March 2011 Archives

Wee Heavy and Founders Dirty Bastard

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I like Scotch, though I should also note that I'm certainly no expert. I pour myself a dram every now and again, and drink it slowly, attempting to pick out flavors. But then I read Water of Life and, to be honest, I don't really perceive the distinctions of flavors the way they seem to... On the other hand, that's how I felt about BeerAdvocate reviews up until about a year ago, when I started getting serious about this whole beer thing, so perhaps there's hope for me yet.

In any case, those wily Scotts do more than make great whisky*. There's a whole continuum of Scottish ales, ranging from light to heavy strength and historically designated in shillings (which at some point corresponded to a price of a barrel, but the specifics seem unclear). The strengths roughly correspond to the strengths of English bitter, though at the higher end, things get a little more confusing. At higher alcohol levels (approx. 6% and higher), the beer is simply called a Scotch Ale or a "Wee Heavy". The origin of the phrase "Wee Heavy" is a bit difficult to pin down, but as near as I can tell it refers to the historical serving size of 6 fluid ounces (about 1/3 of an imperial pint). A "wee" glass of "heavy" ale, as it were.

Because Scotland is further north and because of their... complicated... relationship with England**, these beers have some interesting historical characteristics. The cooler climate was not that conducive to growing hops, which meant that they needed to import them from England. As such, Scottish ales were generally lightly hopped. Tee hee. The lower temperatures also impact fermentation, meaning that these beers display less in the way of fruity or spicy flavors. Add all this together, and what you've got is a beer that emphasizes the malt (while yeast and hops generally take a back seat), sometimes even featuring peat and smoke, which seems appropriate for the land of Scotch whisky.

Of course, these days, the historical style isn't quite as rigid and Scottish brewers seem to be doing some interesting things (particularly BrewDog, who certainly don't seem to be very opposed to importing hops!) and of course, us American heretics are having our way with the style. Enter Founders' take:

Founders Dirty Bastard

Founders Dirty Bastard - Pours a deep reddish brown (mahogany!) color. Very dark, almost opaque, but when held up to light, you can see the red colors getting through. They head is very small and dissipates quickly. Smell is very distinctive. Despite my babbling above, I'm not very familiar with the style, but it seems to be appropriate for Scotch Ales, except perhaps for a tiny smattering of grassy hop aromas, which I understand are a bit unusual. Taste has a similar distinctive scotch ale flavor. Very sweet (but not fruity) with some light roastiness (or is that smoke?) in the finish. It almost tastes like something from the Bock family or maybe a European barley-wine. Some earthy hops are present, but it's subtle and not very bitter (despite the 50 IBUs which, again, is a bit high for the style, though certainly not enough to overwhelm the ample malt backbone and sweetness of the beer). Full bodied with light but appropriate carbonation - surprisingly easy to drink. For a strong beer, the alcohol is very well hidden. In the end, it's rich, complex and tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass. Drank on 3/19/11 (Totally caught up on reviews now!)

I will make arrangements to try more of this style, though none are in the pipeline at the moment. I think, perhaps, some double features are in order here though, perhaps even mixing with some Scotch whisky to see if I can start to pick out some of the more subtle similarities.

* Also worth noting: Scottish Breakfast Tea, which apparently has a complementary flavor profile. Perhaps I can do a full day's worth of Scottish beverages: Scottish Breakfast Tea in the morning, some Scotch Ale with lunch and dinner, and a Scotch Whisky nightcap. Sounds like a good day to me.

** I should probably make some sort of William Wallace joke here. Or maybe a Mel Gibson joke. But that would be too easy***.

*** And by "too easy", I mean that I had already written the grand majority of this post before I realized the Wallace/Gibson angle and don't feel like fitting it into the post right now. Irony!****

**** Also, I've apparently been listening to Scottish hip hop for the past half hour or so. Go figure. Also of note: blatant abuse of asterisks.

Double Feature: German Hefeweizens

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As the weather warms and I begin to consider my next homebrew, I thought I should look into brewing something appropriate for summer, and of course the first thing that came to mind was wheat beers. Given my Belgian tendencies, you'd think I would gravitate towards a Belgian Witbier, but I also wanted to check out some Hefeweizens, as I've noticed that German beers are somewhat underrepresented on this blog.

Breaking down the style's name, "Hefe" is translated as "with yeast", meaning that the beer is unfiltered and will contain yeast (in fact, the spicy and unique yeast is key to the style), and "weizen" means "wheat". The difference between the Hefeweizen and the Belgian Witbier is that those wacky Belgians are always adding spices (like coriander and orange peel, amongst other, stranger, spices) whilst the Germans are very rigid in their brewing process. The original German Beer Purity Law (aka Reinheitsgebot or Bavarian Purity Law) limited the ingredients in beer to water, barley, and hops. This was later expanded to include wheat and, once it was discovered, yeast. The law was repealed over 20 years ago, but most German brewers are proud of their traditions and claim to still abide by it, even using it for marketing purposes. So no spices for the Germans.

I always find this sort of thing interesting though. Sometimes working within the box can be more rewarding or impressive than thinking outside the box. Using only the 4 annointed ingredients, the Germans are able to brew some really fantastic beer with a wide range of flavors and aromas. In a historical sense, this sort of purity law no doubt forced a lot of innovation within its boundaries while still retaining quality and consistency (two things that were much more difficult in the 16th century than they are today), and that's admirable. There's also something comforting and awe-inspiring about drinking a beer that is brewed in essentially the same way it was hundreds of years ago.

Of course, this isn't to say that thinking outside the box is a bad thing either, and indeed, I think that German brewers' lack of experimentation may be hurting them now that craft brewing has exploded in America. Indeed, even mainstream publications are catching on that German beer culture is in decline. As Charles Houston Decker notes: "...it's hard to look at a thriving American beer culture, a dying German one, and not pay attention to the obvious major difference between the two." It seems obvious to me that German beer culture won't vanish, and in some ways I kinda like that they're sticking to their guns and producing high quality beer according to their proud traditions. I think there's a lot of value in the basic fundamentals of beer brewing, and I'm glad someone has a different take on it than crazy Americans and Belgians. I'm always intrigued by these sorts of tensions: Oil and water, Democrat and Republican, John and Paul, American beer innovation and German tradition, and so on. It's important to have a variety of approaches to something like brewing, and while I probably prefer my crazy American beers to traditional German varieties, I'm glad both still exist.

Indeed, these traditional beers fit rather well with my recent "regular" beer kick, so here's a pair that I had a couple of weeks ago:

Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier - Pours a cloudy yellowish gold with ample, fluffy head that laces like crazy as I drink. Smells of citrus and wheat, with lots of spicy yeastiness in there as well (cloves?). It's an almost Belgian style yeastiness, actually. Taste features a light wheaty sweetness with lots of spiciness and citrus thrown in for good measure. Mouthfeel is crisp, clean and well carbonated. Very refreshing. I can see why this is among the best wheat beers. While not exactly a face-melting brew, it's a pretty good example of what you can accomplish while working within the boundaries of the Reinheitsgebot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a shaker pint glass. Drank on 3/18/11.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse: The name "Franziskaner" always conjures Young Frankenstein for me (along with the need to use weird emphasis in the pronunciation of the beer). It's almost identical in appearance to the Weihenstephaner, maybe a little darker. Definitely less head, and what is there doesn't last as long either. Smells very similar. Perhaps a little more in the spiciness realm, but it's very close. Taste is a little deeper. More sweet, less of what I'd call the wheat flavor, though it's still obviously a wheat beer. It's got a fuller body and more carbonation. It's still got the crisp and clean refreshing feel to it, but perhaps not as much as the Weistephaner. Very good, but not as well balanced as the Weihenstephaner. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a shaker pint glass. Drank on 3/18/11.

