31 May 2010

Video Beer Review, Avery The Reverend

Avery the Reverend (bottle)
Boulder, CO
10.0% ABV

We got a new video camera, so I decided to try doing video beer reviews. I ended up going a bit long so I split it into two videos -- I'll try to be a bit more concise in the future.

Part One:

Part Two:

My overall BA rating: 3.95/5

28 May 2010

New Belgium Ranger India Pale Ale

New Belgium Ranger India Pale Ale (bottle)
Fort Collins, CO
6.5% ABV

We don't get New Belgium in Michigan, which means that nearly every day at work I have to explain the three-tier system to some customer or the other. Gah. I'm one of those who likes New Belgium just fine, but hasn't been overwhelmed by their beers. Will Ranger IPA be any different?

Pours clear orange, transparent, slight effervescence, with a thick foamy white head that sticks around significantly. Smells strongly of high alpha-acid hops, very piney and with some earthiness down deep. Intriguing aroma.

Taste is very hoppy, almost soapy, with a sharp dryness on the backend. Very slight grapefruit character down deep. As the beer warms, the dryness becomes smoother and the hop bite becomes less pronounced, giving a soft soapy quality on the finish. Mouthfeel is smooth, thin, with moderate carbonation and heavy hops.

So how do I feel about this beer? It gives a very nice presentation and smells quite good, but it does feel a little one-note. Hopheads will enjoy this a lot, but to me it's a little too much like drinking liquid hop juice. Good, probably exactly the beer they intended to make, but far from great.

My overall BA rating: 3.7/5

27 May 2010

A World Without Bass

Just finished my brew day, post to follow later tonight or tomorrow, and figured I'd check out the latest beer news on my Google Reader. The Brookston Beer Bulletin runs a press release:

The Times of London is reporting that Anheuser-Busch InBev is looking for buyers to sell off some of its most iconic British beer brands, including Bass, Boddington’s and Flowers. In the article, Buyer Sought for Beer That Britain Forgot, it appears the asking price for Bass is £10-15 million ($15-21 million in dollars), though that apparently “excludes both the trademark and international rights.”

But it doesn’t look good, overall. From the Times article:

Despite its fame and longevity, Bass is now a minuscule part of the world’s biggest brewer, with volumes equating to a tiny fraction of the amount sold in its heyday in the 1980s. The brand, now brewed under contract by Marston’s, a rival brewer, which owns Pedigree ale, has suffered from a combination of lack of marketing investment and falling consumer demand as its multinational owner has focused increasingly on its global lager brands.

This leads me to think that Bass (and, if you read the full article, Boddington's) are on the verge of going under due to lack of sales. What would a world without Bass look like? It's not that I'm their biggest fan (I gave them a 3.65 back in '05, but they probably deserve a revisit since I was still new to the beer reviewing game back then), but they do have the oldest trademark in the world that's still in use, and they have a devoted if not exactly vocal fanbase. My thought is that maybe selling every brand in the world to massive multinational conglomerations may not exactly be the best strategy in the world if you want to keep consumer choice open, but that's not exactly a new insight in the world of beer geekery.

I can't tell you how many times a week I have to explain the purchase of major brands (like McEwan's, or Whitbread) by major conglomerates to customers wondering why their favorite beers aren't available in the States anymore. Will Bass and Bodington's be the next Mackeson? I hope not, if you hope in one hand and shit in the other....

26 May 2010

Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout

Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout (bottle)
Denver, CO
4.95% ABV

No real run-up to this one. Let's do the quick-and-dirty version.

Pours dark brown, slightly black, with a thin brown head that disappears quickly. Smells sweet, lots of roasted coffee, some hints of raisins. Flavor is dark, sweet, lots of oats with some yeasty dryness on the finish. Mouthfeel is moderate but creamy, with low carbonation and low hoppiness.

Does this seem a little perfunctory? Why am I speeding through the review? I'm not, really, I just don't have a lot to say here. It's... decent. Worth drinking, sure. Worth talking about? Not so much. Pretty much just a dead average version of an Oatmeal Stout.

