an amazing lunch at Juanita's today, wherein we befriended an adorable 4-year old who was the granddaughter of one of the cooks (that's really how you know that a place is really and truly locally-owned and -operated -- you can't help but befriend the small children of the owners), Shana asked, "Hey, did you want to stop at Bell's?"

"Ah, well, I guess it's on the way home," I replied laconically, demonstrating my great skill at understatement.

I really wanted to stop in and check for some homebrew supplies, although I'm waiting another paycheck or so before I buy my grains for my next brewing session, but when I went in I noticed they had a handful of bottles of this year's Eccentric Ale in their cooler. Five bucks a bottle is steep, sure, but it's a once-brewed release, barely in bottles at all, and you could get six bottles for $25.00. So I sucked it up, decided I'd just be eating cheap this week, and bought a sixer.

When I got to the register I asked the guy behind the counter if they had any of the Eccentric left over at the bar. He said, basically, "I don't know, but you could always stop in and find out..."

So Shana and I ended up having a couple of 8oz glasses of Eccentric Ale as a kind of post-lunch binge. It's a bit parsimonious that Eccentric Day fell on the same day as the first major snowfall of the year, because it's hard to think of another beer that would've been a better way to stave off the icy cold. If there's another beer that better-deserved to be described as "milky" than this year's Eccentric, I don't know what it is -- a dark brown milky body with a minuscule head was what appeared in my 8oz snifter glass.

The aroma was heavenly (and got a perfect 5.0/5 in my BA review) -- it's full of chocolate-covered cherries, a Belgian tartiness and yeastiness, and even a bit of sourness. After I had composed my notes on the aroma and read it back to Shana, she replied that she thought it smelled like apples. Well, of course, I thought, since the cherry aroma that I got with the tarty yeastiness could easily add together as "apples" to anyone not totally obsessed with beer manufacture; it's entirely possible that some persons not as wholly involved in the craft beer scene are actually better at picking out concrete flavors than those of us with years-old BeerAdvocate profiles. A topic for another day, perhaps.

The flavor on this one is very similar to the aroma, with a nice roasty caramelized sugar flavor and lots of fruity deliciousness. I can't say for absolute certain that Belgian yeast strains were used on this beer, but if they weren't I will be very surprised. This has the same kind of complexity that I'd expect from a high-quality Belgian, and it has the same ability to change slightly in character with almost every sip.

Mouthfeel is thick, luxurious, and amazing. The "milk" character really comes through here. And for a beer with this much alcohol, it's remarkable how drinkable it is. I've heard that other years' offerings have been a bit overly sweet, but this one seemed very balanced and quite clean.

So now I've got six bottles of Eccentric Ale to drink. I think I'm going to store them in my garage for awhile and let them age a bit -- I'll bet this is just as good in five years as it is today.

My overall BA rating: 4.55/5

04 December 2009

The Session: Stumbling Home

So I've decided to join The Session. This month's subject is about "your favorite watering hole." Which is a cool topic, except....

When I first started drinking beer, I wasn't much of a fan of bars. Pay two or three times as much for so-so beer (keep in mind, I started my beer life in Ala-fucking-bama, of all places!), inhale the horrible smoke of others and generally have to put up with noise from the kinds of assholes that I normally stay at home to avoid? No thanks.

As I've progressed in the hobby, I've come to appreciate the bar experience a lot more. Partly this is because I live in Kalamazoo, now, where my local (yeah, my fucking local) is fucking Bell's. How can it get better than that? And besides that, Shakespeare's is right next door and there are probably a dozen great beer places in town, including Gallagher's, O'Duffy's, Harvey's... I mean, hell, in Kalamazoo even the ratty-ass college bar The Up-and-Under serves great wings and offers specials on Bell's Two-Hearted. Good beer's just part of the atmosphere here, and believe me, it's something I have learned to appreciate.

But for this post I want to highlight something else. Something a bit more... elusive. Or if not elusive at least under-appreciated. It's one thing for great beer bars to exist, for great location to offer an ever-rotating list of amazing taps for us beer geeks to enjoy. (And on that note, let me mention that even in the beer hellhole that is the Heart of Dixie, The Nook offers an unparalleled beer selection and amazing beer-geek atmosphere -- anyone living in the area or just passing through should definitely stop in for a pint or four of some amazing brew.) No, what I want to talk about is that little hole-in-the-wall, that little spot that could care less about us, the beers geeks, but serve something better than expected for us anyway.