I have to admit that I enjoyed both of these better than my recent Belgian Witbiers, so it looks like my next homebrew will most likely be a Hefeweizen. It looks like Norther Brewer has a nice Bavarian Hefeweizen extract kit, though the OG is perhaps a bit lower than what I was looking for (that should be easily remedied though). Interestingly, it looks like the brewing process is a lot simpler than my previous beers: no specialty grains, only one hops addition, and ready to drink within 4 weeks.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

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We all know the famous stories about how India Pale Ale was brewed extra strong and with extra hops so that it could survive the long and warm trek to India. Slightly less known (though probably common knowledge amongst beer nerds) is the Russian Imperial Stout. Apparently the court of Catherine the Great was quite fond of English stouts, but once again, the logistics of shipping the beer required certain adjustments to the usual recipes. Like the trip to India, the trip to Russia was a long one. And it was cold enough that weak beers would freeze en route. So English brewers took to making an extra strong stout, usually around 10% ABV, to prevent their cargo from freezing (among other preservative reasons to protect against the duration of the trip).

Among craft beer nerds, this style is quite popular. Fully half of the top 10 beers on Beer Advocate are Imperial Stouts. You'll also notice that the term "Imperial" has been appropriated for all sorts of other styles: Imperial IPA, Imperial Pilsner, Imperial Red Ale, and so on. The "imperializing" of traditional beer styles is currently one of the big trends in the American craft beer industry. Ironically, despite originating the style, such beers are rarely seen in England. This is probably due to the way beer is taxed there. Since 1880, English beer taxes are based on the original gravity of the wort (which has a rough correlation with the eventual alcohol content). This has applied pressure to brew weaker and weaker beer. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that, and the English session beers and cask ales certainly have their own merits. But I digress. Let's try one of these Russian Imperial Stouts:

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

Stone Imperial Russian Stout - Pours a thick, black color with a minimal brown colored head. Smell is full of roasted malt and maybe a little dark chocolate. Taste is extremely well balanced - sweet and roasty with just a hint of bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. Full bodied and ample carbonation, shockingly drinkable given the high ABV. Indeed, the alcohol is almost completely hidden in this. As it warms, I can detect some lingering alcohol slickness in the finish, maybe even some harshness, but this is a welcome complexity. I've mentioned a few times recently that I think I'm beginning to come around on Stouts (a style I traditionally don't care for), and with beers like this, it's easy to see why. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass. Warrior hops, 90 IBUs. Drank on 2/25/11 (I'm almost caught up, I swears!)

More imperial stouts are on the shelf and in the fridge, and I'm actually looking forward to a few of them quite a bit. I don't think that stouts will ever be my favorite style, but I'm definitely gaining a big appreciation for them.

Allagash Black

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Regular readers (all 2 of you), may recognize this as the beer I mentioned a few weeks ago for my entry to the "Regular Beers" Session. Of course, that entry only touched on this specific beer... as an example of a non-regular beer. For most breweries, at least. For Allagash, it's one of their "classic" beers. For them, this is a regular beer. But they're one of the few American breweries that specializes in Belgian styles, and we all know that the Belgians don't make regular beer. Except for Stella Artois. That stuff sucks.

Allagash Black

Allagash Black - I don't know why, but when I popped the cork on this one, I took a whiff of the bottom of the cork and it smelled... light and fruity (more like a saison or tripel style). Unexpected for a beer that bills itself a "Belgian Style Stout". Of course, Beer Advocate classifies it as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, which makes a sort of sense. Belgian styles are notoriously vague anyway, so I don't see why this wouldn't qualify as that. Belgian beers don't usually emphasize roasty flavors though, so perhaps it could be classified as a stout. In reality, it's probably more of a hybrid. Sometimes I like this sort of thing, sometimes I end up craving one of the styles being mixed instead of enjoying what's in front of me.

Anyways, perhaps too vigorous of a pour lead to a massive head. The beer underneath appears to be a very dark amber/brown color. The nose is all Belgian yeast, spicy and fruity. Perhaps just a hint of roastiness. Taste is rich, chocolately and roasty. A little dry bitterness lingers. Carbonation is just a hint low (and possibly the result of the aforementioned pour), but it works very well. Its smooth and quite drinkable. At 7.5% ABV, it's no monster, but it's big enough that I was expecting some booziness... yet none is apparent. Quite an easy drink. It's an interesting combination of flavors, though I'm not entirely sure it ranks among the best Stouts or the best Belgian Strong Darks... and quite frankly, I would probably rather have had one or the other, rather than this combination of both. It's kinda doing its own thing though and it is well made, but it didn't really strike a chord with me the way some other mixtures have. I'll give it a B, though I suspect a bigger fan of stouts would like this a lot more.

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet. Drank on 3/4/11 (Yes, I'm behind on my reviews. Again.)

Allagash has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. As makers of Belgian style beers, they will always interest me, but I can't say that they brew one of my favorite beers or anything. Yet. But I've mostly only had their "Classic" series, which are the more normal styles. The most interesting beer of theirs I've had was the 2009 Fluxus, which I remember as being fantastic. I was a bit worried when I read that it was "Ale Brewed with Sweet Potatoes & Black Pepper", but it turned out to be fantastic. Unfortunately, it was a one time batch and I can no longer find it. In any case, I'm very much looking forward to the bottle of Curieux (a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Tripel) I've recently procured.

I have to admit that I have really grown to love the concept of a double feature. So far, I've generally used the opportunity to compare two beers of similar style to see how different they can be (not to mention, which is better). I feel like I'm getting better at evaluating beer, but I still really appreciate the opportunity to compare two beers of similar style, one after the other. It's something you don't see much. For instance, you rarely, if ever, see any sort of comparative notes on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer. I always found this strange. It would be much more helpful if you could tell me how a given beer differs from a standard or, at least, common version of a beer.

Noted beer scribe Andy Crouch has recently lamented the state of beer writing, citing the common reliance on tasting notes as a crutch that are uninteresting. I can see how one person's subjective evaluation of beer at a micro level could get tiresome, and indeed, much of the beer blogosphere is focused on that sort of thing. In the Aleheads' most recent All Beers Considered podcast, they discussed how boring a tasting notes sorta post could be, noting that they try to avoid such things. And yeah, I can see how that could strike some folks as being boring, especially if the review is solely based on one person's opinions.

When I started this blog, I didn't really want to fall back on reviews or tasting notes, but I almost immediately settled into exactly that sort of post. I think this is perhaps due to my tendency to blog for my own benefit, as opposed to what other people will want to read. This is no doubt why I have, like, 2 regular readers (if that). But as usual, my pattern of long-winded online writing has taken hold. Lately, I've been trying to be more interesting with what I write, even if it almost always culminates with tasting notes. Writing a review is easy, but being interesting and providing more information about the beer, the history of the style, or whatever, is more difficult, and I seem to have started to provide more context about the beers I'm writing about.

I always tried to spice things up with my other passion, movies. But I'm sure most beer blog readers don't really care much about that, unless I get ambitious and come up with a screenplay post. Still, I hope that my recent writing has been more enjoyable. I also hope that these double feature posts, with comparative reviews of similar styles, are considered more helpful and interesting than a simple tasting note.