My overall BA rating: 3.3/5

25 May 2010

Lazy Magnolia Reb Ale

Lazy Magnolia Reb Ale (bottle)
Kiln, MS
5.4% ABV

I actually read the bottle as "Lazy Magnolia Red Ale" when purchasing, thinking I was going to be getting a nice amber. It's a pale, though, and I have to admit that a beer from Mississippi calling itself a "reb" is somewhat bothersome. The label references the American rebellion against England, and mentions the State of Jones, which alleviates the bother somewhat. But still.

Doesn't really matter if the beer is good. Let's taste it.

Pours light orange, very transparent, with a very thick white foamy head. Head sticks around nicely and gives some lacing. Lots of effervescence from the bottom of the glass. Smells very hoppy, lots of pine notes with a bit of yeasty dryness. Some sweetness.

Flavor has a lot of hoppy bitterness, more yeast than expected, especially with a beer that's so clear. Hints of vanilla on the back of the palate. Lots of citrus character. I find it a bit cloying as I get to the bottom of the glass.

(I just looked on BA, and this beer is classified as an American Pale Wheat Ale there. Checking with the Lazy Magnolia website, wheat is listed as an ingredient in this beer. The wheat could absolutely be causing that dryness and vanilla-ish flavor, although I never would have imagined it would. Very interesting, and worth a half-point in the rating.)

Mouthfeel is moderate, with heavy carbonation and moderate-to-heavy hops. Coats the palate.

So how do I feel about this brew? It's pretty good, but I would definitely get tired of it quickly. Despite the interesting notes caused by the wheat, the flavor's a bit one-note and the dryness gets tiresome pretty quickly. Definitely an interesting beer, but not an altogether successful one, in my humble opinion.

My overall BA rating: 3.9/5

24 May 2010

Brooklyn Local 1

Brooklyn Local 1 (bottle)
Brooklyn, NY
9.0% ABV

The distributor for SW Michigan has been trying to get these to my store for months now, but can't get ahold of them. So I bought a bottle of the Local 1 and Local 2 when I was in Tennessee last week. I'll try one now, one in a couple of weeks.

Another damned bottle that exploded with foam when I popped off the cork. Not nearly as bad as the Luciernaga, but enough that I ended up breaking one of my pretty New Holland pint glasses. Dammit. Seems to happen a fair bit with Belgian Pales, not sure what could be the proximate cause.

The horror! The horror!
Other than that, a beautiful pour. Translucent orange/yellow body with a very thick white foamy head that leaves significant lacing. I'm taking off a bit on the score for the beersplosion, but otherwise an excellent appearance. Smells very authentically Belgian, with a strong yeasty tartness and a strong biscuity maltiness underneath. Slight hints of earthy barnyardness, even though this isn't nearly as funky as a saison. Very inviting.

Taste is more bitter and drying than expected, but delicious. It's a slight effect, with the main characteristics being the expected Belgian yeast qualities. Some bitterness on the finish and a dry aftertaste. Doesn't cloy at all. The beer doesn't coat the palate as thickly as I'd expect from a Belgian Strong Pale, which is a welcome change from many Belgian-inspired beers. Moderate carbonation, with a crisp hoppy quality.

Overall? Another great beer from Brooklyn. It's frightening how good Garrett Oliver and his team are at making amazing ales and lagers. Goes down crisp and clean but with a classic Belgian character.

My overall BA rating: 4.45/5

23 May 2010

Oskar Blues GUBNA

Oskar Blues GUBNA (can)
Longmont, CO
10.0% ABV

Canned beer. It's cheaper to manufacture, lighter to ship, easier to stack, and just generally an all-around great packaging decision. And yet still I have an emotional connection of sorts to bottled beer -- it's classic, feels great in the hand, and I can re-use the glass for my homebrews. Logically I have to admit that it makes perfect sense to use cans, but it's just hard to give up the love of the bottle.

Oskar Blues is a brewery that's been fighting the stigma of cans since the beginning. So far as I know, they've never bottled a single one of their beers. Other than a sample of two at a tasting a few years back, I've never had a chance to really dig into one of their brews, so when I found it when I was in Franklin, TN last week, I bought a few for review.

Harder to pour from a can than a bottle. I always have to fight that little bit of dribble. I'd probably get better with practice. Pours very hazy orange body with a thick white foamy head that dissipates quickly, leaving a lot of soapscum. Smells strongly of citrus, mostly oranges, with a very strong hop bite. Some bready malt background. Very complex nose.