In particular, I want to talk about Huntsville's own Thirsty Turtle.

Something of an institution, this place is a tiny bar in a strip mall on the corner of Whitesburg and Airport. Last I was there (it's been over a year since I've been in), it was sandwiched between a Mailboxes Etc. and a sub shop. Stepping in, it's a smoky little dive that serves as a sports bar for those looking for a little alcoholic diversion. The food? Standard pub fare, although I must admit that their burgers are about the biggest, greasiest slices of heaven I can imagine. Not the kind of place that would ever serve the beer geek clientele or would really care to court our business.

And yet this location served Yuengling draft 20oz'ers for prices that I'd normally expect to be paying for BMC products. Sure, Yuengling isn't exactly beer geek heaven, but it's a fine amber lager with a great mouthfeel and a clean finish, and so much better than Bud-Miller-Coors that it's not even a contest, really. Those used to wide availability of great beer may not realize how nice that is, but when I worked at the bookstore a quarter-mile away, those of us on the closing shift used to go by pretty regularly to unwind and bitch about customers, corporate, and other random craziness. To go in expecting to have to get by on a few mixed drinks (or, even worse, macrobrew products) and find a nice quality lager waiting was the kind of treat that not even the finest of beer establishments can really duplicate.

So the next time you're hoisting an 8oz sample of high-end barleywine or the finest treat from Belgium at your local beer-geek haven, remember to drink to those spots that don't have to cater to beer geeks to stay in business, but choose to sell some better-quality stuff anyway. These places don't cater to us, but they tolerate us and make sure they've got a tap or two that we can live with, even if it's not the spectacular brew that we'd really rather have. Cheers to the Turtle, and to a thousand other places like it, for offering something a little better than they have to so that beer geeks like me can have something decent. For spending a little bit more on that "specialty" keg even though it may not be the most obvious choice.

To the Turtle, and a thousand other places like it: Thanks.

02 December 2009

Meantime India Pale Ale

Meantime India Pale Ale
London, England
7.5% ABV

What is it with corked beers always trying to cover me with foam? I admittedly have to store them on their sides in the fridge as the shelves aren't quite high enough to allow a bomber or 750mL bottle to sit upright, but lately it seems that every corked beer I open wants to jump out of the bottle. I've come to the point of making sure I have my glass very close just in case of inadvertent foam explosion.

Anyway. Because I'm a Stupid American Beer Drinker, English IPAs tend not to be among my favorite of beers. I've just become accustomed to the brilliance of their American cousins, and my palate is attuned to the beautiful allure of hops, hops, hops. Which isn't to say that I'm a complete lover of hop-bombs -- far from it, for I love a nice balance of malt and hop to form a complete whole. But by American standards most English IPAs are really just Pale Ales, which fits into a whole other category altogether....

So when I bought this bottle on our trip to the South this summer, it was really more for completeness' sake than out of a genuine desire to try the beer. "Hey, look," I said to myself, "a beer that I haven't tried that I can't get in Michigan. Let's get a bottle so I can try it." But just one bottle, you know, no need to buy more when my budget could easily cover an extra bottle or two of Stone or some other beer.

Drinking this one, I'm thinking that was a mistake. Meantime IPA is an amazing beer, with a near-perfect malt/hop balance. Grapefruit sweetness dominates the malt, with a crisp Kent Goldings hoppiness on the finish. I can't find any reference to it on the bottle or the brewery's website, but I swear I get faint but persistent notes of oakiness in the finish, enough to give a nice tannin complexity, but nowhere near overpowering of the bitter finish. Even as I get near the bottom of the bottle, the foam leaves significant and pleasing lacing on the inside of my pint glass. Is this the best EIPA ever? I'll have to wait until that hypothetical trip to the pubs of London to really put that to the test, but for now this is a damn close approximation of what it must be like.

My overall BA rating: 4.5/5