And tonight, I have a particularly interesting double feature. I didn't watch two movies (as I often do), but I was switching back and forth between the Flyers game (we clinched a playoff spot tonight) and the NCAA Wrestling championships (college wrestling is rarely televised, so this was a welcome surprise). On the beer front, I tried two tripels I've been meaning to drink for a few months now. I always find it interesting when a single brewery releases multiple beers of the same style. When it comes to a style with a wide variation in flavors, like an IPA, it certainly makes sense. But for more narrow styles, like, for example, a Belgian style dubbel or tripel, there seems to be less room for variation. That being said, when I got my hands on a variety pack featuring 6 different St. Bernardus beers, I noticed that there were two dubbels and two tripels. The dubbels turned out to be interesting - one was a lot lighter than I was accustomed to, and the other was more of a standard dubbel. Both were great. And tonight, I've got two tripels for you.

St. Bernardus Tripel

St. Bernardus Tripel - The standard version seems to be quite popular, and this is the one that is more widely available as well. This is evidenced by the fact that his beer has 951 reviews on Beer Advocate, while the Watau tripel has only 217 reviews. This beer is a slightly hazy gold color with ample head and minor lacing as I drink. Smells of spicy belgian yeast (typical cloves and bananas smell) with a little fruity alcohol peeking through. The taste is fantastic - spicy and sweet with just a hint of sticky alcohol in the finish. Some fruitiness apparent as well, and that sticky sweetness lingers, especially as the beer warms up. High carbonation and full body with a bit of a harsh mouthfeel, but still extremely drinkable. Dangerously drinkable for such a high alcohol beer (even though 8% is relatively low for a tripel). That being said, I don't think it really contends strongly for a favorite tripel - though it's certainly a solid example of the style and something I can't imagine turning down. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

Palate cleansed with a single UTZ pretzel rod.

St. Bernardus Watau Tripel

St. Bernardus Watau Tripel - The less commonly seen version of the two beers, this version is named after the village of Watou in West Flanders, Belgium (where the beer is brewed, natch). Indeed, I've seen the St. Bernardus brewers labeled the "Wizards of Watau", which seems fitting given the quality of their beer. When I first got a hold of this, I searched around for some descriptions of what the difference was between this and the standard Tripel, but alas, I found very little on that front, which is a big part of why I wanted to do this as a double feature. Pours a slightly lighter, but still golden color. I want to say it's less hazy, but that might just be because of the color. Less prominent in the way of head and lacing. Smells more intense than the regular Tripel though. Along with the standard Belgian yeast aromas, there is perhaps more fruitiness apparent here as well. Again, taste is fantastic, though similar to the regular Tripel. I think the main difference is that there's more fruitiness here, and less sticky alcohol (which is a welcome development). There's some additional complexity and maybe even some funkiness that isn't present in the regular offering. The body seems fuller as well, and this is actually more drinkable. The ABV is actually less than the standard Tripel, so I'm not surprised that it's more drinkable, but I am surprised that I like the flavor more - usually I associate higher ABV with more intense flavors, but not in this case. The differences are subtle, but I actually think this one is better than the regular St. Bernardus offering and it could even rival my favorites. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

There's less variation between the two than there were between the the St. Bernardus 6 and 8 versions of the dubbel, but I think the Watau is the clear winner. The differences are subtle enough that I can see why folks who don't drink them back to back don't offer much comparison between the two, but drinking them back to back made it clear to me.

One of my favorite beer-store games is what I'll call Belgian Beer Roulette*. I'm sure you're already familiar with the concept of Russian Roulette, but a quick google search yields a Belgian variant where instead of placing a single bullet in a revolver, you place rounds in all but one chamber, spin the cylinder, point the gun at your head and pull the trigger. Fortunately, Belgian Beer Roulette is not nearly as insane or deadly to play. To play, you need 5-10$ and a bottle shop with lots of Belgian beers you've never heard of. Purchase one of said unfamiliar Belgian beers, chill, and drink. I'm quite the fan of Belgian beers, so I daresay that my odds of "winning" are probably more like Russian Roulette (5 out of 6 win) than Belgian Roulette (1 out of 6 win).

Generally I look for something with a tasteful label (I'm a total sucker for a coat of arms). This is, of course, not always the most reliable indicator, but that's how I stumbled on to some of my favorite Belgian breweries, like Westmalle and Affligem. So one day, I see a series of beers from Maredsous. Nice clean label design and the store had a blonde, a dubbel, and a tripel (i.e. styles I love), so I picked up the Dubbel. As I write this, I now find out that the Maredsous brand is actually brewed at the Duvel Moortgat brewery. Maredsous is a Benedictine abbey, apparently famous for their cheese, but in 1963, they also began to license their name to Moortgat. I don't know how much the monks contribute to the actual brewing of the beer or the recipes or whatnot (sometimes monks direct brewing efforts outside their abbey, but I can't tell what's going on in this case), but I'm willing to bet that they drink a shitload of the stuff.

Maredsous 8 - Dubbel

Maredsous 8 - Dubbel - Pours a nice reddish brown color, decent head with bigger sized bubbles in it. The nose is a bit light, but that typical spicy Belgian yeast aroma is there and maybe some dark fruitiness as well. Taste has a sweet malt backbone, with a little spiciness and just a hint of tartness in the finish. Ample carbonation and a medium mouthfeel make it readily drinkable. Alcohol is reasonably well disguised too. Certainly a solid effort and a good representation of the style, but not particularly close to the top of my favorite dubbels. B+

Beer Nerd Details: Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet. Drank on 2/19/11 (yeah, I'm really behind on this review.)

It seems my thoughts are pretty much in line with the Beer Advocate nerds, and they say the other Maredsous beers are about equal quality. I won't be rushing to the store to pick some up (and now that I've had one, I see them every where, so it's not like it's a rarity or anything) anytime soon, but I'll probably get to the other two varieties at some point...

* I'm not the originator of this term as a way to describe this process - I have Jay from the Hedonist Beer Jive (now just Hedonist Jive) to thank for that. It's a fantastic term though, and it fits how I sometimes shop. Thanks Jay!

A new style of beer has been making the rounds in the past few years. Aggressively hopped and bitter like an IPA, but utilizing the dark, roasted malts and sweetness of a stout, this type of beer was virtually unseen a few years ago. However, thanks to crazy American hop-heads and a free-wheeling, innovative craft beer culture, this new style has been spreading like wildfire. Of course, I'm being a bit cagey here by calling it a "new" style. New-Englanders claim the beer originated in a small Vermont brew pub in the early 1990s. Beer history nerds, of course, point to centuries old recipes that resemble the style, claiming that it's nothing new. Some of the early brewers of the style labeled their beer as a Porter, lending creedance to the history nerds. Enter the American Pacific Northwest, who have cleverly inserted their way into the controversy by coining a self-serving name for the style: Cascadian Dark Ale (named after the American Cascade mountain range, where many American hops are grown, including the popular (and, uh, obvious) Cascade hops).