Flavor is much like the nose, strong citrus character with a persistent hoppiness. Very sweet and fruity on the back-end, with a dry and hoppy aftertaste. Lots of bready malt and even hints of yeast. Mouthfeel is thicker than expected, with moderate carbonation and heavy hops (obviously).

This is a very nice DIPA, much more complex than anticipated, and a very well-balanced example of the style. Enough hops to satisfy even the most dedicated hophead, but with a lot of sweetness and malt to balance it out. One of the better DIPAs I've had lately, if not ever.

My overall BA rating: 4.4/5

22 May 2010

Drunkeness and Beer Geekery

Mark at Pencil and Spoon writes

Here’s a question for everyone and it’s inspired by something Andy wrote in a post earlier this week. He said: “to put it bluntly I was bolloxed.” It’s not surprising given the list of beers he was drinking during the day, but the question is this: from a writer’s and a reader’s perspective, should we talk about being drunk in blogs?

Traditional beer journalism has worked hard to make beer a serious beverage up there with wine and whisky, breaking away from the binge-drinking statistics, so by getting completely hammered and then telling everyone about it, are we in fact doing more harm to beer than good? Or, is that just a side of beer drinking which now gets a chance to be written about honestly thanks to the diary format of beer blogs?

Beer has an image problem, to be sure -- the most common idea of a "beer-drinker" in the public eye is probably either someone living in a trailer drinking cheap swill straight from a can or college kids getting rowdy at a kegger. And neither of these images are exactly untrue, so far as they go, although neither of them encapsulates the sum total (or even the majority) of those consuming alcohol either in the trailer park or in the college setting. So it makes sense for those of us interested in the better stuff to consider our image when we speak, to think about how we come across to those not acquainted with the beer consumption of the beer geek.

On that level, sure, talking too loudly about getting totally wasted isn't exactly the best thing to be doing. A blog focusing* on the travails of a drunk getting wasted on beer, even good beer, would definitely not be helpful to the cause. (Imagine a version of Tucker Max with Biere de Gardes and Russian Imperial Stouts, for instance.) But what was really going on in the post Mark linked above? It's the story of a bunch of beer enthusiasts sitting in a pub and enjoying some fine beer delicacies, not a series of debaucheries following a bunch of guys getting wasted and making public nuisances of themselves.

I mean, seriously, we're all adults here, and to pretend that this is something that's unique to beer is just silly. If the omnipresence of sorority girls chugging fruity mixed drinks doesn't have anything to do with the conversation among those enjoying fine spirits, and the mere existence of Franzia doesn't make people question the pure motives of serious oenophiles**, why would even the most awful depictions of beer being abused really make a difference to us?

To be honest, are we even going to claim this isn't something happening in those fields, as well? I know that serious wine tasters are wont to spit out their drinks at events devoted to the purpose, but I doubt that those same tasters are doing the same when spending time in more social environments devoted to their interest. I certainly doubt the average consumer buying a twenty-dollar bottle of wine even considers spitting the contents so as to better enjoy the ambrosial flavor of their beverage. Even more so for those enjoying spirits -- are we really going to pretend that the writers of Malt Advocate believe that the effects of alcohol are some unfortunate side effect of the purer pleasures of flavor and texture?

How about those devoted to a great cup of coffee? You can talk all you want about the pleasures of Arabica beans or whatever, but don't pretend that you don't also enjoy the caffeine buzz.

It's just silly, and I hope that more posts like Andy's will keep the beer community from getting too stuffy about their drink. Instead of shoving a stick up our collective asses and pretending we don't enjoy that good old C2H5OH, I'd rather see the wine lovers and spirit enthusiasts of the world start to imitate our side of the aisle. Used responsibly and maturely by adults, there's nothing in the world wrong with alcohol, and even getting a bit toshed now and again shouldn't be the shameful end of the world.

*Does anyone else have an issue spelling that word? I always want to follow standard spelling rules regarding adding the -ing ending to a word ending in a vowel and a consonant and add two "s's", as in how "stop" becomes "stopping." "Focussing" just seems like a more logical spelling, but I can see how it looks a little unwieldy. Any etymologists out there have any references to whether the original spelling at two s's or one, and when the change might have occurred? Thanks.