Of course, naming the style is a controversy in itself. Cascadian Dark Ale has a wonderful and vaguely evocative feel to it, but the style has also been called Black IPA, India Dark Ale, American Dark Ale, and probably a dozen other variants. They all have their problems (for instance, Black IPA makes no sense because it unpacks to "Black India Pale Ale", which is just silly - the term "India" implies a history and geography that isn't relevant; "black" and "pale" are descriptors of color, and clearly conflict), so no one name has emerged victorious. Andy Crouch wrote about this semi-recently (and of course, his history of the style is better than mine) and proposed a poll with a dozen different options, including his own inspired suggestion of Noonan Black Ale (named after Greg Noonan, owner of the aforementioned Vermont brew pub). As of right now, Black IPA is winning the poll, and that's what RateBeer uses. Beer Advocate uses American Black Ale, which is similar to the Brewers Association's recently changed designation of American-Style Black Ale (changed from American-Style India Black Ale).

So yeah, more fuel for the internet flames of semantic debate. As a fan of "genre" films, amongst other geeky pursuits featuring detailed nomenclature, I can assure you such arguments are not unique to the world of beer. So, as much as I'd love to continue beating that dead horse, I think it might be nice to actually, you know, drink some of this stuff. Enter Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. Originally brewed as a limited Anniversary batch (a good contrast to Victory's recent Headwaters anniversary ale), it proved popular enough that Stone now makes it available year-round.

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Now, I really enjoy a good IPA (or DIPA) and I've recently been acquiring an appreciation of stouts, but sometimes these sorts of style mixtures rub me the wrong way. Instead of seeing it as the best of both worlds, I'll often end up craving one style or the other, without ever actually enjoying what's in front of me. However, in this case, I think the mixture actually works well, even if it's not exactly my favorite style of beer. Pours a very dark brown, almost black color, with a fluffy tan head. Smells fantastic. Floral, piney hops dominate the nose. Taste starts with a sweet but earthy bitterness sets in quickly, followed by some additional roasted malt bitterness in the finish. The roasted flavors linger a bit in the aftertaste as well, and they become a little more prominent (in both the nose and the taste) as the beer warms up. Texture is surprisingly smooth and the beer is quite drinkable. Very well crafted and, more importantly (given my feelings on hybrids above), it's extremely well balanced. Not being overly familiar with the style or the process of brewing, I imagine it would be difficult to pack in the complexity without letting any of the potent ingredients overwhelm the taste or the palate. I will give it a B+, though I suppose I could easily bump it up to an A- if I were to become more enamored with the style (which could very well happen). As it is, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass. Chinook, Simcoe & Amarillo hops, 90 IBUs. Drank on 3/11/11 (yeah, I'm behind on reviews again, wanna fight about it?)

The Stone example seems to be among the best ranked beers in the style, of course, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to try more. Who knows, I might grow into it in the way that I'm growing into stouts (and perhaps my newly acquired taste for stouts is what is partially holding me back here... if you call B+ holding back!)

Update: Oh crap, I forgot to enter a style in my blog categorization. I was hoping to avoid that. I'll go with American Black Ale, since that's what Beer Advocate uses (and it's also similar to the Brewers Assocation) and I'm not entirely down with Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale.

Double Feature: Pale Ales

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You may be able to tell that I have a bit of a sweet-tooth (for example, I love Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and I really enjoyed the Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout, both uber-sweet beers). As such, Coca-Cola has long been one of my favorite beverages. However, I tend to drink too much of it, so every few years, I give up Coke for Lent. I find that the 40 day length of Lent makes for an ideal habit-breaker (Last year, I gave up television). Short enough that it's achievable, long enough to make you realize that you don't need to indulge in your habit quite so often. So this year, I'm giving up Coke again, which basically means that for the next 40 days or so, I'll most likely be filling the void of Coke with beer.

As I mentioned in my post on Regular Beers for The Session, sometimes I don't want a beer that will melt my brain and/or get me drunk after 12 ounces. So while I'm sure I'll have my fair share of brain-melting beers over the next few weeks, I'm probably also going to avail myself of some more "regular" beers, usually during dinner. Lower alcohol, lower taste, but easier drinkability. Interestingly, this month's beer club fit right into that strategy, with a few English session beers. And this weekend, I'm hitting up some pale ales. For these double feature posts, I usually try to match up with movies, but both of this weekend's movies are in the theater, so no drinking whilst watching. But if you're so inclined, The Adjustment Bureau was surprisingly good for a movie about people with magic hats (I guess that's something of a spoiler, but it's so stupid that I don't really feel bad about it). Of course, you have to overlook a few plot holes and the aforementioned magic hats, but it's still a pretty fun movie. After I finish this post, I'll be heading out to meet a friend for Battle: Los Angeles. Expectations are suitably low, but I'm hoping to see shit blow up real good. It can't be any worse than Skyline (the last Alien invasion movie I saw, which was abominable but almost worth it for the breathtakingly stupid ending) or, one would presume, the SyFy Original movie special that's playing tonight: Battle of Los Angeles (I haven't seen it, but if your movie isn't as good as a SyFy Original...)

But enough about movies, onto the beer:

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale - Usually when a brewery makes it to a big Anniversary, they put out a special beer, and that beer is generally something extreme. An imperial stout, a double IPA, or something even crazier. So when Victory announced that they were making a 15th anniversary beer, I was expecting a big monster of a beer. Instead, they made this beer:

Reflecting over the years as we approach our 15th anniversary here at Victory, we can't help but be struck by the realization that Downingtown has made a great home for Victory. From the enthusiastic throngs that crowd our brewpub to enjoy our creative, flavorful beers and cuisine to the natural charms of the area, we are blessed with good fortune. As the active community contributor we've been over those years, we recognize our opportunity to both utilize and protect these assets.

Chief among those assets is the pure water we receive from the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek that begins its journey to us just under 14 miles from where we brew with it. We'll be celebrating this water (insert your lite beer joke here) with our anniversary beer, Headwaters Pale Ale, due to be released February 15, 2011.
That's right, Victory is celebrating... water with this beer, a 5.1% ABV Pale Ale. According to Lew Bryson, Victory has apparently been working on this for a while, as this new beer follows their Pursuit of Pale Ale, which I stumbled onto at a happy hour a few weeks ago (alas, I didn't save any notes, and the picture I took with my phone didn't turn out well). An odd choice for an anniversary beer, perhaps, but I think they've managed to pull it off. Pours a golden, slightly orange color. Clear with a light head that left lots of lacing as I drank. Aroma is really nice, floral hops, maybe some citrus and an almost yeasty feel. Taste has a light, hoppy bitterness throughout, a little sweetness up front and maybe just a bit of citrus fruits along with the earthy bitterness. Mouthfeel is a bit on the thin side, but not overly so, and I think that's what they're going for. It's certainly crisp and clean and compulsively drinkable (I should have bought a sixer of this!) As pale ales go, it's an excellent example of the style and something I could certainly drink a lot of, but it's not particularly aggressive either. Exactly what I was looking for, too! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale - Apparently the first modern craft-beer to be produced in cans, this beer has lead the way to several other canned craft beers, though they're still somewhat rare. In the beginning, brewer Dale Katechis hand canned the beers (one at a time! Uphill! In the snow!) and sold them as a way to promote his restaurant, Oskar Blues Grill and Brew. They encountered some skepticism from beer nerds, but they eventually came around and now Oskar Blues is one of the big Craft Beer success stories. Cans actually do have some advantages, namely minimizing exposure to light (brown bottles protect, but not completely) and oxygen (unwanted light and/or oxygen can produce off flavors in beer, leading to "skunky" beers). Cans are also cheaper and take up less space. Modern can linings are also supposed to be better at not impacting the taste of the beer itself (something older cans may have suffered from). I bought a six pack of this a while back (and drank a few during my Oscars Liveblogging adventure) and have been enjoying them for a while.

It pours a bit of a darker, light brownish color. I wouldn't call it hazy, but it's not as clear as the Headwaters. Smell is a bit less complex, but also a little stronger. Earthy hops, all the way. Taste is definitely sweeter and maybe even a bit less hoppy, but still complex and flavorful. It has a fuller body, but is still quite drinkable. I'm having a hard time comparing these two beers. They're both excellent for what they are and though they're both distinct, their strengths and weaknesses seem to balance out. So I'll give this one a B+ as well.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

If you asked me which I'd rather have right now, I think I might choose the Victory. That may just be because I've only had one of those though, while I've had a few Dale's lately. Of course, this won't scare me away from the canned Oskar Blues beers and indeed, I just picked up some Gordon Imperial Red (apparently renamed G'Knight due to legal troubles started by dickheads at Gordon Biersch - more on that story in a review that will most likely be coming soon)...

Beer Club: The Ales of March

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Yes, my beer pun abilities have declined considerably. I have no idea what I'm going to do for April. Anyway, this month's beer club convened at an English style pub called The Whip Tavern. We're enjoying a freakishly large rainstorm right now, but I suppose that's part of the British experience, right? The pub is kinda in the middle of nowhere, but a few of us were able to brave the storm and the flooded roads to attend, and we were rewarded with some wonderful beer.

  • 21st Amendment Fireside Chat: A winter seasonal at the end of its run, this one was a dark brownish color with a hint of red and about a finger of head. Aroma was sweet with a hint of caramel or maybe toffee. Taste was similar - very sweet (again with the caramel or toffee) and doughy with a twang of something spicy in the finish. A relatively strong beer, the alcohol was present, but subtle. A pretty full body and warming mouthfeel as well. I don't know what the Beer Advocate geeks are smoking though, as this is certainly not a C+. More like a B or even a B+. Perhaps the fact that I was having it on tap made a difference (apparently this is typically seen in cans). (Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% on tap. Drank out of a wine glass.)
  • Twin Lakes Tweeds Tavern Stout: The uber-local Twin Lakes brewery doesn't even bottle or can their beers - they're only available on tap. This one was an extremely basic stout. Dark brown in color, with hints of amber when held to the light. Roasted aromas in the nose, with a very basic stout-style taste. Roasted malts, slightly bitter finish. An enjoyable beer, but also probably an example of what I'm not a big fan of in a stout. Plenty of carbonation and a medium body, just not a whole lot to go around in terms of flavor. Again, not a bad beer, but certainly not a great one either. C+ (Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)
  • Yards Extra Special Ale (on Cask): Again! Since this was an English style pub, I was really hoping for a cask conditioned beer... and it turns out that what they had was the same one I had last weekend. When we first got there, the waitress said they had Victory Yakima Glory on cask, which I immediately jumped on, but apparently it kicked right before we arrived. Dammit. I still ordered a half-pint of the ESA, and it was quite enjoyable (again!) though perhaps not quite as good as it was at the brewery. (Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV on cask, drank from a half-pint glass)
  • Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer: This being an English pub with a wide variety of imported beers, I figured I should actually avail myself of such an opportunity. After consulting the menu (and beer advocate on my phone), I settled on this beer. On the bottle, it says it's aged for 77 days in oak barrels (which seems kinda short to me, but what do I know?)


    Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer

    I was a little worried about the fact that this came out in a clear colored bottle (most beer bottles are brown because they protect against light, which can damage beer and cause off flavors), but it was ultimately pretty enjoyable. It's a clear, golden colored beer with an ample white head. Aroma seemed kinda funky, maybe even a bit tart. Taste was sweet with an almost white wine tint to it (just a hint of tartness there), which seemed strange. Perhaps it did get hit by some light on its journey to America. Well regardless of whether or not it was intentional, it tasted interesting to me. Again, I'm not terribly well versed in oak aging of beers, but there was a good amount of complexity in the taste. Light to medium bodied, not a lot of carbonation, but just enough to make it go down easy. Again, a very interesting beer. It was actually quite expensive, so I'm not sure it was worth it, but at the same time, I'm glad I got to try it. B (Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (11.9 oz). Drank out of a half-pint glass.)

  • Tetley's English Ale: Not a cask ale, but it was so smooth and creamy that it kinda felt like one. Unfortunately, that's just about all it had going for it. It had a rather bland taste, kinda like a toned-down Yards ESA. On the one hand, it's not something I'm going to go out of my way for, but on the other hand, it's certainly not bad and I could probably drink these all day without getting too bloated or drunk. At 3.6% ABV, it's not exactly a monster, but I can see why the British are into their session beers (i.e. this is something you could drink all day and not get too sloshed on). The name Tetley reminds me of tea, and I almost even detected a flavor of tea in the beer, but I'm pretty sure they have nothing to do with each other (was I imagining things then?) I'll give it a C+, which is fine for what it is. (Beer Nerd Details: 3.6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)


I was very disappointed by the lack of Victory Yakima Glory on cask, and I also attempted to order a bottle of Brewdog Punk IPA, but alas, they were out of it. Nevertheless, great times were had by all, and I ordered me some Bangers and Mash which turned out to be quite fantastic. There was also quite the delicious toffee cake desert thing that went quite well with the Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer. I look forward to our triumphant return to the Whip (probably sometime this summer).

A Beertastic Saturday

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So this past weekend was a most unexpected experience. On Friday, I learn that a brother of a friend of mine was having a bachelor party in Philly on Saturday. I had nothing better to do, so I hopped on a train and met up with everyone in the city. It turns out that a bunch of us were big beer nerds, so it wound up being a pretty exciting day for beer (amongst other things).

Things started off unimpressive on the beer front though. We had club box seats for the Flyers game on Saturday afternoon, which means free beer... but the choices were severely limited. I settled on Bud and Bud Light, and drank quite a few. I must have built up a bit of a tolerance with all my recent big beer drinking though, as I was barely buzzed by the end of the game (a disappointing third period loss, though some of my friends were Sabers fans, so they were at least happy). After the game, we hopped on the train again and ended up at the Yards Brewery:

Yards Brewery

We didn't get to take a tour, but we hung out at the restaurant/tasting room for a while. I had a few interesting beers:

  • General Washington's Tavern Porter (Bourbon Barrel Aged) - Exactly what I was hoping to find! I commented in my earlier review of the base Washington's Tavern Porter that the bourbon barrel aging could help impart some additional complexity and flavor notes to an already solid beer. I'm certainly not an expert when it comes to picking out barrel aging flavors, and I didn't drink both versions of the beer (even though both were available - perhaps a future Double Feature is in order), but I really enjoyed it.