**Spelled that one right on the first try. Go me.

19 May 2010

Three Floyds Pride and Joy

Three Floyds Pride and Joy (bottle)
Munster, Indiana
6.5% ABV

I picked this up while driving through Indiana on the way back from my sister's wedding. Can't remember the name of the liquor store, but Scott texted me directions to the store and I had a perfectly nice experience chatting with an employee with a totally awesome green mohawk. It's off 96th street right near the I-69 offramp and it's totally worth a visit if you're passing through.

Anyway. The bottle claims this is an English Mild, while BA calls it an American Pale Ale. I've had two bottles of this so far, and I'd say it's somewhere in between -- a bit hoppy and overly alcoholic to really be a traditional mild, but too dark, malty, and with a bit too much caramel to really be a satisfying APA. Either way, a very nice beer, but probably a bit too strange for those looking for traditional interpretations of the respective styles.

Let's do the standard review thing anyway, shall we? Pours dark yellow/orange, clear with only a slight translucent quality, with a thin white head that dissipates the soapscum immediately. Smells bitter, strong sweet notes of caramel, almost like a very standard traditional mild.

Flavor is similar, sweet caramel maltiness up-front with a bit of a bitter drying aftertaste. A very slight hint of citrus. Mouthfeel is moderate, with a dry hoppiness and a moderate carbonation.

Overall? Yeah, see above. Probably too hoppy and alcoholic to really satisfy those looking for an English mild, but as an overexaggerated American version of same, it works pretty well. American Pale Ale is probably a style broad enough to contain this beer, but just barely.

My overall BA rating: 4.0/5

Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza

Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza (bottle)
Dexter, MI
8.0% ABV

Wine and beer writer Eric Asimov just named this beer the top in a crowded field of Belgian beers in a blind taste testing. Well, he and a tasting panel, anyway. The boilerplate from the NYT article on this beer was that it was "fresh, lively and softly carbonated with complex spicy, floral, fruity aromas and flavors." Sounds good to me; let's give it a shot.

This one is batch 495, bottled on 3-31-10. Pours thick hazy translucent body, yellow/orange, with a very thick foamy white head. Very impressive presentation. Aroma has strong citrus notes backed with a significant sour impression, more sour than I anticipated. Somewhat fruity, notes of grapefruit and... pears?

Sourness is even more present in the flavor than the aroma. Significant lactic qualities, but with a citrus backbone that makes it palatable. A lot of spiciness, hints of coriander and even a hint of black pepper. Somewhat dry on the finish, with a strong yeasty aftertaste. Mouthfeel is thick, with heavy carbonation and a heavier-than-expected hoppiness.

This is a very nice Belgian ale, with a lot of great qualities, but I wouldn't rate it quite so highly as the famed Mr. Asimov. It's the best Biere de Garde I've had, but then again I haven't had that many Biere de Gardes.

My overall BA rating: 4.3/5

10 May 2010

Heavy Seas The Big DIPA

Heavy Seas The Big DIPA (bottle)
Baltimore, MD
10.6% ABV

Not much to say about this one except that I've been a bit iffy on Heavy Seas beers up to now, but I'm definitely in the mood for a great Imperial IPA. The name "Big DIPA" is just silly enough to be funny, too.

Looks orange/red, hazy, with a thick beige head. Head is thick and foamy. Nice presentation. Smells strongly bitter with hops, with just a hint of grapefruit notes for balance.

Flavor is very much what a standard DIPA should be. Strong crisp hoppy notes predominate, with some fruitiness and citrus underneath. Grapefruit, hints of lemon. A hint of yeastiness on the backend, and a quite dry finish. Mouthfeel is thick, with heavy hops and heavy carbonation. Still goes down smooth.

How do I like it overall? It's quite a nice DIPA, certainly worthy of the title, and worth the $6.99 for the 22oz bottle I paid for this one. Is it the greatest DIPA I've had? No, but it's definitely worth a try for hop-heads like me.

My overall BA rating: 4.1/5

07 May 2010

The Session: Collaborations

"No one man makes a movie."
Kevin Smith, on why he doesn't take the "film by" credit.

I hate being That Guy.

The guy that's always deconstructing the question, trying to be oh-so-clever, too clever to just deal with the topic as assigned and make a good post. But lately I've been that kind of guy. For the cask beer Session, I wondered what cask beer really was. For the cult beer Session, I redefined what a cult beer could be. And for this month's Session , on the topic of collaborations, I find that I just have to question the premise yet again.