    Yards Washington Tavern Porter (bourbon barrel aged)


    Perhaps it was just that I had spent the majority of the afternoon drinking Bud Light, but I did enjoy this quite a bit. The last time I had this, I felt like the mouthfeel was a bit too light. The bourbon barrel aged version seems to be fuller bodied than the standard version, and there's a bit of a bite to the beer which I can only assume is coming from the bourbon. Otherwise, the standard roasty chocolate flavors that characterize the style dominate the beer (as they should). The barrel aging effect is subtle, but there seemed to be enough additional complexity to make it worthwhile. I'll reserve judgement in lieu of a true double feature, but hey, if you see the Bourbon Barrel Aged version of this beer, get some! Porter style beers are still not my favorite, but I'm definitely acquiring a taste for them and I might be convinced to up my rating of the standard version of this beer to an A-, though again, I'd like to taste both together to get a better feel for the differences. (Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV on tap, drank from a small goblet)

  • Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale - Alas, no bourbon barrel aged versions of this around (perhaps they'll have some later in the year). The last time I had this, I felt that the alcohol dominated the taste, leading to an oily mouthfeel that I thought wasn't especially well balanced with the rest of the beer. Well, maybe I got a bad bottle, as the goblet I got straight from the brewery was much better. The sticky alcohol flavors and oily mouthfeel were nowhere to be found. The alcohol was certainly present in the taste, but it's much better balanced with the malt backbone, and the carbonation lead to a better mouthfeel. Overall, I was quite pleased. I'd probably revise this up to a B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 8.0% ABV on tap, 12 oz in a small goblet)
  • Extra Special Ale (on Cask) - I'd never had a beer on cask before, and boy was this a revelation. I've had the ESA before and while I enjoyed it, I also didn't think it was anything special (with the caveat that I was drinking it in less than ideal conditions). But the version on cask was quite different.

    Yards ESA from a cask

    It poured a dark amberish color with a thick, creamy head (almost like you'd get out of a nitro tap). The taste has a nice malt backbone with some bitterness in the finish, but the real difference here was the mouthfeel and carbonation. There is some light carbonation, but it's not nearly as strong or assertive as it was from the bottle. Sometimes beers with low carbonation seem, well, flat, but not in this case. It was perfectly balanced and a joy to drink. I can see why our British friends are obsessed with "Real Ale" (which is what they call ale served from a cask), as this would make an excellent session beer (though it's perhaps a bit too strong for that sort of thing). I'm going to have to find me some more places around here that serve cask beer. Provisional B+, maybe even an A- (though that's probably the novelty of the cask talking). (Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV on tap, drank from a pint glass)

We had reservations at Fogo De Chao for dinner, so alas, we had to leave the brewery. The restaurant is a Brazilian steakhouse, one of them all-you-can-eat affairs where you have a little card in front of you that you can turn "green" to let the servers know you want more food. Leave it on for a while and you've got a plate full of roasted meat. It's amazing. Beer selection was a bit sparse, so I started with the only interesting beer on the menu:

Xingu Black Ale

Xingu Black Beer - Pours a dark, well, black color with minimal head. Aroma of sticky dark fruits, with a surprisingly sweet taste to match. I got a distinct flavor of raisins out of this, which was a rather interesting beer and went with the massive helpings of meat rather well. Despite the black color, there was little in the way of roastiness, which was surprising, but welcome. I wouldn't say that it was particularly special or earth-shattering, but it was pretty tasty for such a low ABV beer and definitely the most interesting thing on the menu. I would give it a solid B. (Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a small goblet.)

At this point, we had sorta switched to Wine and I was also downing water like crazy, but it was otherwise quite an enjoyable meal. Many perfectly prepared hunks of meat were had by all, full stomachs and meat sweats all around. Our hope at this point was to hop across the street and hit Lucky Strike Lanes, but we were informed that the wait was 3 hours, and thus began nomadic trek through the city, eventually ending up on Delaware ave at about midnight. Mass transit had stopped running at this point, but we were only about 15 blocks away from the hotel, so we decided that hey, if we're going to walk 15 blocks, we might as well stop and have drink at every opportunity. I had a few other drinks, including a Victory Golden Monkey (one of my favorites, so I'll save that for its own review at some point), but the real fun began when we arrived at Eulogy (previous trip to Eulogy here). Of course, we had to move further away from the hotel to get there, but the beer nerds in the crowd all wanted to check the place out. It was surprisingly not that crowded, and I ended up having two good beers before last call.

  • Eulogy's Busty Blonde - House Beers are an interesting breed. The first time I saw one (at this point I don't remember where), I assumed it was brewed in-house and ordered it eagerly, only to find that it was basically some boring Genesee monstrosity (or something, I don't remember what it was). I've since learned that nearly all house beers are like that - a macro beer that the restaurant just came up with a new name for in the hopes of suckering naive patrons like myself into buying it. But I always give it a try, and being the awesome Belgian Beer Bar that it is, it looks like Eulogy's house beer is actually brewed in Belgium by Brasserie La Binchoise (of course, I've never heard of them or any of their beers, but they still seem a lot more promising than a relabeled American macro). I didn't know it at the time, but I figured I'd give it a shot anyway, trusting that Eulogy wouldn't steer me wrong (apologies for the craptacular picture, but that's all I could get):


    Eulogy Busty Blonde

    And it turns out to be quite good. Beer Advocate is listing it as "retired", so maybe that's not the same as what I was drinking, but it seemed like an archetypal blonde ale. Cloudy light yellow/orange (er, blonde?) color, some citrus and spiciness in the nose, and a taste to match. It was quite refreshing at that point in the night, if perhaps a bit less complex than some of the bigger beers I'd already had. Definitely worth a shot, I give it a provisional B. (Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV (on tap). Drank from a big goblet.)

  • Mikkeller Koppi Coffee IPA - I hadn't had anything that was particularly hoppy all day, so after consulting with the ever-helpful bartender, I settled on this beer, despite the fact that I generally dislike coffee (see here for some respectful coffee hate). They poured me a little taste of it, and it was decent, so I got me a full snifter of the stuff and was glad I did. (Again, sorry bout the picture quality, it was dark and, uh, I was drinking.)

    Mikkeller Koppi Coffee IPA

    It was also a pretty good beer. It's not my favorite IPA style beer, but it was quite good (especially for a non-double IPA). Strong citrusy hop aromas, a nice sweet, malty start with bitterness in the finish, and just the right twang of coffee in the finish and aftertaste. I wonder if I'd even have picked up that it was coffee if the bartender didn't tell me (or if the name of the beer didn't say it), as it's really quite subtle. Given that I don't really care for coffee in my beer, that subtlety is actually quite nice. It adds complexity and flavor without overpowering or dominating the taste. A provisional B+! (Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV (on tap). Drank from a snifter.)

That was pretty much the end of beer-related happenings of the night, which, of course, featured lots of other happenings that are perhaps best left undocumented (nothing inappropriate, I swears). There were still a few hours left in the night, including a trip to some strange pizza place where I burnt the shit out of my mouth (good thing I was done drinking at that point). I haven't quite partaken in this sort of all day affair in a long time, but it was a welcome surprise and a great time.

After three weeks in the fermenter, I've finally managed to bottle my Belgian Style Tripel. Since this was a high-gravity beer, it required additional time in the fermenter and will most likely take a while to condition in the bottles as well. I'm hoping to check it out in about 3 weeks, just to see how it's doing.

The Final Gravity ended up being somewhere around 1.015 (maybe a little less). The more I use a hydrometer, the less confident I am in the measurements. I got somewhat inconsistent readings. Nevertheless, it was definitely lower than the recipe's goal of 1.020. My last beer also ended up lower than the recommended FG, so perhaps I should bottle a little earlier in the process. If my math is correct, this yields a beer that is somewhere in the 9-10% ABV range, which is right in the middle of the proper range for Belgian style tripels. The recipe I was using was meant to imitate Westmalle Tripel, which is 9.5%, so I'm definitely in the right neighborhood. If I make some extreme assumptions about my hydrometer readings for both the OG and FG, the highest it could come out is around 10.5% ABV, which would be a little high for the style, but still within the general range of acceptable ABV.

The process went smoothly, just like last time. No problems racking the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. Sanitizing the bottles is tedious and repetitive, but easy enough. I was hoping to be able to use some 750 ml bottles I'd harvested from recent drinking, but it turns out that the caps I have don't fit on those bottles, which are slightly larger than the standard bottlecap. I had plenty of regular bottles, and even some 22 oz bombers that worked, so no real problem there, I just had to sanitize more bottles than I realized. Filling the bottles was kinda fun though, even if it's also tedious and repetitive. Something about using the bottling wand is just great fun.

The beer itself looked and smelled great. The aroma was maybe a bit boozy (I was sorta expecting that given the high ABV), but it still had that distinct Belgian yeast smell that I love so much. Once the bottles condition and the priming sugar does its thing, there should be plenty of carbonation to cut the alcohol though, so I still have high hopes for this one. I poured some in a glass and it looked great. Whilst brewing and looking at it in the buckets, it seemed a lot darker than your typical tripel, but when I poured a glass of it, it looked fantastic. The picture below actually looks a little more orange where I remember it being a little more brown, but I guess we'll see what it looks like when it finishes conditioning (obviously, since it's now bottle conditioning, there's no carbonation and thus no head in the picture):

Homebrew 2

So that just about finishes up this batch. I'm already looking into a new batch of beer, though I'm torn about what style to go for next. If I brew again in the next few weeks, I could probably have something that's ready to drink right in time for summer. So I was thinking of trying my hand at a wheat beer (perhaps a Hefeweizen) or a Saison. Both tend to be lighter and more refreshing beers, so they're perfect for summer. Right now, I'm leaning towards the wheat beer because Saison is another Belgian style and I just finished something along those lines. Of course, I could end up brewing both (one for early summer, one for later summer), which would leave time for a fall batch (perhaps an IPA of some kind) and a winter batch (I was think a Belgian dubbel, perhaps with some added holiday spices).

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

1. EXT. GREEK RUINS

MARK and a HYPOTHETICAL READER enjoy a few beers whilst discussing the latest Session, about "Regular Beer". They are clothed in flowing white sheets, surrounded by stone pillars.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: So what's this shit all about?

MARK: On the first Friday of every month, beer nerds blog about a pre-defined topic. This month, it's about Regular Beer.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: What the fuck does "Regular Beer" mean?

MARK: That's an excellent question. I have no idea.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: I suggest a Socratic dialogue!

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Why the fuck is Ben Franklin here?

MARK: We go way back. Besides, given that I get an average of about 2 visitors a day, he's just as likely to be here as you. Also, we're in Greece. Why would you be surprised by anyone.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: You're drunk, aren't you.

MARK: Define drunk.

HYPOTHETICAL READER glares at MARK.

MARK: Ok, fine, I'm mildly drunk.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Did you get drunk on regular beer?

MARK: No. No, I don't think I have. Unless you consider Allagash Black to be a regular beer.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: And why isn't Allagash Black a "regular beer"?

MARK: It's made with crazy amounts of ingredients, from the normal malted barley, to wheat and even oatmeal. It's also a mixture of established styles, becoming something that doesn't really fit in any one style. It's not especially common to find it at a restaurant or bar (around here, at least). It's not hugely alcoholic, but it's stronger than your typical macro. It also costs more than most beers.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: This implies that you are a "cheapskate".

MARK: ... Yes, I suppose, then, that price has something to do with whether or not a beer is "regular".

HYPOTHETICAL READER: That, or you're just a penny-pinching douche.

MARK: Well, the announcement for this session says that the SPE should probably be less than $25, and Allagash Black is slightly more than that.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: We're not making much headway here.

MARK: Yeah, you suck at the Socratic method.

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: I'm not even going to ask.

MARK: But he brings up a good point. "Regular" beer probably has a broad appeal.

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people!

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: Yes, Sam, I think we've already established that. Jesus, it's a sausage fest in here. Where are all the low-women?

HYPOTHETICAL READER: We're having a quasi-philosophical discussion in Greece, Ben. Perhaps you can find a young boy? Also, how do you know I'm not a woman?

MARK: Because this is a beer blog. Written by me. Given the nature of the internet, it's somewhat likely that you're not even human, let alone a woman.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: You caught me. I am, in fact, a google spider that has attained self-consciousness. Tell me, what constitutes "broad appeal"?

MARK: I suppose something that appeals to as wide an audience as possible. Things that don't require a refined palate or acquired tastes. I'd imagine that stuff like IPAs are not particularly "regular", since most folks don't especially like the bitterness involved.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Ok, enough with the pissing around. Out with it! What's the last beer you've had that you'd consider a "regular" beer?

MARK: Hmmm.... A lager. Definitely a lager.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: That's a style, not a specific beer!

MARK: Not in Pennsylvania. Here, if you ask for a "lager", you get a Yuengling Traditional Lager.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: And what makes it a good regular beer?

MARK: Well, it's cheap. It's ubiquitous in this area (hence the usurption of the word "lager"). It's a big step above the typical macro breweries in terms of taste and quality, yet it's not particularly intense or interesting. Everyone drinks it, and everyone likes it. Even the crappiest sports bar carries it. It's generally something you can count on. In these parts, at least.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: I'm pretty sure "usurption" isn't a real word.

MARK: Probably not, but I think you know what I meant.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: But isn't Yuengling rare in other parts of the country?

MARK: This raises another interesting point. It's only "regular" because it's really taken over this market. I imagine there are places where Yuengling is more of a delicacy. I also imagine that something like Allagash Black is probably not quite so expensive of rare in Maine. Perhaps someone there thinks of Allagash as a "regular" brewery.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: That would be nice.

MARK: Indeed.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: So, to sum up, regular beer is cheap, but tasty. It's appealing to a broad audience. It's widely available, but may only be so in a particular region. Do macro beers count?

MARK: Probably. They're cheap, they're inoffensive, and they're widely available. The tend to get a bad rap because they're so ubiquitous and boring, but they're not bad for what they are. I could certainly make do with a bottle of Miller lite.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Blasphemy!

MARK: Nonsense. They're "regular", which is to say, there's nothing special about them. From what I've seen of people's responses to this session, many people have been choosing a beer that is exceptional, but which they regularly consume. This is certainly one way to answer the question, which was extremely open-ended and which could support many interpretations.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: But your interpretation is that "regular" means "boring".

MARK: Not necessarily. Though most boring beers are certainly regular, not all regular beers are boring.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: More examples are needed here.

MARK: Another local option would be Kenzinger. It's not quite as common as the Macros or Yuengling, but it's a great session beer that shares certain qualities. Cheapy, tasty, inoffensive, and you can probably find it in this area a lot. I know I said that IPAs are probably off-limits for most regular folks, but something like a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale would also probably work. The most common Sam Adams beers would probably also qualify. Maybe Fat Tire? It seems like a slightly more upscale Yuengling, but for the West Coast.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Is it me, or has this post really trailed off?

MARK: I think I'm sobering up.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: That explains it. Any closing thoughts?

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people!

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (Ignoring Sam): Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

MARK: Well, I think that just about covers it. Regular beer, extraordinary beer, it doesn't really matter, so long as you're enjoying yourself.

HYPOTHETICAL READER: Amen.

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people!

MARK: *sigh*

HYPOTHETICAL READER (in unison): *sigh*

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (in unison): *sigh*

SAM CALAGIONE: I make off-centered ales for off-centered people?