It's not that I'm trying to be this way, you understand. Partly it's that I just haven't had that many collaborative beers.  I've already reviewed the Van Twee and I could swear I tried and wrote up Avery's collaboration with Russian River, although I'll be damned if I can find my write-up at the moment of this writing (was I that drunk?), and that's really all that my store carries with regard to collaborations at the moment. So I started thinking outside the box.

What is a collaboration, anyway? What is the value? I'm trying to imagine my own beer-making process, wondering what value another brewer could add to the beers I make. And while, sure, there are plenty of brewers with more experience and knowledge than I, I'm pretty much a lone wolf with my own beermaking -- while I would appreciate an extra set of hands to make the grunt work a little easier, I can't imagine ceding a huge amount of control over to another mind. Would another brewer fiddle with my recipes? Muck about with my mashing process? Stir the brewpot a little more vigorously? Ferment at a different temperature? Dry-hop with different hops, for longer? For shorter? Maybe any of these would make different beer, even better beer, but would an outside observer really be able to differentiate his or her influence from mine? Would I really want another person peering over my shoulder in that way?

But then I started thinking in larger terms. Even in the beers I make in my garage, boiling, fermenting, and bottling all by my lonesome, I can't really say that I work entirely alone. I buy malted barley, for one thing, which means that my beers are entirely reliant on the skills of some anonymous farmer and technician properly modifying the malt I use. My yeast, as well, is a blend constructed by the scientists and brewers at White Labs, designing strains for use by brewers that will have specific properties in the bottle. Nor do I grow my own hops or purify my own water or... well, any number of things.

Even in the tiny scale of my own homebrew, I'm reliant on many people who are not known to me personally to help me make my beers the best they can be. How much more so, then, are the beers in a decent-sized production brewery, in which dozens or hundreds of people are working directly with the beer trying to make it the best product it can be. What brewery doesn't have at least one or two assistant brewers handling the fine details of the beers we drink, regardless of the name on the label or the person identified as head brewer?

And even if it was the case that so-and-so controlled the entire process of a beer from beginning to end, from growing the grains to culturing the yeast to planting the hops to malting the barley to mashing the malt to boiling the wort to fermenting the beer to bottling and even driving the delivery van that brought it to your door... even then, that hypothetical brewer is working within the context of existing beer styles, within the knowledge of decades or centuries of brewing traditions. The hard-won knowledge of brewers past informs us all, from the five gallon bucket to the massive tanks of Budweiser, and lo be it to anyone to try to minimize that history. What's more, even once the beer is in the bottle it becomes a collaboration of sorts, from the brewer to the consumer and from one drinker to another, sharing a conversation about what's in the bottle and how it fits into the spectrum of beer and into the world at large. This, too, is a collaboration of sorts, a collaboration involved in communication and in sharing.

Collaborative beer? Can you name one that isn't?

06 May 2010

Ruddles County

Morland Brewing Ruddles County (bottle)
Suffolk, United Kingdom
4.7% ABV

Yet another in my recent tour of English beers. This one only came into my store in the last couple of days. Stu says he's had it and it's awesome.

Beautiful clear coppery-brown body with a foamy off-white head that, while thin, sticks around for awhile. Some sweet nutty notes up front, with a nice dry toasty bitterness dominating the aroma. Lots of dry malt and a definite English hop presence.

Taste has amazing character for a bitter. That same toasted dry malt presence with just a hint of hops on the back end. Some caramel sweetness balances out the bill. Finishes dry but not overpoweringly so. Mouthfeel is moderate-to-thick, with a heavy-for-the-style dose of hops and moderate carbonation.

Overall this is a pretty great beer. Hard to imagine a better example of the style. Thanks, Stu!

My overall BA rating: 4.0/5

03 May 2010

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale (bottle)
Petaluma, CA
9.7% ABV

The story of this beer is here:

What else could I do except buy it and review it? Pours orange/red, very hazy, thick white foamy head. Smells sweet, amber, with a strong West-Coast hop nose. Flavor is very hoppy, very dry on the finish, with a sweet and somewhat yeasty body. The alcohol is present but far from overpowering.

This is a beer that I like a lot, but just don't have a lot to say about. A nice bitter California-style ale. Average for Lagunitas, very good by the standards of brewers in general.

My overall BA rating: 4.1/5