1. INT. COMPUTER DESK, EVENING

MARK: Yeah, so this wasn't nearly as insightful as I had planned. The concept of a "regular beer" is still extremely fuzzy to me. Perhaps the best way to describe it could be drawn from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see it." The craft beer and beer geek worlds often explore the extreme depths of what is possible, and there are lots of folks that enjoy the interesting results. But at the same time, maybe we just want a beer to suck down with dinner. Sometimes I want to drink a beer that wont get me drunk after just 12 ounces. Sometimes I want to drink a beer that won't obliterate my palate, the way some pale ales are wont to do. I always find it interesting when a brewery known for its extreme beers puts out a more approachable beer. For instance, Victory brewing recently launched a new beer in celebration of its fifteenth anniversary. You'd expect it to be a Russian Imperial Stout or maybe a Double IPA, or perhaps something along the lines of a Strong Belgian Ale (like V-Twelve or even Golden Monkey). But no, instead, they're releasing Headwaters Pale Ale. Coming in at a svelte 5.1% ABV, it's certainly not a big beer. Indeed, reading about the beer indicates that the beer is a tribute to... water. The most regular of ingredients in all of beer! I have not had one of these new beers just yet, but I'm greatly looking forward to the experience, even if it's not something extreme or mind-blowing. I'm sure I'll enjoy it nonetheless.

Dubbel Feature

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See what I did there? Sorry, I can't resist beer puns. The numeric Trappist beer style conventions are a bit odd as there really isn't much consistency between them or a real, objective measure. In general a dubbel is stronger than your average beer, and a tripel is stronger than a dubbel, and a quadrupel is stronger than a tripel. But then, it's easy to find examples of each that are stronger or lighter than expected. In any case, the dubbel is a really interesting style. It's very strong, but not too strong. It's usually a dark color beer, but it doesn't usually feature the roasty flavors of stouts and porters. As such, it makes an excellent gateway beer for folks who don't think they like "dark" beers. I've been making my way through a variety pack of St. Bernardus beers, and of course, there are two different dubbel style beers to be had. St. Bernardus isn't technically a "Trappist" brewery since the beer isn't brewed within the walls of their Trappist Monastery, but in general, their beers are every bit as good. So here are their two dubbels:

St. Bernardus Pater 6

St. Bernardus Pater 6 - The word "Pater" is latin for "father", which seems rather appropriate (if not especially descriptive) for a beer directed by Trappist monks. It pours a dark red/brown color with a big head featuring lots of bigger bubbles and some lacing as I drink. Smells of dark fruit and bready Belgian yeast, with some spiciness and maybe even pepper as well. Taste is fruity, sweet, and spicy. Very well balanced and surprisingly easy to drink (perhaps due to the relatively low ABV). Lots of carbonation and a medium/full body. As dubbels go, this is a bit light, but still fantastic. Perhaps the Belgian version of a session beer! Of course, at 6.7% ABV, that's way too high, but still manageable. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

St. Bernardus Prior 8

St. Bernardus Prior 8 - A "Prior" is also a term meaning "father", but it is generally considered to be just a step below Abbot in the hierarchy (which makes sense, considering that the next beer up in St. Bernardus' lineup is the Abt 12, a Quadrupel that I actually didn't like as much as either of the two beers in this post). Pours a deeper, darker brown color, with only a hint of red. Again, big head with lots of bubbles and some lacing as I drink. Smell is similar, but with a hint of additional caramel. Taste is also on the similar side, but this is more complex and intense. That being said, it's still quite drinkable. Well balanced, lots of carbonation, maybe a bit of a fuller body. As it warms, the carbonation settles down a bit, making for a smoother, boozier feel. Definitely one of my favorite dubbels, though not quite at the very top of the list. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

Well, what do you know? It turns out that these are technically the first dubbel-style beers I've reviewed on this blog. More are certainly coming! I've also got two St. Bernardus beers left from my variety pack, both tripels, so look for another double feature post soon.

Double Feature: Yet More IPAs

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So now that I'm totally over 2010 movies, I've started hitting up 2011. This past weekend, I saw Hall Pass, which had a lot of funny moments amidst a rather trite plot and some unnecessarily scatalogical humor. Among the raunchy-movies-with-a-heart genre, it was actually decent and worth a watch if that's your thing. Far more interesting, though, was the movie I had some beers whilst watching - Rubber. You probably haven't heard of this, but it's a really profoundly weird film. It's about a tire. A killer tire. Named Bob. The grand majority of the film is just watching a tire roll around on screen, occasionally stopping to make people's head explode (my assumption is that Bob the Tire doesn't like that we have enslaved his brethren for use on our cars, but that is only implied). There's a lot more to it than that, of course. Bob seems to have fallen in love. And there's an audience watching everything. And some cops trying to catch Bob. Yeah, so really weird. It's a short film and kinda artsy-fartsy, but I loved it. It's available now on a lot of Cable On-Demand services (I saw it on Comcast), and my understanding is that there will be a short theatrical release in early April.

As for the beers I drank whilst watching, it was another night of IPAs (this is the 4th IPA double feature - more than any other style):

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA: Yet another "Big Beer" from Weyerbacher's variety pack, this one actually has the best rating on Beer Advocate. The name of the beer is referring to the liberal use Simcoe hops during brewing. Simcoe has high levels of alpha acid, but it also has a very fruity aroma and taste component that makes the bitterness a little less aggressive than you may think (so says my homebrew book here, though I think Weyerbacher's beer also kinda confirms that). If I ever end up homebrewing an IPA, I might try getting my hands on some of these. Anyway, the beer pours a cloudy darkish brown color with about a finger of head that dissapates rapidly and doesn't leave much in the way of lacing. Smells delicious! Mostly fruity citrus hops and an almost candi-sweetness in the nose, with maybe a hint of earthiness or pine present. Very sweet start (maybe a little fruitiness), with a bitter hops kick later in the taste and the finish. Some sticky booziness comes into the aftertaste as well, but it's reasonably well balanced with the rest of the flavors (though I think you could also argue that this is perhaps a bit too strong). Mouthfeel is smooth, with just enough carbonation to offset the booziness (though again, you may be able to argue that it's not entirely successful in hiding the booze). All in all, quite an enjoyable beer and well worth a try for fans of the style. It's probably my favorite of Weyerbacher's offerings (that I've tried). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA

Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA: I've enjoyed Flying Dog's beers without ever being particularly impressed, but then, I've only ever really had their "normal" brews. This particular beer is one of their bigger beers, and it's also got a spot in the BA top 100. It pours a clear, light reddish brown (copper!) color with a couple fingers of head. Smells sweet, spicy and citrusy with a little bit of bready Belgian yeast and not much in the way of hops. The taste starts sweet with some spiciness in the middle and a crisp, bitter finish. There are roasted flavors in the taste as well, but not like a roasty stout. Is that pepper? It's a familiar taste, something I normally associate with beers like Hoegaarden and Chimay Red, but it's not as overpowering here as it is in the other beers - perhaps due to the strong hoppy bitterness. It's really quite complex, I keep discovering new flavors. As I drink more, the bitterness becomes more prominent, the peppery flavors start to emerge more and the finish becomes more dry. Mouthfeel is a bit harsher than the Weyerbacher, but still pretty good. A really well crafted and interesting beer, though I'm not sure I actually like it. It's amazingly complex, but I have to admit that it's not really my thing. It's something I'd like to try again sometime, and I can see why it's rated so highly, but something about the way it's spiced just isn't working for me. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

Well that just about covers it. Look for some more double features soon, neither of which will be IPAs (I promise!)

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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